by Edward T. Babinski
Critique of the final chapter in Josh McDowellʼs ‘Evidence That Demands A Verdict’.
- “Jesusʼ Wide and Profound Effect Upon Humanity”
- The Unique Content of Christian Experience
- The Christian Testimonies in Both Editions of ETDAV
- McDowellʼs Testimony
“The Uniqueness of the Christian Experience” is the final chapter of Josh McDowellʼs ETDAV and the culmination of all of his arguments for the “overwhelming truth” of the four brief Gospel stories of the life, teachings and miracles of Jesus of Nazareth. The chapter consists of many sweeping claims of approval of “Christianity” in general and of “Christian experience” in particular.
Calling the First Witness for the Defense…
Or Perhaps the Prosecution?
The first expert witness whom McDowell calls to the stand is Bernard Ramm, author of Protestant Christian Evidences, published in 1953. In that book Ramm wrote, “Because Christianity is true, it must have relevancy to every single aspect of the universe and human experience.”
Directly following the quotation, McDowell added, “The evidence for the validity of both [Jesusʼ resurrection]” as a “factual event in history” and “Christian experience” is “overwhelming.” However, Ramm did not say that, McDowell did. And Rammʼs understanding of the “truth” of Christianity is not the same as McDowellʼs. For instance in the preface to Rammʼs next book, The Christian View of Science and Scripture (published a year after the book McDowell cited) Ramm lamented the growth of “…a narrow bibliolatry [an excessive adherence to a literal interpretation of the Bible - ED.], the product not of faith but of fear,” which had become the “major tradition of evangelicalism in the twentieth century.” Ramm pointed out the lack of legitimate scientific and theological expertise on the part of “Biblical creationists” and discussed the questionable methods they employed to “prove” the truths of the Bible in a literal fashion. Josh McDowell interprets the Bible and science in exactly the fashion Ramm laments - including a belief in a literal “six-day creation” that took place only a few thousand years ago.
Ramm continued to distance himself from the views of Josh McDowell and other “narrow bibliolators” in After Fundamentalism: The Future of Evangelical Theology (published thirty years after the work that McDowell cited in ETDAV.) Ramm wrote, “Fundamentalists do not properly interact with modern learning and thus are condemned to the losing strategy of obscurantism… Evolution, modern geology, scientific anthropology, and biblical criticism are subjected to continuous castigation. The fundamentalist presses do not rest in turning out the literature of obscurantism. Sometimes they do try to make hay out of modern knowledge. Harry Rimmer and a number of others attempted to show that the Scriptures contain anticipations of modern science. But that solution no longer works. There is also much reliance on the discoveries of modern archeological research but that foundation is laid only by ignoring findings that seem to counter the biblical record.”
In After Fundamentalism Ramm even took a swipe at the Moody Bible Institute, whose publication division (back in 1953) printed Rammʼs relatively brash and youthful Protestant Christian Evidences that McDowell cited in ETDAV. As Ramm sees things today, “The founding of the Moody Bible Institute as a center of premillenial and dispensational theology [involving a literalistic interpretation of the Bible - ED.]  was the beginning. At present dispensationalist theology is taught as standard, orthodox theology in many Bible colleges, Christian liberal art colleges, and theological seminaries…In reading much dispensational literature, one encounters claims that amount to sinless perfection in biblical interpretation. Writers of this persuasion state that they are reading the Word of God for exactly what it says, or that they are reading it with pure eyes that have not been contaminated with traditional views of eschatology; or that, not having had an academic theological education, they can read the Scriptures unclouded by human opinion. Lewis Sperry Chafer himself claimed that, not having had academic training in theology, he was free to interpret the Scriptures with unclouded objectivity.”
What Ramm wrote concerning the pretensions of “dispensationalist theologians” provides the perfect parallel to McDowellʼs lack of legitimate theological and scientific expertise and his pretensions to having attained “objective” knowledge of Jesus Christ, the Bible, history, archeology and science. Needless to say, McDowellʼs case could not be made any weaker than by citing Bernard Ramm as the first witness in “defense” of McDowellʼs “narrow bibliolatry” and “fundamentalist obscurantism.”
“Jesusʼ Wide and Profound Effect Upon Humanity”
McDowellʼs next witness, Kenneth Scott Latourette, is effusive with praise concerning “Jesusʼ wide and profound effect upon humanity,” especially “in the past three or four generations…Through him millions of individuals have been transformed and have begun to live the kind of life which He exemplified…Through Him movements have been set in motion…Measured by His influence, Jesus is central in the human story.”
That is high praise, but exactly how many of societyʼs “influences” can be traced back to “Jesus?” For instance, how much do we owe to ancient Near Eastern culture? The ancient Sumerians/Babylonians, who lived long before Jesus, taught in their Councils of Wisdom, “Do not return evil to your adversary; Requite with kindness the one who does evil to you, Maintain justice for your enemy, Be friendly to your enemy.” In The Dawn of Conscience James Henry Breasted showed how the earliest known recorded ethics and laws belonged to the ancient Egyptians, Sumerians and Babylonians, who preceded the Hebrews. In The Codes of Hammurabi & Moses W. W. Davies showed how the law code of Hammurabi profoundly influenced the later law code of the Hebrews in both style and content. For a recent general summary see William Sierichs, Jr.ʼs article, “The Pagan Origins of Biblical Morality (Or - Where Did Moses Really Get Those Commandments From?).” There is also the critically acclaimed work, Old Testament Parallels: Laws and Stories from the Ancient Near East. And in Origins: The Ancient Near Eastern Background of Some Modern Western Institutions William W. Hallo listed the debt modern civilization owes to ancient Egyptian, Sumerian and Babylonian ideas of urbanism, the formation of capital, the order of the alphabet, astronomy, mathematics, algebra, the division of the day into 24 hours, the hour into 60 minutes, the circle into 360 degrees, the coronation of kings, games, cookbooks, and much more.
Keeping such information in mind, Latourette can not reasonably assert that “Measured by his influence, Jesus is central in the human story.” The “human story” encompasses every civilization on earth over a very long period of time. “Jesus” was not “born” into the “human story” until a mere two thousand years ago. And after his birth it took ten to fifteen hundred years before the first Christian missionaries reached China and the Americas. (During that same period, Islam challenged Christianity and “won” the Middle East, North Africa, parts of Eastern Europe, parts of Russia, parts of India, and parts of Indonesia, to become the most widespread non-Christian religion on earth. Also, Communismʼs expansion was more explosive than either Christianityʼs or Islamʼs, and even after the decline of Communist influence, it has left behind billions of “practical atheists” when it comes to religion.)
I would agree with Latourette if he had merely claimed that “Jesus” was known at least by name by billions. (But of those billions, how many different interpretations of “Jesus” exist?) I would also agree if he had merely claimed that the human story had been influenced to varying degrees by different interpretations of “Jesus.” But to brashly claim that “Measured by his influence, Jesus is central to the human story” demonstrates Latouretteʼs blind religious devotion rather than his commitment to historical truth and accuracy. The “human story” is old and brimming over with “influences” stretching back to ancient civilizations both East and West. In Western civilization alone there were ancient Near Eastern influences; Greek/Roman politics, art, architecture, law, science and philosophy; Islamic mathematics, astronomy, philosophy (including the thousands of Greek and Roman manuscripts preserved by Islamic scholars at the library of Seville that played a crucial role in re-igniting Western societyʼs intellectual progress). Other major influences include “guns, germs, and steel;” the Renaissance; the Enlightenment; modern day socialist, humanist and feminist influences and ideals; and “common sense” (as Thomas Paine might say).
Speaking of the crucial influence that the Enlightenment exerted upon Christianity, theologian Albert Schweitzer pointed out, “For centuries Christianity treasured the great commandment of love and mercy as traditional truth without recognizing it as a reason for opposing slavery, witch burning and all the other ancient and medieval forms of inhumanity. It was only when Christianity experienced the influence of the thinking of the Age of Enlightenment that it was stirred into entering the struggle for humanity. The remembrance of this ought to preserve it forever from assuming any air of superiority in comparison with thought.”
Pulitzer prize-winning political scientist, Francis Fukuyama put it this way: “There was a time when religion played an all-powerful role in European politics with Protestants and Catholics organizing themselves into political factions and squandering the wealth of Europe on sectarian wars. [Like the “Thirty Yearʼs War” that began in 1618 when Protestant leaders threw two Catholic emissaries out of a Prague window, and which turned central Europe into a wasteland of misery, leading to the deaths of more than a quarter of Europeʼs population. - ED.] English liberalism emerged in direct reaction to the religious fanaticism of the English Civil War. Contrary to those who at the time believed that religion was a necessary and permanent feature of the political landscape, liberalism vanquished religion in Europe. After a centuries-long confrontation with liberalism, religion was taught to be tolerant. In the sixteenth century, it would have seemed strange to most Europeans not to use political power to enforce belief in their particular sectarian faith. Today, the idea that the practice of religion other than oneʼs own should injure oneʼs own faith seems bizarre, even to the most pious churchmen. Religion has been relegated to the sphere of private life - exiled, it would seem, more or less permanently from European political life except on certain narrow issues like abortion… Religion per se did not create free societies; Christianity in a certain sense had to abolish itself through a secularization of its goals before liberalism could emerge…Political liberalism in England ended the religious wars between Protestant and Catholic that had nearly destroyed that country during the seventeenth century: with its advent, religion was defanged by being made tolerant.”
Even Robert Wuthnow, an evangelical Christian writer, admitted in Books & Culture (a newsletter produced by the editors of Christianity Today), “Framers of modern democratic theory in eighteenth century Europe [and colonial America - ED.] were profoundly influenced by the religious wars that had dominated the previous century and a half. Lockeʼs emphasis on tolerance and Rousseauʼs idea of a social contract were efforts to find unifying agreements that would discourage religious groups from appealing absolutely to a higher source of authority. The idea of civil society emerged as a way of saying that people who disagree with each other about such vital matters as religion could nevertheless live together in harmony.”
But let us return to Mr. Latouretteʼs praise of individuals in the “past three or four generations” whose lives “have been transformed and have begun to live the kind of life which He [Jesus] exemplified.” A few that stand out in my mind are Mohandas K. Gandhi and Albert Schweitzer, though neither believed in “Jesus” in the way that McDowell advocates one must. Gandhi believed in focusing on whatever was best in each religion rather than trying to convert people from one religion to another. And Schweitzer was a noted theologian who rejected “the crooked and fragile thinking of Christian apologetics.” He later became a medical “missionary” in Africa because he held a liberal Christian philosophy based on a “reverence for life.” And what about Florence Nightengale, the woman who made nursing a legitimate profession? She was one of the first women-libbers who believed a womanʼs place was not simply in the home. She made love to other women and disdained institutionalized religion. (Speaking of which the founder of the American Red Cross, Clara Barton, was a freethinker. And the founder of the International Red Cross, Andre Dunant, was gay.)
There are innumerable charitable organizations today; from international peace-seeking (and hunger-fighting) organizations to a multitude of national and local charities. In the U.S. such charities as the American Heart Association, the American Cancer Society and the Muscular Dystrophy Association are supported by donations to The United Way, which helps raise contributions for thousands of other national and local charitable organizations few of which are connected with religion or a particular religious denomination. And there are plenty of other charities seeking to help others like the Will Rogers Institute and Comic Relief. More food is given away each year by secular organizations and governments than by “Christians.” Such work has more to do with a simple wish to help others than with “Jesus” per se.
Speaking of “Jesusʼ influence” on nations today, The Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden and most other nations of northern Europe contain relatively low percentages of “Christians,” yet their human rights records, their generosity, their average education levels, their quality of life, lengthy life spans, low crime rates, and low poverty rates, put the rest of the world to shame, including the far more “Christian” United States. Scandinavians also have the lowest rates of unplanned pregnancies in the world. They instituted comprehensive teaching in birth control in their schools, and it worked. The leaders of Scandinavia have a long record of working for world peace. Swedes have been in Bosnia far longer than Americans removing land mines. The leaders of Norway initiated the peace talks between the PLO and Israel.
Japan is another industrialized nation whose people have longer average life spans, higher average education levels, less poverty, lower crime rates, a lower percentage of their population in prison, and lower abortion rates than the United States. Fifty-six percent of the Japanese population “do not believe in God or a Universal Spirit or were uncertain.” Compare that with the ninety percent of the U.S. population who “believe in God.” (Countries that have as high a percentage of “believers in God” as the U.S. include Northern Ireland and Iran.)
And what about movements and organizations throughout history that have emphasized “Jesus” and yet which wound up promoting suspicion, fear, divisiveness, inequality, intolerance, bigotry, hatred, subjugation, persecution, slavery, torture, terrorism, and war, due to the exclusivistic nature of their teachings?
The Civil War, Slavery, and the Bible
Since Latourette mentioned the “past three or four generations” (prior to 1940 when his book appeared) as providing a significant demonstration of the wonderful life changing influence of “Jesus” on “millions of individuals,” I wonder how he addressed nineteenth century America? “The nineteenth century [1800s] was a period of utmost religious importance in America. It was then that children began attending Sunday school…and Bible tracts began being published in the millions. And it was then that church membership first exploded nationwide…from 2,500 church congregations in 1780 to 11,000 in 1820 to 52,000 in 1860 [the year before the Civil War began].” Other sources corroborate that between the Revolutionary War (1775-1783) and the start of the Civil War (1861), the “rate of adherence” to Christianity more than doubled.
An indication of how seriously people took their “Christianity” at that time can be seen in the Philadelphia prayer riots of 1844 (17 years prior to the Civil War). Protestants besieged Catholic neighborhoods in Philadelphia with cannon fire, pistols, and by setting houses aflame, because the Catholics had protested the use of the Protestantʼs King James Bible in public schools. Martial law was declared, and it took two thousand federal troops to quell the rioting; eighteen people were killed and scores more were injured.
Of course one “prayer riot” is nothing compared with the six hundred thousand who perished in the American Civil War (1861-65). Though the Civil War has been touted as purely a war for - and against - Southern independence, the irrevocable decision to secede hinged on an attempt to get the U.S. government to agree to a compromise that would have opened half of Americaʼs newly acquired Western territories to the expansion of slavery. Lincolnʼs election and his partyʼs decision to reject the expansion of slavery was clearly “the” issue that both underlay and precipitated the conflict between North and South. Moreover, “The longer the war lasted, the more many Northerners seemed willing to embrace radical measures; indeed, the war produced a kind of revolutionary momentum propelling public opinion forward to an extent that few could have imagined before the outbreak of hostilities.” Two years after the war began, Lincolnʼs Emancipation Proclamation turned the Civil War into a war to free slaves, if only in the Confederate states. And a few years after that, a Constitutional Amendment freed slaves throughout the land.
Neither must it be forgotten that the Civil War was Americaʼs greatest conflict. The number of American soldiers lost in that War was greater than the grand total of American soldiers lost in all other wars and military campaigns stretching from the War for Independence to the Gulf War. It was also a war that cost untold billions and nourished rather than canceled the hatreds and intolerance which persisted long afterwards - a war that would not have lasted so long and led to such a tremendous loss of lives and property were it not for the fact that Southerners held an unflagging belief in their way of life, a widespread expectation of victory, and a strong popular will which sustained them to the bitter end; one major uniting factor being their Christian faith.
For instance, when the Confederate states drew up their constitution, they added something the colonial founders had voted to leave out, namely, an invocation of the Deity. The Southʼs proud new constitution began: “We, the people…invoking the favor and guidance of Almighty God…” Southern clergymen and politicians even argued that the South was more “Christian” than the North, it was the “Redeemer Nation.” “With secession and the outbreak of the Civil War, Southern clergymen boldly proclaimed that the Confederacy had replaced the United States as Godʼs chosen nation.”
Even prior to the War, South Carolinian politician, James Henry Hammond, boasted,
Our denominations are few, harmonious, pretty much united among themselves [especially on the issue of slavery - ED.], and pursue their avocations in humble peace…Few of the remarkable Isms of the present day have taken root among us. We have been so irreverent as to laugh at Mormonism and Millerism, which have created such commotions farther North; and modern prophets have no honor in our country. Shakers, Dunkers, Socialists, and the like, keep themselves afar off. You may attribute this to our domestic Slavery if you choose [the slaves being taught what to believe only by members of the ‘few, harmonious’ Southern churches - ED.]. I believe you would do so justly. There is no material here [in the South] for such characters [from the North] to operate upon…A people [like we Southerners] whose men are proverbially brave, intellectual and hospitable, and whose women are unaffectedly chaste, devoted to domestic life, and happy in it, can neither be degraded nor demoralized, whatever their institutions may be. My decided opinion is, that our system of Slavery contributes largely to the development and culture of these high and noble qualities…
Confederate president, Jefferson Davis, went further than Hammond in arguing for the superiority of southerners. A year after the war began, Davis publicly called northerners “miscreants,” adding, “Were it ever to be proposed again to enter into a Union with such a people, I could no more consent to do it than to trust myself in a den of thieves…There is indeed a difference between the two peoples. Let no man hug the delusion that there can be renewed association between them. Our enemies are…traditionless.”
Speaking of the Southʼs “traditions,” Jefferson Davis boasted,
It [slavery] was established by decree of Almighty God…it is sanctioned in the Bible, in both Testaments, from Genesis to Revelation…it has existed in all ages, has been found among the people of the highest civilization, and in nations of the highest proficiency in the arts…Let the gentleman go to Revelation to learn the decree of God - let him go to the Bible…I said that slavery was sanctioned in the Bible, authorized, regulated, and recognized from Genesis to Revelation…Slavery existed then in the earliest ages, and among the chosen people of God; and in Revelation we are told that it shall exist till the end of time shall come. You find it in the Old and New Testaments - in the prophecies, psalms, and the epistles of Paul; you find it recognized, sanctioned everywhere.
Davisʼ defenses of slavery are legion, as in his speech to Congress in 1848, “If slavery be a sin, it is not yours. It does not rest on your action for its origin, on your consent for its existence. It is a common law right to property in the service of man; its origin was Divine decree.” After 1856, Davis reiterated in most of his public speeches that he was “tired” of apologies for “our institution.” “African slavery, as it exists in the United States, is a moral, a social, and a political blessing.” Or, as Davis reiterated after being elected President of the Confederacy, “My own convictions as to negro slavery are strong. It has its evils and abuses…We recognize the negro as God and Godʼs Book and Godʼs Laws, in nature, tell us to recognize him - our inferior, fitted expressly for servitude…You cannot transform the negro into anything one-tenth as useful or as good as what slavery enables them to be.”
It should also be noted that before the South seceded politically from the North, they seceded religiously. The three largest Christian denominations in the South, the Methodists, Baptists and Presbyterians, seceded from their northern brethren to form separate “Southern” denominations, each founded on the Biblical right (of laymen and ministers) to own slaves. Not surprising in lieu of the fact that “In the 1700s, defenders of slavery among men of the cloth were far more numerous than opponents. ‘For every John Wesley who was critical there were several George Whitefields who considered slavery a blessing.’” By the mid-1800s “not one of the major Christian denominations [in America] other than the Quakers held a strong anti-slavery position.” Or to put it another way, “The institutional involvement of northern denominations and congregations [in the anti-slavery movement] was virtually nonexistent. It is not an exaggeration to assert that the clergyman or church member who marched with the abolitionists did so in spite of his denominational connection, not because of it. The antislavery movement owed much of its impetus to the efforts of individuals [who were often considered radicals or fanatics].” Harriet Beecher Stoweʼs enormously popular anti-slavery novel, Uncle Tomʼs Cabin (1852) was written in reaction to her denominationʼs acquiescence to the practice of slavery.
Even Evangelical Christian historians have admitted the embarrassing facts of the matter:
The Old School (Presbyterian) General Assembly report of 1845 [16 years before the war] concluded that slavery was based on ‘some of the plainest declarations of the Word of God.’ Those who took this position were conservative evangelicals. Among their number were the best conservative theologians and exegetes of their day, including, Robert Dabney, James Thornwell and the great Charles Hodge of Princeton - fathers of twentieth century evangelicalism and of the modern expression of the doctrine of biblical inerrancy. No one can really appreciate how certain these evangelicals were that the Bible endorsed slavery, or of the vehemence of their argumentation unless something from their writings is read. I can only give a pale reflection of their righteous zeal for ‘the biblical case for slavery.’
Some of the arguments they employed included “the fact that all the patriarchs had slaves. Abraham, ‘the friend of God,’ and ‘the father of the faithful,’ bought slaves from Haran (Gen. 12:50), included them in his property list (Gen. 12:16, 24:35-36), and willed them to his son Isaac (Gen. 26:13-14). What is more, Scripture says God blessed Abraham by multiplying his slaves (Gen. 24:355). In Abrahamʼs household Sarah was set over the slave, Hagar. [After Hagar ran away] the angel told her, ‘return to your mistress and submit to her’ (Gen. 16:9).”
The Bible even depicts the “Lord” getting his own ministers involved with slaveholding. Numbers, chapter 31, says the Hebrews slew all the Midianites with the exception of Midianite female virgins whom the Hebrews “kept for themselves…Now the booty that remained from the spoil, which the [Hebrew] men of war had plundered included…16,000 human beings [i.e., the female virgins] from whom the Lordʼs tribute was 32 persons. And Moses gave the tribute which was the Lordʼs offering to Eleazar the priest, just as the Lord had commanded Moses…And from the sons of Israelʼs half, Moses took one out of every fifty, both of man [i.e., the female virgins] and animals, and gave them to the Levites…just as the Lord had commanded Moses.”
“At Godʼs command Joshua took slaves (Josh 9:23), as did David (1 Kings 8:2,6) and Solomon (1 Kings 9:20-21). Likewise, Job whom the Bible calls ‘blameless and upright,’ was ‘a great slaveholder’ (Job 1:15-17; 3:19; 4:18; 7:2; 31:13; 42:8)…Slavery is twice mentioned in the ten commandments (the 4th and 10th), but not as a sin [‘Thou shalt not covet thy neighborʼs wife, or his male slave, or his female slave.’ Exodus 20:17]…God tells the Jews in Leviticus 25:44-46, ‘You may acquire male and female slaves from the nations that are around you. Then too, out of the sons of the sojourners who live as aliens among you…they also may become your possession. You may even bequeath them to your sons after you, to inherit as a possession forever [i.e., the slaveʼs children would be born into slavery along with their childrenʼs children, forever].’” So, slaves from “foreign” nations were treated as “possessions…forever.”
On the other hand, if a Hebrew owned a fellow Hebrew as a slave, he had to offer him his freedom after “seven years.” Though there is not a single penalty mentioned in the Bible should the master detain his slave longer than that period or refuse to offer him his freedom. Neither does such an offer appear to apply to female slaves. Furthermore, if a Hebrew slave chose to remain with his master after being offered his freedom, then the “Lord” told his people to “bore holes in the ears” of their fellow Hebrews to mark them as their masterʼs possession “forever.” So you had better speak up clearly and without hesitation the first time your master offered you your freedom because there was no Biblical provision for changing your mind at a later date. Complicating such decisions was the fact that masters often gave their slaves wives, so they could produce slave children for the master, all of whom, including the wife, were not allowed to leave with their husband or father, but which remained the masterʼs “possessions.” (Exodus 21:4-6)
The Bible also apparently allowed for a creditor to enslave his debtor or his debtorʼs children for the redemption of the debt (2 Kings 4:1); children could be sold into slavery by their parents (Exodus 21:7; Isaiah 50:1). So sayeth “the word of the Lord.”
