Regarding the Bible

 Raul654 [GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0

Raul654 [GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0

 

20.) Why are Churches filled with riches when Jesus asked his followers to give their wealth away? 

  

This is a common misunderstanding and the answer is simple. Jesus didn’t tell his followers to give all their wealth away. We are commanded to not be lovers of money but that does not mean that we are to give everything away and be penniless street people. In fact, throughout the Bible the righteous man is pictured as prosperous man who is blessed in all he does. This does not mean, however, that the faithful will always be rich. Simply that they will be blessed. For some that is financial for some that is family and children, for some that is influence, for some that is ministry impact, and so forth.  We are told that the wise man saves and cares for his family and his children and his children’s children. James tells us that there are those who are rich in the church and the problem is not that they are rich but that they are seeking favoritism.  

  

So, the simple answer is that there will be some who are poor and some who are rich and everything in between within the church and Christians are never commanded to be poor. However, if someone hoards wealth and refuses to use what God has blessed them with to help the poor or to help the orphan and the widow and to use what God has given them wisely and as a good steward over it, then they are in sin. Does Swan know that Christians don’t think that everyone in the church is without sin?  

The question is almost laughable if one were to drive around a city and look at the average corner church. When compared to, say, the average library or civic center, the level of wealth in churches on average is distinctly small. This dwindles further when one takes in the scope of churches worldwide. On the average, Christians universally are quite poor, and their meeting places are meager and often secret. This phenomena of accumulation of wealth within a particular church setting is unique to Europe and America. 

Both Europe and America are distinctly wealthy regions when compared to the global community. Europe's Christian heritage reaches back to the late Roman empire, and given the rise and prominence of Christianity in those regions – which only began dwindling within recent history – it should not be entirely surprising that a great deal of the art and wealth was poured into these institutions. This is especially true if one considers the fact that – for centuries – the church was an institution that functioned hand-in-hand with the government of the time. The church supported the government and vice-versa, such that the state allotted finances poured wealth into the church. 

The Christian Heritage of America reaches back to its colonial foundations.  

The primary answer to this question is that any institution which may be leveraged to give one power is an institution which will be abused to that end. It is beyond question that many a church leader has arisen who used the spiritual authority of their station as a means for personal gain. This neither makes it right or representative of the Christian faith – as pointed out in the question itself.  

Simply put: not every action done in the name of God actually represents the will of God. And the vast majority of churches are far from wealthy – it is only the few that are which tend to gain attention. 

Both of these statements are wrong. Most churches actually aren't filled with riches. Really if you look at the budgets of most churches and the financial situation of most church members, it's all pretty ordinary, and skating by paycheck to paycheck month to month.

 

Similarly, Jesus never commanded his disciples to give their wealth away. Yes he taught that it is difficult to honor God when you're living for money, but the issue is that it's okay to have money as long as you don't let your money have you. The Bible is packed full of people who had wealth. Godly people who had wealth. Godly people who had wealth that was given to them as a Blessing by God because of their godliness. Likewise, if you are to follow the wisdom and advice in the Book of Proverbs you're going to get wealthy. Also, in the New Testament we find multiple wealthy people coming to Christ and not being commanded to give it all away.

 

Most people pull this notion out of one encounter that Jesus had with one specific person, where Jesus gave a specific message to that specific person because of his specific situation. There's nothing in the text that says Jesus’ words to that one man are supposed to apply to everyone universally.

      My first response if asked this would be to ask where Jesus said anything like that. In asking this it puts the burden of proof back on the one asking. Perhaps they will investigate the Bible a bit on their own before asking hypotheticals that they haven’t researched on their own. With that said the question actually seems the story found in 3 of the Gospels where Jesus tells the “rich young ruler” that he must go and sell what he has to obtain the kingdom of God. While at first this may seem like an instruction for follows when Jesus follows it up with “Children, how difficult it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.”. Jesus was using hyperbole to make a point. The lesson was not about wealth but rather about the condition of a person’s heart.  In addition, this does not serve as guidance for the modern church. To combine these two ideas as they are in this question only creates a non-sequitur. Likely the real issue at hand may be how the questioner feels about religious institutions or how they feel about religious figures that appear to abuse money. Asking questions to draw out these issues my help get to the heart of the matter rather than delving into the scriptural and logical problem with the question.

21.) While in the desert, Jesus rejected the temptations of the Devil. He didn't censor or kill the Devil, so why are Christians so in favor of censoring or condemning many Earthly temptations? 

  

Jesus also cast the devil from heaven, bound him while on earth, and told him to be silent and get behind him (a euphemism for “get out of here!”). Swan is here simply engaged in a kind of selection fallacy where he is selecting one verse (and skewing it at that) while ignoring all other data that relates to the question.  

 This question seems like a stretch – taking one particular Biblical story and generalizing it to all Christian behavior across society. Possibly it's worth mentioning that, when Peter tried to forbid Jesus from going up to Jerusalem to die, Jesus did condemn/censor him, saying "Get behind me, Satan!" 

