Funeral Myths

April 12, 2011

I went to a friend’s funeral yesterday where I heard a number of things to add to my running mental list of “funeral myths.” With the ever-increasing degree of Bible Illiteracy, combined with the growing number of believers who are “cultural captives,” more conformed to the culture than to Christ (please see my earlier blog “Are You a Pickle?”), it’s not surprising that people would have unbiblical beliefs about death, heaven, and God.

Several songs were played at my friend’s funeral. One is called “Borrowed Angels,” which started like this:

They shine a little brighter, they feel a little more
They touch your life in ways no one has ever done before
They love a little stronger, they live to give their best
They make our lives so blest, so why do they go so soon?
The ones with souls so beautiful
I heard someone say—

There must be Borrowed Angels, here in this life
They come along, into this world, and make this world bright
But they can’t stay forever
Cause they’re heaven sent
And sometimes, heaven needs them back again

No, people are not “borrowed angels.” God created the angels before He created mankind. We are very different from angels; they were created to serve God and serve us, and we are created to be drawn into and enjoy the love, fellowship, joy and delight of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. They made us in Their image (Gen. 1:26), which elevates us above angels. People and angels are two different kinds of creation, and one does not become the other.

Which brings me to another myth I heard yesterday: that Valerie is now “our guardian angel.” While this may be a comforting thought to those gripped by loss, no she’s not.  She’s enjoying unhindered, face-to-face worship of Jesus and fellowship with those who now live in heaven.

Do we have guardian angels? The Bible doesn’t give a definitive answer on that, although the Lord Jesus did say, “See that you do not look down on one of these little ones. For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven” (Matthew 18:10). And Psalm 91:11 promises, “For He will command His angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways” (from my article Angels: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly at Probe.org).

At yesterday’s funeral, people stood up to make comments about our friend. One distraught lady concluded her remarks with an angry, “God, You’d better take good care of her.” My heart went out to her, not just because of her grief but because she doesn’t know that God is good and doesn’t need to be cajoled, much less threatened, into caring for His beloved daughter. Sometimes people get angry with God for taking someone home earlier than they want, and the anger comes from a sense of betrayal—as if God doesn’t have the right to determine the length of a person’s life. Yet Psalm 139:16 says, “All the days ordained for me were written in Your book before one of them came to be.” None of us lives a single day more, or less, than God had determined before He even created us. A loving God is in control—and that extends to the days of our birth and our death.

The man who conducted the funeral told a story about how they used to keep a little girl in their family in line by threatening that Valerie would get after her with her spanking switch. “Well now Valerie’s not here,” he told us, “so we tell the little girl, “Valerie’s got her spanking switch with her in heaven and when you get up there she’s gonna bust your butt.”

Uh, no.

Romans 8:1 says, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Valerie’s not busting any butts in heaven, and part of the good news is that God isn’t either!

When my aunt died, someone tucked a deck of cards under her hands in her casket because Aunt Maggi loved to play cards and they were sure she was having a great time up in heaven playing pinochle with her brothers. When my mother died, several relatives comforted each other by laughing about how Mom had finally joined the great heavenly card party. This is another myth about heaven , that it’s a lot like our human activities on earth, only better. People who believe this myth usually have no concept of the greatness and glory of the Lord Jesus Christ, or they wouldn’t be willing to settle for images of unending card games and fishing and bowling tournaments.

What funeral myths have you come across?

This blog post originally appeared at blogs.bible.org/tapestry/sue_bohlin/funeral_myths




Did Christianity Borrow From Pagan Religions? – Early Christianity and Other Religions

The Da Vinci Code and related contemporary non-fiction books make the claim that Christianity was a hodge podge of beliefs taken from other pagan religious traditions.  Morais and Gleghorn take a long hard look at this claim and determine that it has very little basis in fact.  They demonstrate that the theory that early Christianity was borrowed from other religions does not stand up to rigorous examination.

The Da Vinci Code Deception

In Dan Brown’s bestselling novel, The Da Vinci Code, Leigh Teabing, the fictional royal historian, makes the following claim: “Nothing in Christianity is original. The pre-Christian god Mithras—called the Son of God and the Light of the World—was born on December 25, died, was buried in a rock tomb, and then resurrected in three days.”{1} Is there any truth to all this?{2}

The Da Vinci Code claims that Christianity is not rooted in a unique, historical Jesus who claimed to be the Son of God, was born of a virgin, died, and was resurrected in three days. Instead, it says that early Christians borrowed these ideas from pagan mystery cults like Mithraism, and attributed these characteristics to the historical Jesus who never really said or did any of these things. Did Christianity borrow its history and theology from Mithraism or any other mystery religion?

From about 1890-1940, critical Bible scholars suggested that early Christianity may have borrowed some of its ideas from pagan mystery religions. However, after a barrage of criticism this theory has been largely abandoned in the field of religious studies. Despite its current lack of acceptance by experts, however, this theory continues to be set forth in popular books like The Da Vinci Code and other publications.{3}

What is Mithraism, and what are the mystery cults? The mystery religions were called such because of their use of secret ceremonies and beliefs that were thought to bring their participants salvation.{4} Ceremonies were usually held in secluded places, at night, away from the public eye.{5} Different parts of the Mediterranean spawned their own mystery religions. Greece had the cults of Dionysus and Demeter as well as the Orphic mystery cults. Out of Phrygia in Asia Minor came the Cybele and Attis cults. The cult of Isis and Osiris arose in Egypt. Syria and Palestine had the cult of Adonis, while Mithraism originated in Persia, or modern day Iran.{6}

Dr. Ronald Nash wrote, “One frequently encounters scholars who first use Christian terminology to describe pagan beliefs and practices and then marvel at the awesome parallels they think they have discovered.”{7} However, the theory that Christianity borrowed its beliefs from paganism has now been discarded in large part because it seems likely that if any borrowing of beliefs occurred it would almost certainly have been the other way around. One could be a participant in the mystery cults of Isis or Mithras without giving up his or her previous beliefs, but not so with Christianity. With its roots in Judaism, Christianity, even in its earliest form, was an extremely exclusivist religion with deep disregard for all that was pagan.{8}

The Myth of Mithras

Mithraism was probably the most significant of the mystery religions. Mithras was the twin brother of the Zoroastrian god Ahura Mazda. Mithras was born when he emerged from a rock. He battled with the sun and then with the primeval bull. When Mithras slew the bull, this became the first act of creation as it created the ground of life for humanity. Like Zoroastrianism, Mithraism believed that the world was a battleground between good and evil and mankind must pick sides. Mithras was the mediator who would assist humans in their struggles with darkness. If man passed his tests, he would eventually be reunited with the good god, but if he failed he would be thrown into a realm of eternal punishment. The Romans associated good and evil with light and darkness, and because of this fact, Mithras became known as the Sun God—not the Son of God.{9}

The Mithraic religion was constantly changing and adapting itself to the culture. This being the case, the most likely explanation for the myths about Mithras’ miraculous birth and his becoming a “savior god” were in all likelihood borrowed from Christianity.{10} Though the cult started long before Christianity in Iran, there’s no evidence of its presence in the Roman Empire during the first century when the original New Testament documents were being written. So this pagan cult could not have influenced the original New Testament manuscripts. But could later copies of the New Testament have been tainted with Mithraism?

Our oldest intact fragments of the New Testament are virtually identical with the Bible we have today and it seems clear that though we don’t possess any of the original writings, what we do have are quite accurate representations of the originals. Sir Frederick Kenyon wrote, “The interval, then, between the dates of original composition and the earliest extant evidence becomes so small as to be in fact negligible, and the last foundation for any doubt that the Scriptures have come down to us substantially as they were written now has been removed.”{11}

In conclusion, Mithras was the Sun God, not the Son of God, and given the exclusivist nature of Christianity and the fact that Mithraism and Christianity did not overlap during the first century, any similarities between the two religions were most likely due to a later Christian influence on Mithraism and not the other way around.

The Da Vinci Code Dissected

In the novel The Da Vinci Code, the Holy Grail expert, Leigh Teabing, claims that the pre-Christian god Mithras was also called the Son of God and the Light of the World. He then goes on to say that Mithras also died, was buried in a rock tomb, and rose again in three days. Brown also claims a parallel with Krishna mythology, according to which the newborn Krishna was, like Jesus, also given gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.{12} Is there any truth to these pagan/Christian parallels?

