Monday, November 30, 2009

The Faith - Chapter 1

I bought my mom and dad two of Ken Miller's books, Finding Darwin's God and Only A Theory. My mom read both of them and enjoyed Finding Darwin's God. A few days ago she said I owed her two books since she read the two I bought. She gave me the first one, Charles Colson's The Faith. I am going to read it and go over it here in my blog.

Any quotes from the book will be used in accordance with the Fair Use Copyright Laws of America.

Chapter 1 is titled "Everywhere, Always, By All"

"What we witnessed at Nickel Mines and in the times of the Roman plagues is true Christianity - sacrificial love, concern for all people, forgiveness and reconciliation, evil overcome by good. These two examples, drawn from thousands I might have selected, represent signs from the Kingdom of God announced by Jesus and lived by his followers to this day."

Well that sounds all fluffy and nice. Upon further inspection though it just doesn't stand up. First off what the victims of Nickel Mine did was amazing but not unprecedented or limited to Christianity only. In my comments over the prologue, I showed a quick search of Google can find hundreds and thousands of cases of victims doing the same all over the world. Forgiveness and reconciliation are not the sole property or domain of Christianity. Forgiveness is taught by most religions, several whose origin is well before Christianity.

Second the story of the Christians in ancient Rome, was something Colson just made up. He had no evidence to back up anything he wrote. Colson does not have a degree in history, he is a lawyer. So his story at best is a wild fantasy of his own imagination. He then claims it is one of the most compelling stories he could come up with from thousands of stories. I really would hate to see how bad of an argument these other stories make.

His unsubstantiated claim of thousands of stories is just that unsubstantiated. It reminds of Paul of Tarsus claiming that over 500 people witnessed a risen Jesus (1 Corinthians 15:6). He gives no names or anyway to back up the claim but he throws it out there like it is convincing. Just naming a large number without giving us any way to look it up is not proof. I can claim that 500 people witnessed me flying like superman, but that does nothing to persuade you. You would want to see it yourself and talk to every individual, in other words more evidence than just the word of the one making the extraordinary claim.

Colson admits that not all Christians have lived up to forgiveness and love but he blames this on the fallen nature of humans. He also claims that "the Christian Church and the truth it defends are the most powerful life- and culture-changing forces in human history" and that the truth "has been tested and proven true over two thousand years." He does not define truth here. He just simply asserts that Christianity has some truth that has been proven over and over again. He never actually says what this truth is. I believe he is planning on stating the "truth" over the course of the book, so I am not going to harp on it too much here. It would just be nice that if you make a claim one can look it up and see if you are telling the truth, instead of just mentioning some nebulous word without defining it.

The next part of the Chapter is about Colson and his bigotry. He is visiting St. Paul's cathedral in London and is shocked to hear the gospel being preached there. The Church of England is just the Catholic Church without the Pope so it can't possibly be Christian or preach the gospel, that is never stated directly here but the fact he is shocked that the "Gospel" is being preached in a church is evidence enough.

The next part is more made up stories by Colson. He calls it a time-travelers view of Christianity. In it he picks 5 random times and places to 'observe' Christianity. Starting with 37 AD in Jerusalem, where "these new Christians are hard to distinguish from a branch of Judaism. They simply identify the Jewish teaching about the Messiah, the Son of Man, with Jesus of Nazareth. These Christians are mostly drawn from the ranks of tradesmen and laborers. They have large families, and their faith is marked by celebrations and by helping one another face life's material challenges." A comment like that should have some sort of foot note on where he researched and learned about what life was like in the 1st century, but there is none. Instead Chuck just pulled this all out of his ass. This doesn't even follow with what the Bible says about the life of the early Christians. Apparently there were many false prophets (Acts 8:9-25), the believers were quite communistic and shared all their property together (Acts 4:32-37), and they often separated themselves from the Jews in meaningful ways (Acts 10:9-23). I really have nothing nice to say about Colson for this deliberate and meaningful misrepresentation of Christianity that is so easily refuted by the Bible he claims to be talking about.

Next, he chose 325 AD and the First Council of Nicaea. He does get a few things right here. He says that the people are no longer only Jewish but from all over the Mediterranean, that they have some writings together called the "New Testament" (they had the writings, they were not canon but were treated as such, and they were not called the "New Testament"), and that most of the church leaders were celibate.

It is off to the Irish monks of the 7th Century, no specific date given here but this would be the period known as Celtic Christianity. He claims that the monks would pray with their arms outstretched to resemble a cross. The only thing I can really find on this is St. Dominic's nine ways of prayer which would have been in the 13th century not the 7th. It could have started well before what I found though. Colson also speaks of how the Irish monks sailed to Scotland where "they will call the Scottish clans to exchange their nature worship and bloody practices for the joys of heaven." Scotland is surrounded in mythology from that particular period, much like Ireland. I will quote Wikipedia on Scotland's early Christianity:

"The story of early Christianity in Scotland is as obscure as it is in Ireland. The earliest missionaries are traditionally Saint Ninian and Saint Columba. Ninian himself is now regarded as largely a construct of the Northumbrian church, after the Bernician takeover of Whithorn and conquest of southern Galloway. The name itself is a scribal corruption of Uinniau ('n's and 'u's look almost identical in early insular calligraphy), a saint of probable British extraction who is also known by the Gaelic equivalent of his name, Finnian. St Columba, the most important saint of medieval Scots, was certainly Uinniau's disciple. However, the earliest evidence of Christianity in northern Britain predates the respective floruit of either missionary. We can be sure that at least all of northern Britain, except the Scandinavian far north and west was Christian by the tenth century. The most important factors for the conversion of Scotland were the Roman province of Britannia to the south, and later the so-called Gaelic or Celtic Christianity, an interlinked system of monasteries and aristocratic networks which combined to spread both Christianity and the Gaelic language amongst the Picts."