While Swan did not provide specifics as to which acts of condemnation or censorship he is referring, the examples which come to mind are those of pornography or portrayals of violence in the media. When it comes to instances like this, often Christians are operating as private citizens using their government-given voice in order to prevent what they see as harm in the world around them. Certainly their politics are going to be informed to some extent by their Christianity, but this does not prevent them as citizens of the state from wishing to make the world, as they see it, a better place. There exist studies and statistics which may indicate that things like violence in the media and extensive access to pornography can be harmful to children and so forth, so these views are not entirely illusory.  

One may even argue that the objectification of women and the glorification of violence are not so much the temptation toward sin, but rather the act of sin.  

Whatever the case, the argument that a Christian should not exercise whatever opportunities they have in order to reduce the availability of temptation in the world is a tenuous one at best. 

When Christians are seeking to “censor” or “condemn” things, it is not primarily an issue of temptations. The point is not, “That temps us, so let’s get rid of it.” It is a matter of wanting to help the world in which we live look more like the goodness and righteousness of the way God designed it but which was broken in The Fall. As with anyone, Christians recognize that life and society are better when they line up with reality, the Christian perception of reality being that which lines up with God’s will.

 The key again here those is not the question so much as the motivation. We don’t Jesus’s reasons for handling things the way he did and can’t use 1 example to extrapolate a very specific generalization. The critical issue here is “what”. What do Christians censor or condemn that bothers you specifically? Chances are the claim has nothing to do with what Jesus did but everything to do with something they have felt Christianity is against. It is always better to try and find the direct concerns rather than just addressing the superficial.  

 

22.) Given that the story of Noah’s Ark was copied almost word-for-word from the much older Sumerian Epic of Atrahasis, does this mean that our true ruler is the supreme sky god, Anu? 

  

Let me help Swan out by correcting his facts.  

  

Firstly, the parallel story is not from the Sumerian Epic of Atrahasis (EoA). The story that more exactly maps onto Genesis is the Epic of Gilgamesh (EoG), which adapts the flood narrative of EoA in Tablet XI. The only similarities between Genesis and EoA is that there was a flood and a man was told to make a boat by a god to escape it.  

  

Secondly, the EoG is the myth that more exactly matches Genesis 6 (the time durations are closer, sending out a raven and a dove are in both, giving and offering after coming to dry land, etc.) The problem is that the EoG was composed centuries after Genesis would have been written and clearly adapts EoA by adding elements of Genesis to it. So, the majority of the copying is actually from Genesis to EoG.  

  

Finally, the use of other ANE texts within the Bible is simply a trivial observation once we understand the role that religious polemics played throughout the Old Testament, and specifically in the Pentateuch (the first 5 books of the Old Testament). It is very likely that the author of Genesis had their own tradition of the flood account that was similar to EoA and yet used aspects of the EoA in their telling of the flood for the purpose of satirizing the polytheistic religions around them. That is how polemics worked in the ANE and we see it throughout the Pentateuch. For more on how polemics worked in the Biblical text, see my episode on Polemics in Genesis 1.  

Simply put: no. It does not. Without addressing the specific example itself: the Christian faith is not based on a single story – or even a set of stories – which bare resemblance to contemporary legends of the time. One can invalidate whole chunks of scripture without dislodging the veracity of the Christian faith. Ultimately, Christianity as a worldview rest solely on the shoulders of Christ and his resurrection. If one wants to destroy Christianity, disprove the resurrection. Anything else is simply a matter of perfecting scholarship. 

Having said that, who is to say which legend is a copy of the other? There is a flood myth present in practically every ancient culture across the globe, from Native Americans to Chinese. One could argue that the Biblical flood story is just a face in a crowd: one story among hundreds, and therefore just as legendary as any other. This is the tact Swan seems to be taking. 

But one could also argue that the universality of flood myths might actually point to a real event in history. Since the Flood story of scripture seems to indicate that the human race as we now know it began with Noah's family, it wouldn't be surprising that every culture references the same event.  

At worst, the fact that two Ancient Near Eastern texts resemble one another calls into question the actuality of a Biblical story – which does not invalidate the rest of scripture, least of all the Resurrection. At best, the Sumerian story is a copy of the Biblical story – not the other way around. 

Let's assume for the sake of argument that I believe this claim that the Noah's Ark account is copied from some other culture’s flood story. Even if that were the case, all it really shows is that there is an account that is shared by multiple cultures of an event that would have been in both of their histories. However, even if the Bible is quoting some other work here, it doesn't follow that the other work is also to be considered the word of God. In multiple places in the New Testament the Apostle Paul quotes from non-canonical Jewish writings as well as Pagan Gentile writings, but nowhere are these writings assumed to therefore be seen as divinely inspired. The simple fact is that all truth is God's truth, and not everything that is written by mankind is 100% false. Cultures or authors that are otherwise generally wrong can and do sometimes get things right.

 

Nothing about that would or should lead us to believe that this other cultures god is real or to be worshipped above or in place of Yahweh.

Simply put, I would ask them to clarify. Likely they have no idea about the details. Perhaps research it with them. After all, if they have their facts straight then they have nothing to worry about. However, this just happens to be a very “meme worthy” question that sounds nice but has little basis in reality. Even the most basic google searches can help them sort this out in no time.