An atheist English professor finds Jesus because the Bible “rings true” as literature

May 15, 2015 • 10:30 am

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.

Dr. Ordway (Photo credit: Michael Timms)
Dr. Ordway (Photo credit: Michael Timms)

233 thoughts on “An atheist English professor finds Jesus because the Bible “rings true” as literature

  1. Strange. The gospels contradict each other in significant details, how could they be factual? And they weren’t written by eyewitnesses. I guess when someone wants to believe something really badly, details will not stand in the way.

    1. Indeed. When she writes that the NT has all the signs of being eyewitness accounts, what is she saying about all her peers’ work establishing the dates the books of the NT were written?

      1. She’s a Catholic apologist. As I recall, official Catholic doctrine remains that the Gospels are eyewitness accounts recorded by the men whose names are traditionally placed at the top, even though nobody’s actually bought that for ages. But the Church says it’s true, and her job is to apologize for what the Church says is true….


    2. Christian apologists use the fact that there is a contradiction to back up their claim it is true. Yes. They say that if all of them recounted it the same way, it could never be true.
      The fact that they disagree is their evidence that it could not have been made up from whole cloth.

      1. That is halfway to a valid point. Many psychological experiments have shown just how widely different peoples’ accounts of the same events can vary. So one should expect differing accounts to differ in the details.

        But it doesn’t work the other way – “because they differ it must be true”. One would expect there to be some independent verification of the events from other observers who should reasonably be expected to have noticed the events.

        1. Plus, they are not just supposed to be eye-witness accounts. They are supposed to be strongly influenced by the real creator of the universe. Why would the creator use its influence to promote contradictions? (It’s a mystery)

        2. So one should expect differing accounts to differ in the details.

          What one shouldn’t expect is entire lines and passages lifted from one gospel to another.

          1. What one really shouldn’t expect is for there to be isolated throwaway references to Earth-shattering events like a major earthquake that results in a zombie invasion of the capital of a Roman territory.



    3. This woman needs a consult with a semanticist! To say that I believe in [i[hope[/i] is trivial; we all understand the feeling that we describe as hope, and that requires no statement pertaining to the supernatural. To say that I hope it will be sunny today simply expresses my desire for an outcome that I wish will be the actual outcome at some future point in time. I may wish for this sunny day to such an extent that I convince myself it will be sunny, and at this point I can say that I [i]believe[/i] it will be sunny. Given that I might experience this state of mind on a dark and cloudy day, we can easily understand that this statement reflects my desires and makes no claims about reality.
      So often, it seems to be the case that acceptance of religion involves relinquishing actual thought about what is and what may happen, and substituting trust that all will be well. I can understand the relief that might be experienced by some people on abandoning rational analysis with all its uncertainties, but I am saddened when I hear that an academic has done so.

  2. Ask any salesman: The best salesman is someone who genuinely believes in his product — the New Testament authors, for instance. Don’t make it so.

    1. The majority of the New Testament was written by Paul. Paul never met Jesus face to face.

  3. Only rank incompetence could explain somebody thinking that the Gospels are the stuff of history, not myth. You’d be hard pressed to find a better example of the Rank-Raglan mythotype than Jesus.

    Hell…the birth narrative is a direct ripoff of Perseus’s, with the names of the major players rhyming.

    And that she compares her atheism with Lewis’s is quite telling. Lewis wasn’t an atheist in the sense of one who dismisses all that bullshit as the nonsense it so clearly is; Lewis was a lifelong Christian who went through a rather typical “turning away” phase who reembraced his lifelong faith with a passion.

    Sorry…not buying it. I know I’m playing bagpipes here, but I’ll bet you dollars to donuts that she’s never seriously questioned the existence of the gods in her life.


    1. Rank incompetence, or some kind of brain trauma. I may not have time to read the article but if there isn’t a mention of a coincident death of a loved one, depressive episode, bad romantic breakup or job loss, etc., methinks we are not getting the whole story.

    2. What you said. Lewis was not an atheist, ever. If Ordway was ever truly an atheist, then she was clearly an atheist for all of the wrong (sorry, rong) reasons.

      All the crap about “carefully built up defenses against Christianity” makes it seem a very low order of probability to me that she was ever an atheist. That view of atheists is a myth Christians hold onto like their favorite baby blanket purely because it validates their religious beliefs. But the typical atheist, in my experience, responds to that with something like “huh, WTF? Where the hell do you get that from?”

      I am embarrassed for Ordway. Judging soley by this example of her reasoning abilities I am dismayed that she is a credentialed academic. Damn, that sounds mean, but it is the truth.

        1. You mean my rong mispelling of wrong was worng? A Trinity of Wrongness!

          Now that is a deity that makes perfect sense for humans.

      1. “carefully built up defenses against Christianity”

        Indeed. “Building up defenses” is not what legitimate atheists do; it’s what theists do. Atheism does not start with the conclusion and try to create arguments to defend it. Atheism comes after the arguments/evidence have been examined. A legitimate atheist doesn’t say “given my atheism, how can I insulate and protect it?” But that is exactly what theists say about their theism.

        I smell a pseudo-atheist.

        1. Too many responses zipping through my mind to focus. Projection, hypocrisy, mirrors, irony meters exploding . . .

        2. I don’t know about Ordway but the website describing her as a “committed atheist” is a typical example of theists not understanding the atheist mindset. Atheists don’t commit to atheism. Unlike religions, which require demonstrations of loyalty, pledges, commitments, oaths and declarations, atheism requires nothing. I’m an atheist because I think there are no Gods; if I ever change my mind about that I will be something else. That’s it.

          1. I was thinking that myself. Committed has that Stockholm syndrome religions overtone. (read propaganda)

    3. My impression from A.N. Wilson’s bio of Lewis was that he was indeed an atheist, but of the angry, bitter variety who wanted Christianity to be true.

    4. That was my reaction as well. Was she actually an atheist? I thought it odd that an Atheist would teach at a Baptist school, but that apparently antedates her conversion. It seems likely that her atheism was as unreflective as many people’s religion.

    5. I was just checking out Lewis re atheism because I suspected such a story.

      I suspect, despite quite strong atheist influences with him, he had an angry at god, let’s look at mysticism type of atheism.

      If his application of a seemingly formidable intellect to Christian apologetics is any indication logic is not his strong suite so any analysis by him of atheism may be limited.
      I saw a couple of passages he wrote criticising atheists. They are, typically, wrong.

    6. “Zeus” and “Yahweh” don’t rhyme. “Danaë” and “Mariam” don’t rhyme”. “Perseus” and “Yeshua” don’t rhyme. Other arguably major players in Jesus’s birth-narrative: Yosef (no equivalent in the Perseus story), Gabriel (no equivalent in the Perseus story). Other clearly major player in the Perseus story: Akrisios (no real equivalent in the Jesus story; name of nearest equivalent is unknown, though some Christian apologists say it’s Heli).

      Other notable features of the Perseus birth narrative: his mother is imprisoned by her own father for fear lest a prophecy be fulfilled (no equivalent in the Jesus story); mother and child are then put in a box and thrown out to sea, etc. (rough parallel to the Herod / “flight into Egypt” stuff, but it’s pretty far-fetched).

