Posts Tagged “beliefnet”

Easter brings the stupid comments about Christianity and its origins out of the woodwork, it seems. I noticed the following insipid tripe, served up by Ben Witherington III at Beliefnet. The number of logical leaps and anachronistic assumptions in his post is high. I will address just a few of them:

By all accounts, Jesus died by crucifixion — the most shameful and public way to die in antiquity.

While crucifixion was a shameful way to go, to call it “the most shameful” is a subjective value judgement. Many “shameful” means of execution were used in the Greco-Roman world. In the Near East especially, stoning was considered very shameful. So too was dismemberment. As for which of the three was “‘the most’ shameful,” that’s just too subjective a determination to make, even at that time. To make it now, is even more invalid and anachronistic.

No evangelistic religion in its right mind, operating in a highly patriarchal world, would make up the idea that the chief witnesses to the heart of their creed (death, burial, empty tomb, risen Lord) were women.

This assertion is exceedingly anachronistic, and is based solely on modern misconceptions about the ancients. It also betrays Witherington’s screaming ignorance of ancient history. It is certainly true that women were not treated well in Greco-Roman culture, compared to current occidental standards, but to claim that women could not possibly have figured prominently in a religion unless it were factually and historically true, is just stupid. Many religions involved female figures; the Isis/Osiris cult, for example, had as its main heroine Isis, consort of Osiris and mother of Horus. Most of the traditionally-Greek mystery religions had as prominent figures Demeter (Roman Ceres) and her daughter Persephone (nicknamed κορη or koré, meaning “maiden”). A list of prominent female figures in classical religion is far too extensive for me to provide here. Suffice it to say that Witherington is flat wrong on this score.

In the context of early Judaism, resurrection meant something that happened to a body. It was not seen as a purely spiritual or visionary matter, which is one reason why the Gospel accounts stress that the risen Jesus could be touched and could eat.

Actually, Witherington is a bit ahead of time on this one. The Christian notion of “resurrection” developed over the first couple centuries of Christianity. There was, in fact, no “accepted” Judaic notion of what resurrection should be, in the 1st century CE; in the Second Temple period the notion was not even accepted by all Jews (e.g. the Sadducees rejected it). Witherington’s comment here, then, is anachronistic; he claims that 1st century Christians made a value judgement which, in fact, they could not really have made in the way he says they did, at the time they made it.

It’s unfortunate that believers in Jesus assume themselves to be well-educated in ancient history merely because they are believers in Jesus. I’m not sure how or why they believe they possess this credential. Their bald assertions about what ancient Greco-Romans “would have done” or “might have thought,” only expose them as historical ignoramuses.

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You may have heard of the combination Christian-New Age guru Neale Donald Walsch, author of Conversations With God and commander-in-chief of the publishing empire it has spawned. He has been a prolific writer of “feel-good” fuzzy religiosity since that book was first published in 1995.

It appears, though, that there may be an explanation for his ability to churn out so much quasi-Christian New Agey pablum, and that is, he’s been swiping it from others! Recently he was found to have plagiarized a ten-year-old piece, as the New York Times reports (WebCite cached article):

Neale Donald Walsch, author of the best-selling series “Conversations With God,” recently posted a personal Christmas essay on the spiritual Web site Beliefnet.com about his son’s kindergarten winter pageant.

During a dress rehearsal, he wrote, a group of children spelled out the title of a song, “Christmas Love,” with each child holding up a letter. One girl held the “m” upside down, so that it appeared as a “w,” and it looked as if the group was spelling “Christ Was Love.” It was a heartwarming Christmas story from a writer known for his spiritual teachings.

Except it never happened — to him.

Mr. Walsch’s story was nearly identical to an essay by a writer named Candy Chand, which was originally published 10 years ago in Clarity, a spiritual magazine, and has been circulating on the Web ever since. Mr. Walsch now says he made a mistake in believing the story was something that had actually come from his personal experience.

He has, however, a ready excuse for his intellectual theft, (as reported in the Mail Tribune of Oregon, cached):

Neale Donald Walsch, the best-selling author of “Conversations with God,” responded to accusations of plagiarizing a widely circulated Christmas essay with the explanation that his mind played a trick on him.

“I went into my files, I saw the file and I was absolutely convinced I had written that, but I’m not surprised by that, you know,“ Walsch said in an interview at his Ashland home Thursday.

Walsche’s Beliefnet gig is now up, but he was not initially apologetic; an apology was wheedled out of him, in two stages, only once he knew it would be reported nationally:

The first installment of the apology was posted on Jan. 6, explaining that Walsch was “truly mystified” about how he could have posted the story as his own. He reasoned he must have received it over the Internet and pasted it into his own files, eventually internalizing the story as his own as he retold it over the years.

A second explanation, which has since been removed, appeared on Jan. 8, citing a study on inadvertent plagiarism that describes a memory phenomena causing people to remember experiences that did not happen to them or the words of another as their own.

Unfortunately, Walsche has found defenders who actually believe his claim of “inadvertent plagiarism”:

Lead researcher David McCabe, a psychology professor at Colorado State University, said inadvertent plagiarism was a possibility in this case.

Yeah, it’s “possible” … about as possible as donkeys flying (without being loaded on a plane).

The wider community of his worshippers adherents also generally supports him (as MediaBistro’s Alleycat reports):

More than 115 readers have already replied to his apology, many defending Walsch. One commented: “Maybe the 2 of you were at the same children’s concert. No, I don’t think Chand should be offended at all. Isn’t that what the cosmic consciousness is all about? Minds and thoughts merging, even if it is a true story for one person, are we betting the odds that it could not have happened to thousands?”

There, you see? Ms Chand should be honored that Walsche stole her story!

Isn’t it outrageous what religiosity — even Walsche’s fuzzy, feel-good, New Agey style of religiosity — makes people think? That plagiarism is good? How pathetic!

There are two kinds of people in the world, it seems, who cannot admit fault for anything: Politicians (cached), and religious types like Walsche. And here we’re supposed to believe that religion makes people moral. Well, it didn’t in Walsche’s case!

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