On my Reply to Holdling:
Holding is missing the point of my post [A note on the history of apologetics]. My point was that Holding's "The Impossible Faith" seems to assume that ancient people would have had a modern persons' notion of evidence, and that this is false. I talked about the history of apologetics because it seemed to me a clear way of showing this. My point was not that this reflects badly on the apologists, as Holding seems to think, but that it undermines the thesis he has advanced.Holding:
The point was fully recognized, and it is still abysmally, igorantly WRONG. I am not concerned with what shows "badly" on the apologists. Notions of evidence have not changed one bit from one era to the next. This is Skeptical blah blah blah pulled out of Hallquist's bum. Hallquist tried to use the lack of historical apologetics to argue for a lack of "modern" notions of evidence, and I showed (as did Paulson) that the "lack" was for a good reason: The nature of the opposition that was being faced! So there's not one thing here undermining TIF. Hallquist is just running around in circles trying to prove he actually said something worth ten cents.Later in the thread, Holding speculates that I got the point of the post from Thomas Paine and Robert G. Ingersoll.
First, I must point out that all Holding himself originally said in response to my post was "What escapes Hallquist is that apologetics is driven by what opponents argue (it is, after all, a defense, so that this point is simply meaningless drivel." That is followed by a long quote from "my patristics consult, Matt Paulson," which includes the phrase, "A few telling examples to disprove the sole factual claim of your opponent [that the 2nd c. apologists were concerned only to reconcile Christianity w/Greek philosophy]." This hardly counts as having "fully recognized" my point that ancient people would not have had a modern person's notion of evidence, indeed, Paulson seems to deny that I ever said that, which makes me wonder if Holding bothered to show him my entire post.
Worse, Holding says the point was "pulled out of Hallquist's bum." This is untrue, and the dishonesty is compounded by the speculation about where I got the idea. I present long quotes from William Lane Craig's apologetics textbook saying Augustine "lacked the historical method," and the general approach of the section suggests the historical method was a much later development, not, for example, something that had existed before Augustine's time and been lost. If Holding had argued that Craig was wrong, or that I had misapplied what he said, it would be one thing, but it is clearly false that the point was "pulled out of my bum."
On my J. P. Holding and Rodney Stark:
First, Holding links to another thread on TheologyWeb, which posts an forward from an anonymous somebody claiming to have asked Stark's opinion on Holding's essay and getting Stark to endorse it on a couple points. I've e-mailed Stark about it, but I'm not waiting around for his reply, because I don't know how it would change what I have to say on this point. I should note on the side that Stark's "Why bother with some obsessed atheist" remark suggests knee-jerk dismissiveness of atheists (unfortunately rather common behavior--I used to be the same way). So back to me and Holding.
Importantly, Holding doesn't dispute that Stark's explanations are good ones, he just says Stark has left unexplained how Christianity got going. So first question: is that true?
Short answer: no.
Longer answer: Stark gives no reason to think so, and drops many hints he thinks his ideas apply to all of Christianity's history.
Full answer: On page 3, Stark poses a rhetorical question: "Did Christianity grow so rapidly that mass conversions must have taken place—-as Acts attests and every historian from Eusebius to Ramsay MacMullen has believed?" This suggests he will be dealing with all of early Christian history. Then on page 5, he argues Acts is wrong: "according to Acts 21:20,by the sixth decade of the first century there were 'many thousands of Jews' in Jerusalem who now believed. These are not statistics. Had there been that many converts in Jerusalem, it would have een the first Christian city, since there probably were no more than twenty thousand inhabitants at this time."