      Other notable features of (some versions of) the Jesus birth narrative: birth takes place while mother is away from home (in a rather pathetic attempt by one author to shoehorn a prophecy in; regardless, no equivalent in the Perseus story); parents and child are visited by strangers who have come from far off to give him gifts (no equivalent in the Perseus story).

      I’m really not seeing the close parallels here. What am I missing?

      1. “Jesus” rhymes with, “Perseus.” “Queen Hera,” who ordered infant Perseus’s death, rhymes with, “King Herod,” who ordered infant Jesus’s death. Zeus, the Father of the Gods, fathered Perseus; God the Father fathered Jesus.

        Do the names rhyme in the original languages? No, but the do in English — and Dr. Ordway has a doctorate in English literature and taught the subject before becoming an apologist.

        In each case, there was a prophecy that a virgin would give birth and inherit the kingdom. In each case, the divine father took on his holy spiritual form to do the deed. In each case, the holy family fled over the sea to escape the death threat. Both Jesus and Perseus bodily ascended into the heavens; Perseus on the back of Pegasus, Jesus accompanied by angels.

        I’m sure there’re more parallels just between those two that I’m overlooking.

        And I haven’t even mentioned Orpheus, yet; Jesus, like Orpheus, was quite clearly patterned after the Osiris / Dionysus / Bacchus mold, complete with the trial, the trip to the underworld to conquer death, the resurrection, and the salvation in the life everlasting for deserving souls.


        1. The Greek gods were much more fun. They had much more fun. Maybe if Yahweh had had some, like Zeus, he would have been a bit less bitter and twisted and psycho.

        2. “Jesus” is what he’s called in English. The Aramaic original would have been “Yeshua”. If you reckon the whole thing was made up in Greek then it would have been “Iesous”, which actually also doesn’t quite rhyme with “Perseus” — different diphthongs at the end.

          The person who ordered Perseus to be thrown into the sea was his father, Akrisios. So far as I can tell, Akrisios’s wife’s name is not given; if by “Queen Hera” you mean the goddess, she also does not appear to have been involved. (In Pseudo-Apollodorus, at least, Akrisios didn’t believe Zeus had anything to do with Danae’s pregnancy, so he can hardly have been acting on Hera’s orders.)

          So, anyway, we’re agreed that the names don’t rhyme in the original languages. I don’t see how the fact that a couple of them kinda-sorta rhyme in English is relevant. Yes, Ordway is an English-speaker, but so what?

          In the Jesus case there was no prophecy that a virgin would give birth and inherit the kingdom. (There was barely a prophecy that a virgin would give birth at all, of course. And nothing at all about what she would do after that.) In the Perseus case, the prophecy didn’t say anything about virgins (Danae was a virgin only because Akrisios locked her up) nor about inheriting kingdoms (it said Danae’s son would kill Akrisios, that’s all; and according to the myth Perseus then went out of his way *not* to take over Akrisios’s kingdom).

          (So I suppose the stories are parallel in this respect: *neither* of them involves a prophecy about a virgin giving birth and inheriting the kingdom.)

          In the Perseus case, the “divine father” took on a special one-off form to do the deed. In the Jesus case, there’s no indication that he took on any form at all. I’m not sure what “took on his holy spiritual form” is meant to mean, but if it goes beyond “didn’t take human form and do it by fucking” I don’t see that there’s any real parallel here.

          In the Jesus case, the family (according to one account) fled from Israel to Egypt; there is no sea between those countries, nor is there any suggestion in the story that they travelled by sea. In the Perseus case, they crossed the sea — but not *to escape* the threat of death; being thrown into the sea was *the way Akrisios tried to kill them*.

          So far as I can tell the Perseus legend doesn’t say he ascended bodily into the heavens. It says he had flying sandals (and, in later versions of the tradition — too late, I think, to have anything to do with the Jesus story — a flying horse) with which he flew around in the air. (He did get turned into a constellation after his perfectly ordinary death, but that doesn’t seem like it has much resemblance to the Christian ascension story.) It doesn’t really matter, but Jesus’s ascension is not said to have been accompanied by angels. (There were a couple of angels on the ground who told off the disciples, I guess.) In any case, none of this has much to do with the alleged parallels between the *birth* stories, but if you do want to bring in the rest of their lives I’ll remark that basically nothing in the rest of the Jesus story is much like anything in the rest of the Perseus story, and vice versa.

          I’m not sure what to make of all this; more than half of what you’ve said is just demonstrably wrong, at the level where even the briefest attempt at fact-checking would turn it up, and the rest is dubious at best. I don’t know where you’re getting your information, but you should trust it less next time.

          1. In the Jesus case there was no prophecy that a virgin would give birth and inherit the kingdom. (There was barely a prophecy that a virgin would give birth at all, of course.

            Erm…which Bible did you read? Because this is what I find in the very opening of mine:

            Matthew 1:22 Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying,

            1:23 Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us.


            2:2 Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem,

            2:2 Saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him.

            …as well as in a number of Christmas carols, nativity pays, etc., etc., etc.

            I’m not sure what to make of all this; more than half of what you’ve said is just demonstrably wrong, at the level where even the briefest attempt at fact-checking would turn it up, and the rest is dubious at best.

            Are you addressing that to yourself, perchance?


            1. OK, so the first point of confusion is that you said “a virgin would give birth and inherit the kingdom” but apparently meant “a virgin would give birth and her child would inherit the kingdom”. OK, I guess.

              Now, with that change to what you wrote: in the Jesus story there was no prophecy that a virgin would give birth and her child would inherit any kingdom. The prophecy in Isaiah was not originally about a virgin (as I’m sure you know) and doesn’t say that the child in question would inherit anything. It isn’t clear where Matthew’s wise men get the “king of the Jews” from, but it certainly doesn’t appear to be from that prophecy. (They would have been unlikely even to have heard of Isaiah.)

              So perhaps what you mean is that in the Jesus story it is alleged that (1) there was a prophecy that a virgin would give birth, and (2) some characters in the story inferred by unknown means that the child in question — which they didn’t know was to be born of a virgin — would be king. In which case: yeah, I guess that’s true, but the parallel to the Perseus story isn’t very impressive. (Not that it was anyway, since — as I already mentioned — in that story there was no prophecy of a virgin birth, and no prophecy of anyone inheriting any kingdom.)

              > Are you addressing that to yourself, perchance?

              I listed umpteen things that I think you got wrong and said why I thought they were wrong. If you likewise think I have got lots of things wrong, please feel free to show me how.

              Or, y’know, pick nits on one detail, don’t respond to any of the rest, and airily imply that I’m wrong about everything. Whatever works for you.

              1. Or, y’know, pick nits on one detail, don’t respond to any of the rest, and airily imply that I’m wrong about everything. Whatever works for you.

                Damn. There goes another irony meter….


              2. I take no responsibility for what you think is ironic. I will merely remark that I don’t think any impartial observer would say that the worst thing about my comments upthread is that they failed to respond to most of what you said. (Quite the reverse.)

  4. A quick youtube search for Richard Carrier why the gospels are myth would enlighten her… I especially like the story of Jesus and the fig tree and how it was a parable and not meant to be taken as history…

  5. The veracity of Jesus in on par with light sabers. However light sabers are immesnsely more practical and if you really want a light light saber that is understandable, unlike wanting an obscure myth of an illiterate philistine.

