Nicholas Kristof still struggling about whether he’s a Christian; queries evasive evangelical writer

December 23, 2019 • 11:30 am

For some reason that I don’t understand, New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof has published column after column in which he asks theologians and other religionists about what they really believe. Do they believe Jesus was resurrected? Did he really perform miracles? As I wrote about his last column in April:

For a long time, New York Times op-ed writer Nicholas Kristof has been interviewing religious people, struggling to somehow buttress his Christianity.  He’s written a number of columns in which he asks religionists and church leaders if he, Kristof, is really a Christian (see herehere, and here), for, like any sensible person, he has doubts about the miracles that underlie Christianity, and about concepts like the efficacy of prayer, heaven, and hell. He wants to be a Christian but is having problems. I think he’d be better off as a secular humanist (he holds a number of appealing liberal views), and that would also save us from the spate of tedious columns about religion flowing from his pen.

And indeed, the people Kristof interviews, like former President Jimmy Carter, usually disavow any literal belief in the foundational tenets of Christianity, like the Resurrection, but still consider themselves as Christians because somehow the whole fictional story resonates with them. But doesn’t there has to be some acceptance of Christian truths to call yourself a Christian rather than, say, a Muslim or Hindu?

Kristof is the soul of politeness in these interviews, but often, as in this week’s Q&A with Philip Yancey—a well known evangelical Christian writer who has sold 15 million books in 40 languages—Kristof is persistent in his questions. The upshot is that he shows these people for who they really are: glib but confused souls who can’t quite sign on to the literality of the Jesus story, but who somehow still think it’s true—and truer than other faiths that have equally assertive and dubious scriptures.  Yancey’s simultaneous skepticism and certainty should, as Hitchens said, be met with mockery and contempt. I intend to proffer some.

But not, of course, from Kristof, who’s still finding his way through the thicket of theological mendacity. Click on the screenshot below to see an enormous waste of column space:

Look how Yancey evades Kristof’s questions about Jesus’s virgin birth. (After the first exchange, Kristof’s words are in italics, Yancey’s in regular type):

KRISTOF Merry Christmas! And let me start by asking about that first Christmas. Do you believe in the Virgin Birth? Doesn’t that seem like one of those tall tales that people tell to exaggerate an event’s significance?

YANCEY I’m smiling at the question. A hundred years ago, the Virgin Birth was considered so important that it made the list of five “fundamentals of the Christian faith.” Nowadays, with in vitro fertilization, virgin births are old news. For me, the issue centers not on the mechanics of reproduction but rather the nature of Jesus. In the Incarnation, God’s own self came to earth as a human. I wouldn’t pretend to guess how divinity interacted with human DNA, but that’s the mystery the Virgin Birth hints at.

Here Yancey is completely evading the issue. Mary’s virgin birth occurred when she was not only a real virgin (well, at least a young woman), but certainly when she HAD NOT BEEN INSEMINATED BY A HUMAN.  That is not the case with in vitro fertilizations, where human sperm is required.  In vitro fertilizations are not “virgin births” in the Biblical sense of the word.

Note how quickly Yancey moves from the question Kristof asks to asserting that the virgin birth is really about the nature of Jesus. And while the godly writer is not certain about whether the Virgin Birth was real as most evangelicals understand it, and doesn’t “pretend to guess how divinity interacted with human DNA”, he’s dead certain that Jesus was the incarnation of God.  How does he know this?  Presumably because the Bible says so. But the Bible also says that Mary was impregnated by the Holy Spirit. Here we see some judicious cherry-picking by an evangelical.

Yet in the next exchange, Yancey implies that there really was a virgin birth, and it wasn’t due to in vitro fertilization. For one thing, there was no vitro back then.

KRISTOF So it’s no longer such a big deal? I can say that I doubt the Virgin Birth without whispering?

YANCEY It’s only a big deal if you believe that Jesus is the Son of God, as most Christians do. Otherwise you have a different mystery: How did the child of two simple villagers end up changing history more than anyone before or since?