As noted earlier, the Romans came to understand the pagan god Mithras as the Sun God (not the Son of God).{13} If Mithras was understood to be the Sun God, it wouldn’t be a wild idea to call him “The Light of the World.” However, that specific title does not appear to have been given him in the ancient Roman world.{14} Also, experts in the Mithraic religion like Franz Cumont and Richard Gordon both assert that there was no death, burial, or resurrection of Mithras.{15} Dan Brown’s source for this misinformation about Mithras being called the “Light of the World” and the “Son of God,” as well as his alleged death and resurrection, has eluded many of his critics. It’s not certain where he got this information, though it’s possible that his source may have been a discredited nineteenth-century historian who also provided no documentation or support for these claims.{16}

It seems that Dan Brown may have also used this same historian for his allegation that at Krishna’s birth, he was presented with gold, frankincense, and myrrh. There is no story in Krishna mythology to support this claim.{17} The Bhagavad-Gita does not mention Krishna’s childhood, and the other sources that do were written hundreds of years after the Christian Bible.

Even if all these Mithras/Christ similarities were true, since these two religions hadn’t yet overlapped in Rome during the time when the New Testament was being written, Mithraism couldn’t have influenced Christian theology. One Mithras expert asserts that “no Mithraic monument can be dated earlier than the end of the first century A.D., and even the more extensive investigation at Pompeii, buried beneath the ashes of Vesuvius in A.D. 79, have not so far produced a single image of the god.”{18}

Most critical Bible scholars no longer believe that Christianity borrowed its core beliefs from the pagan mystery religions like Mithraism. Due to the lack of good evidence this theory has been largely abandoned.{19}

Sunday or Son Day

Early Christianity and the Bible have been relentlessly attacked on many different levels in the fast-paced thriller The Da Vinci Code. In the novel, Langdon claims that “Christianity’s weekly holy day was stolen from the pagans. Christianity honored the Jewish Sabbath of Saturday, but Constantine shifted it to coincide with the pagan’s veneration day of the sun.”{20}

More than two hundred years before Constantine, some of the earliest Christian writings, which later became part of the New Testament, made it clear that there was a Sabbath on Saturday and a separate “Lord’s Day” on Sunday. The reason Christians had a separate “Lord’s Day” in addition to the Sabbath was because early Christians wanted to celebrate on Sunday, the day that Jesus had risen from the dead.{21}

There are many references in the New Testament, written hundreds of years before Constantine, that illustrate the difference between Sunday and the Sabbath day. Shortly after Christ’s death, in Acts 20:7 Luke writes about “the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, . . .” This quote from Luke makes it clear that Christians during the first century were already worshiping together on the first day of the week which was Sunday. The apostle Paul refers to making a collection for an offering on Sunday in 1 Corinthians 16:2. And the last book in the Bible, the Book of Revelation, makes reference to Sunday being called the “Lord’s Day” in order to distinguish it from the Sabbath (Rev. 1:10).

There are also early Christian writings outside the New Testament that confirm that Christians celebrated the “Lord’s Day” on Sunday. The church father Justin Martyr wrote, “And on the day called Sunday there is a gathering together to one place of all those who live in cities or in the country, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits.”{22} Justin Martyr lived during the second century, and had died long before Constantine was born.

The Sabbath has always been Saturday. That has never changed. But Christians usually attend church services on Sunday because that’s the day of Christ’s resurrection. In other words, Christians didn’t “move” the Sabbath to Sunday. They simply chose to gather for corporate worship on Sunday.

Finally, with regard to the claim that Sunday was tied to the worship of a pagan god, it’s important to note that all the days of the week—whether Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, or Sunday—were tied to the worship of one pagan god or another.{23}

Christmithras

Previously we mentioned that the pagan god Mithras was not called the “Son of God” or the “Light of the World”. He also never died and rose again in three days. But was he born on December 25? According to the myth of Mithras, his birthday was in fact celebrated on December 25. According to this myth, Mithras sprang up full-grown from a rock, carrying a knife and a torch. Shepherds watched his miraculous birth and greeted him with their first fruits, their flocks and their harvests. The cult of Mithras spread throughout the Roman Empire during the second century. In A.D. 274, the Roman emperor Aurelian declared December 25 the Birthday of Sol Invictus (the Unconquerable Sun).{24}

The Bible never indicates when Jesus was born, and no one today knows with certainty the day of his birth. Since the most likely time for taxation was in the fall or spring, some biblical scholars have suggested that he may have been born then rather than in the winter.{25} Prior to the fourth century, the Eastern Church celebrated Epiphany (which included the birth of Christ) in January. In the fourth century, the Church in Rome also began celebrating Christ’s birth, and the practice quickly spread throughout Christendom. Eventually, December 25 “became the officially recognized date for Christmas.”{26}

But why did the church choose to celebrate Christ’s birth on the same day as the pagan Feast of the Unconquerable Sun? One scholar explains it this way:

When Christianity became the religion of the Empire, the church either had to suppress the festivals or transform them. The winter solstice seemed an appropriate time to celebrate Christ’s birth. Thus, the festival of the sun became a festival of the Son, the Light of the world.{27}

The theory that Christianity borrowed its beliefs from paganism has now been largely discredited. If any borrowing of beliefs occurred it was almost certainly the other way around. Unlike Christianity, which claims to be the sole source of truth, one could be a participant in many of the mystery cults without giving up his or her previous beliefs. Even if all the Mithras/Christ similarities were true, nevertheless, since the two religions hadn’t overlapped in Rome during the time when the New Testament was being written, Mithraism could not have influenced Christianity’s primary sources. The Bible has withstood the test of time and still today stands strong in the face of continued critical scholarship.

Notes

www.probe.org/paul-and-the-mystery-religions/.
3. Ronald H. Nash, The Gospel and the Greeks: Did the New Testament Borrow from Pagan Thought? (Dallas: Word Publishing, 1992), 9,10.
4. Ibid., 115.
5. Ibid., 132, 133.
6. Ibid., 116.
7. Ibid., 126.
8. J. Gresham Machen, The Origin of Paul’s Religion (New York: Macmillian, 1925), 9.
9. Nash, The Gospel and the Greeks, 143-146.
10. Ibid., 147.
11. Josh McDowell, The Resurrection Factor (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1981), 25-26.
12. Brown, The Da Vinci Code, 232.
13. Nash, The Gospel and the Greeks, 146.
14. Josh McDowell, The Da Vinci Code: A Quest for Answers (Holiday: Green Key Books, 2006), 38.
15. Ibid., 38. See also www.aboutbibleprophecy.com/davinci.htm.
16. Carl E. Olson and Sandra Miesel, “Christ, the Early Church, Constantine, and the Council of Nicaea” at www.envoymagazine.com/PlanetEnvoy/Review-DaVinci-part2-Full.htm.
17. Ibid.
18. M. J. Vermaseran, Mithras: The Secret God (London: Chatto & Windus, 1963), 29, cited in Nash, The Gospel and the Greeks, 148.
19. Ibid., 9-10.
20. Brown, The Da Vinci Code, 232-233.
21. McDowell, A Quest for Answers, 40.
22. James Donaldson and Alexander Roberts eds., First Apology in The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol.1 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993), 1.67.
23. See www.aboutbibleprophecy.com/davinci.htm.
24. See www.schooloftheseasons.com/xmas.html.
25. Ibid.
26. O. G. Oliver, Jr., “Christmas,” in Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, ed. Walter A. Elwell (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1984), 220.
27. Fred A. Grissom, “Christmas,” in Holman Bible Dictionary, gen. ed. Trent C. Butler (Nashville: Holman Bible Publishers, 1991), 253.

 © 2006 Probe Ministries




Education Myths

Don Closson offers 5 myths about education commonly held by the American public, from a Christian perspective.  These myths include neutrality, more money is the solution, teachers are underpaid and school choice harms public education.

The Myth of Neutrality

Most of us assume that those involved with our public schools have at least one thing in common: the belief that the kids come first. This assumption allows us to believe that a kind of neutrality exists among the various participating parties. Since they all have the best interests of our children in mind, we can trust their motives and their actions. It also leads some to believe that there is no place for politics in schools; again, thanks to the myth of neutrality.

