General points

Our goal is to communicate to a larger readership some of the rich insights into the resurrection of the dead that have emerged among scholars of antiquity in recent decades and yet mostly remain, unfortunately, unknown to the general public.  (Kevin J. Madigan and Jon Douglas Levenson)

These books [the Synoptic Gospels] depict the events on which the significance of history and the destiny of every single individual depend: the death and resurrection of Jesus the Messiah… How did the Synoptic Gospels come to be written?  A simple and in some ways adequate answer would be to identify the people who, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, wrote these books and to note the circumstances in which they were written.  (D.A. Carson – Professor Trinity Evangelical Divinity School)

Conservative Christians often affirm that the bible is historically accurate, internally consistent, and morally edifying.  Anyone who has had a good introductory course on the Bible at college level knows that it is not necessarily any of the above… Thom Stark’s book, The Human Faces of God… presents many of the obviously problematic aspects of the Bible – polytheism, human sacrifice, genocide, mistaken eschatological expectations… as Stark realises, it is only by confronting these problems honestly that we can find a firm basis for a constructive biblical theology… As he states at the beginning of the book, the Bible does not have a single viewpoint, and one of its great strengths is its inbuilt tradition of self-criticism.  No modern critic comes as close to being as critical of the biblical tradition as were Amos and Ezekiel, or, for that matter, Jesus.  (John J. Collins – Professor Yale)

David Koresh – Branch Davidians – Waco 1993 – modern example of messianism

The
Bible, the New Testament, they are all operating in a pre-enlightenment world.
In a pre-enlightenment world it is taken for granted by everyone (expect maybe
some very erudite philosophers who don’t believe in it, but the general culture
takes it for granted) that, for example, divine babies can be conceived, that
gods can come to earth and have intercourse with mortals and that this
intercourse can produce divine babies. They take it for granted. It’s simply
part of the baggage of their culture. Therefore in their culture, in a
pre-enlightenment culture, to announce that your Jesus is a divine child is not
going to get the general post-enlightenment reaction that this can’t
happen, couldn’t happen, doesn’t happen, we don’t believe that stuff. It might
get the reaction that we don’t believe your claim, but they cannot and would
not argue that it could not happen. What they would like to know is:
what has your baby done for anyone? If your Jesus is divine, what has he done
for the world? That is a pre-enlightenment question. The post-enlightenment
argument that it can’t happen is never used in the first century. The most
you’ll ever get is that we don’t believe your claim. So in a pre-enlightenment
world, whether we live in a post-enlightenment world or not, we have to respect
that. For example, if Paul goes around the Mediterranean saying that Jesus rose
bodily from the dead, the immediate answer from a polite, pious pagan is not
that we don’t believe in that stuff. The proper answer is: good for you, good
for Jesus, but so what? We’ve heard these kinds of stories before, what’s he
done for us? That is a pre-enlightenment question.  (John Dominic Crossan – Professor Chicago)

“That is the trouble with much popular religion: it is so crude and literal. This is not a matter of high-browed intellectuals knowing better than the common herd. It is a failure of imagination, a loss of the sense of poetry, a crass materialisation of the imagery of mythology.”  (Keith Ward – Professor Oxford)

“it was not only each epoch that found its reflection in Jesus;  each individual created him in accordance with his own character”.  (John Ashton  quoting Schweitzer).

“It is more blessed to give than to receive” Acts 20:35, a saying of triply dubious authenticity, is surely no less precious or powerful than that.  (John Ashton  - Oxford)

“What sort of criteria can be found for assessing the rightness or wrongness of a particular interpretation?  The answer, quite clearly, is None.  Each and every proposed criterion is always open to challenge.  Is there any way out of this impasse?  The history of bitter disagreements between theologians of different branches of the church over the centuries… suggests that the answer is No”. (John Ashton  - Oxford)

“suicide missions…[have] become the defining act of political violence of our age”.  (Diego Gambetta)

If there is indeed a God, a spiritual being of wisdom, compassion and joy, who is the origin and underlying reality of the cosmos, then we might hope to find clues to its nature and its purpose in creation somewhere in our history.  We might hope that such a cosmic intelligence might communicate these things to us, in part at least.  But we might expect that such revelation would be mediated through the limitations and the corruptions of human minds, so that it will always be to some extent ambiguous and allusive.  (Keith Ward – Professor Oxford)

[Bayesian probability]  Thomas Bayes was an eighteenth-century English clergyman who appreciated that the weight attributed to evidence will depend on how plausible the hypothesis to which it pertains is deemed beforehand.  (Paul Davies – Arizona State University)

Thomas Jefferson famously said “I would sooner believe that two Yankee professor lied, than that stones fell from the sky”, when he was told of an eyewitness report of falling meteorites.  (Paul Davies – Arizona State University)

A geologist friend of mine has investigated several eyewitness reports of meteorite falls, and they all turned out to be mistaken interpretations.  (Paul Davies – Arizona State University)

Christianity has a vast reservoir of resources for shaping life and death.  Like most religions it is more capacious and flexible than a philosophical system, and works not only with abstract concepts but with vivid stories, striking images, resonant symbols and life-shaping rituals.  It appeals to heart and senses as well as mind, and offers a range of prompts and provocations for guiding and shaping the lives of individuals and societies.  (Linda Woodhead – Professor Lancaster, Cambridge)

I don’t disagree with the Dalai Lama or Huston Smith or Karen Armstrong on the question of whether all religions preach compassion. The really important disagreement I have with the next step: that, therefore, religions are the same. I don’t think ethics is what religion is essentially all about. A lot of Protestants think that religions are belief systems. Confucianism is more about ethics and ritual, Judaism is more about law and story, Buddhism is more about experience. (Stephen Prothero – Professor Boston, previously Harvard)

I think many atheists are not actually atheists; they’re just people who’ve rejected the Jewish or Christian God, more specifically the god that their parents taught them. They don’t know anything about the Hindu divinities. How can you reject a god that you’ve never even heard of? (Stephen Prothero – Professor Boston, previously Harvard)

Jews have long pointed out to any Christians (or ex-Christians) who would listen: that collective rituals can bear as much meaning as individual contemplative practices, that rites need not always be modified by the adjective ”empty.” (Stephen Prothero – Professor Boston, previously Harvard)

an assumption shared by fundamentalists and “new atheists” alike — is that religions are what their founders and scriptures say they are, rather than what contemporary practitioners make them out to be.  W right rejects this assumption. No religion is in essence evil or good, he writes. Scriptures are malleable. Founders are betrayed. At least for historians, there is little provocation here. (Stephen Prothero – Professor Boston, previously Harvard)