Here we have a Lewis-ian claim that if Jesus wasn’t the Son of God, he couldn’t have changed history. Ergo he was the son of God, and if he was the son of God, and the literal son of God, there must have been somebody who impregnated Mary. After all, Jesus wasn’t haploid, and if he was the result of Mary’s fused eggs, he would have been a woman (XX chromosomes).

Yancey then evades the issue of theodicy, saying he “has no solutions” to Kristof’s questions about why God raised Lazarus but not dead children. Yancey’s solution is apparently that all will be made good in the hereafter: “Believe me, the hope of resurrection means something when you’ve just lost your child to a school shooter.” Well, yes, the hope means something if you believe in a hereafter, by why should we believe it? And Yancey, who seems to know so much about God, doesn’t know why He permits natural evils to occur at all.

Yancey goes on to verbally circumvent questions about miracles:

KRISTOF I also wonder: In embracing miracles, don’t we reject our own rationality? In my travels, I’ve met all kinds of faith healers who claimed to make the lame walk or the blind see. I don’t believe them — and I’d be even less likely to believe accounts that were written six decades after the fact by someone who had never met the healer (like the accounts in the Gospel of John). Why be skeptical of eyewitness accounts of U.F.O.s but not of Gospel accounts written decades later by people who weren’t even eyewitnesses?

YANCEY: Most scholars believe that eyewitnesses such as Matthew, Peter, John and Mary were major sources for the Gospels’ accounts. That said, I agree with your main point. Miracles are overrated as a basis for faith. Jesus’ disciples, who had seen miracles, all deserted him at his hour of greatest need. Jesus himself refused to perform miracles on demand, to impress the doubters. Most of them came about as a compassionate response to a needy person.

It seems strange to me that we keep wanting God to intervene in the material world. God is spirit, and all the great masters emphasize instead that we need to learn spiritual disciplines to commune with God.

Look at that first bit: Yancey claims that the miracles were real because the Bible says so, but then agrees as well that “miracles are overrated as a basis for faith.” Well, if you’re an empiricist and not a superstitionist, miracles are required for faith. But since Yancey’s a superstitionist, he simply says that you can see miracles but still have doubts—a position that doesn’t come close to answering Kristof’s question. And if we keep wanting God to intervene in the material world, well, maybe that’s because the Bible says he did—over and over again, and in both the Old and New Testaments. Why should we suddenly give up theism? God may be “spirit”, but to be a theist, as Yancey and his followers are, you have to think that God can intervene in the world.

Kristof then poses the devastating “Why does God hate amputees?” question, since God heals only those diseases that sometimes show spontaneous remission. He doesn’t replace missing eyes or limbs.

Again Yancey won’t answer the question, but moves to something else:

KRISTOF: . . . I note that people claim cases of miraculous cures where there is room for ambiguity, such as cancer going into remission. But prayer never seems to help an amputee grow back a limb.

YANCEY: George Bernard Shaw is said to have wryly observed that although he saw crutches and wheelchairs at shrines of healing, he saw no artificial limbs, glass eyes or toupees. Jesus did not come to earth to solve all our problems. In person, he affected only modest numbers of people in a remote corner of the Roman Empire. But he set loose a movement with the mission of bringing the good news of God’s love across the globe.

I’m not sure whether the Shaw quote was apocryphal, but I did find Anatole France asking the same question (and answering it); I discuss this on p. 117 of Faith Versus Fact. At any rate, note how Yancey gets around Kristof’s question by saying that “Jesus did not come to earth to solve all our problems.” But the question remains: why does Jesus (or his saints) only cure those diseases known to remit spontaneously? Once again Yancey evades, and fails has to answer why Jesus solves only a subset of our problems. And he still doesn’t tell us why Jesus waited thousands of years after humanity existed before appearing to only a small subset of people in the Middle East.

You’ll be amused to see how Yancey gives credit to evangelical Christians for curing AIDS, but I’ll leave you to read that for yourselves. Finally, in his final end run, Yancey evades the question of Hell. Does God really want those who don’t accept Jesus to fry forever?

KRISTOF: Yet evangelical tradition suggests that non-Christians burn forever in hell.

