Hoisting Mittelberg By His Own Petard: The Authoritarian Path to Faith. Reviewing Mittelberg's "Confident Christianity" Part 8

I'm reviewing Mark Mittelberg's book Confident Faith. [See the "Mark Mittelberg" tag below for others]. Mittelberg discusses Six Paths of Faith in his book. In this post I"m going to write on the third path below: "Truth Is What You've Always Been Told You Must Believe".

1) The Relativistic Path: "Truth is Whatever Works for You"
2) The Traditional Faith Path: "Truth is What You've Always Been Taught"
3) The Authoritarian Faith Path: "Truth Is What You've Always Been Told You Must Believe"
4) The Intuitive Faith Path" "Truth Is What You Feel In Your Heart"
5) The Mystical Faith Path" "Truth Is What You Think God Told You"
6) The Evidential Faith Path: "Truth Is What Logic and Evidence Point To"

If you think #3 the Authoritarian Path of faith is the same as #2 the Traditional Path of faith, I'm with you. Still it probably deserves a separate chapter since they bring up different issues. Mittelberg distinguishes between them: The Traditional Path of faith (#2) is more of a religious tradition passed down to children from generation to generation that is passively received, whereas the Authoritarian path (#3) is based on "submission to a religious leader--past or present--and the ideas that leader holds up as the standard to live by." (p. 61) It's being required to believe authority figures. Being required to have "blind obedience" to "unquestioned authority" is bad, and very dangerous.

In most of his chapter Mittelberg discusses the characteristics (or virtues) of good leaders so we can spot them. "We should examine the life of the leader (or leaders) who represent our faith. This includes the founder as well as leaders currently at the helm," he says. (p. 70) He mentions four characteristics: 1) They are people of integrity. 2) They consistently live their lives according to their own teachings. 3) Their teachings will check out to be accurate and true. "Accuracy is critically important" he says. (p.71) 4) They also have an openness to questions and scrutiny.

Three Comments So Far

1) The need for authorities and experts. This chapter is about authorities in general, both leaders and experts. Mittelberg speaks of religious authorities, political authorities, medical authorities, educational authorities, and scientific authorities. In fact, "the list of important authorities in our lives could be expanded almost endlessly."(p. 66) We cannot live without them. "Can we even imagine a world without any authorities to lead, teach, coach or protect us? It would be one in which you'd have to become the expert on everything." So the "question is not if we'll be under authority, but which authorities we'll trust and respond to?" (p. 66) Trust! That is a key point. Who ya gonna trust? I'll address this important issue in a later post.

2) Integrity, consistency, accuracy and openness are four good virtues in leaders. This is especially true of religious leaders, the focus of his chapter, whose lives should exemplify these characteristics if they expect many followers. However, if you want to know the truth then only the truth matters. Only authorities who are accurate in what they teach matter. If your main goal is to belong to a community that offers us care and comfort, not so much. That's why people get into trouble who don't care that much for the truth when they join a religious group run by a charlatan charismatic leader.

3) In some circles the truth will almost always win out. If a scientist fabricated the results of a previous experiment when examining the results of a subsequent experiment of his, we would want to know. But if the results are fabricated, that scientist will almost always be found out by other experimenters, or scientists doing experiments based on the results of his. That's a big difference when it comes to science. Scientific dishonesty will be caught. Religious dishonesty not so much, and sometimes maybe never at all.

Testing Jesus and the Church Against These Virtues.

Mittelberg proceeds by warning readers against death cult leaders like Jim Jones and David Koresh, along with Joseph Smith, the lying, womanizing, authoritarian founder of the Mormon church. He tests and effectively debunks the Mormon Church as a fraud at this point. Why are religionists so good at debunking all other religions but their own? They usually are. After reading and considering them I usually agree. They do the job for those of us who are nonbelievers. All we have to do is read and report the results. Until one religious faith can stand above the rest by resisting this intra-religious debunking, we can go about our way as nonbelievers. He should be consistent by using these four virtues to test the founder of his Christian faith long with the leaders at the helm. But he needs help. Because he's in very deep.

1) Testing the integrity of the founder of Christianity. This virtue us about living a life according to one's teachings. If leaders preach love, kindness and forgiveness they should exhibit those virtues in their lives: Mittelberg: "We should be wary of leaders who talk a good game but who don't play by the rules themselves" (p. 68). To make this point Jesus "actually taunted his critics and accusers, challenging them to point even one flaw or inconsistency in his life....But his critics and accusers were speechless." (p. 69, see John 8:46).