Midway through Chapter 6, on evangelism of the Jews, he opens a section on "Networks" by saying, "Let us put ourselves in the position of the evangelists: here we are in Jerusalem in the year 50... (p. 61)" How would you go about getting converts? Go to Hellenized Jews: "In all the major centers of the empire were substantial settlements of diasporan Jews who were accustomed to receiving teachers from Jerusalem. Moreover, the missionaries were likely to have family and friendship connections within at least some of the diasporan communities (p. 62)." This shows that early Christians could have gotten a foothold in many major cities with nothing more than the Palestinian Jewish-Christians they had in 50 A. D. This is even more problematic than the first passage. If Holding is to claim he's using Stark honestly, he must say that it is these original Jewish-Christians that were the inexplicable foothold he was refering to. Yet this is hardly plausible, since that group would have been dominated by pre-crucifixion followers of Jesus, and Holding gives no indication that his argument is of the "how did Christianity survive the crucifixion" sort. Maybe Holding thinks it was vitally important for them to gain the several hundred converts they (maybe) gained in between 30 A. D. and 50 A. D., yet these can be explained with only a slight extention of Stark's social-networking thesis.
Uh, Chrissy? That's an explanation of the MECHASNISM whereby the word was spread, you dip -- not an explanation of WHY people accepted that the claims of Christianity were true in the first place!The problem is that in Stark's view, networking goes a long way to explaining why people accepted Christianity in the first place. In case I didn't make this perfectly clear in the initial post, let me explain in detail. On pp. 15-16, Stark discusses some Moonies he observed first hand, and notes that the primary member of the group had only ever succeeded in converting personal acquaintances, in spite of vigorous effort to convert outsiders. This led to the conclusion that, "conversion is not about seeking or embracing an ideology; it is about bringing one's religious behavior into alignment with that of one's friends and family members. Stark explains that this fits with theories of deviance which claim that the only reason people do not deviate in the first place is that they have a stake in conformity, and "A major stake in conformity lies in our attachments to other people." In the case of the Moonies, "becoming a Moonie may have been regarded as deviant by outsiders, but it was an act of conformity for those whose most significant attachments were to Moonies." Therefore, "conversion tends to proceed along social networks." Thus, when Stark talks about "networks" later in the book, he is not talking about a mechanism they happened to be using, but rather a cornerstone of Christian success--something that could even overcome the problem of deviance.
I understand if readers didn't see the force of this point, but Holding has no excuse, as apparently it was what Holding was referring to when he talked about Christianity's need for a "foothold" in his initial essay. The question was at what point they had a foothold. Stark clearly thinks they had it by the year 50 if not earlier, and in the previous post I gave reason to think little significance could be given to the 30-50 period. Holding didn't dispute what I said there.
On miracle healings, my point was secondary to the other ones, but Holding ignores the fact that Stark linked mistaken belief in miracles in later centuries to the "miracles" (scare quotes Stark's) in "New Testament times."
Next point, me:
First, let's see if we can sort out who's right on the facts of this issue (as opposed to the explanations for the facts). Stark claims that Christianity did well among the middle and upper classes for two main reasons. One, an appeal to authority: "Since Judge first challenged the proletarian view of the early church, a consensus has developed among New Testament historians that Christianity was based in the middle and upper classes (p. 31)." On the contrary, Keith Hopkins, an actual historian cited by Carrier, says, "It seems generally agreed that Christianity did not initially attract converts from among the ruling strata of senators, knights and town-councillors, or not in significant numbers, at least until the third century."
HELLO???? Hopkins and Stark are talking about two different things, Chrissy! Stark is alluding to the work done by Judge (and also Meeks) indicating Christianity's success among a literate upper/middle class among citizens -- NOT among senators, knights, etc!!!It had occurred to me to comment on this issue, but I decided instead to proceed on the assumption that Holding was interpreting Stark correctly on this point--and yes, in retrospect I realize the foolishness of this assumption! All the evidence from Holding's exchange with Richard Carrier indicates Holding was using Stark to claim very elite converts. Carrier made clear in part 18 that he was talking about the very highest class part of society:
First, to say that Christianity appealed to the disgruntled lower classes, and not the elite, must not to be mistaken for claiming that Christianity was only successful among the poor, or that no rich people were attracted to it. A significant number of the middle class would be among the same groups sympathetic to the Christian message, including educated men, and men with middle-management positions in the government, who could easily become disillusioned with a system that wasn't working for them.Later in the same section, Carrier referred to the author of Luke as "probably... upper middle class." In response to Carrier's comments on elite converts, particularly under the heading "Who Would Buy One Crucified?" Holding argues that just because there is no evidence of elite converts doesn't mean there were any. If he was really concerned about the upper-middle class, why didn't he declare Carrier had conceded his point?
