This is a very slim book. It almost feels like a pamphlet. Regardless, I read it slowly over the course of a few months. A page here, a page there. I...moreThis is a very slim book. It almost feels like a pamphlet. Regardless, I read it slowly over the course of a few months. A page here, a page there. I kind of prefer reading philosophical books that way -- writing that requires deep thinking often requires that I spend a lot of time digesting it. I don't pretend to be a deep thinker, and I realize many of my friends probably plowed through this in 30 minutes.
I'm a bit conflicted. As I set out reading the first few chapters, Harris nearly had me convinced that we do *not* actually have free will. This is, as he points out, certainly a bummer to us humans, who pride ourselves on our ability to make choices and to choose to live (or not) moral lives where we make good (and difficult) choices.
While I was half way through the book, I read a write-up of a study which indicates that perhaps some of the research that Harris uses in his argument might not have been definitive, and that researchers believe they may have located a mechanism that indicates a conscious decision prior to the brain's signaling to decide (which had previously been shown to precede our being conscious of having made a decision) - got it?
So, yeah. Harris' argument is absolutely a powerful one. He writes, as usual, with great clarity, and he is quite convincing. Had I not read some of the research that came to light after the publishing of this book, I might be of the camp that we *don't* truly have free will. As of now, I'm not so sure.
I wish more people would read this, however. It has a lot to say about how neuroscience plays into our decisions, and how so many of our decisions should not be reflections of us as moral or immoral beings, but rather a product of our genetics and our neurophysiology. This type of thinking should absolutely be taken into consideration in criminal courts -- not that we should ever excuse horrible acts (but rather, we should stress the importance of understanding their origins and how we might curtail them.)
While Barker is not as strong of a writer as many of the heavyweights with which he is often grouped, he tackles many of the areas that these folks fa...moreWhile Barker is not as strong of a writer as many of the heavyweights with which he is often grouped, he tackles many of the areas that these folks fail to address. One thing he has that they do not is his own history with religion. Having been an evangelical preacher since his teens, he knows well the difficulty of transitioning from a religious worldview to a secular one. He understands the emotional impacts that accompany such a transition. He also knows his scripture, and knows the mindset of many fundamentalist Christians and apologists. It is here that his story gains its strength. Some of his detailed rundowns of biblical contradictions and problematic passages get a bit tiring, especially for anyone who has spent time with Bart Ehrmann or others, but are necessary to understanding Barker's investigation into the scripture which he avoided while focused on winning converts to his faith. (less)
fascinating, funny, and smart. there's so much here: the christian rock festival circuit, the publishers, the bookstores, the tv shows, the raves (yes...morefascinating, funny, and smart. there's so much here: the christian rock festival circuit, the publishers, the bookstores, the tv shows, the raves (yes, christian raves), the gazillion dollar a year x-ian merchandise business, etc., etc.
it's a book that the religious and the non-religious should enjoy. it's not mean-spirited, or done on the sly. radosh is usually quite up-front with his subjects (unless of course it would harm his ability to report, and unless your name is billy baldwin), and often respected by them. well, except for billy baldwin, i'm sure.(less)
i think people in general spend so much time actively engaged WITHIN their religion that they never really develop an appreciation for the HOW's, WHY'...morei think people in general spend so much time actively engaged WITHIN their religion that they never really develop an appreciation for the HOW's, WHY's, and WHERE's of their religion, or for religion as a whole.
this is an incredibly fascinating look at the origins and evolution of religion from the religions of nomadic tribes to the three monotheisms of today's civilizations.
as reportage, it's stellar, and wade makes this stuff compelling through a variety of histories, anecdotes, and distillations of prior study of religion and evolution.
his thesis, that religion is an adaptive human trait, is certainly interesting. his argument, in many ways, is compelling and hard to refute. however, as the book progresses, one starts to feel as though he hasn't quite convinced himself of this, especially as it relates to modern secular societies, modern warfare, and the robust religiosity of america despite its lack of the characteristics that tend to necessitate it. i do appreciate wade's insistence that a trait need not be a benefit to the individual in order to survive -- certain traits that are not selfish/survival traits can benefit the cohesion of a group and therefore indirectly improve the survival of the group, and therefore the individual.
he does spend some time with competing theories of religion's survival, including the popular theory that religion is a by-product other mental adaptations that occurred in our evolution. and while reading this book, i wondered why religion couldn't have been shaped by both theories? part adaptive, part by-product. the evidence for both is compelling, whereas neither seems to fully explain.
wade's book works on many levels. as mentioned above, i thoroughly enjoyed reading a concise, but detailed, linear narrative of the history of religion that took into consideration the societal and personal benefits of religion that might allow certain populations to flourish.
i would recommend this book to anyone interested in religion and/or evolution, simply to view both topics in a way that you may not have viewed them before -- if you're a layperson like myself, at least.(less)
First off, I think it’s important to dismiss any of the common misunderstandings about Bart Ehrman and this book. The book is not a diatribe. It does...moreFirst off, I think it’s important to dismiss any of the common misunderstandings about Bart Ehrman and this book. The book is not a diatribe. It does not set out to debunk Christianity. Ehrman, in my opinion, is not angry, condescending, or uncaring in this book – quite the opposite, actually. Ehrman is not asking that you abandon your faith. I personally feel, having read the book, that Ehrman has served us up a wonderful tool, and has provided us with a great opportunity for discussion that could be very good for society at this point in time. It is also very important to understand that the book does not make any assertions that are new, radical, or unpopular among biblical scholars. And that is exactly what makes the book so incredibly fascinating, and quite honestly, shocking.
