Archive for February 19th, 2011


February 19, 2011

Our anticipation was not disappointed, the Ehrman talk yesterday afternoon filled the large auditorium as well as the closed-circuit spillover room (of the same building, btw, where our latest campus outlaw had been apprehended at the beginning of the week).

It must also have filled the Bible thumpers in the house– and there were just a few, judging by some of the Qs from the floor during Q-&-A– with discomfort. Bart was respectful but firm, as when he responded to one: “I don’t believe iconic paintings of the Blessed Virgin weep tears of oil paint, but if you do I have no problem with that.”

He’d already respectfully and methodically assembled damning evidence of the Bible’s “copy of a copy of a copy…” of an errant copy pedigree. But still he declined to insist on construing this most errant text-by-committee’s obviously all-too-human provenance as conclusive proof of the adventitious nature of Christian holy writ. Only those literalists and fundamentalists who assert the Bible’s straight, immaculate, unadulterated descent from the Creator’s mouth to our ears need feel subverted by this scholarship.

Not that they will, or will admit it. Nor will the True Believers of other faiths admit that sauce for the goose sauces their gander too. One thanked Bart for pointing out the Bible’s imperfections. “We Muslims have been saying that for years.”  Bart was too modest and polite to point out the findings of Koranic scholars that their holy book

could well stand as the supreme example of a man-made text, worked over and doctored to an unfathomable extent, and subsequently endowed with a transcendental provenance by the associative and projective proclivities of the human imagination… ‘if you look at it, you will notice that every fifth sentence simply doesn’t make sense…. The fact is that a fifth of the Koranic text is just incomprehensible.’

Then someone asked if Bart would be willing to discuss his own personal journey from evangelical fundamentalism to agnosticism. He gave us the short version of God’s Problem:

I realized that I could no longer reconcile the claims of faith with the facts of life. In particular, I could no longer explain how there can be a good and all-powerful God actively involved with this world, given the state of things. For many people who inhabit this planet, life is a cesspool of misery and suffering. I came to a point where I simply could not believe that there is a good and kindly-disposed Ruler who is in charge of it.

…If God is at work in the darkness, feeding the hungry with the miraculous multiplication of loaves, why is it that one child– a mere child!– dies every five seconds of hunger. Every five seconds.

Unlike my colleague who described himself, at the post-talk party, as a “F*$k You, you’re wrong!” kind of guy, non-pluralistic and proud of it, Bart refrains from insisting that his own response to the problem of suffering is coercive. It’s for each of us to wrestle with, and decide in conscience.

Speaking of the post-talk party: I loved hearing from Bart what it’s like to meet Stephen Colbert in the Green Room (he’s been on the show twice) and then try to keep up with his lightning wit under the klieg lights.

It was also terrific, at the party, to hear from a colleague in another department that ours has gained a strong reputation for the way we responded to administrators’ attempts, awhile back, to question the need for a philosophy department at all. If nothing else, we’re needed to sponsor Lyceum talks like yesterday’s.

Thanks for coming, Bart. (And thanks for inviting him, Mike.) Give our best regards to Chapel Hill.