Easter Sunday Ethics Warm-Up, 4/12/2020: Missing The Easter Bunny

Happy Easter!

That’s my favorite Arthur Sullivan Easter hymn…

Our family always celebrated Easter twice, at least when Greek Easter fell on a different date, which is usually the case.On traditional Easter, until my sister and I were well into high school, my parents hid two dozen colored eggs that we had decorated the day before all over the house for us to hunt for Easter morning. If there had been a pandemic then, my mother would have still hidden the eggs, because she knew even she, with her incredible talent for making BS credible, would not have been able to convince us that the Easter Bunny was “social distancing.”

How my parents loved family celebrations of holidays! I miss them so much, and days like this just makes not having them in our lives harder.

1. Can’t do this. I had been recommending the usually reliable website Ars Technica to my friends for updates on the virus so that they wouldn’t be battered hither and yon like skiffs made of paper on the ocean of hype and disinformation. I also relied on it myself. The site promised daily updates at 3 pm every day, along with a useful set of information, also updated as needed. Then, on April 6, the updates just stopped; no explanation, and nothing since. Unethical. If you promise a service for those in need of it, you can’t just stop it without warning or explanation. It doesn’t matter what the reason is. You have created reliance and  dependency. If you can’t be sure that you will carry through on your commitment, then don’t make it.

I headed a small professional theater for 20 years at great personal sacrifice on that principle.

2. Welcome to my world...Since so many were forthcoming in their reactions to my quarrel with one ex-commenter, here’s another one. Unsolicited, I received a book about two weeks ago from an Ethics Alarms follower. It was by L.Ron Hubbard, the science fiction writer and founder of Scientology, and the topic was ethics. I was and am grateful, for all ideas about ethics are interesting to me, and most come in handy eventually. A few days ago, I received a long, handwritten letter from the same source, who told me that he was no longer following the blog. He then excoriated my for insulting him by posting, so soon after receiving the book, this post, which in item #3 I  made some uncomplimentary comments about Ron’s “church” (it’s a cult and probably a criminal enterprise), its current leader, and his whacked-out message to the flock about the pandemic, which he called “planetary bullbait.”

My critic thought it was mean and rude of me to respond to his kind gift by deriding his faith and his friend, the Church’s  Chairman of the Board, David Miscavige.

I immediately wrote back in part,

I just received your letter of April 6.
 
I apologize for the misunderstanding, with great regret. I regarded your kind gift of the book as neither proselytizing nor indicative of any beliefs or positions on your part. I am, as you should know, relentlessly multi-disciplinary and get inspiration from all sources, all philosophers, all authors and all works, popular and obscure. I don’t care about messengers, only about messages.
 
Thus it is the purest coincidence that I happened to write the piece you refer to so shortly after I received the book (which I am reading and enjoying, by the way—and expect to write about on EA). In fact, after more than a decade, that was the first time I have ever written about Scientology at all, which surprised me. I have quite a bit of discretion in post topics, and had I made the connection, which I probably should have, I assure you I would not have criticized the Church message about the virus outbreak, though as an ethicist, a business consultant, a leadership expert and a writer, I think it was irresponsible and unprofessional in the extreme.
 
I have led and managed many organizations, and I am  irresponsible and unprofessional myself on occasion. I also expect to be called on it when I am.
 
I am very sorry this was taken as an insult to you or your faith…
 
Again, I apologize. And I remain very grateful for the book.
3. Not quite an Ethics Hero, perhaps, but a welcome voice of reality and responsibility. Other Bill sent this video to me of CNN’s Van Jones making an appeal to the black community in light of the disproportionate number of African American deaths. Compared to the race-baiting we saw in the wake of Hurricane Katrina—remember Kanye West telling a live TV audience that President Bush  was trying to kill blacks, as comic Mike Myers stood on camera hoping he could make himself invisible?—Jones’ message was indeed an upgrade. Some activists have already started using the statistics to ramp up support for slavery reparations. It is undeniable that the persistent problems within the black community that our policies have been unable to sufficiently ameliorate  have their roots in slavery and Jim Crow, but to his credit, Jones urged his fellow African-Americans to focus now on taking personal responsibility for their risks, not who to blame for them. Here’s his video:

4. Mark Tapscott and Easter. I have great respect for conservative writer and pundit Mark Tapscott, but his recent blog post is intellectually dishonest. He has an Easter entry on his blog titled “He Is Risen! Eight Reasons To Believe.” Let me preface my complaint  by saying that Easter is an important cultural as well as religious holiday that conveys hope and optimism to believers and non-believers. I also have no insight into what really happened that we celebrate today; as my late Methodist minister father-in-law often said in his Easter and Christmas sermons, something happened, and it was momentous enough to change the world.  I was eager, being a fan, to read Tapscott’s eight reasons.

