Thursday, January 3, 2008

Ken's Guide To The Bible: Misconceptions

Today's post is going to cover some points of Catholic or Christian tradition, the debunking of which doesn't necessarily undermine the purported validity of Christianity at all, but will shed light on some popular propaganda images that are used to enthrall us and keep us believing Christians.

* Carrying of the cross: In Christian prints or Christian movies, Jesus is often seen languidly carrying his cross on his shoulders, blood pouring out of his brow due to the crown of thorns. It's even become a figure of speech: to "carry a cross" evokes an image of a person suffering piously like Christ did on his way to his crucifixion, and once we hear the phrase uttered in a serious tone, we can hardly help but be persuaded by the speaker. And when we see the image of Christ carrying the cross, we feel sorry for the guy.

In the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, Jesus doesn't carry the cross a step of the way. An innocent bystander names Simon gets pressed into it by the Romans. Matthew 27:32; Mark 15:21; Luke 23:26.

Unfortunately, this is one of the instances in Ken's Guide where he is showing off how great he is and trying to look persuasive, at the expense of being informative. After listing a bunch of "misconceptions" about the crucifixion, supporting them with verses from Matthew, Mark, and Luke, he merely states ". . . John disagrees on nearly all of the above points." Well, if there is some Biblical support for a detail, it's hardly a misconception to portray it as having happened. Maybe the other Gospel writers neglected to include it. But that does not mean that every inconsistency has to be the result of an innocent omission just because you might prefer that the Gospel writers weren't making stuff up. My bet is that some of these disagreements are inconsistencies like the one I wrote about yesterday concerning Judas' death- inconsistencies that should trouble Christians who believe the Bible is the unwavering Word of God (and, my purpose in these posts is nothing more than to get Christians to question whether the Bible is wholesale valid, or whether outside thought can contribute to our conception of what's moral, and individual stuff in the Bible can be disregarded as bunk). But it would be more helpful to the reader if the author point-by-point listed how the Gospel of John differs, instead of letting us jump to the conclusion that, because he didn't find support for the well-known details and images in Matthew, Mark, or Luke, they are scandalous lies. I will check out the Gospel of John for this point, and then update this post later tonight with what I find.

One more thing I should insert in here. Smith takes on a lot of tradtitions in his Guide to the Bible. But he is just looking at the Bible. In my opinion, when you look at all the inconsistencies and questionable things Smith collects, they should reinforce each other in terms of the doubts they introduce in your mind about Christian dogma. However, I would certainly allow the possibility that something that isn't in the Bible but that is part of Christian tradition is 100% true, but just came into Christian tradition by word of mouth rather than through being recorded in the Bible. In my own opinion, though, stories about Biblical events that have come into the Christian or Catholic tradition without a written Biblical source are far more likely to be specious legends that were made up somewhere along the way during Christianity's 2,000 year long tenure, and the Bible itself is a source that should be looked at in its details with skepticism.

* Immaculate conception: A well-known concept in Catholicism is the Immaculate Conception. Catholic Doctrine holds that all humans, innocent though they may seem to our reason, are actually born with the sin of Eve from the garden (disobeying God's command to eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge) and this is called "original sin." Original sin, in Catholic tradition, is removed by baptism into the Catholic church. However, Mary the mother of Jesus was never baptised, and since she is such a hero in the Catholic view (Protestants, more conservative in almost all things, are a little more misogynistic, and don't so easily stomach the idea of revering a woman), the view of her bearing original sin or dying with original sin is unpalatable. So, a 12th-century European thought up the idea that Mary, through divine intervention, had skipped out on being marked with original sin when she was conceived (the word "immaculate," by the way, means clean). To be totally clear, the immaculate conception refers to Mary's conception, not Jesus' (although I'm sure Catholic priests would probably also say that Jesus was not born with original sin). There is no support in the Bible for Mary being born without original sin.

* Shroud of Turin: Another popular image in Catholicism that we were all told about when we were little kids and seemed a real spooky bit of proof that God was real is the Shroud of Turin. This was either a burial shroud that was used on Christ's body or a cloth used to clean him after her died by a woman named Veronica. Supposedly Christ's image miraculously stayed on the cloth. It was called the Shroud of Turin because, for a long time, it was kept in Turino, Italy.

There is no record in the Bible of any woman named Veronica, or of the incident that supposedly created the Shroud.