“…the Christian tradition has been preoccupied with orthodoxy (“right doctrine”) at least since the promulgation of the Nicene creed the 4th century. But not all religions are so obsessed with answers. Judaism, for example, is more concerned with orthopraxy (“right practice”), and right practices have varied across time and place….One of the most common misconceptions about the world’s religions is that all of them plumb the same depths, ask the same questions. They do not. Only religions that see God as all good ask how a good God can allow millions to die in earthquakes and tsunamis. Only religions that believe in souls ask whether your soul exists before you are born and what happens to it after you die. And only religions that think we have one soul ask after “the soul” in the singular. Every religion, however, asks after the human condition… The great Christian question is, “What must I do to be saved?” The great Buddhist question is, “How can I eliminate suffering?” The great Confucian question is, “What can we do to create social order?” Hindus inquire about the cycle of life, death, and rebirth; Taoists, about health, long life, and immortality”. (Stephen Prothero – Professor Boston, previously Harvard)

while it is a characteristic of the Judaeo-Christian-Muslim tradition that religious commitment be exclusive and that dual or multiple membership is not tolerated, this principle is far from universal among religions. It is not demanded in most branches of Hinduism and Buddhism. The Buddha did not prohibit the worship of local gods. Hinduism is tolerant in respect of plural allegiances. In Japan, large numbers of people count themselves as both Buddhists and Shintoists. (Bryan R. Wilson – Professor Yale)

strong normative stance of orthodoxy (particularly in the Judaeo-Christian-Islamic tradition) which proscribes deviations and which uses a heavily pejorative language to describe them(“sect,” “cult,” “nonconformity,” “dissent,”etc.).    (Bryan R. Wilson – Professor Yale)

I went to Sri Lanka and wanted to understand what Buddhism meant to Buddhists in a given context. I clearly found that to take the Buddha’s words out of their context, without knowing the cultural background, is liable to give you total misconceptions. For instance, you can simply read that all Buddhists believe that everything is suffering. If you take that seriously, you will think you are going to meet a population of depressives. Of course, Buddhists are quite different to that, which leads to the question, ‘How do Buddhists interpret that everything is suffering?’ (Richard Gombrich)

he [Buddha] was given an alternative idea of what ‘religion’ was about. It did not just have to be about how human beings can save themselves by resorting to the power of some omnipotent deity. (Richard Gombrich)

In India from the earliest times the village and the forest were embedded in people’s minds as a pair of complementary, contrasting concepts. The village stood for civilization, for the works of man, for structure, for norms. The forest was nature untrammeled, the mysterious and unpredictable wilderness, both attractive and frightening, where anything goes. The forest was nature untrammeled, the mysterious and unpredictable wilderness, both attractive and frightening, where anything goes. Perhaps as far back as records go, there were individuals who left the life of society by literally walking out of the village and living as wanderers or hermits. One of them was the man who became known by his achievement, the Buddha: the Enlightened One, or more literally the Awakened One, who had woken from the murky lack of self-awareness in which ordinary people live…. What he found he called the Middle Way. It was a Way because it led to salvation. It was the Middle Way because it led between the life of the householder, bound to the senses, and its extreme opposite, the life of the solitary ascetic who mortified the flesh. (Richard Gombrich)

Earlier Indian thought had often been evocative and insightful, but it operated mainly through myth and metaphor, and never clearly differentiated the literal from the figurative. While the Buddha too made much use of metaphor, he was the first thinker to use abstraction as we do. (Richard Gombrich)

It is a corollary of the Buddha’s karma doctrine that the world is a just place, in which good deeds always ultimately meet their reward and bad deeds their punishment, however long it may take. I would love this to be true, but unfortunately my observations do not allow me to believe it. (Richard Gombrich)

I increasingly suspect that a good deal of the “methods” developed within professional biblical scholarship over the last two hundred years have been, themselves, the product of a worldview that may not have been truly open to discovering the  real Jesus.  The worldview of post-Enlightenment Europe and America was determined, often enough, to see Jesus as a religions teacher and leader offering a personal spirituality and ethic and a heavenly hope.  It had no intention of seeing him as someone who was claiming to be in charge of the world…  (NT Wright – Professor St Andrews and Oxford)

When all is said and done, Darwinism is a scientific theory, provisional in its status and open to modification, correction, development or even ultimate abandonment as the process of scientific advance continues.  (Alister McGrath – Professor KCL and Professor Oxford)

Starting from innumerable very local or tribal spiritual practices, they [different religions] have developed along divergent pathways, but the main traditions have remained focused on a spiritual reality of intelligence and compassion to which humans can become consciously related.  Different ways of construing this reality have developed, and the different traditions will have their own ways of accounting for this.  … So we can say that Moses, Muhammad, Gautama, Master Kung, Ramakrishna, Jesus, and many other spiritual masters experienced the divine spirit, attained an extraordinary degree of spiritual excellence, and formulated interpretations of their experience which were framed within the thought forms of their own culture, yet also transcended their culture by the depth of their inspiration.  (Keith Ward – Professor Oxford)

Through his self-sacrificial life and death, and his entrance into resurrection life, Jesus became, for Christians, the unique image and act of God on this planet (in a defining metaphor, the “Son of God”), the one who expresses what God is and through whom God acts to effect the union of human and divine.   The spirit that filled his life (the “Holy Spirit”) continues to convey the divine love and wisdom to millions of people in many places and cultures.  On such a view, Jesus is not a sudden divine intrusion into the world, the only place where God is present in the world, who helps just a small chosen band of disciples to attain everlasting life with God.  Jesus is a human person who became, and whom God intended to become, the exemplary expression of God’s nature and purpose for every person on earth.  … … Jesus is a direct and immediate expression of the living, active and personal being of God as it turns towards created personal beings on this planet… Jesus’ disciples believed that Jesus knew God fully and made God more fully known to them.  Jesus mediated the power of God in extraordinary ways as he healed, forgave and ate and talked with the socially unacceptable.  … Jesus is the revelation of the deepest possibilities of nature, of nature’s ultimate goal of eternal love, of what human life essential is and of what it can and is intended to become.   (Keith Ward – Professor Oxford)

Human life as a creative co-operation with a God who had a purpose for the world and who wants us to help to realize it.  (Keith Ward – Professor Oxford)