South Carolina politician, James Henry Hammond, after having received a letter from a British opponent of slavery, responded with two letters to a prominent British abolitionist whose friend had sent Hammond the original letter. Hammondʼs letters were published in the South Carolinian and in pamphlet form after which Hammond was deluged with congratulatory letters from admiring fellow southerners. Hammondʼs letters, written 16 years before the War, began by citing Biblical arguments for the legitimacy of slavery, and pointed out that “Although Slavery in its most revolting form was everywhere visible around Christ and his Apostles, no visionary notions of piety or philanthropy ever tempted them to gainsay the LAW…On the contrary, regarding Slavery as an established, as well as inevitable condition of human society, they never hinted at such a thing as its termination on earth, any more than that ‘the poor may cease to be in the land,’ which God affirms to Moses shall never be: and they exhort ‘all slaves’ to ‘be subject to their masters in everything’ [Titus 2:9]; to ‘count their masters as worthy of all honor [1 Tim. 6:1];’ [“Worthy” of “all honor?” Why? Just because the master had enough money in his pocket to purchase the slave? - ED.] ‘to obey your masters, not only to win their favor when their eye is upon you but like slaves of Christ doing the will of God from your heart’ [Ephes. 6:5-6]; ‘not only good and gentle masters, but also harsh masters…for what glory is it if when you are harshly treated for your faults you take it patiently? But if when you act faultlessly and suffer for it and take it patiently, this is acceptable of God’ [1 Peter 2:18-20]. St. Paul actually apprehended a runaway slave, and sent him back to his master!…It would be difficult to imagine sentiments and conduct more strikingly in contrast, than those of the Apostles and the abolitionists…Are abolitionists doing the work of God? No! God is not there. It is the work of Satan.”
The Reverend Richard Furman, president of the Baptist State Convention of South Carolina, wrote a letter to the governor in 1822 expressing the proslavery sentiments of South Carolina Baptists:
Had the holding of slaves been a moral evil, it cannot be supposed that the inspired Apostles, who feared not the faces of men, and were ready to lay down their lives in the cause of their God, would have tolerated it for a moment in the Christian Church. Or if they had done so on a principle of accommodation, in cases where the masters remained heathen, to avoid offenses and civil commotion; yet surely, where both master and servant were Christian, they would have required that the master should liberate his slave. But instead of this, they let the relationship remain untouched as being lawful and right, and insist on relative duties.
In 1840 (21 years before the war) John England, the first Catholic bishop of Charleston, South Carolina, composed 18 letters to the Secretary of State, outlining the Bibleʼs and the Catholic churchʼs centuries old support of “domestic slavery.” Bishop England asserted confidently, “In many of his parables, the Savior describes the master and his slaves in a variety of ways, without any condemnation or censure of slavery. In Luke 17:7-10, he describes the usual mode of acting towards slaves as the very basis upon which he teaches one of the most useful lessons of Christian virtue: ‘But which of you, having a slave plowing or tending sheep, will say to him, when he has come in from the field, “Come immediately and sit down to eat”? But will he not say to him, “Prepare something for me to eat, and properly clothe yourself and serve me until I have eaten and drunk; and afterward you will eat and drink?” He does not thank the slave because he did the things which were commanded, does he? So when you do all the things which are commanded you, say, “We are unworthy slaves; we have done only that which we ought to have done.”’…St. Paul in his letter to the Galatians, chapter 4, exhibits the great truth which he desires to inculcate by an illustration taken from the institutions of slavery, and without a single expression of censure. Nor did the Apostles consider the Christian master obliged to liberate his Christian servant.”
The Reverend Thornton Stringfellow, Baptist minister of Culpeper County, Virginia, composed a widely read defense of slavery in which he stressed, “The words of our Lord Jesus Christ…add to the obligation of the slave to render service with good-will to his master; gospel fellowship is not to be entertained with persons who will not consent to it!” “A. B. Bledsoe, is only one of many who concluded that the ‘sin of appalling magnitude’ was not slave holding but the claim by abolitionists that slave holding was a sin. To suggest such a thing was ‘an aggravated crime against God.’” Or as the Rev. J. C. Postell preached, “So far from being a moral evil, slavery is a merciful visitation…It is the Lordʼs doing and it is marvelous in our eyes…It is by divine appointment.”
Needless to say, the “Biblical case for slavery” did not impress the slave. Take the one mentioned in an ad in the Georgia Messenger (July 27th, 1837) that read:
RAN AWAY: My man Fountain * has holes bored in his ears * a scar on the right side of his forehead * has been shot in hind parts of his legs * is marked on the back with the whip.
The Biblical sanctioning of slavery must have helped remove a lot of the guilt that large slaveholders felt, buying, breeding, disciplining and selling so many men, women and children as if they were private property. But how did enslaved men and women feel? The most famous escaped slave of his day, Frederick Douglass, gave us a glimpse of how he felt. He wrote, “We have men sold to build churches, women sold to support the gospel, and babes sold to purchase Bibles for the poor heathen, all for the glory of God and the good of souls. The slave auctioneerʼs bell and the church-going bell chime in with each other, and the bitter cries of the heart-broken slave are drowned in the religious shouts of his pious master. Revivals of religion and revivals of the slave trade go hand in hand…Were I to be again reduced to the chains of slavery, next to the enslavement, I should regard being the slave of a religious master the greatest calamity that could befall me. For of all slaveholders with whom I have ever met, religious slaveholders are the worst. I have ever found them the meanest and basest, the most cruel and cowardly, of all others.”
Douglass also told about a slaveholding family he knew who knelt and prayed together daily, yet expressed no concern that their slaves nearly froze to death every winter due to an inadequate supply of clothing and blankets. He added, “It was my unhappy lot…to belong to a religious slaveholder…He always managed to have one or more of his slaves to whip every Monday morning…In August, 1832, my master attended a Methodist camp-meeting…and there experienced religion. He prayed morning, noon, and night. He very soon distinguished himself among his brethren, and was made a class leader and exhorter…I have seen him tie up a lame young woman, and whip her with a heavy cowskin whip upon her naked shoulders, causing the warm red blood to drip; and, in justification of the bloody deed, he would quote the passage of Scripture, ‘He who knoweth the masterʼs will, and doeth it not, shall be beaten with many stripes.’(Luke 12:47)”
That passage of Scripture circulated quite a bit, especially since it was a teaching of Jesus spoken in a parable to illustrate Godʼs just punishments toward His “slaves.” Williams Wells Brown recalled that when he was owned by Dr. John Young he was taught that, when whipped, a slave must not find fault - for the Bible says, “He that knoweth his masterʼs will and does it not, shall be beaten with many stripes!”
The Old Testament agrees with the right of a master to beat his slave within an inch of their life, or within “a day or two” of their life: “If a man strikes his male or female slave with a rod and he dies at his hand, he shall be punished. If, however, the slave survives a day or two [before dying], no vengeance shall be taken; for the slave is his masterʼs money.” [Exodus 21:20-21] (In line with such Biblical pearls of wisdom an early Christian Council, The Council of Elvira (c. 305), prescribed that any Christian mistress who beat her slave to death without premeditation was merely to be punished with five years of penance.) 1 Peter 2:18-20 even teaches that the Christian who is a slave should “patiently endure” even harsh unjust punishments in order to “find favor with God.”
Douglass and Brown were not the only witnesses to testify that Christians were the cruelest slaveholders. “Henry Bibb…lists six ‘professors of religion’ who sold him to other ‘professors of religion.’ [One of Bibbʼs owners was a deacon in the Baptist church, who employed whips, chains, stocks, and thumbscrews to ‘discipline’ his slaves. - ED.] Harriet Jacobs, in her narrative, informs us that her tormenting owner was the worse for being converted. Mrs. Joseph Smith, testifying before the American Freedmenʼs Inquiry Commission in 1863 tells why Christian slaveholders were the worst owners: ‘Well, it is something like this - the Christians will oppress you more.’”
In general, slaveholders who approved of the Christianization of their slaves disciplined them with at least as much force and fervor as those who did not. Enforcing obedience and submission was just as much an order of the day for Christian slaveholders as for non-Christian ones. In fact, to the devout Christian slaveholder, disobedience to oneʼs master constituted “faults done against God himself.” (Because the “Word of God” said that slave masters were “worthy of all honor,” [1 Tim. 6:1]; and obedient slaves should seek to fulfill “the will of God” by serving their masters [Ephes. 6:5-6]; and slaves who endured “suffering” were “acceptable of God” [1 Peter 2:18-20]; it followed that slaves who did not honor their masters but disobeyed, and forsook suffering, displeased not only man, but God also.)
Speaking of the relationship of religion to slavery, there exists a letter written by a slave to a prominent white minister of North Carolina who had recently preached at that slaveʼs plantation. An excerpt from that letter (with spelling and punctuation corrected) states: “I want you to tell me the reason you always preach to the white folks and keep your back to us. If God sent you to preach to sinners did He direct you to keep your face to the white folks constantly? Or is it because they give you money? If this is the cause we are the very persons who labor for this money but it is handed to you by our masters. Did God tell you to make your meeting houses just large enough to hold the white folks and let the Black people stand in the sun and rain as the brooks in the field? We are charged with inattention. It is impossible for us to pay good attention with this chance. In fact, some of us scarcely think we are preached to at all. Money appears to be the object. We are carried to market and sold to the highest bidder never once inquiring whether sold to a heathen or Christian. If the question was put, ‘Did you sell to a Christian?” what would be the answer, ‘I canʼt tell what he was, he gave me my price, thatʼs all I was interested in?’ Is that the way to heaven? If it is, there will be a good many who go there. If not, their chance of getting there will be bad for there can be many witnesses against them.”
The Southern Baptists, a denomination founded on the Biblical right to own slaves (and presently the nationʼs largest Protestant Christian denomination) “apologized” in June 1995 for their pro-slavery, pro-racist, pro-segregationist past. Measured from the date Southern Baptists began waving their Christian banner for slavery (1845) to the date they apologized (1995), it took them longer to apologize than it took the white South African government to apologize for their segregation policy known as “apartheid;” it took them longer to apologize than it took the Japanese Emperor to apologize to the Asian nations who suffered at the hands of Japan during World War II; it took them longer to apologize than it took the U.S. government to apologize to the 120,000 Japanese-Americans sent to prison camps during World War II; it took them longer to apologize than it took the U.S. government to apologize to the native Hawaiians whose government was forcibly overthrown in 1893; it took them longer to apologize than it took an Israeli president to shake hands with the head of the Palestinian Liberation Organization. Besides which, the Berlin Wall rose and fell and so did communism in Russia, before Southern Baptists finally apologized - an apology uttered one hundred and fifty years, six hundred thousand corpses, and countless lynchings, whippings and beatings, too late.
There is a verse in the Bible that promises, “The Holy Spirit will lead you into all truth.” If only the “Holy Spirit” had “led” all pious and devout ministers and priests in the North and South into the same “truth” regarding slavery. Then Christians could have played a role in fostering mutual understanding. Instead, Christians read the same “perfect instruction book,” arrived at different “instructions” regarding slavery, and helped fan the flames of hell on earth. They poured Biblically righteous indignation upon congregations and politicians, and increased the likelihood and quantity of resentment, bigotry, hatred, suffering, and calamity that followed. Moreover, the “few, harmonious Christian denominations” of the South helped unite and inspire Southerners to continue fighting for far longer than they should have.
The historian Paul Johnson put it this way, “In the South, there were standard and much quoted texts on Negro inferiority, patriarchal and Mosaic acceptance of servitude, and of course St Paul on obedience to masters. In the events which led up to the War, both North and South hurled texts at each other. Revivalism and the evangelical movement generally played into the hands of extremists on both sides. When the war actually came, the Presbyterians, from North and South, tried to hold together by suppressing all discussion of the issue; but they split in the end…Only the Lutherans, the Episcoplaians, and the Catholics successfully avoided public debates and voting splits; but the evidence shows that they too were fundamentally divided on a basic issue of Christian principle.
“Moreover, having split, the Christian churches promptly went to battle on both sides. Leonidas Polk, Bishop of Louisiana, entered the Confederate army as a major-general and announced: ‘It is for constitutional liberty, which seems to have fled to us for refuge, for our hearthstones and our altars that we fight.’ [One cannot help noticing that the loudest yelps for liberty came from Southerners defending the right to enslave others! - ED.] Thomas March, Bishop of Rhode Island, preached to the militia on the other side: ‘It is a holy and righteous cause in which you enlist…God is with us…the Lord of Hosts is on our side [along with a heaping helping of northern factory-produced weapons and ammo - ED.].’
“The clerical interpretation of the warʼs progress was equally dogmatic and contradictory. The Southern Presbyterian theologian Robert Lewis Dabney blamed what he called the ‘calculated malice’ of the Northern Presbyterians and called on God for ‘a retributive providence’ which would demolish the North. Henry Ward Beecher, one of the most ferocious of the Northern clerical drum-beaters, predicted that the Southern leaders would be ‘whirled aloft and plunged downward for ever and ever in an endless retribution.’ The New Haven theologian Theodore Thornton Munger declared…that the Confederacy had been ‘in league with Hell,’ and the South was now ‘suffering for its sins’ as a matter of ‘divine logic.’
“To judge by the hundreds of sermons and specially composed church prayers which have survived on both sides, ministers were among the most fanatical of the combatants from beginning to end. The churches played a major role in dividing the nation, and it may be that the splits in the churches made a final split in the nation possible. In the North, such a charge was often willingly accepted. Granville Moddy, a Northern Methodist, boasted in 1861, ‘We are charged with having brought about the present contest. I believe it is true we did bring it about, and I glory in it, for it is a wreath of glory round our brow.’ Southern clergymen did not make the same boast but of all the various elements in the South they did the most to make a secessionist state of mind possible. Southern clergymen were particularly responsible for prolonging the increasingly futile struggle. Both sides claimed vast numbers of ‘conversions’ among their troops and a tremendous increase in churchgoing and ‘prayerfulness’ as a result of the fighting.” [Other “results of the fighting” that clergymen were not nearly as boastful about included tremendous outbreaks of syphilis and gonorrhea among Northern and Southern troops, as well as diarrhea, the latter of which killed more soldiers than were killed in battle. Not to mention the Southʼs financial destitution. - ED.]
The Southern Presbyterian Church resolved in 1864 (a year after Lincoln issued his Emancipation Proclamation and while the War was still raging): “We hesitate not to affirm that it is the peculiar mission of the Southern Church to conserve the institution of slavery, and to make it a blessing both to master and slave.” The Church also insisted that it was “unscriptural and fanatical” to accept the dogma that slavery was inherently sinful: it was “one of the most pernicious heresies of modern times” - to which one slaveʼs response was, “If slavery ainʼt a sin, then nothing is.”
Mitchell Snay in Gospel of Disunion, pointed out the pivotal role that Southern denominations played in promoting secession: “Southern clergymen spoke openly and enthusiastically on behalf of disunion…Denominational groups across the South officially endorsed secession and conferred blessings on the new Southern nation.” Influencial denominational papers from the Mississippi Baptist to the Southern Episcopalian, the Southern Presbyterian and the South Western Baptist, agreed that secession “must be effected at any cost, regardless of consequences,” and “secession was the only consistent position that Southern freemen or Christians could occupy.” (One amusing anecdote tells how a prominent member of a Southern Presbyterian church told his pastor that he would quit the church if the pastor did not pray for the Union. Unmoved by this threat, the pastor replied that “our church does not believe in praying for the dead!”) Meanwhile, Northern clergymen blamed their Southern counterparts for “inflaming passions,” “adding a feeling of religious fanaticism” to the secessionist controversy, and also blamed them for being “the strongest obstacle in the way of preserving the Union.” “In this way, the Northern clergy contributed to the belief in an irrepressible conflict, and aroused the same kind of political passions they were condemning in their Southern brethren.”
One Southern sermon that had “a powerful influence in converting Southern sentiments to secession,” and which was republished in several Southern newspapers and distributed in tens of thousands of individual copies, was Reverend Benjamin B. Palmerʼs sermon, “Slavery a Divine Trust: Duty of the South to Preserve and Perpetuate It,” delivered soon after Lincolnʼs election in 1860. According to Palmer that election had brought “one issue before us” which had created a crisis that called forth the guidance of the clergy. That issue was “slavery.” Palmer insisted that “the South defended the cause of all religion and truth…We defend the cause of God and religion,” while abolitionism was “undeniably atheistic.” Palmer was incensed at the platform of Lincolnʼs political party which promised to constrain the practice of slavery within certain geographical limits instead of allowing it to expand into Americaʼs Western territories. Therefore, the South had to secede in order to protect its providential trust of slavery.
When Union armies reached Reverend Palmerʼs home state, a Union general placed a price on his head, because as some said, the Reverend had done more than “any other non-combatant in the South to promote rebellion.” Thomas R. R. Cobb, an official of the Confederate government, summed up religionʼs contribution to the fervor and ferment of those times with these words, “This revolution [the secessionist cause] has been accomplished mainly by the Churches.”
Confederate president Jefferson Davis “Never publicly wavered in his conviction that the cause of the South was a just one. As the outcome of the war became obvious to almost everyone, he never truly conceded defeat. In the latter stages of the war, probably a majority of southerners saw him as aloof, stubborn, and even tyrannical. Only in the aftermath of war did Davis become a hero in the South, becoming a part of the Lost Cause mythology.”
After Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation “few slaves staged outright revolts, but thousands ran away. In the single month of January 1864 [the year before the war ended], Jefferson Davis himself lost three slaves, one of whom tried burning down the executive mansion on his way out.” The escaped slave, Frederick Douglass, wrote candidly, “I prayed for freedom twenty years, but received no answer until I prayed with my legs.”
It must prove humbling if not humiliating for Christians to note that the Greek philosopher, Zeno, declared centuries before Christ was born, “No matter whether you claim a slave by purchase or capture, the title is bad. Those who claim to own their fellow men look down into the pit and forget the justice that should rule the world.” What clarity of speech and prophetic vision. If Moses, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Isaiah, Jesus or Paul had uttered such a passage, Jews and Christians would be prouder than hell of it. Rabbis, ministers and priests would have built sermons around it for centuries, splayed it across huge banners, carried it on placards held high, and emblazoned it in needlepoint on pillows sold in religious bookstores. If only the Bible spoke as clearly as Zeno on the subject of slavery.
Of course, the Bible did speak as clearly, but unlike Zeno, it favored the institution of slavery. The Christian church became the biggest slave owner in the Roman Empire. Popes kept slaves until the eighteenth century. Ignatius of Antioch (c. 107-117) refused the request of Christian slaves to have their freedom purchased out of the common fund. 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). “Early in the 11th century Benedict VIII condemned the children of priests to be slaves and Clement did likewise to the whole population of Venice in 1309. Pope Paul III decreed slavery for all Englishmen who supported Henry VIII of England. Papal licenses were granted to the Kings of Portugal in the fifteenth century to conquer ‘heathen’ countries and reduce their inhabitants to ‘everlasting slavery.’ Altogether, more than eighteen hundred years of Christianity supported the notion of slavery.” Furthermore, as historian Forrest G. Wood pointed out, “English North Americans embraced slavery because they were Christians, not in spite of it.”
It was only after the influence of Enlightenment thinking (in the eighteenth century) that some Christians in Britain and America began to focus on certain “dynamic principles” in the Bible that they claimed were anti-slavery, i.e., instead of continuing to emphasize the far plainer teachings of a masterʼs rights of ownership and honor, and the submission, obedience and disciplining of slaves. So, it took millions of Christians over eighteen hundred years before they could agree on the proper application of certain “dynamic principles” to slavery. And they only arrived at this agreement after leaders of the Enlightenment (who were far from pious) had done so, and long after pagan philosophers like Zeno and Epictetus had done so. Which demonstrates that Christianity has little reason to boast of its superiority over human reason.
Moreover, some “narrow bibliolators” who believe they are “led into all truth by the Holy Spirit” continue to declare that slavery is not, and has never been, a sin, and therefore, there was no God-given reason to outlaw it (which every country in the world did by the middle of the 1900s). John Murray of Westminster Theological Seminary continued to argue till 1957 that the Bible allows for the institution of slavery. Adrian Rogers, a key leader in the 1980s of the fundamentalist movement in the Southern Baptist Convention, when asked by a non-fundamentalist pastor how he interpreted a particular biblical passage that condoned slavery, responded, “I feel slavery is a much maligned institution. If we had slavery today we would not have such a welfare problem.” (But think of the problems and injustices that slavery would create! I guess Mr. Rogers did not think that far.) Peter Ruckman, founder of the Pensacola Bible Institute, continues to state that “God never abolished slavery a day since it started (1 Tim. 6:1-3, 1 Cor. 7:21).”
Even Dr. Henry Morris (the founder of the Institute for Creation Research) declared as late as 1991 that “Negroes…were [not meant] to be forcibly subjugated,” but they were, “because of their innate nature.” While allowing for exceptions in the case of many outstanding “Negro” individuals, Morris teaches that “Negroes” are “possessed of a genetic character concerned mainly with mundane [commonplace] matters, they have eventually been displaced by the intellectual and philosophical acumen…and religious zeal of [other races]. Dr. Morris bases this belief on what he perceives to be a prophecy in “Genesis, chapter 9” that has been fulfilled, i.e., the curse that Noah laid upon one of his sonsʼ sons to be “a slave of slaves…forever.”
Many “narrow bibliolators” do not go so far as those above, but there are still significant numbers of them who proudly declare that being in favor of racial segregation is not a sin; neither do they consider it a sin to legally oppress homosexuals; subjugate women; mete out relatively harsh and oppressive discipline to wives and children (or to students and employees at some “Christian” schools, universities, and missionary organizations).
Slavery and Womenʼs Rights, Parallel Issues
Not surprisingly the Bibleʼs passages teaching slaves to “obey their masters in all things” and “find them worthy” appear right beside passages that teach women to be “subject” to men. “In most instances the apostlesʼ instructions to slaves were given in parallel to instructions to wives to be subordinate and children to be obedient. The apostles reasoned that to reject the comments about slavery called into question the authority also of husbands and parents. It was obvious that the apostles held these matters to be of equal force.” But if such matters were held to be of “equal force,” then once the slavery verses were deemphasized in the light of other Biblical teachings, why not the female-subjugation verses too? Since it is now generally admitted that using the Bible to justify slavery is wrong, what about using the Bible to justify the subjugation of women? What if portions of the Bible have been “wrongly interpreted” or “overemphasized” for almost 2000 years, and have amplified problems in honest and open human relations? Moreover, what if some of the Bibleʼs teachings are “simplistically rigid” or just plain “wrong” on a number of issues? Some moderate evangelical Christians are trying to make their “narrow bibliolatrous” brethren understand that denouncing slavery was only the beginning of “better Bible interpretation.”
Accomplishments of “Jesus” in History
Kenneth Scott Latourette (the historian whom McDowell cited) is free to say whatever he likes about the accomplishments of “Jesus” in history, and how “millions of individualʼs lives were transformed.” All religions boast of their power to “transform” individuals and create a “better society.” But history demonstrates that even having a “perfect book of instructions,” a “born again soul,” a “new heart,” “Jesusʼ spirit living inside them” as well as “the Holy Spirit leading them into all truth,” Christians still stumble into the same dirty ditches that every other exclusivistic “all or nothing” religious group or political party has throughout history. (And Christians continue to believe that only “they” are “forgiven” afterwards.) History also demonstrates that charity can be found in individuals and in nations that do not depend very much, if at all, on the Bible and “Jesus.”
The Unique Content of Christian Experience
McDowell next discusses the “Unique Content of Christian Experience.” He cites authors who are fellow fundamentalists or hard-line evangelicals, adding statements from himself that repeat, “Only Christianity…provides a totally new source of power for living [As if believers in other religions or philosophies never testify that theirs provides a ‘new source of power for living’ - ED.]…The thing that makes Christian conversion different, then, is Christ [sic]…a physical historical reality…overwhelming evidence…a God who may be identified and who made himself known in history…recorded in history…He was raised from the dead in history [Emphasis is McDowellʼs - ED.]…an objective reality as its basis…This objective reality is the person of Jesus Christ and his resurrection…objective reality…the person of Jesus Christ and His resurrection…objective reality, Jesus Christ [Repetition is McDowellʼs - ED.]…The evidence is overwhelming.”
As if the previous eleven chapters of McDowellʼs book on the “overwhelming evidence” and “objective reality” of Jesusʼ life and resurrection “in history” were not enough, McDowell feels the need to repeat himself here. If I were a psychologist, I would have to wonder what he was being so defensive about. Or, if I was Ramm, I would see in such repetition another “obscurantist” tactic employed by someone who has chosen to “ignore findings that seem to counter the biblical record.”
Do Dead Tomatoes Tell Tales?