      1. Science will solve that one – they’re part way there already. I know because I’ve seen it on YouTube! 🙂

        1. What is this “partway there” nonsense? You’ve got your past and future tenses confused.

          Light sabers existed “a long time ago”. Didn’t you see the documentaries back in the 1980s? I did. They rang true.

          1. Maybe if one picked up the burning bush and swooshed it all around , that might work.

        1. Ahh, that would be a different type of ‘light’

          That word has 257 different meanings


          Prof. Pedant

        2. Composed only of bosons. I imagine they are in a coherent state as well. Those conditions might need to be satisfied. 😊

  6. Well, she was probably incompetent as professor of English literature also.

    We should not make fun of the cargo cults. I know they are true – I have many pair of cargo shorts.

      1. Or even Vanuatu. Did anyone see the documentary a few years ago about a group of men who went to America as representatives of their tribe searching for John Frum? They even got to meet Colin Powell, who was Secretary of State at the time.

        They were billeted with families all across America for a week at a time. They found no trace of John Frum.

        There’s another cult on Tanna (the same island the John Frum cult is from) that worships Prince Philip instead.

          1. Yeah him. It’s called the Prince Philip Movement, which, of course, invites all sorts of potty illusions. In some stories he’s said to be John Frum’s brother.

        1. Darn it! I spelled Vanuatu wrong once (the other time I made that pun) and now it’s in my autocorrect. It took two tries just now to get it right. Sheesh.

          1. That’s happened to me too – it’s time they invented a device that recognized such things! 🙂

    1. well it’s a damn good thing she’s not a history professor! Although, with that low a bar for fact and truth, she’d have made a stellar biblical archaeologist.

      I will say that I’m not surprised. This sort of mealy-minded wish fulfillment magical thinking is exactly what I’ve experienced and have come to expect from english lit majors (no offense to anyone on here who is one, for clearly you are in the minority) I guess I give her a bit of a pass for this, considering her studies and training, but I still cannot wrap my head around people like Francis Collins or Ken Miller. It’s one thing to spend your adulthood wrapped up in literature and living in the land of make-believe, but it’s a whole other ball of crazy to study science but at the end of the day still go home to talk to your invisible bearded friend in the sky.

      1. I’m not really sure it matters too much what you study. To me, the key factor is the way you think. Whatever the subject, academic rigor is required to study it properly. There is sloppy work in all subjects at all levels.

        To believe without proof always requires a certain level of cognitive dissonance imo. If you’ve actually studied religion properly and still believe, it’s because you want to.

        1. …the key factor is the way you think…

          Exactly. Which is why scientists are the least religious of all people. If you’ve made a career of doing science or have just learned to think critically, the kind of absurd, shoddy reasoning that goes into Ordway’s conversion is very difficult to fathom. For someone who is not already indoctrinated to declare that scripture is something other than myth simply demolishes any intellectual respect I might have for her.

        2. well, as a history major, I’m just glad she’s not one of us! and as I minored in anthropology, I consider the biblical anthro’s to be a blight upon the profession.

          1. I have an English degree and a Classics degree. If someone from English goes wonky it’s often that they are 1) nuts 2) a theist 3) unfamiliar with source material (often in Latin or Greek).

      2. I wonder if the saw the Green Mile she would think that was historical? Or better still, Galaxy Guest. Those are obviously under-rated for their historical accuracy.

          1. One thing I really liked about Galaxy Quest was a neat bit of logic – the aliens had built their ship to exactly mirror the capabilities of the ‘USS Whatever-it-was’ from the TV series. So when they were racing through the ship to reach the self-destruct and just failed to reach it – it stopped by itself on ‘001’. Because in TV series countdown bombs _always_ stop on 1 so this one was built to do just that. Brilliant!

          1. There are several around Auckland used as delivery vans. And one I know of driven by the owner of a towing firm (who also supply a range of vehicles such as American police cars for movie makers), he’s put a hot 2-litre twin-cam in it and the thing really does go. You need a certain sense of humour to bother doing that.

              1. That ‘Flux Capacitor’ looks frightening. That short wheelbase at speed is going to be hideously unstable.

                It must be British – there seems to be something genetic about the British that makes them build ludicrous things like the world’s fastest furniture.

                I’d love to see Flux Capacitor lined up against Postman Pat.

              2. I’d love to see Flux Capacitor lined up against Postman Pat.

                Now that would be a scary sight…but I bet Flux Capacitor would handily win…it’s that instant torque from the electric motors….


        1. I’m trying to imagine the sound of the horn on that. I think a deep, human voice sounding beeeeeeeeeeeep!

  7. This does not reflect well on Dr.Ordway since the only, from a cognitive point of view, rational method to chose a religion would be to compare different religions and non-religious views (à la outsider test of faith).

    Alternatively, she might simply be deluded about what made her become a religious believer.

    1. Given what’s in the article I have doubts she was ever an atheist. Though I don’t necessarily doubt that she sincerely thought so. But her idea of what an atheist is seems like a caricature of the typical Christian notion of what an atheist is rather than what the typical atheist thinks.

      I think that at best she was merely an “unfocused” believer. Sastra may come along and say it all much better than I. But Ordway shows all the signs of having all the characteristics of a religious believer that just hadn’t come out of the closet to herself yet.

      1. I agree re the atheist caricature.

        She may have been a “None”, but it seems to me that wasn’t a choice, just an accident of birth.

  8. Personally, I have faith in Behemoth, the demonic cat from Master and Margarita. He’s a hard-drinking, hard-living, giant feline with a gun. And that book has way fewer contradictions than the NT. So hail Behemoth.

  9. 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.

    Even granting this (which I wouldn’t), wouldn’t it still be more likely that the gospel writers had a unique way of writing myth than that a phenomenon never once recorded in human history (a man dying and coming back to life days later) had occurred?

    1. the paragraph should have read

      “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…and this is exactly the kind of fantastical crap one would expect to find in a book written hundreds of years after the fact, based on the oral legends of a pre-literate, pre-scientific, myth-focused primitive culture and that’s why I can’t accept it as any more true than the boogey-man, tooth fairy, or the easter bunny.”

      By chance has she recently suffered some sort of head trauma?

    2. Resurrection after death is one of the most common themes in all of recorded history. It’s just that, every time it’s recorded, it’s clear that it’s a religious fantasy…and typically in a setting where a pastoral god becomes mortal, dies, and returns to life so that all life may similarly do so, with lots of symbolism equating winter with death and spring with rebirth.

      What’s somewhat unique about Jesus is that the Christians got him backwards; he’s born at the time of death and dies at the time of birth, making him, in fact, the exact sort of opposite everything-perverted upside-down demon that they like to portray competing gods as. Considering that he’s also a “love” god who tortures men who look admiringly at women and a “peace” god who’ll lead the charge in the battle to end all battles, this perversion is hardly surprising.


      1. In more recent fiction, considering everyone from Sherlock Holmes onwards who has ‘miraculously’ come back to life, it seems to be one of those tropes that’s almost inherent in story-telling.

        There’s hardly a fantasy series made where the characters don’t keep on dying and reappearing.

        1. I’ve never watched a soap in my life, but the caricature is certainly of somebody important dying in one episode and then, several episodes later, somehow not being dead.


