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Wednesday December 12 2007

This was in a comment, from “petronius” on a recent Samizdata posting I did about Christianity in China.  I was tempted to make it today’s Samizdata quote of the day, but that might confuse things, what with two nearby postings then being about the same thing.  So, let it be the quote of the day here:

Rome isn’t making many waves with Beijing right now, but then Rome always takes the long view. Look at what happened in Poland. The party there thought the new Cardinal was a quiet scholar. Imagine their shock when they discovered that he had secretly built an army of the best minds in the country, one student at a time. Those 50 million Bibles are going to explode one of these days, when Beijing least expects it.

I’ve no idea if it’s true, but I love the way he puts it.

The more I ponder Christianity, the more (a) I think that most of what it says is barking bonkers, and the more (b) I recognise it to be a profound force in the world, as much because of what it doesn’t do - challenge Caesar on his home turf, basically - as for what it does.  (See more from me along those lines towards the end of the original posting.)

We must be bonkers - we’re going to love you anyway!

[I’ve always thought “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself” is a pretty good rule for anybody, myself.

But being bonkers, I could be off on that...]

Posted by Parker on 15 December 2007

The thing that you must understand is that most Christians understand that a lot of the Bible *is* kind of “bonkers” as you put it.  But madness it isn’t.  For example, why would God appear as a burning bush?  Seems odd to me but I really just assume that this was a literary device that had significance in the ancient Middle East.  I don’t particularly care that it doesn’t have the same force any more since the actual ‘burning bush’ part wasn’t central to the story.

How about something really ‘bonkers?’ The central Christian story - the story at the very core of the faith - is how ‘bonkers’ it is that one man would willingly undergo scourging and crucifixion in order to redeem others in the eyes of God.  Ok, if you’re an atheist, then you don’t believe that there was a God under which humanity needed redemption.  If you are of another faith maybe you don’t believe that Jesus had the power to *do* this.  Fine, but isn’t it still a pretty amazing kind of ‘bonkers?’ Isn’t it pretty astonishing?  It is this kind of observation that has led to generations of “the best minds in the country” to grapple seriously with the meaning of Christianity.

Now take this kind of commitment to an ideal of love, redemption and sacrifice and multiply it times 50 million “Bible Bombs” and you get an idea of why the rise of Christianity in China is so significant.

Posted by Wildmonk on 15 December 2007

Christianity certainly is barking bonkers, to the point that lots of intelligent people would nothing to do with it...if it didn’t also seem true.

Posted by TJIC on 15 December 2007

Beyond your common, media-driven and mistaken concept of ‘Christianity’ as a synonym for ‘Rome’, consider that you might have underestimated the power of Christ, as well as misplaced the location of Caesar’s ‘home turf’.

Geographic, political and ideological boundaries are not the heart of the matter, it’s a matter of the hearts and minds of men. You say you want a revolution? We all want to change the world. But Christ’s way is to change men and women first, not structures and systems. Every failed political experiment has fallen victim to a basic misunderstanding of the nature of man, and of the character of God.

You certainly have enough knowledge of history to measure the impact of genuine Biblical Christianity against all other ways of life. While often tarnished by sinful men, the way of Christ and his Bible remain the glittering jewels of civilization.

Delighted to be ‘bonkers’ in view of the alternative, I am…
Scott Ott

Posted by Scott Ott on 15 December 2007

Brian, you may have missed It puts forth the theory that God can program in three dimensions.  He can program sub-programmers (angels) and they can program particles, compile them into structures and beingsl, and have them move through time.
With that theory, religion, especially Catholicism, makes more sense than science, which can properly be regarded as the handmaiden of The Church.

Posted by billadams on 15 December 2007

A friend of mine spent his vacation smuggling Bibles from Hong Kong into China.  He made five or six trips a day.  Over the course of three or four days he got caught a couple of times, but apparently they just seized the Bibles and let him go.