YANCEY: Jesus didn’t mince words when he talked about judgment, yet in his parable of the sheep and the goats he declared that we’ll be judged on how we treated those who were hungry, imprisoned, sick and in need of clothes and hospitality. Interestingly, he spoke of actions, not doctrine.

The more I know Jesus, the more I trust him as merciful and am content to leave questions of the afterlife in his hands. I like the depiction of hell in C.S. Lewis’s fantasy “The Great Divorce”as simply a place for those who choose against God, and it may well be an ongoing choice.

So Yancey now accepts what C. S. Lewis said instead of what Jesus said?  For remember that Jesus says this, too (John 14:6): “Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.”

This, and other verses, are the basis for the bedrock Christian doctrine that unless you accept Jesus as your Lord and Savior, you are simply not going to Heaven.  If there’s any doctrine that defines Christianity, it is that one. But Yancey circumvents the whole issue by saying “I trust Jesus as merciful and am content to leave questions of the afterlife in his hands.” That’s contemptible, for Jesus already said that those who don’t accept him will burn in hell. In what sense is Yancey “content”, then? Is he content to think that, according to Jesus’s wisdom, billions of Jews, Hindus, Muslims, and non-Christian believers are going to suffer eternal torments? 

Kristof, while asking good questions, doesn’t push Yancey very hard here, more or less accepting his answers. But Yancey’s answers are non-answers: just one evasion after another. It sickens me to see this kind of palaver (Yancey’s, not Kristof’s) portrayed in the New York Times as some kind of respectable belief. And Kristof still won’t give up and become a secular humanist, which is what he should be.

63 thoughts on “Nicholas Kristof still struggling about whether he’s a Christian; queries evasive evangelical writer

  1. Needless to say, we of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster are saddened that the NYT has not approached us with respectful questions about our Faith. We could have told the NYT that the miracles, such as our parable of the breadsticks and the Feast of the Seven Fishes, are both really really true (like what appears in the National Enquirer) and metaphorical (like the leeks in zuppa di pesce).

  2. The Virgin Mary appears to be spanking baby jesus’s bottom in the painting. Bad baby jesus!

    Was jesus born of a virgin? It is sad that we still address this issue in the 21st century as if it were a meaningful question.

        1. That seems a pic of a toddler (the terrible twos?) jesus, rather than a baby jesus. He must have been really naughty, because his halo has fallen off – or has been dislodged by the ferocity of his spanking.

  3. Kristof is smart and generally well-meaning, but his thinking and writing is mushy.

    On a related note, I’ve read the spirited editorial calling for Donald Trump’s removal that appeared in Christianity Today last week, and the follow-up letter written by its president this week in response to the resulting vociferous complaints from pro-Trump evangelicals.

    Both are crisply and articulately written. Goes to show you can write well and clearly even if your underlying premises are wrong, so long as your reasoning isn’t muddled.

    1. Very good. As always they have to attack this evangelical who has strayed off of la la land. Somehow the progressives got to him, maybe even the devil. Instead of impeachment, perhaps Trump will just rot in Purgatory.

    2. Thanks for those links Ken (for some reason, I wouldn’t have come across them ordinarily)! Maybe there’s hope for the religious right in the US after all. Though I can’t help wondering what Christianity Today makes of its founder’s son and his claim that “God showed up” as an explanation for Trump’s successful election campaign. Of course, Franklin also claimed recently that his dad voted for Trump (but then Billy wasn’t in a position to confirm or deny that).

  4. “…through the thicket of theological mendacity.” Love this.

    I wish I was more than 20 pages in on The Gnostic Gospels by Elaine Pagels. I might have more to contribute. I think it’s possible that Jesus did exist historically and it all went terribly wrong. I’m not sure. I’ve been pondering in the last few months why Christians are so warped about sex. Mary was a virgin. Why did they make that up? That’s not true, but why would they even think that way? To control the population?

