A Tekton Application Story
Recently my church hosted a seminar on creationism, with a speaker from the Institute for Creation Research. On the first night one of the guests was a middle-aged fellow carrying a blue binder. During the middle of the presentation he often interrupted with questions, not waiting for the Q&A time after the speaker concluded his comments. He then summarily dismissed the data presented as “80% bunk.” During break time I was too curious to avoid this figure and chatted with him as I perused through the binder. I immediately recognized in the notes and photos that this was a collection of some material that only a skeptic would love. I did not seek any kind of a debate with him at the time, but seeing that he brought up some subjects familiar to a reader of apologetics literature. So at the end of the evening I wrote down a couple of web sites for him to check out and my e-mail if he had any questions.
Eventually he wrote me an e-mail, but not in the manner that I had hoped. Rather than commenting on the web sites or asking any questions, he launched into a full-fledged argument about Mithraism. I realized I had encountered a determined skeptic looking for a fight. Equally determined to test my mettle, I responded to him and so began a brief discussion. But eventually, for reasons that shall be stated below, I withdrew from an exchange I feared was becoming too acrimonious due to the zeal and ferocity that typified the skeptic’s e-mails.
What I wish to present here is a portrait of the amateur household skeptic in all his weirdness. I will not use my opponent’s real name, but rather the moniker I have ascribed to him: PianoMan.
So who is this figure who wished to do battle?
PianoMan moved to the United States from India a little over three decades ago, settling in the South (although he has a low view of Southerners…grr..). He has no credentials in any field of Biblical studies, he accepts uncritically every bit of skeptical slop he can read, and, if prodded, he harps on about his huge personal library of books and his name being listed in some “Who’s Who” list of “intellectuals”. These attributes enough make him a perfect rogue, but I shall elucidate below more good reasons for his place in the gallery.
First, I will describe his debate tactics:
Unsubstantiated Assertion- This is PianoMan’s foundation strategy. He opens up a salvo with a bunch of claims and ideas, without ever defending his position or citing sources for his data. Many of his assertions are outright nonsense. And when his opponent provides a detailed rebuttal to his claims, giving evidence and citing sources, he has a tendency to ignore that rebuttal, and in his reply, move on to totally different topics! For example: Our debate began because of his beliefs in a Mithraic origin of Christianity. So he opened up like this:
Research the ten or so articles on the Web under the heading MITHRAISM, and you will find the 'missing link' between GRECO-ROMAN (or Mithraic) [and] 'Catholic' (or, UNIVERSAL, OR EAST AND WEST!) CHURCH!!!
He didn’t state his case with any evidence, he just told me to go “look it up.” So in reply, I mentioned the Tekton and Think Tank articles on Mithraism, summarized some data from each, and told him that he should read the articles carefully to see how they stack up with his skeptical data. In his immediate reply, he did not critique the articles, but changed the subject! Which brings me to his next characteristic:
Failure to Counter Rebuttals- Throughout the entire debate he would not critique and respond to my rebuttals with data, but would either change the subject, denigrate my sources (without adequately explaining why), or declare my response as “patently absurd” (again, without explaining why). The fact that he would evade my challenges to his claims was a major factor in my decision to end the debate.
Irrelevant Tangents- This was a particularly annoying peeve. PianoMan had a tendency to attempt to turn a discussion on the origins of Christianity into a political argument over European racism, Indian history, and the Florida election! For reasons incomprehensible to me, he chose the venue of our discussion to unload polemics about all the bad things white people have done or allegedly done (especially Christians and Republicans) and how “the world” is finally learning the truth. As part of that, he sings his own praises as a crusader steadfastly committed to his cause. This is a sampling of his enlightenment:
YOU CAN REST ASSURED THAT THE REST OF THE WORLD WILL RECLAIM ITS HISTORY IN THE COMING YEARS & DECADES, BECAUSE WE WILL NOT LET THE LIES PREVAIL! WE ARE RECLAIMING OUR HISTORY, NOT REVISING IT! IT WAS STOLEN FROM US IN THE LAST 200 TO 500 YEARS BY THE ANGLO-SAXON 'ARYAN' THEORISTS…..