Posted by Graham Powell on 15 December 2007

A lot of important stuff can get lost in the nuances and you’ve underestimated the number of “bombs” by quite a bit. Orthodoxy and Catholicism both have a long history in China and both find Protestant bibles unsuitable. They lack an episcopal guarantee that there is no error and they’ve usually got the wrong number of books or they’re ordered wrong, sticking all the useful stuff on apostolic succession in the apocrypha ghetto.

Since this effort is working hand in hand with a Protestant group, it is a very good bet that there are millions you are missing in your accounting.

As for being bonkers it is no insult. In fact it’s it’s in the instruction manual.  Have you never heard of being a “fool for Christ”?  See 1 Cor. 3:18.

Posted by TMLutas on 15 December 2007

To paraphrase an old verse, “What seems wise to men is foolish to God.”

Isaiah 55

8 “For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the LORD.

9 “As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.

Consider me bonkers as well...

Posted by Brent Taylor on 15 December 2007

Yeah, its the “true” part that always gets me.  I have followed the evidence for Christ as well as I could over the years.  While no historical evidence is completely sound, the stark claims made by the early Christians which the Christians being tortured in China and Sudan are dying for is nothing short of “barking bonkers,” and seems nothing short of true.  After all, Paul said “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men. But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.” (1 Cor. 15: 17-20)

Posted by James kidder on 15 December 2007

The bonkers bit is not coincidental. From relatively early mystics practicing negative theology to theologians influenced by Kierkegaard, there is a long tradition of Christian thought containing very powerful anti-rational elements.

When one believes that reason lacks limits, central planning and totalitarian structures begin to be appealing. Because almost all Christians believe that they cannot understand most of the really important things about the world, they are less inclined to believe that they do know how to order the world. Not all of them go as far as saying that the Incarnation and Trinity, for instance, are logical impossibilities, but a fair number do. Knowing that you’re wrong about key elements of your beliefs is humbling, and with humility in leadership comes freedom.

Posted by James of England on 15 December 2007

I really like that “barking bonkers” line, because though I am a Fundamentalist Christian, I think there’s a sense in which it is true.

We should expect some impedance mismatch between the transcendent and the immanent. This will account for a few bonks. And since the Bible was penned by pre-scientific ancient middle-easterners, this will account for more bonks.

But the bonks I want to point out are those that I think deity slips in to make the faithful think “what the heck” (we’re faithful, so we don’t think WTF), then pay closer attention to it. I’ve found that puzzling over something that sounds “barking bonkers” yields some insights that are quite valuable.

I’m not saying that these bonks are irrational, but they are counterintuitive. They are things we’d never think to make up.

Posted by Steve Poling on 15 December 2007

"James of England” (above) skillfully illustrates the irrationality that most Christians find antithetical to their faith. Perhaps his entire post is meant as irony, in which case, please skip the rest of this comment.

Contrary to popular atheism, Christ did not call us to worship the god of the gaps, to attribute to God only that which we cannot comprehend.

James, I don’t know who “almost all Christians” are, but let me speak for the barking minority who believe that the Bible actually explains “most of the really important things about the world.” (Including you, your essential nature and your motivation.)

Even the transcendent (above all) God is not altogether unknowable, since he has made himself known in Jesus Christ, thus becoming immanent (near). At Christmas we sing of Emmanuel, which means “God with us”. The revelation of Christ as “the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature” (Hebrews 1:3 ESV) stands at the heart of the gospel.

I also don’t know who the “fair number” are who proclaim themselves Christians yet declare the Incarnation and the Trinity as “logical impossibilities”. However, speaking for the unfair number of the rest of us, we think that the Incarnation and the Trinity seem unlikely to human minds, but due to their actual existence, by definition they are not logically impossible.

BTW, Jesus is the only true existentialist, who can without guile declare “Je pense, donc, je suis.” (I think, therefore, I am.) because he is the only self-existent, self-sufficient One.

Have a logically-consistent, wonderfully happy Christmas,
Scott Ott

Posted by Scott Ott on 15 December 2007

Yes, Christianity is foolishness to the [rationalists] and a scandal to [other religions, including humanists].  That’s been commented on for some time now.