Ehrman is very clear from the get-go that he is not serving up anything that would be surprising to anyone who went through a non-evangelical seminary schooling. The assertions in Ehrman’s book are something that most ministers and scholars of the New Testament have learned. They are things that have been agreed upon by the vast majority of biblical scholars. The only shocking part is that we, as a nation and a society so greatly influenced by the Bible, know so little about The Bible. We think we know a lot about it, and in many ways we do. We know the parables. We know, and can recite from memory, entire portions of scripture. We know the many characters, their many trials, and we know the great many lessons to be learned from The Bible. But those of us who claim we know our Bible – what do we really know? We tend to believe that it is the inerrant word of God. We view it as a book. We call it “The Good Book”. We treat it as a package, a unit, as we do most other books we own.
The problem is that we do not approach the Bible from a historical-critical perspective. We do this with any other manuscripts or literature when we want to better understand it. Why do we not approach our most beloved text in the same way? We read each book in the Bible, but rarely do we compare narratives and note their striking theological and historical differences. We often do not take into account when each book was written, to whom, by whom, and why. Mostly, this is due to the popular notion that it is God’s book, and it is inerrant or divinely inspired and therefore its attributes are divine and universal. If we believe that, then we are not doing a very good job of reading.
Ehrman notes the phenomenon of compressing different narratives into one clean narrative – creating a narrative that cannot be found existing on its own in the Bible. He writes of our reluctance to read the books of the Bible horizontally – meaning comparing separate accounts of the same events in different books, rather than compiling aspects of each into one imagining. If we read the books of the Bible, Gospels or otherwise, horizontally, we notice how much of what we know about the Bible is contradictory, irreconcilable, historically incorrect, or theologically incompatible. He urges that in order to fully understand what each author is trying to say, we need to look at the details of each account – each author is using devices to make a theological point, a point that is lost when we create our own narratives from more than one account.
Here are some things, from Ehrman’s book, that many of us do not know, or accept. And it is important to note that these are not simply Erhman’s assertions, but are well-documented by Biblical scholars, and Ehrman provides a wealth of footnotes, and supporting information and bibliographies which he urges the reader to explore on their own. And that is one thing Ehrman does do – he urges the reader, on many occasions, to read your own Bibles and do your own research.
• “Of the twenty-seven books of the New Testament, only eight almost certainly were written by the authors to whom they are traditionally ascribed: the seven undisputed letters of Paul and the Revelation of John” (which may not be the John most people believe it to be.)
• The other nineteen books fall into three groups: “Misattributed writings”, “Homonymous writings” (written by someone who has the same name as someone else, i.e. James was most likely written by a James, but not written by Jesus’ brother James – its reason for inclusion as scripture), and “Pseudepigraphic writings” (written in the names of people who did not actually write them – scholars have known this for over a century).
• “In Matthew, Jesus refuses to perform miracles in order to prove his identity; in John, that is practically the only reason he does miracles.”
• “Jesus’ disciples were “lower-class, illiterate, Aramaic-speaking peasants from Galilee.” “The authors of the Gospels were highly educated, Greek-speaking Christians who probably lived outside Palestine.”
• There exists a wealth of early Christian forgeries (Gospels allegedly written by Peter, Philip, Thomas, James the brother of Jesus. There were forged apostolic acts, “such as the Acts of John and of Paul and Thecla; we have epistles, such as the letter to the Laodiceans, 3 Corinthians, letters between Paul and the Roman philosopher Seneca, and letters allegedly written by Peter to James in order to oppose Paul; and we have a number of apocalypses, an Apocalypse of Peter (which nearly made it into the canon, and an Apocalypse of Paul”. It is likely that forgeries could have made it into the canon.
• “This view that the New Testament contains books written under false names is taught at virtually all the major institutions of higher learning except strongly evangelical schools”. “It is the view taught in all the major textbooks on the New Testament used in these institutions. It is the view taught in the seminaries and divinity schools. It is what pastors learn when they are preparing for ministry.”
• The Gospels were likely written after the year 70. Between the time of Jesus and these writings, Christianity was spreading through major urban areas of the Mediterranean region, solely by word of mouth. The way to convert people away from their (mostly) pagan religions was to tell them stories about Jesus: what he said and did, and how he died and was raised from the dead. Word of mouth, in a world of no mass media. If you look at our own ability to create urban legends, exaggerate, or alter details in the age of information, it would be disingenuous to assume that in the decades of repeated oral histories of Jesus, details did not undergo changes before they were committed to paper.