I REALIZE THAT MOST PEOPLE CANNOT OR WILL NOT DISCERN THE TRUTH AND WILL WANT TO HOLD ON THEIR 'BELIEFS' FOR POLITICAL & ECONOMIC PURPOSES, IN THE MEANWHILE, TRASHING THE PLANET IN THE NAME OF GOD. BUT, BECAUSE I HAVE TWO BEAUTIFUL CHILDREN, I HAVE TAKEN THIS PROJECT ON, BECAUSE I DO NOT WANT THE TOM DELAYS AND THE NEWT GANGRENES [sic] OF THIS WORLD TO GET AWAY WITH THEIR LIES, AND KEEP WINNING, LIKE THEIR LYING, THIEVING AND MURDEROUS FOREFATHERS (AMERICAN INDIAN LANDS & BLACK LABOR, etc.), AS THEY HAVE BEEN WINNING WITH THEIR 'SHINING CITY ON A HILL' [expletive] FOR 500 YEARS! THEIR DAYS ARE NUMBERED, BUT THEY WILL TRY TO HANG ON BY HOOK OR BY CROOK, AS THEY JUST STOLE THE ELECTION! BUT OUR CHILDREN & THE ENVIRONMENT ARE MUCH MORE IMPORTANT THAN THESE JESUS FREAKS, FRATBRATS & REDNECKS!
ARYAN AND SEMI-ARYAN AND PSEUDO-ARYAN THEORISTS GOT A HOLD OF HISTORY AND GROSSLY DISTORTED IT, AND THEY HAD THE AUDACITY TO ACCUSE US OF REVISING HISTORY, WHEN THEY ARE, IN FACT, THE ONES WHO REVISED HISTORY BASED ON THEIR STUPID ARYAN THEORIES THAT WERE SUMMARILY DISCREDITED AND DEMOLISHED AFTER WORLD WAR II, BUT STILL HAS A FEW RABID SOUTHERNERS TRYING TO KEEP THESE ALIVE
Apart from some mention of early India studies, PianoMan has yet to say what history has been deliberately and grossly distorted by Caucasian scholars. He has never made clear what history is being reclaimed from this establishment of Anglo-Saxon theorists, but makes political claims about the Florida electoral dispute. He doesn’t say how this polemic of his has any relevance to the veracity of the Bible or the claims of Jesus, and the simple answer is, of course, that it has no relevance whatsoever. But it is relevant in uncovering PianoMan’s character and worldview.
Vicious Attacks- If you don’t smile and nod at whatever PianoMan says, you might as well brace yourself for the eventual storm of personal attacks. As the reader can tell from the above quotes, PianoMan doesn’t think too highly of conservative politicians, or Southerners, for that matter. And if you’re a white person and you aren’t willing to accept the legitimacy of his most noble enterprise, then you may soon learn that you are a bigot and a racist. Towards the close of the debate, he continued to wax eloquent about his cause and his opposition to the atrocities committed by “my kind.” Of course, I was taken aback by this, being associated with malicious evildoers, whom he failed to even identify! Consider some more quotes from this purveyor of peace and understanding:
AND THE WEIGHT OF THE WORLD POPULATION COMING AT YOU IS NOT SOMETHING YOU ALL ARE GOING TO BE ABLE TO OVERCOME, BELIEVE ME! DESPITE THE FACT THAT YOU ARE ONE OR MORE OF THE FOLLOWING: A YAHOO, A REDNECK IN TRAINING, OR A JESUS FREAK IN TRAINING (MIND YOU, I SEPARATE LEGITIMATE MAINSTREAM CHRISTIANS FROM THIS GROUP I CATEGORIZE AS JESUS FREAKS, BECAUSE THEY ARE ALL WRONG, ALL WET, AND FULL OF YOU KNOW WHAT!
Here the personal insults begin. PianoMan also decided to distinguish between “Jesus Freaks” and “mainstream Christians.” Based on his understanding of Christianity, a mainstreamer is probably someone who doesn’t have any faith and trust in Jesus or the Bible to legitimately warrant the term “Christian.” In fact, PianoMan said he is a “Christian” because he “follows the ethical teachings of Jesus.” My my, what a delightful salad bar “Christianity” that is not Christian in any biblical, creedal, or historical sense, and lacks all the real meat. Jesus Freak? As the dc Talk song says, “I don’t really care if they label me a Jesus Freak. ‘Cuz there ain’t no disguising the truth.”
HAPPY TRAILS TO YOU, BUT PEOPLE LIKE ME WILL NOT REST UNTIL WE EXPOSE THE LIES AND MURDEROUS ANTICS (AMERINDIANS, BLACKS, IRAQIS, IRANIANS, LIBYANS, ETC.) OF YOUR KIND! AND WE ARE GOING TO TAKE THIS COUNTRY BACK FROM THE REDNECKS, FRATBRATS & JESUS FREAKS, ALTHOUGH, ONCE AGAIN, AS IN THE LAST 500 YEARS, YOU ALL PULLED ANOTHER THEFT, A THEFT OF THE LEGITIMATE ELECTION, BY DISENFRANCHISING OVER FIFTY PERCENT OF THE ELECTORATE! AND IF WE DO NOT SUCCEED IN RESTRAINING THESE EVIL PEOPLE IN THE U. S., WE WILL MAKE SURE THAT THE WORLD KNOWS ABOUT THEM AND SOONER OR LATER PUT AN END TO THEIR 500 YEAR REIGN OF TERROR!
