Tuesday 11 July 2023

Our mother which art not in heaven


The Archbishop of York has not dropped the medieval robes and mitre, but he does think the word Father is problematic when referring to God because some people are victims of fathers who abused them, and others are the victims of patriarchy. He has therefore composed a new version of the Lord’s prayer.


Our mother which art not in heaven,

Unhallowed be thy name.

Thy queendom won’t come.

Thy will won’t be done, in York,

as it is not in heaven.


I sometimes wonder if these people are in the church for the cosplay and the chance for a greater audience for their woke views, because they certainly are not in it to defend Christianity.

There are very good arguments for atheism or at least agnosticism. The whole of modern science attempts largely successfully to explain everything in terms of physics, chemistry, and biology. This has become the default view. Many people are unthinking atheists because they are not even aware of Christian teaching and have never heard the evidence for Christianity, mainly because various bishops are more concerned with telling us about Black Lives Matter, Climate Change, and the need to believe that men can become women.

I am not in the business of persuading atheists anything. Believe that you are only matter if you wish. Your consciousness must be a sort of AI and you a sort of computer. If that is true it can be no more wrong if I unplug you than if I unplug my laptop.

Doubt is a part of faith otherwise faith would be knowledge. Faith in Christianity requires you to believe that there are or have been miracles. Science tells us that miracles don’t happen. But there is actually rather a lot of evidence for the central claims of Christianity.

At this point atheists are liable to become dismissive and talk of fairy tales, but this is unwarranted and shows ignorance as well as lack of intelligence. If you wish to be sure of your atheism, you need to find a way to show that the New Testament is mistaken, some sort of con, a mass delusion or a medieval fake for the one thing you cannot do is disprove its existence.

The New Testament constitutes by far the bulk of the evidence for Christianity. There is some archaeological evidence and there are some non-Christian historical accounts, but by far the greatest evidence for the life of Jesus is contained in the New Testament. We would know very little indeed about that life if the New Testament had not been written.

But here is the problem for atheists. The New Testament constitutes by far the best historical record of events from ancient times. The earliest accounts of the life of Jesus were written very shortly after his death. There are literally thousands of manuscripts. More than for any other event. Manuscript fragments exist from a few decades after while a complete New Testament exists from around 300 AD.

Compare this with accounts of Hannibal crossing he Alps with elephants in 218 BC. Here we have only two sources one by Polybius written 70 years after and one by Livy written 200 years after. The earliest copy of Polybius is from 1100 years after while the earliest copy of Livy is from 400 years after. Polybius and Livy contradict each other on the route Hannibal took. Yet you would struggle to find a single historian who questions that Hannibal crossed the Alps with elephants.

The New Testament has better and older manuscripts than for any other event from ancient history. Copies of these manuscripts are more numerous and earlier. The New Testament was translated into numerous languages from the beginning and shows the textual variants that you would expect in human beings copying and translating manuscripts as accurately as they can. A collection of manuscripts with slight variants in multiple languages is far more likely to be accurate than a single manuscript in one language.

It is quite clear that the people who wrote the New Testament thought of themselves as witnesses. The slight variation in the gospels is what we would expect from witnesses rather than people collaborating to write fiction or to deceive others.

The central claim of Christianity is that Jesus died on the cross and rose from the dead. But this claim would have been easy to disprove if the authorities in Jerusalem had been able to produce a dead body. They did not. But to disprove the resurrection of almost any subsequent person who lived after Jesus would be easy. No one has successfully since then convinced others that he rose again.

We can be sure that there was an empty tomb, because neither the Roman guards, nor the Roman authorities could produce a full one. But what then is the explanation for the empty tomb?

We also have numerous eyewitness statements telling us that Jesus did rise from the dead. The two Marys saw Jesus, the disciples saw him, 500 other people saw him. These could not have been hallucinations because each saw the same thing. Each disciple went to his death saying that he had witnessed the risen Christ and not one recanted even when threatened with death.

That in essence is the case for Christianity. If it did not involve religion or miracles there is no doubt whatsoever that the stories in the New Testament would be considered as accurate history. We know far more and with better sources about the life and death of Jesus than we do about Socrates.

But now we can perhaps see why the Archbishop of York’s intervention is so problematic. What we know about Jesus and the evidence for his life and death comes from the New Testament. But let’s say we accept that it is problematic to call God Father. This means either that Jesus did not say that God was our Father or that he ought not to have said it. But if Jesus did not say that God was our Father then it must be possible to question the authenticity of the part of the gospel where he did say it. If one of the most famous parts of the gospels can be questioned, then so clearly can any other part. But that leaves the New Testament as an historical document in tatters.

Alternatively, the Archbishop might argue although Jesus did call God our Father, he ought not to have done so, because some people are abused by their fathers and others by the patriarchy. But if I can say that Jesus ought not to have called God Father, I question not only Jesus’ knowledge of God I question Jesus’ authority on any moral issue. Perhaps Jesus ought not to have said “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”

Once you go down the route of doubting Jesus’ right to say something and his followers duty to obey him, once you go down the route of saying Jesus knew so little about God that he mistakenly called him father, then you really end up with nothing much left to believe in.

The same problem arises if men can become women. If Jesus might be mistaken about God being a father, he might equally be mistaken about Peter being a man. Perhaps Pontius Pilate was nonbinary. Perhaps indeed Jesus was a woman. We have no idea how anyone in the New Testament identified because no one told us. The three kings who arrived at the stable might have been three queens dressed like men so that they only appeared to be kings. But if you go down that route you very rapidly turn the New Testament into lies and nonsense rather than the best historical document from antiquity.

No one is ever going to be able to prove that God exists or that Jesus rose from the dead. But the important thing about faith is whether it is true or not. Feel free to disbelieve. You have science on your side. But it is very difficult to explain the existence of the New Testament if the statements in it are all false. It would imply an historical conspiracy that is hard to explain given the number of people involved.

We know more about an obscure carpenter from Nazareth than we do about anyone else from antiquity, but we would know nothing, we would not even know his name, unless people thought it necessary to write about him, and ever more followers demanded copies of the New Testament so that they could read about him. Something happened to make Jesus famous. If it wasn’t the resurrection, what was it? I have never heard a satisfactory explanation from an atheist.

We would also know absolutely nothing about Jesus if the Archbishop of York had been around when the New Testament was being written. Who would have believed Jesus about anything if he didn’t even know that his father was really his mother?