Well, his critics are silent no more, if they ever were (they were silenced instead!). Biblical scholar Dr. Hector Avalos does us all an excellent service with his book exposing the bad side of Jesus titled, The Bad Jesus: The Ethics of New Testament. Ethics. You can read a good introduction to it here by Dr. Avalos himself. It's a 461 page monster of a book telling us the rest of the story of the Jesus we find in the four gospels, the dark side, the raw side that biblical scholars try to whitewash over because they think Jesus deserves special treatment. Avalos takes off the blinders, forcing readers to see what Jesus was really like. Jesus is pictured as dictatorial authority reigning as a king in a theocracy over the kingdoms of the world.

My guess is that people won't like Jesus after reading his book. I don't. He's not a guy I would want living next to me, or being around my children, or writing a column in a magazine, or politically involved in America that's for sure. No one should. Let's even have done with the notion Jesus was an over-all good person. I would want little to do with him. You might too after reading this wonderfully researched, one-of-a-kind book on an essential issue in disabusing Christians of their faith.

In the future when someone says Jesus was sinless, respond by saying "Bad Jesus." If someone holds up Jesus as an example of a good life, hold up this book and say "Bad Jesus" in response. If someone asks, "What would Jesus do?," respond by asking them to read "Bad Jesus." It is the antidote to people who indefensibly think Jesus was a perfect human being. It is the corrective to believers who think we need a red-letter edition of the New Testament. It tells us the rest of the story, a story that most people and most Christians have never heard before.

Take for instance what Jesus says in Mark 7 to his opponents:
8 You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition.

9 Then he [Jesus] said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to keep your tradition! 10 For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘Whoever speaks evil of father or mother must surely die.’ 11 But you say that if anyone tells father or mother, ‘Whatever support you might have had from me is Corban’ (that is, an offering to God)— 12 then you no longer permit doing anything for a father or mother, 13 thus making void the word of God through your tradition that you have handed on. And you do many things like this.”
Here we see "Jesus believed recalcitrant children should be mercilessly executed!" For "Jesus himself calls the child execution business 'the commandment of God' and condemns the scribes for daring to replace it with their own ideas." --Dr. Robert Price and Michael Paulkovich, in Beyond The Crusades: Christianity's Lies, Law and Legacy American Atheist Press, 2016), pp. vii-ix, 328).

If that isn't bad enough, everything morally objectionable that was done and said by the God of the Old Testament, Jesus said and did. One can read of this barbaric Old Testament God in Dan Barker's excellent book, God: The Most Unpleasant Character in All Fiction. That's because the God of the Old Testament is one and the same the same being as the God of the New Testament due to the orthodox belief in a Trinitarian God (three persons, one being). Such an argument is fleshed out by biblical scholar Robert Price in Blaming Jesus for Jehovah: Rethinking the Righteousness of Christianity. Genocide? No problem. Racism? He was there. Slavery? He authorized it and regulated it. Killing children, gays, lesbians and nonbelievers? Just blame Jesus. Sexism and Misogyny? You know who!

So integrity? Jesus does not have it. Fail! Huge fail!

2) Testing the consistency of the leaders of the Church down through the centuries and those currently at the helm. By consistency Mittelberg means integrity that's "lived out over the long haul." Not just "for a season," but rather "integrity applied over time." (p. 69). So if the Church preaches love, kindness and forgiveness they should exhibit those virtues in their lives over the long haul. *Cough*

Consider the recent sex scandals and cover-up of Catholic Church priest molesters, which journalist William Lobdell recounted in his book, Losing My Religion: How I Lost My Faith Reporting on Religion in America and Found Unexpected Peace. Nathan Phelps, son of the late "God Hates Fags" Westboro Baptist Church Pastor, says of this scandal: "Considering the catastrophic harm of the Catholic Church over the last half-century, there is simply no justification for its continued existence." [See his chapter in my anthology, Christianity is Not Great.

But there are many church scandals, so many I feel at a loss to summarize them except to say you should read Michael Paulkovich's book Beyond The Crusades: Christianity's Lies, Law and Legacy (American Atheist Press, 2016), which provides "exhaustive evidence for the fraudulent origins of Christianity, ongoing lies and forgeries perpetrated by Christian leadership, and seemly endless atrocities committed in the name of Christ, as believers use their holy text even today to support their evil deeds." (p. iii).

I have written several posts tagged "Liars for Jesus" that document many lies by Christian church people.

And I wrote a whole chapter titled, "When All Else Fails Lie" for my book, How to Defend the Christian Faith: Advice from an Atheist. Here is an except:
Christians have lied so much in defense of their faith that even if Christianity is true there just isn’t a good reason to believe it. Scholars have noticed so many lies that we can even wonder whether there is much truth to it at all. We wouldn’t believe a known liar who tells us something strange but true, would we? Why? Because he’s already established himself as a liar. Like the shepherd boy in Aesop’s Fables who repeatedly lied to villagers about a wolf attacking his flock of sheep, the villagers did not believe him when it finally turned out he was telling the truth, so the wolf eats the boy and his sheep.

