A brief review of A Look At Christianity by Jerald and Sandra Tanner

After reading several works by the Tanners, I wrote them a letter (a very small portion of which actually appeared in their newsletter). Of course, in typical Tanneristic style they left out everything (in their newsletter) that was contained in my letter that didn't make them look good. I didn't really mind since what they did print I had no objection to. The portion of my letter that they didn't print dealt with the fact that they treat Christianity completely different than how they treat Mormonism, and if they looked at Christianity with the same degree of rational thought that they look at Mormonism, they would certainly not be Christians any more than they would be Mormons. Amazingly enough, I did receive a response from Sandra in which she recommended this book. She was probably just trying to sell another book, but for $2 I figured she wasn't making much (if anything) off of it anyway so I bought it.

The apologetic--rather than scientific--tone of the book is set out early. The Tanners start off by thanking "The Biblical Archaeologist" for allowing them to reproduce its material. The next paragraph stated that the information regarding Creationism was no longer included in this book since the Tanners have moved that information to another book they wrote. I was a bit disappointed with that statement--not because I really wanted to hear what the Tanners thought of the Creation/Evolution debate (I've read up on what Christians think of it enough to already know what they were going to say), but because it is always entertaining to hear the arguments for Creationism.

The book then begins its initial section by trying to make the statements that Christianity = Happiness, Christianity = Love, Pleasure = Evil, Success = Unhappiness, etc. While these generalizations may make unsuccessful Christians who are lacking any pleasure in their life feel warm and fuzzy inside, they really aren't true. I have found in my own life that pleasure and success are wonderful things and that I've been happiest and more full of love for others outside of a Christian mindset.

The Tanners quote Thomas Paine and Bertrand Russell in such a way as to make you think that Paine was almost a God-fearing Christian and that Russell was a miserable man who hated being an atheist as it brought severe unhappiness to his life. I haven't read all of Russell's Why I Am Not A Christian, but I seriously doubt that the parts I've missed indicate that he is not a Christian because to be one would make him happy. The Tanners also like to quote "scientists" who are Christian. The majority of the scientific community would have something to say about the so-called "scientific conclusions" these "scientists" come up with.

In this first section of the book entitled "Teachings of Jesus", the Tanners frequently quote New Testament scriptures by saying, "The Apostle John said..." or "The Apostle Peter said...". However, in the next section of the book entitled "The New Testament and History", they freely admit that the New Testament books weren't even written (with the exception of some of Paul's epistles which were written after 50AD) until around the turn of the century. Because of this, they must either think that these apostles lived to be over 100 years old and they wrote on their deathbed the New Testament or they must think that these apostles of Jesus were infants when they knew Jesus and just didn't get around to writing anything until they were old enough to start drawing Social Security. It doesn't seem to be in the Tanners nature to actually come out and admit (the truth) that the New Testament as we have it now was written by people who did not know Jesus.

Their next tactic is to make the reader feel sinful. They do this by quoting you scripture and informing you that you were born with Adam's sin so even if you are a pretty good person, you really are still bad since you are related to Adam. This is a fairly old tactic that only works on those who already believe in the Bible I'm afraid. In Sandra's own testimony she says that as she listened to her first Christian minister's sermons her feeling of unworthiness grew. Paul had to create this whole notion of sin just to get his new religion (Christianity) off the ground. I have to say that Paul would be proud of how the Tanners (and their first minister) have copied his old style of inflicting guilt on others.

They end the first section by bearing their testimonies. Don't Christians rail on Mormons for hiding behind their testimonies instead of rational thought? It seems the Tanners are forced to do the same.

One example of the horrible logic that the Tanners seem to employ in many of their works is found on p. 23 in which they state:

"Although we do not completely understand the atonement of Christ, we do feel that a person's life can be changed by belief in Christ. There are many things which we know work, but do not thoroughly understand the reason why. We do not know very much about photo-offset printing, but we are able to make a metal plate, which will print thousands of copies of a picture, simply by following directions. If we have faith in the directions and follow them carefully, we end up with a perfect plate."

Several major flaws of reason exist in this statement. First, there are people who completely understand the process of photo-offset printing. Nobody understands the supposed atonement of Christ. Second, if the Tanners wanted to know they, too, could completely understand the dynamics of photo-offset printing. It may take them several weeks of intense study, but in the end (with effort) they can completely understand the process. On the other hand, they can study Christ their entire lives and still never understand him. In fact, if they study him (and the Bible) rationally, they will come to the only rational conclusion regarding him (and the Bible) and that is that the notion of Christ (and many of the stories and teachings in the Bible ) are merely products of their superstitous times. Finally, they say that they are relying on faith to make a perfect plate. Faith in a machine is not what causes it to work. The rational thought that went into creating a machine as well as its well organized mechanical functions cause it to work.

The second and third sections of the book are an attempt to prove the historicity of the Old and New Testaments. The only portion of this that is worth reading is the analysis of Josephus' writing in which case you will find that the Tanners have actually done a pretty good job. Their analysis provides some additional evidence that Hyam Maccoby's theories in his work The Mythmaker: Paul and the Invention of Christianity are correct. Some of their beliefs regarding Noah's Ark are beyond absurd.

Overall, these two sections are completely worthless. They do nothing but show that some of the sites and people mentioned in the Bible may have existed at one time or another. Do you think that historians 2,000 years from now will look back on our time and say, "There was a North Pole, therefore, Santa Claus must have been real", or "The people of the 20th century celebrated Easter, therefore, the Easter Bunny must really have visited everyone's house and left them Easter Eggs"?

In summary, I was disappointed with the Tanners' analysis. I was hoping they would come up with some real evidence that corroborated the Bible story from unbiased sources. They couldn't even come up with any real evidence from biased sources. I was hoping they would rely on reason (as they do with Mormonism) rather than mere faith. I was hoping they would at least be honest enough to admit that the Bible has many good teachings in its pages but in total shouldn't be taken literally--but they didn't.

Book Reviews
More Reviews
Some More
history of science
popular science
science fiction
discussion list
what's new
link here