“Being honest about how the New Testament took shape” – Seminary students study for three years at the major seminaries such as Princeton Theological Seminary… then they leave us to serve a local church… fearing that the local church leaders may not be supportive, they frequently forget our teachings and process to preach and teach, far too often, as if the uneducated have the final word on the comparison of the biblical books.  For example, 1 Timothy, which is a work by someone influenced by Paul, is placarded as Paul’s own composition.  It is no wonder then that most people in the highways and byways of our culture assume that the Gospel of Matthew and the Gospel of John were composed by the disciples of Jesus who are called “Matthew” and “John the son of Zebedee”.  The assumption is that these works are by eyewitnesses -  Matthew and John heard what Jesus said and saw what he did.  Furthermore, it is presuppose that we have exactly what they wrote and that no changes have been made by the Greek scribes who copied what had been written.  We are assured that the Gospels we have are identical to the compositions that left the desks of Jesus’ disciples.  Now, let us be honest.  All of this is incorrect.  It is false, and the truth about the origins of our Gospels has been known for about two hundred years.  The Gospel attributed to Matthew cannot have been written by an eyewitness of Jesus and his first disciples.  All New Testament scholars would be pleased if this assumption could prove to be the father of a valid conclusion.  But, alas, the First Gospel was written over fifty years after Jesus’ crucifixion and – most important – the author, who is anonymous and unknown, based his story of Jesus on the Gospel of Mark, which was written first.  And Mark never met Jesus.  Attempts to prove that the Gospel of Matthew is either early or not literally dependent on Mark are usually fired by Christian apologetics, in the sad attempt to “shore up the faith”. Moreover the author of the First Gospel is understandably more interested in serving the needs of his community than in giving us a factual , objective, and uninterpretive account of what Jesus said and did.  The identity of the Fourth Evangelist is also unknown. .. Another point needs to be clarified.  We do not have even one fragment of the gospels from the first century.  We must work on second century, and even much later, copies of the gospels to discern what the author may have written… We text critics of the New Testament have grudgingly been forced to admit that many times scribes, who were copying the books of the New Testament, deliberately alerted the text.  Sometimes the alterations were for doctrinal reasons, sometimes they were caused by what seems to have been an embarrassing saying or episode.  Often it was to “correct” the text in light of more recent theologies and Christologies. .. Obviously, Christian salvation and teaching cannot be based on what is false.  The discovery of the truth can transport us back into the time of the evangelists…into the time of Jesus, perhaps even into his presence.  (from “The Good and Evil Serpent” by Professor Reverend James Charlesworth of Princeton University)

What is problematical about the title Kyrios [Lord] is that through it Jesus can be exalted to become a formal authority.  Human beings have an unquenchable need to give themselves absolute authorities.  The historian of religion and of Christianity shows that dedication to absolutised “Lords” can activate dangerous energy.  (Gerd Theissen and Annette Merz – Professors Heidelberg and Utrecht)

There are, of course, also interesting parallels in the narratives of the two figures [“Gautama the Buddha and Jesus the Christ”].   Both have miraculous births; the future greatness of both is recognised by sages at religious ceremonies (Jesus’ presentation in the temple and Gautama’s naming at his father’s court); both undergo a period of testing or temptation; and both perform miracles.  (Peggy Morgan – Oxford)

It seems highly probable that, if there is a God, there will be some such communication of God’s nature and purpose. There will be revelation, or a finite communication of divine truth through a medium of great beauty, wisdom, moral insight and spiritual power. It may be a text or a person, or a text communicated through a person who has an especially close relationship to God.  Again, we have to judge as well as we can whether a person has such a close relationship to God. We will examine their lives for moral heroism, inspired wisdom, spiritual peace and joy, a sense of union with the supreme Spirit, and liberation from self. But it is reasonable to think that some humans will have an especially close and intense knowledge and love of God, or that God will take some human lives and unite them closely to the divine in knowledge and love. They will become the channels of divine revelation of what God is and of what God desires and for the world. (Keith Ward – Professor Oxford)

… Depends on what one thinks Christianity fundamentally stands for.  There is no obvious, established answer to this question which simply being a Christian commits one to.  Christianity, over the course of its two-thousand –year history and throughout the extent of its global reach, exhibits a great variety of answers; Christians are simply not of one mind on this most fundamental of theological questions.  Answers vary of course with church affiliation.  But church affiliation does not decide the matter.  (Kathryn Tanner – Professor Yale)

“The Beginning and the End of “Religion””. Not the beginning or the end of faith, or hope or charity.  Not the beginning or the end of prayer or proclamation, of the duty laid upon all humankind to work for peace, and justice, and the integrity of God’s creation.  But the view that “religion” is the name of one particular district which we may inhabit if we feel so inclined, a region of diminishing plausibility and significance, a territory quite distinct from those we know as “politics” and “art”, as “science” and “law” and “economics”; this view of things, peculiar to modern Western culture, had a beginning in the seventeenth , and (if “post-modern” means anything at all) is now coming to an end.  (Nicholas Lash – Professor Cambridge)

If God, as Lash says over and over, can only be apprehended through what worshippers do, and if theology is the study of those apprehensions, then attempting to follow the paths of theological argument without doing anything must necessarily be a bewildering exercise. (from book review of Nicholas Lash – Professor Cambridge)

Of course, there are a great many readers of the New Statesman who would say that they find atheism entirely possible. Against them, Lash just says their belief is “intellectually uninteresting” because they “take for granted that ‘belief in God’ is a matter of supposing there to be, over and above the familiar world we know, one more large and powerful fact or thing, for the existence of which there is no evidence whatsoever”.(from book review of Nicholas Lash – Professor Cambridge)

That modern Western concepts of “religion” are ill fitted to describe the traditions of the “East” – of India, China, and Japan – is something of a commonplace by now.  (Nicholas Lash – Professor Cambridge)

[fundamentalism]  Contemporary foundationalism takes a surprising variety of forms, ranging from the scriptural literalism of Christian Evangelicals and Islamists to the genomic logocentrism and neurophysiological reductionism of some of today’s most sophisticated scientists.  These seemly disparate forms of belief are alternative versions of a religiosity that privileges simplicity, security and certainty over complexity, insecurity and uncertainty.  Such religiosity attempts to banish down by absolutising relative norms and dividing the world between exclusive opposites (good/evil, sacred/ profane, religion/secularity, West/East, white/black, Christianity/Islam etc).  Its premise is that reality is solid – everything is clear, neat, pure, precise, and, thus, nothing remains subtle, ambiguous, uncertain.  (Mark C. Taylor – Professor Columbia)

