Bart Ehrman Writes about 3 Muslims Murdered in Chapel Hill

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    Feb 14, 2015 9:34 PM GMT
    Bart Ehrman:

    The big issue that is being posed in the newspapers – at least the local ones (less so the national ones, and not at all, so far as I can tell, the international ones) – is whether this was a religious hate crime or a dispute about parking. Frankly, most of the people that I have had contact with can’t believe we’re having that conversation. Parking?!? Are you serious? Someone murders three Muslims in cold blood and you want to talk about parking regulations?

    OK, so we do know that this guy who has turned himself in for the shootings was an exceedingly angry vigilante who prided himself with wearing a gun on his hip. (The only ones who seem to be completely incredulous that very angry vigilantes are entitled to wear guns on their hips are my European friends, all of whom – to a person – have, as their first reaction, “Why is he allowed to have a gun???” For most Americans, the question doesn’t come up.) (Let me stress, I’m not taking a position on second amendment rights. I’m pointing out that most of the rest of the civilized world thinks our gun laws are crazy. We have every right to think that *they* are the ones who are crazy. But we ought at least to be thinking about whether they are right instead of simply letting our knees jerk every time they raise the point) (which is every time yet another tragedy hits….).

    But back to the guy with a gun on his hip. Yes, he was angry and mean-spirited, and was known to be caustic and threatening, and not to like people, especially when they committed misdemeanors in his parking lot. But really. He murdered three Muslims. Most of us simply do not believe that if this was not from beginning to end a violent act meant to rid the world of three Muslims, then at the very least the fact that they were specifically Muslim was not peripheral to his (to us) unthinkable act. And that local Muslims – and Muslims throughout the country – have every right to feel targeted. Of course they are targeted. (Just as in other parts of the world Christians are targeted; But do we want these other parts of the world to dictate our moral values and behavior???) As risible as it seems to many (most?) of us, I can see why the local papers would want to paint the tragic incident as a parking dispute. We have the issue of community image. We have the issue of not wanting to stir up more animosity. We have the issue of not wanting copy-cat murders. We have lots of issues.

    But we also have the issue of the truth, and whatever that truth is, we should not be afraid to get to the bottom of it.

    It does appear that the self-confessed murderer is a hater of all things religious. He is not simply an atheist (he is avowedly that as well). He is an anti-theist. It’s important to keep that straight. He is not a live-and-let-live atheist who does not believe in God but does not have major problems with anyone who does (i.e., *my* kind of atheist). He is opposed to people who are theists. He thinks religion is dangerous and does a lot of ill in the world (now *there’s* an irony…), and he would be happy to stamp it out. And so he is not even your run-of-the mill anti-theist. He is a violent anti-theist.

    So he may not like parking violators; but he *hates* people who are religious (i.e., most people). And most of all, quite obviously, he hates Muslims.

    I told my class that even though our course dealt with early Christianity, I thought it did have relevance to the murders. I have never told a class this before, but I do indeed have a particular and important reason for teaching the New Testament and the history of early Christianity the way I do. It is this: I stress throughout the entire semester, and try to get my students to see (sometimes they are highly unwilling at first to see it), that early Christianity was a highly diverse phenomenon, with different early Christians having astoundingly different points of view and perspective, all of them thinking that they were “right” and all the others were “wrong.” The focus in both my research and teaching for the past decades has been largely on the diversity of the early Christian movement. I have wanted, and continue to want, to stress this diversity not only for antiquarian reasons (i.e., just because it is historically true) (which it is), but also for another purpose.

    It seems to me that if modern Christians (the VAST majority of my students) can see that there was not simply ONE form of early Christianity, but lots and lots of different forms of early Christianity, it should show that the religion is diverse BY ITS VERY NATURE. Recognizing that there are, and always have been, diverse forms of the Christian religion should help us be more open to the variety and diversity of Christian belief and practice. Which should open us up to the rich variety and diversity of all belief and practice. Which should make us less centered on the view that OUR view is the only right one, and help us see that other people have other views that deserve to be considered just as much as the one we were raised with or that we subscribe to. Recognizing religious and cultural diversity in all its rich texture can help us be more sympathetic to and empathetic with people who are different from us. In other words, it is one of the ways to help fight religious and cultural intolerance.

    Intolerance surrounds us. And we need to do all we can to fight it – not with guns on our hips, but with forgiving, caring, and loving alternatives. We do not solve the problems of hate with more hate, or problems of violence with more violence, or acts of ignorance and prejudice with retaliatory acts of ignorance and prejudice. We need loving, peaceful, and informed responses to the intolerant violence so massively surrounding us.

    But for now we are simply sad and mournful.
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    Feb 14, 2015 10:42 PM GMT
    Bart Ehrman: Which should make us less centered on the view that OUR view is the only right one, and help us see that other people have other views that deserve to be considered just as much as the one we were raised with or that we subscribe to. Recognizing religious and cultural diversity in all its rich texture can help us be more sympathetic to and empathetic with people who are different from us. In other words, it is one of the ways to help fight religious and cultural intolerance.