The problem with this kind of thinking is that no such neutrality exists. Our schools are highly political and are a battle ground for the various groups hoping to cash in on the huge amount of money Americans spend on public schools every year. Politics is all about deciding how our tax monies will be distributed, who gets what resources, when, and how. In the 2003-04 school year, America spent over $500 billion on public schools with about 60 percent of that amount going to actual classroom expenses. But even though we spend more on public education than any other industrialized nation, our schools continue to fail to adequately educate those who are most in need of a good education: our inner city students.

Despite being in an almost constant state of reform, the school districts in our largest cities perform poorly. In New York schools, only 18 percent of children receive a Regents Diploma after four years of high school. Those numbers fall to 10 percent for black and Hispanic students. Yet year after year, regardless of their performance teachers, principals, and central office staff cash their paychecks. Teachers unions, textbook publishers, and even colleges and universities that earn millions training and retraining teachers, thrive on their connection to the annual education budgets of our nation’s cities. As New York Post columnist Bob McManus once put it: “This is the New York City public school system, after all, where power comes first and kids come last—but where money matters most of all.”{1}

The entrenched bureaucracy that has grown up around the education industry knows how to protect itself and its link to the billions of dollars being spent. The lobbying efforts of teachers unions, national organizations representing school board members and superintendents, as well as the textbook companies all fight for influence in Washington and state capitols.

It must be said that there are many teachers, principals, school board members and countless others involved with our schools who are diligently and conscientiously working to educate our nation’s children. However, the way that our school systems are organized virtually guarantees that politics will reign supreme when important decisions are made on behalf of our most needy students.

In this article, we take a look at five myths about public education held by the American public.

The “If Only We Had More Money” Myth

Rarely do representatives of our nation’s teachers unions, the National Education Association, and the American Federation of Teachers write about deficiencies in our public schools without blaming them on a lack of adequate funding. The “we need more money” mantra has been heard so often that it is ingrained in the minds of most Americans and goes unquestioned by most. But is this always the best explanation for the failure of our schools to educate well? In fact, inadequate funding is only one of many possible reasons for poor performance.

The U.S. has been increasing per pupil spending consistently for the last fifty years. From 1945 to 2001, inflation adjusted spending has grown from $1,214 per student to $8,745. Measuring increases in performance over that period is more difficult. We do have good data from the early 1970s when the National Assessment of Educational Progress began. Unfortunately, scores for twelfth grade students have remained essentially flat in reading, math, and science over that time period, and graduation rates have changed little. Many studies have concluded that although we have increased our educational spending significantly there has been little or no significant improvement in our schools.

Various explanations have been given for why more money hasn’t resulted in improved student performance. One of the most popular is that much of the increase in funding has gone to services for disabled students and special education programs. The special ed complaint is answered by the fact that we don’t have a higher percentage of disabled students; rather, we are choosing to label students disabled who in the past would have been called slow or under-average learners. The percentage of students with severe disabilities has actually remained level between 1976 and 2001, and the number of students classified as mentally retarded has actually declined.{2} Regardless of what label we give these students, increased dollars spent should result in improved performance, but it hasn’t.

Some argue that a smaller fraction of every budget dollar actually goes to classroom instruction, but whose fault is that? Others complain that students are harder to teach today due to the effects of poverty, greater healthcare needs, and the fact that they are more likely to speak a foreign language than in the past. However, childhood poverty rates have held fairly steady since the late 70s and has been declining since 1992.{3} One of the best indicators of health care for children, the child mortality rate, has improved 66 percent in the last thirty years, so it is hard to argue that today’s children have poorer health care. The only argument that holds up is that more students have a native language other than English. But this factor alone does not explain why the huge increases in spending have not resulted in better performance.

Teachers Are Badly Underpaid

Another myth is that students perform poorly because teachers are severely underpaid.

Every few years we are warned about a looming shortage of teachers or that teachers cannot afford to live in the cities in which they teach, resulting in either inferior teachers or large classes. For instance, during the internet boom of the 90s, it was feared that teachers could not afford to live in Silicon Valley due to the high cost of real estate. But a number of years later, the San Jose Mercury analyzed housing data from that period and discovered that there was no crisis. In fact, 95 percent of the teachers who taught there lived there, and about two thirds owned their own homes.{4} In fact, teachers fared better than software engineers, network administrators, and accountants when it came to home ownership.{5}

Others argue that the best and the brightest stay away from teaching because salary rates compare poorly to similar professions. But most researchers compare teachers’ annual salary with the annual salary of other professions without taking into account the one hundred eighty day work year for the typical teacher. Adjusting the average teacher’s annual salary of $44,600 to a full-time equivalent brings it to $65,440. This amount represents a respectable middle class salary by anyone’s calculation.

Another way to look at the issue is on an hourly basis. In 2002, high school teachers made an average of $31.01 per hour. This compares to $30 per hour for chemists, $29.76 per hour for mechanical engineers, $28.07 per hour for biologists, and $24.57 per hour for nurses.{6} Doctors, lawyers, dentists, and others do make more per hour than teachers, but their education is far more rigorous, and they often require long internships or residency obligations.

Even when one compares benefits other than income teachers fare well. One researcher discovered that half of all teachers pay nothing for single-person health care coverage, while the same is true for less than one-quarter of private-sector professionals and technical employees.{7} Another type of employment benefit that teachers enjoy is job security. It becomes remarkably difficult to fire a teacher who has been employed by a school district for three or more years. Tenure protection for public school teachers give them almost unparalleled job security compared to professionals in the private sector.

The reason that teaching does not attract the best and the brightest is more likely tied to the way that individual teachers salaries are determined than the average amount paid. A recent study found that the inability of teachers to make more money by performing better than their peers is the main cause for the declining academic abilities of those entering the field.{8} Talented people want to know that they can earn more if they work harder than others around them.

School Choice Harms Public Education

Another controversy that has generated myths of its own is the debate over educational choice or voucher programs. There are two popular misconceptions: first, that research has been inconclusive regarding the benefits of voucher programs, and second, that educational choice damages public education.

Whenever the topic of school vouchers comes up in major media outlets the consistent message is that research on their benefit to students is mixed at best. The New York Times, the Washington Post, and Time magazine have all sounded the same warning. Time wrote, “Do vouchers help boost the test scores of children who use them? Researchers are trying to find out, but the evidence so far is inconclusive.”{9} Why would publications and even researchers equivocate on the benefits of vouchers? There are a number of possible reasons. Ideology can play a role. If one has come out against vouchers it’s difficult to affirm them regardless what the research says. Financial interests might also play a role if supporting vouchers might result in the loss of funding or readership.

The most accurate way to research the impact of voucher programs is to perform random-assignment studies.{10} There have been eight such studies, and all of them found a positive effect or advantage in academic progress for students who received a voucher to attend a private school. Seven of the eight findings were statistically significant. The question left to researchers is to determine the magnitude and scope of the positive effect and to establish the conditions that result in the greatest amount of progress.

The second myth; that voucher programs damage nearby public schools, is also contrary to the evidence. Although not all voucher programs are large enough to impact the public schools nearby, those programs that have the potential to do so have been studied. The consistent finding is that the competition caused by vouchers always results in an increase in public school performance. For instance, as a result of Florida’s A-Plus voucher program, “public schools whose students were offered vouchers produced significantly greater year-to-year test score gains than other Florida public schools.”{11} Schools that faced competition experienced a 5.9 percentile point advantage on the Stanford-9 math test over schools not facing competition.{12} Other studies showed that even the threat of future competition produced public school improvement.

Harvard economist Caroline Hoxby studied the impact that the oldest voucher program in the country has had on student performance in Milwaukee’s public schools. Again, she discovered that “schools exposed to greater voucher competition made significantly larger test score gains than schools less exposed to voucher competition.”{13}

Studies in other states have supported the benefit of competition as well. Vouchers offered in Maine, Vermont’s “tuitioning” programs, and charter schools in Arizona and Michigan have all prompted better performance in nearby public schools.

Public Education Doesn’t Matter

Our final American education myth is often held by conservative Christians. It is the belief that public education doesn’t matter. The argument goes something like this: the public educational establishment has adopted a completely naturalistic worldview. And. as a result, it is hostile towards anything Christian, rendering it morally bankrupt.

