Thomas C.: Armstrong wasnʼt only rude to you, he didnʼt consider you much of a challenge. I put a few thoughts in red in his last paragraph. What do you think?
Edward: What makes Armstrong imagine that I considered his arguments much of a challenge to my doubts concerning the divine inspiration of the Bible?
Thomas: One may quibble Quibble? Itʼs not quibbling. What proof do you have that your version of God is the true God? How does he know if the Quran, or the Bhagavad Gita, or some ancient indigenous text might not be the source of the one truth?
Edward: Almost all religions have a “book.” But Dave believes that there is only “one” book whose words are all extremely important and all-captivating to him (he probably adores just reading the genealogies as well), whose essentials must be understood “one way,” by “one church” whose interpretation alone is “true.” I donʼt see that any of that follows from one from the other. Even the theological interpretations and teachings of Catholicismʼs most brilliant and orthodox theologians and scholars of the past have differed over the ages. Consider these six examples of what great Catholics, with their inspired Bibles and the Holy Spirit leading them into all truth, Used To Believe:
The Use Of Physical Coercion
Saint Augustine advocated coercive suppression of the Donatists (since they wanted to “secede from the union” so to speak, to form their own “true and pure” churches), like Anabaptists tried to do during the Reformation. The point is that Augustineʼs defense of “compulsion” was cited even by Luther regarding the Anabaptists who wanted for form their own churches and perform adult Baptisms. And both the Catholics and Protestants brutally persecuted the Anabaptists and other sectarian small groups of Christians. Today the rule among Catholics and Protestants is not to so brutally persecute other Christians. What has happened since then to inspired church opinion?
“It is indeed better (as no one ever could deny) that men should be led to worship God by teaching, than that they should be driven to it by fear of punishment or pain; but it does not follow that because the former course produces the better men, therefore those who do not yield to it should be neglected. For many have found advantage (as we have proved, and are daily proving by actual experiment), in being first compelled by fear or pain, so that they might afterwards be influenced by teaching, or might follow out in act what they had already learned in word.”
—Saint Augustine, Treatise on the Correction of the Donatists
“The wounds of a friend are better than the kisses of an enemy. To love with sternness is better than to deceive with gentleness…In Luke [14:23] it is written: “Compel people to come in!” By threats of the wrath of God, the Father draws souls to his Son.”—Saint Augustine [Setting forth the principle of Cognite Intrare (“Compel them to enter”), a church mandate that all must become orthodox Catholic Christians, by force if necessary. Cognite Intrare would be used throughout the Middle Ages to justify the Churchʼs suppression of dissent. Walter Nigg, The Heretics: Heresy Through the Ages (1962), p. 138, quoted from Helen Ellerbe, The Dark Side of Christian History, critical editing by Cliff Walker.]
Augustine was at his most disagreeably impatient when faced by groups whom he saw as self-regarding enclaves, deaf to the universal message of the Catholic Church. He insensibly presented the Church not only as the true Church, but as potentially the Church of the majority of the inhabitants of the Roman world. He was the first Christian that we know of to think consistently and in a practical manner in terms of making everyone a Christian. This was very different from claiming, as previous Christians had done, that Christianity was a universal religion in the sense that anyone in any place could, in theory at least, become a Christian. Augustine spoke of Christianity in more concrete, social terms: there was no reason why everybody in a given society (the Jews excepted) should not be a Christian. In his old age, he took for granted that the city of Hippo was, in effect, a Christian city. He saw no reason why the normal pressures by which any late Roman local community enforced conformity on its members should not be brought to bear against schismatics and heretics. He justified imperial laws that decreed the closing of temples and the exile and disendowment of rival churches [Donatist and other churches]. Pagans were told simply to “wake up” to the fact that they were a minority. They should lose no time in joining the Great Majority of the Catholic Church. In fact, the entire world had been declared, more than a millennium before by the prophets of Israel, to belong only to Christ and to his Church, and Augustine quoted the second Psalm as proof: “Ask of me, and I shall give thee the heathen for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession. Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron.” [Psalm 2:6,8,9,12]. [Of course not everyone was swayed by Augustineʼs arguments.] We have a recently discovered letter that Augustine wrote at the end of his life to Firmus, a notable of Carthage. Firmus had attended afternoon readings of Augustineʼs City of God. He had even read as far as book 10. He knew his Christian literature better than did his wife. Yet his wife was baptized, and Firmus was not. Augustine informed him that, compared with her, Firmus, for all his culture, even his sympathy for Christianity, stood on dangerous ground as long as he remained unbaptized.
