Face of the new atheism

January 17, 2010

Craigslist is most famous for its free advertisements, including for adult services and for housing – and it also has a series of active message boards catering to all different interests. One of those is religion:  there is an atheist forum, but no Christian forum. For a few years an impromptu, but unofficial “Celebrate Jesus” forum for prayer requests had served the small Christian community. However, if you visit the prayer forum today, it is over-run by atheists.

Looking through the history, it is possible to piece together what happened. At first a personal request for prayer would meet atheist abuse. For example, to someone experiencing muscle pain, and wanting to go to the doctor:

you’re self-obsessed, uneducated, and you have absolutely NO insight… Pain? You want to know what pain is, you stupid cunt?

There was a lot of this low level stuff, and that is pretty standard for the Internet. Soon, though all Christians posts were “flagged”. Whole pages of Christian posts simply went missing, with only atheist comments left. Sexually suggestive images accompanied increasing volumes of abuse. It  becoming more and more extreme, suggesting that the regular members should commit kill themselves or that they were were paedophiles. Handles were created to impersonate regular Christians. They even impersonated me, even though I was almost never there.

One lovely woman whose ex-husband recently died, was impersonated as saying:


Or the same woman:

Help me! please! I am maries vagina. I need sex like crazy. She deprives me of it constantly

By this this time there was far more spam than Christian posts, so that when a Christian did post, they got a response like this:

josheb isa self-proclaimed alcoholic & sociopath. total gdamn dishonest, manipulative, aggressive, dickwiping, schmoozy, sack of shit… am i glad i don’t have to deal with people like that in the real world, it is why guns were invented.

Unfortunately that is not exactly an isolated example. Even after Christians no longer went to the forum (the prayer forum secretly moved to a different location), spam and abusive posting continued for several months – posting to the silent void. Needless to say there isn’t a rational argument in sight.

To me, this is the face of “new” atheism. They are encouraged by people like Dawkins and Harris not only to despise Christianity, but also to disrespect Christians. It is a sad situation: to spend all day, every single day, for month after month, posting abuse on the Internet. What a bad deal they offer, and what a bad deal they took: To replace love of your neighbour for the abuse of atheism.

Photo: Lawrence OP


I didn’t know much about the earliest sources for the New Testament, and so I went to find out. Here are a quick ten:

1. Rylands Library Papyrus I: P52 (117-138AD)

This is the earliest fragment from the New Testament. It is named P52, and dates back to 117-138 AD. It contains parts of John 18:31-33 and John 18:37-38 on the back, which talk about Jesus trial.

2. A few verses of Philemon: P87 (125 AD)

P87 is dated by at around 125AD. It contains Philemon 13-15 (of Paul saying that he is sending back the former slave Onesimus as a brother) as well as the epilogue (v24-25).

Papyrus 87, recto

3. Oxyrhynchus papyrus 2683: P77 (150 AD)

This papyrus is named P77 and contains Matthew 23:30-39.

4. Chester Beatty Papyrus I: P45 (150 AD)

This manuscript, known as P45, contains sections of all four gospels and also Acts. including Matthew 20-21 and 25-26; Mark 4-9 and 11-12; Luke 6-7 and 9-14; John 4-5 and 10-11; and Acts 4-17.

You might be wondering why a papyrus is named ‘Chester Beatty’. Apparently these were purchased from a dealer in Egypt by Chester Beatty in the 1930’s. There’s three of these papyri: P45, P46 (below) and P47 (containing Revelations 9-17) .

5. Chester Beatty Papyrus II: P46 (150 AD)

This manuscript, P46, contains most Paul’s letters: the majority of Romans; Hebrews; 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Ephesians, Galatians, Philippians, Colossians; and two chapters of 1 Thessalonians. Although usually dated around 150-200 AD, it is written in a handwriting which has only ever been found in first century manuscripts, and so some people (eg. Young Kyu Kim) suggest it could be much earlier.

A folio from P46 containing 2 Corinthians 11:33-12:9

6. The Magdalen papyrus: P4/P64/P67 (175 AD)

These papyri apparently go together, and contain portions of Matthew and Luke. Their name, ‘Magdalen’ is from an Oxford college that they originally lived, even though they were discovered in Luxor, Egypt. Apparently P4 was found stuffed in the binding of a codex of Philo.

7. Bodmer Papyrus II: P66 (175 AD)

P66 contains a nearly complete gospel of John. It is the oldest of the Bodmer papyri, a set of 22 papyri which were discovered in Egypt in 1952. Buying New Testament papyri seems a good way to become famous, because they are named after Martin Bodmer who originally purchased them.

8. Bodmer XIV and XV: P75 (200 AD)

This early third century manuscript contains almost all of Luke, and also of John. You can find almost 100 images of it online.

9. Oxyrhynchus Papyrus 2: P1 (200 AD)

P1, fittingly contains Matthew 1. This is one of many parchments which have been found in the rubbish dumps of Oxyrhychus, Egypt. Their discovery began in 1898, uncovering not only early Christian text, but all sorts of ancient literature. Now there are over 50 New Testament manuscripts from this site.

