(2801) False messiahs doom societies
It is rather uncontroversial that belief in non-existent protective forces is hazardous to those who fall victim to such a conviction. From biblical times to U.S. President Donald Trump, false messiahs have appeared and left damage in their wakes, owing to the obvious fact that there was never any supernatural support for their missions. The following was taken from:
The prophet Jeremiah records in excruciating detail the catastrophic events leading to the destruction of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar in 587 BCE.
Jeremiah describes the devastating famine, escalating sense of fear and ominous foreboding that permeated the city despite optimistic oracles issued in the royal court by prophets, who promised divine intercession. Jeremiah warned his listeners not to be deceived by false hopes based on the belief that God would protect his sacred temple and the city in which it stood: “Do not trust in these deceptive words: ‘this is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord.'”
The people of Jerusalem disregarded Jeremiah’s advice and threw him into a well, threatening even to kill him because his doom-saying weakened morale in the besieged city. Yet, it is Jeremiah’s oracles that the Bible preserves because he was correct: the city was violently destroyed and most of the Judeans either died or were exiled to Babylonia, leaving only a remnant of peasants behind to work the land. This brought the biblical kingdom of Judah to an end.
History teaches that messianic hopes lead to poor outcomes for the societies that embrace them. Yet, they continue to surface — even today, with the elevation of Donald Trump by some to messiah-like status.
The Babylonian conquest is just one example of false hopes for divine intercession leading to ill-fated rebellion and catastrophic defeat. In the year 70 CE, Jerusalem again found itself besieged by a regional superpower demanding political submission.
Josephus, a Jewish historian who survived the war, writes an eye-witness account of the events that led to the second cataclysmic destruction of Jerusalem. He reports that, leading to the Jewish revolt in 66 CE, numerous bandits fomented rebellion against Rome in ways that suggest they had messianic pretensions: one false prophet gathered mobs in the wilderness and led them to the Mount of Olives, promising to breach the city walls.
More poignantly, Josephus narrates the final hours of the Jerusalem temple before it was burned to the ground, when thousands of common people, including women and children, gathered in the temple cloisters because a prophet had predicted that God would deliver them from there. In language choked with emotion, Josephus describes the foolish waste of life that day due to false hopes in divine intercession.
Sixty-five years later, another disastrous rebellion against Rome culminated in brutal conquest, death and slavery for hundreds of thousands of Judeans — leading to the disintegration of Jewish society in Judea for over a century. This failed revolt by a man with messianic pretensions, dubbed “Son-of-a-Star” (Bar Kokhba), resulted in political domination by foreign rulers and the dispersion of the Judean population into foreign lands until the modern era.
Christian messianism has an equally long track record of failed apocalyptic predictions and false prophecies, appearing already in the New Testament: the Gospel of Mark 9:1 and Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians 7:29-31 both anticipate that Jesus will return within their lifetimes to establish the kingdom of God.
The failure of this event and efforts to justify and explain it ultimately led to the founding of a new religion: Christianity.
Most recently, messianic expectations have attached to the figure of Trump, whom a large proportion of white evangelicals herald as a political saviour. Many of them draw a link between Isaiah 45, which describes the Persian king Cyrus the Great as God’s anointed, and the fact that Trump is the 45th president of the United States; this numerical coincidence is viewed as evidence for divine providence.
Even Trump’s moral failings have been assimilated to his messianic identity: Jerry Falwell Jr. compares Trump to King David, who committed adultery, hired a hitman and repented to God following the death of his son who was conceived through this illicit sexual union.
If evangelicals regard Trump as their saviour and the one who will rectify the moral and political imbalance they perceive is afflicting American society, the QAnon movement has taken this doctrine of salvation to the next level: Exploiting human emotion and concern for children, the movement posits a global child sex-trafficking ring run by high level Democrats and the Hollywood elite.
QAnon followers believe that this criminal network controls the U.S. government — menacingly labelled “the Deep State” — and operates with impunity across the globe.
Their conspiratorial mythology centres on Trump, who is acclaimed as the tireless leader, fighting to destroy this evil cabal. QAnon believers anticipate an imminent revelation of the truth, referred to as the Great Awakening, and predict an impending apocalypse cryptically referred to as “the Show.”
Trump’s claims to be the “chosen one” and his frequent references to the Deep State explicitly fuel messianic speculation centred on his presidency.
Trump’s relentless (albeit futile) attempts to overturn the results of the 2020 U.S. election through unsubstantiated claims that mail-in voting was riddled with fraud exploits the credulity and undying faith of his supporters; they overwhelmingly accept his narrative and have taken to the streets to support his cause.
Trump’s narcissistic undermining of democratic principles, abetted by messianic mythologies and ill-fated expectations for divine intercession, threatens to unravel American society in civil violence and distrust.
Trumpism has all the hallmarks of previous messianic movements: in subordinating reality to mythology, they failed and in the process destroyed the societies they aspired to save.