    1. I can only offer a hand-wavy notion that the various admonitions about heterosexual marriage and so on were later insertions by pecksniffs who wanted to use the gravitas of scripture to encourage breeding and familial harmony within their population. This to help secure a stronger state with reliable tax revenue and able-bodied men for the military.

      Btw I just learned that Pecksniff is a brand of soap.

    2. It is not possible that a Jesus who was born of a virgin, walked on water, brought back Lazarus, came back himself after being dead for three days…. existed.

      It is possible, even likely, that some guy named “Jesus” (in original Aramaic form of the word) existed. But who cares to ponder that un-interesting matter. Millions of generic people have lived and died for millennia. The question only is interesting once you append impossible attributes to the character.

      1. Yes. The curiosity is just for the sake of getting it right historically. It’s all pretty much irrelevant except that so many people are brainwashed for lack of a better word. I’m not sure that having it right historically would help to unthread it to a place of reason. @Mark I’d like to finish reading The Gnostic Gospels and the book about how Jesus did not exist at all that I read about on here. There was a post on here a while back that had a bunch of references also. I tend to think he existed and was regular.

        On whether or not Mary (mother of Jesus) was a virgin, maybe Joseph pulled out and then the divine semen came in later.

    3. There are of course a number of academics who argue that Jesus existed, started a movement, and was executed and later mythologized. But other academics are able to poke some pretty big holes into all claims that he even existed. As in all of the story was completely made up from bits and pieces of other stories that were floating around. I am not the person to find links to sources, but I am sure they are out there.

    4. Mary was a virgin. Why did they make that up?

      ‘Cause sex is dirty (if you’re doin’ it right, anyway 🙂 ).

      Can’t have God born of a commonplace bumping of uglies. There’s was a long tradition of deities conceived asexually predating Christianity. Athena, for example, sprang whole from Zeus’s forehead.

    5. Birth from a virgin is quite widespread among ancient mythologies. Dynastic mothers such as Ishtar and Isis are supposed to have been virgins. Figures such as Zoroaster and Melchizedek, and even historical people like Alexander and the Ptolemies, were once said to have been born of a virgin.

      Christianity nicked this idea, like it nicked so much else.

      1. That and many other Required Beliefs in Christianity seem to be simplen ways to get the masses to make religion a priority, by getting them to say “ooooh!” and “aaaaahh!”
        Virgin birth!! (“ooooooh!!) Eternal punishment after death if you don’t right-think!! (“aaaaaaahhh!!!”)

        Be nice to people!!! (Well, if they are nice to me…)
        — or you will burn forever!!!! (“Ooooohhh!!”)

  5. C. Everett Coop? Great jumpin jesus, Yancey think he’s the AIDS messiah?! *rubs temples* Yancey is evasive and an idiot.

  6. No, there does not to be any acceptance if the truths (literal truths) of the bible to be s Christian. Christianity is way of life and behavior system. Based on scripture, reason and experience.
    Once Kristof gets that, he should feel better.

    1. Finally some offers the true way to be a Christian! If only all those thousands of other sects would just do it right!

  7. The bible clearly and repeatedly says that hell involves fire and terrible suffering. There is simply no rational basis on which to deny that. For example, see —

    Matthew 13:40-42: 40. “Just as the weeds are gathered and burned with fire, so will it be at the close of the age. 41. The Son of man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, 42. and throw them into the furnace of fire; there men will weep and gnash their teeth.”

    Matt 25:41-46: 41. “Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; 42. for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, 43. I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ 44. Then they also will answer, `Lord, when did we see thee hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to thee?’ 45. Then he will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it not to one of the least of these, you did it not to me.’ 46. And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

    Mark 9:43-48: 43. “And if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire, 44. where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched. 45. And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame than with two feet to be thrown into hell, 46. where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched. 47. And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell, 48. where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched. 49. For every one will be salted with fire.”

    Luke 16:22-28: 22. “The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom. The rich man also died and was buried; 23. and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes, and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus in his bosom. 24. And he called out, `Father Abraham, have mercy upon me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in anguish in this flame.’ 25. But Abraham said, `Son, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish. 26. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.’ 27. And he said, `Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father’s house, 28. for I have five brothers, so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.’”