          1. Aargh, please no, I said ‘fantasy’, not ‘soap’, the two genres are totally different. Fantasy and sci-fi may sometimes merge into each other, but not ever, never ever, soaps.

            ‘Dallas’ and ‘Days of Our Lives’ were soaps (and no, I would rather have my teeth out without anaesthetic than watch them). Sitcoms without the laugh track.

  10. This conversion didn’t seem any different from an emotional conversion. She spent her life studying poetry and followed in the footsteps of people she admired and looked up to, C.S Lewis, her fencing teacher. She was “intellectually honest enough” to study further into Christianity, but Christianity only and from only a literary perspective, not even historical, in a language the book was translated into.
    If she was completely intellectually honest she would have looked further than her closest surroundings. If the same academic and social pressures where applied to her in another culture and religion she would have converted to those surroundings.

  11. You can wait for some christian columnist to take a sample of N=2 to deduce that religiosity is increasing.

    1. It was done yesterday in the ‘Daily Beast’. The author concluded from the Pew study that half of children brought up atheist turned to religion later in life. It wasn’t all bad – they did at least get a comment from Zuckerman who disputed the assumption.

      It’s an error that occurred because the author chose to represent all the “non-affiliated” as atheists.

  12. Visit the Houston Baptist University Website. Looks like this lady is the director of the “Master of Arts in Apologetics” Degree Program at a fundamentalist school! I find it disingenous that she claims prior atheism.

    1. Agreed. This woman’s story is bogus. She’s about as real a former atheist as Lee Strobel, who btw also teaches at Houston Baptist U….

      Why is it that these evangelical types seem to have to lie so much?

      1. Agree completely, totally bogus in claiming ever to be an atheist. Just look at her picture (I know I shouldn’t judge thus but she so smacks of insincere righteousness).

        I’m reminded of that other heap of totally unconvincing literature, Who Moved the Stone, by Frank Morrison. Somehow claiming to be a former atheist seems to be a way of convincing the gullible.

      2. Like most atheists he was just in it for guilt free sex, drugs and rock and roll. I actually read one of his books where he proved the existence of Jesus by interviewing a whole cast of characters from the Discovery Institute. What a waste of my life!

        1. Yes: The Case for Christ where he poses as a disinterested “reporter” investigating the Jesus story and, wow, what a surprise!, comes away thinking the evidence is really good! Nevermind that it’s all garbage.

          He takes personal opinions as facts.

          I wrote a scathing review of the book on Amazon.

          I was goaded into reading it by some Xian apologist online with whom I had some “discussions.”

    2. Wow. I think Jerry has probably accorded her far too much respect. It seems pretty likely that she just a run-of-the-mill Liar for Jesus.™

  13. The subtitle is telling: An Atheist Academic Lays Down her Arms. It feeds on the trope of the militant atheist, probably to arouse more fervor from the Xians. As others above have noted, I don’t think she ever held any serious atheist convictions to start with, therefore never had any intellectual or academic weaponry to lay down. And I’ll add: face palm!

  14. > 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.

    David Strauss would disagree with her:

  15. To me, the story of Jesus is trhe story of a man who denounced the injustice, hatred, discrimination, oppression of the poor, hypocrisy and who paid for this with death, but whose message of Love, Charity and Justice lives on. It may be myth, but it’s spirittually true, like the great myths

    1. I don’t understand what it means to say something is “spiritually true.” I find that qualifiers when applied to terms like truth and justice tend negate the object. It is true or not? To say that it is “spiritually true” sounds like one is saying that it is not true in a very basic way, especially given that “spiritual” is an essentially meaningless term.

      1. It sounds to me like admission that it isn’t really true, but it makes you feel good in some way so condition yourself to believe it anyway. In other words, a claim that untrue stuff should be considered more important than actually really true stuff. So much more important that you should base your entire world view on it and defend it against all reason even if that entails compromising ethical principles you otherwise generally uphold.

          1. I don’t need to believe in any religious myths, Spiritually True or not, to well appreciate and satisfy those aspects of my existence. And I am not in any way unique in this respect.

            It is long past time to grow up. The 1st thing people need to understand is that doing so does not require giving up things like Love, Charity, Acceptance, Beauty, or any other such things. Not even slightly. That is something believers made up as an immunization tactic (per Sastra).In fact your abilities to appreciate and satisfy those aspects of your humanity will be enhanced when you free yourself from commitment to counterfactual myths like religion.

          2. Don’t speak for my human yearnings and I won’t speak for yours. Don’t take me to school and tell me what truth is via a spiritual mechanism.

    2. I see no reason why a person can’t take the positive things from the myth of Jesus, if they choose, and use them as inspiration. I do have a problem with them insisting the myth is true, a bodily resurrection occurred, and those who don’t believe the myth are not just immoral but evil.

      Personally, I think Harry Potter is a better role model.

      1. The good things from the Jesus story are:

        1. Golden rule (existed/exists in many cultures before and after the time this Jesus was supposed to have lived)

        2. Be real nice (we all learned this in Kindergarten

        3. Basic liberal values

        None of these were invented by the Jesus character and none of them need that character.

        1. And that’s the point really – the good things associated with Jesus weren’t invented by him, and don’t require his involvement to be of value.

        2. And maybe one or two of the parables, depending on taste. It’s hardly something to convert over, though.

        3. Hi jblilie, I think that the idea of hell is incompatible with the Golden Rule. If you measure the behaviour by whether you would want it done to you then since no one would want to be sent to eternal suffering how could they agree to anyone else being sent to a hell ? A deity who lived by the Golden Rule would not have let a hell come into existence. Hell is not compatible with the idea of a perfect loving God.
          Even the idea that, “Do not murder” is an objective moral absolute would mean that hell is immoral as it would be a sort of eternal murder – causing unjust suffering, causing more suffering than anything the person could have done to others.
          Hell is just a rebranding of the Greek myths about Hades & Tartarus.
          2 Peter 1v16 claims that the author did not follow cleverly invented tales, yet 2 Peter 2v4 uses the word Tartarus in the original Greek which is a mythical dungeon in Hades. “God did not spare the angels when they sinned but sent them to Tartarus, putting them into gloomy dungeons”

    3. You may wish to re-read the Bible. Jesus is really one nasty badass motherfucking sonofabitch who calls on his followers to slaughter all who won’t follow him (Luke 19:27) as he himself will do when he comes back for Armageddon…who came not to bring peace but a sword, and to rip families asunder…wreaked havoc in Jerusalem…repeatedly condemned literally everybody to infinite torture, especially in the Sermon on the Mount…was virulently anti-Semitic…endorsed slavery…and returned from the dead a reanimated corpse who got his jollies having his thralls fondle his intestines through his gaping chest wound.

      The Jesus they teach in Sunday School classes is purest fabrication and has absolutely nothing in common with the Jesus of the Bible save the name. Love gods most emphatically, for example, do not infinitely torture men who look admiringly on beautiful women, yet we are still told the lie that Jesus is a love god. Whatever passage you might have in mind about Jesus being a love god…it must be tempered with his predilection for torture, his contempt for family unity, and the rest.

      Even Hitler gave rousing speeches, remember…and goddamned shitfuck asshole Hitler Oneball was a much nicer, nobler, and more lovable person than the Jesus character.