While it is true that our public education system is primarily built upon the assumptions of naturalism, and that it is often hostile to both individual Christians and Christian thought. It does not follow that Christians, even those who chose to home school or place their children in a private Christian school, should be indifferent to the fate of children in our public schools.

Perhaps we can compare our situation to that of the Israelites while in captivity in Babylon. Although the culture was alien and often hostile, as ours can be today, and it would have been tempting to undermine its institutions and seek its destruction, God communicated via the prophet Jeremiah that the Jews were to “seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”{14}

Out of love for our neighbors and their children, we should desire to see them receive the best education possible. One of the earliest justifications for public education was that children needed to become literate in order to understand the Bible and apply it to their lives. In 1647, Massachusetts passed the Old Deluder Act which argued that public education was necessary because Satan attempted to keep men in ignorance of the Scriptures by keeping them from the true sense and meaning of the text. If they could read it for themselves they would be less susceptible to deception. The same need is present today. A literate society is not necessarily more open to the Bible and its message, but illiteracy places a large gulf between an interested individual and God’s revelation.

Another reason to not lose interest in the funding and functioning of our public schools is because we continue to pay for them. If we are to be good stewards of the monies granted us by God, we cannot ignore perhaps the largest single government expense. The amount of money spent on public education in America is massive by any standard, and the potential for abuse and misuse is equally large.

Into the near future, most American children, Christian and otherwise, will be educated in our public schools. Misinformation or political spin should not be allowed to shape our opinions or our decisions about education in the voting booth. The parties involved are not neutral. Although many have the best interests of the children at heart, power and money also play a major role in educational policy making.

Notes

1. Joe Williams, Cheating Our Kids (Palgrave Macmillan, 2005), 7.
2. Jay P. Green, Education Myths (Rowman & Littlefield, 2005), 24.
3. Ibid., 26.
4. Ibid., 72.
5. Ibid.
6. Ibid., 79.
7. Ibid., 82.
8. Ibid., 83.
9. Ibid., 147.
10. See chapter 13 of Education Myths for an explanation.
11. Education Myths, 170.
12. Ibid., 172.
13. Ibid., 173.
14. Jeremiah 29:7

© 2006 Probe Ministries




Christian Rumors

Madalyn Murray O’Hair

No doubt you’ve heard them and wondered if they were true. Stories about Madalyn Murray O’Hair’s campaign against Christian radio, Janet Reno’s definition of a cult or Charles Darwin’s supposed deathbed conversion. Are they true or not?

Believe me–I see more than my share of these myths and rumors. Because of my public visibility and presence on various web pages, I probably get a lot more e-mail messages than most people do. So I probably see a higher percentage of myths and rumors than most. Yet, I am amazed at the number of rumors flying around the Internet.

And we get lots of phone calls at Probe from people wondering if various stories they have heard are true. Others forward e-mail messages they receive and ask if they are true, before they forward them to others.

Many of these messages are relatively harmless ones like the promise that you will get free M&Ms if you forward an e-mail message to someone. This apparently has mutated into the belief that IBM will send you a free computer if you forward a particular e-mail. Supposedly IBM is doing this because of a recent merger between Hewlett-Packard and Gateway. As my teenage daughter likes to say, “Yeah right!” Oh, and don’t forget about the GAP offering free clothing because of a supposed merger with Abercrombie and Fitch.

Some other rumors are harmful to companies. One example would be the false rumor that an executive with Proctor and Gamble announced he was a Satanist on the Sally Jesse Raphael Show. The original rumor had this happening on The Donahue Show. And then there’s the rumor that the designer Liz Claiborne told the Oprah audience that she donates profits to the Church of Satan. None of these rumors are true, yet these e-mails still show up in Probe’s inbox on a fairly regular basis.

In this article I want to address what I consider to be the major myths and rumors that are spread by the Christian community. With so many, I had to be selective; so I tried to focus on those persistent myths spread by Christians and some of the rumors which seem to nearly have a life of their own.

The most persistent rumor in the Christian community over the last few decades is the mistaken belief that atheist Madalyn Murray O’Hair has been trying to ban religious broadcasting through petition RM 2493. Back in December 1974, there was a petition by Jeremy Lanaman and Lorenzo Milam to investigate radio stations with non-commercial educational licenses. The FCC unanimously rejected the petition in August 1975. But somehow the original information mutated into the current rumor that Madalyn Murray O’Hair was trying to remove Christian radio stations from the airwaves. The rumor wasn’t true when she was alive, and certainly isn’t true now. Nevertheless, the FCC has received millions and millions of bogus petitions. Let me state once again, the rumor isn’t true and all of us should do what we can to stop the rumor.

Janet Reno, Enemy of Christians

I am trying to address what I consider to be the major myths and rumors that are spread by the Christian community. Many of these show up in e-mails, while others are repeated by Christian speakers and believed to be true, even though they are false.

One persistent rumor has been attributed to former Attorney General Janet Reno, who supposedly defines Christians as belonging to a cult. Let me quote from one variation of the e-mail.

Are you a cultist, ACCORDING TO JANET RENO?? . . . I certainly HOPE SO!! Attorney General Janet Reno, “A cultist is one who has a strong belief in the Bible and the Second Coming of Christ; who frequently attends Bible studies; who has a high level of financial giving to a Christian cause; who home schools their children; who has accumulated survival foods and has a strong belief in the Second Amendment; and who distrusts big government. Any of these may qualify a person as a cultist but certainly more than one of these would cause us to look at this person as a threat, and his family as being in a risk situation that qualified for government interference.” Janet Reno, Attorney General, USA Interview on 60 Minutes, June 26, 1994 Do you qualify? Are you (as defined by the U.S. Attorney General) a threat? If any of these apply to you then you are!! This worries me. Does it worry you? Let’s impeach her too!!! Everyone in this country “The land of the free” with computer access should copy this and send to every man, woman and child who can read.

The quote is a hoax, but that didn’t stop many Christians from trying to send this e-mail to nearly everyone they knew that had access to the Internet. Even now that Janet Reno is no longer Attorney General, this e-mail still circulates on a fairly regular basis.

Here are the facts. According to CBS, Janet Reno did not appear on 60 Minutes in 1994. And it is doubtful that she would ever say something so inflammatory on this program or any other program. If she had, certainly it would have made front-page news to define millions of Christians as “cultists” and a “threat” to society.

The Office of Legislative Affairs in the Justice Department says they believe the quote first appeared in the August 1993 edition of the “Paul Revere Newsletter” published by the Christian Defense League in Flora, Illinois. The group has been described by some as a “far right hate group” holding to racist and anti-Semitic views. The newsletter subsequently ran a retraction.

This is the unfortunate origin of this persistent e-mail message. Unknowingly, Christians circulated a rumor started by a group bent on attacking the Attorney General. They did so because Christians were attacked as being cultists, thus they spread a rumor that was not true.

Joshua’s Long Day

One story that has been around for quite a long time is the myth of NASA discovering Joshua’s long day. As the story goes, computers at the space agency discovered that as they went back in time the calculations did not work. Scientists doing orbital mechanics calculations to determine the positions of the planets in the future realized that they were off by a day. A biblical scholar in the group supposedly solved the question when he remembered the passage in Joshua 10:13 which says that “the sun stood still, and the moon stopped” for about a whole day.

Attempts to verify the story through the NASA Spaceflight Center in Maryland never materialized. But that didn’t stop the spreading of the story that NASA found computer evidence of a missing day, which thereby verified the story of Joshua’s long day.

As it turns out, the apparent origin of this story precedes NASA by many years. Harry Rimmer wrote about astronomical calculations recorded by Professor C.A. Totten of Yale University in his 1936 book The Harmony of Science and Scripture.{1} He quotes professor Totten, who said, “[A] fellow professor, an accomplished astronomer, made the strange discovery that the earth was twenty- four hours out of schedule!” He says that Professor Totten challenged this man to investigate the question of the inspiration of the Bible. Some time later, his colleague replied: “In the tenth chapter of Joshua, I found the missing twenty-four hours accounted for. Then I went back and checked up on my figures, and found that at the time of Joshua there were only 23 hours and 20 minutes lost.”