    Revelation 14:9-11: 9. “And another angel, a third, followed them, saying with a loud voice, “If any one worships the beast and its image, and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand, 10. he also shall drink the wine of God’s wrath, poured unmixed into the cup of his anger, and he shall be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. 11. And the smoke of their torment goes up for ever and ever; and they have no rest, day or night, these worshipers of the beast and its image, and whoever receives the mark of its name.”

    Revelation 20:15: 15. “And if any one’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.”

    Revelation 21:8: 8. “But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the polluted, as for murderers, fornicators, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their lot shall be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.”

  8. It is simultaneously uninteresting and enlightening to read these interviews. Insoluble and evasive. But the real highlight is that this is the norm for religious protection. There is no evidence or objective foundation for faith and yet heaven will not only motivate but justify wallowing in mendacity for the promise of transcendence.

    I think that young, educated people are tired and bored of this and unless there’s a new idea (likely not) for the defenders of faith, they will spell out their own banal doom.

    “And we’re afraid of the dark, and we’re afraid to die, and we believe in the truths of holy books that are so stupid and so fabricated that a child can – and all children do, as you can tell by their questions – see through them.” C. Hitchens

      1. Imagine how tired and bored 20-somethings will be in 65 years.

        Theocratic rhetoric is already like being forced to listen to the same catchy auto-tuned Orwellian pop song for over half a century. Tiring and boring and maybe a little annoying.

  9. ”Most scholars believe that eyewitnesses such as Matthew, Peter, John and Mary were major sources for the Gospels’ accounts“
    Um…no, they don’t. The latest scholarship that I have read—agreed upon by both honest theologians and secular historians—is that there are no firsthand accounts of Jesus. Zero. The gospels are the sole source for a flesh and blood Jesus, written decades after his existence. And the gospel writers weren’t named Matthew, Mark, Luke,etc. The names were assigned to the writings of anonymous Greek authors. Yancey needs to do some reading but I suspect his confirmation bias is too strong to permit it.

    1. Yancey probably just meant that much of what is contained in the Gospels can be traced back, via oral tradition for example, to eyewitnesses. Note his careful use of the term “major sources for” rather than “authors of”.

      If you read Yancey’s book “The Jesus I Never Knew,” you’ll see that he has done plenty of reading of the scholarly literature.

  10. Bertrand Russel minimally defined a Christian as anyone who believes Christ was divine. He must have felt differences on specific doctrine are not critical.

    It could very well be that Kristof is a secular humanist, but finds the debate a source for his column. Need new material? Just grab another prominent believer to question.

  11. There is a bunch of things that I would like to address but something stuck out. Why do people think that faith in Christ is not a thoughtful process?

    1. a. Because most people get their faith not through thinking or reason, but through indoctrination from their parents
      b. Because there is no reason involved in accepting Christ because there is no evidence for him as the son of God, or even any extrabiblical evidence for Christ’s existence.

      If you mean that there is thinking in accepting Christ, yes, of course, just like there’s thinking involved in accepting UFOs or the flatness of the earth. But there is no REASON involved, because there is no evidence.

      1. My family and church did more to harm my faith. They were not Christians. Help me to understand why following Jesus cannot be reasoned? It seems like there is overwhelming evidence in favor of Christianity.

        1. You don’t want help as there is no way you will ever reject Jesus. Here’s my help: what’s the “overwhelming evidence in favor of Christianity”? Answer: just the stuff in the Bible. But there is the same “overwhelming evidence” in favor of Mormonism, Islam, and Hinduism, as they all have their own scriptures asserting that they’re true.

          You’ve just assumed Christianity because that’s the religion you were brought up in, and the dominant religion in your society. If you were brought up in Saudi Arabia, you’d be making the very same “overwhelming evidence” arguments in favor of Islam.

          If you can’t see this, there’s no help for you.

    2. It’s a thoughtful process insofar as it leads to tens of thousands of competing sects. Which, I think, gives us a new definition of ‘thoughtful’.