The ‘worship’ of Trump by American evangelical Christians is emblematic of the same kind of devotion given to Jesus, whether he was a real figure or not. The religious mind is conditioned to entertain the fantasy that certain individuals are chosen by God for some purpose, and almost always, the end result is defeat, destruction, and humiliation. And the reason for this is that there is no god available to direct the play.
(2802) Christian arrogance
One of the hallmarks of an authentic faith-based enterprise is possessing the humility to admit that uncertainties exist in what it asserts as doctrine. Christianity, and most other religions as well, fails this test miserably. Too much speculation is presented as absolute fact. The following is a quote by Robert Ingersoll (1833-1899)
“I would have the Pope throw away his tiara, take off his sacred vestments, and admit that he is not acting for God—is not infallible—but is just an ordinary Italian. I would have all the cardinals, archbishops, bishops, priests and clergymen admit that they know nothing about theology, nothing about hell or heaven, nothing about the destiny of the human race, nothing about devils or ghosts, gods or angels. I would have them tell all their “flocks” to think for themselves, to be manly men and womanly women, and to do all in their power to increase the sum of human happiness.
“I would have all the professors in colleges, all the teachers in schools of every kind, including those in Sunday schools, agree that they would teach only what they know, that they would not palm off guesses as demonstrated truths.”
Christian leaders would do well to admit that much is unknown about the accuracy of the scriptures as well as the conventional beliefs of the faith. This is one of the reasons why people trust science- it admits that its theories may need to be updated in light of new information. This instills confidence while quelling suspicion of its published laws and pronouncements. On the other hand, Christianity gives no ground to the possibility that it might have it wrong. This shows that it is not conducting its business in a genuine fashion.
(2803) Nazareth synagogue interpolation
In the Gospel of Luke, a tell-tale problem can be seen as evidence that the original gospel was manipulated to promote a theological point of view. The desire was to show that Jesus had started his salvific mission in his hometown of Nazareth, but the editor made a mistake by referring to a future visit to Capernaum as if it had happened in the past. The following was taken from:
If this is how an earlier form of the gospel once stood, this would actually prevent a further little oddity found within canonical Luke. In the canonical version, Jesus mocks the Nazareth synagogue attendees by suggesting they will want to see a miracle sign like the ones they have heard he performed in Capernaum (4:23). But at this point in canonical Luke, Jesus hasn’t performed any miracles in Capernaum yet. The miracles he performs in Capernaum occur AFTER these verses (4:31-41). If the Nazareth episode (4:16-30) wasn’t part of the gospel (as the Church Fathers attest was the case for the Marcionite version) then there is no oddity. It seems to me that the oddity was created unintentionally by a careless splicing together of sources. The redactor wants to have Jesus’s ministry expand from Nazareth (Jesus’s home town) to Capernaum, to Jerusalem, and ultimately to the rest of the world. However in constructing it this way, by splicing in a miracle narrative that references Jesus’s earlier Capernaum deeds before he even goes to Capernaum, he makes a little error that gives us a hint of the underlying redactional processes.
This error in time is a reminder that the gospels are not one-time accomplishments, but rather literary efforts that underwent many revisions. Indeed, the entirety of Luke Chapter 1 and 2 was likely absent from the first draft. This makes them seem to be the work of fallible humans rather than the inspired product of a supernatural being.
(2804) Ex-Christian conundrum
The fact that there are so many former Christians who have become atheists, including very prominent ones who had been pastors and well-known seminarians, presents a problem for apologists. After all, how could it happen that a sincere Christian could break away from the faith if they were connected to the ultimate divine source of power and inspiration? It doesn’t make sense.
So, what is usually deployed as an explanatory rationale for this problem is that these people were not real Christians in the first place. So, in effect, given this viewpoint, ex-Christians do not exist. But taking a before and after look at this ‘analysis,’ it would seem to imply that no one could ever be assured that they are a real Christian, assuming the possibility that they might fall away from the faith at some future date. The following was taken from:
The title of this post may strike some as ridiculous: of course there are ex-Christians! There’s even a pretty good chance you yourself know some of them. Millions of people have given up on the religion of their parents, and ex-preachers like Dan Barker and John Loftus have written books on how they lost their faith. Nevertheless, there are those who claim Christian apostates do not really exist. Why? Because, they say, anyone who claims to have abandoned Christianity wasn’t a true Christian in the first place. Genuinely accepting Jesus means never going back.
There’s even biblical support for this claim. First John 2:19 implies that those who are true believers will not change their minds: “They went out from us,” it begins, “but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us…” (Of course, as with just about anything, the Bible can also be used in support of the opposing view. Thus, I Timothy 4:1 states that “…in the latter times some shall depart from the faith…” – in part, no doubt, because the faith contradicts itself.)
Now, if these people who claim they were once believers were never real Christians, then either they are mistaken or they are lying. But it’s unlikely that they are all lying – that’s quite a large number of people, after all, and you’d expect some of them at least to have admitted the deception by now. What the deniers of Christian apostasy appear to suppose, then, is that most or all of these people are mistaken: they thought they were Christians, but they were fooling themselves. They had perhaps nominally adopted the religion of their parents, but hadn’t really accepted Jesus as their savior – even if, like Barker and Loftus, they thought they had.
