The First Thanksgiving Proclamation, 1777

“The first Thanksgiving Proclamation was issued by the revolutionary
Continental Congress on November 1, 1777. Authored by Samuel Adams [yes the brewer and also a very devout Christian], it was one sentence of 360 words, which read in part:

“Forasmuch as it is the indispensable duty of all men to adore the superintending providence of Almighty God; to acknowledge with gratitude their obligation to him for benefits received…together with penitent confession of their sins, whereby they had forfeited every favor; and their humble and earnest supplications that it may please God through the merits of Jesus Christ, mercifully to forgive and blot them out of remembrance…it is therefore recommended…to set apart Thursday the eighteenth day of December next, for solemn thanksgiving and praise, that with one heart and one voice the good people may express the grateful feeling of their hearts and consecrate themselves to the service of their Divine Benefactor…acknowledging with gratitude their obligations to Him for benefits received….To prosper the means of religion, for the promotion and enlargement of that kingdom which consisteth  ‘in righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Ghost’.”

— HT: Ben Witherington

Hope everyone has a blessed Thanksgiving!

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On Doing Your Homework before Critiquing

Several commenters were surprised by Michael Ruse’s judgment of the overall quality of the New Atheist’s argumentation, which I referenced in a recent post.  This was the meat of Ruse’s rebuke:

But I think first that these people do a disservice to scholarship. Their treatment of the religious viewpoint is pathetic to the point of non-being. Richard Dawkins in The God Delusion would fail any introductory philosophy or religion course. Proudly he criticizes that whereof he knows nothing. As I have said elsewhere, for the first time in my life, I felt sorry for the ontological argument. If we criticized gene theory with as little knowledge as Dawkins has of religion and philosophy, he would be rightly indignant. . . . Conversely, I am indignant at the poor quality of the argumentation in Dawkins, Dennett, Hitchens, and all of the others in that group.

Similarly, Terry Eagleton in the London Review of Books surmised,

Imagine someone holding forth on biology whose only knowledge of the subject is the Book of British Birds, and you have a rough idea of what it feels like to read Richard Dawkins on theology. Card-carrying rationalists like Dawkins, who is the nearest thing to a professional atheist we have had since Bertrand Russell, are in one sense the least well-equipped to understand what they castigate, since they don’t believe there is anything there to be understood, or at least anything worth understanding. This is why they invariably come up with vulgar caricatures of religious faith that would make a first-year theology student wince. The more they detest religion, the more ill-informed their criticisms of it tend to be. If they were asked to pass judgment on phenomenology or the geopolitics of South Asia, they would no doubt bone up on the question as assiduously as they could. When it comes to theology, however, any shoddy old travesty will pass muster.

And Roman Catholic theologian John Haught observes in a Salon interview,

My chief objection to the new atheists is that they are almost completely ignorant of what’s going on in the world of theology. They talk about the most fundamentalist and extremist versions of faith, and they hold these up as though they’re the normative, central core of faith. And they miss so many things. They miss the moral core of Judaism and Christianity — the theme of social justice, which takes those who are marginalized and brings them to the center of society. They give us an extreme caricature of faith and religion.

Rather than spelling out the details here of where the New Atheists often go wrong—at least in relation to arguments for God’s existence—I highly recommend William Lane Craig’s recent article on that topic available here.  An informative (and technical) exchange between Craig and Daniel Dennett on arguments for God’s existence is available on audio here.

Speaking in a different context, but applicable to those authors mentioned above (who are obviously intelligent and capable, but lacking in this area), Ben Witherington writes:

Might I suggest that before you go pontificating on matters about which you are ill informed, that you do a little research first? . . . I suggest you . . .  [not write] again until you have something well-informed, carefully researched, peer-reviewed, and of general value to the public to say.

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World’s Oldest Temple Discovered

New Testament scholar Ben Witherington reports on the discovery of an 11,500 year old temple complex being excavated in Eastern Turkey.  The complex predates the pyramids by 7,000 years and Stonehenge by 6,000 years.  In addition,

This temple lies west of the Biblical plain called Haran and is only 20 miles from the Syrian border. . . . This is the world not only of Genesis, but of the great Anatolian civilization of the Hittites (yes those Hittites as in Uriah the Hittite — husband of Bathsheba).  In short, if you are wondering if this is important to understand the OT, wonder no longer.  It is.

Klaus Schmidt is heading up the dig, and Newsweek describes his views on the site:

Schmidt’s thesis is simple and bold: it was the urge to worship that brought mankind together in the very first urban conglomerations. The need to build and maintain this temple, he says, drove the builders to seek stable food sources, like grains and animals that could be domesticated, and then to settle down to guard their new way of life. The temple begat the city.

Witherington describes the relevance of the findings for both Christian theology and ancient history.

The importance of this find for Biblical thinking is this — the Bible says that from the outset, human beings were created in God’s image.  Human beings were religious creatures from Day One.  Archaeologists and sociologists have long dismissed this theory saying organized religion comes much later in the game than the beginning of civilization and city building.  As  Ian Holder director of Stanford’s prestigious archaeology program says — this is a game changer. Indeed, it changes everything experts in the Neolithic era have been thinking.   Schmidt is saying that religion is the cause of civilization, not the result of it. Towns were built to be near the Temple complex. Agriculture was undertaken to feed those living there and supply the temple complex, and so on. The first instincts of humans were to put religion first. Maybe there is more to that Genesis story than some have been willing to think or admit. Maybe human beings are inherently homo religiosis.

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Ben Witherington Critiques Bart Ehrman

New Testament scholar Ben Witherington has begun a series of posts at his blog critiquing Bart Ehrman’s latest book, Jesus, InterruptedPart one covers chapters 1 and 2; Part two covers pages 61-75 (this will likely become a lengthy critique).  He brings his considerable expertise in New Testament studies to bear on Ehrman’s hyperbolic (in my view) claims.  An excerpt:

One of the problems however with some of Bart’s popular work, including this book, is that it does not follow the age old adage— “before you boil down, you need to have first boiled it up”. By this I mean Bart Ehrman, so far as I can see, and I would be glad to be proved wrong about this fact, has never done the necessary laboring in the scholarly vineyard to be in a position to write a book like Jesus, Interrupted from a position of long study and knowledge of New Testament Studies. He has never written a scholarly monograph on NT theology or exegesis. He has never written a scholarly commentary on any New Testament book whatsoever! His area of expertise is in textual criticism, and he has certainly written works like The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture, which have been variously reviewed, not to mention severely critiqued by other textual critics such as Gordon D. Fee, and his own mentor Bruce Metzger (whom I also did some study with). He is thus, in the guild of the Society of Biblical Literature a specialist in text criticism, but even in this realm he does not represent what might be called a majority view on such matters. It is understandable how a textual critic might write a book like Misquoting Jesus, on the basis of long study of the underpinnings of textual criticism and its history and praxis. It is mystifying however why he would attempt to write a book like Jesus, Interrupted which frankly reflect no in-depth interaction at all with exegetes, theologians, and even most historians of the NT period of whatever faith or no faith at all. A quick perusal of the footnotes to this book, reveal mostly cross-references to Ehrman’s earlier popular works, with a few exceptions sprinkled in—for example Raymond Brown and E.P Sanders, the former long dead, the latter long retired. What is especially telling and odd about this is Bart does not much reflect a knowledge of the exegetical or historical study of the text in the last thirty years. It’s as if he is basing his judgments on things he read whilst in Princeton Seminary. And that was a long time ago frankly.

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