Again, I am somehow associated with an alleged band of lying, murdering conspirators who stole the election and reign with tyranny. Based on what he has said in all his e-mails, I’m guessing the implication is that all white Republican Christians are horribly evil. Of course, PianoMan never asked me about my feelings concerning slavery, the treatment of Native Americans and Iraqis, or what my party affiliation is (and I have none). I am assumed to be a member of the detestable establishment he opposes.
THIS IS NOT ANGLO SAXON AMERICA ANYMORE, AND YOU ARE NOT GOING TO BE ABLE TO CONTROL THE PARAMETERS OF THE DEBATE, BECAUSE ITS WIDER THAN YOUR LIMITED MIND CAN COMPREHEND.
He called me smart earlier, but I guess my obstinacy in not seeing the light changed his mind. J Again, supposedly because Anglo-Saxon thugs don’t have free reign to burn books, the truth is coming out. If so, it certainly isn’t reflected in the weight of his assertions.
I'm not sure you are not racist (or elitist), because, like other contemporary 'academics' and 'scholars', YOU want to CONTROL the parameters, and YOU want to control the AGENDA, etc., when there is a BROAD PICTURE that has to be drawn here!
The reason for this rant? I told him he needed to stop changing the subject instead of responding to my rebuttals. This is simply an excuse to evade dealing with the evidence I presented. If his “big picture” worldview can’t be defended on a single topic like Mithraism, how could he not question its validity? He didn’t write counter-rebuttals, but would launch into other topics, sometimes several at once! As a result, I was fed up with writing and citing material that he would dismiss with one-line responses without making his case. I could see that the debate was going nowhere, so I said that we needed to stick to one topic at a time if we were to break any ground. I also said that I would not continue the debate if he continued to launch personal attacks and digress into politics. His response was reactionary and emotional, as the reader can tell from above. And the charge of racism was the last straw. So in my last e-mail I refuted the data he finally presented on Mithraism, and said goodbye.
PianoMan also attacked the apologists I cited, instead of their arguments, further demonstrating the intellectual bankruptcy of his position. If he stopped accusing J.P. Holding and the rest of being marginalized Euro-centric Anglo-Saxons and answering their evidence, he just might not have made it into the Rogue Gallery.
So, despite the soiled package that PianoMan wrapped his claims in, do they have any worth regardless? Not really. Here’s a sampling of what you might find from the amateur household skeptic:
THE 'TRINITY' AMONG MANY OTHER THINGS IN CHRISTIANITY ALSO COME FROM MITHRAISM!
Well, there is a triad of gods of which Mithra is a member in an ancient Persian pantheon, but, like other associations of deities in ancient cultures, it is a far cry from the unity of “three persons in one Godhead” that the Trinity is. And, as the evidence indicates that Mithraism was not present in Palestine in the 1st century to be of any influence on Christianity, and if it was, it would have been Roman Mithraism, a very different religion from the Persian form.
PianoMan brought up the tired old yarn about contradictions in the Bible. I told him to look at the section on Tekton devoted to that subject, but he hasn’t given any indication that he has read any of it yet.
He also seems to think Christians don’t realize that the Jews were given more than ten commandments and that they sacrificed animals on altars. He objects to the dietary laws, since they “regulate what we can and cannot eat” does not give any legitimate reason why they were not necessary. He also says how there cannot be a New Covenant because God does not change his mind, proving that his understanding of covenant theology is nil.
In his worldview you’ll find his uncritical acceptance that Gnosticism was an authentic, early strand of Christianity, thanks to Elaine Pagels. Since he creates the Gnostic in his own image as New Age-ish “Christians”, PianoMan also suggests that reincarnation was taught by Jesus, using a very strained exegesis and the typical claim in later revisions of the New Testament text that there is no evidence for.
And here are some silly ones:
It is not a comprehensive list, but it gives the reader an idea of PianoMan’s level of “scholarship.” Like your typical household skeptic, PianoMan also pulled out a host of worn out, refuted skeptical arguments like the JEDP theory, Paul “inventing” Christianity, the massacre of the Canaanites, and the usual arguments by outrage over divine judgement and atrocities committed throughout history in the name of God.
In Conclusion -- It is clear that PianoMan’s debate style will not help him win converts, nor should his evidence, for that matter. It will succeed, however, in alienating him from anybody who enjoys conversing at normal decibel levels with a civility that avoids ad hominem charges. Unfortunately, PianoMan is but one of many noisemakers out there who can’t seem to make themselves loud enough. But fortunately for us, we can set the volume control. Whether we choose to confront them or not, skeptics like PianoMan will not go away. They may not heed the word of informed Christians, but our hopes and prayers should always be that the grace of God will one day become loud and clear.