But now here’s the problem. If all this is true, then how can anyone who currently calls himself a Christian be sure that he really is? If someone can be wrong about their beliefs this way, then it seems that those who at present regard themselves as believers may also be confused. So how can anyone know that they are among the saved? It appears that denying the existence of ex-Christians comes at a heavy price.
The existence of ex-Christians poses a big problem when your belief system assumes that Christianity provides believers an inexhaustible source of insight, power, healing, and support. But the solution, as discussed above, is just as bad. It leaves current Christians wondering if they are the real deal or will soon be revealed to be fake.
(2805) Yahweh’s jealousy disappeared
In the Old Testament, Yahweh is characterized as being a jealous god, who became incensed and at times homicidal when people worshiped a different god. Yet, today, he seems to be fine with just that. The following was taken from:
Nonbelief is one of the most difficult things for Christianity to explain. After all, scripture teaches that God wants everyone to know the truth and be saved – and as an omnipotent being, he should be able to make that happen. But it’s not just atheism and agnosticism that are a problem; the existence of competing religious beliefs is even more difficult to account for. The first commandment isn’t “thou shalt not be an atheist,” but rather “thou shalt have no other gods before me.” And yet the majority of the world follows other religions. So why would Yahweh, who by his own admission is a jealous guy, allow most of humanity to worship other deities?
One explanation that might immediately come to mind is this: In biblical times, God selected one group of people to work with, as part of an overall plan of salvation, and so was concerned only with that group. Nowadays, however, he allows those who wish to do so to reject him because he wants everyone to believe in him freely.
This, however, might appear reasonable only because it is based on familiar claims. It doesn’t take much to see just how weak an explanation it really is.
To begin with, why choose a particular group of people at all? Why not work with all of humanity? Are we to suppose that that would have been too much for God to handle? And given that he didn’t care about the Chinese, Africans, Native Americans, and everyone else worshiping other gods, why did it anger him so much whenever some Israelites strayed from the faith? It couldn’t be because having a group of non-observant Israelites would prevent his plan of salvation from being carried out. After all, when the Messiah did come, most Jews rejected him anyway; his followers were found mainly among the gentiles.
And the situation today is even more incomprehensible. God has now revealed his plan to the entire world, and yet the majority still rebels against him. Why isn’t he, like in Old Testament days, commanding that the followers of other religions – who might lead the faithful astray – be slaughtered? Or at the very least, why doesn’t he make sure these people know that Christ really is the answer? Instead, he seems perfectly fine with letting them worship as they please. What happened to all that jealousy? Don’t get me wrong: I’m glad he’s mellowed out. But I can’t help wondering why.
God is supposed to be changeless but lately he seems to have matured to the extent that his newfound mellowness could, unfortunately, result in many more humans being sent to hell. Perhaps it would have been better if he had remained jealous and quelled the widespread belief in other gods by revealing himself properly.
(2806) Jesus spitting healing method
Some of the most enigmatic scriptures describe Jesus using spit (saliva) in curing blindness and speech. Saliva does contain some anti-bacterial properties and can have a palliative effect on wounds, but it has no benefit in regards to sight or speech. This raises the question of why Jesus, who otherwise could raise the dead and multiple loaves and fishes with a voice command, would use a natural technique that was ineffective for what he was healing. The following was taken from:
Three times in the Bible, Jesus spit to heal people.
In Mark 7:32-35, a deaf man with a speech impediment was brought to Jesus. Jesus put His finger in the man’s ears and, spitting, touched his tongue, then looked up to Heaven and groaned, and said to him, “Ephatha!” (that is, “Be opened!”) And immediately the man’s ears were opened, his speech impediment was removed, and he spoke plainly.
In Mark 8:22-25, in Bethsaida, a blind man was brought to Jesus. Jesus took the blind man outside the village. Putting spittle on his eyes, He laid hands on him and asked, “Do you see anything?” Looking up the man replied, “I see people looking like trees and walking.” Then Jesus laid hands on his eyes a second time and the man saw clearly, his sight was restored and he could see everything distinctly.
In John 9:1-7, Jesus meets up with a blind man who was blind from birth. Jesus spat on the ground and made clay with the saliva, and smeared the clay on the man’s eyes, and said to him, “Go wash in the Pool of Siloam” (which means sent). So he went and washed, and came back able to see.
Did you ever wonder why, in all these three healings, why Jesus spit? Why did He not just heal these three people, as He did all the others, without spittle?
If Jesus actually used spit in his healings then it is fairly certain that he was not God. The medicinal properties of spit were likely known at that time, but the authors documented uses that would have been ineffective for the conditions being treated. So it was more or less presented as being a magic potion. All in all, these scriptures represent a mistake in showcasing Jesus as a truly divine healer.