Researchers have gone back to Professor Totten’s book Joshua’s Long Day and the Dial of Ahaz (published in 1890) and have not been able to find the story of the astronomer. Instead they find his argument for the lost day based upon the chronology of Jesus Christ. He believed that Christ must have been born at the fall equinox and that the world was created four thousand years before Christ was born. He therefore calculates that the world was created on September 22, 4000 b.c. This day must be a Sunday, but using a calendar we find that this date was a Monday. Therefore, argues Professor Totten, Joshua’s long day accounts for this “missing day.”

As you can see, there is no story about NASA scientists, nor are there even skeptical astronomers. He makes a number of very questionable assumptions in order to supposedly “prove” Joshua’s long day.

The story of NASA verifying Joshua’s long day is a myth that has been passed down for decades and apparently has its origins from stories recorded even before NASA existed. The story is false.

Darwin’s Deathbed Conversion

One of the most persistent stories is the supposed conversion of Charles Darwin and his supposed rejection of evolution on his deathbed. Christian speakers and writers retell this story with great regularity even though there is good evidence that Darwin remained an agnostic and an evolutionist to the day of his death. And even if the story was true (and it is not), its retelling is irrelevant to whether the theory of evolution is true. Darwin did not recant, and scientists would continue to teach the theory even if he had changed his mind.

The origin of this story can be traced to one “Lady Hope” who started the story after the death of Charles Darwin. On one occasion, Lady Hope spoke to a group of young men and women at the school founded by the evangelist D. L. Moody at Northfield, Massachusetts. According to her, Darwin had been reading the book of Hebrews on his deathbed. She said he asked for the local Sunday school to sing in a summerhouse on the grounds, and had confessed: “How I wish I had not expressed my theory of evolution as I have done.” She even said he would like her to gather a congregation since he “would like to speak to them of Christ Jesus and His salvation, being in a state where he was eagerly savouring the heavenly anticipation of bliss.”{2}

D. L. Moody encouraged Lady Hope to publish her story, and it was printed in the Boston Watchman Examiner. The story spread, and the claims have been republished and restated ever since.

The claims were refuted at the time and were subsequently addressed by Darwin’s son and daughter when they were revived years later. In 1918, Francis Darwin made this public statement:

Lady Hope’s account of my father’s views on religion is quite untrue. I have publicly accused her of falsehood, but have not seen any reply. My father’s agnostic point of view is given in my Life and Letters of Charles Darwin, Vol. I., pp. 304-317. You are at liberty to publish the above statement. Indeed, I shall be glad if you will do so.

Darwin’s daughter, Henrietta, writing in the Christian for February 23, 1922, said she was present at her father’s deathbed. “Lady Hope was not present during his last illness, or any illness. I believe he never even saw her, but in any case she had no influence over him in any department of thought or belief. He never recanted any of his scientific views, either then or earlier. We think the story of his conversion was fabricated in the U.S.A.” She concluded by saying, “The whole story has no foundation whatever.”

So that is the history of the story of Charles Darwin’s deathbed conversion. It simply is not true.

Satanic Affiliations

Now I would like to conclude by looking at rumors linking various individuals and groups to Satan.

One individual linked to Satan is J. K. Rowling, the author of the best-selling Harry Potter series. Although we at Probe have expressed some concern over the books, we believe some of the criticism concerning her has been unfair. One purported quotation making the rounds comes from a satirical publication known as The Onion. Supposedly she says, “I think it’s absolute rubbish to protest children’s books on the grounds that they are luring children to Satan. People should be praising them for that! These books guide children to an understanding that the weak, idiotic Son of God is a living hoax who will be humiliated when the rain of fire comes.” The quote goes on to use pornographic language.

Editors at The Onion made up the quote along with just about everything else in the article. The fictitious article includes mock quotes from blaspheming children planning satanic rituals. It claimed that fourteen million American children have joined the Church of Satan because of the Harry Potter series. Unfortunately, many Christians did not understand that the magazine is a blatantly satirical tabloid attempting to lampoon Christians concerned about the Harry Potter series.

A similar rumor surfaced in the 1980s when chain letters and petitions supposedly documented that the Procter & Gamble symbol was really a satanic symbol. According to the story, the company’s historic “man in the moon” symbol was the devil. And Procter & Gamble executives supposedly appeared on a TV talk show (Phil Donahue or Sally Jesse Raphael) to boast that their company gave some of their profits to the Church of Satan.

I think the lesson this week is that Christians should be more discerning. If you receive a letter or e-mail full of sensational information, you should ask yourself why this is the first you have heard about it. If Janet Reno or J.K. Rowling or an executive with Procter & Gamble said the things they allegedly said, wouldn’t you have heard about it long before you received this letter or e- mail? If it sounds incredible, maybe that’s because it isn’t credible. If you have questions, feel free to write us or call us at Probe or check out the numerous Web sites dedicated to debunking myths, rumors, and urban legends. In the meantime, we should all learn to be more discerning.

Notes

1. Harry Rimmer, The Harmony of Science and Scripture (1936), 281-282.
2. Ronald W. Clark, The Survival of Charles Darwin: a Biography of a Man and an Idea (Weidenfeld & Nicholson, 1985), 199.

©2001 Probe Ministries.




Modern Myths

Myths and Modern Myths

Have you ever heard someone describe the Bible as myth? All those supernatural occurrences couldn’t possibly have taken place, it is said. It’s a good story, intended to help people lead a good life and perhaps get closer to God (if there is one), but not to be taken literally.

What is a myth? A myth is a story that serves to provide meaning and structure for life. It might have some history behind it, but that isn’t important. It is the ideas that count. Myths are intended to translate the supposed abstract realities of the world in concrete, story form.

Myths were important to the ancient Greeks for defining who they were and what the world was like. In modern times, however, we try to de-emphasize the significance of myths for a culture; we equate myth with fiction, and fiction isn’t to be taken seriously.

In his book, 6 Modern Myths About Christianity and Western Civilization,{1} Philip Sampson debunks the notion that we’ve given up myths, even in the arena of science! According to Sampson there are a number of myths that have become significant for our culture even though they are false–or at least misleading–with respect to the facts. In this book, Sampson gives the true stories behind some of the myths our culture holds as true, such as the idea that Galileo’s fight with the church provides a good example of the supposed warfare between science and religion.

Myths such as these serve to perpetuate certain notions their promoters want us to believe. They can develop over time with no conscious aim, or they can be knowingly advanced for the good of a certain cause. So, as with the Galileo story, if one wishes to advance the notion that there is a tension between Christianity and science, with science being clearly in the right, one might employ a story which pits the knowledgeable, good scientist just out to present facts against the hierarchy of a church which seeks to keep people in darkness so as to advance its own cause.

In ancient Greece, myths weren’t told as though they were historically true. In our society, however, facts are important, so myths are told as if they are scientifically or historically accurate. Thus, with the Galileo story, there is enough history to seem to give it a factual basis–although significant facts are left out!

In this article we will look at three of these modern myths: Galileo and the church, the purported oppression of people by missionaries, and the witch trials of the 16th and 17th centuries.

Galileo and the Church

One myth that is deeply ingrained in our culture is that of the supposed “warfare between science and religion.” Science deals with fact; religion deals with nice stories, at best. Whenever there is a conflict, obviously science wins the day. This myth goes deeper than just who has the best interpretation of the data. It’s as if there is, of necessity, a conflict between the two, and religion has to be shown to be inferior to science.

One story that seems to serve this myth especially well is the story of Galileo. You’ve probably heard about Galileo’s celebrated battle with the church over his views on the nature of the universe. As the story is typically told, Copernicus discovered that the earth revolves around the sun. Galileo, who agreed that the earth was not the center of the universe after all, then developed his work. Supposedly the church wanted to keep man at the center of God’s creation and thus as the supreme part of the created order. To move earth out of the center was to somehow lower man. Thus, the church persecuted Galileo and eventually silenced him, showing its raw power over society.

George Bernard Shaw said, “Galileo was a martyr, and his persecutors incorrigible ignoramuses.”{2} Says writer Patrick Moore, “The Roman Catholic Church attacked Galileo because the [heliocentric] theory was not reconcilable with certain passages of the Bible. As a consequence, poor Galileo spent most of his life in open conflict with the Church.”{3} However, reason ultimately prevailed and science won the day over religious obscurantism.

The problem with this story is that it ranges from the true to the distorted to the blatantly untrue! Galileo’s primary trouble was with secular scientists, not with the church. It was when he began reinterpreting Scripture to promote his cause and publicly ridiculed the pope that he got into big trouble.

