Friday, December 10, 2004

A Response to Jon Meacham's Newsweek Article (Part 1 of 2)

It doesn’t happen very often so when it does take note. I am officially speechless. I just finished reading Jon Meacham’s cover story for the December 13th issue of Newsweek magazine entitled Religion: The Birth of Jesus. Now I’m no stranger to the arguments proposed by the secular media in their attempts to discount those that believe in the story of Jesus’ birth as essentially nothing more than a bunch of un-educated backwards fools. However, in an apparently desperate attempt to sell magazines, Newsweek has hit an all time low. It appears as if the General Editor of the magazine is gone for the holidays because even a 5th grader should be able to see some of the gross problems and biased views portrayed. I present the link to the article here for two reasons. First, for those in other countries who may not be familiar with or have access to Newsweek and, second, in the interest of fairness, I will do what Meacham didn’t do; that is provide access to BOTH sides of the story. If you’d like to check out the article you can Click HERE. Beware for it is long (about 7 pages), poorly written, inaccurate, biased and overall just plain garbage.

Due to the length of this article, there is no way I could comment on every inaccurate argument Meacham makes (there are just way to many of them). I will however do my best to focus on the 4 MAJOR issues as I see them. Having studied the science of textual criticism (of which Meacham is doing in this article) at the Master’s level, I feel at least somewhat qualified to critique it. Due to length I will address the first two issues in this post, and the remaining two in my follow-up post. These posts will be lengthy but I think the material is important and hope you’ll stick with me all the way through.

I’d like to start my critique of this article by focusing on the lack of objective guidelines utilized by Meacham. Last I heard, journalism was supposed to be a reporting of the facts in a neutral fashion. Meacham has tossed those rules aside. Starting with the premise that the Biblical story is too preposterous to believe, he goes out of his way to attempt to disprove it. In other words, he writes his article under the pretext that it never happened. Where is the neutrality in that? If you want to present both sides of the story than by all means go for it. But to only present one side and present it as truth is intellectually dishonest and unprofessional. What’s even more interesting is that he starts off his article as if the topic is as hotly contested as the Bush/Kerry campaigns. Yet just a few paragraphs into it he writes that Newsweek’s own poll “… found 79% of Americans believe in the virgin birth and 67% believe the entire Christmas story is accurate.” 79% huh? Sure sounds like a hotly contested topic to me.

I found it interesting that Meacham never directly cites a verse reference. Whenever he quotes a passage from the Bible, he never says where that verse can be found. Instead, he speaks in generalities such as “…according to the book of Matthew it says…” I want to know WHERE it says this. This way I can actually check it out for myself and make sure your statement and interpretation are correct. Scholars adhere to this form of citation (ever written a research paper and had to cite your sources?) Why couldn’t Meacham? Perhaps it is because he knowingly takes several verses completely out of context? Regardless of his reason, it is poor form and unacceptable from a professional journalist.

My first problem is that Meacham makes absolutely no attempts to hide his bias towards the subject. Here is a very small sample of a few of his comments:

modern grounded people make leaps of faith…” [to accept the original story]

“…they [the Gospel stories] are not necessarily to be taken as accurate in the sense we might take an Associated Press wire report…” Oh yeah, because those can never be wrong. Remember the whole Dan Rather scandal?

“There is, of course, no way to know whether Luke’s story of the heavenly host announcing Jesus’ arrival to the shepherds really happened; one has to believe in angels, and explain away the fact that the Gospels fail to note any communal or individual recollection of this spectacular birth…”

This last one is my favorite becasuse he completely discounts Luke 1:3-4 where Luke, the author, states “it seemed fitting for me as well, having investigated everything carefully from the beginning, to write it out for you in consecutive order, most excellent Theophilus so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.” Now remember, Luke wasn’t just some nomad wondering around. He was a physician and a historian. He was highly educated. Meacham essentially is saying “even though the person who recorded the story was pretty smart and carefully investigated each and every claim, because I don’t want to believe it, I will simply discredit him and say there was no way to know.” If we follow Meacham’s logic, then I guess every historical event prior to the invention of television must not have really happened since we probably can’t trust the person who recorded it for us. We should also release every prisoner ever convicted from a report filed by a police officer. Everyday the police interview eyewitnesses to crimes and then record the events in a report. According to Meacham's logic, there really is no way we can know if these events recorded by officers really happened or not. Can you see the absurdity in Meacham’s reasoning?

My second issue is that Meacham makes several assertions in his article. This is fine except for one small problem, he conveniently forgets to offer even a smidgen of proof for his claim. For example:

“If we dissect the stories with care we can see that the Nativity saga is neither fully fanciful nor fully factual but a layered narrative of early tradition and enduring theology…” – He not only doesn’t explain what he means by his terms used (i.e. what part isn’t factual, what parts are tradition, etc.) but, he just leaves it as is and moves on to the next topic.

they [the Gospel writers] wanted to tell the story of Jesus’ birth but apparently had very little to work with” – What is this claim based on? Personal experience? He wasn’t there. 2 Peter 1:16 states “For we did not follow cleverly devised tales when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty.” Apparently Peter, who was indeed an eyewitness to Christ’s ministry and most assuredly had ample opportunity to talk with Mary about the details surrounding Christ’s birth, feels confident enough in explaining the truth in the story.

In regards to the Magi searching out Jesus, he argues “there is no historical evidence of such a visit”. What is it he’s looking for exactly? They didn’t have blog journals back then. Those in Jerusalem couldn’t just turn on their satellite dish powered plasma TV’s and watch CNN’s report. Using his logic, since there is technically no historical evidence I went into the backyard and played with my dog today, I guess it didn’t happen.

And finally, perhaps my favorite quote: “neither Mary nor Joseph appears to have been a direct source” How in the world could you he possibly know this. If you had to choose between dozens of eyewitnesses to an event, and one person living 2000 years after the fact, who do you think would know better? During Jesus’ execution he entrusted John with caring for Mary. It seems reasonable that at the very least, Mary could easily have refuted the virgin birth story and cleared the whole issue up if it was false.

To Be Continued...........

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