(2807) Mark written to explain the lost messiah
In the Gospel of Mark, there are many occasions where Jesus tells his disciples or those he encounters to not tell anyone what they had just witnessed. One theory is that it was written this way to explain why the messiah had come, but that the Jewish nation had not realized it. The following was taken from:
Between the era of the Maccabees and Bar Kochba’s war (approximately 160 BC to 135 AD) the increasingly radicalised factions of the Jews were animated by an expected warrior/priest (or perhaps a warrior and a priest) who would lead the ‘nation of Israel’ in triumph. The expectation was thus of someone in the (imminent) future, no doubt of ‘Davidic’ or even ‘divine’ lineage but otherwise, human.
This monumental hope/expectation was equalled only by the monstrous calamities of 69-73, 114-117 and 132-135. Respectively, these three conflicts:
- destroyed the Temple, its priesthood, the city of Jerusalem and Judaean ‘temple-economy’;
- destroyed, impoverished, enslaved and disheartened Jews of the ‘diaspora’;
- destroyed dozens of towns and hundreds of villages throughout Palestine, decimating the Jewish population and leading to the enslavement of tens of thousands.
With this in mind, we should not relate Mark to a spurious ‘persecution of Christians by Nero’ (a reasoning favoured by Christian writers) – but to the very real suffering of a whole nation. Judaism itself was against the wall. The weakness of its position had been exposed. The Hebrew god had always punished his chosen people because they had failed him: they had not obeyed the Law. But always the Jews had redeemed themselves – and lived to transgress again. But in 135 Judaea was wiped off the map and the nation dispersed. For any individual Jew, the heart of the problem was that the ‘covenant’ was between the Jewish god and the whole nation of Israel. All had to observe Righteousness. The errors of one bad apple imperilled the whole people.
With the ultimate disaster of 135, for many unhappy Jews the theology of a ‘national salvation’ (or none at all) no longer gave hope. As Josephus said, God was now with the Romans. Josephus remained a Jew but reasoned the caesars were god’s instrument of retribution. No doubt many despondent Jews apostatised and adopted one or other of the pagan faiths. At this low point, the need was thus created for a radical revision of the Jewish faith. The nation of Israel might perish but surely a ‘way’ could be found for the pious to save themselves? The answer was a new covenant between the individual and his god, for a path to a personal salvation –similar to that on offer from the pagan mysteries.
As the dispersed and desperate bands of Jews struggled with the problem, they must surely have asked, ‘How had (Jewish) scripture failed them so badly?’ Rather than doubt the veracity of their ‘ancient oracles’, priests, safeguarding their future role, deliberated and reached the conclusion that the fault was not in the texts but in the Jews themselves.
On cue, as foretold, the Messiah had arrived! – but the Jewish nation – the Jews collectively – had failed to recognize him!! Even his hand-picked disciples had proved to be dullards, repeatedly failing to understand the divine message or carry forward the messianic legacy. As a result the ferocious god Yahweh had punished the Jews even more mercilessly than he had punished them in the past.
The disaster now made perfect sense. And hope could return. If the righteous individual were to worship this erstwhile messiah, that individual, at least, could be assured of a place in the ‘new Israel’. Having decided on the theology, the questions naturally arose, ‘Who had been the lost Messiah?’ and ‘Why had he not been recognised?’
Here, new meanings teased out of old scripture (in good ‘midrash’ tradition) provided the answer: he would have been in disguise; he would have concealed his messiahship.
The new theology needed to be woven into a convincing story, one that could be read aloud to groups of dispirited Jews. From the moment the proto-Christian priests adopted the conviction that a messiah had been and gone, the hunt was on to identify the missed saviour. Temple records and much else had been lost in the wars (some, of course, secreted away in jars at Qumran to be discovered twenty centuries later) but fragments, half-remembered stories and the rich corpus of pagan mythology would provide the missing detail. If the letters of Rabbi Saul (aka Paul) were available to them at all, they contributed only the popular gnostic idea that the ‘risen Christ’ reigned in heaven and was a wholly spiritual agency, who would descend on a cloud at the End Time.
For the proto-Christians this arrival would be a second coming; they were about to fabricate the first.
In the story that emerged, the Gospel of Mark, essentially, the author composites more than fifty ‘micro-stories’ (mainly healings and miracles, of the type told of Apollonius), sandwiched between a put-down of John the Baptist (whose followers were serious rivals to the early proto-Christians) and a dying-saviour sequence (of the kind then being officially promoted for the dead Antinous.
The Lost Messiah
In resolving the theological conundrum that ‘the messiah had been but had gone unrecognised’ Mark has to have his hero perform endless miracles but then command the persons healed, onlookers, disciples, and even demons to silence (1.34; 1.44; 3.12; 5.43; 7.36; 8.26; 8.30; 9.9). The entity that brings the Word tells them all to keep quiet about it! Of course, this introduces an inconsistency – whole towns witness his deeds! – but then inconsistency permeates the entire bible.
The lost messiah theory is the best explanation for why the Jewish messiah was rejected by the Jews but embraced by the Gentiles. Thus the author of Mark felt compelled to repeatedly have Jesus make these enigmatic statements about keeping everything secret, so as to document a plausible reason for what in any other context makes no sense. Otherwise there is no good reason for why Jesus tried to keep everything under wraps.