Next, McDowell tells a fable of his own invention about a fellow with “a stewed tomato” in his right tennis shoe who believes the tomato has made him a better runner and a better person. McDowell rightfully questions such a belief. And he contrasts it with the “overwhelming reality” of Christian belief. However, no members of other religions, nor any atheists I know, hold a belief in miraculous tomatoes. So McDowellʼs fable proves unhelpful to folks who are trying to determine the legitimacy of the many “non-tomato” belief systems in the world today. Besides, such a fable could be utilized not just by Christian evangelists like McDowell but by advocates of any and all belief systems that rest on firmer legitimacy than ketchup in oneʼs shoe.
After his fable demonstrating the “overwhelming” superiority of Christianity over “Tomato-anity,” McDowell adds the testimony of a “redeemed drunkard” who testified that he was saved from alcoholic addiction by a “power” he identified as none other than “Jesus.” (How many redeemed drunkards, I wonder, would it take to prove the historicity of the resurrection?) Apparently McDowell is unaware that alcoholics who quit drinking are a dime a dozen. You can find them not just among evangelical Christians, but among Jehovahʼs Witnesses, Mormons, Transcendental Meditation practitioners, herbal healers, Scientologists, Eckankar followers, at Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, and in secular groups like Drinkwise, Moderation Management, Rational Recovery Systems, Secular Organizations for Sobriety, Self Management And Recovery Training (SMART), Women for Sobriety/Men for Sobriety. Members of all such groups have experienced life-changing behaviors for the better. Any organization that demands responsibility and focuses on setting goals and eliminating grossly destructive behaviors has “success” stories to tell.
My motherʼs second husband was a totally reformed alcoholic and one of the friendliest kindest most cheerful people I ever had the pleasure to know. He had been an alcoholic for over a dozen years, and after joining AA became a dedicated member of that group for over a dozen more. He liked to sing songs ranging from Broadway tunes to hymns in church (when the occasion arose). But he did not believe in the superiority of any churchʼs doctrines. He believed in a “Higher Power” (as they say in AA) and rarely discussed religion.
Sadly, I bet there are also alcoholics whom no groups are able to “redeem” or reform. I bet some of those alcoholics were devout Bible-believing Christians in their youth, or they got to “know Jesus” as their “personal savior” after they began drinking, but relapsed back into the bottle. Failures do not make for inspiring success stories, so you do not hear about such people very often, except in someone elseʼs success story, who mentions how the sight of a “hopelessly messed up” friend or relative who died of some addiction, “inspired” them to quit.
The Universality of the Christian Experience
Next, McDowell discusses the “Universality of the Christian Experience.” He argues that “The claims of great numbers of people confessing Christ are amazingly similar regardless of place, time, environment or background.” Is McDowell oblivious of the fact that members of any religion, church, denomination, cult, political party, twelve-step program, or philosophical school of thought, tell “amazingly similar” stories of how and why they were attracted to their particular group? People who acknowledge the same beliefs and practices are naturally going to “astonish” one another with “amazingly similar tales” of who or what led them to do so, otherwise they would be somewhere else, believing something else. And of course, folks who leave such groups often tell “amazingly similar” stories of how and why they grew disenchanted with the particular group they left.
McDowell does not even begin to deal with the fact that today there are over 20,000 different Christian denominations, missionary groups and organizations (according to the Encyclopedia of Christianity). Indeed, within the religion known as “Christianity” there are nearly as infinite a variety of sects (each with their own weird beliefs and practices) as in Hinduism: From silent Trappist monks and quiet Quakers - to hell raisers and snake handlers; From those who “hear the Lord” telling them to run for president, seek diamonds in Uganda or sell “holy” cosmetics - to those who have visions of Mary, the saints, or experience bleeding stigmata; From those who believe the communion bread and wine remain just that - to those who believe the bread and wine are miraculously transformed into “invisible” flesh and blood (and can vouch for it with stories of communion wafers turning into human flesh and wine curdling into blood cells during Mass); From predestinationists to free will-ers; From universalists to damnationists; From Christian monks and priests who have gained insights into their own faith after dialoging with Buddhist monks and Hindu priests - to Christians who view Eastern religious ideas and practices as “Satanic”; From castrati (boys who sang in Catholic choirs and underwent castration to keep their voices high) - to Protestant choirs (singing Lutherʼs hymn, “A Mighty Fortress is Our God,” which was based on the melody of a drinking song) - all the way to “Christian reggae” and “Christian rap music;” From Christians who reject any behavior that even mimics “what homosexuals do” (including a rejection of fellatio and cunnilingus between husband and wife) - to Christians who accept committed, loving, homosexual relationships (including gay evangelical Church groups); From Catholic nuns and Amish women who dress to cover their bodies - to Christian nudists, and born-again strippers; From those who believe sending out missionaries to persuade others to become Christians is essential - to those (like the Anti-Mission Baptists) who believe that sending out missionaries and trying to persuade others constitutes a lack of faith and the sin of pride, and that the founding of “extra-congregational” missionary organizations is not Biblical; From Christians who believe Easter should be celebrated on one date (Roman Catholics) - to Christians who believe Easter should be celebrated on another date (Eastern Orthodox), which resulted in the Roman Catholics excommunicating all the Christians of the Eastern Roman Empire; From Christians who worship on Sunday - to Christians who worship on Saturday (the Hebrew “sabbath day” that God said to “keep holy” according to one of the Ten Commandments) - to Christians who believe their daily walk with “God” and love of their fellow man is far more important than church attendance; From Christians who stress “Godʼs commands” to those who stress “Godʼs love;” From those who teach that obeying the Bibleʼs command to be “baptized with water as an adult believer” is an essential sign of salvation - to those who deny it is; From those who teach that “baptism in the Holy Spirit” along with “speaking in tongues” are important signs of salvation - to those who deny they are (some of whom see mental and Satanic delusions in all modern accounts of “Spirit baptism” and “tongue-speaking”); From those who believe that avoiding alcohol, smoking, gambling, dancing, “contemporary Christian music,” movies, television, long hair (on men), etc., are all important “signs” of being “truly” saved - to those who believe you need only trust in Jesus as your personal savior to be saved; From Christians who believe sticking oneʼs nose in politics is wrong - to coup d’etat Christians; From “stop the bomb” Christians to “drop the bomb” Christians; From “social Gospel” Christians to “uncompromised Gospel” Christians; From pro-slavery Christians to anti-slavery Christians; From Christians who wave their Bibles above their white hoods - to Christians “in the hood” who march for equal rights for people of all colors; From Christians who worry most about doctors taking fetal lives - to those who worry most about doctors of religion raising questions that might “abort” a young personʼs faith and their eternal life.
The history of Christianity is the history of controversies too innumerable to mention. Moreover, within each major “Christian” denomination there are fundamentalists, conservatives, moderates, liberals, and “everything in between,” including those who are conservative on some subjects and liberal on others. There are Christians in the same churches who disagree on interpretations from Genesis to Revelation - from how (and when) the world began - to how (and when) it will end, all according to the same Bible.
A variety of “Christianities” flourished before fourth-century church councils at Nicea and Chalcedon heatedly debated and composed their definitions of “orthodox” Christian belief. “There was no orthodoxy - only the pluralistic search for truth…There was a pluralism and fluidity to Christian theological experience…and the later creeds from Nicea and Chalcedon are only two slices of the whole.” And those “slices” remained the biggest pieces of the Christian pie via the use of political force. The first Roman Emperor who was a convert to Christianity, Constantine, introduced and presided over the first major church council at Nicea in 325 and afterwards assured unanimity by banishing all the bishops who would not sign the new profession of faith. In 380, another Roman Christian Emperor, Theodosius, passed a decree that read: “We shall believe in the single Deity of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, under the concept of equal majesty and of the Holy Trinity. We command that those persons who follow this rule shall embrace the name of Catholic Christians. The rest, however, whom We adjudge demented and insane, shall sustain the infamy of heretical dogmas, their meeting places shall not receive the name of churches, and they shall be smitten first by divine vengeance and secondly by the retribution of Our own initiative, which We shall assume in accordance with the divine judgment.” Even the average Christians in the street were at odds with each other over matters of dogma. In the fourth and fifth-centuries citywide riots broke out between Christians with differing theological views and probably more Christians killed Christians at that time than the pagans had done during the previous centuries.
From the day the “creeds” of “orthodox Christianity” were nailed down by political decrees, to today, Christian sects have continued to arise. A few of the stranger ones that stick out in my mind include the Skoptsy, each of whose male members cut off their “male member” - to become literal “eunuchs for the kingdom of God.” (Shades of “Heavenʼs Gate!”) And there were the Shakers, who were convinced that the Bible taught it was “best” for a Christian to never have sex, not even for procreation. (They raised orphaned children, but not enough of the children embraced Shakerism, so the sect died out.) According to some sources, there was even a Dutch Protestant Christian sect whose members murdered recently baptized infants to ensure that the infants would go to heaven (a service also provided by some Catholic conquistadors who feared that if they left South American infants alive after baptizing them, then the infants might grow up and forsake Jesus for their parentʼs paganism and wind up in eternal hellfire).
Even something as innocuous as “kneeling” proved a matter of debate within Christianity. The Church Fathers who lived in the days before the first Nicene Council (in 325 A.D.), along with the Council itself, agreed to forbid kneeling on all Sundays, and on all the days between Easter and Whit-Sunday. Kneeling was frowned upon as a pagan practice.
The existence of so much variety within “Christianity” proves that every “Christian” testimony could not possibly be “amazingly similar.” No doubt members of each group tell stories of their attraction to it that others in the group find “amazingly similar.” But thatʼs only true of members in the same group. For instance, Frank Schaeffer (AKA “Franky,” the son of the famous evangelical Christian apologist, Francis Schaeffer) harshly criticized evangelical Christianity in his first book, Addicted to Mediocrity, which was followed by a funny, charming novel about his family and his evangelical Christian home life that highlighted the shortcomings of both, Portofino: A Novel. Finally, Frank left evangelicalism for Eastern Orthodox Christianity and now speaks and writes about his conversion to that branch of Christianity with the same kind of intensity that marked his fatherʼs advocacy of evangelical Christianity. See Frankʼs books, Dancing Alone: The Quest for Orthodox Faith in the Age of False Religion (in which he critiques the secularizing influence of Protestantism), and, Letters to Father Aristotle: A Journey Through Contemporary American Orthodoxy. One could also cite the testimony of Dr. Charles Bell, a former Protestant charismatic who, like Frank, converted to the Orthodox Church, and wrote, Discovering the Rich Heritage of Orthodoxy. Or thereʼs Frederica Matthewes-Green testimony in her book, Facing East: A Pilgrimʼs Journey Into the Mysteries of Orthodoxy. In fact, Peter Gillquist has condensed the stories of over two thousand evangelical Christians and their quest for “historic Christianity” in his book, Becoming Orthodox.
Thomas Howard began his spiritual quest as a Protestant fundamentalist (not unlike that of Josh McDowell), but grew to reject such a faith in favor of a broader more mainstream Episcopalian-evangelical faith. In his books, Christ the Tiger: A Postscript to Dogma, and, Evangelical is Not Enough: Worship of God in Liturgy & Sacrament, he outlines the changes he went through. Later, Mr. Howard left Episcopalianism for Catholicism and wrote, Lead Kindly Light: My Journey to Rome, and, On Being Catholic.
Scott Hahn, a former hard-line evangelical Presbyterian minister and professor of theology, described in his book, Rome Sweet Rome, and in numerous videos, his journey away from “false” Protestant doctrines, and his discovery of the one “true” faith, Roman Catholicism. A number of former Protestants have written similar books about their move to Catholicism, like, David Curie, author of Born Fundamentalist, Born Again Catholic, or, Stephen K. Ray, a former devout Baptist who became Catholic along with his wife, and wrote Crossing the Tiber: Evangelical Protestants Discover the Historic Church.
So, Schaeffer, Howard, Hahn and many others testify to their rejection of fundamentalism (and/or hard-line evangelical) Protestantism. In fact, they point out the “errors” in their former beliefs and the “truth” of either Eastern Orthodoxy or Roman Catholicism. Not a lot of “amazing similarity” with Josh McDowellʼs Protestant fundamentalist beliefs!
Of the nearly sixty “Christian” testimonies that McDowell hand picked for inclusion in ETDAV there are few (if any) testimonies from folks who became Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Anglican/Episcopalian, Pentecostal, Charismatic, Church of Christ, conservative Calvinist, or snake-handling, Christians. (I can not resist adding that a congregation of snake-handling Christians in Scrabble Creek, South Carolina, had a psychological test administered to them by a sociologist who gave the same test to a nearby Methodist congregation as a control group. And the serpent handlers came out mentally healthier!) McDowell only cites testimonies from Christians of his own “narrow bibliolatrous” persuasion and ignores testimonies from Christians whose beliefs differ in significant ways from his own.
Among the testimonies that McDowell published, it would appear that some “converts” were raised as children to believe only in “Jesus and Christianity,” and later “rededicated” their lives. Some had a dramatic conversion experience that happened at a specific time and place. Others had relatively undramatic experiences. Cartoonist, Charles Schulz, attended some “Bible Studies” and “thought about the matter” until he realized he “really loved God,” yet, “I cannot point to a specific time of dedication to Christ.” [In 1999, Charles Schultz told an interviewer that his religious views had evolved over the years, and, “The term that best describes me now is ‘secular humanist.’” -David Templeton, “My Lunch with Spark,” Metroactive section of The Sonoma County Independent, Dec. 30, 1999-Jan. 5, 2000. Online: http://www.metroactive.com/papers/sonoma/12.30.99/schulz2-9952.html] C. S. Lewis “decided to rejoin the church” during a trip to the zoo. Author, Eugenia Price, had a Christian friend and they argued about religion until Eugenia said, “‘Okay, I guess youʼre right.’ And that was it…Now I like to get up in the morning. He is my reason for waking up.” Such stories are no more “amazingly similar” than testimonies from converts to other religions or belief systems.
McDowell cites fellow hard-line evangelical Protestants, E. Y. Mullins and Gordon Allport as experts on “Christian experience.” (McDowell also cites Bernard Ramm - but I have discussed Rammʼs “heretical” views above.) Naturally, Mullins and Allport write glowingly of “…irrefutable evidence of the objective existence of the Person so moving me…my certainty becomes absolute…the certainties of Christian experience…the blessedness of certitude.” Such “absolute certainty” and “blessed certitude” is found universally among the most pious and devout adherents of different Christian denominations, other religions, and cults.
If McDowell had more of the curiosity of a genuine scholar, and less of the “blessed certitude” of an evangelist, he would have discovered that a far wider spectrum of religious testimonies and convictions exists than the narrow band he focuses on in ETDAV. For instance, there are the testimonies and convictions of Schaeffer, Howard, and Hahn, mentioned above; and those of many others recorded in the books below:
Journeys in Belief, edited by Bernard Dixon (testimonies of people who converted from Catholicism to Judaism, from Christianity to skepticism, from skepticism to Christianity, etc., each time convinced that their new beliefs supplied the “best, or final, answers”).
Amazing Conversions: Why Some People Turn to Faith & Others Abandon Religion, by Bob Altemeyer and Bruce Hunsberger (testimonies of some “amazing believers” and some “amazing apostates” contrasted and compared).
What I Believe, edited by Mark Booth (featuring the sincerest beliefs of Albert Einstein, James Thurber, Thomas Mann, H. G. Wells, Bertrand Russell, et al.).
The Courage of Conviction: Thirty-Three Prominent Men and Women Reveal Their Beliefs - And How They Put Those Beliefs Into Practice, edited by Phillip L. Berman (the beliefs and convictions of Billy Graham, the Dalai Lama, Andrew Greeley, Harold Kushner, Jim Henson, Jane Goodall, Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, Mario Cuomo, et al.).
The Door Interviews, edited by Mike Yaconelli (interviews with Christians who are theologians, novelists, musicians, and politicians, and whose beliefs run the gamut from fundamentalism to liberalism and mixtures of both).
The Varieties of Religious Experience by the noted psychologist William James (who compares “once-born” and “twice-born” Christians).
Once-Born Twice-Born Zen by Conrad Hyers (about a school of Zen Buddhism whose descriptions of “satori” resemble being “born again”).
The Inner Eye of Love by Robert Johnson (a Catholic in Japan compares Christian agape love with Buddhist karnua compassion; and compares devotion to Christ with devotion to the compassionate Amida Buddha).
The Marriage of East and West, and, The Cosmic Revelation: The Hindu Way to God by Dom Bede Griffiths (a Catholic who founded a Christian-Hindu ashram in India, who was also a close friend of C. S. Lewis, talks about his inter-religious discoveries).
The Spirituality of Comedy, The Comic Vision and the Christian Faith, And God Created Laughter: The Bible as Divine Comedy, and, The Laughing Buddha: Zen and the Comic Spirit by Conrad Hyers (the spirit of comedic grace shared by both Christians and non-Christians).
Cosmic Trigger, Vols. 1, 2 & 3 by Robert Anton Wilson (wild transcendental experiences as seen through the eyes of a “transcendental agnostic”).
Leaving the Fold: Testimonies of Former Fundamentalists by Edward Babinski (thirty-three testimonies from “narrow bibliolators” who converted to either moderate/liberal Christianity, the wiccan religion, eastern mysticism, agnosticism, or atheism; including the testimony of evangelist Chuck Templeton, Billy Grahamʼs closest friend, who became a “reverent agnostic”).
Today, not just books, but also the World Wide Web makes available (to those who seek) many first-hand “testimonies” to the validity (and invalidity) of different religions and philosophies. And you can often e-mail the authors of such testimonies and receive e-mail from them in return, until your bloodshot eyes, carpel-tunnelled wrists, stiff shoulders, and patience, is frazzled trying to show them the error of their ways and the superiority of your own.
“Millions…From All Walks of Life”
Next, McDowell proudly proclaims, “The following testimonies of men and women from all walks of life demonstrate the unity of Christian experience. While each one embraces a different background, profession or culture, each points to the same object as the source of new power for transformed lives - Jesus Christ…Is the Christian experience valid? These and millions more believe so, and they have new lives to back up their statement.”
But compare McDowellʼs proclamation with this one:
“People who have benefited come from all over the globe and from all walks of life. L. Ron Hubbardʼs technology knows no economic, ethnic, racial, political or religious barriers…Literally millions of stories are on file in churches and missions in all parts of the world. These are not the stories of the privileged or select. They are the successes of everyday people who were looking for answers and who were bright enough to know when the answers had been found.”
The latter statement comes from the “Church of Scientology” web site which features glowing testimonies of miraculous healings, miraculous cures from drug and alcohol addiction, increased compassion, confidence, intelligence and the ability to “live life to its fullest.”
It should be obvious to McDowell, as it has been to sociologists and students of comparative religion for quite some time, that every new religion begins with a founder and a few dedicated disciples (whom outsiders call “fanatics”). Next it is denounced as a “cult” or as an “unauthorized” “heretical” offshoot of a previous religion. After a hundred years or so the budding faith will grow and mature, or it will fail. It has either satisfied many of its members of its authenticity and importance in their lives, or it has not. If it continues to grow, then it will eventually include millions of satisfied customers drawn from all walks of life. There is Judaism (with its ancient and new branches, and its most famous “heretical” offshoot, Christianity); Christianity (with its denominations and “heretical” offshoots like Mormonism, Seventh-Day Adventism, Jehovahʼs Witnesses, the Unification Church, and the Unitarian Church); Islam (with its divisions and “heretical” offshoots like the universalistic Bahai faith); Hinduism (with its thousands of sects - including the Sikh religion that believes in one God and no caste system - and its most famous “heretical” offshoot Buddhism). All of them boast millions of followers from all walks of life. Who can predict what next seedling of faith will blossom into a full blown religion with “millions of followers from all walks of life?” (For a fuller discussion of this interesting topic, I recommend, The Construction of Orthodoxy and Heresy: Neo-Confucian, Islamic, Jewish, and Early Christian Patterns by John B. Henderson.)
The Christian Testimonies in ETDAV
A Nurse, Two Golfers, and Two Miss Americas
McDowell produced two editions of ETDAV and he added and subtracted a few of the nearly sixty Christian testimonies (in chapter twelve) when he produced the second edition. For instance, McDowell added to the second edition a testimony from a woman in Panama, who wrote, “I could not put my ideas in order, they were so abstract and empty…I received Christ, I felt I could become a good nurse with the help of God.” It puzzles me what the addition of that testimony was meant to demonstrate. What about all the other people in the world who were able to “put their ideas in order” and become nurses “with the help of” family, friends, teachers, and different beliefs?
In the second edition, the testimony of “Golfer” Rik Massengale replaced the testimony of “Golfer” Kermit Zarley. (No testimony from Jack Nicholas or Arnold Palmer?) And the testimony of one “Miss America” Terry Meeuwsen Camburn (1973 pageant winner) replaced the testimony of “Miss America” Vonda Kay Van Dyke (1965 pageant winner). (No testimony from a former “Miss Universe?”)
It does not seem to phase McDowell that so many nurses, golf pros, Miss Americas (and Miss Universes), achieved their goals without relying as heavily and directly on “Jesus” as the few folks whom McDowell focuses upon. Compassion, friendliness, humor, patience, persistence, and keeping oneʼs goals in sight, still have a lot to do with leading a happy and successful life, regardless of oneʼs “deep personal reliance on Jesus” or some other faith.
Also, one wonders whether every “testifier” who was alive when ETDAV was published remained deeply devoted. Do some of them entertain ideas today that McDowell might find “heretical” (like Bernard Ramm)? Perhaps a few have “backslidden” or even left the fold? We may never know, because a book can only provide a slice of a personʼs life at the moment that book was published; and it is difficult keeping track of peoplesʼ mental, emotional and spiritual (as well as geographical) movements. That is an inherent flaw of all “testimony” books (including the one I edited, Leaving the Fold).
However, there is one thing I am certain of, that a mind once stretched by a new idea (or new question) never fully regains its original dimensions. Even those who leave a particular “fold” only to return to it again, never return to exactly the same spot, mentally or spiritually speaking. Take the following example…
The testimony of physicist, Lambert Dolphin, Jr., preceded all the rest in the first edition of ETDAV. But Lambertʼs testimony was stricken from the second edition. I thought that was odd since it seemed far more captivating than the testimony McDowell added to the second edition of the female nurse in Panama. Why remove such an interesting and strong testimony (the lead off testimony) and add such a mundane one? So I contacted Mr. Dolphin and learned that he experienced a lapse of faith before the second edition of ETDAV was published, which might explain McDowellʼs decision to excise Dolphinʼs testimony. Would any author of a book that boasted “undeniable” evidence of the “overwhelming” truth of Christianity wish to cite as an example of “Christian experience” someone who was suffering a “lapse of faith?”
After his lapse, Mr. Dolphin regained his conservative evangelical Christian faith. But it appears to be a faith of slightly wider dimensions than before. For instance, Mr. Dolphin stated in an e-mail to me on May 12, 1997, “I believe God is at work in every culture and religion. There are hints of this in Romans, chapter 2. My mentor Ray Stedman once said, ‘There is one way to God, Jesus said so, but there are a thousand paths to the Messiah.’ I met a number of Moslems in Egypt years ago who were very godly and compassionate and honorable men - putting many ‘Christians’ I know to shame.”
U. S. Senator
A testimony by U.S. Senator, Mark Hatfield, appears in both editions of ETDAV. It is a squeaky clean little Campus Crusade for Christ testimony that appeared in one of their Collegiate Challenge magazines in 1965.
Eleven years later (in 1976) Hatfieldʼs book, Between a Rock and a Hard Place was published, in which he recounted his struggles to be both a Christian and a senator. Though his theology remained conservative and evangelical, he also demonstrated a keen awareness of the dangers and evils of a civil religion that sees America as “Godʼs chosen nation.” In fact, in The Door Interviews (published in 1989), Hatfield remarked, “I find nothing in Scripture that says Christ died only for Americans…or that Godʼs grace is limited…or that Christʼs power of redemption is in any way circumscribed to certain cultures or certain groups…Nor am I going to believe that once we Christians get our hands on the power levers of Caesar [i.e., government] that somehow weʼre going to turn the world around. Some of the most heinous crimes in the history of humankind have been committed by those who thought that if they got a hold of Caesarʼs power, they could regenerate the world. Instead we ended up with things like the Dark Ages…the Crusades.”
