Sunday, May 07, 2017

Magnificent Obsession by David Robertson (a response, Part 6)

Dear D.,

We're getting near the end of your book now, having worked our way through eight chapters of your book [1-3, 456-7 and 8], and now we come to Chapter 9: Maranatha. I think this may be the first chapter in this book with no actual apologetics in it. You're in preacher mode throughout.

You talk about the end of the world, heaven and hell, and your only justification in believing in any of these claims is that Jesus spoke about them in the Bible. Jesus said it, you believe it, that settles it.

I guess you'll not be surprised to find that many skeptics (or is it sceptics, I'm never sure?) don't find this line of reasoning particularly compelling. Why should there be any life after death? You don't explain. Is there any life after death? You offer no evidence. Why should the Christian explanation of heaven & hell be preferred to any other (after-)world view? You don't justify it. This is not an intellectually challenging or satisfying chapter.

This chapter, as with many discussions of heaven & hell that I've read, ends up simply quoting C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien. Truly, the best explanations of heaven and hell are to be found in fantasy fiction. Why should the version presented in Matthew's gospel (you don't notice this, but all your 'Jesus' quotes about heaven and hell come from Matthew's pen, not the other gospel writers) be any more real than the version presented in "The Last Battle"?

Have you ever noticed that Matthew is obsessed with heaven and (particularly) hell, in a way that Mark, Luke and John are not? And have you ever noticed that hell is (almost) entirely absent in the Epistles of Paul? Paul's message is one of salvation for those who are in Christ, but not one of damnation for those who are not.

Anyway, let's move on to the climax of your book, Chapter 10: Magnificent... where you remain in preacher mode and basically explain why apologetics only gets you so far. Indeed, you appear to dismiss the value of apologetics, which is odd in a book of apologetics. You also go in for a bit of atheist bashing, but I'm not really interested in that.

So you present no further evidence or argument for your case, but just list lots of theological reasons why Jesus is important to you. I suppose that's fair enough, but I'm sure adherents to other religions could give similar lists about Krishna, or Bahá'u'lláh, or Sabbatai Zevi, or Haile Selassie, or whoever. The justification for all your reasons is, essentially, because it is in the Bible.

Your book repeatedly takes the stories and claims of the Bible at face value, without question, and this is the greatest weakness (as I see it) of your case. It would appear that you've never needed to justify to yourself that the Bible is an authority, so you don't really need to justify it to your readers either.

For me, it was not the debates between science & Christianity, or by consideration of the big philosophical arguments for or against God, but the failings in the Bible itself that ultimately led to the erosion of my faith. The Bible is factually wrong in places, the Bible is internally inconsistent in places, the Bible records as history things that cannot have happened (and in some instances demonstrably did not happen) in history. The Bible tells stories about God and Jesus. If it is wrong about the other stuff, we have to at least consider the possibility that it is wrong on these subjects too.

After much study, I came (somewhat grudgingly) to the conclusion that the Bible is an errant book, and was written by human authors with human agendas. In your book, you have shown that you base your life on the Bible, but you haven't managed to convince me that the Bible comes from God. You've not even shown me why you came to that conclusion.

Your magnificent obsession concerns a man who comes to you through the pages of a flawed book. I agree, if the stories about Jesus are true, then he is worthy of this obsession, but for now at least I have reasonable doubts about the truth regarding Jesus, so I think your obsession is misplaced.

Regards,

R.