(2808) John did not write a gospel
Many Christians believe that the Apostle John wrote the fourth gospel, and, if so, they credit this gospel with even more authenticity than the others because John, along with Peter, was one of Jesus’ principal disciples. But as the following points out, either John didn’t write this gospel or some extremely important miracles chronicled in the synoptic gospels didn’t really happen. The following was taken from:
– John does NOT mention the ‘Transfiguration‘ – when supposedly Jesus was joined by Moses and Eliijah (Elias) on a mountain top, transformed into “glory” and was addressed by God himself – an astounding omission considering that we are informed by each of the synoptic gospels that John was one of only three eye witnesses to this stunning miracle!
“And after six days Jesus taketh with him Peter, and James, and John, and leadeth them up into an high mountain apart by themselves: and he was transfigured before them. And his raiment became shining, exceeding white as snow; so as no fuller on earth can white them. And there appeared unto them Elias with Moses: and they were talking with Jesus.” – Mark 9.2,9.
– Similarly, John omits any mention of the raising of Jairus’s daughter but according to Mark’s gospel it was John who was a privileged witness:
“And he suffered no man to follow him, save Peter, and James, and John the brother of James. And he cometh to the house of the ruler of the synagogue, and seeth the tumult, and them that wept and wailed greatly … And straightway the damsel arose, and walked; for she was of the age of twelve years. And they were astonished with a great astonishment.” – Mark 5.37,42.
– Nor does John mention the ‘Ascension‘, one of the crucial events of the whole Christian story. Yet apparently John was a witness to this grand finale whereas the two reporters of the bizarre story (Mark and Luke) were not!
“And they rose up the same hour, and returned to Jerusalem, and found the eleven gathered together, and them that were with them, And as they thus spake, Jesus himself stood in the midst of them, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you … And it came to pass, while he blessed them, he was parted from them, and carried up into heaven.” – Luke 24.33,51.
It could be claimed that John was very old when he wrote this gospel so it is possible that he had forgotten much of what had happened, but the three events described above would not have fallen into that category. Thus we can conclusively say that John was not the author of the Gospel of John, or even worse for Christianity, these three miraculous events are fictional.
(2809) The elephant and the lie detector
Whether it started out as such, conventional Christianity asserts that a person’s eternal destiny is principally a function of belief. Good works are encouraged, but by themselves are not adequate for salvation. This means that many Christians are motivated to ‘pretend’ to believe even if they really don’t, because, in the long run, belief eludes conscious control. The trap is then set for God to unleash his lie detector. The following analogy is taken from:
A man offers you 1 billion dollars to take care of his invisible, undetectable elephant for a weekend with the stipulation that you have to believe it exists. You think he’s crazy but sure, a billion? So you do everything required to care for an elephant even though you don’t believe it’s there. You “walk” it, put food and water out, spray it down with your garden hose, everything. At the end of the weekend the man shows up to reclaim his elephant. He asks if you fed it and watered it and walked it and washed, you say yes. He asks if you think it real, you say yes. He busts out a lie detector test and asks you again if you think it’s real, you say yes but he knows it’s a lie and refuses to pay you.
Even though you did everything right, you didn’t believe, therefore it was all wasted effort. No matter how hard you tried to believe, you couldn’t convince yourself it was real. You convinced everyone else you thought it was real, but not yourself.
There exists a large proportion of Christians who are going through the motions of being solid Christians, but who, deep down, harbor disconfirming doubts ….. doubts that would be detectable by an omniscient god. A person has no control over their beliefs and, thus, a religion that judges on the basis of belief is invalid.
(2810) Questioning Paul’s conversion
In the Book of Acts, a story is told of Paul, a persecutor of Christians, experiencing a vision of Jesus, causing him to convert on the spot to Christianity. There are many problems with this account, as discussed below:
How likely is it that Saul/Paul converted within a year or two of the crucifixion (Irenaeus says eighteen months)? If he truly was a precocious zealot of Judaism and was completely untouched by the perambulations and miraculous deeds of the godman himself – short of the supposed blinding “miracle” – why would he, of all people, so readily embrace the heresy? The four Gospels neither mention nor even hint at a pioneering apostle called Paul.
There is also a curious parallel between the alleged “persecution” speech spoken by the celestial Christ to the blinded Paul (“Saul, Saul … “) and the persecution of Dionysius found in Euripides work “the Bacchae” – and both use the word “goads”.
If Paul (Saul) really had apostatised to the extent of joining (or establishing) a radical new sect, how is it the rabbis did not anathematize his name? To be sure, Jewish Christians (Ebionites) did condemn Paul and did so in the harshest terms – even suggesting that in reality he had been a malcontented Greek convert, whose ardour had been rejected by the High Priest’s daughter! (Epiphanius, Panarion, 16). But that was in the 2nd century, long after any life and death of the apostle.
The “persecution” of the early church seems an extraordinarily unlikely construct because once Saul, the “destroyer of the saints”, transforms into Paul the apostle, and is whisked away by the brethren to safety in Caesarea and home to Tarsus, the persecution abruptly stops. The “persecution” is entirely a one man circus.