• If Jesus lived and died in the first century, what do the Greek and Roman sources from his own day through the end of the century have to say about him? The answer is breathtaking. They have absolutely nothing to say about him. He is never discussed, challenged, attacked, maligned, or talked about in any way in any surviving pagan source of the period. There are no birth records, accounts of his trial and death, reflections on his significance, or disputes about his teachings…his name is never mentioned once in any pagan source. And we have a lot of Greek and Roman sources from the period: religious scholars, historians, philosophers, poets, natural scientists; we have thousands of private letters; we have inscriptions placed on buildings in public places. In no first-century Greek or Roman (pagan) source is Jesus mentioned.”
• CS Lewis put forth the formulation that since Jesus called himself God, there were only three logical possibilities: he was either a liar, a lunatic, or the Lord. Ehrman states that “none of our earliest traditions indicates that Jesus said any such thing about himself. And surely if Jesus had really spent his days in Galilee and then Jerusalem calling himself God, all of our sources would be eager to report it.” “Only in the latest of our Gospels”, John, a Gospel that shows considerably more theological sophistication than the others, does Jesus indicate that he is divine.” Perhaps Lewis’s formula is flawed. Perhaps Jesus was actually “a first-century Palestinian Jew who had a message to proclaim other than his own divinity”.
• The idea of the divine being becoming human was not introduced until the Gospel of John, written after the other three Gospels.
• There are “flat out discrepancies among the books of the New Testament. Sometimes these discrepancies could be reconciled if one worked hard enough at it with pious imagination; other times the discrepancies could not be reconciled, however fanciful the explanation.” (i.e. Jesus dies on different days in Mark and John).
• “A whole range of theological perspectives came into existence, not during the life of Jesus, or even through the teachings of his original apostles, but later, as the Christian church grew and came to be transformed into a new religion rather than a sect of Judaism. These include some of the most important Christian doctrines, such as that of a suffering Messiah, the divinity of Christ, the Trinity, and the existence of heaven and hell.”
These are only a few examples of items that I personally found fascinating (there scores more tidbits, inaccuracies, contradictions, and theological problems, that Ehrman details), and in some cases shocking. I grew up in the Methodist church. I was exposed to the Bible as much as your average Christian. Obviously I formed my own opinions, as we all do, in regards to the Bible’s inerrancy, historical accuracy, etc. I took a few courses in college in which we studied the Bible from a historical critical perspective. These had a huge influence on my changing views of The Bible and of religion in general. Therefore, many of Erhman’s assertions, opinions, and conclusions, did not come as a surprise. But the experience of reading “Jesus, Interrupted” is certainly eye-opening even for those who have been exposed to reading the Bible from the historical-critical perspective.
I understand the reluctance of many to read the book. I understand the knee-jerk reaction to Ehrman. Sure, anytime we are asked to truly examine our own long-held beliefs, we are hesitant. With these understandings, I would urge anyone who has any interest in the Bible to read the book. It is not meant to change your faith. It likely will, however, change aspects of your faith. Ehrman does is not stating there is no God. He is not stating that Jesus did not exist. He is not saying Jesus did not perform miracles or rise from the dead. There are some things we cannot know from historical critical research. That is where faith comes in. All Ehrman is urging is for us to allow ourselves to truly know and understand the human aspects of the New Testament. Why the Bible exists as it is, who wrote it, and why they wrote what they wrote. There are two texts that greatly affect us in our daily lives: The Bible and the Constitution. It is shocking that we know so little about how both came to be. It is up to us to make our own decisions about the things in it which we cannot prove or disprove. But we have no excuse for not exploring and understanding centuries of painstaking research on the most important text ever written. If Ehrman is not your cup of tea, there are numerous other books, and plenty of divinity programs serving it up in another form.
It’s a fascinating read. Ehrman is a refreshing voice in non-fiction. He’s incredibly knowledgeable, funny, and likeable, regardless of your religious views. I urge everyone, believers and non-believers, to spend some time with his writings. You will be challenged and you will learn a lot, no matter your background (okay, unless you’ve been through seminary school), and that’s something that’s rare in these days when we tend to live in ideological echo chambers.
this is something i wish i had read last year before the election. it feels a little bit dated, even though many of the topics covered here are univer...morethis is something i wish i had read last year before the election. it feels a little bit dated, even though many of the topics covered here are universal and timeless. i also think i would have enjoyed it more at the time. it's one of those shooting fish in a barrel books, which, like al franken and michael moore's books, tend to pack more of a punch when the antagonists are in power. nevertheless, taibbi is a smart guy, and funny, and he provides some insight and some angles that you don't get from the plethora of blogs and periodicals that serve up a lot of this same stuff (although some of this, i'm sure showed up there first).
i'll definitely be interested in what he takes on next. (less)