“‘You are my witnesses,’ says Yahweh” (Isaiah 43:10). Jesus even prayed that based on the Christian witness the world would know God sent him (John 17:20–23). I think it’s demonstrably the case that his prayer has never been fulfilled. It’s exceedingly probable it will never be fulfilled in the future either. Even if it will be answered in the future it doesn’t change the fact that people all over the world have been sent to hell (however conceived) because it hasn’t been answered yet. Christians are not credible witnesses. You’d think if the credibility of what they believe is on the line then their God would do something about this. But he doesn’t do anything discernible at all. So let’s rehearse some of the facts to see what you as an impartial judge, an outsider, would say.
And I do. I talk about forged texts, forged relics, fabricated discoveries, and several cases like Bill Weise, Alex and Kevin Malarkey, Roy Varghese, Bob Hostetler, Timothy Keller, and even William Lane Craig.

Then I quoted from a blogger friend named sir_russ on my blog:
Christians cannot be trusted concerning miracles, but that’s to be expected since they lie about everything else associated with their religion. Christians lie about church attendance. Christians lie about reading the Bible. Christians lie about how much money they give to their churches. Christians lie about so much that every Christian miracle claim should be dismissed out of hand.

Realize that the Christians who tell so many lies concerning their religion today live in the information age when empircism and data analysis techniques can reveal their lies. Those who wrote the Bible lived at a time when no one could check up on their lies. We have no reason to believe in Christian miracles today, and we sure as hell have no reason to believe the drivel in the Bible. When one fucks up the simple stuff like the Earth orbiting the Sun and the make believe of Adam and Eve, and then continues to teach it to children as fact for centuries, they get no additional opportunities to bamboozle and defraud us. Credibility is shot.
Even that isn't the kicker, for I close by saying:
If God cannot do anything to counter the effect of these lies then that makes no difference at all. Even if it’s not God’s fault it still falsifies Christianity. Even if it’s not the fault of good honest Christians who would never tell a lie, it still falsifies Christianity. And since that’s the case a reasonable God should know that reasonable people cannot believe. He would know the credibility of his demand to believe has been shot through and through with no hopes of being revived short of a set of miracles for the whole world to see.
So having a consistent integrity? The Church does not have it. Fail! Huge fail!

3) Testing the accuracy of the founder of Christianity as well as leaders currently at the helm. The leader's teaching "must be (1) true to the world; (2) true to the leader's own words; and ultimately, (3) true to God's words" (p. 71) in "the Bible" (p. 74) Then quoting from a gospel, Mittelberg tells us "Jesus said it like this: 'If you don't believe me when I tell you about earthly things, how can you possibly believe if I tell you about heavenly things.'" (John 3:12, New Living Translation used by Mittelberg). Mittelberg goes on in a footnote to quote Norman Geisler and Ron Brooks, who said of this verse: "Jesus expected His accuracy in factually testable matters to be proof that He was telling the truth about spiritual matters that cannot be trusted." (When Skeptics Ask, p. 148).

Factual accuracy in earthly matters? Creation on the fourth day. Creationism. The existence of Adam and Eve, with original sin and it's implications, about which Robert Price and Edwin Suominen's book, Evolving out of Eden is required reading. The Mosaic authorship. The Jonah tale. The mustard seed. Hell as punishment for non-belief. So many, so little space.

One of the best books on these types of factual inaccuracies is by Paul Tobin called, The Rejection of Pascal's Wager: A Skeptic's Guide to the Bible and the Historical Jesus. In it he finds the nativity stories in Matthew and Luke to be riddled with factual inaccuracies. Catholic theologian Uta Ranke-Heinemann agrees in her book, Putting Away Childish Things: The Virgin Birth, the Empty Tomb, and Other Fairy Tales You Don’t Need to Believe to Have a Living Faith. After she convincingly showed the nativity tale in the Gospel of Luke contains too many historical inaccuracies, discrepancies and incorrect dates to think the story of the baby Jesus could be true, she said:
If we wish to continue seeing Luke’s accounts of angelic messages and so forth, as historical events, we’d have to take a large leap of faith: We’d have to assume that while on verifiable matters of historical fact Luke tells all sorts of fairy tales but on supernatural matters—which by definition can never be checked—he simply reports the facts. By his arbitrary treatment of history, Luke has shown himself to be an unhistorical reporter—a teller of fairy tales.” [p. 14]
But with the Norman Geisler and Ron Brooks quote above, if Luke is wrong on these factual matters there's no reason to believe him when he writes about "spiritual" matters.