Chuck then takes us to "one of the great English missionary societies of the 1840's." Colson claims these societies funded mission trips to the Far East, Oceania and Africa, which is true. Colson puts forth the idea of the Protestant work ethic helped push the Industrial revolution. This idea was put forth originally by Max Weber. The idea has many critics.

Finally, we go to 1980 Lagos, Nigeria to talk very little about the pentecostal churches that have sprung up there. I think there is a good reason not to talk about them, these are the churches that are killing or excommunicating small children as witches. Yet we are supposed to see these churches as forces of good in the world. Colson even praises the Nigerian churches for "bringing the faith back to the West." If that is "the Faith" then Chuck can keep his sick, disgusting, homophobic, misogynistic, evil, killing church because I want nothing to do with it.

His next section blames aggressive atheism or "anti-theism" for all the problems of the church. Naming Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens and Chris Hedge in his rebuke. To the point of claiming that Dawkins is only doing it for the money ("Richard Dawkins, responsible for half of those sales, can attest to how lucrative attacking God has become.") Colson then follows that up with one of the most ludicrous statements I have ever read:

"These critics say we are trying to 'impose' our views on American life - that we want to create a 'theocracy,' or a government run by the Church. But this is absurd; theocracy is contrary to the most basic Christian teaching about free will and human freedom. Christianity gave the very idea of separation of Church and state to the West. And Christianity advances not by power or by conquest, but by love."

There are just so many things wrong with that statement, I could spend days covering it alone. The biggest thing is that it is all a lie, there is no truth in it at all.

Colson continues on in this vein, blaming postmodernism saying it claims that there is no such thing as truth. He also claims tolerance for others is diluting the truth. He also makes an appeal to authority by quoting President Eisenhower. He even goes to make some persecution claims from being called names (although "Poor, uneducated, and easily led." is a quite accurate description in my opinion).

To the end the chapter Colson claims that anti-theism and Islam are the greatest threats to Christianity, America (not trying to make the US a theocracy) and the World. He also claims that Christians just need to get back to their roots and everything will be fine. The rest of the book is supposed to be about Christianity's roots.


Anonymous said...

Hey Beamstalk -

Nice blog, intend to frequent it more, especially with the forthcoming reviews of Colson's book.
This may be off topic (and I apologize if it is), but - have you ever read 'The Language of God' by Francis Collins, and if so, what is your opinion of it?

Thank you.

- l.a.o.f.

BeamStalk said...

I have not read Collins' book. I have a huge stack of books I keep meaning to go through, but I could add it to my wish list. I have Ken Miller's books "Finding Darwin's God" and "Only A Theory" currently sitting in my pile of too read.

BeamStalk said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
pjstaley said...

You have touted Colson as having "no proof" multiple times in your blog. You are so intent on proving Colson wrong because you say that he has no proof, yet you expect readers to believe you without question. Where's your proof? Of anything you've said. . .where's your proof? You quoted from multiple books. . .where's their proof?

BeamStalk said...


Do you understand how proof works? First you have to make a claim, then you provide proof for that claim. The more extraordinary the claim the more extraordinary the proof must be also. If you or I make an extraordinary claim, like we flew to the moon, then it would be up to us to provide the proof for that. It is not up to the person denying our claim. You are trying to switch the burden of proof.

I have referenced and cited everything I use, you are free to look them up and follow their references. If you disagree with them feel free to say so, but you cannot claim I have not backed up my statements.

The only possible time you can, is where I called the statement:

"These critics say we are trying to 'impose' our views on American life - that we want to create a 'theocracy,' or a government run by the Church. But this is absurd; theocracy is contrary to the most basic Christian teaching about free will and human freedom. Christianity gave the very idea of separation of Church and state to the West. And Christianity advances not by power or by conquest, but by love."

I will back that up now. Article 11 of the Treaty of Tripoli:

"As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion"

You can look that up if you feel I am lying.

Also Separation of Church and State was started by Thomas Jefferson, who was quoted as saying:

"Millions of innocent men, women and children, since the introduction of Christianity, have been burnt, tortured, fined and imprisoned; yet we have not advanced one inch towards uniformity." - from Notes on Virgina 1782

"Christianity neither is, nor ever was a part of the common law." - letter to Dr. Thomas Cooper, February 10, 1814

"And the day will come when the mystical generation of Jesus, by the supreme being as his father in the womb of a virgin will be classed with the fable of the generation of Minerve in the brain of Jupiter. But may we hope that the dawn of reason and freedom of thought in these United States will do away with this artificial scaffolding, and restore to us the primitive and genuine doctrines of this most venerated reformer of human errors." - letter to John Adams, April 11, 1823

You can look all of these up. Jefferson's website has all his writings converted to digital copies.

BeamStalk said...

Or pjstaley, you could just do a hit and run and not have a discussion.