—Peter Brown, The Rise of Western Christendom, 2nd Ed., (Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, 2003), p. 91, 92
Slavery Not A Sin
Augustine (c. 354-430) taught that slavery was Godʼs will and that Christianity did not make slaves free but made good slaves out of bad ones. (The City of God 19.5)
The first Christian Roman Emperor, Constantine, showed little sympathy for slaves. In a law dated 319 he ruled that if a slave died following flogging or confinement in chains, his master was not liable to any charge: he was guilty of homicide only if he deliberately killed him or tortured him to death. Unions between women and their slaves were brutally penalized, the woman being executed and the slave burned alive. Even when they had been manumitted, Constantine deprived them of their security by making them liable to re-enslavement if their former masters established that they were ungrateful or insolent. Nor did he show any sympathy to the vast mass of once free citizens who had been reduced to a kind of serfdom by being tied to their holdings. Of agricultural workers who had transferred their services to another landlord he writes in 332: “It will be appropriate that those who are planning escape should be put in chains like slaves, that they may be forced in virtue of a servile condemnation to fulfill those duties which are fitted for free men.”
—A. H. M. Jones, Constantine and the Conversion of Europe
Arguing that it Would Be Best and Most Holy if Literally All Men Abstained from Sexual Intercourse Completely
In the first times, it was the duty to use marriage. chiefly for the propagation of the human race. But now, in order to enter upon holy and pure fellowship. they who wish to contract marriage for the sake of children, are to be admonished, that they use rather the larger good of continence. But I am aware of some that murmur, “What if all men should abstain from all sexual intercourse, whence will the human race exist?” Would that all would. Much more speedily would the City of God be filled, and the end of the world hastened. For what else does the Apostle Paul exhort to, when he says, “I would that all were as myself;” or in that passage, “But this I say, brethren, the time is short: it remains that both they who have wives, be as though not having: and they who weep, as though not weeping: and they who rejoice, as though not rejoicing: and they who buy, as though not buying: and they who use this world as though they use it not. For the form of this world is passing away.” (1 Cor. 7:7-8, 29-31)
—Saint Augustine (c. 354-430), On the Good of Marriage, Sections 9-10
Nothing so casts down the manly mind from its height as the fondling of women and those bodily contacts that belong to the married state.
—Augustine, De Trinitate
I am aware that some have laid it down that virgins of Christ must not bathe with eunuchs or married women, because the former still have the minds of men and the latter may present the ugly spectacle of swollen [pregnant] bellies. For my part I say that mature girls must not bathe at all, because they ought to blush to see themselves naked.
— Saint Jerome (c. 342-420)
Saint Jerome conquered his carnal visions of dancing maidens by throwing himself in tears before a crucifix, beating his breast with a stone, and fleeing into the desert.
— John Dollison, Pope-Pourri
Infants, When Unbaptized, are in the Power of the Devil. The Christian faith unfalteringly declares that they who are cleansed in the laver of regeneration (i.e., the baptismal font) are redeemed from the power of the devil, and that those who have not yet been redeemed by such regeneration are still captive in the power of the devil, even if they be infant children of the redeemed. From the power of the devil. infants are delivered when they are baptized; and whosoever denies this, is convicted by the truth of the Churchʼs very sacraments, which no heretical novelty in the Church of Christ is permitted to destroy or change, so long as the Divine Head rules and helps the entire body which He owns—small as well as great. It is true, then, and in no way false, that the devilʼs power is exorcised in infants, and that they renounce him by the hearts and mouths of those who bring them to baptism, being unable to do so by their own; in order that they may be delivered from the power of darkness, and be translated into the kingdom of their Lord.
— Saint Augustine, On Marriage and Concupiscence, Book 1, Chapter 22
Some Catholic saints even experienced “spiritual visions” that depicted little children suffering in hell. Saint Fulgentius in the sixth century taught that “little children who have begun to live in their motherʼs womb and have there died, or who, having just been born, have passed away from the world without the sacrament of holy baptism must be punished by the eternal torture of undying fire.” Later, the church settled on a more merciful destination for unbaptized infants, “Limbo,” which was kind of like “Hell Lite.” But recently the Catholic Church has even abolished “Limbo,” and stated that unbaptized infants who die go directly to heaven. (Ironically, thatʼs the “heretical novelty” that Saint Augustine expelled so much hot air arguing against!)