“The Galileo story was developed by French Enlightenment thinkers as part of their anticlerical program,” says Philip Sampson, “but by the late nineteenth century it had created a language of warfare between science and religion.” Science became the fount of reasoned knowledge, and religion was “reduced to ignorance and dogma.”{4} To accomplish this, however, history had to be distorted.

Let’s see what really happened with Galileo. It needs to be noted up front that in Galileo’s day the theories of scientists were not thought to give an actual account of the way the heavens worked; they simply provided models for ordering the data. They “were regarded as the play things of virtuosi,” as George Sim Johnston put it.{5} “To the Greek and medieval mind, science was a kind of formalism, a means of coordinating data, which had no bearing on the ultimate reality of things.”{6}

The fact is that the church didn’t care all that much about what Copernicus and Galileo thought about the order of the universe, scientifically speaking. Copernicus’ book on the subject circulated for seventy years without any trouble at all. It was the scientists of the day who opposed the theory, because it went against the received wisdom of Aristotle. Copernicus believed that his theory actually described the universe the way it was, and this was unacceptable to the academics. When Galileo published his ideas, it was the ridicule of fellow astronomers that he feared, not the church.

According to Aristotle, the earth was at the center of the universe, and all the rest of the universe was situated in concentric spheres around it. From the moon out, all was thought to be perfect and unchanging. The earth, however, was obviously changing and thus imperfect. All matter in the universe was thought to fall downward toward the center of the earth. The earth is therefore like the trash bin of the universe; it was no compliment to man to emphasize his place on earth. In other words, to be at the center of the universe was not a good thing!

To now say that the earth was out with other planets where things had to be perfect was to seriously undercut Aristotle’s ideas. So when Galileo published his notions it was the ridicule of fellow astronomers that he feared, not the church.

It’s true that Galileo got into hot water with the church, but it was not because his theory moved man physically from the center of the universe; that was a good thing, given Aristotle’s views. Man was already considered small in the universe. Most people already believed that the earth was created for God, not for man. “The doctrine that the earth exists for man’s use,” says Philip Sampson, “derives from Greek philosophy, not the Bible.”{7} Thus, the Copernican theory “ennobled” the status of the earth by making it a planet. So the church in general didn’t see the heliocentric theory as a demotion.

The fact is that Galileo was on good terms with the church for a long time, even while advancing his theory. He made sure that the idea he was attacking of the incorruptibility of the universe with its perfect heavens and imperfect earth was an Aristotelian belief and not a doctrine of the church. “Indeed,” says Sampson, “the church largely accepted his conclusions, although the die-hard Aristotelians in the universities did not. . . . Far from being constantly harried by obscurantist priests, he was feted by cardinals, received by Pope Paul V and befriended by the future Pope Urban VIII.”{8} As historian George Santillana wrote in 1958, “It has been known for a long time that a major part of the church intellectuals were on the side of Galileo, while the clearest opposition to him came from secular circles.”{9} He wasn’t afraid of the church; he feared the ridicule of his fellow scientists!

What did get Galileo in trouble with the church were two things. First, because the church had historically followed Aristotle (as did secularists) in interpreting scientific data, it wanted hard evidence to support Galileo’s views, which he did not have. For Galileo to insist that his theory was true to the way things really were was to step outside proper scientific boundaries. He simply didn’t have enough hard data to make such a claim. The problem, then, wasn’t between religion and science, but between methods of interpreting the data. But this, in itself, wasn’t enough to bring the church down on him.

The bigger problem was Galileo’s manner of promoting his beliefs. To do so, he reinterpreted Scripture in contradiction to traditional understandings, which ran counter to the dictates of the Council of Trent. Perhaps even worse was his mockery of the pope. His treatise, Dialogue Concerning the Chief World Systems, took the form of a debate. The character that took Aristotle’s view against the heliocentric theory was called Simplicio. His “role in the dialogue is to be a kind of Aunt Sally to be knocked down by Galileo. . . .Galileo puts into Simplicio’s mouth a favorite argument used by his friend Pope Urban VIII and then mocks it. In other words, he concluded his treatise by effectively calling the very pope who had befriended him a simpleton for not agreeing with Galileo. This was not a wise move,” says Sampson, “and the rest is history.”{10} In fact, Galileo himself believed that the major cause of his trouble was the charge that he had made fun of the pope, not that he thought the earth moved.

So the condemnation of Galileo did not result from some basic conflict between science and religion. It “was the result of the complex interplay of untoward political circumstances, political ambitions, and wounded prides.”{11} However, the myth continues to bolster the status of secular, naturalistic thought by making religion look bad.

So is there warfare between science and religion? Hardly. This is really warfare between worldviews.

The Missionaries

A favorite charge against Christians for many years is the belief that missionaries effectively destroyed other cultures: running roughshod over the natives’ beliefs and culture. Like the myth of the warfare between science and religion, the myth of the oppressive missionary provides a vehicle for exalting secularism while denigrating Christianity. According to this myth, the Christian missionary arrogantly strips natives of their own culture and forces western Christian culture on them, even to the point of oppression and exploitation.

Secular literature often leaves one with an impression of missionaries as stern, joyless oppressors who took advantage of innocent natives in order to advance their own ends. They forced their art and music on other cultures, made the people learn the missionaries’ language, and manipulated them to wear western clothing. “Missionaries are accused of exploiting natives for commercial gain,” says Sampson, “colluding with expansionist colonialism and even committing ‘ethnocide.’ They are implicated in the theft of land, the forced removal of children from their parents, the destruction of habitats, torture, murder, the decline of whole populations into destitution, alcoholism, and prostitution. Even when they provide disaster relief, they are guilty of ‘buying’ converts.”{12} There are no “half tones,” says Sampson. Missionaries “impose rigid, joyless, and patriarchal rules” on natives who are “portrayed as residents in an idyllic land, the victims of the full might of Western oppression incarnate in the person of ‘the missionary.'”{13}

One of the problems in this assessment is the ready identification of missionary activity with that of western colonialism and trade. While missionaries often did import their culture along with the Gospel, they were not, for the most part, interested in taking over other peoples. Colonialists, however, were. It was “the Enlightenment visions of ‘civilization’ and ‘progress’ that inspired colonial activity from the eighteenth century and rejected faith in God for faith in reason.” Colonialists had no qualms about attempting to “civilize” the “barbarians” and “savages.” Civilized was a term which “had ‘behind it the general spirit of the Enlightenment with its emphasis on secular and progressive human self-development.'” Traders, also, were guilty of exploiting other peoples for their own profit. Consider the power of commercial enterprises such as the search for gold by the conquistadors and the activity of such organizations as the British South Africa Company that brought exploitation.{14}

What this reveals is the role of modernism in the oppression and exploitation of native peoples. Romanticism established the image of the “noble savage,” the pure, pristine individual who, living close to nature, had not been corrupted by the influences of civilization. The fact is that some native peoples were given to human sacrifice and cannibalism, among other vices. However, the myth of the noble savage took root in western thinking. Then Darwin taught that there were weaker races that were doomed to extinction by the unstoppable forces of evolutionary change (new ideas about eugenics grew out of this thinking). These two images–the noble savage and the weaker race–combined to paint a picture of vulnerable nobility. According to the myth, Christian missionaries were guilty of taking advantage of this vulnerability to advance their own causes. The reality was that it was often colonialists who exploited these people, and salved their consciences by picturing the people as doomed to extinction anyway.

By contrast, what one finds in the literature about missionary activities includes occasions where they stood against the colonial and trading powers. The Dominican bishop Bartolomè opposed slavery in the sixteenth century. John Philip of the London Missionary Society supported native rights in South Africa in the early nineteenth century. Lancelot Threlkeld demanded “equal protection under the law for the Awabakal people of Australia.”{15} John Eliot stood up for the Indians in Massachusetts’ courts against unjust settler claims. Even one critic of missionary activity conceded that evangelical missions in Latin America “tended to treat native people with more respect than did national governments and fellow citizens.”{16} Missionaries taught people to read their own languages, good hygiene to indigenous groups, farming skills, and even brought medical help. In some regards, the missionaries did try to change other cultures, and sometimes illegitimately. But sometimes that isn’t wrong; there should be no apologies for trying to stop such practices as human sacrifice and cannibalism. Compare the efforts of contemporary secularists to end female genital mutilation practiced by some African tribes.