” Then had the churches rest throughout all Judaea and Galilee and Samaria, and were edified; and walking in the fear of the Lord, and in the comfort of the Holy Ghost, were multiplied.” – 9:31
The entire pre-Christian “Saul, the scourge of the church” makes no sense at all as history – but does make a great deal of sense as theology. “Zealous Jew sees the light of Jesus, becomes Christian.” The theological purpose is as obvious as the historical vignette is bogus.
The balance of facts suggests that the story told by Luke (author of the Book of Acts) about Paul’s conversion was pious fiction designed to appeal to Jewish doubts about Jesus’ messiah-ship legitimacy. If the most ardent opponent of that idea could convert then anybody could. Luke was writing (Acts) at least a generation after Paul had died so he was mostly immune from being fact-checked. But, nevertheless, his subterfuge was finally exposed by modern Bible scholarship.
(2811) Ten arguments for God debunked
The following arguments frequently used by theists to ‘demonstrate’ God’s existence shows just how weak their hand really is. Instead of tangible types of proof, potentially such as prayer effectiveness, definitive prophecy fulfillment, scriptures revealing truths unknown in its time, verified miracles, and the like, they parade out these embarrassingly weak arguments. Arguments that can be casually debunked with minimal effort. The following was taken from:
- / 2. Prime Mover/First Cause: The first two arguments essentially state: Since everything is in constant motion, there must have been something that first moved everything. And that is God.
This argument results in an infinite regress. If God is the entirety of the universe, and everything in it must be moved, then something must have moved God. Rephrased, God either must be in the universe or is the universe. If God does not need to be caused, then not everything in the universe needs a cause. If everything does need a cause, then something caused God.
- Possibility and Necessity Argument: Not everything is possible, for that admits the possibility that there could be nothing. If nothing once existed, the universe could not have come into existence. What exists of its own necessity is God.
Shermer borrows from Martin Gardner by stating that this is a “mysterian mystery” — the idea that nothing is unknowable is due to our minds being unable to process the thought of it. It is conceivable that nothing could exist; we just cannot imagine it.
- The Perfectionist/Ontological Argument: This convoluted argument presented by an 11th century archbishop named St. Anselm boils down to: a) There must be a cause for our very being, goodness, and perfection, and b) Is it impossible to think of God as nonexistent.
As Shermer points out, if the first point were true, you would have to add the false, ignoble, and worst, all of which would also be God. This argument is not uncommon: God seems to be around when things go well, suddenly on leave when they do not. As for perfection, humans invented this concept. You can always think of something “better than,” as in adding one to infinity. Finally, it is impossible to think of anything as nonexistent, since our thoughts are always on something that exists, has existed, or could potentially exist. This argument proves nothing.
- The Design/Teleological Argument: The heart of the modern creationist model: Since things act for a reason, there must be a designer. Otherwise how could we explain the perfect symbiotic relationship between insects and flowers?
Shermer points out that there are many design flaws in nature, such as the hind legs of a python and a whale’s flipper. I’ll add the human neck, which from a structural standpoint is not up to par with the 14-pound weight of our heads, especially with all the gazing down at our phones. If God perfectly designed us, he would have foreseen the ridiculous amount of time we stare at devices; thus, our necks would be much sturdier.
- The Miracles Argument: The miracles of the Bible and any after can only be explained by an intervention from God.
As stated above, a miracle is simply something we cannot explain. To imagine all the great works of literature written thanks to the human imagination, then to somehow think the Bible is a special edition where everything is true, is foolish. It is, like other books of its time and since, a work of fiction.
- Pascal’s Wager Argument: The famous wager by French mathematician/philosopher Blaise Pascal: If we bet God does not exist and he does, we have everything to lose and gain nothing. If we believe, we have everything to win.
Obviously there is no proof in this argument. As Shermer points out, if believing implies going to church, attending services, and so forth, then there is much to lose: time. Also, what god are we talking about believing in? If not the Judeo-Christian God, you’d have a lot to lose as well.
- The Mystical Experience Argument: Mystical experiences have existed throughout history in many cultures. They imply some sort of direct connection with the divine, usually in the form of “light” or a “feeling.”
Shermer points out that the “visions” experienced in such encounters correlate with temporal lobe seizures or other neurochemical reactions. For myself, I have experienced a number of such “visions” on LSD, ayahuasca, and other substances. While emotionally and mentally profound, I see no reason to attribute chemistry to a creator.
- Fideism, or the Credo Quia Consolans Argument: This is not an argument at all. Basically, it means you believe in God because it consoles you.
Many people believe in religion for exactly this reason. And yet, if beliefs are based on emotions rather than evidence, it negates the necessity of reason and science altogether. You can’t argue against this one as it’s not an argument, but it still does not hold up from a logical standpoint.
- The Moral Argument: Alongside the creationist argument, this is the most popular: How can there be morals without God?
