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Religion Is for Fools

A spirited defence of Christianity
Chapters 1 to 8

Citation Information

Bender, Robert 2017. Religion Is for Fools, URL = <http://www.rationalrealm.com/philosophy/reviews/religion-is-for-fools.html>.

Publication Information

Medley, Bill, Religion Is for Fools, Oxford, UK: Monarch Books, 2004, pp. 159, (paperback).

Christus Pantocrator in the apsis of the cathedral of Cefalu, c. 1130

Bill Medley is a comedian and entertainer. So, his book, Religion Is for Fools!, has many headlines above paragraphs that are intended to be jokes. To his discredit, these are largely uninformative about the content of the following text. He is also a Presbyterian Minister in Frankston, Melbourne. Advertising for the book claims he is a religious sceptic. The book is presented as an argument with his Catholic sister, Rita, from someone with little prior interest in, or knowledge of, religion. The author is also cast as a person with some antipathy to organized religion (somewhat disingenuous for a Minister, you might think). He presents his initial argument for the veracity of Christian belief in the first eight chapters of his book. In the latter part, comprised of eight appendixes, he deals with specific objections to Christianity.

Medley acknowledges that religious authorities have committed much harm. He then trots out the standard counterview that Stalin and Hitler were both atheists (very arguable!) and that they had caused even more harm, as though that wipes out all concerns about bad deeds of the religious. He claims to be suspicious of prejudices leading to unfounded beliefs and of beliefs based on feelings, which can be unreliable guides to reality. Starting from his position of 'unbelief', he promises to examine the scriptures of five major religions to see for himself what's in them.

Medley's first chapter claims to urge a view based on facts. He instead offers a thumbnail interpretation of the Big Bang as an event that must have had something (or Someone!) pre-existing to set it off. Medley does so without any reference to how physicists and cosmologists view the event or whether there are other explanations not requiring a pre-existing god.

He claims to begin his investigation with Buddhism, of which he has read a brief summary. However, he dismisses it all as Gautama himself was sort-of agnostic and couldn't make up his mind about the god or gods of Hinduism. Gautama made the profound discovery that reincarnation should not be seen as desirable, but as an evil to be escaped in deference to the ultimate achievement of birthless Nirvana.

Medley similarly dismisses the Koran as there are mistaken interpretations of Judaism and Christianity in it. Thus, according to Medley, it cannot be a communication from a god, as Mohammed believed. Medley found that among all five religions, only Jesus claimed to be a god, which for some reason he presents as a supremely important fact. He then goes to some lengths to establish that, even in the reports of hostile witnesses, Jesus claimed godhood. He compares this with David Koresh of the Waco cult, which he dismisses as their beliefs did not become the basis for worldwide religions. This is a most interesting argument. Medley does not examine Judaism in any way.

Book cover: Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis

When we get to the point where he offers a long quote from C. S. Lewis (who set the theme for the entire book with a sentence in his Mere Christianity proffering that Jesus was either a liar or a lunatic or he was God), it becomes obvious he is not an enquirer, but an apologist for Christianity. He does not in any way examine the concept of a man being a god, or what a god's function might be. The only issue is whether Jesus was a liar. He dismisses the possibility that Jesus was a 'lunatic' without the slightest examination of the nature of insanity and its varieties. So, Medley's entire book is really a drawn-out gloss on Lewis' idea that if Jesus was neither a liar nor a lunatic, then he must have been telling the truth about himself and was indeed a god.

Medley goes on to establish that Jesus was really crucified and to maintain that he was a god even when faced with this gruesome manner of death. Only a lunatic or a liar would do something as silly as that, unless he was the real thing. Medley dismisses the 'swoon theory' that Jesus was taken down from the cross before death and recovered in the mortuary cave. He supports the view that Jesus really did rise from death on the basis, firstly, of the many witnesses who saw him (though this account is second-hand from a single writer) and, secondly, of the many who were horribly killed by Romans and refused to retract their claim to have seen the resurrected Jesus. Medley does not examine the problem of the supposed god who was resurrected, yet allowed so many of his followers to be killed in peculiarly horrible ways. Then there was Paul, who converted from a persecutor of Christians to their leader and chief propagandist and was later martyred, still claiming to have seen Jesus after his death. And more of C. S. Lewis, of whom Medley seems to be a disciple, plus a swag of lawyers, expert at sifting evidence, but no real theologians.

Medley then examines issues of how close to Jesus' lifetime the gospels and letters were written and how old the earliest manuscripts are. Without surveying any of the arguments among textual scholars about text integrity, he concludes they are all authentic, written by eye-witnesses and thus unlikely to have been corrupted. He claims there have been no archaeological discoveries that have contradicted Biblical texts and refers to a limestone block discovered in 1961 at Caesarea confirming that Pilate was procurator of Judaea in Jesus' time.