A rather striking historical fact… [is that] each of the major Eurasian traditions which dominate the history of literature culture has possessed some body of authoritative texts, the transmission of which has been central to its continuing identity.  The Greeks had their Homer, the Jew and Christians their Bible, the Zoroastrians their Avesta, the Hindus their Vedas, the Buddhists their Tripitaka, the Chinese their classics and the Muslims their Koran.  In terms of character and content these texts do not have much in common.  .. Nor is there anything very uniform about the way in which such texts have been preserved, bar the fact that sooner or later they were all reduced to writing.  What they share, despite all this variety, is their centrality to their respective cultures.  (Michael Cook – Professor Princeton)

We are not meant to be here. This is not our homeland. We really belong somewhere else.  (Alastair McGrath – Professor KCL and Professor Oxford)

Modern believers have tried to forget these ancient debates, and have largely succeeded. But these were only some of the beliefs which early Christians died and later killed for. They help to remind us that there were then, as there still are today, many Christianities. And it was by no means predictable which orthodoxies would win. (Keith Hopkins – Professor Cambridge)

Malise Ruthven argues that contemporary fundamentalisms are defensive in origin. The ultra-conservatism of these movements is an attempt to reconcile their traditions with modernity while preserving the elements within those traditions which insulate their followers against the doubt and choice that characterizes the modern world.  (From review of “Fundamentalism” by Malise Ruthven – Dartmouth)

The key to fundamentalism, Ruthven says, is the ‘scandal of difference’, the shock of ‘the other’. Traditionalists do not know they are traditionalists because they are unaware of any alternative. Yet in today’s media-saturated world, ‘cognitive insulation’ is simply not a practical option, and exposure to other cultures and religions forces a reaction. ‘The surge of fundamentalist movements we are witnessing in many parts of the world is a response to globalization or, more specifically, to the anxieties generated by the thought that there are ways of living and believing other than those deemed to have been decreed by one’s own group’s version of the deity.’ Doubt, in Ruthven’s mind, is an essential quality of modernity.  (From review of “Fundamentalism” by Malise Ruthven – Dartmouth)

There are many different kinds of martyrdom, emerging from a range of historical, political and religious settings.  (Jolyon Mitchell – Professor Edinbrugh, Dartmouth, Cambridge)

Many of the stories considered in this book are of individuals or groups who refused to compromise or “to settle for half”, and instead gave up their lives.  They sacrificed themselves for many different reasons.  These deaths are like question marks interrogating the action of the victim, of the perpetrator and of the spectator.  (Jolyon Mitchell – Professor Edinbrugh, Dartmouth, Cambridge)

Whatever one’s personal attitude towards martyrdom, there is something unsettling about imagining ourselves into the world of an individual who embraces death and sacrifices their life.  (Jolyon Mitchell – Professor Edinbrugh, Dartmouth, Cambridge)

Socrates was ordered to drink hemlock after the Athenian state found him guilty of “denying the gods and corrupting the young”… It appears that he may have rejected the opportunity to go into exile on the grounds that death would be a better form of escape.  (Jolyon Mitchell – Professor Edinbrugh, Dartmouth, Cambridge)

Over 600 years later several early church writers described Socrates as a “pre-Christian martyr”. (Jolyon Mitchell – Professor Edinbrugh, Dartmouth, Cambridge)

Confirmations 1872 2009 General points

Source:  British Religion in Numbers University of Manchester

“Snakes and monkeys are subjected to the demon more than other animals. Satan lives in them and possesses them. He uses them to deceive men and to injure them.” (Martin Luther)

“We know, on the authority of Moses, that longer than six thousand years the world did not exist.” (Martin Luther)

“I feel much freer now that I am certain the pope is the Antichrist.” (Martin Luther)

Our book is set in a society that was more helplessly exposed to death than is even the most afflicted underdeveloped country in the modern world.  Citizens of the Roman Empire at its height, in the second century AD, were born into the world with an average life expectancy of less than twenty-five years…. Unexacting in so many ways in sexual matters, the ancient city expected its citizens to expend a requisite proportion of their energy begetting and rearing legitimate children to replace the dead.  (Peter Brown – Professor Princeton)

The most elevated of celebrities are Hollywood stars. Like the popular conception of god found in Homer and even the Hebrew Bible, Hollywood stars are rarely seen in person and , when beheld on the screen, are gargantuan in size, can do anything, taken on disguises, and are immortalised in their films.  They have qualities so hyped as to be superhuman: not mere bravery but fearlessness, not mere kindliness but saintliness, not mere strength but omnipotence, not mere wisdom but omniscience… the terms used of fans; admiration say it all: stars are “idolised” and “worshipped”.  And the greatest are called “gods”.  As “stars”, they shine brightly in a heaven far above us.  Fans are “star struck”…. Fans continue to “idolise” and “worship” stars, not in ignorance of their flaws but in defiance of them.  they flaws are either denied our discounted.  It is not that fans don’t know.  It is that they don’t’ want to know, or else don’t.  But their devotion is not mindless.  It is done knowingly.  It is… make-believe, not credulity.  It requires the refusal to let contrary evidence get in the way… Cinema-going combines myth with ritual and brings gods, hence myths, back into the world… (Robert Segal – Professor Aberdeen, Stanford)

Guardian article on superheroes

“I form the light and create darkness. I make peace and create evil. I the lord do all these things”. (Isaiah 45:7)

Stanley taught me a great deal …  I began to acquire an historical outlook, seeing the middle ages in their own terms and not as a happy preparation for the perfect constitution as operated by [the current Prime Minister] Baldwin.  (AJP Taylor – Oxford)

In short, the amateur arena is full of deeply flawed junk science. Important issues are cloaked in legitimate-sounding terminology, little attention is paid to the investigative process, and contrary evidence is ignored. Biblical archaeologists are suddenly finding themselves in a position similar to the evolutionary biologists fighting intelligent design – an entire parallel version of their field is being driven by religious belief, not research principles. The biologists’ situation makes the risk clear – they did not deign to mount a public refutation of the “science” of intelligent design for years, until it was almost too late, and thus anti-evolutionary science began making its way into the public schools. (Eric H. Cline – Professor George Washington, previously Stanford, Yale)

Biblical archaeology is not about proving or disproving the Bible; its practitioners as concerned with investigating the material culture of the lands and eras in question and reconstructing the culture and history of the Holy Land for a period lasting more than two thousand years.  (Eric H. Cline – Professor George Washington, previously Stanford, Yale)