Hatfield fleshed out that same criticism in “The Constantinian Legacy,” chapter 6 of Between a Rock and a Hard Place, which contains the following gem: “The [Roman Empire] was not transformed by the reported conversion of its Emperor. It was not suddenly committed to seek the justice taught by Christ, but still sought the ends of its own self-preservation and prestige, frequently at a bloody cost. In no way had the Roman Empire suddenly become a ‘Christian’ Empire, molded by the teachings of Christ or committed to judging or fashioning itself according to the qualities of biblical justice. This is worth remembering today whenever we are tempted to suppose that the path to establishing self-righteousness for a nation lies simply through electing a committed Christian as President, or encouraging our leaders to pray and share a personal faith.”
In his book, Hatfield also discussed his concerns for the environment, ending world hunger, and the repercussions of his National Prayer Breakfast speech in which he called the Viet Nam war a “sin” when it was unfashionable to do so (a speech that prompted Billy Graham to write the Senator a letter of criticism). Hatfield is not blind to the problems we face as fellow human beings struggling to live together on the same little planet; nor is he blind to Christian excesses and sins of the past and present. But I doubt Josh McDowell wants the whole truth about Hatfield (or Christian history) to be known.
Curiously, though McDowell cited the testimony of one U.S. senator, he did not cite the testimony of a single U.S. president. I would love to see McDowell try to squeeze a strictly orthodox evangelical Christian testimony out of our first four presidents, George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison (or our sixteenth president, Abraham Lincoln). I have studied what they had to say about God, Jesus, religion and the Bible, and compared it to the dubious attempts made by todayʼs “Christian nation” spokesmen to re-make them into “orthodox Christians.” Senator Hatfield and I could probably share a good laugh together discussing such attempts.
Former President of the U.N. General Assembly
McDowell cites the testimony of a former President of the U.N. General Assembly, Charles Malik, who declared in 1968 that “the whole world is as it were dissolving before our very eyes…These are great days and what is being decided in them is absolutely historic.” The “whole world…dissolving?” The late 1960s as “absolutely historic days?” What “days” are not “absolutely historic?” And now that thirty years have passed, how “absolutely historic” and “world dissolving” does 1968 appear to have been? It appears that in 1968 Malik contracted the same end-times fever that prompted Hal Lindsey to write The Late Great Planet Earth (published in 1970). But the apocalyptic enthusiasm back then has proved as fallible as Lindseyʼs “prophetic interpretations.” If nothing else, Malikʼs testimony appears to provide evidence that Christianity can turn a man into an alarmist and false prophet.
Besides, there are other famous United Nations personages whom McDowell chose to ignore, like Dag Hammarskjold, Secretary General of the U.N. in 1953 and 1957, whose book of diary excerpts, Markings, sold more than a quarter of a million copies in its first fourteen months. Woven throughout Markings was Hammarskjoldʼs unique experience of Christianity, including his appreciation of the perceptions of Christian mystics like Meister Eckhardt, St. John of the Cross, St. John Perse, and playwrites Shakespeare and Ibsen. A little too broad a “Christian experience” for McDowell to make much use of.
And speaking of other United Nations personages whom McDowell ignores, there was the “U. N. troubleshooter,” Conor Cruise OʼBrien, who wrote, God Land: Reflections on Religion and Nationalism in which OʼBrien pointed out the enormous tensions produced by interactions of religion and nationalism throughout history, from Old Testament Canaan to Joan of Arc, from Puritan Massachusetts Bay to the National Prayer Breakfasts, and the pitfalls that await any nation that considers itself especially favored by God.
Former Prostitute, Former Gang Leader, and Former Criminal
McDowell cites the testimony of a former prostitute named “Linda” whose story is not told by Linda, but by the minister who evangelized her. McDowell also cites the testimonies of a former gang leader, and a former criminal. Suffice it to say that groups as diverse as Scientology and Transcendental Meditation, have personal testimonies on record (along with statistical data), that demonstrate the effectiveness of their beliefs and practices in turning around criminalsʼ lives and in significantly reducing the percentages of those who return to prison. Moreover, any organization that demands responsibility and focuses on setting goals and eliminating grossly destructive behaviors has “success” stories to tell.
Perhaps in a future edition of ETDAV McDowell will add the testimony of another criminal, Jeffrey Dahmer, the cannibalistic serial killer who was “born again” before he was murdered by a fellow prison inmate. I would not be surprised to learn that Dahmer had been given a copy of the Gospel of John while in prison. (Of the four gospels, the Gospel of John is heavily favored by evangelical Christians. Probably because the author begins by boasting that Jesus was the “Divine Word of God,” and then has John the Baptist announce that Jesus was “The Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world,” which was more than the Baptist knew about Jesusʼ mission according to the other Gospels. Also in the very first chapter, Andrew, Peterʼs brother, exclaims, “We have found the Messiah!” The Gospel of John even has a whole chapter (chapter 3) that explains “how to get saved.” No wonder evangelical Christians favor the Gospel of John. It removes any mystery about “who” Jesus was, or “what” his mission was, or “how” to get “saved,” because, according to that gospel, everyone knew it all, right at the start of Jesusʼ ministry.)
But if that is the gospel that Dahmer read, then I wonder what he thought when he got to chapter six where it says, “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you shall have no life within yourselves. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life; and I will raise him up on the last day.” (For those who find my question distasteful, please keep in mind that I am not the one who added a hint of “cannibalism” to the Bible - albeit a spiritual or metaphorical variety of cannibalism. Even more bizarre are testimonies by Catholics who swear that a few times in history, during Catholic Masses, communion wafers have miraculously changed into literal flesh, and wine changed into partially-clotted blood cells. This, of course, begs the question of whether anyone attending such Masses got to taste Jesus.)
Nazi Pilot in World War II: Surviving Dreadful Danger
McDowell also cites the testimony of a Nazi pilot in World War II, named, Moelders, who flew back to base safely after his plane was riddled with bullets, and who believed he “could never have survived that dreadful danger if he had not called on the everlasting God.”
Moeldersʼ faith echoes Psalm 91, “Surely He will deliver you…You will not be afraid of…the arrow that flies by day; or of the pestilence that stalks in darkness; or of the destruction that lays waste at noon. A thousand may fall at your side, and ten thousand at your right hand; but it will not come near you…Because you have made the Lord your refuge…no evil will befall you…His angels…will bear you up in their hands, lest you strike your foot against a stone. You shall tread upon the lion and cobra…you will trample them under foot…Because you have set your love upon Me, therefore I will deliver you…with long life I will satisfy you.” (A modern day author of Psalm 91 would probably add that “Bullets shall not harm you, and atomic bomb radiation shall not burn you even though thousands around you melt into puddles of ooze.” Which reminds me of how Rev. Pat Robertson in the late 1970s gave a rousing speech about how “machine gun bullets” would not be able to hurt true believers who stood up for Jesus.)
Of course anyone taking a momentʼs thought must recognize that Psalm 91 portrays a fantasy version of earthly existence, i.e., of a man incapable of being hurt by “arrows,” an army of foes, diseases, poisonous snakes, lions, not even a chance of painfully stubbing his toe “against a stone.” But if mankindʼs earthly existence teaches us anything it is that “bad things happen to even the most righteous believers.” Job, Jesus, and Pope John Paul can testify to that, all of whom “stubbed their toes” and much worse. Add to the list the Christian and Olympic runner who was portrayed in the film, Chariots of Fire, who died at a relatively young age of a brain tumor while working as a missionary in China with his parents.
Another psalmist (or perhaps the same one who wrote Psalm 91) sang that he had “never seen the righteous forsaken, nor his descendants begging bread.” (Ps. 37:25). If he had only opened his eyes…
Aside from such naive views there remains the common sense view: In every battle and in every massacre and in every disaster and plague there are usually a few who survive despite the odds against them. Neither are they all evangelical Christians. Nor do they all become evangelical Christians. But if they do, you can bet youʼll hear their story shouted from the housetops.
And speaking of “surviving dreadful danger” in an air plane, I should add that Oral Robertʼs daughter died in a plane crash. Furthermore, in 1982, fundamentalist preacher Lester Rolloff (who had appeared a year earlier on 60 Minutes stating his defiance of what he called “Texas” Godless juvenile home system”) along with four girl singers on their way to lead a revival, tried to fly a twin engine plane through a storm. A wind shear ripped off a wing and all five plunged 18,000 feet to their deaths.
Two years after Rolloff died, a 747 filled with Japanese on a Buddhist religious pilgrimage to Hawaii encountered a wind shear, which violently rolled the plane over and caused it to plunge almost five miles earthward. Amazingly, the Japanese pilot was able to recover control with only tail section damage. Success of this otherwise doomed flight was attributed by the planeʼs passengers to their “songs and prayers offered to the Buddha.” Of course, those are not the kind of “testimonies” McDowell was looking for when he wrote ETDAV.
Movie Actor: Overcoming Suicidal Impulses
McDowell cites the testimony of actor Dean Jones who says “Jesus” helped him overcome suicidal impulses. But many things can help people do that. The philosopher/mathematician and Nobel Prize winner, Bertrand Russell, testified in his autobiography that he had a very unhappy youth and considered suicide, but his love of mathematics saved him. I have also heard various comedians testify that their love of comedy gave them a reason to go on living even under the direst of physical and psychological circumstances.
It worked that way for Stephen Vomhof too, who wrote, “When I was in high school and even junior high I occasionally thought about suicide because I thought I was the only person who thought the way I did. At times I came close to doing it but someone was always there to help. I was scorned whenever I tried to express myself by both students and my parents. It wasnʼt the scorn that hurt so much as the fact that they just didnʼt get it. They didnʼt care if they got it. To me it seemed that nobody got it, even my close and trusted friends. Watching Bill Hicks [a revolutionary comedian whose life was cut tragically short by terminal illness] I realized there was someone else like me out there. Not only that, but that there were fans for that person. I have never seriously considered suicide since; I doubt I ever will again. I have read a lot about Bill…and realized that Bill and I came from the same place. A religious background, an innate hatred of hypocrisy and an undying devotion to the search for truth. Currently Iʼm a philosophy major at a junior college in Minnesota…which is a little weird because Iʼm the son of a Lutheran minister…I have good friends and a snowmobile to drive out my frustrations. I still think about Bill a lot, hardly a day goes by that I donʼt think about something he said or something he did and his background and why…Like Platoʼs allegory of the cave I feel I have to scream back at the people inside the cave, drag them out kicking and screaming to see Bill. To be exposed to that X-factor that made Bill unique…I will always try to get others to appreciate his spectacular life. He touched one personʼs life and Iʼm grateful.”
Which reminds me of a lesson from the Talmud, an ancient book of Hebrew rabbinic wisdom. The lesson is taught in the form of a story: A rabbi walking down the street heard the voice of the prophet Elijah saying, “Although you fast and pray, never have you deserved the high place in heaven that awaits those two men on the other side of the road.” So the rabbi ran after the two men and asked, “Do you give much to the poor?” They laughed. “No, we are beggars ourselves.” “Then do you pray continuously?” the rabbi asked. “No. We are ignorant men. We donʼt know how to pray.” “Then tell me what you do.” And the men said, “We make jokes. We make people laugh when they are sad.”
Again, not the kind of “testimonies” that McDowell was looking for when he put ETDAV together. Of course, what you find depends on where you look, and McDowell looks in relatively fewer places than a person would if they were genuinely curious about the breadth of human experience, “Christian” or otherwise.
A Prisoner, and a Singer: Miraculous Testimonies
Some of the testimonies that McDowell cites involve “miracles.” As in the case of the prisoner, Ernest Gaither, who arose in the morning at the hour that he asked “God” to wake him. (I had a similar experience, reminding myself to wake up at an early hour without the aid of an alarm clock, and then woke up nearly at the exact minute. I have also reminded myself not to sleep too long before taking a nap, and it worked. However, I never interpreted such things to mean that “Christianity” must therefore be true and all other beliefs false.)
McDowell also cites the testimony of a singer and former drug abuser, B. J. Thomas, who was attracted to the “peace and calm” he spied in one of his friends, an evangelical Christian. During dinner at his friendʼs house, Thomasʼ friend said he saw something “evil” in Thomas. (Of course if you invite a hard-line evangelical Christian to “talk” to you about the “serious things of God” then any “signs of resistance” on your part come to be associated in that Christianʼs mind with “evil.” It could be a rational argument you raise, minor distractions, inattentiveness, or an expression on your face, all of which the Christian may interpret as “the devilʼs attempt to thwart your salvation.”) Thomas allowed his friend to pray to “make Satan flee,” after which, Thomas says he felt a “disturbance in my chest. I felt for a minute a sharp pain and I thought I might have broken a rib. Then I had the illusion that something was ‘just going’ and a peace came over me.”
He “had the illusion that something was just going?” What a slip of the tongue! (I think Mr. Thomas meant to use the word “impression,” not “illusion.”) But what if it was an “illusion?” Could the sharp pain be due to involuntary tensing once Thomas consented to his friendʼs unexpected and unnerving request to pray the “evil” out of him? After which Thomas relaxed, grew calmer, and increasingly receptive to his friendʼs beliefs? Perhaps Thomasʼ recollection of those events underwent a subtle “Christian” reinterpretation over time? As Rene Daumal pointed out in A Night of Serious Drinking, “It is very tempting, when you talk about the events of the past, to impose clarity and order upon what had neither one nor the other.”
Mr. Thomas says that soon afterwards he tried to get high on pot, but decided to leave all his drugs behind, after which he did not experience withdrawal symptoms. (If only every drug addict and alcoholic who “came to Jesus” received the same miraculous healing that Thomas claims he did. They do not.) Exactly what types of drugs and what quantities, and how long he had been taking them since his last de-tox experience, Thomas does not say. What other factors might he be leaving out of his story? Without knowing more, how can anyone competently judge his seemingly “miraculous” lack of withdrawal symptoms? Mental attitude and focus can change oneʼs brain chemicals too, naturally. It is also known that hypnotic suggestion can relieve people of pain. The brain and body have remarkable capabilities.
Besides which, testimonies of people who were “delivered from evil” are not unique. They can be found among believers in nearly all religions and sects. “Casting out evil” was common to ancient Babylonian, Persian, and Jewish priests and exorcists (Josephus mentions Jewish exorcists at work in Jerusalem who did not invoke Jesusʼ name to cast out demons). “Evil” is being “cast out” by modern day Catholic priests, Eastern Orthodox priests, Pentecostal ministers, American Indian (and Hindu) shaman, Wiccans, New Agers, and Haitian voodoo practitioners (especially of the Christianized version of voodoo in Haiti, whose followers also “speak in tongues”).
Even people like Howard Storm and Betty Eadie, who have had Near-Death Experiences, tell how they met “dark vicious evil beings” and were saved from them by “beings of light.” But Mr. Stormʼs NDE impressed upon him a universalistic truth that the “right” religion was “whichever one brings you closer to God.” And Mrs. Eadieʼs experiences strengthened her Mormon faith. (The Mormons even have a journal that publishes stories of NDEs of Mormons.) Also, The Eckankar Journal, that promotes the “science of soul travel,” contains miraculous testimonies of “personal experiences in the light and sound of God” on various planes of spiritual existence. And the Scientology web site that I mentioned above contains testimonies of wonderful healings from drugs and alcohol. (Scientologists also believe in what might be colloquially called, “evil spirits,” that are “overcome” via their philosophy.)
And speaking of miracles in general, Scott Hahnʼs journey from Protestant fundamentalism to Catholicism features some stirring miraculous coincidences. But let us advance to the most miracle-filled testimony in McDowellʼs book…
The Testimony of Sadhu Sundar Singh
Sadhu (“Sadhu” is Hindu for “holy man”) Sundar Singh was raised a Sikh (Hindu for “disciple”). Sikhism is a sect within Hinduism that was founded about 1500 A.D. that teaches belief in one God and rejects the caste system and idolatry. Therefore, Sundar from a young age shared some of the same basic religious beliefs of Jews, Christians and Moslems. Moreover, Sikhism emphasizes the divinity of the holy teacher or “guru” - which made it easy for Sundar to later accept the Christian doctrine of “Jesus” as the “divine incarnation of God.”
Prior to his conversion Sundar attended a primary school run by the American Presbyterian Mission where the New Testament was read daily as a “textbook.” According to the testimony that McDowell published, Sundar “refused to read the Bible at the daily lessons…To some extent the teaching of the Gospel on the love of God attracted me, but I still thought it was false.” According to another testimony, not published in ETDAV, Sundar confessed, “Even then, I felt the Divine attractiveness and wonderful power of the Bible.”
The New Testament was a foreign holy book teaching a religion that was similar to, yet different from, his own. This confused his young mind and heart. Sundar even burned a copy of one of the Gospels in public. In the midst of such confusion and while only fourteen years old, his mother died, and Sundar underwent a crisis of faith. His mother was a loving saintly woman and they were very close. He wanted to assuage his fears about God and the afterlife so badly that he woke one night at 3 A.M. took a bath and prayed “expecting” to receive a visionary answer; he swore he would kill himself that morning if he did not receive one. That morning Sundar says he “met Jesus” who spoke the same words that were spoken to Paul on the Road to Damascus, “Why do you persecute me?”
Friedrich Heiler, in his sympathetic biography, The Gospel of Sadhu Sundar Singh (Oxford University Press, 1927), did not dispute Sundarʼs recollections, nor the sincerity of his faith, but cautiously added some “Critical Considerations”: “In contradistinction to the…religious explanation of the miracle of Sundarʼs conversion, modern religious science suggests one that is natural and psychological. The psychological process which those who have studied conversion experiences have discovered is easily discernable in the Sadhuʼs experience: the utmost tension of effort, followed by a state of despair and complete cessation from struggle, culminating in a sudden inflow of assurance. The ‘local color’ on the fantasy side of the experience is easily explained by the influence of the story of Paulʼs conversion, which is obviously very similar. Although the Sadhu does not remember having heard of Paulʼs vision of Christ on the road to Damascus, this still seems probable, as the New Testament was read daily in the mission school. It seems quite likely that Sundar Singhʼs inward struggles and their solution were inevitably colored by the Pauline experience. Finally, we have to remember that such experiences of conversion are not all that rare in India. A leading figure in the Indian Methodist Church, Theophilus Subrahmanyam, was also led to Christ, and to work for Him among the outcasts, by a wonderful vision. The famous Mahratta evangelist and poet, Narayan Vaman Tilak, had a vision of Christ in August 1917, a few months before his death…The Indian mind is much more prone to visionary experience than the European [Emphasis added. - ED.]…To point out that this conversion resembles the conversion of St. Paul, to say that the whole experience conforms to a certain type and that similar experiences often occur among Indian Christians, does not offer any clear and complete explanation; it only makes it somewhat easier to understand.”
Sundar also told many miraculous stories (besides his conversion account) which included Sundarʼs meeting with a “365-year-old Maharishi of Kailash,” Sundarʼs fasting for “forty days,” being thrown into and plucked out of a Tibetan well, and stories of miraculous rescues and martyrdoms of others. Even his sympathetic biographer, Heiler, pointed out that “The critical historian…draws special attention to the curious sameness of the miracle motif [in Sundarʼs stories]. There are really only two types of miracles which appear in slightly varied form again and again in his stories. In the larger number of incidents supernatural figures appear and disappear with startling suddenness. The martyr-stories too, which the Sadhu tells, are almost all of the same type; in the midst of terrible suffering the martyrs are filled with supernatural joy which convinces the spectators of the truth of their Faith…We cannot, however, help noticing one curious fact: the converts and martyrs of whom Sundar Singh speaks reveal exactly the same kind of experience as the Sadhu; they think, feel, and talk just as he does…Finally, various parallels from the New Testament, and from the legendary literature of Christianity and Buddhism, show that many of the leading ideas in the Sadhuʼs miracle-stories are in no way either new or original…In addition, in all these tales of the miraculous the whole mentality of the Indian and especially of the Indian ascetic, must be taken into account. One of the most able students of the history of Indian literature says decidedly: ‘Indians have never made any distinction between Saga, legend, and history.’ This applies particularly to ascetics, who for days at a time are quite alone among the magnificent mountains of the Himalayas, and who give themselves up exclusively to the contemplation of Nature, to inward concentration, and supernatural ecstasy [exactly as Sundar did, who spent much time travelling alone in his beloved Himalayas, and who admitted that he slipped into and out of “spiritual ecstasy” (or, as the Hindus call it, “samadhi;” or as we would call it today, “altered states of consciousness”) spontaneously and frequently, which included seeing visions and hearing voices - ED.]. In their experience the inner vision becomes developed to such an extent that the usual difference between subjective and objective truth disappears entirely. [Even Sundarʼs supporters and personal friends admitted that he had difficulty at times in distinguishing between vision and empirical reality. - ED.] All this suggests that some of the Sadhuʼs stories of the miraculous need not be considered as historical facts, but as legends; doubtless they have some solid foundation, but, in the form in which they are told, they have been worked up by a creative miracle-fantasy. Even scholars who admit the possibility of the miraculous cannot refuse to consider such a suggestion…Those who are familiar with the problems of biblical and hagiographical miracle find, to their astonishment, in the anecdotes which the Sadhu tells over and over again, certain clear principles, which show how legends are formed: repetition of the same motif, doublets, and variants. It is a striking and significant fact that we can thus confirm these principles of the growth of legends in people belonging to our own day, for the Sadhuʼs stories deal exclusively with experiences of his own and of his contemporaries. So we see that legends do not necessarily arise after the death of a saint, and within the inner circle of his disciples, but during his own lifetime, and perhaps even in his own mind.”
Sundar Singh was quite independent of outward Church authority in all his religious life, thought, and work. He dropped out of a Christian seminary that he briefly attended. Neither did he attach much importance to public worship because in his experience the heart prays better in solitude than in a congregation. He was also highly displeased with what he found when he toured western nations that for centuries had the benefit of the Bible and whose central figure of worship was Jesus. Sundar proclaimed almost prophetic denunciations upon Western Christianity, and laughed at the way the West looked down upon religious men of the East as mere “pagans” and “heathens.” “People call us heathens,” he said in a conversation with the Archbishop of Upsala. “Just fancy! My mother a heathen! If she were alive now she would certainly be a Christian. But even while she followed her ancestral faith she was so religious that the term ‘heathen’ makes me smile. She prayed to God, she served God, she loved God, far more warmly and deeply than many Christians.” On another occasion, Sundar said, “I have seen many Christian women, but none of them came up to my mother.” And, conversing with the Archbishop of Canterbury, Sundar said: “If I do not see my mother in heaven, I shall ask God to send me to hell so that I may be with her.”
Sundar also made plain his view that, “There are many more people among us in India who lead a spiritual life than in the West, although they do not know or confess Christ…It is of course true that people who live in India worship idols; but here in England people worship themselves, and that is still worse. Idol-worshippers seek the truth, but people over here, so far as I can see, seek pleasure and comfort…The people of the West understand how to use electricity and how to fly in the air. The men of the East have sought the truth. Of the three Wise Men who went to Palestine to see Jesus not one was from the West.’”
Neither was Sundar afraid to raise his voice in favor of “universalism.” He could never deny to all non-Christians the possibility of entering heaven (as fundamentalist and hard-line evangelicals, like McDowell, do). In 1925 Sundar wrote, “If the Divine spark in the soul cannot be destroyed, then we need despair of no sinner…Since God created men to have fellowship with Himself, they cannot for ever be separated from Him…After long wandering, and by devious paths, sinful man will at last return to Him in whose Image he was created; for this is his final destiny.”
In February, 1929, the year Sundar disappeared on his final missionary trip to Tibet, he was interviewed by several theology students in Calcutta, India, where he answered their questions: “(Question #1) What did the Sadhu think should be our attitude towards non-Christian religions? - The old habit of calling them ‘heathen’ should go. The worst ‘heathen’ were among us [Christians]…(Question #2) Who were right, Christian Fundamentalists or Christian Liberals? - Both were wrong. The Fundamentalists were uncharitable to those who differed from them. That is, they were unchristian. The Liberals sometimes went to the extent of denying the divinity of Christ, which they had no business to do. [Belief in the “divinity of Christ” came relatively easy to Sundar because he was raised to believe spiritual teachers (“gurus”) were “divine.” In fact in India today, there are thousands who believe Sai Baba is “God.” If they can believe that, then maybe it helps explain how such a belief arose concerning Jesus. - ED.]…(Question #3) Did the Sadhu think there was eternal punishment? - There was punishment, but it was not eternal…Everyone after this life would be given a fair chance of making good, and attaining to the measure of fullness the soul was capable of. This might sometimes take ages.”