There is the factual inaccuracy of a flat earth sitting at the center of the universe in the Bible. Why is it God, supposedly the creator of the universe, didn't know the earth was round and not the center of the universe? Edward Babinski's chapter in The Christian Delusion shows this inaccuracy decisively. Failed prophecy is one of the most important relevant inaccuracies in both the Bible and the Church. Paul Tobin wrote a nice chapter of them for the The Christian Delusion. The most important failed prophecy is the New Testament prediction of the return of Jesus within the lifetime of his generation, about which I wrote a chapter on it for The Christian Delusion, titled, "At Best Jesus Was a Failed Doomsday Prophet."

So accuracy? Neither Jesus nor the Church have it. Fail! Huge fail!

4) Testing the openness of the founder of Christianity as well as leaders currently at the helm.

We can see how the god of the Bible responds when questioned. Just consider that god's response to Job in chapters 38-41. He wasn't happy but very threatening, to say the least. This angry god also comes out in force through the prophets against people who disagreed with him about traditions, sacrifices, truth and even whom to worship. Questioning him would get you killed.

I can understand not being able to challenge Jesus given how he's portrayed in the gospels. After all, he's presented as kingly royalty in Matthew's gospel, which in those days you didn't challenge without loss of life. In Mark's gospel Jesus is presented as a divinely called suffering servant (cf. Isaiah 53), and in those days you didn't mess with a divine servant without incurring the wrath of his master. In the gospel of Luke, Jesus is presented as fulfilling the promised reign of God (4:16-22; "the kingdom is in your midst" 17:21), and one doesn't call into question someone like that without challenging his God. In the gospel of John, Jesus is presented as God in the flesh, someone no one can question.

About Jesus it's hard to assess his openness to questioning, because when questioned, he always had the last word, which is something that never happens in any real religious debate I've ever seen. Jesus is presented in the gospels as having all the answers, something charismatic cult leaders seem to do to impress their followers. It's just that his opponents are not given the chance to respond, so the Gospels writers were not open to different opinions, that's for sure.

Take for instance the Catholic Church. It should open it's archives today, all of them, about their origins, their fiances over the centuries (after all, follow the money), and the current sex scandals that should've shut it down for starters. So the Mormon church should follow suit, and the church of Scientology, and the rest of them, even individual churches, all of them. They should doggedly pursue dishonest Christians who claim credentials they never earned, like Ravi Zacharias. If this pursuit for openness was followed, I don't think any religion or religious organization would survive.

There are financial scandals, cover-ups, hush money paid to prostitutes and to victims of rape. The stories abound and are reported by Hemant Mehta, the Friendly Atheist.

Do Mark Mittelberg and Lee Strobel exhibit openness? Since this issue was raised by Mittelberg himself, are they open to questions and challenges? It's a test of an authority figure that Mittelberg himself argues for: "The leader or organization worth following will not resist scrutiny in the areas we just discussed: integrity, consistency, and accuracy. Openness is an important component of integrity. (p. 75) In his own words,
...the kind of openness and humility I'm talking about are often not exhibited by religious leaders and organizations...They might put on a positive exterior, but when you start to ask too many questions or probe too deeply, that surface level sweetness can quickly disappear as their defenses go up. Some even become hostile and threaten challengers with litigation or physical threats. Whether their resistance is overt or a more benign neglect of your questions and your desire to test their authority, if you find a persistent lack of openness, red flags should go up in your mind.
Then this: "Authorities worth following are not afraid of questions." (p. 76)

Lee Strobel just released a new book, The Case for Miracles: A Journalist Investigates Evidence for the Supernatural, and tweeted a blurb by Josh McDowell. I replied with a Tweet, asking if he deals with David Hand's book, The Improbability Principle: Why Coincidences, Miracles, and Rare Events Happen Every Day. Silence was the answer I received. I doubt he did, nor that he will address it, but it more than sufficiently destroys these types of miracle claims.

I was near Houston, Texas, last year at this time. So I emailed both Mittelberg and Strobel, asking if we could talk and possibly put on a debate together while I was in the area. They know me, as I said. But neither one responded. Now with my review of Mittelberg's book he has a chance to show he's not afraid of any questions, since I have invited him to respond and discuss it. I sincerely hope he doesn't play the hypocrite, I really do. But if he does, use his own words against him. If he thinks I'm not worth his time, then that's his brain deceiving him. I'll let my arguments do the convincing here. If his friend Lee Strobel is saying "Don't respond." "Don't respond." Strobel is asking him to go against his own words. He may have just hoisted himself by his own petard, if he doesn't.

So openness? Neither Jesus nor the Church have it. Fail! Huge fail!

In a forthcoming post I'll help readers by answering the important question, "How can we decide between experts", something Mittelberg didn't try to answer.