      1. As I have argued elsewhere, Christianity and its history is writ in blood and torture.

      2. Hi Ben Goren. Have you noticed the new book, “The Bad Jesus: The Ethics of New Testament Ethics” by Dr Hector Avalos ? He posted about it on Debunking Christianity 4/23/2015 He makes similar points to yours.

    4. Just stop it with the “spiritually true” malarkey.

      What you all mean when you say “it’s spiritually true” is that we can learn a lesson from it. Just like my two-year-old can learn a lesson from watching Doc McStuffins.

    5. I agree, the story of Jesus is trhe. Or Tricky. Or tripe. Your idea of Love is certainly not mine when he had the very basic ability to choose to save John the Baptist and deliberately did not. I could give you a list of reasons why I do not see Jesus as loving. Let’s think about the woman who touched his garment. You call that Love? The words he used when he finally spoke to her?
      Take off your rose colored glasses.

  16. There is certainly something unique in the flavor of the style of New Testament writing, but it can be argued that this is due to its unusual blend of Jewish-apocalyptic and Greek-Gnostic-mystery literary motifs, a sort of mocha that tastes quite different from coffee or chocolate or an Arnold Palmer drink that tastes quite different from lemonade or iced tea.

    Re: “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.”

    James is not himself a traditional Christian, more of a 19th-century transcendentalist. He described his philosophy as “piecemeal supernaturalism”, and regarded most religious creeds as a complicated mixture of the real and imaginary.
    However, I’m sure he described other believer’s conversions in these terms.

  17. As a kid I loved the book series “Frog and Toad”, and Italian scientist Lazzaro Spallanzani once dressed up frogs in pants for an experiment. All of this “rings true” to me, so Frog and Toad must be real, kind-hearted, companionable, natty dressers (and I hope that Toad doesn’t lose another button).

  18. I find it odd she doesn’t see the “flavor” of myth in the Bible. Is not Jesus’s story a “Hero’s Journey”? Is not the Exodus? Bizarre.

    It would be interesting to know, a la others’ “outsider test” comments above, how other faiths’ scriptures score on the fairy tale test: if the New Testament is not fairy-tale-ish, seems to me some of the Eastern holy books are even less so.

    I suspect the good doctor is mistaken and does not understand how her brain led her into belief, and this is all post-hoc rationalization (as is everything we say about our ideas, actions and “choices”) by a cortex steeped in literature.

    1. …the “flavor” of myth in the Bible…

      I can hardly think of anything more mythological than the Bible. I wish she’d gone into more detail about her case for the opposite.

      1. Not only that, but I’m thinking right now about many myths (and fairy tales) that are far more coherent than the Bible.

        At least with the Greek gods, for example, there is an explanation of their motivations – they were angry, jealous, insulted, possessive, horny, etc. – and a rational connection between motivation and action. Can’t really say as much for Bible stories. A little “myth flavoring” would be a plus.

  19. A more accurate subtitle would seem to be “A confused, narrowly focused Academic reads lots of Christian books, makes Christian friends, and converts to Christianity”.

  20. Notwithstanding all the archaeological evidence that nobody’s ever found that should be there if any of the Biblical fables were true.

    Oh, I forgot, that’s evidence that they’re metaphors. (Aha moment! PCC – NB: this is how you tell what’s a metaphor – if no archaeological evidence, it’s probably a metaphor. Or at least (as with presumptive saints) it can be recommended as a metaphor.

    Or maybe like innocence, all things Biblical are presumed to be a metaphor until proved to have a shred of factual basis.

  21. Since Dr. Ordway is an English professor, she might benefit from reading George Eliot’s translation of Strauss’s “Das Leben Jesu” (1835-36). Strauss investigated the “historical Jesus” and ended up denying Jesus’s divinity.

  22. If Holly Ordway were a biologist, I might be interested. She is an Apologist. Apologists and circus barkers will say anything to entice you to come inside the tent.

  23. So “it sounds like it could be true” is a sufficient standard of evidence. This is great news for criminals! Now all they have to do to be exonerated is come up with a good story. No need to corroborate it. If it “rings true” (whatever the fuck that means) then you’re golden!

    One of two things is going on here:

    1) Either this is just an attention/money seeking stunt, or…

    2) She’s not that bright.

    If I may be permitted a moment of self-pity, it well and truly depresses me when I see nonsense of this kind, and I see it not infrequently. How can this person have a successful academic career, while I probably have to resign myself to the idea that I simply won’t have one? At my age, I should already have a few years of teaching under my belt, but every application for grad school I’ve sent out over the past seven years has been rejected. I can’t even earn the degree of need to teach.

    And then there’s Dr. Ordway.

    Where’s the booze?

      1. I’ve been accepted, but can’t take up a place because a series of accidents, none my fault, mean I don’t have the physical capacity for sustained study and never will.

          1. Ha! Me, neither.

            I’m sorry to hear about your misfortune.

            Sometimes stuff in life sucks. Not getting to make an academic career of my passion is a pretty big downer, which only stings the more because I’m constantly seeing nonsense and frippery rewarded and promoted all around me.

            But of course there are great joys in life, too. I suppose I should try to focus more on those.

            Hope I wasn’t out of line with the Debbie Downer routine.

            1. We all have days like that. When you’re having one, being told that others have it worse or something similar is more likely to p!ss you off than help ime.

            2. I’m sure it’s because everything happens for a reason. Bah! I hope you don’t mind my dark humour I just know that when someone says shit like that to me when something unfortunate happens to me, I have a really hard time not punching them right in the face!!

    1. My son was a National Merit Scholar, has two BAs, has been working & directing biological field projects for 3 or 4 years now, and has sterling references from established biologists, but has yet to get into grad school. It’s a whole new world out there now, in corporate academia…

    1. There is a you tuber I really like, Lee Lemon.

      She is really good and really smart. She used to be a Pentecostal fundamentalist and wanting to be a better evangelist turned her intelligence to really studying the bible, to get better at it. Naturally, because she is intelligent, she became an atheist.

      Just recently she was answering an apparently not uncommon question from fundies,
      “If scientists are so smart, why do they die?”
      She has a good insight into that mentality. These people believe so strongly that they can’t believe that people don’t believe in god.
      They think atheists are people who think they are better than god or some other twisted concept.

      this notion really helped me understand some peculiar discussions I have had when I say I am an atheist.

      So, after all that, yes, that is what an atheist is to some of them.

  24. I think she is really just pulling an argumentum ad auctoritatem with her “I’ve seen my this and this isn’t a myth” schtick. Shall we get into a myth seeing pissing contest? I’ve seen lots of arguments and this isn’t one.

    1. myth seeing pissing contest

      I won’t get that vision out of my head the rest of the day.

    2. I’ve seen lots of arguments and this isn’t one.

      That’s because this is abuse, you ignorant slut. Arguments are down the hall, to the left, and past Uranus!

      Yes! They are! Unquestionably!


  25. Nothing to see here… Typical non-Atheist claiming to be an Atheist.

    Found this quote:

    “I was raised in a non-religious environment. My family wasn’t hostile to religion, but also didn’t practice it. I never went to church and never read the Bible. The result was that I knew nothing about Christian beliefs or about God before I went to college and began to absorb the anti-Christian attitude at the secular schools I attended.