Posted by me on 15 December 2007

TO: Brian Micklethwait
RE: Bonkers R Us

“The more I ponder Christianity, the more (a) I think that most of what it says is barking bonkers....”—Brian Micklethwait

Sounds like a classic example of ignorance to me...YOURS that is.


[I may be a ‘nut’, but I’m screwed on the right Bolt.—John Hagee]

Posted by Chuck Pelto on 15 December 2007

P.S. Is THIS ‘barking bonkers’?

[1] Thou shalt not kill.
[2] Thou shalt not steal.
[3] Thou shalt not bear false witness against they neighbor.
[4] Love they neighbor.
[5] Blessed are the peace-makers....
[6] Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness sake....
[7] Blessed are the merciful…
[8] Blessed are the meek…

And, last but by no means least....

[9] Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake.

I thank you for your blessing of me and my brethren.


P.P.S. Speaking of being ‘barking bonkers’, it reminds me of that business, 10 years or so ago, when the WaPo published a similar editorial about how anyone who believed in Christ was an ignorant red-neck. And hateful to boot.

Well...I’m a retired Army LTC of infantry. An Airborne-Ranger who spent 27 years defending your right to insult me.

But, if you’ll be at the Mensa Annual Gathering (AG) in Denver this year, I’ll buy you a drink and we can discuss what a ‘barking bonker’ I am....and how your are one too....compadre....

Posted by Chuck Pelto on 15 December 2007


Posted by TBinSTL on 15 December 2007

Christianity is bonkers by design, if you define bonkers as irrational.  Paul noted “The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.” (1 Corinthians 2:14).  But then, I’m a mystic, and view rationalism as one tool, not the only tool we have.

You slightly miss the mark about why it is so powerful.  Certainly the teachings of Jesus are oriented primarily towards the individual and not towards political activism.  The biggest advantage of Christianity, however, is that it embraces ambiguity even in some of its most basic tenets.  The very nature of God, the Trinity, etc. are extrapolated from rather oblique statements.  When pressed on details, Jesus spoke in parables and analogies, and Paul mostly just throws up his hands and says he doesn’t really have a clue—that we see “through a glass darkly,’ and won’t know during our lifetimes.

Jesus spent rather little time on theology and a lot of time on relationships—between people and with God.  In spite of the claims of some fundamentalists, the New Testament writers don’t even claim inerrancy.  The most they claim is to be useful. This is in contrast to Islam, for instance, in which a rather developed theology and political structure are defined, and extrapolation is discouraged.

What this means is that “mainstream” Christianity has room to be much more entreprenurial—to focus its message and structure to meet the needs of all sorts of markets.  There’s room for mystics and rationalists.  There’s room for hermits and megachurches.  There’s room for holy rollers and High Church.  And while each group believes that it is the closest to the truth, the fact is that all are Christians—and in spite of wide gulfs in theology, the fundamental message of all of these groups is amazingly similar. 

Unlike Islam, we don’t have to kill apostates.  Instead, we can concentrate on offering carrots instead of sticks.  Need a family?  Join a small fundamentalist church.  Need daycare and cheap private school?  Join a megachurch.  Want validation?  Join a feelgood church.  Need direction?  Go to a hellfire church—they’ll tell you what to do.  Want to be a mystic?  Try Eastern Orthodoxy.  Think that’s all bullshit?  Be a Southern Baptist. Homosexuality gives you the willies?  Be a fundamentalist.  Think homosexuality is fine? Join the United Church of Christ.

Christianity, not Islam, is the fastest growing faith in the world.  And it is growing because, like Jesus, it focuses on filling a need that people have, not forcing people to meet its needs.  It’s not that Christianity doesn’t stand for anything, it’s that the fundamental message is so basic that it can accept a wide range of interpretations.  As Jesus said, there are really only two laws for Christians—love God above all else, and love your neighbor as yourself.  That’s actually a pretty powerful and demanding message, but leaves a lot of details as exercises for the reader.

Posted by William Oliver on 15 December 2007

Please state specifics that lead you to state that Christianity is “barking bonkers.”

Posted by Koblog on 15 December 2007

As a Christian, I’ll take the “barking bonkers” as a compliment (as others have touched on more eloquently above).