The notion that everyone would turn into robbers, rapists, and murderers if it were discovered there is no God is ludicrous. Morals are based on cultural upbringing and, to a degree, genetics. Likewise, if morals were the domain of God and He is omnipotent, then there is a flaw in His creation when humans do bad things. There is no sense in this argument; altruism and empathy are part of our evolution as social beings. Living in society helps us create morals for the betterment of the whole.
None of these arguments have teeth. Each and every one could equally be used to demonstrate the existence of Thor as well as Yahweh, and yet none of them even suggest the existence of any supernatural being. It looks like faith will still be the only true way for a person to accept what they are being told.
(2812) God fails to provided expected protection
Throughout the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic, many church leaders have flaunted community measures intended to suppress the spread of the virus. There appears to be two factors playing in this-a financial incentive to keep people in the pews so they will donate money and a belief that God will provide congregants protection on a supernatural level. The first is easy to understand, but the second has been disproved time and time again. The following is just one example:
More than 40 cases of COVID-19 have been tied to several Christmas Eve services at a church in Woburn, Massachusetts.
Genesis Church is currently closed. No in-person services were held last weekend and none are scheduled for this weekend as the church deals with the outbreak.
“We are deeply saddened to learn that people within GENESIS tested positive for COVID-19 and we are doing all we can to make sure this does not spread any further,” Pastor Michael Davis said.
If the Christian god is real, then he was present at this service, he knew that the attendees had prayed for protection and believed that God would provide it, that God had the ability to prevent the spread of the virus, and that, despite all of this, God chose to do nothing. This is nothing short of real-life evidence that the Christian god does not exist, or is not omniscient, or is not omnipotent, or is not benign.
(2813) Noah’s Ark conundrum
About half of Christians believe in the literal story of Noah and the Great Flood, where Noah and seven family members were the only humans that survived Yahweh’s wrath. But if this had actually happened, then all other religions would have been wiped off the face of the Earth, leaving only Judaism alive at that time. Therefore, it would be expected that only Abrahamic faiths would exist today, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. There would be no Buddhism or Hinduism, for example, as the followers of these faiths would have completely died out.
Some Bible literalists will try to explain this by saying that some of the descendants of Noah broke away from their religious traditions to form different faiths totally unconnected to Judaism. Although this is possible, it would be very unlikely considering that offspring are always brought up in the family tradition. Also, if Yahweh is the only god and that he is constantly interacting with his followers, it would be hard to believe that anyone would see merit in forming a different religion.
This is an example of how Christians accept beliefs without engaging in proper analysis. In effect, they are simultaneously holding a belief (in Noah) while making an observation (of the existence of non-Abrahamic faiths) that renders the belief to be false. It would be like declaring it a sunny day while watching it rain outside.
(2814) Perceiving God vs. Satan
Christian doctrine assumes that anyone experiencing either God or Satan would be able to tell the difference, but this assumption makes no sense once we consider the attributes ascribed to Satan. The following was taken from:
A human can’t tell the difference between Lucifer and God if one of them would appear before you.
My reasoning is Lucifer is a master manipulator, emotions are his thing. He would never show himself in his true form, or reveal his true intentions. That’s why he tricks you into getting what he wants, as shown in the story of Adam and Eve. He would appear before you in bright white light, fill your heart with warmth and trust. He would make you believe you are doing God’s work. When God asked Abraham to sacrifice his son, in that moment, Abraham wouldn’t be able to tell if it’s God or Lucifer giving the order.
Another way of thinking how limited we are in our senses:
If we take orders of magnitude as an example then, for the sake of argument, human=1, God=infinity, Lucifer= Trillion. You (1) is standing on a road which is trillion km long. How can you be sure it’s not infinite?
Christians made a mistake by inventing the Satan character, giving him supernatural powers, and describing him as a great deceiver. Therefore he has all of the ingredients necessary to mimic God himself and fool even devout Christians. In other works, no Christian can ever be sure if they are hearing the voice of God or that of Satan.
(2815) Child suffering not important to God
Most humans believe that children merit an extra measure of protection because of their vulnerability and lack of empowerment. But the Christian god, Yahweh, seems to have no use for that sentiment. The following was taken from:
Any given moment and there are countless children suffering under circumstances that are beyond horrific.
Can the Christian God do something about this? According to his book the Bible, physical miracles do happen thanks to him. We see the blind man healed and the crippled man walk, so the means exists.
But today we see the hungry child die and the abused child murdered.
Why would the Christian God see this and not act? Looking at the Bible we see it is because it’s just not that high up on the priority list. Otherwise, he would do something right?
In the Bible, the suffering of children does not seem to perturb God. Nowhere do we see god lament the death of innocents swept away in that great flood, or the flames of Sodom. In fact, the suffering of small children and babies is sometimes useful to him.
He punishes David through the sickness and eventual death of his illegitimate son. (2 Sam 12)
He commands the children of enemies to be killed as a matter of course. (1 Sam 15)
Job’s Children were mere collateral in Gods bet with the Devil.
He blesses the infants of his enemies being dashed against rocks. (Psalm 137:9)
These are not the thoughts of someone who holds child welfare in high regard.