      1. I agree in that sometimes I don’t understand/agree with others but why do different denominations necessarily mean no thinking? Denominations can just be a reflection of culture or personal preference?

        1. Well, if the thinking is along the lines of this: “I think I believe the book my culture says is true.” That’s not thinking it’s indoctrination. Sorry, given your website, there is no hope for you. You have absolutely NO reason to think that Christianity is any truer than Islam or Mormonism. When you admit that, then your true thinking will begin. But it won’t because your website shows that you’re already self-immunized against anything but Christianity.

          This is the end of this discussion.

          1. Jumping to a lot of conclusions. I was an atheist for a time but I don’t share that. I do want to be respectful though if you do not want me to post.

            1. I don’t care about respect here as much as I do about rationality, and you haven’t made any rational response to my criticisms. I can see from your website that you’re already a diehard believer and we’re not here to argue with you. The fact is that you don’t want us to help you with your thinking, you are here to argue and spread the Good News.

              Until you have good arguments for thinking that Christianity is the correct religion while other faiths like Islam and Mormonism are dead wrong, and their tenets false, don’t bother posting on this site.

              1. The Bible holds up to scrutiny:
                1. It’s accurate. There are over 15000 copies that verify it’s consistency. No other ancient writing comes close to that.
                2. It holds up to scrutiny. Modern science and philosophy does not disprove its claims. In fact they are beginning to prove its claims.
                3. The fulfillment of prophecy should at least peek your interest as statistically speaking can’t happen.

                Every major religion takes a stance on who Jesus was. Prophet, good person, teacher, etc. Only Christians call Him Son of God. Doesn’t this warrant your consideration?

              2. If you think this is reason, you’re badly wrong. I’m not going to waste a lot of time on a rebuttal as it’s clear you haven’t thought at all about your faith. #1 and #2 are the same (accuracy is not the same as consistency), and “holds up to scrutiny”? Seriously? Creationism is wrong, there was no Roman census at Jesus’s birth, there was no exodus of the Jews from Egypt, the earth isn’t flat, and so on. Endless statements that the Bible asserts are true have been disproven. Your claims are absurd.

                As for #3, Jesus himself said he’d return before some of the people who heard him would die. Didn’t happen, pal. (That’s why he said “take no thought for the morrow” and told people to leave their families.)

                And “every major religion takes a stand on Jesus” but Christians call him the Son of God. Yes, that warrants my consideration–to reject it because there’s no evidence for the existence of God.

                This is your defense of Christianity? I feel really sorry for you. Every statement you made is false, but you still adhere to your beliefs. That’s why it’s called “faith”.

                Don’t bother posting here any more. You are wasting my time and that of my readers.

                And I wonder why you have three IP numbers that you use.

              3. For the record, do you hold that women should be silent in church, and that wives should submit to their husbands?

  12. Jesus did not come to earth to solve all our problems. In person, he affected only modest numbers of people in a remote corner of the Roman Empire. But he set loose a movement with the mission of bringing the good news of God’s love across the globe.

    Yancey is a typically deluded believer who merely exposes the ravages of faith on his mind. Christians were among the first totalitarians. Once they convinced an emperor (more so his successors), it meant to crack down on other believers, and they went on to crusade, pillage, murder and genocide in the name of “God’s love”. That’s the source of their success. Not evidence, not reason but coercion and child abuse are the foundations of Christianity.

    More broadly, intolerant Abrahamitic faiths and their formula “set loose” several opposing faiths. It’s characterised by further schisms that are in perpetual conflict with one another. Christian versus Muslim, Lutheran versus Catholic, Sunnites versus Shiites, and all the way down to minor denominations. And better yet, all-knowing God knew this when he “revealed” himself that way.