Posted by Citizen Grim on 15 December 2007

TO: All
RE: An Interesting Observation

I don’t seem to see anyone in these comments calling for Brian M. to have his head cut off with a dull knife. That is opposed to another prominent religious belief group that thinks anyone insulting their beliefs should be removed from the living.

Is that, as we in the military would put it, an ‘indicator’ or what?


P.S. Has Brian had the gonads to publish any such statement about Mohammed? Or Islam? Or Muslims?

Inquiring minds want to know.....

Posted by Chuck Pelto on 16 December 2007

For another - unexpected - view of the “bonkers” religion, take a look at Alain de Botton’s “Status Anxiety”.  The book doesn’t talk about religion per se, he just mentions it in passing.

Posted by ZZMike on 16 December 2007

TO: ZZMike
RE: Sorry…

“For another - unexpected - view of the “bonkers” religion, take a look at Alain de Botton’s “Status Anxiety”.  The book doesn’t talk about religion per se, he just mentions it in passing.”—ZZMike

....but I’m already up to my elbows in books I need to read.

Can you give us the Cliff’s Notes version?


[So many books. So little time.]

Posted by Chuck Pelto on 16 December 2007

Belief in Jesus can be difficult, but not hard to accept if you take this bit of advise. If GOD (Jesus is GOD) does exist, and believing and following his commands will allow you to enter heaven and have ever last peace, and if you don’t believe in him, you’ll end up in external damnation. But if GOD doesn’t exist, then the way I see it, we’ll all end up the same way, just dead. So, that being said, all non-believers are right, then the purpose of the human race doesn’t seem to have much meaning, does it? On the other hand, if GOD does exist, and my choice to believe and follow him (Jesus) is right, then being a non-believer has a real problem. Of course, believing takes no effort, but faith. That all said, it seems I have to lose, if I believe, but have so much to lose, if I don’t.

Posted by HisCross on 16 December 2007

Bibles in China; do they start at the back and end at the front?

Posted by bour3 on 16 December 2007

So, there I was yesterday in Beijing’s Temple of Heaven park.  At the Imperial Vault of Heaven - one with memorials to nine Qing emporers - every Chinese person passing the entrance would clap hands twice and bow.  This, 58 years after the Communists took over.

Believe me, Christianity is not the only bonkers force free on earth.

BTW, got to you via Instapundit.

Posted by Patrick Carroll on 16 December 2007

His disciples asked him what this parable meant. 10He said, “The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of God has been given to you, but to others I speak in parables, so that,
“ ‘though seeing, they may not see;
though hearing, they may not understand.’

The Bible may seem like madness to you, but it doesn’t to many rational people who also happen to be born again Christians. The Bible can be very hard to grok without God’s help.

Posted by MikeT on 16 December 2007

Brian, are you enjoying this? I am.

Posted by Tatyana on 16 December 2007

TO: MikeT
RE: Help, Indeed

“The Bible can be very hard to grok without God’s help.”—MikeT

I’d been reading the thing for YEARS. Nightly. One chapter each night. Beginning to end. Starting in 1983.

On top of that I was singing in my church choir as well as being active in various other activities of my church.

I found a LOT of what I was reading very difficult to understand.

Then, in January 1990, I encountered a Southern Baptist minister. As usual with their ilk, I was asked if I’d been saved.

I described my relationship with Christianity to him. He concluded, rightly, that I had not been saved...just yet. And went on to explain they whys and wherefores. Very well, as a matter of fact.

So. I made the quintessential personal commitment. Then and there.

A few weeks later, I noticed that many things I had not understood in my nightly readings were beginning to make a LOT of sense.

I could not put a finger on just WHY that was so. At least not for a couple of years. But, now, looking back on it, I can attribute it to that one encounter, explanation and commitment.


[Believing IS seeing.—an atheist friend of mine from Mensa, after I described this to him.]

Posted by Chuck Pelto on 16 December 2007

TO: Tatyana
RE: And....

“Brian, are you enjoying this? I am.”—Tatyana

....I hope you’re learning something ‘beneficial’ too.

After all, education is best when it is ‘enjoyable’ at the same time.

