Christians like to argue in circles. If you keep doing that, you'll end up being tied in knots and going nowhere fast.

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Christians like circles. Especially arguing in them.

I have just started reading the late biblical scholar Hector Avalos’ recent book Slavery, Abolitionism, and the Ethics of Biblical Scholarship. In the introduction, he points out a startlingly obvious and yet incredibly important observation. “My project actually began with a puzzling experience,” he writes. “If one reads almost any book on Christian ethics written by academic biblical scholars, one finds something extremely peculiar: Jesus never does anything wrong.”

All praise and no criticism.

Jesus is supposed to have been fully man. I’m not sure of any man that has ever been perfect, and so when historians look at Alexander the Great or Caesar Augustus, they look at complex and nuanced characters and understand them as that.

But in biblical academia (modern staunchly atheistic and skeptical writers notwithstanding), even among secular scholars, there is this presupposition that Jesus was wholly good. This then becomes a sort of axiomatic foundation brick upon which they build the rest of their work. I say “sort of” because an axiom is a self-evident truth, and this is far from being self-evidently true. Thus “mere assertion” is probably more accurate.

As many skeptics and nonreligious critics will claim, the Bible contains many morally dubious events, characters, and scenes. As Avalos writes, “The Bible endorses many horrific ideas and practices.”

We could talk about genocide or rape, sacrifice (both human and animal) or divine destruction. But let’s talk slavery.

“If one reads almost any book on Christian ethics written by academic biblical scholars, one finds something extremely peculiar: Jesus never does anything wrong.”

Jesus, and by extension (or, indeed, with no extension) God, are asserted and presupposed to be omnibenevolent—wholly good.

It is odd, then, given Jesus’ proclivities for the good, that he neglected to say that slavery was bad. He said nothing of the sort.

This is an odd thing because his life and ministry would have provided ample opportunity to do so. And yet there is a very deafening silence on the topic. This is the topic of a chapter I wrote in my latest book 30 Arguments Against the Existence of “God”, Heaven, Hell, Satan, and Divine Design—after the chapter on the terrible moral events and proclamations that the Bible details, I write a chapter on what the Bible doesn’t say.

In terms of slavery, not only is there nothing from Jesus, but the revelation that is the Bible is used for the next 1900 years to justify slavery. Many of the slave owners and traders were paid up members of different Christian sects. They were Christians. Is this what we would expect if Christianity were true? Or does this data better support the thesis of atheism? This is an illustration of the meager moral fruits argument.

It is all the more bizarre given that God has full divine foreknowledge.

Things, it seems, get a lot worse for the God thesis with this most problematic of divine characteristics. If God has full divine foreknowledge, then he would know that his primary revelation of the Bible would be used to justify—to argue for—slavery for the next two millennia. And

The problem for the Christian is that they have to understand this data point, this lack of moral guidance, in light of the axiom that Jesus is wholly good. Of course, they have to interpret all data in the world (from tsunamis killing 240,000 people and countless animals to stubbing their toe in the morning) in light of an omnibenevolent god.

Let’s get back to the Bible, though. Everything that one interprets in the Old or New Testament simply cannot paint Jesus in a negative light. Christians love to sing the praises of Christian abolitionists, claiming that Christianity is responsible for halting slavery, while conveniently forgetting the secular abolitionists, the Enlightenment and evolved philosophy involved, and the fact that Christianity played such a major role in enslaving people in the first place.

It’s rather like congratulating yourself for saving Harry from drowning by pulling him out of the river, without recognizing the fact that you pushed him in there in the first place. And held his head down.

There is no honesty to academia when one starts with an axiom that inoculates the thinker from alternative viewpoints prima facie. We have seen this in biblical maximalism in archaeology when the assumptions of the truth of the Bible were made and used to benchmark the dating of archaeological strata and discoveries. Every discovery in the region was then interpreted through this biblical lens.

This then created entire frameworks of “history” that were essentially entirely wrong, because the axioms were wrong.

Starting with the idea that the Bible, or Gospels here, are entirely correct or that its main protagonist is entirely good then precludes any other conclusion than the Bible shows that Jesus or God is all-good.

When Christians argue in a circle, they have a tendency to tie themselves in knots.

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Jonathan MS Pearce

A TIPPLING PHILOSOPHER Jonathan MS Pearce is a philosopher, author, columnist, and public speaker with an interest in writing about almost anything, from skepticism to science, politics, and morality,...