    Steefen: This is absolutely horrible. It is worse than forcing all students' efforts onto a bell-curve. Here, all religions are being hammered down or pushed up to one level of worth.

    Second, in other fields of knowledge, different schools of thought yield different results. Some schools of thought surpass others. There is merit and merit is recognized and lower standards are abandoned for higher standards. So, religion never gets anywhere because merit is undervalued and low standards are overvalued.

    It is horrible to value Newtonian Physics and Quantum Physics of equal merit.
    It is horrible to value Creationism and Evolution of equal merit.
    It is horrible to value Islam and Christianity of equal merit.
    It is horrible to value the Jesus and James led Christianity and Pauline Christianity of equal merit.

    People make serious effort and serious sacrifice to advance, to be connoisseurs, to shed ignorance and dysfunction, to see through wool pulled over their eyes and minds. So, it is horrible to not incentivize religion while other fields are heavily incentivized.

    Religion can enrich or impoverish a culture and even a civilization. Sacred scripture is the User's Manual. That User's Manual can be constructively criticized and the software of religions can be judged on their merits.

    It is horrible that people can be respected in the "equality of diversity" for the most unjustifiable belief systems--so many emperors wearing no clothes. Jesus felt this horrible tragedy of devoting one's life to a belief system that in the end proved weak and unworthy of a devoted life. In the end, Jesus did exactly what needed to be done to separate himself from his God and his God's people: any Israelite or any alien living among them who eats any blood—I will set my face against that person who eats blood and will cut him off from his people: Jesus made up a consumption of blood remembrance.

    If Christianity teaches us anything, if communion with Christ teaches us anything, it teaches us devote one's religious life to what is justifiable and true. Build one's house of religion not on sand but on rock, not on failed belief systems but on better engineered religions with higher quality materials. Beliefs are good raw materials but their are stronger raw materials than beliefs, especially failed beliefs. That the Star Prophecy was meant for a man of Jewish descent rather than a man from the Roman or Parthian empires. Was Israel to give birth to a third empire which would surpass both Parthia and Rome? The Jewish Son of Man over a temporal kingdom within one generation of Jesus, fulfillment of all Hebrew Scriptures lost merit points.

    In business, even business, in entrepreneurship, failures lead to alternative approaches which could be the successes. In religion, the failures are preserved not for caution but for reverence?!
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    Feb 15, 2015 4:54 AM GMT
    Bart:
    To carry a concealed weapon requires a license. But it is dead easy to get one. I will occasionally walk into a restaurant and someone will have a gun on their hip in the open. Sometimes you feel like you’re in the wild west around here.
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    Feb 18, 2015 7:13 PM GMT
    Dr. Ehrman

    My view is that it is very, very dangerous for you to think you are right about God, and everyone who disagrees with you is wrong. Surely history should teach us *something*. Humility, at least.

    stephenoabc:

    Dr. Ehrman, Christianity needs to advance given the work that has been done in New Testament Studies. If we do not advance to, say, Christianity 2.0, its software will be and is being hacked and people are being recruited away from Christianity. This video is proof (and has more than 2.5 million hits): http://youtu.be/YNGqrzkFp_4 or "Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus || Muslim Version || Spoken Word || Response" by youtube subscriber Talk Islam.
    With a more historically accurate Christianity (2.0), constructive criticism from Muslims (such as the video recommended for informational purposes) would not recruit people away from Christianity.

    Second, God is not even up for discussion. Why? There is some truth in what Michael Newton relayed in "Journey of Souls" and/or "Destiny of Souls": We are the direct responsibility of spiritual guides, not the direct responsibility of God. Spiritual guides remain with us over thousands of earth years to assist in our reincarnations. In our conscious state we blame God. But when we are put in a subconscious state of past life regression or regression between incarnations, in our soul state, it is our personal guides who take the brunt of our dissatisfaction. // So, with God out of the picture and spirit guides in the picture, I would add to the picture ancestors, deities, sages (ex., the I Ching), and Astrology (not just East and West time of birth astrology but locational astrology, too).

    Wherever I (if you're criticizing me personally) or wherever we (if you're using "you" generally) are incorrect about God, then in the places of ideas (libraries, discussions, videos, books, research institutions--all educational endeavors) let us learn to be more correct in the fields of study where spiritual software is composed.

    With the bread and wine metaphor remembrance of Jesus Christ linking to Leviticus 17: 10, where the Hebrew God turns His face and His people away from that act, there is no longer a healthy belief in that God; hence, agnosticism and/or atheism with respect to that God OR areas addressed above, or the Solar System deity to whom Emperor Vespasian gave thanks for victory over the Jewish revolt: Jupiter.

    People need to be boldly secure in who their Helpers are. Psalms 121: 1-2. My help is as strong as the mountains? No, even stronger.