  13. He cannot give it up because most people are pagans, and Christianity stole the Trinity and much of its theology from paganism. (Hinduism has a trinity comparable to it; many Christian tenets echo Buddhism, and of course Merry Yule everyone, it’s a pagan German festival.) Most people are superstitious: believe in ghosts, spirits of a sort, bad luck, premonitions, “coincidences” and “gods,” but the hegemony of the Abrahamic religions has made humans lie to themselves so as not to incur the wrath of this punishing God who demands love. Yet a God who commands love cannot be loved. And to complicate matters, Richard Dawkins has pointed out and I agree that Judeo-Christian concepts and stories pervade our culture and are useful to know, but are tragically still taken literally. (The crowd demanding that Barabbas be set free while crucifying their erstwhile hero is a good analogy, I think, to the crowd at Trump rallies.)

    There’s the problem. Of course he’d be better off as a secular humanist (wouldn’t everyone), but most believers won’t go that route, so they may as well be pagans and get off their high horse, and enjoy their paranormal beliefs without the shame, puritanicism, hoity-toity rationalizing of basic human drives, hypocritical aggression and time-wasting contemplation of Nothing/Jesus. Ancient civilization invaded and conquered each other for power and resources, but they didn’t fight about God.

  14. Of course, here in the UK we had a bishop (David Jenkins, Bishop of Durham) who expressly said “I don’t put it past God to arrange a virgin birth if he wanted. But I don’t think he did”. He also got in trouble for comparing the resurrection with “a conjuring trick with bones”, though if I recall correctly he said his remarks had been taken out of context. He was very clear about how Jesus would negatively perceive the politics of Margaret Thatcher, too.

  15. “Mary’s virgin birth occurred when she was not only a real virgin (well, at least a young woman), but certainly when she HAD NOT BEEN INSEMINATED BY A HUMAN.”

    Well, Brigham Young set the record straight about *that*. Mary really was inseminated, not only by a man, but in particular by the First Man, by Adam himself, who BY taught was God of this world. None of this “overshadowed by the Holy Ghost” euphemism, thank you very much!

    The Mormon church rather danced away from that teaching, taking turns denying that BY ever taught it (he did- even going so far as having it written into the Temple endowment), and threatening people for believing it.

    I, who was raised LDS, learned this all quite by accident one day as I was browsing about in an unsafe section of the local University library. One can never be too careful …

  16. Why would an all-powerful God need to mess with Mary and/or DNA? He/She could just make Jesus appear out of thin air! Perhaps the Virgin Mary part of the story was added by men later when Mary came out of the room carrying Jesus and everyone knew she hadn’t been pregnant. It’s as good a theory as any. 😉

  17. Wait just a cotton-picking minute here, PCC-E, how can this possibly be true? “… the people Kristof interviews, like former President Jimmy Carter, usually disavow any literal belief in the foundational tenets of Christianity, like the Resurrection…” Jimmy Carter, a very prominent adherent to the Southern Baptist tenets of faith, rejects the Resurrection has having happened, and he is still accepted by the Southern Baptists? That does seem beyond belief.

    1. I believe that Carter did say he accepted the Resurrection; what I meant is that many of the people Kristof interviews reject literalism like the Resurrection. I was referring to his other interviewees, not specifically Carter, for I see in that interview Carter does accept it. So take this as a clarification.

    2. Carter resigned from the S. Baptists quite a while ago(2000?). “On issues ranging from homosexuality and abortion to the nature of the gospel and the authority of Scripture, the former president is out of step with the majority of Southern Baptists.”

      1. Thanks, rickflick, for noting Jimmy Carter’s resignation from the SBC. However, it is equally true that the church which Carter attends and at which he teaches, Maranatha Baptist Church in Plains, GA, is a SBC member. I do believe that one would find him there on Easter Sunday. I do admire Carter and I am often reminded of the fact that he is one of the few former presidents who has made a meaningful contribution to society, post-presidency.

  18. It seems strange to me that we keep wanting God to intervene in the material world.

    Oh, I do declare, so very very strange. Someone get my fainting couch, I’m shocked there is gambling going on here. How many lies does someone tell before we call them a liar. How many questions does someone beg before we call them a fool.

  19. I was taught that faith is the insistent belief in things you know are not true.

    So public displays of faith are a status seeking behavior, and the more outlandish the belief, the better. I think this also relates directly to the previous conversation about why people claim to believe things about sex and gender that are obviously not true.

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