Now onto the reasons Stark gave for higher class converts (leaving aside the issue of how high). First, what I said:
It's the nature of Stark's second argument, however, that's really problematic for Holding:Now Holding:
pp. 37-38: Here it is sufficient to point out that as weaknesses appear in conventional faiths, some people will recognize and respond to these weaknesses sooner than others... Religious skepticism is most prevalent among the more privileged.
Argument? Stark has presented no specifics as to why people were convinced at all, which is the entire point of what I was writing about! There's no "argument" here for conversion; at best there is an argument for giving an initial ear -- and wanting to investigate, which is EXACTLY my thesis, that these upper crusters had the time and interest to look into the claims, and found them true!
On Holding's bewildered "Argument?" (implicitly, "what argument?") yes, Stark provided reasons for his claims, otherwise he'd be a pretty worthless source. All I can figure here is that Holding has some strange nitpick in mind that rests on misunderstanding what I actually wrote. Stark doesn't present original historical research for his claim that Christianity did well among the upper classes, rather he cites other scholars and then argues this makes a lot of sense. Does Holding deny that?
As for the substance of Holding's remark, his original claim was that the people Stark talks about "had the most to lose and the least (tangibly) to gain by becoming converts." Stark's sole contribution to this issue is to argue the upper classes were less invested in existing religious structures. It's an argument about prior probability, that the upper class would have more to gain and less to lose. If Holding is right that upper class conversion was improbable and, on balance, the upper class had less to gain and more to lose, Stark is wrong. Stark doesn't support Holding on this point.
On my Holding's Use of deSilva
Holding accurately quotes a number of passages from deSilva which suggest Christianity had a serious problem in the form of hostility from non-Christians. As it goes, this is accurate. But he ignores what deSilva says about how Christians delt with this problem: mainly by isolating themselves, telling themselves that only the opinion of other Christians mattered:Holding
group members need to be very clear about who constitutes their "court of reputation," that body of significant others whose "opinion" about what is honorable and shameful, and whose evaluation of the individual, really matters. Their eyes need to be directed toward one another, toward their leaders, and, very frequently, toward beings beyond the visible sphere (for example, God or the honored members of the group who have moved to another realm after death) as they look for approval--and thus directed away from those people who do not share the group's values and whose negative estimation of the group threatens to erode individual commitment... Adherents to a minority group (such as the church or synagogue) must believe that, even though the majority of people around them have a different set of contrary values, the majority is really the deviant body since it doesn't live in line with the cosmic order (p. 40).
Like the leaders of other minority cultures in the first century, New Testament authors were also careful continually to point the members of the Christian group away from the opinion that non-Christians might form of them toward the opinion of those who would reflect the values of the group and reinforce the individual's commitment to establish his or her honor and self-respect in terms of those group values(p. 55).
Because the unbelievers will use the power of shaming to impose their values on the believers, and to call them back to a way of life that supports and perpetuates the values of the non-Christian culture, it is imperative that the believers' sense of worth be detached from the opinion of unbelievers (P. 61).
Uh, Chrissy? While this is all accurate about how hostility is dealt with, it has ZERO bearing on my use of deSilva, which had to do with how outsiders were convinced that the Christian message is true. And of course, none of the these techniques for dealing with hostility has anything to do with the truth of the propositions believed by the insiders. As usual, Chrissy has no idea how to critically apply material or how it coheres with points being made; he just found some quotations that appeal to his superior sense as an atheist smarter than all them bone in the nose religionists, and hand-waved them. (Not that his crowd doesn't do the same stuff deSilva describes, of course.)Um, "none of these techniques for dealing with hostility has anything to do with the truth of the propositions believed by the insiders"? Exactly. The techniques could be used regardless of whether or not the claims were true. They were used by groups with no knock-down evidence of a miracle. They were used by groups, like the Greek philosophical schools, that did win over adherents, in spite of the hostility faced (and Stark's comments on networks should remove any mystery as to how this happened).