Hidden from the eyes of the Christian world at large, and McDowellʼs eyes in particular, is the fact that Sundar considered himself to be a disciple of the Swedish theologian, scientist and mystic, Emmanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772), whose visions of the afterlife as told in Heaven and Hell (1758), resembled Sundarʼs in Visions of the Spiritual World (1926), and who both shared a universalistic spiritual viewpoint. Sundar may have read his first book by Swedenborg during his brief stay at seminary, and certainly had been reading him regularly since his 1922 visit to Sweden, where Sundar visited Swedenborgʼs tomb. Evangelical Christians regard Swedenborg at best as an “unorthodox Christian” with unsound views, and at worst as a demon-inspired false prophet. For instance, Swedenborg wrote about “seeing” the Fathers of Protestantism like Luther and Calvin (and Calvinʼs friend, Melanchthon) residing in lower, darker levels of the spiritual realm. Melanchthon had even degenerated so far as to have become “a kind of servant of demons.” As Swedenborg saw things, the pride those men took in judging others and their approval of torture and killing in the name of Christ, had inadequately prepared them spiritually. So, they had many difficult lessons left to learn.
A few months before Sundar vanished on his last trip to Tibet he spoke with warmth of Swedenborg: “Having read his books and having come in close personal contact with him in the spirit world, I can thoroughly recommend him as a great seer.”
Hinduism, Eastern Religions, and Josh McDowell
In the little self-contained Christian “world” view of evangelists like Josh McDowell there is no room for Hinduism. Yet for millions of devout Hindus there remains room for Christianity and Christʼs divinity. Hinduism in that sense encompasses a wider range of faith than Christianity.
There are even what one might call “fundamentalist” Hindus, like the one who asked Joseph Campbell, “What do scholars think of the Vedas [the most ancient Hindu holy books]?” Campbell answered, “The dating of the Vedas has been reduced to 1500 to 1000 B.C., and there have been found in India itself the remains of an earlier civilization than the Vedic.” “Yes,” said the Indian gentleman, “I know; but as an orthodox Hindu I cannot believe that there is anything in the universe earlier than the Vedas.”
Itʼs obvious that the study of the worldʼs holy books by historical, archeological and literary scholars continues to provoke tension and discomfort in “Vedic believing” Hindus, “Koran believing” Moslems, and “Bible believing” Christians (like McDowell). So there is nothing “unique” about “Bible believing” Christians in that respect.
Furthermore, there are millions of devout Hindus more moved by the story of Krishna in the Hindu holy book, The Bhagavad Gita, than by the story of Jesus. As one Indian Catholic priest candidly told a British journalist, “Although my family had been Christians for generations and I had been through the full rigors of a Jesuit training, I still, in my heart of hearts, feel closer to the God Krishna than to Jesus.” (In Indian courts of law, people swear with their hand on The Bhagavad Gita not the Bible, and there are even popular Indian books with titles like, The Bhagavada Gita for Executives by V. Ramanathan.)
There are also millions of devout Buddhists more moved by stories of the Buddha and his disciples than by stories of Jesus and his. Anagarika Dharmapala, a nineteenth century Buddhist, commented, “The Nazarene carpenter had no sublime teachings to offer, and understandably so, because his parables not only reveal a limited mind, but they also impart immoral lessons and impractical ethics…The few illiterate fishermen of Galilee followed him as he promised to make them judges to rule over Israel [appealing to relatively ‘base’ desires according to Buddhist teachings - ED.].” To such Buddhists, “Jesus is a spiritual dwarf before Buddha, the spiritual giant.”
Oddly enough, one version of the Buddhaʼs life that reached Europe from India underwent subtle changes along the way, until the Buddha became a Christian saint! According to that version the “prince” who “lived in India” was named “Josaphat,” and he was a “Great Renouncer.” Research into the origins of “Saint Josaphat,” revealed that the Latin name, “Josaphat,” was based on an earlier version of the story in which the Greek name “Ioasaph” was used, which came from the Arabic “Yudasaf,” which came from the Manichee “Bodisaf,” which came from “Bodhisattva” in the original story of the Buddha. (A “Bodhisattva” is a person who achieves great spiritual enlightenment yet remains on earth to help others.) Thus the Buddha came to be included in Butlerʼs Lives of the Saints.
Also, some of the earliest Jesuit missionaries to China, who read the Far Eastern book of wisdom, the Tao Te Ching, returned to Rome and requested that that book be added to the Bible, because it contained teachings on non-violence, love and humility that paralleled and preceded Jesusʼ teachings by hundreds of years. (Many of those parallels are commented on in The Tao of Jesus: An Exercise in Inter-Traditional Understanding by Joseph A. Loya, O.S.A, Wan-Li Ho, and Chang-Shin Jih.)
Eastern religions also feature stories of miracles and visions, along with stories of saintly Hindus and Buddhists who died beautifully and serenely. In some cases a sweet flowery odor is said to have come from their corpses. In another case a corpse allegedly turned into flowers at death. All in all, the stories rival those of Catholic saints and their miracles. In fact, “sainthood” is a phenomenon common to all the worldʼs religions. Needless to say, reading about Hinduism and Buddhism in books written by Josh McDowell is no substitute for reading books written by Hindus and Buddhists. A tour of any large bookstore can provide plenty of interesting titles by both Hindu and Buddhist authors.
Also interesting is the fact that the 1996 winner of the Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion was Bill Bright, founder of Campus Crusade for Christ (which also subsidizes Josh McDowell Ministries!). But the very next year
the winner was a Hindu, Shastri Athavale, whose spiritual and social activism was inspired by the The Bhagavad Gita. Athavale has inspired hundreds of thousands of people to spend two weeks or more visiting Indiaʼs poorest villages where they seek to advance the self-respect and economic condition of those they visit. For more than four decades Athavale has taught that service to God is incomplete without service to humanity.
The “converted skeptics” listed in ETDAV are all “featherweights” so far as their legitimate theological expertise is concerned: an English literary don (C. S. Lewis); an English journalist (Frank Morrison); a Hollywood screenwriter (Lew Wallace); and an Italian man of letters (Giovanni Papini). McDowell cited only one “converted skeptic” whose area of expertise related to the Bible in a more legitimate and direct fashion, i.e., the Roman archeologist and historian, Sir William Ramsay.
Sir William Ramsay
Ramsayʼs “testimony” appeared in the first edition of ETDAV at the front of the line of “converted skeptics,” but his testimony was dropped from the second edition. It is possible that McDowell was criticized by fellow hard-line evangelicals for obtaining Ramsayʼs testimony from an article in a “Seventh-Day Adventist Church” publication called, Prophecy Speaks. (Many hard-line evangelical Christians view Seventh-Day Adventism as a “heresy” or “cult,” and disdain the Adventistsʼ praise of their female prophet, Ellen G. White.) Moreover, “Ramsayʼs testimony” did not include any words from Ramsay himself. It consisted of holy benedictions bestowed upon Ramsay by a Seventh-Day Adventist author, who boasted, “…book after book from Ramsay came from the press, each filled with additional evidence of the exact, minute truthfulness of the whole New Testament as tested by the spade on the spot. The evidence was so overwhelming that many infidels announced their repudiation of their former unbelief and accepted Christianity. And these books have stood the test of time, not one having been refuted, nor have I found even any attempt to refute them.”
Ramsayʼs books were “filled with evidence of the exact, minute truthfulness of the whole New Testament?” A naive and inaccurate boast. Ramsayʼs books have “stood the test of time, not one having been refuted…Nor have I found even any attempt to refute them?” Seek and ye shall find. Ramsay did most of his research in the late nineteenth century and early part of the twentieth century, and not a few of his arguments for the Bibleʼs “exact, minute truthfulness” were based on conjecture and questionable interpretations of fragmentary evidence. (I myself have studied Ramsayʼs attempt to dig up archeological evidence of a “second Roman census” in order to make the Gospel of Luke appear historically “truthful.” His attempt failed for numerous reasons that archeologists and theologians have pointed out.) Moreover, Ramsayʼs area of expertise was Paulʼs travels throughout the Roman world, but Paul never met the Jesus who lived in Palestine.
C. S. Lewis
Of all the “converted skeptics” whom McDowell mentions none has had as wide and enduring an influence as C. S. Lewis. His “Christian novels” and “Christian apologetics” are sold in both mainstream and Christian bookstores, and make McDowellʼs books and efforts pale in comparison. Many, including McDowell, have utilized Lewisʼ fame to their own advantage by citing him as a Christian authority in their own works.
However, Lewis never systematically examined each Biblical book and discussed what he believed about it and why. When he spoke on theological matters, he always qualified himself as an amateur: “I have no claim to speak as an expert in any of the studies involved, and merely put forward the reflections which have arisen in my own mind and have seemed to me (perhaps wrongly) to be helpful. They are all submitted to the correction of wiser heads.”
Some interesting facts about C. S. Lewis that McDowell might not like his readers to know, include the following:
Lewis admitted the Bible “may no doubt contain errors,” and, he doubted, denied, or avoided discussing, many biblical miracles (though he stood by most if not all of the miracles of Jesus as recorded in the Gospels).
Lewis denied the “inspiration” of Biblical authors whenever they attributed to “God” blatantly immoral actions and commands (such as linking “God” to the “treacheries of Joshua” or to “striking dead” a married Christian couple for withholding some of their money from the church in Acts). Lewis wrote, “The ultimate question is whether the doctrine of the goodness of God or that of the inerrancy of Scripture is to prevail when they conflict. I think the doctrine of the goodness of God is the more certain of the two.” “The real danger is of coming to believe such dreadful things about Him [i.e., God]. The conclusion I dread is not ‘So thereʼs no God after all,’ but, ‘So, this is what God is really like. Deceive yourself no longer.’”
Lewis acknowledged that Jesus made an error when Jesus predicted that the Son of Man would come in final judgment within a “generation” of Jesusʼ day, or, “before those standing [around Jesus after his transfiguration] had all died.”
Lewis focused on Jesusʼ death as “exemplary,” the perfect example of “dying to self” that we all should follow. He did not focus on it as a necessary price to pay to appease Godʼs wrath toward all mankind.
Lewis had no theological difficulty accepting that Genesis may have been “derived from earlier Semitic stories which were Pagan and mythical,” and he found more truth in the story of the “Garden of Eden” when he regarded it as a myth than when he regarded it as history.
Lewis accepted the theory of the biological evolution of the human form from earlier animal species.
Lewis speculated that at least some animals might be granted eternal life with human beings in heaven.
Lewis believed in the miraculously “real” presence of Christ in the communion wafer.
Lewis held a tolerant attitude toward things like beer, tobacco and the cinema, and disagreed with those who found such things “bad in themselves.”
Lewis believed in purgatory, prayers for the dead, and prayers to saints.
Lewis believed that even the most peculiar religions contained “at least some hint of the truth.” “There are people in other religions who…belong to Christ without knowing it.” “We do not know that only those who know Him can be saved through Him.” In fact, in Lewisʼ fairy tale, The Last Battle, prince Emeth “hated” the name of “Aslan [the Christ-figure],” and worshiped the false god, “Tash,” but prince Emeth was loved and accepted by Aslan after Emeth died. Lewis even had a character in his novel, The Great Divorce, say, “St. Paul talked as if all men would be saved.” Moreover, Lewisʼ central inspiration in the field of Christian apologetics was G. K. Chesterton. And the man whom Lewis called “my spiritual mentor” was George MacDonald. Both men agreed on the theological possibility (if not inevitability) of all mankind being saved.
C. S. Lewis, McDowell, and Tolerance
I cannot help contrasting C. S. Lewisʼ tolerant views, above, with Josh McDowellʼs. At a Youth for Christ rally in 1994, McDowell got up in front of thousands of young people and denounced tolerance itself: “Tolerance is the worst roar of all, including tolerance for homosexuals, feminists, and religions that donʼt follow Christ.” (If only C. S. Lewis were alive to tell McDowell, “I dare say, there are people in every religion who are ‘following Christ’ more closely than you at this moment, Mr. McDowell.”) McDowell reiterated in a magazine article published in 1997 that we are teaching our kids to focus on tolerance too much. He called it a “drastic change,” “one of the greatest shifts in history,” adding, “I am convinced we have only a short time to counter this new doctrine of tolerance before it will be too late - for us and our children.” McDowell even had a novel published in 1997 titled, Vote of Intolerance, in which the hero “takes a hard stand against crime, drugs, homosexuality, abortion, euthanasia” (and presumably against all beliefs and convictions other than his own).
McDowellʼs statements remind me of similar ones reported by a friend who attended a famed retreat/camp for young Christians called “Scroon Lake” in New York State. The retreat was tied in with Jerry Falwellʼs ministries and Campus Crusade for Christ (who sponsor Josh McDowell Ministries), and other Christian organizations. According to my friend, “On the first day, a speaker pushed Oliver Northʼs book and sang the glories of the Gulf War. Most of the weekend was in the hands of some anti-evolutionists from the Institute for Creation Research in California; one of them, a leading member in the organization with which Josh McDowell is closely associated, said how terrible a sin it was that Charles Darwin was buried in Westminster Abbey. He added that we could all take comfort in the fact that we could, anytime we pleased, go there and trample and spit on his grave. Another speaker went on about the evils of secular education, the evils of tolerance for homosexuals, etc. All of this provoked constant cheers and ‘Amenʼs’ from the youthful audience. I felt like I was at a Hitler Youth Rally! The weekend ended with someone quoting Jerry Falwell himself: ‘If youʼre not a born again Christian, youʼre a failure as a human being.’ If only this sort of ‘Christianity’ were an aberration. Unfortunately, itʼs not.”
Speaking of the difficulty that many fundamentalists and hard-line evangelicals have in tolerating the notion of tolerance, last year in Greenville, South Carolina (where I live), the County Council (backed by “strong Christian principles”) passed an “Anti-gay resolution.” The council did not advocate running gays out of town, but they felt they had to let homosexuals know that they were to blame for destroying America. In response to the Councilʼs “Anti-gay resolution,” homosexuals organized a gay pride march to take place in Greenville. Some stores on Greenvilleʼs main street hung signs in their windows supporting the march. But on the day of the march those shop owners discovered that someone had jammed toothpicks into their door locks so that they could not open. And two weeks after the gay pride march a local minister organized a “pro-family rally” and told people to boycott all restaurants in downtown Greenville because “waiters with AIDS” were transmitting the disease by “spitting on peopleʼs food.” A few weeks later a man who said he was “sent by God to kill homosexuals” spewed obscenities and threats at students in a high school career center in Greenville county (it took numerous police officers to subdue him). Then the Southern Baptists (the majority religion in the South, including Greenville county), voted to boycott Disney because they treat their gay employees as if they were human beings (i.e., Disney pays benefits to the gay companions of their employees).
More recently, a “Christian” on the South Carolina state board of education proposed that the Ten Commandments be displayed in public schools throughout the state. When it was pointed out to him that people of other religions might be offended if their holy sayings were not also displayed, he replied, “Screw the Buddhists and kill the Moslems” (He apparently forgot the commandment “Thou shalt not kill.”) Which brings to mind an incident from a few years ago when a man on a Delta airliner in the skies above Greenville, South Carolina, told a flight attendant that he would “have to kill everyone who was not a born-again Christian.” Luckily, the man was unable to force the cockpit door open and attack the pilots or damage the controls.)
Returning to McDowellʼs magazine article on “Tolerance and Truth,” in it he listed “homosexuality, pornography, and abortion” as the evils taking refuge behind the “new doctrine of tolerance.” But compare McDowellʼs list of evils with Jesusʼ. Jesus did not crow on about the dangers of “homosexuality.” Though it certainly existed in his day, the Gospels never have Jesus addressing the subject even once. And he did not rail against “pornography,” though there were sexually explicit statues, pottery, and imagery throughout the Roman Empire. What Jesus railed against was each personʼs lack of control of their own wandering eyes, not against the objects they might spy. Neither did he cry out against “abortion” though the Greeks and Romans not only employed abortifacients, but also practiced infanticide on unwanted children. Jesus had different priorities and told people that instead of worrying about those who can kill the body, each person should “fear Him who can cast both body and soul into hell.” He urged each person to look into their own hearts, and not to judge the secret motives and desires of others. Nor would “compulsory public prayers” have made much sense to Jesus, who taught, “When you pray, do not do it loudly in the streets [or over satellite TV?] like the hypocrites, but go into your closet to pray in secret.” Jesus was obviously not obsessed with the same issues as McDowell (or todayʼs Religious Right). Instead, Jesus preached things like, “Woe to the rich, they already have their reward;” and, “Woe to the Pharisees” (self-righteous religious leaders who only see goodness in their own narrow causes and evil everywhere else). So if McDowell wishes to warn people of a “new doctrine of tolerance,” he should begin by warning Christians of their “new doctrine of tolerance” toward the wealthy and self-righteous, against which Jesus preached most loudly.
I would say that McDowell has disguised (even from himself) the motive behind his “dangers of tolerance” speeches. He is not “afraid” of a “new doctrine of tolerance.” He just wants intolerance reinstated to its age-old status of a moral and religious obligation. (Just like the Pharisees did.)
McDowell also apparently suffers from selective amnesia regarding the “dangers of intolerance.” C. S. Lewis was far more aware of such dangers and of the bloody history of Christians who persecuted pagans, Jews, Moslems, fellow Christians, and more. Lewis wrote in a letter to a friend, “Even more disturbing as you say, is the ghastly record of Christian persecution. It had begun in Our Lordʼs time - ‘Ye know not what spirit ye are of’ (John of all people!) I think we must fully face the fact that when Christianity does not make a man very much better, it makes him very much worse…Conversion may make of one who was, if no better, no worse than an animal, something like a devil.”
McDowell should consider whether he might be on the way down that slippery slope toward “devil-dom” that Lewis warned about, or whether he might be greasing up that slope for some of his Christian listeners to slide down. He might also benefit by reading Dr. F. Forrester Churchʼs book, The Seven Deadly Virtues.
Converts from Other Religions
Speaking of “devils” we now come in McDowellʼs book to the testimony of a former “Satan worshiper” who wishes their name and gender to remain anonymous. S/he was raised by churchgoing parents, but was sucked into spiritualism. At the age of seventeen s/he signed their name “in blood” and took an oath to “Satan,” and engaged in some activities that “can not” be printed. At the age of nineteen s/he “signed a horoscope chart” that foretold their imminent suicide. The night s/he was going to “commit suicide,” they heard “beautiful music” coming from an evangelistʼs tent and there sought release from “Satan.” After a lot of twitching and tears, and fighting a choked up throat, the person finally “beseeched the Lord to take this awful devil obsession from me.” They got rid of all their occult paraphernalia and now they work at a Bible conference center, helping to print and distribute Gospel tracts. However, they admit that they still sometimes sense a “sinister” presence. (I daresay, working at a Bible conference center and hearing preachers crying out “Satanʼs” name during sermons, and reading “Satanʼs” name in the tracts they help print, can not have helped this person get far from “Satan,” but has probably kept the devil within easy reach of their psyche. This individual has gone from shouting “Hail Satan” to shouting “Glory to God.” And probably needs to build up some inner resources of their own before they can find peace.)
Speaking of “former Satanists who became evangelical Christians,” their “testimonies” have been questioned even by fellow Christians. Take Mike Warnke, the “former Satan worshiper” whose “autobiography,” The Satan Seller, became a Christian best seller. Two Christian reporters who interviewed numerous people from Warnkeʼs past, soon discovered that he had a long history of being a “storyteller,” and that the tales in his book seriously conflicted with what other people said Warnke was doing at that time in his life. I heartily suggest the book those Christian reporters wrote, Selling Satan: The Tragic History of Mike Warnke by Hertenstein and Trott (Cornerstone Press, 1994).
Presumably it was those same reporters (working for the Christian magazine, Cornerstone) who investigated Lauren Stratfordʼs claims in her Christian best seller, Satanʼs Underground. “They turned up so many contradictions that it became clear that little, if anything, in the book could be trusted as the literal truth. In fact, not even the authorʼs name was real, it was Laurel Rose Wilson, and she came from a strict Christian family and only began claiming she had been the victim of a satanic cult in 1985, when two sensational cases surfaced in the national news. Though she displays scars on her body, claiming they were inflicted during rituals by satanic-cult members, the reporters state that they found witnesses who had seen her inflict the wounds herself. At one point she claimed to be blind, but it was discovered that she could see. There was no medical evidence that she had ever been pregnant (which was significant because Ms. Wilson claimed that two of her own babies had been sacrificed in snuff films). The publishers withdrew Satanʼs Underground from publication in January 1990.”
Another “Satan seller” is Dr. Rebecca Brown. Her tales of “Satanic cult abuse” (He Came To Set The Captives Free) were printed by Jack Chick publications that specialize in mini-comic books portraying demons and hellfire. “Dr. Rebecca Brown” was originally “an Indiana physician named Ruth Bailey, who had her license removed by the Medical Licensing Board of Indiana for a number of reasons. Among the boardʼs seventeen findings are: Bailey knowingly misdiagnosed serious illnesses, including brain tumors and leukemia, as ‘caused by demons, devils, and other evil spirits;’ she told her patients that doctors at Ball Memorial Hospital and St. Johnʼs Medical Center were ‘demons, devils, and other evil spirits’ themselves; and she falsified patient charts and hospital records. The boardʼs report states: ‘Dr. Bailey also addicted numerous patients to controlled substances which required them to suffer withdrawal and undergo detoxification, and that she self-medicated herself with non-therapeutic amounts of Demerol which she injected on an hourly basis.’ A psychiatrist appointed by the board to diagnose Bailey described her as ‘suffering from acute personality disorders including demonic delusions and/or paranoid schizophrenia.’ Refusing to appear before the board, Bailey moved to California, changed her name to Rebecca Brown, and began working with Jack Chick.” But even Jack Chick eventually stopped publishing her books, “We used to publish her books. Then the Lord told us he didnʼt want us to put ʻem out anymore.”
Even the editors of Christianity Today deemed it wise to review a book by a non-Christian, whose well-documented research showed that the problem with the “Satanic panic” of the 1980s was that “rumor was prevailing over truth, and people, particularly Christians, are too believing.” The Christian book reviewer cited a case in a megachurch in Chicago where one man was “disfellowshipped” because a female in the congregation “freaked out” whenever she saw him on Sunday mornings, claiming he was a “Satanic cult leader” who had “ritually abused her.” “The man was not allowed to face his accuser, nor would they discuss with the man any specific dates or events of alleged crimes. Though the man denied the allegations, and the elders and pastor of the church saw no evidence of sin in the manʼs life, they felt compelled to protect the accuser.”
The review in Christianity Today continued, “To date there has been no investigation that has substantiated the claims of alleged Satanic abuse survivors. Recovered ‘memories’ are the only evidence any specialist will offer…Well-meaning but uncritical therapists have validated, if not helped to construct, vile fantasies that ferment a terror of Satan rather than confidence in God…In periods of rising concern over actual child abuse and sexual immorality…the historical tendency has been to find scapegoats for social ills…A despised segment of society is depicted as the perpetrator of a villainous conspiracy. Romans accused the early Christians of wearing black robes, secretly meeting in caves, and performing animal and baby mutilation. In the Middle Ages, the scapegoat was the Jews. In America of the 1830s and 40s, kidnapping and murder of children were said to be the work of the Catholics. A best-selling book of the time, The Awful Disclosures of Maria Monk, chronicled the atrocities committed by priests and nuns at a particular convent. That account sparked myriad copycat claims by other young women.”
The modern “Satanic cult hysteria” only began in 1981 with the publication of the best-seller, Michelle Remembers. “Prior to 1981 there were no reports of ‘satanic-cult torture and murder.’ We have none on record, and I challenge you to find any in the psychiatric or scientific literature.” So says F.B.I. Special Agent Kenneth Lanning (who has a masterʼs degree in behavioral science and whose published work on the sexual victimization of children is well-known in the law-enforcement and psychology fields).