God knows....

....I’ve spent enough time listening to professors who are as dry as the dead bones of some fossilized former life form. They are hardly what anyone would call ‘enjoyable’. But one would think that people could learn more if they weren’t put to sleep in the lecture hall.


[Professor, n., One who talks in students’ sleep.—Ambrose Bierce, The Devil’s Dictionary.]

[Are we learning yet?—Young John Conner, Terminator 2]

Posted by Chuck Pelto on 16 December 2007

I can’t possibly reply to all of these comments, but I would like to respond to the one about whether I have ventured any criticisms of Islam.  The answer is: yes.

Try this posting, or this posting, and also my comment, the last, on this posting.

I think Christianity is bonkers, for all the usual reasons that most of the above commenters seem to be thoroughly familiar with.  I think Islam is evil.

I don’t however, think that most Muslims are evil, and most of the Muslims I am personally acquainted with happen to be very nice people, provided I don’t touch on the matter of Islam, and in a few cases nice even when I do.  But what their religion says, if taken seriously - as religions are always liable to be, e.g. by excitable adolescents - is indeed evil.

To put the above point in another way, you often hear that what Islam needs is a “Reformation”.  On the contrary, they are having their Reformation, and that is exactly the problem.  The Christian Reformation meant and means taking the Bible seriously and doing what it says, which had and continues to have all kinds of unpredictable results.  And the “Islamic Reformation” has meant, and means now, taking the Koran seriously and doing what the Koran says, with results that have been all too predictable.

I don’t think Islamic fundamentalists have “hijacked” Islam.  I think that they are simply doing it.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait on 17 December 2007


...and that’s why I don’t blog about religion…

If it’s not misguided muslims moaning about Billion Monkey posts, it’s crazy christians complaining about a perfectly reasonable obervation…

Posted by 6000 on 17 December 2007

TO: 6000
RE: Call Me ‘Crazy’, Eh/

“’s crazy christians complaining about a perfectly reasonable obervation…”—6000

Are you the same character from the WaPo who said anyone who believed in Christ was an ignorant, hateful red-neck? Or just a close ‘relation’?

Brian’s ‘observation’ wouldn’t pass ‘muster’ as being reasonable in any truly scientific manner. Rather, it’s on a par with your comment about christians are ‘crazy’.


[Prejudice, n., A vagrant opinion without visible means of support.—Ambrose Bierce, The Devil’s Dictionary]

P.S. Reading Catton’s Terrible Swift Sword. He reports that Bierce was a regimental officer during the Civil War. I had knowledge of that. Must be where he developed his sense of the sardonic.

P.P.S. More for you, Brian, later.....

Posted by Chuck Pelto on 17 December 2007

TO: All
RE: Errata

Correction to the P.S.

I had NO knowledge that Bierce was a federal military officer during our Civil War, prior to Catton’s mentioning it in his book, Terrible Swift Sword.

Having done 27 years in the service I can understand and, especially, appreciate his pithy comments on life. My favorite is....

Abatis, n., Trash thrown in front of a fort in order to keep the trash outside the fort from getting to the trash inside the fort.

But then, I was originally trained a combat engineer.....turned infantry when I got to my first assignment; the 82d Airborne Division.

Posted by Chuck Pelto on 17 December 2007

As I said, Tatyana, that is exactly why I don’t blog about religion.

Call them bonkers, crazy, misguided; call them fishcakes if you must.
Religion is the cause of virtually every problem that our planet faces. (OK, maybe not climate change directly, although I’m sure there’s some tenuous link, probably involving Beelzebub’s carbon footprint or something...)
Religion is also the major cause of extremely silly comments on Brian’s blog.

Now, after that brief word from our sponsors, it’s back to the Chuck Potato show!

Posted by 6000 on 17 December 2007

TO: 6000
RE: Your Ignorance Is Showing

“Religion is the cause of virtually every problem that our planet faces. “—6000

And the silly name calling is just proof of my premise.


[Talk sense to a fool and he calls you foolish.—Euripides]

Posted by Chuck Pelto on 17 December 2007
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