On the crucifixion, Holding insists that the answer to what I say is to be found in other things he's written, but he doesn't give a specific example. He also complains my reference to "other groups" is "vague," but in the post of mine in question, I point out that deSilva uses the examples of Jews and Greek philosophical schools such as Stoicism.
Finally, I just don't know what to make of the terminological complaints at the end of Holding's reply to that post.
On my J. P. Holding and Malina's Commentary on the Synoptics
Its worth noting the differences between the two editions, because Holding makes a minor fuss about the discrepancy in page numbering between his 1992 edition and Carrier's 2003 edition. Then he says that the corresponding passage in the 1992 edition doesn't say what Carrier says the 2003 edition says. As someone with access to both editions, I can say that when Carrier directly quotes the 2003 edition he is accurately representing it. I can't find even a small mistake in his transcript.Holding:
I never said there was, so why is Chrissy inventing an allegation for me to have allegedly made? Maybe John Loftus Jr. is in the house. The point was that I simply needed to explain the difference in pagination between our cites, and ALSO to note that Carrier could find no causitive statement in the quote he used (re the issue below), and there was certainly none in my edition; if there was one in his edition, he certaibly didn't quote it.First, I never said Holding said there was an error. I said Holding made a minor fuss about the the difference in edition. I think the "minor fuss" comment is justified, given the dramatic "..." pause that occurs in the original before stating the difference. I said I couldn't find an error for the sake of any reader who might mistake Holding's pseudo-dramatism for an important point, not because Holding actually claimed there was an error.
Which leads to the issue, which was Carrier's claim that Christianity provided a "surrogate family" which made joining attractive. Carrier missed the obvious point that a surrogate is only desirable if you don't have what the surrogate provides, which only happened ONCE you joined Christianity if it happened. The surrogate has no atrraction until you lose something, which happens by joining! Chrissy is no smarter than Carrier here, repeating his error:
On the substantiative point here, Holding's rationalization only works if you assume Christians were the only socially disconnected people in the ancient world. The assumption is implausible on its face, and the quote from Malina I provide gives an example of one other group of disconnected people, non-inheriting sons, and this is just given as one example, not the only one. Also, one would assume that between the well-connected and the disconnected, there were the somewhat-connected for whom Christianity would have presented a more ambiguous choice: not something they'd definitely join, but not something they'd never join.
Holding's claims regarding the story of the rich young man, and Malina's comments thereon, fall apart when the point I just laid out is recognized.
On my J. P. Holding, elites, and disgruntled masses, I'm getting tired, so I'll be quick.
1) Holding dodges the question of whether he believes, as I suggested, "that in antiquity, there was no significant difference between the values of the rich and the values of the commoners," and ignores the fact that I give quotations from him indicating he does take this position.
2) The attraction issue is dealt with above.
3) Holding sets up a system where nothing can ever count as evidence against his position: if Christianity was typical in some way, people would have no reason to join, if it was atypical in any way other than Holding's entirely hypothetical claim of overwhelming evidence, then people would be driven away. He sets up a system where nothing can, in principle, count as evidence against his views.
Finally, I'll deal with one piece of fluff: Holding says "putting me on edge" was one of his main motives for creating the thread. I find this comment interesting, because it suggests that the tedious insult fluff which Holding has made his trademark is part of some strange form of psychological warfare. It's as if Holding wants people to lose all hope of having an intelligent conversation with him, something that has indeed happened in several cases. This makes me feel more confident in my decision to ignore the majority of Holding's fluff.