10. Oxyrhynchus Papyrus 4446: P104 (125-150 AD)

And last but not least, P104, was another Oxyrhynchus piece of rubbish, which is now one of the more valuable pieces of rubbish in the world, because contains part of Jesus parable in Matthew 21.

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Jesus is God, man.

December 17, 2009

How can a Christian understand Jesus? How can Jesus be both man and God at the same time? As the church spread East into Asia, this question became one of great importance. The church was split into two main camps: The Nestorians, and the Monophysites. It all sounds like Syriac to me, so I had to look up what these terms meant.

This is the belief that Jesus existed as two separate persons. One of them is divine – the Son of God. The other is human.

It is somewhat ironic that Nestorius (a preacher at Antioch, and the bishop of Constantinople in 428) probably never taught this.

On this view, Jesus had only one nature. It wasn’t a fully divine nature, and it wasn’t a fully human nature. Instead it is a combination of the two: like a mixture of ink and water, so that the elements of both natures are modified to create a new one.

Standard Christian View
Just in case you’re wondering, the standard Christian view, for protestants, Catholics and Orthodox is to affirm that Jesus one person, who is truly God and truly man. This was spelled out by the leaders of the church who met together in 451 near Constantinople, in Chalcedon. Unlike the Nestorians, the church leaders said that Jesus was only one person,

Indivisibly, inseparably… concurring in one person and one subsistence, not parted or divided into two persons.

And unlike the Monophysites, they said that Jesus had two natures:

to be acknowledged in two natures, inconfusedly, unchangeably… the distinction of the natures being preserved.

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Massacre at Najran

December 15, 2009

In the year 523, Christianity was not only expanding West into Europe, but also East to Rome’s nemesis Persia and eventually even to China. This was before the rise of Islam. In Arabia Christianity reached present day Yemen, where the Jewish convert and king Dhu Nuwas ruled.

Many of the people living in the town of Najran had become Monophysite Christians around the year 500. Conflict between the Jewish and Christian groups started and quickly intensified: Extortionate taxation was imposed by the Jewish authorities, Christians responded by burning synagogues and Jews burnt churches. The Christian minority even appealed to Christian Aksumite empire for help, who ruled just across the strait in Ethiopia. Despite their successful appeal to their African neighbours the Christians of Najran suffered a series of bloody atrocities.

When Dhu Nuwas invaded the Najran, he demanded the people abandon Christianity. They refused. It is said that the resulting massacre lasted for days. Pits were dug, filled with flammable material, and Christians were thrown into the flames.

The Book of Himyarites reports that one Najran man met the conquering army on the road. When they asked him “Are you a Christian?”, he replied “Yes”. For this offence they cut off his right hand, before asking him again, “Are you a Christian?” Again he replied “Yes” and so they cut off his left hand. “Now, are you still a Christian?” they asked. He replied “Yes, in life and death I am a Christian”. They cut off his feet and left him to die, still a Christian.

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Kenneth MillerThere an interesting article written on June 10, by biologist Kenneth Miller which is relevant to the relationship between science and religion. He hits back at Jerry Coyne who has been publicly both misrepresenting and critisizing him.

Kenneth Miller is a catholic and a well known critic of intelligent design. But apparently for the atheist Coyne that’s not enough. Coyne is vitriolic at anyone scientist considering philosophical or theological issues, apparently unless that is done in favour of atheism. As Miller elloquently puts it: “The tragedy of Coyne’s argument is the way in which it seeks to enlist science in a frankly philosophical crusade — a campaign to purge science of religionists in the name of doctrinal purity. ”

Throughout his vision of the relationship between science and religion was clear:

The true vow of a scientist is to practice honest and open empiricism in every aspect of his scientific work. That vow does not preclude the scientist from stepping back, acknowledging the limitations of scientific knowledge, and asking the deeper questions of why we are here, and whether existence has a purpose. Those questions are genuine and important, even if they are not scientific ones, and I believe they are worth answering.

Check it out here.

Alpha OmegaYesterday William Lane Craig’s debate appeared on youtube, and he repeated some of this at a lecture in Cambridge. In it he offered a particular picture of how God relates to people, and God’s possible motives for allowing evil in the world. Specifically, he suggested that this world is the one in which most people can come to find God. It is an answer, but is it the right answer?

Alpha and Omega ministries say no. Check it out.

Hitchens and Craig had a recent debate at Biola University. For anyone who doesn’t know, Hitchens is the author of “God is not Great”, in which he explains why he thinks that religion is responsible for a large amount of the evil in the world. William Lane Craig is a philsopher and Christian apologist who has debated (and won) against many of the world’s most prominent anti-Christian thinkers. So this was a very anticipated debate.

According to even the atheist blogosphere, Craig won. You can find an interesting analysis of the debate here.

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