There are indeed practicing “Satanists” in America, but the F.B.I. has been studying ritual criminal behavior for many years and has not found evidence of any organized “satanic menace.” According to Lanning, “I started out believing this stuff [about ritual murders of children and adults by organized satanic-cults]. I mean, I had been dealing with bizarre crimes for many years and I knew from experience that almost anything is possible…But I canʼt find one documented case [of satanic-cult victimization], and Iʼve been looking for seven years or more. I personally have investigated some 300 cases - and there is not a shred of evidence of a crime.” He mentioned how psychiatric patients (and/or people who undergo hypnosis to “recover memories”) are the ones claiming such crimes took place, but when the alleged crime scene is investigated there is never a trace of blood or bone, though the F.B.I. has many means to detect even the faintest traces of splashed blood, and whole lawns and farm fields have been dug up in search of bones and bone fragments though none were found.
Satan-mongers inflate statistics, claiming that “according to the F.B.I., two million children are missing each year.” “Itʼs wrong,” said Lanning. The Justice Department (Juvenile Justice Bulletin, January 1989) reported that between 52 and 58 children were kidnapped and murdered by non-family members in 1988. The “Cult Crime Network” claims that “50,000 human sacrifices” are being performed each year by “satanic cults.” But there are only 20,000 murders, total in the U.S. each year, and that figure accounts for all the gang, drug, domestic, and “regular” (non-satanic-cult) murders in the country.
People do commit strange crimes. Some may even be committing human sacrifice in the name of Satan. But there is absolutely no evidence of any widespread, organized satanic movement. At one conference on satanism in America in 1989 the same photo of a boy whose death was “linked to satanism” was dragged out by just about everyone interviewed by a reporter covering the conference, implying that was the one and only corpse in the U.S. that could be traced to satanic-cult activity, and it was the result of an isolated incident that could not be connected in any way with an organized group.
As Lanning sums things up, “The fact is that more crime and child abuse has been committed by zealots in the name of God, Jesus, and Muhammad than has ever been committed in the name of Satan.” For confirmation read Philip Grevenʼs Spare the Child. Greven cites many excerpts from present-day American Protestant writers to demonstrate that violence against children is still being promoted by Christian clerics. Or read Alice Millerʼs For Your Own Good, in which she traces the roots of physical violence towards children in the western world to the influence of Christianity. She illustrates her thesis with, among others, a biographical account of Adolf Hitlerʼs early Christian childhood. For further confirmation read Brother Tonyʼs Boys: The Largest Case of Child Prostitution in U.S. History by Mick Echols, which tells the story of Reverend Tony Leyva, a southern televangelist who used to wear a Superman costume and carry a Bible, nicknaming himself “Super Christian,” and who was also in the Guiness Book of World Records (for four years) for preaching the longest known sermon (72 hours straight), and who was hired by a Georgia television station to replace Jimmy Swaggertʼs show with his own. But before the ink dried on the contract, Leyva was arrested by the FBI, along with three of his fellow fundamentalists, on charges of transporting boys across state lines for the purposes of prostitution or criminal sexual activity. Also consult James A. Haughtʼs two books that detail the multitude of horrors committed in the name of religion, Holy Horrors: An Illustrated History of Religious Murder and Madness, and, Holy Hatred: Religious Conflicts of the ʻ90s which include some frightful accounts of religion-related child abuse.
Besides the information in the books above, there are newspaper reports of devout parents whose religious beliefs contributed to the deaths of their children. For instance some parents waive medical assistance for their child and instead rely on faith and prayer in times of severe illness. Devout parents have also killed their infants or children by using excessive physical force and other dangerous means to “drive out a spirit of disobedience” or “exorcise a demon” from them. (Also consider the case of parents who raise their children to be devout believers in a country filled with people who are vigorously hostile to their beliefs. Does that not endanger the childʼs life?) On the weird side are reports from Indonesia that Christians (including some teenagers) drag heavy crosses through the street and are voluntarily tied to them as part of their annual celebration of Easter (some people are even nailed to the crosses). Newspaper articles containing such stories are reprinted in News of the Weird, and in “freethought” publications like, Freethought Today, Free Inquiry, and The American Rationalist.
Speaking of “striking” close to home, in the fall of 1995 in Greenville, S.C., The Grace and Truth Fellowship Church was investigated because they tied children to chairs and pounded on their backs to drive out “demon devils,” but there were no convictions because it was done with the parentʼs approval. And in October 1995 in Greenville, a woman was on trial for beating her baby so hard with a pipe-bending tool that the numbers on the pipe were imprinted on the childʼs skin after he died. A psychiatrist testified that the woman suffered from a paranoid-type schizophrenia, and she heard voices telling her to “do something to save her church and thought she had to kill her son as a sacrifice.”
Lastly, there was a special televised report (on Dateline or 20/20) in 1996 concerning some fundamentalist “Christian counseling centers” that boasted in their brochures that they could “treat homosexuality.” A few of the children and adolescents who had been “treated” at such “counseling centers” told reporters they had been shipped involuntarily to such places by their parents. The children were locked up, held down, and screamed at - to induce shame and teach them “how they should feel about what they were doing to their parents and God.” Worse forms of abuse sometimes took place. Some children and teenagers were detained for weeks, months, or even years in such places. At least one sued her parents after she escaped.
Lanning is right, “More crime and child abuse has been committed by zealots in the name of God, Jesus, and Muhammad than has ever been committed in the name of Satan.”
McDowell cites the testimony of John A. Subhan, a Muslim who “became a Christian” after “reading the Gospels.”
But there are Muslims who read the Bible, cover to cover, and remain unimpressed, like, Maurice Bucaille (author of The Bible, The Qurʼan and Science), and, Sheik Ahmed Deedat (who debated Christian evangelist, Jimmy Swaggert, on the topic, “Is the Bible Godʼs Word?”). Bucaille and Deedat are Islamic “Josh McDowells,” who answer Islamic skeptics and believe they can demonstrate the “overwhelming” superiority of their religion.
There are also Christians who convert to Islam, like those mentioned in the Time magazine article, “Americans Facing Toward Mecca,” and in the U.S. News & World Report article, “The Muslim Mainstream: Islam is Growing Fast in America, And Its Members Defy Stereotypes.” Christianity Today even featured an article that discussed several embarrassing reasons why Christianity attracts relatively immature adolescents whose average age at conversion is 16, while Islam attracts more mature converts whose average age is 31. (The singer/songwriter Cats Stevens - who made a hit out of the traditional Christian song, “Morning Has Broken” - converted to Islam at around that age.)
And what about the way Islam bowled over a heavily Christianized portion of the ancient world? “North Africa was once the home of a vibrant Christianity and of the most influential Christians of the early church: Tertullian of Carthage, Clement of Alexandria, Origen of Alexandria, and Augustine of Hippo, to name a few. But with the coming of Islam to the region in the late 600s, a steady, quiet, but relentless persecution (military, economic, and social) over hundreds of years wiped the church out of many areas…by the year 1400 not a single Christian bishop was left in North Africa…By the mid-1400s…Islam had aggressively advanced through Asia Minor almost to the heart of Christian Europe.”
According to latest reports, Islam is advancing in America. An article in Time in 1988 stated that “U.S. Muslims are expected to surpass Jews in number and, in less than 30 years, become the countryʼs second largest religious community, after Christians.” That prediction proved too conservative, because merely 10 years later, an article in U.S. News and World Report reported, “Five to 6 million strong, Muslims in America already outnumber Presbyterians, Episcopalians, and Mormons, and they are more numerous than Quakers, Unitarians, Seventh-Day Adventists, Mennonites, Jehovahʼs Witnesses, and Christian Scientists combined. Many demographers say Islam has overtaken Judaism as the countryʼs second-most commonly practiced religion; others say it is in the passing lane.” Perhaps in the coming century some people will begin to refer to America as an “Islamo-Christian,” rather than “Judeo-Christian,” nation? Mosques are being built all over America from Manhattan and Southern California to Toledo, Ohio. “In Dearborn, Michigan, where 10% to 15% of the population is Arabic, public schools recognize Muslim holy days and do not serve pork in cafeterias.”
For the record, there are also Muslims who leave Islam, but who do not convert to another religion, like, Ibn Warraq (author of Why I Am Not A Muslim).
McDowell cites the testimony of Manny Brotman, a Jew who “saw all the prophecies which identified…the Messiah,” and thereby became convinced that “Jesus” was that Messiah. But of all the religions on earth, members of the Jewish religion have had to live among Christians intent on converting them for two thousand years, yet only a small percentage of Jews have ever converted. Why is that? One reason is that Jewish rabbis have known for all that time that Jesus did not “fulfill all the prophecies.” The authors of the Christian Gospels misinterpreted, misapplied, misquoted and/or misunderstood the Hebrew passages they cited. Two recent works by rabbis who point out the flawed understanding that Christian evangelists have of the Hebrew Bible, include Gerald Sigalʼs The Jew and the Christian Missionary: A Jewish Response to Missionary Christianity, and, David Berger and Michael Wyschogrodʼs, Jews & Jewish Christianity. (Moreover, the pagan Roman scholars who composed the earliest critiques of the Christian Gospels, as well as eighteenth-century Deistic Bible critics, and, twentieth-century Bible scholars who teach at mainstream theological seminaries, all agree with generations of Jewish rabbis who dared to point out what was wrong with the New Testamentʼs use of the Old.)
And speaking of Jews who accept Jesus as their Messiah, not all of them keep their new found faith. Ellen Kamentsky, whose smiling face appeared in a “Jews for Jesus” advertisement in Newsweek magazine (Dec. 7, 1987), later wrote a book explaining why she entered and exited that “Messianic Jewish” organization: “I handed out thousands of pamphlets and gathered hundreds of phone numbers praying that God would send open victims across my path. I was a religious fanatic. I believed all people who did not accept my truth were going to Hell. Mine was no nine to five calling. I was always on call, praying, preaching, looking for converts…Members of Jews for Jesus are masters of disguise. They hide their true nature (sometimes even from themselves) and present a carefully contrived image to the world. Groups like them work by preying on our religious doubts and exploiting our insecurities. They seek simple answers to complex questions. They use dogmatism to produce certainty. Today, I revere reasoning and celebrate my Jewishness. I hope this book encourages people to find and celebrate their own truth. Know yourself, discover your own truth, so when someone approaches you hawking God, you can say, ‘Thank you very much, but Iʼm finding my own way.’”
There is also a national organization, called, “Outreach Judaism,” that specializes in countering the efforts of Christian groups and cults who specifically target Jews for conversion. Outreach Judaism is led by Rabbi Tovia Singer, who has lectured on college campuses and synagogues throughout the country. “Through his stimulating and provocative appearances, Rabbi Singer has been an inspiration to thousands. He is the author of numerous articles, a frequent guest on television and radio shows, and a consultant to the Jewish Community Relations Councilʼs Task Force on Missionaries and Cults.” He has also produced a 21-part audio tape series and study guide that has been described as “a fascinating exploration of the Bible and its historic message as well as a refutation of the Christian conversionists…At first, the tapes are simply very enjoyable to listen to, but as Rabbi Singer covers the specific topics in detail, they become truly riveting. Each tape in the series whets our appetite for the next one,” according to Dr. Lawrence H. Shiffman, Professor of Hebraic & Judaic Studies at NYU. It sounds to me like Rabbi Tovia Singer is a “Jewish” Josh McDowell!
Furthermore, not only are there Jews who convert to Christianity (like Manny Brotman), and Jews who convert to Christianity then back to Judaism (like Ellen Kamentsky), but there are also former fundamentalist Christians who abandon their prior belief in Jesusʼ divinity and get hooked on Moses. Members of that last group have formed what they call the “Bʼnai Noah movement,” and they no longer call themselves “Christians,” but “God-fearers,” or, “Noachides.” Jesus is revered by “Noachides” as a great prophet, but not worshipped as “God.” They are convinced that the early Christian deification of Jesus was an error, due to pagan influences creeping into Judaism at that time and place in history. Instead of believing in the deity of Christ, the Trinity, and the saving power of Jesusʼ sacrifice; they believe in the “one God” of Israel, repentance for forgiveness of sins, and following the moral commands that God gave to Noah for all mankind. Members of this movement get along famously with orthodox Jewish rabbis who preach at their conferences and help them study “The Torah.” They also sell books and tapes that defend their beliefs and point out errors in orthodox Christian beliefs.
Skip Porteus, who became a Pentecostal Christian minister, then left Christianity to become an anti-Religious Right activist (and author of Jesus Doesnʼt Live Here Any More: From Fundamentalist to Freedom Writer), has recently returned to the faith of his fathers, Judaism.
Examples of Suffering for the Gospel
Human beings have “suffered” at each otherʼs hands for as long as human beings have had hands. “Suffering” for almost any conceivable reason, including “suffering for the Gospel,” is therefore not unique. Throughout history and in fields of human endeavor as diverse as religion, politics, science, art, and education, great minds have suffered at the hands of little minds; great hearts and souls have suffered at the hands of the heartless and the soulless; obstinate hearts, minds and souls have suffered at the hands of equally obstinate hearts, minds and souls. Those inflicting the suffering often thought they were “right” to do so. And those experiencing it took succor in believing that their faith, or ideas, or actions, were “right.”
Speaking of non-Christians who have suffered: Jews have suffered for over a thousand years at the hands of Babylonians, Greeks, Romans, Catholics, Protestants, Eastern Orthodox Christians, Moslems, and Germans. Which reminds me of the Jewish story of a rabbi facing the Inquisition, who was asked to deny his faith. He asked for time to think it over. The next morning he said, “I will not become a Catholic, but I have a last request - before Iʼm burnt at the stake my tongue should be cut out for not replying at once. To such a question ‘No!’ was the only answer.”
Christian antisemitism has been the cause of much Jewish suffering over the past 1900 years. And, like the modern day disavowal of the importance of pro-slavery Biblical passages, most of todayʼs Christians disavow the importance of anti-Jewish New Testament passages, which is certainly an improvement over the past. Still, neither the antisemitic passages, nor the pro-slavery passages, have been erased from the Bible, and some people continue to find such passages “divinely inspired.” According to the author of Antisemitism in the New Testament, “Nearly every book in the New Testament expresses slander and contempt for Jews. Most Christians have maintained that the New Testament is not anti-Jewish but that antisemitism arose as a result of the misunderstanding of it. Examination of the contents of the New Testament does not support this claim.”
And what about the religion known as “Bahaism?” It began when the Persian holy man, Ali Muhammad (1819-1850) set out to reform Islam and bring people back to the worship of a purely spiritual God (not unlike how Jesus set out to reform the Judaism of his day). His movement caused much religious ferment. This led to his execution in 1850 by order of the Shahʼs chief minister and at the instigation of Muslim clerics who saw his movement as a threat to orthodox Islam. Besides Ali Muhammad, 20,000 of his followers were martyred for their beliefs. Yet the “Bahai” religion survived, and it has communities in 205 countries.
The early Mormons were persecuted by the “orthodox” Christian majority, and the founder of Mormonism was killed by a mob. Yet that religion continues to do quite well.
And what about agnostics, atheists, “heretical” Christians and “heretical” Muslims, all of whom have suffered at the hands of “orthodox” Christians and “orthodox” Muslims for daring to speak and publish their “blasphemous” or “heretical” ideas? Christians and Muslims have publicly burnt the books of their critics, so that even today, the words of Christianityʼs earliest critics only survive in the form of excerpts in the works of their Christian opponents. In colonial America, there were laws that made “blasphemy” a crime punishable by death. Even up till the early 1900s, the authors of “blasphemous” literature in Great Britain and America could be put on trial, fined, and/or imprisoned for their “crime.” Some Muslims still view “blasphemy and heresy” as crimes deserving the death penalty.
As I said above, human beings have “suffered” at each otherʼs hands for as long as human beings have had hands. “Suffering” for almost any conceivable reason and belief is therefore not unique.
The Rev. Richard Wurmbrand
McDowell cites the testimony of the Lutheran minister, Richard Wurmbrand, who was imprisoned and tortured by communists in his homeland of Rumania. But Wurmbrand was not the only person imprisoned and tortured for his faith. Wurmbrand admits there were Jehovahʼs Witnesses, Unitarian ministers, members of a sect called “Students of the Bible,” Catholic priests, Eastern Orthodox priests, liberal Protestant ministers, Jewish rabbis, Muslims, political prisoners, artists, poets, farmers, etc., in prison with him. They were all suffering for their religious and/or political beliefs. For instance, one Unitarian minister was imprisoned because he “always sided with the workers, started a school and a co-operative, and doubled his congregation.” (The communists wanted ministers whose churches were always empty.) “When the communist police came to arrest the Unitarian, they found among his hundreds of books a copy of Adlerʼs Individual Psychology. ‘Aha!’ said a detective. ‘An individualist!’ and carried the books off as evidence.”
During the final period of his imprisonment, Wurmbrand was removed from the general prison population and crammed into a portion of the prison reserved solely for pastors and priests. “That evening, in the hour which the priestsʼ room had set aside for prayer, Catholics collected in one corner, the Orthodox occupied another, the Unitarians a third. The Jehovahʼs Witnesses had a nest on the upper bunks; the Calvinists assembled down below. Twice a day, our various services were held: but among all these ancient worshippers I could scarcely find two men of different sects to say one ‘Our Father’ together. Far from fostering mutual understanding, our common plight made for conflict. Catholics could not forgive the Orthodox hierarchy for collaborating with Communism. Christians of minority beliefs disagreed about ‘rights.’ Disputes arose over every point of doctrine. And while discussion was normally conducted with genteel malice, as learnt in seminaries on wet Sunday afternoons, sometimes tempers flared.”
Their “quarrels…came to a halt” only after the communists tried to “convert” all the priests and ministers to the one true faith, i.e., communism. The imprisoned clergymen were forced to endure long lectures on the goodness of communism and the evils of religion. Loudspeakers were placed in their cells that blared propaganda slogans day and night. That was when the priests and ministers began to value the most basic human similarities they shared, rather than their separate religious doctrines, since now they were all being driven mad by the same enemy: “We learnt that all our denominations could be reduced to two: the first is hatred, which makes ritual and dogma a pretext for attacking others; the second is love, in which men of all kinds realize their oneness and brotherhood before God…More often now it was as if the cell were ablaze with the spirit of self-sacrifice and renewed faith.” But if the communists had ceased trying to “convert” them, would they not have reverted to quarrelsome attempts to “convert” each other? Did not the Americans and British and French put aside their differences and band together “with a spirit of self-sacrifice and renewed faith” during two World Wars when Germany tried to “convert” the worldʼs property to her own? Sharing a common enemy that will stop at nothing to achieve its goals, can instill a marvelous sense of “oneness, brotherhood, and self-sacrifice” in those who band together to oppose it. That is human nature and there is nothing “unique” about that.
Wurmbrand recounts further touching moments of tolerance in prison, like when Filipescu, on his death bed, expressed doubts about Jesusʼ divinity: “I believe in Jesus Christ and love Him as the greatest of human beings, but I cannot think of Him as God.” After Filipescu died, some said he had “not come to God at the end.” But Wurmbrand defended him, “Filipescu will have found out the truth by now in the other world, for he loved Jesus, who will never reject anyone. The robber converted on Golgotha to whom Jesus promised paradise also called him simply a man. I believe in the Godhead of Jesus - and also in His love towards those who cannot see it.”
Wurmbrand also met Nassim, a devout Muslim, whose “fervor” during their talks together “momentarily transformed that dismal place.” Nassim told Wurmbrand, “Jesus is for me a most holy and wise prophet, who speaks the language of God himself. But he cannot in our view be the Son of God. I hope I havenʼt offended you.” As in the case of Filipescu, Wurmbrand repeated that “Jesus turns away nobody who loves him, even if a man does not know the true title of the One he loves. The penitent thief spoke of Him only as a man, but Jesus promised that he should sup in paradise.” Wurmbrand even admitted that Nassim “had much to teach [us] about submission to the will of God. He often reminded us that every chapter of the Koran, the most widespread book in the world after the Bible, begins with the invocation, ‘In the name of Allah, the Merciful, the Compassionate,’ and he tried to make this precept a part of everyday life.”
There is also the touching story about how Wurmbrand and another pastor, named Valentin, comforted a dying guilt-ridden man who lay in the prison sick room:
Boris [the dying man] murmured, “All over soon. A priest once told me ‘Youʼll rot in hell.’ So be it!”
“What made him speak like that?” I [Wurmbrand] asked.
“I was cursing God for my sufferings. He said Iʼd be punished for eternity.”
Pastor Valentin intervened, “Men curse the Communist Party, but eventually it may release them. If hell were endless, then God would be worse than our Secret Police.”
Boris opened his eyes, “Do you mean you donʼt believe in Everlasting Fire?” …
Valentin replied, “I donʼt doubt that those in hell feel it as an eternal punishment. In this sense the Bible calls it endless, as prison seems endless to us. But, even under the worst conditions, we see men coming to God and to the realization that they have done wrong. Dives, in Jesusʼ parable of poor Lazarus, shows signs of a change of heart in hell! He had been an egotist, now he is concerned about his brothers. Nothing is fixed anywhere in nature. If there is some evolution in hell towards goodness, then it opens a door to hope!” …
General Stavrat said, “I was taught in school and in church that God will punish eternally those who die unrepentant and without faith. It is the received dogma.”
I [Wurmbrand] replied, “Received in your mind, but not perhaps in your heart, general. We see men around us cursing God and denying his existence because they suffer unjustly. They will surely be judged according to their deeds and words and thoughts. And then?” …
“If I were you, I wouldnʼt waste prayers on me,” Boris laughed a little at this, and brought on a fit of coughing.
Valentin said, “Iʼm sure youʼve done much good. There are certainly worse men. But I pray for the worst of all - Stalin, Hitler, Himmler.”
“What do you pray?” Boris asked me with a weak voice.
I [Wurmbrand] said: “God, forgive the great sinners and criminals and, among the worst of men, me also.”
Wurmbrandʼs prayer reminds me of a third-century Christian tale about an old saint at Thebes who prayed for a demon possessed man, and ended his prayers with the cry, “Come out of the divine creation!” The demon did not come out but asked a wily question, “Who are the sheep and who are the goats?” [i.e., the two groups who will be separated on the day of judgment] The saint answered, “The goats - thatʼs me! But the sheep, God alone knows them.” The demon, when he heard that, said, “Because of your humility, I will come out.” (I hope McDowell is reading this because he could use more of Wurmbrandʼs, and Lewisʼ, and Sundar Singhʼs heart, and less of his headstrong dismissal of “tolerance” and Pharisaic crusade for “absolute Christian values.”)
The Rev. Joon Gon Kim
The final testimony that McDowell cites is from Rev. Joon Gon Kim whose mother and father were slaughtered before his eyes by communists. (Which reminds me of another unjust slaughter: The husband and son of Anna Akhmatova were slaughtered by Stalin, and Akhmatovaʼs poetry was banned in Soviet Russia for 17 years; yet her poem, “Requiem,” became the underground anthem for millions of Russians living under Stalinʼs regime.) The communists then beat Joon Gon Kim savagely and left him for dead. Kim survived and later led 30 of the communists to Christ, including the leader responsible for the death of his parents.
Rev. Kimʼs story reminds me of the testimony of another Korean Christian, who was praying in the Korean mountains when Jesus appeared to him and asked the young man to complete the task of establishing Godʼs kingdom on earth and bringing peace to mankind. Christian churches in Korea failed to appreciate the young manʼs vision or message. Subsequently, he was called by God to travel to communist North Korea. There he taught as a poor preacher in a country where religion was not welcome. He was imprisoned and tortured. The police thought him dead and threw his body into the prison yard. Some of his followers found him and tended to his broken body. He survived, began preaching again, was arrested again, and sentenced to five years of hard labor in Hungnam prison. He was among the first of the Christian ministers sent to the Soviet-style North Korean gulag. It was an extermination camp where prisoners where worked to death. Few lasted more than six months, yet this minister survived for nearly three years. Many of his fellow prisoners came to him for spiritual strength and became his disciples. American and U.N. forces, responding to an invasion from North Korea, pushed the North Koreans back, and liberated the prisoners in Hungnam prison, including this Christian minister, who was scheduled to be executed the day the camp was liberated. Once free, he spent forty dangerous days in North Korea searching for members of his lost flock, and traveled to South Korea on foot with two of them. Then he and one disciple built their first little church in a port-side city in South Korea. The church was made from discarded army ration boxes. He predicted that the message of Jesusʼ vision would one day be spread all over the world. And in 1975 he sent missionaries to 120 countries, making his church a worldwide faith. I am speaking, of course, of the Reverend Sun Yung Moon, the founder of the Unification Church.
