The Case for Christmas: Introduction

Welcome, everyone, to the first part of Heathen Critique’s Annual Special Wintermas Special: a critique of Lee Strobel’s The Case for Christmas.

The first thing you need to know is that this itty-bitty volume, a mere 96 pages, is a simply a few chapters from Strobel’s The Case for Christ.

I wonder if any of Strobel’s fans got The Case for Christmas, started in, and suddenly thought, “Huh.  Feels like I’ve read this before…wait a minute!”

The introduction, however, appears to be original to Christmas.  The four chapters that follow are simply excerpted from Christ:

  • Chapter 1: The Eyewitness Evidence: Can the Biographies of Jesus Be Trusted? is Chapter 1 of Christ.
  • Chapter 2: The Scientific Evidence: Does Archaeology Confirm or Contradict Jesus’ Biographies? is Chapter 5 of Christ.
  • Chapter 3: The Profile Evidence: Did Jesus Fulfill the Attributes of God? is Chapter 9 of Christ.
  • Chapter 4: The Fingerprint Evidence: Did Jesus—and Jesus Alone—Match the Identity of the Messiah? is Chapter 10 of Christ.

So, as you can see, we should be able to dispense with this teensy volume in short order, and move on to the second part of our Annual Special Wintermas Special: Christmas Town!

To the Introduction!

Back in his newspaper days (yanno, before his days as pastor at a mega-church), Strobel wrote some articles about needy families in Chicago.  These included the Delgados, grandmother and two granddaughters, is living in a two-room apartment, and although they have nothing for Christmas, they have faith in Jesus.

So it’s all okay.

Well, it’s okay because Tribune readers responded to the article by sending the family thousands of dollars in cash, as well as appliances, a Christmas tree and presents, and “a dazzling selection of clothing, including dozens of warm winter coats, scarves, and gloves.”

Strobel is “astonished” that the grandmother is organizing some of the donations for their neighbors who are still in need.

That blew me away!

Really?  It blew him away that someone who was donated literally dozens of coats would give away a few of them?  Yes, it is very, very sweet and kind, but really, how many coats do three people actually need?

Strobel sees these happy Christians and, unhappy atheist (but I repeat myself) that he is, wants to be just like them:

They had peace despite poverty, while I had anxiety despite plenty; they knew the joy of generosity, while I knew only the loneliness of ambition; they looked heavenward for hope, while I only looked out for myself; they experienced the wonder of the spiritual while I was shackled to the shallowness of the material—and something made me long for what they had.

Huh.  I guess he could have known the joy of generosity by giving the family some cash himself, but I suppose that’s not the sort of thing atheists do.

And I must note here that although the family looked heavenward for hope, the help actually came from other human beings.  The tree and coats and food did not fall from Heaven.

Oh well.  It doesn’t matter, since Strobel pushes them out of his mind.  He’s a journalist!

Hey!  Just like Buck Williams!

As a journalist, I was far more interested in facts, evidence, data, and concrete reality.

Uh huh.  Strobel talks a good game about facts and skepticism.  But I really have to wonder if this is a sign of things to come.  (I’m going into this pretty much blind.)  Strobel describes himself, again and again, as a fan of “investigation” and “hard evidence.” A self-described skeptic examining the “case” for Christmas and coming to a “verdict” based on facts, not blind faith.

Yet even in this short introduction, Strobel strikes me as a man of many emotions—emotions he often tries to simplify, and emotions over which he does not always have control.  See above, where he is shocked by generosity, and paints his life in two striking shades: black and white.

Strobel claims that he was an atheist.  And although I do not want to go all No True Scotsman on him, he does not sound like an atheist.  Indeed, like so many people who talk about how they “used to be atheist,” Strobel appears to have been a believer as a child…

As a youngster, like countless other wide-eyed children, I listened with rapt fascination to the annual Bible story about Christmas.

…and returned to the faith, at least in part, because of family concerns…

…prompted by my agnostic wife’s conversion to Christianity, and still intrigued by memories of the Delgados…

…so forgive me if I take this assertion with a little grain of salt.

So, let’s follow Strobel on his Christmassy journey of hard evidence…or, perhaps, emotion and credulity.

We’ll see.

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Posted on November 24, 2012, in Books, Christmas, The Case for Christmas. Bookmark the permalink. 14 Comments.

  1. “I sat down at my word processor for ten minutes and adapted some of the material I use in my sermons, and my publisher sent me thousands of dollars in cash! It’s a miracle!”

  2. Ruby, do I interpet your summary correctly?
    A: Strobel wrote multiple articles about multiple poor families.
    B: The Delgados were the ones who expressed they had extra special faith in Jesus.
    C: The (presumably Christian) readers donated huge amounts of stuff to THAT family only.
    Which is still nice of those donors of course, and one poor family getting help is better than no families getting help. But it would put the story in a bit of perspective.

    The main point would then be that the Christian community is closely nit/highly partisan (strike which flavor you wish), and will take good care of those that are in their group. And that SHOW that they in their group. Odds are that those other families are Christian, just not all of them are RTCs that bring up their love for Jesus in an interview about their poverty.