No One Lives On The Opposite Side Of The Earth
Though Saint Augustine seemed inclined to yield in regard to the sphericity of the earth, he fought the idea that men exist on the other side of it, saying, “Scripture speaks of no such descendants of Adam.” He insists that men could not be allowed by the Almighty to live there, since if they did they could not see Christ at his second coming descending through the air. But his most cogent appeal, one that we find echoed from theologian to theologian during a thousand years afterward, is to the nineteenth Psalm, and to its confirmation in the Epistle to the Romans; to the words, “Their line has [already] gone out through all the world, and their words to the ends of the earth.” He dwells with great force on the fact that St. Paul based one of his most powerful arguments upon this declaration regarding the earliest preachers of the gospel (Rom. 10:18), and that, as those preachers did not go to the opposite side of the earth to preach the gospel, no people must exist there; hence those who believe such things, “give the lie direct to King David and to St. Paul, and therefore to the Holy Ghost.” Thus the great bishop taught the whole world for over a thousand years that as there was no preaching of the gospel on the opposite side of the earth there could be no human beings there.
— A. D. White, A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom, Vol. 1
Flat Earth (Some Early Church Fathers); Unmoving Earth and Solid Firmament (All of the early church fathers)
It is agreed upon by all historians that at least some early fathers of the Christian church did believe in a flat earth. And those fathers who believed in a spherical earth still believed that the spherical earth did not move and that the “firmament” was solid. Holy Scripture continued to be cited in support of those latter two assertions for centuries. Origen called the firmament “without doubt firm and solid” (First Homily on Genesis, FC 71). Ambrose, commenting on Genesis 1:6, said, “the specific solidity of this exterior firmament is meant” (Hexameron, FC 42.60). And Saint Augustine said the word firmament was used “to indicate not that it is motionless but that it is solid and that it constitutes an impassible boundary between the waters above and the waters below” (The Literal Meaning of Genesis, ACW 41.1.61).
For millennia before the Christianity ever arose, the ancient Near Eastern civilizations agreed that the earth was flat. You can see it in their hieroglyphics, and stelles and stories. [See especially, Othmar Keel. The Symbolism of the Biblical World, Ancient Near Eastern Iconography and the Book of Psalms.] The flat earth view was undeniably prominent in Babylon, Egypt, and Greece during the time when the Old Testament was written. Even during the intertestamental period (after the Old but before the New) Jewish literature like the Book of Enoch spoke unmistakably of the shape of the earth as flat.
The New Testament writers from the Gospels to Revelation likewise took for granted the flatness of the earth. So naturally at least a few of the “early church fathers” were flat earthers, though by that time in the Hellenistic world, the spherical-earth view was prominent and most of the church fathers simply ignored or explained away the flat earth implications of various Old and New Testament passages. The point to keep in mind was that before the age of the church fathers, i.e., during the Old Testament, Intertestamental, and New Testament, periods, the “flat-earth” view was certainly the prominent one, and the one employed during the composition of all the books in the Bible.
Agnostics are said to be so full of themselves. Not true at all. At least we can readily admit that we do not know and can NOT know the answers to the God question! with difficulties in the Christian position; the “problem of evil” and so forth (and these are real and serious issues; I readily agree), but at the same time, if they reject the Christian worldview and start disbelieving in God or taking an agnostic position towards the question of His existence, then they have to come up with some superior alternative ethical system which isnʼt either arbitrary or unworkable in practice. I maintain that it cannot be done. It has been done! Many native Americans would have been considered pagans, by the Christian men who slaughtered them! There was far less violence, and far less crime, and much greater morality without the Christian version of God. Just do a brief study on Native Americans, they had some of the most moral societies ever created. For much more treatment of that subject, see the debate which I consider was with one of the most worthy opponents I have ever encountered:
Dialogue With an Atheist on the “Problem of Good” and the Nature of Meaningfulness in Atheism
Part Two “The Flip Side of the Problem of Evil” Argument Against Christianity (vs. Mike Hardie)
Thanks to Ed for a stimulating discussion, and I eagerly look forward to his subsequent comments.