Of course, McDowell would never cite Rev. Moonʼs testimony as “evidence” of anything “unique” because McDowellʼs fellow fundamentalists and hard-line evangelicals deem the Unification Church to be a phony religion (while their brand of evangelical Christianity is the true faith). Yet Rev. Moonʼs story remains impressive because he succeeded in spreading his message “to the ends of the earth” without the backing of “orthodox” Christian churches and in a record amount of time.
Personally, I would love to read what Rev. Wurmbrand would have had to say about Rev. Moon and his faith if they had (by some weird juggling of fate) spent time in the same communist prison. After all, Rev. Moon loves Jesus, and Rev. Wurmbrand believes that Jesus will not reject any who love him.
And speaking of how both Wurmbrand and Moon survived brutal prison conditions, the words of Primo Levi, who survived a German prison camp, seem appropriate: “Not only during the crucial moments of the selection [for the gas chamber] or the aerial bombings, but also in the grind of everyday life, the believers lived better…It was completely unimportant what their religious or political faith might be: Catholic or Reformed priests, rabbis of the various orthodoxies, militant Zionists, Jehovahʼs Witnesses, naive or sophisticated Marxists. [Even the Nazis in the camp who were imprisoned by their own kind because of ideological differences or personal reasons, and who were hated by everyone else in the camp, ‘endured the daily trials and survived in a proportionately higher number’]. They all held in common the saving force of their faith…They had a key and a point of leverage, a millennial tomorrow so that there might be a sense to sacrificing themselves, a place in heaven or on earth where justice and compassion had won, or would win in a perhaps remote but certain future: Moscow, or the celestial or terrestrial Jerusalem. Their hunger was different from ours. It was a divine punishment or expiation, or votive offering, or the fruit of capitalist putrefaction. Sorrow, in them or around them, was decipherable and therefore did not overflow into despair. They looked at us with commiseration, at times with contempt; some of them, in the intervals of our labor, tried to evangelize us.”
Levi adds, “But how can you, a nonbeliever, fabricate for yourself or accept on the spot an ‘opportune’ faith only because it is opportune? In the days that followed immediately after the prison camp was liberated, enacted against a pitiful scenery of dying men, dead men, contaminated wind, and polluted snow, the Russians sent me to the barber to be shaved for the first time in my new life as a free man. The barber was an ex-political prisoner, like myself. We immediately felt like brothers and I made a few banal comments on our so improbable salvation: We were men sentenced to death and freed on the guillotineʼs platform, wasnʼt that true? He looked at me open-mouthed then exclaimed with deep disapproval: ‘Mais Joseph etait la!’ Joseph? It took me a few moments to realize that he referred to [the communist leader,] Joseph Stalin. He had not, he had never despaired; Stalin was his fortress, the Rock sung in the psalms…[As for myself,] I entered the prison camp as a nonbeliever, and as a nonbeliever I was liberated and have lived to this day. Actually, the experience of the campʼs frightful iniquity confirmed me in my non-belief. It prevented, and still prevents me from conceiving of any form of providence or transcendent justice: Why were the moribund packed in cattle cars? Why were the children sent to the gas?”
Another survivor of a Nazi prison camp, Gerty Spies, has written a book that tells how she discovered her powerful talent for writing while in prison, a talent that enabled her to transcend and triumph over mental and physical degradations; to keep her own integrity; to not let evil destroy her loving nature; and, finally, not to lose faith in humanity. By the end of the war, 33,00 people in that camp had died from disease and malnutrition. Ms. Spies is, as of 1997, 98 years old.
McDowell seems to assume in all the testimonies he presents, that “Jesus is the answer,” especially in the most dire situations. However, people with different beliefs (or special talents) have demonstrated that “believing in Jesus in a fundamentalist or hard-line evangelical Protestant way” is only one of many answers.
Lastly, we come to McDowellʼs testimony. In the first edition of ETDAV his testimony was titled, “Iʼve Got a Satisfied Mind” (referred to hereafter as “MT1” for “McDowell Testimony #1”). The second edition of ETDAV featured a longer rewritten version of MT1, titled, “He Changed My Life” (referred to hereafter as “MT2” for “McDowell Testimony #2”).
At the beginning of MT2, McDowell states, “The fact that Iʼm alive and doing things I do is evidence that Jesus Christ is raised from the dead.” Howʼs that? A billion McDowells “doing things he does” would not provide the slightest evidence that “Jesus Christ is raised from the dead.” It would only provide evidence that “McDowell believes Jesus Christ rose from the dead,” and that such a “belief” motivates him and others. As I have pointed out earlier in this chapter, there are Jews, Moslems, Hindus, Buddhists, and atheists whose beliefs motivate them to argue against the boastful assertions of Christian evangelists like McDowell. There are also Christians of different denominations whose beliefs motivate them to argue against the hard-line evangelical Protestantism that McDowell advocates.
McDowellʼs journey toward Christianity began after he met some evangelical Christians during his Freshman year in college. He was attracted to their “different dimension…riding above circumstances” (MT1); “something different about their lives…happiness…inner constant source of joy” (MT2); they were “disgustingly happy” (MT1&2). (Ellen Kamentsky in her autobiography, Hawking God: A Young Jewish Womanʼs Ordeal in Jews for Jesus, discusses the nature of the “happiness” she radiated toward fellow believers and potential converts, and the types of unhappiness she was concealing from herself and others. Also, enthusiastic adherents of non-Christian religions radiate states of peace, happiness and joy that draw others toward them and their respective faiths.)
McDowell says he “hated to be alone…[was] frustrated…empty (MT1)…circumstances [made him feel either] okay or bad…If my girl loved me, I was on cloud nine; if she broke up with me, I was really down (MT1)…I had a bad temper (MT1&2)…and still have the scars from almost killing a man during my first year in the university (MT2)…had a lot of hatred…hated my father [who was a wife-beating alcoholic] (MT1&2)…had a lot of restlessness in my mind, and I always had to be somewhere, or with someone. I just couldnʼt be alone with my own thoughts. My mind seemed like a maze…I used to be constantly on the go because of restlessness” (MT1). “I always had to be occupied. I had to be over my girlʼs place or somewhere else in a rap session. Iʼd walk across campus and my mind was like a whirlwind with conflicts bouncing off the walls. Iʼd sit down and try to study or cogitate and I couldnʼt” (MT2). “I ran for Freshman class president and got elected” (MT1&2). “[I knew] everyone on campus… everyone said ‘Hi Josh’” (MT2). “I made decisions, spent the universityʼs money, the studentʼs money, to get speakers I wanted… threw more parties with student money than anyone else did…would wake up Monday morning, usually with a headache because of the night before…happiness revolved around three nights a week, Friday, Saturday and Sunday” (MT2). “For 19 years I wasnʼt satisfied with my life” (MT1).
McDowell was a prime candidate for conversion. He was young, unstable, with manic-depressive tendencies, with no well thought out beliefs of his own, including his “atheism” which, according to his testimony, amounted to a series of one-liners aimed at religion: “I chucked religion…it didnʼt work” (MT1&2). “I thought most Christians were walking idiots…I imagined that if a Christian had a brain cell, it would die of loneliness” (MT2).” “I figured every Christian had two brains; one was lost and the other was out looking for it” (MT1). “I used to listen to professors in supercilious humanities classes, and if they didnʼt believe Christianity, you werenʼt going to catch me believing it.” (MT1). So McDowell admits he lacked any well thought out beliefs or convictions of his own, his mind lacked as much intellectual depth as his emotions lacked stability. “I was like a boat out on the ocean being tossed back and forth by the waves, the circumstances” (MT2), “my happiness always depended on my circumstances” (MT1). For all of the above reasons, there was no doubt that McDowell would be impressed upon meeting “that young woman…[with] a lot of conviction” who mentioned her “personal relationship” with “Jesus” (MT1&2). McDowell was in the market for “convictions” and a “relationship” that was on a more even keel.
Also interesting is the fact, as pointed out in a Christianity Today article, that “The average age of conversion [to Protestant Christianity in America] is quite young,” about “16 years of age.” Furthermore, “Postadolescent persons do not seem to find Christianity as attractive as do persons in their teens. [McDowell was nineteen when he converted. - ED.] Indeed, for every year the non-Christian grows older than 25, the odds increase exponentially against his or her ever becoming a Christian.” So McDowell was a prime candidate even according to the author of that Christianity Today article. Hence, there is no mystery behind McDowellʼs decision, a few months later, to convert.
Concerning the part of McDowellʼs testimony where he says, “My new friends challenged me intellectually to examine the claims that Jesus Christ is Godʼs Son” (MT1&2). I wonder when McDowell ever found the time and mental composure to rise to that “intellectual challenge.” His conversion took place “Dec. 19, 1959” (MT2) at the end of the first semester of his college sophomore year. He did not spend years studying the evidence, just months. Besides, McDowell admits he “always had to be somewhere, or with someone,” “couldnʼt be alone with my own thoughts,” “mind seemed like a maze,” “constantly on the go because of restlessness” (MT1), “always had to be occupied…had to be over my girlʼs place or somewhere else in a rap session,” would “walk across campus and my mind was like a whirlwind with conflicts bouncing off the walls,” would “sit down and try to study or cogitate and I couldnʼt” (MT2). It should come as no surprise that being in such a state, he could not “refute” Christianity (MT2), but wound up becoming a believer himself.
McDowell spent the next “13 years” after his conversion, “documenting why I believe that faith in Jesus Christ is intellectually feasible” (MT2). But many people spend years “documenting” why their beliefs are “intellectually feasible,” including scholarly Jews, Moslems, Hindus, Christians of different denominations, agnostics and atheists. The question remains whether McDowell can justify that he was intellectually adept enough and emotionally stable enough to have made the right choice in the first place. And the answer to that question appears to be “no”: “I knew I had to make a decision because I couldnʼt sleep anymore. I knew I had to get it off my mind or Iʼd go out of my mind” (MT1&2). McDowellʼs conversion does not appear to have been based on his “intellectual” honesty so much as on his lack of emotional stability and lack of well thought out “convictions” of his own. In such a state, he was easily overwhelmed by a few pro-Christian, pro-Bible arguments that he “never knew existed” (MT1).
McDowell has been walking the narrow road of “blessed certitude” ever since, which includes viewing his “search for truth” as more “sincere” than that of many others: “I suspect that few people in the universities and colleges of this country were more sincere in trying to find meaning, truth and purpose of life than I was” (MT2). On the other hand McDowell also wrote, “A person can be sincere, but he can also be sincerely wrong.” Needless to say, persons like McDowell, who view their beliefs as absolutely right, are the least likely to suspect they could be “sincerely wrong.”
McDowellʼs Biblical arguments for believing in a literal “six-day creation” that took place a few thousand years ago can be found in Answers To Tough Questions Skeptics Ask About the Christian Faith (San Bernardino, California: Hereʼs Life, Publishers, Inc., 1980). His “scientific” arguments for that belief appear in Reasons Skeptics Should Consider Christianity (San Bernardino, California: Hereʼs Life Publishers, Inc., 1981). Both books were co-written with Don Stewart.
Of special embarrassment to McDowell must be the fact that his “scientific” arguments for a “young-earth” (which comprise “Section III” of Reasons… and which fill more than half of that book) were ghost-written by Glenn R. Morton, who at that time had an undergraduate degree in physics. Later, Morton obtained an advanced degree in geology and began work as a professional geologist. After struggling for years to reconcile his “young-earth” views with the direct geological evidence he was encountering daily, he abandoned his earlier views. Morton now advocates a very old-earth, and points out flaws in creationistsʼ anti-evolutionary arguments. He has also written several books on the creation/evolution controversy and has his own website that features excellent articles on the topic at <URL:http://www.flash.net/~mortongr/dmd.htm>, spotted December 15, 1999.
Harry Rimmer was a former boxer and boisterous Christian evangelist in the 1930s who, like Josh McDowell, wanted to strengthen peopleʼs faith in the literal words of the Bible. One story that Rimmer would smear in the skepticʼs faces was that of a “modern day Jonah,” named “James Bartley,” who was “swallowed by a sperm whale off the Falkland Islands,” and “about 36 hours later” was found “alive inside the belly of the whale.” McDowell & Stewart added that whale of a tale to their book, Answers To Tough Questions Skeptics Ask About Christian Faith (p. 97), stating, “A man named James Bartley is known to have survived a day and a half in the belly of a whale before being rescued.” Is that so?
According to Edward B. Davis, professor of science and history at Messiah College, Pennsylvania (and an evangelical Christian), “No one has given the [James Bartley] story the kind of careful investigation it warrants if it is to be used as evidence for the reliability of scripture. Yet that is precisely what everyone citing the story assumes - that its authenticity has been established beyond a reasonable doubt.” After thorough research into the storyʼs earliest version, Davis discovered, “Courbet did no more than cite an account in the English papers, and de Parville did no more than cite Courbet…[The wife of the captain of the ship that Bartley was said to be aboard, wrote], ‘There is not one word of truth in the whale story. I was with my husband all the years he was in the Star of the East. There was never a man lost overboard while my husband was in her. The sailor has told a great sea yarn.’ The crew agreement for the Star of the East [for its voyage near the Falklands] lists every member of the crew (including a few who signed on in Wellington and deserted just six days later in Lyttelton), and there is no James Bartley on the list, nor anyone of similar name, either for the entire voyage or any part thereof! Never mind that [the originator of the tale] chose a ship that was not a whaler, and that British whalers didnʼt fish off the Falklands in 1891. [Never mind that the originator of the tale] changed his story after the denial [by the wife of the shipʼs captain]. This time the animal was a whale shark slain by a deck gun from a trawler in the English Channel, not a sperm whale harpooned by men from a whaling ship off the Falkland Islands. I realized then with finality that all of this was no more than a fish story. In the end, traced back to the source, each reported sighting turned out to be just another chimera, just another version of the original spurious newspaper account. I am convinced they represent variants of the same original fish story inspired by the Gorleston whale. In June 1891 a 30 foot rorqual whale came near the shore and ran up against a pier off the town of Gorleston, just south of Great Yarmouth. It was pursued, ran aground and was killed. The whale was placed on exhibit for two days, drawing 2200 folk curious enough to pay admission charge. Then the whale was dissected, stuffed, and put on display. Two clippings, one written within days of the event, mentioned that the Gorleston whale had inspired a number of exaggerated tales.” [Edward B. Davis, “A Whale of a Tale: Fundamentalist Fish Stories,” Perspectives on Science & Christian Faith, Vol. 43, no. 4, December 1991, pp. 224-235.]
Even C. S. Lewis recognized the story of Jonah as “a tale with as few even pretended historical attachments as Job, grotesque in incident.” [C. S. Lewis, “Modern Theology and Biblical Criticism,” Christian Reflections (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1980), p. 154.] Lewis also wrote in a letter to Corbin Carnell (April 4, 1953), “The question about Jonah and the great fish does not turn simply on intrinsic probability. The point is that the whole Book of Jonah has to me the air of being a moral romance. In what sense does the Bible ‘present’ the Jonah story ‘as historical?’ Of course, it doesnʼt say ‘This is fiction,’ but then neither does our Lord say that the Unjust Judge, Good Samaritan, or Prodigal Son are fiction. (I would put Esther in the same category as Jonah for the same reason).”
McDowell sidesteps questions concerning the Book of Jonahʼs unhistoric nature by insisting that “Jesus Himself treats Jonah as historical, relating that Jonah was a prophet, whose preaching resulted in the people of Nineveh repenting” [Answers, p. 96]. But all first-century Jews “believed Jonah was a prophet,” and Jesus himself was a first-century Jew, so why would Jesus have spoken about Jonah differently? (Even if Jesus was “God,” might not God have accommodated himself to faulty first-century preconceptions of the Book of Jonah, just as he accommodated himself by being born a human being with one native tongue and coming from one cultural background?) It would seem that McDowellʼs “answers” concerning the “literal” nature of all the stories in the Bible merely sidestep a slew of relevant questions. There are many additional questions relevant to the Bible that McDowell neither shares with his readers nor seems aware of himself.
According to McDowell (and his co-author, Don Stewart), “Many [Biblical] statements, previously thought to be figurative have, with greater knowledge, proven to be quite literal. Take for example, the snake eating dust. Research has shown that snake do eat dust. It helps them to navigate - they ‘see’ through the dust they ingest.” [Reasons Skeptics Should Consider Christianity, p. 37.]
“Snakes eat dust?” This Biblical statement has been “proven to be quite literal?” Does McDowell expect skeptics to believe that the words “eat dust” in Genesis 3:14 were placed there to demonstrate Godʼs knowledge of snake “navigation” to herpetologists living 2,500 years later? Why didnʼt God mention the word, “navigation” in those verses? Why did God say that serpents “eat” rather than “taste” dust? (The word, “taste,” is more precise and would have demonstrated “greater knowledge” as McDowell might say.) And, wouldnʼt the gain of a “navigational” skill be viewed as a “blessing” rather than a “curse?” It is painfully obvious to all but McDowell that being “cursed” to “crawl on your belly” and “eat dust” are ancient Near Eastern “put downs” rather than descriptions of Godʼs marvelous engineering of serpentsʼ tongues: “And the Lord God said to the serpent, ‘Because you have done this, cursed are you more than all cattle [Sometimes I wonder when cattle were first ‘cursed’ and why that story isnʼt in the Bible! Tell us, Josh! - ED.], and more than every beast of the field; on your belly shall you go, and dust shall you eat all the days of your life.’” (Gen. 3:14)
McDowell & Stewart also over-simplified the data on snake navigation. Dr. William R. Teska, a biology professor at Furman University who specializes in snakes informed me that snakes not only “eat dust” to navigate, they also “taste the air.” Other senses, like sight, sound, smell (in some species), and heat sensing (in vipers), probably play even more important roles in their navigation. Moreover, some snakes live in lakes or oceans, and could hardly be described as “dust eaters.” Others live high in the branches of tree-canopied rain forests, and seldom if ever rub their bellies on the ground and “eat dust.” Besides, virtually all animals “eat” or swallow “dust” or dirt, either voluntarily or accidentally. So, McDowellʼs attempt to “show that the Scriptures contain anticipations of modern science” is based on selectively emphasizing only some herpetological observations, ignoring others, and stretching the meaning of an obvious literary put down to mean something highly positive and “scientific sounding,” i.e., “navigates by tasting dirt.” Such a method of demonstrating the Bibleʼs “literal” truth is fallacious in the extreme.
Moreover, like all literalists, McDowell only takes literally the passages he wants. For instance, a mere 13 verses away, Gen. 3:1 states, “Now the serpent was more crafty than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made. And he [the serpent] said to the woman…” To the best of my knowledge herpetologists have not “proven” that “the serpent is more crafty than any beast of the field,” neither have they discovered a talking serpent. Such descriptions make Genesis read more like a fable from Aesop than “literal truth.”
While Iʼm discussing the tale of the poor cursed serpent, I should add that there isnʼt the slightest evidence that the “serpent” had any connection with “Satan.” Thatʼs a later Christian invention. Nor is “Satan” even mentioned in the whole book of Genesis, not when Cain kills Abel, nor when the “whole world” turns away from God prior to “the Flood,” nor at “the tower of Babel” incident, which also “displeased” God. Unless, of course, you wish to argue that in the first few chapters of Genesis “Satan” was described as being “craftier than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made,” and was “cursed more than any beast of the field, more than all cattle…to go upon his belly and eat dust all the days of his life.” Itʼs plain to see there is no mention of “Satan” in the original Hebrew fable, just a “crafty talking serpent,” whom Yahweh curses by washing its mouth out with dirt for the rest of its life - a fable in the most Aesopian sense of the word. Itʼs obvious that McDowellʼs literalism doesnʼt want to go there.
Bernard Ramm, After Fundamentalism: The Future of Evangelical Theology (1983), pp. 43-44, 156.
Dispensational theology involves a literalistic interpretation of the Bible which divides up human history into seven major “dispensations” wherein God reveals himself and tests man. Most dispensationalists say there were “seven” such dispensations, but others disagree. Each dispensation is further divided into smaller divisions that are carefully tallied. If things are described differently in different parts of Scripture the possibility of a contradiction is never acknowledged. Varying descriptions are often interpreted as multiple events of a similar nature. For instance, according to Dispensationalism there are two methods of salvation (one through the law of Moses, the other through the Holy Spirit); two second advents of Christ (one for his saints and one for judgment); seven distinct judgments (one of which is a judgment of angels); three resurrections (of those just before the tribulation, of the tribulation saints three and one-half years later at the end of the tribulation, and of the unjust a thousand years later at the close of the millennium), etc. One critic scoffed that dispensationalists “devised an elaborate system of mental watertight compartments. The contradictions of Old and New Testaments were solved by a Doctrine that what was sauce for the Jewish ‘Dispensation’ was not necessarily sauce for the Christian ‘Dispensation’…They shifted as best they might from compromise to compromise…Their series of sophisms deserve to be exposed as masterpieces of human self-deception.”
Ramm, p. 185.
James B. Pritchard, ed., The Ancient Near East, Vol. II, A New Anthology of Texts and Pictures, (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1975), p. 146.
James Henry Breasted, The Dawn of Conscience (New York: Charles Scribnerʼs Sons, 1950).
W. W. Davies, The Codes of Hammurbi & Moses, first published 1905, reprinted by H. H. Waldo books, 1992(?).
Sierichʼs article appeared in The American Rationalist, Vol. 38, no. 5, Jan./Feb. 1995, pp. 68-73, which may be available at the American Rationalist web site, spotted December 15, 1999.
Matthews, Victor H., and Benjamin, Don C., Old Testament Parallels: Laws and Stories from the Ancient Near East, 2nd ed.(New York: Paulist Press, 1997)
William W. Hallo, Origins: The Ancient Near Eastern Background of Some Modern Western Institutions (New York: Brill, 1997).
Jared Diamond in his 1997 work, Guns, Germs, And Steel, offers plausible reasons why the societies of the Eurasian landmass developed more rapidly than those of peoples in other regions of the world.
Albert Schweitzer, Out of My Life and Thought: An Autobiography (New York: The New American Library, 1963).
Francis Fukuyama, The End of History and the Last Man (New York: Avon Books, 1992), pp. 271, 216, 260.
Robert Wuthnow, “Can Christians Be Trusted?” a review of Public Religions in the Modern World by Jose Casanova (University of Chicago Press) that appeared in Books & Culture, Nov./Dec. 1995, p. 15.
Schweitzer, p. 186.
Richard Shenkman, I Love Paul Revere, Whether He Rode Or Not, Warren Harding: A New Collection By The Author of Legends, Lies & Cherished Truths of American History (New York: Harper Collins Publishers, 1991), p. 31.
Christianity Today, Aug. 16, 1993, p. 62, book review of Roger Finke and Rodney Starkʼs The Churching of America, 1776-1990: Winners and Losers in Our Religious Economy (New Jersey: Rutgers University Press).
Michael Feldberg, The Philadelphia Riots of 1844: A Study of Ethnic Conflicts.
William E. Dodd, Jefferson Davis (University of Nebraska Press, 1997 - Reprint from the original 1907 edition), chapter twelve, “Davis and Secession,” pp. 189-214.
Peter Kolchin, American Slavery 1619-1877 (New York: Hill and Wang, 1993), chapter seven, “The End of Slavery,” p. 200ff.
Gary W. Gallagher, The Confederate War: How Popular Will, Nationalism, and Military Strategy Could Not Stave Off Defeat.
Charles Robert Lee, Jr., The Confederate Constitutions (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1963), p. 170.
Charles Wilson, Baptized in Blood (1980).
Mitchell Snay, Gospel of Disunion: Religion and Separatism in the Antebellum South (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1997), p. 193f.
Drew Gilpin Faust, ed., The Ideology of Slavery: Proslavery Thought in the Antebellum South, 1830-1860 (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1981), Chapter IV., “James Henry Hammond: Letter to an English Abolitionist,” pp. 180, 181, 183, 184. Ironically, some of Hammondʼs “noble qualities” included seducing four of his young nieces. Later, his wife left him when he refused to stop seeing one of his female slaves by whom he had fathered a child. And Hammond told a close friend in 1857 that he was curious about the northern “Ism” called “Spiritualism.” See, Carol Bleser, The Hammonds of Redcliffe (New York: Oxford University Press, 1981), pp. 9-12, 24.