    Lord of the RingsOn the other hand, my family did have some elements of “cultural Christianity.” For instance, at Christmas, my parents put out a nativity scene and would play traditional Christmas carols. I also read C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia and J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings at a relatively young age, and was captivated by both, even though at the time I completely missed the Christian themes in the novels. In retrospect, I can see the way that even these very small things were avenues for God’s grace to work in my life—seeds that would stay dormant for many years.

    After your conversion to Christianity in 2006, you obtained an MA in apologetics from Biola. Yet before that, you had been pursuing a conventional secular academic career, and considered yourself to be an atheist. Please take us through your academic career up to the point of your conversion. In doing so, please underscore the influences that were moving you away from, as well as toward, Christian faith.

    Holly Ordway:
    When I started college, I was “spiritual but not religious,” in the best sense of the word.

    Last line explaines it all.

    1. Yep.

      I suppose a person raised without religion might be considered an atheist on only those grounds as long as we specify the narrow context of simply not being a theist.

      But not affirming a religion isn’t the same as affirming atheism. For the purposes of the theism/atheism dialectic, the person who merely hasn’t gotten around to affirming a particular religion does not count as an atheist.

      1. I’m one of those atheists raised without religion. Just because I never got sucked into a religion or had to reason my way away from belief doesn’t mean I’m less of an atheist.

        1. You’ll notice I wrote “merely”.

          I assume, since you’re actively participating in online atheism, that you’ve considered the arguments for and against and could give me reasons for your atheism *other* than “I just wasn’t raised as a theist”; ie, reasons you think there are no gods. “I wasn’t raised as a theist” is not a reason for thinking there are no gods.

          If someone is described as an atheist only because s/he wasn’t raised as a theist, and it can be demonstrated that s/he has not considered the arguments but only says “well, I’ve never been to church so I guess I’m an atheist”, then, yeah, I’d balk at calling that person an atheist in any other sense than the one I described in the first paragraph of my original comment.

          But of course, a person raised without religion can certainly also conclude atheism based on thoughtful examination.

          1. I’m not sure I can provide a reason why I don’t believe in gods. That question seems backwards.
            Until I started reading this website and a few others I’d never really thought about having to rationalize being an atheist.
            Growing up it never occurred to me that anyone believed in a god and fifty years later I still don’t understand how it’s possible for anyone who doesn’t believe in Santa as well.
            I’m confused as to why I would need to explain why I don’t believe in something that doesn’t exist anyway?

            1. I think you’re overthinking my point.

              Not seeing evidence for or not being given a good reason to believe in a god would be a reason.

              I agree; atheism is not a positive position that you have to support or explain. But given that people in this world do posit gods, you can’t refute them simply by saying “that’s not how I was brought up”. This is why I mentioned the dialectic. If you’re a never-thought-about-it de facto atheist, that’s fine, but how can you participate in that dialectic? And that’s what this is about. Why would Dr. Ordway have written a book if she didn’t want to persuade, or at the very least have people look at her arguments?

              1. Understood, and I agree that I can only refute them with what I have learned here (special thanks to Ben) and other recent research, not because I’ve reasoned my way out of belief.
                My only point was that this doesn’t invalidate my atheism.

              2. Certainly it doesn’t invalidate it; it’s just a very narrow slice of the atheist pie.

                It’s also important to note that the thought-about reasons for atheism (recte: rejecting theism) don’t have to be complex or profound. Theism is not a difficult tower to topple. Noting that there’s no evidence pretty much does it.

            2. I’m very open to the idea of moving to an area where I could live where it would never occur to me that anyone believed in a god because I drove past so many churches every day that I realized many people did. Now, I know I live in a populated city, however I would consider moving to an area that has absolutely no signs of god worship. Where in the USA would this place be?

              1. Hmmmm…Death Valley? Probably not. Perhaps one of the uninhabited Aleutian Islands?

    2. So “Lord of the Rings” leads to Xtianity. I *knew* there was something unsavoury about Tolkien! 😉

  26. I have a surgeon friend and colleague who is really good, evidence based medicine, constructs devices himself that otherwise costs tens of thousands for a fraction of the costs, etc.
    However he believes the world is less than 10.000 years old. I keep feeding him evidence, but it does not register.
    No he’s not really like Ordway, but I still have difficulty to accept that obviously brilliant people are able to believe the nonsense.

    1. Humans are complicated. The furniture in our minds often seems bolted to the floor.

      It is one of the more interesting and, to my mind, unanswered questions… how do people’s minds actually change? They seem so resistant to change and yet, we know that they sometimes do. Whole groups of people shift their beliefs over time. Sometimes quite quickly. What does it take for that to happen?

      I know there has been a small bit of research on this topic, but from what I’ve seen it’s not yet very satisfying.

    2. The textbook example of someone like your friend is Kurt Wise, BA from Un. of Chicago, PhD from Harvard where he was a graduate student of Stephen Jay Gould. Wise is a YEC and has said that even if all the evidence in the world supported the Theory of Evolution, he would still reject it in favor of the fables in the babble.

  27. Took a bunch of digging to find something with a timeline:

    Short version: she grew up, in her own words, in “cultural Christianity” with parents who put up nativity scenes and reading Narnia. She went to college c. 1991, again in her own words, “spiritual but not religious,” and discovered “great Christian poets” in her sophomore year…but she also fell in with an atheistic crowd, implying she considered herself an atheist about the time of her graduation in 1995.

    She got her PhD in 2001. “A few years later” she included some of the “great Christian poets” in her English lit syllabus and “discovered that they were not only artistically interesting, but also deeply meaningful.” At the same time, her fencing coach was, as Christians say, “witnessing” to her.

    She “was baptized on the feast of St. Michael and All Angels in 2006.” Presumably she had been convinced of the truth of Christianity for quite some time before making it official.

    So…grew up Christian, was spiritual when she went to College, has always been passionate about Christian poetry, and spent several years loving Christian literature but dismissing Christian theology before embracing the theology as well.

    Her comparison of herself to Lewis is spot-on, and her idea of an atheist is not the same one we share but rather the Christian caricature of somebody who secretly knows the capital-T-Truth but is afraid to admit it. Note especially the description, “built up a defense.”


    1. She got a PhD in Lit and hadn’t read any “great Christian poets” until a couple of years after that? Sounds odd. Especially considering that the majority of great poets of the past in the “western” world were christian, because the large majority of everyone was.

      1. I might have mis-phrased that.

        She’s always loved “great Christian poets,” at least from her early College years and possibly before. She “rediscovered” them after she had been teaching English Lit for an while.


          1. Based on the discussion in this thread, she can’t tell the difference between Christian and non-Chrisitan poets, and seems to think that all poetry she likes is Christian.

            The woman is either very confused, or very deliberately confusing.


    2. I think the poetry angle is particularly important. A lot of mystical Christian writing and discussion sounds just like poetry. It makes no actual sense logically, but it moves the emotions of the susceptible, who think that’s enough to prove that it’s “true”, whatever “true” means for them. People like Mary Midgely are masters of the art of weaving tapestries of beautiful words, which when you stand back to look at the picture, don’t even have the coherence of Jackson Pollack, but the likes of Ordway don’t ever stand back to consider the meaning, they are too carried away by its beauty.

  28. “Ordway made the conclusion of an expert in literature, that the New Testament has all the signs of an eyewitness account.”