Scholars have known for many years that the identification of missions with oppression is unfair, yet the myth continues to be told. It simply isn’t true that missionaries were responsible for the destruction of native cultures. But the myth persists, for “it provides the modern mind with an alibi for its own complicity in oppression.”{17}

The Witch Trials

Some critics like to portray the Christian Church as the great persecutor of the weak and helpless. A popular vehicle for this myth is the story of the witch trials in Europe and America in the 16th and 17th centuries. Philip Sampson says that this story “relates that many millions of women throughout Europe, mainly the elderly, poor and isolated, were tortured by the church into confessing nonexistent crimes before being burnt to death.”{18} The story of the witch trials provides a handy illustration for the myth that that the church actively persecutes those who aren’t in agreement. “The history of Christianity is the history of persecution,” said one writer,{19} and this is seen in no bolder outline than in the story of the witch-hunts. Furthermore, this story provides a good example of the supposed women-hating attitude of the church since the vast majority of witches tried were women.

There is no denying that Christians were involved in the trial and execution of witches. But to paint this issue as simply a matter of the powerful church against the weakest members of society is to distort what really happened.

Before considering a couple of facts about the trials, the bias of the critics who write about them should be noted. For most, there simply is no such thing as a supernatural witch, meaning one who can actually draw on satanic power to manipulate nature. If this is true, it must be the case that there is some natural explanation for the strange behavior of those charged with witchcraft, and the church was completely unjustified in prosecuting them. But this is a naturalistic bias; it ignores the fact that “most people of the world throughout most of its history have taken supernatural witchcraft to be real.”{20} Modern writers like to think that it was the dawning of the Age of Reason that brought about the end of the witch trials, but today this is seen as mere hubris, “the prejudice of ‘indignant rationalists’ [who were] more concerned to castigate the witch-baiters for their credulity and cruelty than to understand what the phenomenon was all about.”{21} It was the centralization of legal power that brought the trials to an end, not a matter of “Enlightenment overcoming superstition.”{22}

This leads us to ask who and why these charges of witchcraft were brought in the first place. What we find is that this “was not principally a church matter, nor was the Inquisition the prime mover in the prosecution of witches,” as is often thought. It was ordinary lay people who typically brought charges of witchcraft, and mostly women at that!{23} The primary reasons were not bizarre supernatural behavior or heretical beliefs, but the tensions brought about by a loss of crops or the failure of bread to rise. “People commonly appealed to magic and witchcraft to explain tragedies and misfortunes, or more generally to gain power over neighbors.”{24} Even kings and queens saw witchcraft as a very real threat to their thrones and well-being. The Inquisition actually supplied a tempering influence. Historian Hugh Trevor-Roper said, “In general, the established church was opposed to the persecution” of witches.{25} Likewise, the Protestant churches were not the real aggressors in the witch trials. John Calvin believed that witchcraft was a delusion, the cure for which was the Gospel, not execution.{26}

Estimates of executions in the millions are grossly exaggerated. Recent studies estimate about 150300 per year, making a total of between 40,000 and 100,000 who were executed over a period of 300 years. While “this is an appalling enough catalog of human suffering,” as Sampson says,{27} it pales in comparison to the slaughter of innocent people in the 20th century, resulting from the excesses of modernistic thinking. “Genocide is an invention of the modern world,” says one writer.{28} Compare the numbers slaughtered under Nazism or Stalinism to that of the witch trials. If the witch trials demonstrate the danger of religion to society, the slaughters under Hitler and Stalin demonstrate the much greater danger of irreligion.

Modern writers like to think that it was the dawning of the Age of Reason that brought about the end of the witch trials, but today this is seen as mere hubris. It was the centralization of legal power that brought the trials to an end, not a matter of “Enlightenment overcoming superstition.”{29}

Conclusion

From the days of the early church we have been called upon to defend not only our beliefs but also the activities of individual Christians and the church as a whole. In his book, 6 Modern Myths About Christianity and Western Civilization, Philip Sampson has given us a tool to better enable us to do that today. I encourage you to read it.

Notes

1. Philip J. Sampson, 6 Modern Myths About Christianity and Western Civilization (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2001).

2. George Bernard Shaw, Saint Joan (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1946), 17, quoted in Sampson, 28.

3. Patrick Moore, A Beginner’s Guide to Astronomy (London: PRC Publishing, 1997), 12, quoted in Sampson, 28.

4. Sampson, 45.

5. George Sim Johnston, “The Galileo Affair,” downloaded from http://www.catholic.net/rcc/Periodicals/Issues/GalileoAffair.html May 7, 2001.

6. Ibid.

7. Sampson, 34.

8. Sampson, 36-37.

9. George de Santillana, The Crime of Galileo (London: Heinemann, 1958), xii, quoted in Sampson, 37.

10. Sampson, 38.

11. William R. Shea, “Galileo and the Church” in God and Nature, ed. David C. Lindberg and Ronald Numbers (Berkley: University of California Press, 1986), 312, quoted in Sampson, 39.

12. Sampson, 93.

13. Sampson, 94.

14. Sampson, 94.

15. Sampson, 97-98.

16. D. Stoll, Is Latin America Turning Protestant? (Berkley: University of California Press, 1990), 12, quoted in Sampson, 98.

17. Sampson, 99.

18. Sampson, 130.

19. Laurie, Cabot, Power of the Witch (Harmondsworth, U.K.: Penguin, 1992), 62, quoted in Sampson, 130.

20. Sampson, 133.

21. Sampson, 144.

22. Sampson, 133.

23. Sampson, 134-135.

24. Sampson, 134.

25. Hugh R. Trevor-Roper, The European Witch-Craze of the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries (Harmondsworth, U.K.: Penguin, 1969), 37, quoted in Sampson, 139.

26. Sampson, 141.

27. Sampson 137.

28. Trevor-Roper, 22, quoted in Sampson, 137.

29. Sampson, 133.

©2001 Probe Ministries.




Feminist Myths

As someone who works in the media, I am well aware that certain myths get started and have a life of their own. A number of these myths are promoted and disseminated by feminists and can be found in the book Who Stole Feminism? The author, Christina Hoff Sommers, though a feminist, has been concerned for some time about the prominence of these myths and does a masterful job tracing down the origin of each and setting the record straight. If you want more information on any of these, I would recommend you obtain her well-documented book.

Myth of the Extent of Anorexia Nervosa

In her book Revolution from Within, Gloria Steinem informed her readers that “in this country alone…about 150,000 females die of anorexia each year.” To put this dramatic statistic in perspective, this is more than three times the annual number of fatalities from car accidents for the total population. The only problem with the statistic is that it is absolutely false.

Lest you think that this was a mere typographical error, consider the following. The statistic also appears in the feminist best- seller The Beauty Myth by Naomi Wolf. “How,” she asks, “would America react to the mass self-immolation by hunger of its favorite sons?” While admitting that “nothing justifies comparison with the Holocaust,” she nevertheless makes just such a comparison. “When confronted with a vast number of emaciated bodies starved not by nature but by men, one must notice a certain resemblance.”

What was the source of this statistic? Ms. Wolf got her figures from Fasting Girls: The Emergence of Anorexia Nervosa as a Modern Disease by Joan Brumberg, a historian and former director of women’s studies at Cornell University. It turns out that she misquoted the American Anorexia and Bulimia Association which had stated that there are 150,000 to 200,000 sufferers (not fatalities) of anorexia nervosa. The actual figure is many orders of magnitude lower. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, there were 70 deaths from anorexia in 1990. Even 70 deaths is tragic, but 70 deaths out of population of over 100 million women can hardly be considered a holocaust.

Apparently Naomi Wolf plans to revise her figures in an updated version of The Beauty Myth, but the figure is now widely accepted as true. Ann Landers repeated it in her 1992 column by stating that “every year, 150,000 American women die from complications associated with anorexia and bulimia.” The false statistic has also made it into college textbooks. A women’s studies text, aptly titled The Knowledge Explosion, contains the erroneous figure in its preface.

Myth of Amount of Domestic Violence

On November 1992, Deborah Louis, president of the National Women’s Studies Association, sent a message to the Women’s Studies Electronic Bulletin Board. It read, “According to [the] last March of Dimes report, domestic violence (vs. pregnant women) is now responsible for more birth defects than all other causes combined.” On February 23, 1993, Patricia Ireland, president of the National Organization for Women, said on the Charlie Rose program that “battery of pregnant women is the number one cause of birth defects in this country.”