Even those who are left cold by all forms of goddess worship are likely to have been affected by the death of Diana, Princess of wales, in 1997… both before and after her death, Diana’s story has been told as a myth, and as a myth that knowingly incorporates and plays upon that of her namesake, the Roman goddess Diana.  Diana Spencer was first cast as Cinderella, with her early life in particular narrated as a fairy-tale.  But with her virginity and then her motherhood so publicly emphasised, she was also given the role of the goddess Diana (who had special affinities with both states of womanhood)…. The response to her death was extraordinary by any standards.  She was mourned worldwide with rituals and shrines.  So much so that the Archbishop of York called for an end to the “cult” of Diana: “We should be careful that she is not worshipped.  That worship should be directed to the God who created her”.  (Helen Morales – Professor California, Cambridge)

To come into this glorious future is to learn how to be dependent on God, and that word tends to have a chilly feel, especially for us who are proudly independent moderns…. Can we as a society accept and even celebrate the fact that there is a proper place for mature dependence – as human beings we need to receive and learn:  not so that they can get to the point where they stop receiving and learning, but so they can acquire the habit of receiving and learning in ever-new settings. (Rowan Williams – Professor Oxford and Cambridge)

How old is the universe?  Well, science painstakingly reckons it’s about 14 billion years, give or take the odd billion.  Not so, says religious authority:  it is 6000 years old.  Where did you get that from?  The Bible!  What evidence?  The Bible!  I see:  on what grounds do you trust the Bible?  Because the Bible tells me so!  I had long since grown tired of that kind of circularity.  … I don’t mind you sticking to a 3000 year old myth of creation that says God made the universe in six days.  It’s eccentric, but I can live with it unless you try to impose your eccentricity on everyone else.  But where women and gays are concerned it is not just an eccentric opinion, it is an active injustice … Your opinion has solid consequences for the lives of men and women, some of them terrifying.  (Richard Holloway – Professor Gresham, formerly Bishop of Edinburgh)

If there is a deity of the kind imagined by votaries of the big mail-order religions such as Christianity and Islam, and if this deity is the creator of all things, then it is responsible for cancer, meningitis, millions of spontaneous abortions every day, mass killings of people in floods and earthquakes-and too great mountain of other natural evils to list besides. It would also, as the putative designer of human nature, ultimately be responsible or the ubiquitous and unabatable human propensities for hatred, malice, greed, and all other sources of the cruelty and murder people inflict on each other hourly.  (A.C. Grayling – Professor Birkbeck, Oxford)

The absolute certainty, the unreflective credence given to ancient texts that relate to historically remote conditions, the zealotry and bigotry that flow from their certainty, are profoundly dangerous: at their extreme they result in mass murder, but long before then they issue in censorship, coercion to conform, the control of women, the closing of hearts and minds. (A.C. Grayling – Professor Birkbeck, Oxford)

People who need the security of adherence to a big dominating ideology, however much they kick and scratch but without daring to leave go, hold on to it every bit as tightly as it holds onto them.   (A.C. Grayling – Professor Birkbeck, Oxford)

Conservative evangelicals cannot be argued with. The more we say they’re wrong, the more convinced they become they’re right… … So what can be done? Argument is pretty useless. Conservative religious people are generally locked in a self-referencing worldview where truth is about strict internal coherence rather than any reaching out to reality. That’s why they treat the Bible like some vast jigsaw – its truth residing in a complex process of making the pieces fit together and not with the picture it creates.  (Giles Fraser – Church of England priest, Oxford)

The idolatry of holy books…What the reformed traditions often don’t get is that they have given up worshipping images only to worship a book.  (Giles Fraser – Church of England priest, Oxford)

So why am I still a Christian?  Because, in part, the intellectual problem of suffering does not accurately depict the reality of human pain and how we respond to it.  It is significant that in more than ten years of being a priest, of taking heart-breaking funerals and of being face to face with much human tragedy, no one has seen fit to ask me how god and suffering can coexist.  Yes, there is the burning question “why?” – but it’s not a tutorial-type question as much as a cry of deep despair.  (Giles Fraser – Church of England priest, Oxford)

Human beings have an intense desire to impose order on the world.  (Natalie Haynes)

Questioning the gods’ existence and form was a very philosophical pursuit.  Xenophanes, a sophist from Ionia born in the late sixth century BCE, once wrote, “If oxen and lions and horses had hands like men, and could draw and make works of art, horses would make gods like horses, and oxen like oxen, and each would draw picture of the gods as if they had bodies like their own”.  This is an extraordinary statement for its times, suggesting that gods are made in man’s image, rather than the other way around.  The scepticism of Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens goes back, a great deal further than we might have imagined.  (Natalie Haynes)

Scientologists inside and outside the Church hold that Mr Hubbard is the saviour of humanity.  Others question that. Paul Thomas Anderson’s brave and good film, The Master, is loosely based on Hubbard.  The film’s tortured main character, a true disciple, is warned: “You know he’s making it up as he goes along”.  (John Sweeney)

According to the “Jesus – The Original Superhero” sermon outline on the site, “Superman’s mythical origins are rooted in the timeless reality of a spiritual superhero who also lived a modest life until extraordinary times required a supernatural response.” “He was sent by his father on a life-saving mission to earth. Raised in the heartland, by God-fearing parents, Clark Kent kept his extraordinary gifts under wraps until it was time to intervene.” http://manofsteelresources.com/

Christianity, particularly as it was shaped b the apostle Paul, is a religion of anticipation, in that humanity is understood to be suspended in time between Christ’s first and second coming, knowing that the world’s restoration to its original wholeness and divine indwelling is assured by not yet completed.  (Bronislaw Szerszynski  Lancaster University)

The reference of the metaphor in religious traditions is to something transcendent that is not literally anything. If you think that the metaphor is itself the reference, it would be like going to a restaurant, asking for the menu, seeing beefsteak written there, and starting to eat the menu… …. For example, [the idea that] Jesus ascended to heaven. The denotation would seem to be that somebody ascended to the sky. That’s literally what is being said. But if that were really the meaning of the message, then we have to throw it away, because there would have been no such place for Jesus literally to go. We know that Jesus could not have ascended to heaven because there is no physical heaven anywhere in the universe. Even ascending at the speed of light, Jesus would still be in the galaxy; astronomy and physics have simply eliminated that as a literal, physical possibility, But if you read “Jesus ascended to heaven” in terms of its metaphoric connotation, you see that he has gone inward – not into outer space but into inward space, to the place from which all being comes, into the consciousness that is the source of all things, the kingdom of heaven within. The images are outward, but their reflection is inward. The point is that we should ascend with him by going inward. It is a metaphor of returning to the source, alpha and omega, of leaving the fixation on the body behind and going to the body’s dynamic source.  (Joseph Campbell) [italics added]