Medley includes a chapter on prophecy, quoting 'Dr. D. James Kennedy' about the many 'fulfilled' prophecies, without disclosing that Kennedy is an evangelical preacher, so is far from objective. Medley then mixes up whether these 'prophecies' are scattered throughout the 66 books of the Bible or all came from Jesus, whose honesty is on trial. He goes into some detail on specific predictions, which turn out to be extremely vague. And he doesn't even look at the problems that arise from the idea of somebody uttering some words that come to nothing for the next thousand years. The largest of these being that there supposedly remained a community in all that expanse of time that kept track of these 'predictions', for whatever unknown reason, and for which all of the community members unanimously agreed on the specific events that fulfilled these ancient predictions.

One of the 'predictions' that excited Medley was that the Messiah-person would be a descendant of King David. However, the thrust of the gospels is that Joseph was a descendant of David and that Jesus was not his son. Jesus was the product of Mary the virgin, who was not in David's line.

Medley brings up the issue of why the Jews don't accept Jesus. He then diverts to an account of a fascinating little group called Jews for Jesus, founded in 1973 in New York, before moving on to how he treats the Bible as a scientifically accurate document. His reference here is to 'scientist' Henry Morris, who is actually director of the Creation Science Foundation. On the basis of a very rubbery sentence in Isaiah 40, Morris claimed that the Bible described the earth as a sphere centuries before the Koran described it as flat. Morris' book contains a long chapter demonstrating how evolution is a myth and how the Genesis account of a creation in six days is correct. So much for him being a 'scientist'.

Book cover: Religion Is for Fools by Bill Medley

Medley includes a long chapter of argumentation that purports to show that if Jesus was demonstrably not a liar, then he must indeed be God (the Jewish god that is, not an Aztec god). He claims he is about 'cold, hard facts', not feelings, which he says are unreliable. He again refers to Tacitus' confirmation that Jesus was indeed crucified. And he argues against 'sitting on the fence'; being indifferent to Jesus' claim about his godhood. He repeats his earlier statements that Buddha, Mohammed and Moses never claimed to be God, or to be involved in a Final Judgment of the moral merit of all humans on the Last Day. Medley is aware he skipped very lightly over the other four religions he claimed to be examining, and skates over that, in effect denying he intended to be an apologist for Christianity from the start. He is aware that personal taste has attracted many Europeans to dabble in Buddhism and other eastern mystical belief systems, but dismisses personal taste as irrelevant.

Medley claims that 'eye-witness' reports prove historical facts, yet is entirely uncritical of the possibility that eye-witnesses may have prejudices, may exaggerate or distort events in their writings, or may be reporting 'hearsay' evidence. Most importantly, he neglects the fact that eye-witness observations are made within a framework of cultural beliefs that bias them in favour of certain experiences and against others. None of this testimony is testable 2000 years later. 'You can't just rewrite history', he claims. But when history is written by one side of a conflict and the other side is silenced, a very distorted picture can persist for centuries. Medley retorts: 'Christianity would never have got off the ground if the events were false'. This is in effect claiming that all historical movements must have been well-founded. Perhaps the Aztec or Hindu polytheisms were also based on facts; otherwise they would 'never have got off the ground'. If we include here the atheist movement and the fact that it 'got off the ground', then there are no gods at all.

On the basis that Jesus' self-proclaimed status as a god was not a lie, so Jesus really was a god, all he said about the 'afterlife' must have been true. God knows whether it has set up a heaven-and-hell destination for the dead. Medley's method is an indirect way of developing an argument while ignoring all of the basic issues about the nature of gods (as a concept), the nature and reliability of evidence, and the validity of the 'if he's not a liar he must really be a god' syllogism.

Medley moves on to examine 'the essential teachings of Jesus, which is justice and love', and proceeds into a rehash of the Ten Commandments contained in Exodus. He considers the idea that judgment is not about balancing good deeds against bad ones (as in the Egyptian book of the dead), but about justice for one's bad deeds, no matter how many good deeds one performed. This is Medley's backdoor way of introducing an 'original sin' concept; viz., 'every one of us has done something wrong'. He then proceeds to expound the Christian idea that there is no distinction between big bad deeds and little ones. We are all black sinners.

He tries to explain away justice delayed, especially the long prosperous lives of many bad people. What Medley doesn't notice is that he is applying earthly human standards to how satisfactory justice delayed can be. He introduces a concept of a perfect god and the view that the world is a moral order without any argument at all. He simply offers assertions about what it means to be perfect, assuming that once it is established that Jesus was not a liar, then all the dogmatic ideas about the nature of gods must be accepted without question. He expects us to accept uncritically his view that all bad deeds will and must eventually be punished in some serious way.

Copyright © 2017

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