In the past, each of my posts critiquing Prof Dave Hogsette’s E-mails to a Young Seeker has centered around four of five chapters, or fictional email exchanges between Prof Dave and a college student who does not exist. This post was meant to be split up into two, but a) I really hate reading this book and I am ready to be done with it, and b) splitting it up where I originally intended to would have been very awkward, because it didn’t turn out to be a good stopping point. What this means is that this post includes eight “exchanges”, although most of them are insanely repetitive, so I will try to be brief.
The exchanges are:
Exchange 10: Isn’t it irrational to believe in miracles these days?
Exchange 11: But, the resurrection of Christ is just a myth, right?
Exchange 12: The reliability of the New Testament makes sense to me, but why should we trust the reliability of the Old Testament? That just seems too far-fetched
Exchange 13: I’m having a difficult time understanding the Christian notions of sin and salvation
Exchange 14: What about those who never hear about Christ?
Exchange 15: With all this sin in the world caused by us, does that mean God failed and let his world get out of control?
Exchange 16: For free will to be actual, isn’t God required to be a manipulative tester of wills?
Exchange 17: Can you explain original sin? Why am I responsible for Adam’s sin? Why was Jesus sacrificed?
Exchange 10 is little more than Exchange 9, regarding whether or not the New Testament is a myth. Again, Prof Dave emphasizes his belief that the New Testament is historical nonfiction because it’s written like nonfiction: it looks true, it feels true, so it must be true. Imagine if he would apply such blind belief to something that is at least true, like evolution, before seeing the wealth of evidence for it!
Prof Dave goes on to say that if one claims to be a naturalist but does not believe in miracles, then they are fooling themselves because by his definition, the beginning of the universe is a miracle. Here’s the difference, though, between the “miracle” of the big bang creating a world like ours, and the miracle of, say, a virgin giving birth: if you have a large enough sample size, anything that is possible becomes more and more probable. A big bang resulting in one tiny planet of billions was possible, and given enough time, the chances of this possibility to become reality become infinitely more likely. And with billions of billions of planets, the chance that one could sustain life becomes more likely. The thing with virgin births in humans is that they’re not possible. So the more human women you have doesn’t make asexual reproduction more likely. Zero times zero is still zero, Prof Dave.
In Exchange 11, Prof Dave gives the seeker alternate theories to the idea that Jesus really rose from the dead, refuting them one by one (these five well-known theories are listed here, much better than Prof Dave did, I might add). I know that some people believe that Jesus did exist and that he did die on a cross, but they don’t accept that he rose, which would point towards the veracity of the New Testament record of his life. What I don’t understand is, how many people really believe this? How many people actually think that Jesus merely swooned, or that the apostles made the whole thing up? I’m skeptical as to whether a Jesus figure existed at all, that any of the apostles even existed at all, and if so, whether the New Testament got any of it right. So I’m not concerned with these details. (I’ve later come to believe that the historical Jesus did exist, but that the gospels were not entirely accurate, especially about the resurrection. He was likely buried in a mass grave.)
Exchange 12 is nothing more than a repetition of every chapter I read for my last post on this book. Prof Dave explains that the Old Testament is true because Jesus refers to it (and we know Jesus is God because the New Testament feels true), and because the Old Testament writers also say that the Old Testament is true. My favorite part of this exchange is when Prof Dave spends far longer than anyone should ever have to spend, explaining why his logic is not circular (because God, that’s why!).
Exchange 13 begins with the seeker being enraged that God would send people to hell. Prof Dave explains his passionate belief in total depravity and the fact that everyone alive truly deserves nothing more than to burn in hell for all eternity, but if you just accept Jesus as your master and savior, then you get a free pass to heaven.
The fictional devil’s advocate then asks, “What about the serial killer…” (explaining what this hypothetical serial killer did in very unnecessary detail) “…who kills people all their life and repents on their death bed? Why would they go to heaven instead of someone who isn’t religious but is a good person?” Prof Dave explains that, first of all, being a Christian makes you a good person, and if you truly believe, then you won’t do really bad things. Then he explains that according to the bible, blasphemy (of which I am very guilty!) is the very worst sin, far worse than murder (which I myself have only committed to bugs). This is why atheists burn in hell and murderers and rapists who do so in the name of God are saved. Simple!
In Exchange 14, the student asks about the salvation, or lack thereof, for people who have never heard of Jesus. Stumped, Prof Dave spends several pages avoiding the question before giving two answers: “You know what, I really don’t know why God does what he does,” and “If God knew that a certain person, upon hearing about Jesus, really would become a Christian, then he would find a way to tell them—like in a dream or a vision!” He also cautioned the seeker to just not worry about it, because the seeker himself had heard of Jesus and had the opportunity to submit to him, and for those people who are never reached, it’s between them and God. So don’t worry about these innocent people burning in hell for no reason, because you will be in heaven!
Exchanges 15, 16, and 17 all revolve around the same theme: sin, free will, Adam and Eve, and good and evil. Just as in every other exchange in the book, Prof Dave’s positions on these topics are extremely cumulative. It reminds me of someone stacking toy blocks one on top of another until the tower is really high, but it barely has any foundation and with one wrong move the entire thing could fall because it was never sturdy enough from the start. Prof Dave’s whole argument here is a logical progression of suppositions.
It starts with the idea that all humans are depraved and deserve hellfire in Exchange 13. Pairing this baseless idea with the one that says God gave humans free will so that we could choose to love him in Exchanges 15 and 16, Prof Dave attempts to refute the idea that the loving god is the one supposedly sending people to hell. It’s only logical, he says, that if you do not choose to love God, and you choose to be without him, then you will eventually be truly without him in hell. There are several logical progressions like this throughout these chapters, trying to justify paradoxes in Christianity and in God’s character with “if this is this way, then this must be that way, which can only be this way if that were like that” until the reader and the writer alike are so turned around that one doesn’t even know what question to ask to refute it.
I find this apologetic tactic fascinating because it implies that the seemingly infinite Christian god is bound by the rules of logic. For example, by the logic here, there is no way to avoid innocent people spending eternity in hell for the mere fact that they were not Christians. What I find interesting is that God himself knows no way—or doesn’t care to enforce it—around this logic. And he had no way of avoiding the temptation of Adam and Eve, even though he made them perfect, yet somehow they were capable of making a real, consequential, moral choice, which they made wrong, which necessitated Jesus to die on the cross, which is still not enough unless everyone acknowledges this and worships him. This brings me to a variation of the age-old question. In Prof Dave’s world, did God make laws of logic so rigid that not he himself could even break them? Even if breaking them would save the great majority of every human ever from undeservedly burning in eternal hellfire?
Prof Dave, and your seeker friend, is this really the god that you want to worship? This god who is either weak, malevolent, or careless?
I would like to note that if this were not already bad enough, that Prof Dave has a terrible habit of beginning sentences with conjunctions (and, but, or, nor, for, yet, so) followed directly by a comma (like he did in the title of Exchange 11). On top of everything else, this drove me absolutely insane while reading—every one of the 47 times he did it in the exchanges mentioned in this post. The irony here was heavy, considering that I discovered this book via my editing class at college, where I also spent a good deal of my time editing another book written by Prof Dave (about karate, of all things). After long enough editing that book, I had to give up fixing his conjunction problems because there were too many. The greatest irony of all, however, is that Prof Dave’s main career is being an English professor.