If you’ve followed the saga of Ana Marie Cox, famous for her political blogging as “Wonkette,” and now a writer for the Guardian, you’ll know that she was once a nonbeliever but then embraced Christianity. (See my post about it here). After her conversion, though, Cox was afraid of pushback from both atheists and (especially) Christians; but she was much gratified to find instead an outpouring of support from both sides (see her video on the topic here).
This puts me in a bit of a dilemma. I mean, if Cox has found happiness in believing in a fictional story of Jesus, and was unhappy before, then fine. Cox doesn’t seem to be the kind of person who will try to impose her faith on others, or push for anti-abortion or anti-gay-marriage laws. But it still bothers me that someone as savvy and smart as she suddenly throws herself into the arms of God, and for no good reason.
But reason, it seems, had little to do with it. I wonder if people would be so warm and kind if Cox had embraced, say, Scientology, Raëlism, or the cargo cults of Melanesia. (You know they wouldn’t: they’d say she was nuts.)
But I digress. Yet another erstwhile nonbeliever has embraced Christianity, or so reports the website Thomistic Bent. In this case it’s Dr. Holly Ordway, a professor of English at Houston Baptist University. She’s written a book about her conversion, Not God’s Type: An Atheist Academic Lays Down Her Arms.
What is interesting about Ordway’s conversion is the reason, recounted in a passage from the website Thomistic Bent (I haven’t read her book):
Ordway had carefully built up a defense, but not so careful as to protect her mind from the ideas of the great English poets. She speaks of being surprised by such writers as John Keats, John Donne, and Gerard Manley Hopkins, men who wrote of a beautiful concept: hope. A day of hope . . . was there such a day to hope for?
The rest of Ordway’s book tells of her meeting a fencing coach that she trusted, a person who she did not discover was a Christian until after she had begun working with him. He and his wife merely answered her questions, not pressing anything religious on her. She is intellectually honest enough to investigate the sources . . . When she asks for reasonable works on the resurrection of Jesus, she is given N. T. Wright’s The Resurrection of the Son of God, 740 pages of scholarly examination. She reads Lewis’ Surprised By Joy, and Does God Exist? by Kreeft and Moreland, among others.
[JAC: Can we just admit that there is no evidence for the truth of the Jesus story save in the pages of scripture? All “scholarly” and “reasonable” work substantiating that story is just Biblical exegesis fueled by wish-thinking.]
Both Ordway and C. S. Lewis were credentialed professors of literature before becoming Christian. Both were committed atheists who had created intellectual defenses against belief in Jesus. Later in her story, Ordway writes, “I read through the Gospel narratives again, trying to take in what they said. I had to admit that — even apart from everything else I had learned — I recognized that they were fact, not story. I’d been steeped in folklore, fantasy, legend, and myth ever since I was a child, and I had studied these literary genres as an adult; I knew their cadences, their flavor, their rhythm. None of these stylistic fingerprints appeared in the New Testament books that I was reading.” (p.117)
So what brought Ordway around was her expertise as an English professor, which enabled her to see that the Bible (or at least the New Testament) looked not like fiction, but fact! I’m stunned. This is affirmed by the website writer:
So here we have a trained, experienced, atheist professor of literature, who if anything knows a myth when she sees it, declaring that it is not such, but rather “The Gospels had the ineffable texture of history, with all the odd clarity of detail that comes when the author is recounting something so huge that even as he tells it, he doesn’t see all the implications.” (p.117) Like Lewis, who was a professor of literature at Oxford and Cambridge, Ordway made the conclusion of an expert in literature, that the New Testament has all the signs of an eyewitness account.
“I know a myth when I see one, and the Bible ain’t myth!”
Now this is just bizarre, and for many reasons. First of all, the Bible as a whole, and the New Testament, are full of things that simply can’t be true. Putting aside the numerous inconsistencies between the Gospels about the crucifixion and resurrection (all the results of “eyewitness accounts”), we have the palpable falsities like the census of Caesar Augustus and the account in Matthew of Herod’s execution of children. There are no extra-Biblical historical records of the earthquakes, rending of the Temple veil, and rising of saints from their tomb at the Crucifixion. Surely that should appear somewhere outside the Bible! (For a list of Biblical contradictions and inaccuracies, see here and here).
Further, prophecies in the Bible simply haven’t come true. Perhaps the most famous is Jesus’s repeated insistence that he would come into his kingdom, as would his apostles, during the lifetimes of people who witnessed his death. That hasn’t happened.
And what about the Old Testament? That doesn’t read so differently from the New Testament, at least in terms of factual assertions. Does that, too, “ring true”? Or does it lack the cadences, rhythms, and flavor of truth? If not, then it’s even more bizarre, for the factual inaccuracies of the Old Testament, beginning with Genesis and going through the exodus of the Jews, are well known. What does Ordway say about that? And if the Old Testament is largely fictional, how can it presage the New?
And what about other religious gospels, like the Qur’an, the Book of Mormon, the Epic of Gilgamesh, and so on? I would love for Dr. Ordway to show me why the New Testament has a “ring of truth” lacking in, say, the Book of Mormon. And does she think that all of the New Testament is true? If so, which of the accounts of the Resurrection is the right one? They can’t all be true, as they’re contradictory. Who, exactly, was in or near the tomb when it was open, and to whom did the resurrected Jesus appear?
I’m used to believers accepting Christianity because it strikes an emotional chord with them. That, after all, is the message of William James’s The Varieties of Religious Experience. But this is the first time I’ve seen Christianity validated, and someone converted, because, compared to all other religious myths, the New Testament rings true to someone trained in English literature. (I wonder if the New Testament sounds different in Greek?) That is, a Ph.D. in English literature, and subsequent teaching of that literature, apparently gives someone the credibility to assert that the New Testament is plain fact.