Lynda Lasswell Crist, Mary Seaton Dix, and Kenneth H. Williams, eds., The Papers of Jefferson Davis (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1995), Vol. 8, p. 567.
Jefferson Davis, Vol. 1, by Dunbar Rowland, pp. 286 & 316-317.
Dodd, pp. 107, 154, 168.
Kenneth C. Davis, Donʼt Know Much About the Civil War: Everything You Need to Know About Americaʼs Greatest Conflict But Never Learned (New York: Avon Books, 1996), p. 156.
Forrest G. Wood, The Arrogance of Faith: Christianity and Race in America from the Colonial Era to the Twentieth Century (New York: Knopf, 1990), p. 292.
Donald B. Gibson, “Faith, Doubt and Apostasy,” in Frederick Douglass: New Literary and Historical Essays, ed. Eric J. Sundquist (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1990), p. 88.
Wood, p. 293.
Kevin Giles, “The Biblical Argument for Slavery,” The Evangelical Quarterly, Vol. 66, no. 1, 1994, pp. 6, 7.
Ibid., p. 8.
Ibid., pp. 9, 10.
Faust, The Ideology of Slavery: Proslavery Thought in the Antebellum South, 1830-1860, pp. 174, 175, 203. Emphasis is Hammondʼs.
Richard Furmanʼs entire letter appears as appendix B of James A. Roger, Richard Furman: Life and Legacy (Macon, Georgia: Mercer University Press, 1985), pp. 274-86.
Sebastian G. Messmer (Archbishop of Milwaukee), ed., The Works of the Reverend John England, First Bishop of Charleston, Vol. 5 (Cleveland, Ohio: The Arthur H. Clark Company, 1908), “Domestic Slavery,” pp. 206, 207.
To be fair to Bishop England, he tried to establish schools to teach slaves to read which was against the law at the time. “The dusky child of Ham was dear to Bishop Englandʼs fatherly heart.” [Rev. Dr. J. J. OʼConnell, O.S.B., Catholicity in the Carolinas and Georgia, Leaves of Its History, A.D. 1820-1878 (New York: D. & J. Sadler & Co., 1879, p. 71.] Bishop England even admitted in a personal note written not long before his death that he was “not friendly to the existence or continuation of slavery.” [Messmer, p. 311]. But the Bishop also felt constrained by the Bible and his churchʼs teachings to defend “domestic slavery” as one of Godʼs and natureʼs “laws.”
Eric L. McKitrick, ed., Slavery Defended: The Views of the Old South (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1963), “A Scriptural View of Slavery” by Reverend Thornton Stringfellow, p. 98.
Giles, p. 9.
Frederick Douglass, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass: An American Slave (New York: Penguin Books, 1982, originally published in 1845), p. 117.
Wood, p. 127.
Gibson, p. 89.
Jon Butler, Awash in a Sea of Faith: Christianizing the American People (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1990), p. 143, 146-47.
Robert S. Starobin, ed., Blacks in Bondage: Letters of American Slaves (New York: Barnes & Noble Books, 1974), pp. 116-17.
Paul Johnson, A History of the American People (1998), pp. 469-71.
See J. W. Silver, Confederate Morale and Church Propaganda (New Orleans 1957).
See the special issue, “Civil War Religion,” Civil War History, 6 (1960).
Burke Davis, The Civil War: Strange and Fascinating Facts (New York: Wing Books, 1960), formerly published under the title, Our Incredible Civil War, chapter 26, “Sex in the Civil War.” See also, Richard Zacks, History Laid Bare: Love, Sex and Perversity From the Ancient Etruscans to Warren G. Harding (New York: HarperPerennial, 1995), “The Sexual Side of the Civil War, 1862-1867,” pp. 350-55. On deaths due to diarrhea, see Kenneth C. Davis, pp. 231-32.
Snay, p. 155.
Ibid., pp. 177-79.
Ibid., pp. 151-52.
Marty G. Bell, “The Civil War: Presidents and Religion,” Baptist History and Heritage, Vol. 32, no. 3-4, July/Oct. 1997, p. 110.
Richard Shenkman, Legends, Lies, and Cherished Myths of American History, (New York: William Morrow and Company, Inc., 1988), p. 127.
“Slavery,” an article in A Dictionary of Common Fallacies, p. 235, which was based on an article in The Humanist, October 1959, p. 3. See also Helen Ellerbe, The Dark Side of Christian History (San Rafael, California: Morningstar Books, 1995), pp. 90-92.
Wood, p. 38.
Though Zenoʼs is perhaps the clearest, and earliest recorded, anti-slavery statement, even the Roman Stoic philosopher, Epictetus (60-120 A.D.), demonstrated a firmer grasp of the Golden Ruleʼs universal application than either Jesus, the apostles, or the Church Fathers. Epictetus said that no one should own a slave because no one would wish to be one himself (Fragments 42), a lesson the church would not learn for eighteen hundred years.
John Murray, Principles of Conduct (London: InterVarsity Press, 1957), p. 93-102. “Murray accepts that Scripture endorses slavery but to safeguard himself he takes up the argument popularized by Thornwell that slavery is only the property of one man in the labor of another, not the property of man in man. This is an absurd bit of special pleading. Slavery by definition involved owning the person and his labor.” - Kevin Giles, “The Biblical Argument for Slavery: Can the Bible Mislead?” in The Evangelical Quarterly, Vol. 66, no. 1, 1994, footnote 16, p. 6.
Edward T. Babinski, ed., Leaving the Fold: Testimonies of Former Fundamentalists (N.Y.: Prometheus Books, 1995), “The Political Disease Known as Fundamentalism” by David Montoya, p. 125.
Peter Ruckman, Problem Texts, p. 384.
Henry Morris, The Beginning of the World (1991), pp. 147-48.
Giles, p. 11.
Besides Gilesʼ article, mentioned above, see David L. Thompson, “Women, Men, Slaves and the Bible: Hermeneutical Inquiries,” Christian Scholarʼs Review, 25:3, March, 1996, pp. 326-49.
G. H. Shriver in a book review in Choice magazine of The Earliest Christian Heretics: Readings From Their Opponents, eds., Arland J. Hultgren and Steven A. Haggmark (Fortress: 1996).
Ellerbe, chapter two, “Political Maneuvering: Making Christianity Palatable to the Romans.”
Babinski, pp. 24 & 29 (endnote 5).
The Enlightenment skeptic, Voltaire in his Treatise on Tolerance, “Refers to the members of a small Danish [Christian] sect, who accepted the premiss that, whereas infants who die before being baptized are damned, those who die immediately after having received baptism enjoy eternal glory. They accordingly went around killing as many newly baptized infants as they could discover, thereby preserving them from sin, from the miseries of this life, and from hell, and sending them infallibly to heaven. In the light of their beliefs they were acting rationally, but they did not secure Voltaireʼs approval. ‘These charitable persons,’ he said, ‘omitted to consider that most fathers and mothers are sufficiently worldly to prefer having their sons and daughters with them than to see them slaughtered as a passport to Paradise.’” - A. J. Ayer, Voltaire (New York: Random House, 1986), pp. 168-9.
According to the agnostic, Bertrand Russell, “The [Catholic] Spaniards in Mexico and Peru used to baptize Indian infants and then immediately dash their brains out; by this means they secured that these infants went to heaven.” - cited by Michael J. Farrell in “The Hell, You Say,” The National Catholic Reporter, April 2, 1993, p. 15.
Of course there are Catholic apologists who insist such atrocities never took place, though given the Inquisitionʼs history of attempting to “save” a personʼs soul via torture and execution, I doubt such denials will suffice to convince anyone but the apologists themselves.
Besides which, the authoritative word of towering Catholic theologians like Saint Augustine, was that unbaptized infants went straight to hell: “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, Chapt. 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 go to heaven. (Ironically, thatʼs the “heretical novelty” that Saint Augustine expelled so much hot air arguing against!)
Even as late as 1890, at least one approved Catholic work continued to depict young children suffering in hell, Rev. J. Furniss, C.S.S.R.ʼs, Tracts for Spiritual Reading, designed for First Communions, Retreats, Missions, etc. (New York: Excelsior Catholic Publishing House, 1890). Rev. Furniss wrote, “See the little child in this red hot oven. Hear the fire! It beats its head against the roof of the oven. It stamps its little feet on the floor. You can see on the face of this little child what you see on the faces of all in hell - despair, desperate and horrible.”
St. Joseph Communications, P.O. Box 720, West Covina, CA 91793, sells video taped testimonies of former Protestant ministers who became Catholics (including Scott Hahn). Phone them toll free for a catalog at 1-800-526-2151. Also, The Catholic Digest contains a feature known as “The Open Door” which describes the process by which converts have come to accept the Catholic religion as their vessel to salvation.
James A. Haught, “Adventures in the Bible Belt (1997)”, spotted December 15, 1999). See also the fascinating book, Taking Up Serpents: Snake Handlers of Eastern Kentucky by David L. Kimbrough (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1995).
Bernard Dixon, Journeys in Belief (London, 1968).
Bob Altemeyer and Bruce Hunsberger, Amazing Conversions: Why Some People Turn to Faith & Others Abandon Religion (New York: Prometheus Books, 1997).
There is a web site that contains the testimonies of former Christians, spotted December 15, 1999..
Visit the web at <URL:http://www.scientology.org>, spotted December 15, 1999 to read about the “Successes of Scientology.”
Speaking of “seedlings of faith,” see Nova Religio, the first academic publication devoted exclusively to the study of alternative and emergent religious communities and movements, and visit their web site at <http://www.novareligio.com>, spotted December 15, 1999.
Mark Hatfield, Between a Rock and a Hard Place (Texas: Word Books, 1976), pp. 92-93.
Ibid., p. 85.
For TMʼs successes with prisoners visit the web at
<URL:http://www.natural-law.org/platform/crime.html> and <http://www.tm.org/research/bibliographies/recent_research.html#anchor227516>, both spotted December 15, 1999. The Scientology web site was mentioned in a previous footnote.
Stephen Vomhofʼs letter used to be on display at the now defunct “Bill Hicks Message Board” at www.rykodisc.com. Hicks produced four comedy CDs, his last and most critically acclaimed was Rant in E-Minor. For additional information on Hicks, check out www.billhicks.com on the web.
Friedrich Heiler, The Gospel of Sadhu Sundar Singh, abridged trans. by Olive Wyon (New York : Oxford University Press, American Branch, 1927), pp. 39, 40.
Ibid., pp. 45,46.
A. J. Appasamy, Sundar Singh: A Biography (London: Lutterworth, 1958) (also Madras: CLS, 1966) p. 224f; and, C. F. Andrews, Sadhu Sundar Singh: A Personal Memoir (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1934), pp. 121, 152ff.
Heiler, pp. 171, 175, 177, 178, 179.
Ibid., p. 217.
Ibid., p. 38.
Heiler, p. 217.
Sundar Singh, Meditations on Various Aspects of the Spiritual Life (London, Macmillan, 1925).
Some recent works on Sai Baba include, SaIʼs Story by Shaila Hattiangadi; Sai Baba: The Source of Light, Love & Bliss by K. Kumar & J. Hovgaa; Sai Baba of Shirdi a Unique Saint by M. V. Kamath & V. B. Kher; Tablets of Truth: Sayings of Sai Baba by Andrew Shaw; Satya Sai Baba: Glimpses of Divinity by R. Mohan Rai; and, Sri Shirdi Sai Baba: The Universal Master by Dr. S. P. Ruhela.
Appasamy, p. 238.
Emmanuel Swedenborg, Arcana Coelestia (1794), “A Theologian in Death” [a vision of Melanchthon in the afterlife].
For a record of some of Luther, Calvin and Melanchthonʼs horrendous teachings and misdeeds, see “Fundamentalismʼs Grotesque Past” in Babinski, pp. 41-51 & 56-59 (endnotes 27-32).
C. F. Andrews, p. 226f. For further references to Sundarʼs “Swedenborg connection” see “The Legacy of Sadhu Sundar Singh” by Eric J. Sharpe in the International Bulletin of Missionary Research, October, 1990.
Joseph Campbell, Myths to Live By (New York: Bantam Books, 1973), p. 54.
Philip H. Ashbyʼs The Conflict of Religions (published around 1960), describes the conflict in the major world religions between modern scientific knowledge and old religious traditions. Christianity is not the only religion being “attacked” by “devilish liberals.” Traditionalists in all the worldʼs religions feel threatened by the insights that scholars bring to light whenever such scholars are free from having to parrot inherited dogma.
Mark Tully, “Lives of Jesus” in The Illustrated London News, Christmas Issue, 1996, p. 33.
See Nyanaponika Thera and Hellmuth Hecker, The Great Disciples of the Buddha: Their Lives, Their Works, Their Legacy (1997).
A. J. Mattill, Jr., The Seven Mighty Blows to Traditional Beliefs, 2nd Ed., Revised and Enlarged (The Flatwood Free Press: Alabama, 1995), p. 237.
See Leonard Swidler, “The Buddha Revered As A Christian Saint,” The Catholic World, May/June 1989, p. 121; and Wilfred Cantwell Smith, Towards a World Theology (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1988), pp. 7-11.
Richard Kieckhefer and George D. Bond, eds., Sainthood: Its Manifestations in World Religions (Berkeley, Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1988).
Here is a list of books on Hinduism (none of which were written by hard-line Christian apologists): The Hindu Phenomenon by Girilal Jain; Hindus and Others by Gyanendra Pandey; Hinduism for the Next Generation by V. Krishnamurthy; Recovery of Faith by Radhakrishnan; An Autobiography by M. K. Gandhi; Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramahansa Yogananda; The Mind of Swami Vivekananda by Gautam Sen; The Mind of Adi Shankaracharya by Y. Keshava Menon; Ramakrishna and His Disciples by Christopher Isherwood; Living Biographies of Great Religious Leaders by H. Thomas & Dana Lee Thomas; Truth is Two-Eyed by John A. T. Robinson (Christianity as seen through Eastern eyes and Hinduism as seen through Western eyes). Not to forget the magazine, Hinduism Today.
Michael J. Christensen, C. S. Lewis on Scripture: His Thoughts on the Nature of Biblical Inspiration, The Role of Revelation and the Question of Inerrancy (Waco, Texas: Word Books, 1979), p. 22.
A. J. Mattill, Jr., “Some Reflections on C. S. Lewisʼ ‘Modern Theology and Biblical Criticism,’” The Journal of Faith and Thought, Spring, 1985, pp. 22-33. See also, Christensen, pp. 18-19, & Appendix A. And, W. H. Lewis, ed., The Letters of C. S. Lewis, (New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc., 1966), pp. 286-287. And, John Beversluis, C. S. Lewis and the Search for Rational Religion (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1985).
C. S. Lewis letter dated July 3, 1963 to John Beversluis. Quoted in full in Beversluis, pp. 156f.
C. S. Lewis, A Grief Observed (New York: Seabury Press, 1963), pp. 9-10.
C. S. Lewis, “The Worldʼs Last Night,” The Worldʼs Last Night And Other Essays (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, n.d.), pp. 98-99. See also, A. J. Mattill, Jr., “Some Reflections on C. S. Lewisʼ ‘Modern Theology and Biblical Criticism,’” The Journal of Faith and Thought, Spring, 1985, pp. 22-33.
Christensen, pp. 33-34.
C. S. Lewis, Reflections on the Psalms (London: Collins, Fontana Books, 1958), p. 93.
Christensen, pp. 34-35.
Ibid., pp. 31-32.
Ibid., pp. 32-33.
Ibid., p. 30.
Ibid., p. 25.
Ibid., pp. 29-30. See also W. H. Lewis, p. 300.
Christensen, pp. 25-30.
When Lewis wrote, “St. Paul talked as if all men would be saved,” he was undoubtedly referring to verses such as, “All Israel will be saved…[for] they [the Jews] are beloved [by God] for the sake of the fathers: for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable…For God has shut up all in disobedience that He might show mercy to all.” [Romans 11:26,28,29,32] “Oʼ the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and the knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past tracing out…For of him, and through him, and unto him, are all things.” [Romans 11:33,36] “For just as all people die because of their union with Adam, in the same way all will be raised to life because of their union with Christ.” [1 Corinthians 15:22] “God was pleased…through him [Jesus] to reconcile to himself all things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.” [Colossians 1:19-20] What, in terms of Pauline texts elsewhere, i.e., “We fight not against flesh and blood but against spiritual wickedness in heavenly places,” could “things in heaven” needing to be “reconciled,” refer to, except the rebellious angels including Satan, “prince of the power of the air!” Universalistic sentiments in the Bible can also be found in Lamentations 3:22,31-33 and Psalm 103:8-10,14 which agree that “the Lord will not reject forever,” “Nor will He keep his anger forever.” 1 Peter 3:19-20 even depicts Jesus “preaching” to “the spirits in prison who were disobedient [in Noahʼs day].”
For a thorough discussion of the universalistic side of the Bible, I heartily endorse a slim paperback, titled, Salvation and Damnation by William S. Dalton (Butler, Wis.: Clergy Book Service, 1977). Also see Jan Bonda, The One Purpose of God: An Answer to the Doctrine of Eternal Punishment, in which he scrutinizes church traditions and Scripture - especially Paulʼs letter to the Romans - and concludes that neither Paul nor the prophets to whom he appeals show any trace of supporting the doctrine of eternal damnation. On the contrary, they tell us that God wants to save all people, and that He will not rest until that goal has been achieved. I am sure that C. S. Lewis would have been pleased to suggest books like those to Josh McDowell if Lewis had lived long enough to meet Josh.
Babinski, pp. 213 & 218.
Josh McDowell, “Tolerance and Truth,” Moody, Vol. 97, no. 4, March/April 1997, pp. 34 & 36.
Bruce Wildish, e-mail message sent to Edward Babinski, dated Wednesday, August 24, 1994.
“School Intruder Arrested,” Greenville News (Friday, May 23, 1997, p. 1D).
“Man Tries To Storm Cockpit of Airliner,” Greenville News (p. 1A, date of paper was cropped off my copy of the article, but definitely between 1986 and 1994).
Speaking of Jesusʼ frequent denunciations of the rich that McDowell and other hard-line evangelicals frequently ignore, Jesus would probably be more appalled by the gargantuan swindles perpetrated both in this country and abroad as reported in the Wall Street Journal, rather than by local street criminals (as shown on the television show, Cops) the latter of whom he would have far more compassion for. For those who disagree, I suggest reading the eye opening article in The Nation, April 7, 1997, “A Year in Corporate Crime.”
In the “Gospel of John,” Jesusʼ enemies are depicted more than sixty times as simply, “The Jews.” Jesusʼ concern for Israel as seen in the Gospel of Matthew (10:5-6 & 15:24) is absent from the Jesus who appears in the Gospel of John (5:45-47 & 8:31-47). The Gospel John, having been written after Matthew, Mark and Luke, probably reflects the growing breakdown of relations between the early Christian church and the Jewish synagog.
C. S. Lewis in a letter to Bede Griffiths, dated Dec. 20, 1961, not long before Lewisʼ death, The Letters of C. S. Lewis, ed., W. H. Lewis, (New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc., 1966), p. 301.
Laurence Gonzales, “Satanic Panic,”
David Alexander, “Giving the Devil More Than His Due: For Occult Crime “Experts” and the Media, Anti-Satanist Hysteria Has Become A Growth Industry,” The Humanist, March/April 1990, pp. 5-14, 34.
Jack Chick, as spoken to Dwayne Walker at the Anaheim Christian Booksellers Association in 1997.
Susan Bergman, “Rumors from Hell,” Christianity Today, Vol. 38, no. 3, March, 1994, p. 36f, a book review of Jeffrey S. Victor, Satanic Panic (Open Court Press).
Bergman, p. 36f.
Gonzales, p. 186.
Ibid., p. 184.
Ibid., p. 186.
Ibid., p. 186.
Philip Greven, Spare the Child (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990).
Alice Miller, For Your Own Good (New York: The Noonday Press, Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1990).
“Woman Who Killed Her Baby Sues Hospital,” Greenville News (Thursday, June 5, 1997, p. 1D).
Maurice Bucaille, The Bible, The Qurʼan and Science (Indianapolis, Indiana: American Trust Publications, 1979).
Videos of Sheik Deedatʼs debates with “Bible believers” are available from the Islamic Book Service, 2622 E. Main St., Plainfield, Indiana 46168. Telephone: (317) 839-8150.
Richard N. Ostling, “Americans Facing Toward Mecca,” Time, May 23, 1988, pp. 49-50.
Jonah Blank, “The Muslim Mainstream,” U.S. News & World Report, July 20, 1998, pp. 22-25.
Larry Posten, “The Adult Gospel,” Christianity Today, August, 20, 1990, pp. 23-25.
Mark Galli, “Sometimes Persecution Purifies, Unites, And Grows The Church. Sometimes It Doesnʼt,” Christianity Today, May 19, 1997, pp. 16-19.
Ostling, pp. 49-50. For a graph showing the tremendous growth of the Islamic population in America from 1980-1990, see Christianity Today, May 14, 1990, p. 19.
Blank, p. 22.
Ostling, pp. 49-50.
Ibn Warraq, Why I Am Not A Muslim (New York: Prometheus Books, 1995).
In addition to those books, see Dennis Prager and Joseph Telushkin, The Nine Questions People Ask About Judaism, which contains a succinct reply to the question, “How Does Judaism Differ From Christianity?”, pp. 78-91.
Ellen Kamentsky, Hawking God: A Young Jewish Womanʼs Ordeal in Jews for Jesus. Available from Sapphire Press, P.O. Box 533, Medford, MA 02155, for $12.95, plus $2.00 shipping and handling.
For more information, contact: Outreach Judaism, P.O. Box 789, Monsey, N.J. 10952. Phone number: 1-800-315-5397. Or visit their website at <URL:http://www.outreachjudaism.org/>, spotted December 15, 1999.
The Bʼnai Noah movement has a web site at (www.noach.com/emmanuel). The e-mail address of J. David Davis (a former Baptist minister who now leads a Noachide group in Tennessee) is (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Lilliam C. Freudmann, Antisemitism in the New Testament (New York: University Press of America, Inc., 1994), p. xi.
J. Richard Hoff (email@example.com) has put a number of Bahai “teaching stories” on the web at URL: www.geocities.com/Athens/Forum/7219/ spotted December 15, 1999. For further information on Bahaism write to <Bahai-Teachers@BCCA.Org>.
See Richard Wurmbrandʼs account of his imprisonment, In Godʼs Underground (London : W. H. Allen, 1968). Wurmbrand has also written a far briefer and less detailed work, Tortured for Chirst, which is the one often cited by McDowell and other Christian apologists.
Wurmbrand, In Godʼs Underground, p. 202.
Ibid., p. 218.
Ibid., p. 232.
Ibid., p. 232.
Ibid., p. 77.
Ibid., pp. 151-52.
See the Unification Church website at (http:www.unification.org) which includes stories of Rev. Moonʼs sufferings and struggles.
Primo Levi, The Drowned and the Saved, trans. by Raymond Rosenthal (New York: Summit Books, 1988), pp. 145, 146-47.
Levi, pp. 145,147.
Gerty Spies, My Years in Theresienstadt: How One Woman Survived the Holocaust (Buffalo, N.Y.: Prometheus Books, 1997).
Posten, p. 24.
Josh McDowell and Don Stewart, Answers to Tough Questions Skeptics Ask About the Christian Faith (Calif.: Hereʼs Life Publishers, Inc., 1980), p. 133. Near the end of both MT1 and MT2 McDowell adds the story of his Fatherʼs conversion (but says nothing about his mother). I would like to add that some freethinkers have had success leading their parents away from hard-line evangelical Christianity. Dan Barker, a former minister, influenced both his Christian parents to become freethinkers, after which, Danʼs mother “struck upon the realization that, for the first time in her life, she could love everyone - even homosexuals and people of other religions whom ‘Christians arenʼt supposed to love.’” See Babinski, Leaving the Fold, p. 303.