    Even if it could be established that the Bible is an eyewitness account rather than a manufactured story, how does that support the conclusion that it’s true? Eyewitness account is infamously unreliable.

    This is scholarship?

    1. That’s the knockout punch. Everybody should read Elizabeth Loftus’s book “Eyewitness Testimony.”

      And, of course, the gospel accounts are most decidedly *not* eyewitness accounts in any case, having been written approximately two generations after Jesus supposedly lived.

      1. Any who doubts that, just see Mark 15:38: “And the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom.” We know exactly when the veil of the temple was rent in twain from top to bottom: 70 CE, when the Romans ripped it.


  29. My whut? reaction is based partly on her mention of John Keats. Hmm, I know quite a bit about John Keats, and I don’t remember anything about his religious beliefs—certainly not an important part of his life. I suppose it’s possible that he was a Christian, but most of his famous literary contemporaries were not. And hope? Few people have lived such heartbreakingly hopeless lives—I would think the life of John Keats in and of itself would disprove the existence of any all-powerful benevolent god. And part of the tragedy of Keats was his realization of just how hopeless things were.

    I’m a little insulted that anyone should associate a fine thinker such as Keats with such triteness. And it does make me wonder how much this woman knows about literature. Not to mention anything else.

    1. That raised my eyebrow too. Keats is about as un-Christian a major poet as there is in the English, except for Shelley. Keats’s poetry is not the poetry of Christian consolation. And it is not the poetry of a person who either believes in or desires the Christian version of immortality.

      In the Ode to a Nightingale, for example, Keats’s fantasy of death is not to ascend to heaven and be with Jesus (or to achieve any other kind of afterlife). It is simply “to cease upon the midnight with no pain” and to become a mere clod of earth underneath the singing bird (“beneath thy requiem, become a sod”).

      His great poems are not hymns to a creator or designer; they are meditations on earthly beauty, human joy, human suffering, and human artistic achievement. His highest praise is not for any god, but for the great poets who came before him (Homer and Shakespeare).

      And then, of course, there are his most famous lines. Fill in the blank: “_____ is truth, truth _____. That is all / Ye know on Earth and all ye need to know.” (Hint: it’s not “God” or “Jesus.”)

      1. Romantic poets were all about nature and the bucolic joy of it all. Then came the Victorians who moaned and groaned their way through the industrial revolution. What a bunch of downers.

      2. Actually, come to think of it, Donne and Hopkins may both have been Christians, but I wouldn’t call either of them exactly brimming with hope. “It is the blight that man was born for, It is Margaret you mourn for.” Brr, two of the most chilling lines in English poetry. Ordway was inspired to embrace fervent faith by Donne and Hopkins? Lit degree or not, I strongly suspect this is simply an instance of pulling famous writers’ names out of the hat in an attempt to pretend to be well read.

      3. ‘Beauty is truth, truth beauty’.

        Nice line. Quite inspiring. Also factually worng. 😉

        Unfortunately the ‘truth’ of a proposition has no correlation with its beauty (except possibly in a metaphorical sense to mathematicians). This is a logical error that people often make.

        (IMO beauty is its own justification, it doesn’t need to be ‘true’ to be worthwhile).

        1. leave poor Keats alone. He died early from illness and Shelley went on a boat, knowing he couldn’t swim and inevitably drown.

          Those Romantic poets — they just didn’t plan well, except for Blake.

          1. I’ll quite happily leave Keats to write beautiful poetry, which may well express an aesthetic or emotional ‘truth’.

            I just disagree with anyone who wishes to imply that that is equivalent to literal, factual ‘truth’.

            (This is why I’m wary of the term ‘truth’. It has too many possible meanings.
            As I recall, in a computer, TRUE == -1)

  30. I wonder if the New Testament sounds different in Greek

    I bet it sounds much worse in Greek.

    Translations reflect all the erudition that the translators can bring to bear on the text. Translators who are committed believers themselves will go to great pains to make the work sound as sophisticated as possible, and being scholars they have quite a bit to draw on. I expect that the originals sound much more pedestrian, on the whole, because they were written by people on average who were less scholarly than the translators.

    This is a general problem with religious texts. The texts themselves, even in gussied up translation, are often dreadful (that’s why almost no one ever reads the texts themselves). But add 2000 years of interpretation, gloss, poetry, literature, and music written about it, applying all the brightest minds of every age to the task, and the sum total Bible + All-culture-that-references-the-Bible is, actually, pretty impressive. Bach was no slouch, after all, and insofar as you assign credit to the Bible for Bach’s Passion of St. Matthew, the Bible gets a hugely undeserved reputation buff.

    1. Actually, Richard Carrier writes quite highly of Mark, comparing it more than favorably with its Classical predecessors on which it was modeled. If he is to be trusted, it’s one of the finer examples of the craft, constructed with as much careful precision and elegance as any.


    2. This does seem plausible to me. I once read “Le Morte d’Arthur in the original and while it was certainly interesting in certain ways, for example its age, it was also very often quite boring. Not definitive of course, eye of the beholder and all that.

      1. I too read Le Morte d’Arthur and I really liked it. I love Middle English and how it sounds. The Canturbury Tales I also read in Middle English and if you hear it read properly it is quite nice to listen to.

        1. I appreciated its historical significance, generally and in the context of the art of literature specifically. And the direct window into the past. Reading the thoughts of a person who originally wrote them down nearly 6 centuries ago.

          If all of that were not the case though, it would have very little to recommend it to me. Too repetitive and formulaic, as is very common with ancient writings, particularly ones derived from oral traditions. The reasons they are repetitive and formulaic are certainly interesting though.

          1. What struck me was how sad it all was. You don’t get the tragic bits passed down in modern renderings of the Arthur legend. That characters felt guilty and sequestered themselves in convents was sad.

  31. “She is intellectually honest enough to investigate the sources”

    In context, that sentence made me LOL.
    JAC is right. There is nothing very reasonable or scholarly about biblical exegesis.

    1. Most of the NT doesn’t even claim to be that. Paul, for example, doesn’t claim to have witnessed any of the events of Jesus life. Luke claims to have assembled stories from other people.

      The bulk of it, even by it’s own admission, is hearsay, which is not allowed as evidence in courts in the U.S.

      1. Paul’s writing is inconsistent with the notion that he’s describing somebody who’s just recently died, but rather is a typical theological discourse concerning an ancient Jewish demigod first mentioned half a millennium earlier in Zechariah 6 and recently expanded upon by Philo of Alexandria.

        Mark is a classical invention of an Euhemeric biography of Jesus and virtually certainly the origin of everything we “know” about his Earthly tenure. Everything else after Mark either copies or “corrects” him or adds on to him or otherwise traces its origins back to him.


  32. Richard Dawkins is fond of pointing out that nobody is ‘born a Christian’ …

    This lady seems to have picked up on that and used it in the now clearly disingenuous (see several posts above) way of “I once was an atheist”.

  33. I wonder if she was really an atheist or if she is the typical believer lying for jesus and trying to give strength to his argument saying that she was an atheist, etc., etc. We have seen this many, many times. In an interview she gave in 2010 (the first edition of the book seems to be from 2010) she is quoted saying that when she was an atheist “[I]t was fun to consider myself superior to the unenlightened, superstitious masses, and to make snide comments about Christians”. You can read the whole thing here:
    Where she also spouts pearls like this one “[my] naturalistic worldview was inadequate to explain the nature of reality in a coherent way: it could not explain the origin of the universe, nor could it explain morality.”