His argument, however, is a tautology, an intellectual trick that is used to deceive and is designed to gull those who are not very skilled in critical thinking. All of his reasons are based on New Testament text. If one believes that the New Testament text is true and accurate, then you don’t need any more reasons. His is a self-ratifying argument.

Historians and archeologists as well as many religious scholars agree that the four canonical gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John that make up the first four books of the New Testament were probably written between AD 66 and 110. Moreover, they don’t even agree with each other on many details. By the standards we judge all other historical accounts and evidence, these texts are dubious at best.

There is one reason to believe, and that is faith. That’s fine. I respect that. However, to claim to have “eight reasons” when they are all still based entirely on that single reason is an unscrupulous advocate’s trick, if a well-intentioned one.

I will be reading Mr. Tapscott’s opinion pieces more skeptically in the future.

19 thoughts on “Easter Sunday Ethics Warm-Up, 4/12/2020: Missing The Easter Bunny

    • What an impressive multi-disciplinary takedown of the 4 gospels’ historical reliability.

      Though tautologies are unhelpful, could you elongate on how many scholars, archeologists and historians. I’ll bet that it is most…

      Then, could you remind us that global warmimg is most likely anthropogenic because most scientists agree that it is.

      • I don’t understand your point. I guess it;s too arch for me.

        Making an analogy between historians, who figure out what has happened, and scientists, who try to future out what is happening, is a particularly annoying error, and I’m kind of sick of it in the climate change arena. Those who are skeptical about current research regarding climate change are not,, for example, analogous to Holocaust deniers. The Holocaust isn’t a matter of consensus, it’s a matter of voluminous and hard evidence not requiring modelling or interpretation.On the other hand, Claiming the the Gospels were written contemporaneously with the events they purport to document is about as serious and credible as claiming that Adam and Eve had to fight off dinosaurs.

        • And a bit more: it isn’t a “takedown” of the gospels to say they have the same credibility problems of all ancient histories before there were reliable records and when most history was passed along to us by oral tradition, often after several translations.

  1. #2. That looks like a first rate apology to me, and a good example for those who sometimes need to make an apology. My view, after only a couple of years following this blog, is that you do own your mistakes, if you happen to make one, and apologize appropriately. I only hope that the person who sent you the book accepts your apology without condition, as they should.
    #4. That reminded me of the Jesuit religion instructor I had in college; when served up a particularly difficult question about the Catholic religion (yes, I had a few), he sometimes would respond that “That’s a mystery of faith.”

  2. First, thank you for your kind words regarding my secular writing. I hope that my work in that area continues to merit your approbation. We are, as I believe Confucius is reputed to have said, “cursed to live in interesting times.”

    Unfortunately, my reaction is not nearly so positive regarding your critique of my post on eight reasons to believe Jesus was literally resurrected from the dead three days after His crucifixion, just as He said He would be.

    “Intellectually dishonest” and tautological? With all due respect, your readers deserve more candor than that from you. You accuse me of these two errors because: “All of his reasons are based on New Testament text. If one believes that the New Testament text is true and accurate, then you don’t need any more reasons. His is a self-ratifying argument.”

    If my post was simply arguing for the credibility and historical accuracy of the New Testament, your statement might well more accurately represent what I wrote. I did indeed assume the accuracy of the New Testament accounts of Jesus’ resurrection, but the eight reasons I offered concerned characteristics of the scriptural accounts and events that point a reasonable reader to their credibility.

    For example, the fact women were the first to find the empty tomb and to see the resurrected Christ is significant because in that culture the testimony of two women was required to equal that of one man in order to be credible. That the Gospels rely in part on testimony that was not automatically accepted suggests that the authors were being faithful to the facts in reporting what actually happened rather than inventions of what they hoped would be more persuasive to readers. That’s not a tautology, it’s a reasonable inference based on historical fact.