“The threat to western freedom in the 21st century is not from fascism or communism but from a religious fundamentalism combining hatred of the other, the pursuit of power and contempt for human rights.”  (Jonathan Sacks)

Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.  (Carl Sagan)

For me the history of Judaism develops from X to Y to Z, just as Christianity develops
from X to Y to Z. and these developments take place in history, due to historical
forces and circumstances, some of which we understand, some of which we don’t
fully understand because of the documentation, but which we nonetheless do our
best to understand.  (Shaye Cohen – Professor Harvard)

When I read any text, and when you read any text, you should ask yourself this
question – “why does this s.o.b. expect me to believe these lies”.  (Shaye Cohen – Professor Harvard)

All we can say with confidence is that life had established itself on Erath by some
time between 3.5 and 4 billion years ago.  This may be compared with the age of the planet itself – about 4.5 billion years.  (Paul Davies – Arizona
State University)

[“evolutionary convergence”]  occurs when the same
biological solution is discovered for similar problem, but via different route and form different starting points.  Examples abound.  Wings have been invented many times – in insects, birds, mammals and even fish.  They have arisen independently because flying or gliding has obviously evolutionary advantages in some circumstances, and growing wings by adapting different organs (skin between limbs for flying foxes, fins for fish…) is a relatively straightforward step.  Eyes have arisen many times too.  In fact, there are many different sorts of eyes.  Sight also has great advantages, and it is no surprise that evolution has discovered it, independently, again and again.  (Paul
Davies – Arizona State University)

Slamming another planet into [the Earth] already happened when the proto-Earth was
struck by a Mars-sized body about 4.5 billion years god.  The outer layer was stripped off (and became the Moon), but the rest of the material merged to make a bigger planet.  (Paul Davies – Arizona State University)

All too often people equate the historical Jesus
with the real: If we could only get to the historical Jesus, we could get to
the real Jesus. But the historical Jesus is the Jesus of modern historians.
It’s very important to realize that the historical Jesus is a modern construct.
So right out of the gate, the historical Jesus is not the same thing as the
real Jesus. If one then goes from the purely historical into the realm of faith
and theology, then real takes on further nuances and
meanings. For the believer, the real Jesus encountered today, while certainly
in continuity with that Jesus who lived on earth 2,000 years ago, is the
crucified and risen Jesus encountered through the mediation of the community of
belief in scripture, prayer, church teaching, faith, and sacraments. (J. P. Meier -
Professor University of Notre Dame)

It is impossible to avoid the suspicion that historical Jesus research is a very safe place to do theology and call it history.  (John Dominic Crossan – Professor Chicago)

I would love it if every clergyperson would stand up and say to their
congregations: “Sometimes the Bible is wrong.” There is a
taken-for-grantedness in conservative American Christian culture—and it’s true,
I think, in much of mainline Christianity today as well—that understanding the
Bible is simple. And, if the Bible says something is wrong, then that pretty
much settles it. There are very few Christians who are willing to stand up and
say, “Sometimes the Bible is wrong.” Yet, I think that’s really important
for Christians to say occasionally…Obvious examples are passages in the Bible
that say slavery is OK. And, there are some passages in the Bible that
absolutely prohibit divorce. In Mark 10:9, it’s complete. Matthew has an exception clause: except for reasons of adultery. Then, there are clearly passages in the New
Testament that expect Jesus to come again very soon from their point in time.
Now, 2,000 years have passed. There are so many more examples where in plain
terms we need to say, “Sometimes the Bible is wrong.”  (Marcus J. Borg – Professor Oregon State)

value and importance of being part of a religious community that gives
us a new identity. It’s the same notion behind being born again, with the added
role of community. Being part of a religious community puts us in touch with
the wisdom of the past, which I value very much.  (Marcus
J. Borg – Professor Oregon State)

The political ideologies of the last two hundred years [i.e. Communism and Fascism]
were vehicles for a myth of salvation in history that is Christianity’s most
dubious gift to humanity. The faith-based violence to which this myth gave rise
is a congenital western disorder. The early Christian belief in an End-Time
that would bring about a new type of human life was transmitted via the
medieval millenarians to become secular utopianism and, in another incarnation,
the belief in progress. (John Gray – Professor London School of
Economics)

The
most necessary task of the present time is to accept the irreducible reality of
religion. In the Enlightenment philosophies that shaped the last two centuries,
religion was a secondary or derivative aspect of human life that will
disappear, or cease to be important, when its causes are removed. Once poverty
is eradicated and education universal, social inequality has been overcome and
political repression is a thing of the past, religion will have no more
importance than a personal hobby. Underlying this article of Enlightenment
faith is a denial of the fact that the need for religion is generically human.
It is true that religions are hugely diverse and serve many social functions —
most obviously, as welfare institutions. At times they have also served the
needs of power. But beyond these socio-political purposes, religions express
human needs that no change in society can remove — for example the need to
accept what cannot be remedied and find meaning in the chances of life. Human
beings will no more cease to be religious than they will stop being sexual,
playful or violent. (John Gray – Professor London School of
Economics)

[Mao] was worshipped as a semi-divine figure -
as Stalin was in the Soviet Union.  (John
Gray – Professor London School of Economics)

The belief that history is a directional process
is as faith-based as anything in the Christian catechism. Secular thinkers such
as Grayling reject the idea of providence, but they continue to think humankind
is moving towards a universal goal – a civilisation based on science that will
eventually encompass the entire species. In pre-Christian Europe, human life
was understood as a series of cycles; history was seen as tragic or comic
rather than redemptive. With the arrival of Christianity, it came to be
believed that history had a predetermined goal, which was human salvation.
Though they suppress their religious content, secular humanists continue to
cling to similar beliefs. One does not want to deny anyone the consolations of
a faith, but it is obvious that the idea of progress in history is a myth
created by the need for meaning
.  The
problem with the secular narrative is not that it assumes progress is
inevitable (in many versions, it does not). It is the belief that the sort of
advance that has been achieved in science can be reproduced in ethics and
politics. In fact, while scientific knowledge increases cumulatively, nothing
of the kind happens in society. Slavery was abolished in much of the world
during the 19th century, but it returned on a vast scale in nazism and
communism, and still exists today. Torture was prohibited in international
conventions after the second world war, only to be adopted as an instrument of
policy by the world’s pre-eminent liberal regime at the beginning of the 21st
century. Wealth has increased, but it has been repeatedly destroyed in wars and
revolutions. People live longer and kill one another in larger numbers.
Knowledge grows, but human beings remain much the same.  Belief in progress is a relic of the Christian view of history as a universal narrative, and an intellectually
rigorous atheism would start by questioning it.
(John Gray – Professor London School of Economics)  [italics added]

In 2013 Germany was the first country to legally acknowledge the possibility that a baby may be born without it being clear whether the child is male or female.  Link.