    I would like to know how long has she been teaching at HBU (HBU mission: “The mission of Houston Baptist University is to provide a learning experience that instills in students a passion for academic, spiritual, and professional excellence as a result of our central confession, “Jesus Christ is Lord.”). Also telling is his interest in Tolkien and Lewis. I bet she is in love with Chesterton too (brief Google search… She is!

  34. Jerry asks how the New Testament would sound in Greek. I once argued with a minister who claimed that the resurrection of Jesus was a unique event in human history. I pointed out that the gospels themselves contain three accounts of Jesus supposedly raising people from the dead. However, it turned out that I knew nothing because the Greek word used for Jesus’ resurrection is apparently different from the words used for the other events.

    So while Dr Ordway thinks that the bible reads as if it were true, she might have to read it in the Greek to know exactly what those truths are.

  35. Interesting she came to Christ partly through her fencing teacher. Almost every christian denomination that existed has condemned duelling. Christians should not fight with each other, only with infidels.

    1. One of my daughter’s ex-friends, a devout Catholic, was briefly betrothed to her even more devout Catholic fencing teacher. What is it with fencing teachers?

      1. As a fencer, I apologize for the religious fencing teachers. They are not True Fencers™.

        1. LOL!

          I apologize as well. I should have said, “what is it with Christian fencing teachers?”

      2. Actually, thinking about it, even with all the protective clothing, fencing is still fighting, and I bet it stimulates all the hormonal increases that go with actual fighting, including dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin. In that environment you’d be more susceptible to all kinds of influence from your teacher, especially influences relying on emotional engagement. I bet a lot of people fall in love with their fencing instructors or otherwise come under their influence, at least for a while, and especially while they’re novices.

  36. It’s the same reason all believers believe: It just feels right (and therefore must be true).

    And I really seriously doubt the claim of thorough-going atheism prior to her conversion.

    1. That ‘I used to be an atheist’ thing is EXACTLY the same as other believers “I used to be a sinner”. Or even “I used to weigh 200 pounds / smoke six packs a day / drink three bottles of Jack Daniels”. It gives all the more cred to how marvellous their current ‘saved’ state is.

  37. If Ordway believes that the Bible has “the ineffeable texture of history”, then she can’t have read many real historians.

    I suggest she makes an honest comparison between the bible and the works of the great Greek and Roman historians – Thucydides or Tacitus, for example. There could scarcely be a greater contrast.

    As for Ordway taking inspiration from John Keats – the best expression of Keats’ belief system comes in the closing lines of the “Ode on a Grecian Urn”:

    Beauty is truth, truth beauty – that is all
    Ye know on earth and all ye need to know

    That has nothing whatever to do with Christianity. Unlike his contemporary, Percy Shelley, he wasn’t an outspoken atheist, but Keats certainly wasn’t a religious poet either.

    I can only conclude that Ordway’s knowledge of the English Romanic poets is thin, and that she must be a very poor literature professor.

  38. I suspect she was an atheist only because she’d been raised irreligious, and had never really thought about it. People like that can go either way once they do.

  39. I can only suggest that Dr. Ordway read Bart Ehrman’s books before she comes to any final conclusions about whether the New Testament has the “ring of truth.” How can it have the “ring of truth” when it contradicts itself over and over, even concerning matters as fundamental as what happened to Jesus after his birth?

  40. Cursed curiosity led me to another article concerning Ordway, too. In “Meet the Women Apologist,” Christianity Today, 4/7/15, there’s a small part guaranteed to make nearly everyone here barf.

    “What can we learn about unbelief?” Ordway asks her class, holding The Top 500 Poems. On the table next to her rests The Portable Atheist, a 2007 salvo edited by the late Christopher Hitchens.


    If Hitchens could return from the disbelieving dead and hover over the classroom, he might be disarmed by the pastoral care on display here. He might get the sense, as I do, that Ordway is trying to understand disbelief the way a good doctor understands the pain of a patient, conveying that sympathy to her medical students as they lean over a hospital bed.

  41. What can we learn about this woman is that she would never have asked this question if Hitch was alive. For she would never have had the ability to debate him.

  42. “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.”

    In other words, the NT has no literary merit whatever. 😉

    1. Ha, I thought the same thing when I read that! I’d always thought the Bible’s only value was as yet another (not too original) strain of mythology.

  43. Anyone who thinks the New Testament is fact either hasn’t read it or has mentally edited out about 80% of it. And swallowed whole the rest.

    Cut out the inconsistencies, contradictions, unrealistically detailed dialogues, and plain mystic shenanigans, and all you’re left with is a book of pontifications, and a vague tale of an apocalyptic preacher who was notorious enough to get crucified in the Middle East. The provenance isn’t even that great, with the earliest extant copies dating to the middle of the second century, nearly a hundred years after the events, and showing signs of being rewritten repeatedly. Also, even the best corroborating mentions in one or two reputable sources, like Tacitus, are either not even corroborations on closer examination or throwaways – and also dated to a century after the events, reported second-hand, and with no citations to original documents.

    And even if you could be sure this non-supernatural Jesus really existed, why would you join any of the franchise that’s arisen afterwards? The “original” documents were the internal self-congratulations of a smug and self-righteous apocalyptic cult. They only practised turning the other cheek because they thought God was going to exact permanent revenge on Judgement Day.

    Not to mention that the “messages” and “morals” – separated from the supernatural context – are basically very amateur ethics and philosophy, where they aren’t just plain chicken soup for the soul. There are tons of better secular philosophers who don’t talk in riddles and myths to explain their insights and reasoned points, who also don’t require you to join arbitrary cults and rewrite your self-identity as Humeans, Benthamians, or Russellians.

    It baffles and intrigues me how anyone can take the whole charade so seriously.

  44. So an academic who teaches English literature; ie a specialist in the expression of fiction, feels qualified to judge historical veracity?

    Okay, there’s plenty of literature which is factual but those qualified to comment meaningfully on its factual content are generally known as historians. A very different discipline.

    I guess this is the kind of person theists want atheists to be. Angry at god and just in need of a bit of straightening out to end their rebellion so they can come back home to the sky daddy.


  45. All I felt when I saw Holly’s picture was pity. How desperately sad her life must be in order for her to need to find hope in religion.

  46. I would encourage everyone here to simply read Ordway’s book. She gives a full account of her conversion and the reasons why, including the lengthy thought process she went through. Her reasons were not those which are characterized in this post. Further, it appears the author is dismissing the claims of two experts in literature as to their opinions on literature. We therefore have no doubt as to who is being unreasonable. Again, I simply point everyone to Ordway’s book…….it is neither expensive nor hard to read.

    1. Give me a break, please. Because two experts on literature “know stuff that’s true when they see it”, we’re supposed to find that a convincing reason for the truth of the Bible. Did you even read my post about all the contradictions and untruths in both the Old and New Testament? How does that stuff ring true? As for the characterization of the book, I’m going by what the article said. Ordway’s “I know literature and you don’t” argument is ludicrous, convincing only to those who already believe, such as yourself. To the rest of us rational beings, it’s just silly.

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