    Which, once again, isn’t to say that it was in any way bad that this family got help. The truth is that, currently, atheists don’t have any comparable social structures to organize such a whip-around. At best, individual atheists could contribute, but I suspect at least some of the donations to the Delgados came from whole churches. Plus, in America there are a bit too few atheist to take care of all the needy families who don’t bring up Jesus immediately, and any non-believer families are much less likely to bring up their non-believer status in an interview, so directing partisan aid will be tricky.

    BTW, the Delgados could have pawned the extra coats for more cash, since they’re unlikely to get another big donation any time soon and their net income hasn’t improved any. So while donating the extras to other poor families is in line with the spirit of the donation they got, I couldn’t have blamed them for selling them and build up a bit of a buffer. So, nice of the Delgados.

    • Ruby, do I interpet your summary correctly?
      A: Strobel wrote multiple articles about multiple poor families.
      B: The Delgados were the ones who expressed they had extra special faith in Jesus.
      C: The (presumably Christian) readers donated huge amounts of stuff to THAT family only.
      Which is still nice of those donors of course, and one poor family getting help is better than no families getting help. But it would put the story in a bit of perspective.

      I don’t know, but I would imagine not. It wasn’t the readers who took a special interest in the Delgados over any other poor family; it was Strobel himself. And I’ve seen “human interest” pieces like that before—and can only assume that anyone in such a story would get some donations, even if they didn’t say how much they loved Jesus.

      So the summary is more akin to:
      1. Strobel wrote multiple stories about multiple poor families.
      2. Readers probably donated a bunch of stuff to all the families.
      3. Strobel took extra-special interest in the Delgados because of their extra-special interest in Jesus.

      • Thanks for the info. That order of events is quite in line with a self-identified atheist/agnost decding to write a ‘case of Christ(mass)’ book. He may not have said the magic words at the time, but the motto of Fox Mulder probably applied to him already.

  3. *sigh* I can’t believe I’m saying this but . . .

    1) I wonder if it wasn’t Strobel’s idea but rather his publisher’s to Reader’s Digest-ize and re-title his 1998 book for the Christmas season. Strobel had three books published in 2004, and in 2006 his “Case for” books were redone for a children’s series, plus he published a reader’s companion for “The Da Vinci Code.” “Case for Christmas” is the only publication in 2005. It’s possible the publisher wanted more in 2005 and Strobel pled off as too tired/busy.

    2) I think Strobel *might* be a former athiest . . . BUT . . . I also think that period of his life was so long ago he’s lost all touch with that persona. According to his own conversion story, he said the Magic Word in 1981 after two years of “investigation.” So, let’s say he “left atheism” in 1979. He wrote “Case for Christ” in 1998, after a good 19 years of constant exposure to the correct and obligatory RTC conversion story format. Toss in the fact that “atheist” doesn’t appear to mean quite the same thing to RTCs as it does to the rest of the world, and you have a man lying about his past without realizing it.

  4. Having read (and, uh, violently thrown) The Case for Christ, I’m rather looking forward to this.

    I’ll say this for Strobel: He does do some actual investigating. If I’m remembering correctly he’s even gone to other continents to interview people.

    The problem is that his “investigation” is so one-sided, and the conclusion he clearly wants so biases his judgement, that it’s pretty worthless. To take an example: One of the chapters in one of his books is a big ol’ rant against Evolution. He does a fair amount of “fact” citing, but all the facts are wrong. Why? Because the people he’s interviewed are all YECs and he hasn’t asked any scientists about any of it.

    He also has a hard time with formal logic, if I’m remembering correctly. Even when the facts that make up his premise are sound, the conclusions he draws from them are fallacious. I believe that in the “fingerprint” chapter, for example, he uses the old “Messiah, Liar, or Madman” di(er, tri?)chotomy and moves on from there.

    • He also has a hard time with formal logic, if I’m remembering correctly. Even when the facts that make up his premise are sound, the conclusions he draws from them are fallacious.

      This does seem to be a repeating pattern with RTCs: if they already know the answer to a problem from external knowledge, they will believe that the data supplied point to the answer, even if there’s no actual connection between them. Chapter 3 of The Authoritarians…

    • He claims to have gone to other continents and interviewed people, but his books are, as I remember them, singularly short on citations.

      Ruby, do let us know if there are any cites in this one, eh?

    • I think “trilemma” is the word you were trying to remember.

  5. I never trust these fundies who claim that they used to be an atheist. It’s usually either a lie, or they are using a bad definition of the word atheist. A few of them may have been atheists by default, and just never examined religious claims critically, so they were easily swayed by poor reasoning. However, I suspect that Lee Strobel and others like him think that “atheist” means “that time in my life when I believed in God but did sinful things and rarely prayed or went to church.”

    • Atheist seems to be used interchangeably with Satanist, slut, or gay in these sorts of cases. Everyone loves a good ‘sinner redeemed’ story so people try to outdo each other in terms of how bad they were before they got better.

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