    Merely rejecting the eight reasons because they are drawn from a source you reject has the scent of an ad hominem response and the look of an evasion. Do you agree with me about the significance of the Gospel authors’ reporting women were the first witnesses of the empty tomb and resurrected Jesus? Make your argument on that point and we can perhaps then have a productive discussion.

    BTW, regarding your grounds for rejecting the New Testament’s credibility, can you name one detail on which two or more of the Gospels “disagree,” as you put it, that relates to the core claim that Jesus was resurrected?

    • Thanks for your comment Mark. As to your last question, it’s a simple answer: no, but the fact that the sources disagree on other substantive events makes them less credible as authorities than if they independently agreed. I’m a lawyer. If I was going to call into question a source, that would be a starting point.

      I read your actual post as a reason to discount various conspiracy theories about the resurrection being a deliberate hoax That’s a much narrower goal than proving the accounts are accurate and true.

      I don’t reject the source, Mark, I reject the method of advocacy. I accept the source for what it is, giving it the benefit of the doubt. The source is a good faith attempt to set down into text events that occur red decades ago, based on hearsay and accounts of witnesses that could not be cross examined. The account itself cannot possibly proof of its own accuracy, correct? Yes, I absolutely agree with you the Gospel authors’ reporting women were the first witnesses of the empty tomb and resurrected Jesus is significant. Here’s what it signifies: the authors were, at least in this case, trying to tell the story as they heard it, and were not trying to embellish or distort it to make it more credible in its time. Good. That does not mean that the story they heard is in fact true.

      I’ll post this a a Comment of the Day so readers here are sure to see it.

      Thanks, your input is appreciated and helpful.

    • Mark,
      I think your last point puts the bar a little too high.

      Yes, all four Gospels agree on the resurrection, as well they ought too. However, there are other Gospels that agree on that point. But these 4 have been viewed as divinely inspired. While this does not mean they are literally God’s words*, inconsistencies of any kind should give one pause.

      I did not read your article, but I did like your point about 2 women witnesses. I have heard repeatedly that Mary was the first to see the empty tomb. That seemed like an empty fact; your analysis gives significance to that.

      -Jut

      *Reminds me if a quote from Nietzsche to the effect of “I could never believe in a God that chose to speak Greek [no offense, Jack] and so poorly at that.” (I presume part of that joke being that the Greek of the New Testament is a very simple form of Greek that any speaker would be able to understand.)

  3. Happy Easter!

    I’m curious about what you were expecting on #4. Yes, Tapscott bases his arguments on the New Testament, but he addresses at least one of your objections. While the earliest records of the New Testament were written decades after the events they describe, but Tapscott points out that the gap between the earliest copies of other classics and the time periods they’re from are even bigger. I was clicking around the links he provided and I found this other post on Tapscott’s blog where he gets in more detail: https://hillfaith.blog/2018/09/13/which-are-more-reliable-aristotle-and-plato-or-matthew-mark-luke-and-john/ and this link with a handy chart of ancient documents and their time periods: https://carm.org/can-we-trust-new-testament-historical-document#footnote1_brxw4ts

    Also, while he didn’t address the gospels contradicting each other on that post, he did in others. The apparent contradictions are proof that the gospel accounts were NOT written by a group of people colluding to perpetuate a myth, or even just one person making them all up, but that each account was written by a separate person recording events as best he could remember.

    I’ll grant that none of what Tapscott has written is prove positive that the Bible is absolutely true. As you said, faith has to enter into the equation (and prayer, I would add), But I thought the stuff he brought up is reason not to dismiss the New Testament accounts out of hand as a bunch of fairy tales that make no sense.

    • It’s like Hannibal, that ancient nemesis of Rome.

      Other than his writings about himself (which are lost except for a few quotes from later authors) Hannibal was never written about until decades after his death.

      By one man. Who was a child when he died.

      All other accounts of Hannibal were written centuries later.

      But we don’t doubt the stories of Hannibal.

  4. 1. Jack, I’ve been using coronavirus.1point3acres.com for a while and it seems to stay pretty updated. You might give that a try and see what you think. It’s mostly just updated numbers and charts, but there’s some good drilldown detail available. I don’t know how that compares with what Ars Technica was producing.

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