Certainly unsettling data. But again, the biggest problem is that the statistic is absolutely false. The March of Dimes never published the study and did not know of any research that corroborated the statement.

Nevertheless, journalists willingly recited the erroneous statistic. The Boston Globe reported that “domestic violence is the leading cause of birth defects, more than all other medical causes combined, according to a March of Dimes study.” The Dallas Morning News reported that “the March of Dimes has concluded that the battering of women during pregnancy causes more birth defects than all the diseases put together for which children are usually immunized.”

When Time magazine published essentially the same article, the rumor started spinning out of control. Concerned citizens and legislators called the March of Dimes for the study. Eventually the error was traced to Sarah Buel, a founder of the domestic violence advocacy project at Harvard Law School. She misunderstood a statement made by a nurse who noted that a March of Dimes study showed that more women are screened for birth defects than they are for domestic battery. The nurse never said anything about battery causing birth defects.

Although we could merely chalk this error up to a misunderstanding, it is disturbing that so many newspapers and magazines reported it uncritically. Battery causing birth defects? More than genetic disorders like spina bifida, Downs syndrome, Tay-Sachs, sickle-cell anemia? More than alcohol, crack, or AIDS? Where was the press in checking the facts? Why are feminist myths so easily repeated in the press?

Myth of Increased Domestic Battery on Super Bowl Sunday

In January 1993 newspaper and television networks reported an alarming statistic. They stated that the incidence of domestic violence tended to rise by 40 percent on Super Bowl Sunday. NBC, which was broadcasting the game, made a special plea for men to stay calm. Feminists called for emergency preparations in anticipation of the expected increase in violence.

Feminists also used the occasion to link maleness and violence against women. Nancy Isaac, a Harvard School of Public Health research associate specializing in domestic violence, told the Boston Globe: “It’s a day for men to revel in their maleness and unfortunately, for a lot of men that includes being violent toward women if they want to be.”

Nearly every journalist accepted the 40 percent figure–except for Ken Ringle at the Washington Post. He checked the facts and was able to expose the myth, but not before millions of Americans were indoctrinated with the feminist myth of male aggression during Super Bowl Sunday.

Myth Concerning Percent of Women Raped

The Justice Department says that 8 percent of all American women will be victims of rape or attempted rape in their lifetime. Feminist legal scholar Catherine MacKinnon, however, claims that rape happens to almost half of all women at least once in their lives.

Who is right? Obviously, the difference between these two statistics stems from a number of factors ranging from under- reporting to very different definitions of rape. The Justice Department figure is obviously low since it is based on the number of cases reported to the police, and rape is the most under- reported of crimes.

The feminist figures are artificially high because they use very broad definitions of rape and let the questioner rather than the victim decide whether there was a rape or not. The two most frequently cited studies are the 1985 Ms. magazine study and the 1992 National Women’s Study. The Ms. magazine study of 3,000 college students gave a statistic of about 1 in 4 for women who have been raped or victim of an attempted rape. However, the study used very broad definitions of rape which sometimes included kissing, fondling, and other activities that few people would call rape. In fact, only 27 percent of those women counted as having been raped actually labeled themselves as rape victims. Also, 42 percent of those counted as rape victims went on to have sex with their “attackers” on a later occasion.

The National Women’s Study released a figure of 1 in 8 women who have been raped. Again the surveyors used extremely broad, expanded definitions of rape that allowed the surveyor to decide if a woman had been raped or not.

The statistics for “date rape” and rape on campus have also been exaggerated. Camille Paglia warns that “date rape has swelled into a catastrophic cosmic event, like an asteroid threatening the earth in a fifties science-fiction film.” Contrast this with the date- rape hype on most college campuses that includes rallies, marches, and date-rape counseling groups.

Peter Hellman, writing for New York magazine on the subject of rape on campus, was surprised to find that campus police logs at Columbia University showed no evidence of rape on campus. Only two rapes were reported to the Columbia campus police, and in both cases, the charges were dropped for lack of evidence. Hellman checked figures for other campuses and found fewer than .5 rapes per campus. He also found that public monies were being spent disproportionately on campus rape programs while community rape programs were scrambling for dollars.

The high rape numbers serve gender feminists by promoting the belief that American culture is sexist and misogynist. They also help liberal politicians by providing justification for additional funding for social services. Senator Joseph Biden introduced the Violence Against Women Act to “raise the consciousness of the American public.” He argues that violence against women is much like racial violence and calls for civil as well as criminal remedies.

Myth Concerning Female Self-esteem

In 1991, newspapers around the country proclaimed that the self- esteem of teenage girls was falling. The New York Times announced, “Little girls lose their self-esteem on way to adolescence, study finds.”

The study was commissioned by the American Association of University Women (AAUW) to measure self-esteem of girls and boys between the ages of nine and fifteen. Their poll seemed to show that between the ages of eleven and sixteen, girls experience a dramatic drop in self-esteem, which in turn significantly affects their ability to learn and to achieve. The report made headlines around the country and led to hundreds of conferences and community action projects.

Here is how the AAUW summarized the results of the survey in their brochure: In a crucial measure of self-esteem, 60 percent of elementary school girls and 69 percent of elementary school boys say they are “happy the way I am.” But, by high school, girls’ self-esteem falls 31 points to only 29 percent, while boys’ self- esteem falls only 23 points to 46 percent.

Girls are less likely than boys to say they are “pretty good at a lot of things.” Less than a third of girls express this confidence, compared to almost half the boys. A 10-point gender gap in confidence in their abilities increases to 19 points in high school.

It turns out that the report didn’t even define the term self- esteem, or even promote an informal discussion of what the authors meant by it. Other researchers suspect that the apparent gap in self-esteem may merely reflect a gap in expressiveness. Girls and women are more aware of their feelings and more articulate in expressing them, and so they are more candid about their negative emotions in self-reports than males are.

When asked if they are “good at a lot of things,” boys more often answered, “all the time,” whereas girls, being more reflective, gave more nuanced answers (“some of the time” or “usually”). Although the surveyors decided that the girls’ response showed poor self-esteem, it may merely reflect a “maturity gap” between boys and girls. Boys, lacking maturity, reflectiveness, and humility, are more likely to answer the question as “always true.”

Myth of Discrimination Against Females in School

An American Association of University Women (AAUW) report argued that schools and teachers were biased against girls in the classroom. The Wellesley Report, published in 1992, argued that there was a gender bias in education. The Boston Globe proclaimed that “from the very first days in school, American girls face a drum-fire of gender bias, ranging from sexual harassment to discrimination in the curriculum to lack of attention from teachers, according to a survey released today in Washington.” The release of this study was again followed by great media attention and the convening of conferences. It also provided the intellectual ammunition for the “Gender Equity in Education” bill introduced in 1993 by Patricia Schroeder, Susan Molinari, and others. It would have established a permanent and well-funded gender equity bureaucracy.

Are women really being damaged by our school system? Today 55 percent of college students are female, and women receive 52 percent of the bachelor’s degrees. Yes, girls seem somewhat behind in math and science, but those math and science test differentials are small compared with the large differentials favoring girls in reading and writing.

The study also assumed that teachers’ verbal interactions with students indicated how much they valued them. The surveyors therefore deduced that teachers valued boys more than girls. However, teachers often give more attention to boys because they are more immature and require the teacher to keep them in line. Most girls, being more mature, don’t want the attention or verbal discipline and need less negative attention to get their work done.

Myth of Huge Gender Wage Gap

A major rallying cry during the debates on comparable worth was that women make 59 cents for every dollar men do. The figure is now 71 cents. But if you factor in age, length of time in the workplace, and type of job, the wage gap is much smaller for younger women. Those with children tend to make slightly less than those without children, but it’s closer to 90 cents.

Feminists argue that the pay gap is a vivid illustration of discrimination. Economists argue that it’s due to shorter work weeks and less workplace experience. It is no doubt also due to the kind of jobs women choose. Women generally prefer clean, safe places with predictable hours and less stress. The more dangerous, dirty, and high-pressure jobs generally appeal to men. This is reflected in salary differences.

 

©1996 Probe Ministries.