If religion functions to unify a group, then
football supporters may constitute a religion of their own. After all, they
identify themselves as followers of a team, and they pit themselves against
followers of any rival team.  They
“idolise” and “worship” the players. They take for granted
a gap between themselves and the players, the best of whom are called
“gods”. Fans seek to get close to the players but never presume to
efface the line between themselves, who are mere mortals, and the players. A
match is a religious gathering, with its own agenda and decorum. One goes to
the stadium to participate in the worship of the team. One feels saved when the
team wins, damned when the team loses. Celebrities in many domains of life are
treated as gods, and fans are their worshippers. Celebrities are seen as
superhuman, not in all respects but, like gods in many religions, in a single
respect. Zeus was strong, Aphrodite beautiful. The Hebrew God is neither
omnipotent nor omniscient. Celebrities live like gods and get away with what
ordinary folks do not. It could, then, be argued that fans create a religion of
their own. Yet unconventional religiosity is not confined to hero
“worship”. Any cause to which persons unite in their devotion can be
called a religion. Nationalism, communism, the saving of the planet (Gaia
worship!) and even professions such as science and medicine can garner as much
devotion as any conventional religion. Those willing to give their lives,
literally or figuratively, to their causes may stand more committed than
practitioners of standard religions. Unconventional religions can have a
pantheon, an officialdom, an orthodoxy, rituals and ethics as systematic as
those of any standard religion. Gatherings can be as intense as those in an
evangelical service. Participants can, in short, be characterised as fervently
religious, and even when, in ordinary terms, they proudly consider themselves
atheists. (Robert Segal – Professor Aberdeen)

Joseph Smith, Moon, and a host of others (plus of course the endless stream of tele-evangelists who leverage already-established beliefs) have demonstrated clearly that humans are always and forever eager for tales about gods, afterlife, and “the
chosen” or “the elect” or whatever. Over time the more adaptable
of these cults grow and the less adaptable perish – selection forces are
forever at work, just as with physical evolution. There’s no mystery here to be
explained. It’s just part of what people do. Christianity grew because it
happened to adapt better than some of the other local cults; only in retrospect
does this fact appear to need some greater “explanation.” Had
Christianity dropped out, we’d now be seeking to understand why some other cult
apparently had such amazing appeal. In other words, we need to see the
phenomenon, not the particular outcome.
(CA-Oxonian) [from comments in an Economist article]

the profound human need for religion… religions must explain the fragile joys and perpetual anxieties that mystify and frighten humanity: we need to sense a greater force
than ourselves.  We respect death and long
to find meaning in it.  (Simon Sebag
Montefiore – Professor University of Buckingham)

Polemic to a large extent is not about attempting to convince the enemy.  It is about attempting to convince your own people
not to be attracted by the enemy… Polemics is kind of defensive.  The form it takes is that the other guys do not know what they are talking about.
They are the recipients of true religion but they have distorted
it.  (Guy Stroumsa – Professor Oxford)

Two critical cultures developed in the vast sweep of ancient NearEastern and Mediterranean history. One was Greece, with its alphabetic culture, its philosophy and skepticism. The second was Israel, with its rejection of the sacral claims of state and church and with its sustained prophetic critique of the mighty and wealthy—including priest and king—who oppressed the poor and the weak. Israel’s attitudes towards its rulers, and the unjust society they created, are unique in the ancient Near East, where deified kings and hierarchical class structure were assumed to be part of the order of creation. Writing, alphabetic writing, I would suggest, made an important contribution to the development of what has been called the prophetic principle.  … … Greece and Israel are new, radical, “hot” societies. They mark a profoundbreak from the older conservative and hierarchical societies of the ancient Near East. I have little doubt that the invention ofthe alphabet and its increasing use played a role in the emergence of these changes. … … I am not sure I would use the term spiritual.The prophetic insights had to do with justice, with egalitarianism, with the redemption of the poor and oppressed, with the evils and self‑interest of the powerful, with the corruption of court and temple. Israel arose as the ancient, brilliant cultures of Mesopotamia and Egypt had become decadent or moribund. They were always “cold” societies, static, hierarchical, oppressive. They had their season, and the ancient world was ripe for change… … [what was new in Israel was] Israel’s critique of kingship and temple. The prophets do not spare the priesthood and the temple in their resounding judgments on Israel. Jeremiah tells priests and people that the Temple of Yahweh will not protect them, that it is not inviolable sacred space. The prophets never permitted kingship in Israel to become an Oriental despotism. There were always limits on the king. The prophets refused to leave the kings in peace. (Frank Moore Cross – Professor Harvard)

The list of indiscretions by NT scholars in rabbinics, or by rabbinic scholars in NT, would
be a long one. I allude here to errors in scholarship and not to pseudo
scholarship. (Samuel Sandmel – Professor Hebrew Union College)

Two hundred years ago Christians and Jews and Roman Catholics and Protestants seldom read each other’s books, and almost never met together to exchange views and opinions on academic matters related to religious documents. Even a hundred years ago such cross-fertilization or meeting was rare. (Samuel Sandmel – Professor Hebrew
Union College)

There are a number of branches of philosophy that have not as yet been by any means adequately explored; but the inquiry into the nature of the gods, which is both highly interesting in relation to the theory of the soul, and fundamentally important for the regulation of religion, is one of special difficulty and obscurity, as you, Brutus, are well aware. The multiplicity and variety of the opinions held upon this subject by eminent scholars are bound to constitute a strong argument for the view that philosophy has its origin and starting-point in ignorance, and that the Academic School were well- advised in ” withholding assent ” from beliefs that are uncertain : for what is more unbecoming than ill-considered haste ? and what is so ill-considered or so unworthy of the dignity and seriousness proper to a philosopher as to hold an opinion that is not true, or to maintain with unhesitating certainty a proposition not based on adequate examination, comprehension and knowledge? (Cicero – On the Nature of the Gods)

The origins of Christianity are immensely complex. They have usually been approached in two main ways which, paradoxically enough, have not been mutually exclusive. One approach, not strictly historical, bearing the authority of a very long history and renewed with vigour in the First half of the twentieth century, has emphasized the radical newness of the Christian Gospel as a supernatural phenomenon breaking into the world with a startling discontinuity which defies rational analysis. The other approach, more characteristic of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, has sought to understand the emergence of Christianity as a phenomenon to be interpreted within and over against the contemporary First-century religions. The second approach has generally forked in two directions, one leading to the Graeco-Roman world and one to the Jewish. The Christian movement has correspondingly been illumined mainly in terms either of Hellenistic syncretism or of the Judaism of the First century. Only in the twentieth century has the recognition grown that the Hellenistic and Judaic cultures and religions of the first century cannot be easily separated but reveal deep interpenetration.  (W.D. Davies – Professor Princeton and E.P. Sanders Professor Oxford)

Additions to the Introduction…center on the discussion of how the distinctiveness of Jewish belief and faith interacts with the surrounding Hellenistic culture. The Torah may provide a common basis for postexilic Judaism, but interpretations of it are multiform in nature. Collins sees these interpretations as part of a dynamic process where the purpose of a religion is to assemble resources for living rather than the articulation of consistent systems.  (From David Denver review of Between Athens and Jerusalem by John J. Collins)  

Identity, whether of a people or of an individual, is a matter of knowing who one is, where one is coming from, and where one is going. Such knowledge is a practical necessity if one is to proceed to any purposeful action in life.’ But such knowledge is inevitably shaped by social context. It is “a social- scientific platitude to say that it is impossible to become or to be human, in any empirically recognizable form that goes beyond biological observations, except in society.”^ Peter Berger has gone so far as to say that “the individual becomes that which he is addressed as by others.”^ This is undoubtedly an oversimplification, if only because any individual is likely to be addressed in conflicting ways, but Berger’s valid point is that the identity of any individual is built up in interaction with others and must be confirmed by others if it is not to be merely idiosyncratic or solipsistic. Any society must provide the framework within which individuals can share a common view of reality and confirm each other’s convictions as to where they are coming from and where they are going. Society “provides a world for man to inhabit”* by propagating common assumptions about the nature and purpose of life, and institutions which regulate common modes of action. These assumptions and institutions are frequently religious in character, both in the sense that they are concerned with ultimate reality and in the more obvious sense that they involve the worship of divine beings.^ In the ancient world in general, and in Israel in particular, the dominant beliefs and institutions were explicitly religious and were embodied in traditions passed on from generation to generation. The power of such traditions to shape the identity of people derives from the fact that they are commonly taken as objective reality, within a given society.” If they are to function at all, they must at least be plausible enough to the members of the society to retain their belief. Now plausibility depends to a great extent on social and cultural support. Few people question what everyone else takes for granted. (John J. Collins) 

Another negative perception is that the religion described above was a public ritual system, which ignored or destroyed the needs of individuals for “real” religious experience. Previous scholars reacted to this state of affairs either by vilifying the whole religion as impoverished or by assuming that private religious needs were satisfied in private or family cults about which we know very little. The strong version of this second position is to say that all religions must cater to individual emotional needs; where there are no records of the means used, we must assume that the records are defective. There can, in fact, be little doubt that our knowledge of the religion of the Romans is partial and concentrates on the affairs of the state and public institutions. But forcing all religions into the same mold ignores the possibility that different societies can operate in profoundly different ways. “They must have been like us” is not a good principle for writing religious history. (John North – Professor University College London)

Not the least of the intellectual legacies of Judaism is the tenacity of the conviction that history must have a meaning. (Alan Ryan – Professor Oxford)

Ancient attitudes towards cultural difference can be recovered, principally from surviving texts, but these texts pose various problems. They form a far from complete record of all that was written by the Greeks, Romans and Near Eastern peoples; they are hard to interpret in themselves, and at variance with one another, even within a single period and region; and, with few exceptions, they represent the perspective of a male social elite, a viewpoint very different from that of the unlettered majority. (from book review by James Romm – Bard University)

I sat in a Protestant seminary listening to a distinguished continental biblicist lecture on old Testament theology. At the end of his talk, he remarked that in a year of research in Israel, he had been unable to find anyone interested in the subject. Finally he had asked the member of the Bible department at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem about this curious situation, and the latter replied…that he thought no-one in Israel…had any interest in the whole exercise…The effort to construct a systematic, harmonious theological statement out of the unsystematic and polydox materials in the Hebrew Bible fits Christianity better than Judaism because systematic theology in general is more prominent and more at home in the church. (Jon Levenson – Professor Harvard)

Intellectually honest study of religious texts is always unsettling to those who regard them as authoritative. The idea that historical study does not disclose the identity of Abraham (or even confirm that such a historical figure existed) is certainly no exception. The same holds for the idea that the documents about him date from centuries after he would have lived. Practitioners of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam alike tend to think that their own tradition presents the real, unbiased picture of Abraham, which the others have distorted to one degree or another… The idea that we have no non-traditional access to Abraham — that all talk about him and what he practiced, foreshadowed, or represented is tradition-specific — can be quite challenging. (Jon Levenson – Professor Harvard)

We, as historians, should never flatly believe anything in the historical record. But equally true methodologically is that if we want to be historians we must also be responsible for weighing every piece of evidence, no matter how biased.  (Alan Segal – Professor Columbia)

The study of dead civilizations is, in my opinion, an essential tool for maintaining control over assertions concerning the identity of both one’s own community, country or continent, and those of others. You will not be surprised if I tell you that the history of religions from the past – or religions in the past – has the mission of playing a key part in this control. By opposing sectarian discourses with the universal weapons of history, philology and anthropology, in short, the entire arsenal of science and reason, the history of religions of the past enables us to deflate modern myths, and not only those of others but also our own. It allows us to identify the projection, in the imaginary past, of the “origins” of nationalist, religious or racist fantasies, and to disarm exaggerated interpretations of the sacred texts. (John Scheid – Professor College de France)

One of the greatest strengths of Wilson’s book [Paul:  The Mind of the Apostle] is that it reveals the extent of our ignorance about the origins of Christianity.  (Karen Armstrong)

Through the centuries, Christians have needed to come up with new versions of Jesus, made to fit their own times. Jesus the warrior king. Jesus the prophet of love. Jesus the judge. Jesus the shepherd. Today in America, many people make a single Jew out to be a man of family values. (Dale Martin – Professor Yale)

I do not suffer from any Whiggish illusion that the current state of philosophy represents the highest point of philosophical endeavour yet reached. (Anthony Kenny – Professor Oxford)

“We believe in David Cameron as a god coming down to this part of the land so we believe he can make a difference. He is God and sent by God to us.” Tamils hail David Cameron as ‘god’ – Guardian article

Human beings are tribal creatures and membership in different religious groupings is a manifestation of this.  From Guardian discussion.

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