God may have a special place in his garden for every precious child, but sadly, here on earth today the suffering of children is just not that big a deal, at least not enough to do something about.
The Bible’s insensitivity to the plight of children reveals something more about the people who wrote it than the god who allegedly inspired it. It is very much a product of its time. If written today, child welfare would be a centerpiece of the theology.
(2816) Christians borrowed pagan art
It is well-known that early Christians, including those who wrote the Gospels, were heavily influenced by the themes associated with the pagan religions existing at that time. Another aspect of this relationship was the way pagan art was assimilated, sometimes verbatim into Christian drawings and sculptures. This provides some evidence that Christianity lacked a brand of uniqueness that might be expected if it indeed was the emergence of the one and only true faith. The following was taken from:
Living in the Greco-Roman world, early Christians were able to draw from a set of rich artistic paradigms when they set out to depict their stories and beliefs in decorative contexts. This often led to the assimilation of well-established pagan artistic styles and images into early Christian art. The sculptors, fresco painters and mosaic artists who created Christian images did so by using the prolific examples of art and decoration that shaped their artistic landscape.
The earliest known Christian art can be found in the catacombs of Rome. This nascent and largely populist religion was viewed with varying degrees of hostility by the Roman authorities in the first few centuries after Jesus’ death, ranging from disdainful tolerance to outright persecution. Not surprisingly, early Christians were discreet in their worship, and their art was executed quite literally underground. With the issuance of Emperor Constantine’s Edict of Milan, which effectively legalized Christianity, Christian art became much more overt and widespread.
And yet, although the dogma and belief systems were in many ways markedly different from pagan religion, many of the images early Christians generated were quite similar to those that adorned the walls and floors of buildings belonging to their pagan neighbors. Thus the pagan image of Endymion sleeping under the watchful eye of the goddess Selene became the prototype of Jonah asleep beneath the vine (Jonah 4). Likewise, the scenes of jovial dinners (symposia) that were often depicted in Greek funerary contexts (and later in Roman ones, with a slightly less exuberant tone) became models for the Christian funerary images of the rewards of heaven.
This is not so strange; as emerging underdogs in a nation with a long and well-established artistic tradition, those same artisans and craftsman who were now creating art in a Christian context naturally turned to images and styles that were familiar to them. Thus the early images of Christ portray a young, beardless man who bears a strong resemblance to the god Apollo of the Greco-Roman world. This is not to say that Christians necessarily confused the two, but rather that they chose an image of a pre-established deity with noble associations to portray their own idea of the sacred.
Helios, the Greek god of the sun (who was later often identified with Apollo, the god of light), is another ancient pagan figure whose image reverberated through monotheistic art; both Christians and Jews used the image of the Greek god of the sun in religious contexts. The Greek deity was most commonly depicted in a chariot drawn by four horses (the quadriga). The chariot represented the sun, and according to Greek mythology, the daily journey taken by the god across the sky was the source of sunlight.
In a Christian funerary context, the image of Christ as Helios is commonly interpreted as being representative of the resurrection. In early Jewish depictions, it has been hypothesized that the image of Helios, or simply the sun as in the case of the mosaic at Sepphoris, represents God’s omnipotence. In the context of ancient Jewish synagogues in Israel, the image of Helios is set within the context of zodiac symbols. For some, this reinforces the thesis that the early Jews saw Israel as being subject to planetary influence, and that early Judaism may have been characterized by a belief in minor deities in addition to Yahweh.
The mythological figure of Orpheus, who enchanted all of nature with his poetry and music, is another example of a pagan artistic type that was used in both early Christian as well as Jewish iconography. For the early Jews, the association of music and poetry with Orpheus likely led to the same image being used to represent King David, who famously sang his praises to God. Indeed, instances of David depicted with Orpheus imagery are well and firmly documented.
Equally well documented are images of Christ as Orpheus, particularly in the catacombs of Rome. One of the most famous aspects of the Orpheus myth from antiquity is the story of Orpheus’s determined descent into Hades to rescue his love Eurydice, who had been snatched from him by an untimely death. While he was ultimately not successful in recovering Eurydice, he himself emerged from the underworld alive. This particular aspect of the myth resonated with early Christians, who saw this as an allegorical reference to Christ’s descent into and return from the fiery depths of hell. Orpheus thus became a symbol of victory over death, and a symbol of eternal life.
Of course, the image of Orpheus with the accompanying cadre of beautiful plants and exquisitely detailed animals, both real and imagined, made for a beautiful ornamental design in any context. Sometimes, even during the Christian period, a decorative image of Orpheus was simply that: an image of Orpheus. In the case of the famous sixth-century A.D. Jerusalem mosaic (now in the Istanbul Archaeological Museum), which depicts an exquisitely detailed image of Orpheus that was originally interpreted as a representation of Christ, it is likely that the figure is simply an artistic panel that recalls a quaint and harmless story from an older time.
The merging of pagan and Christian art is what would be expected if Christianity was just another religion that developed along the same lines as the pagan faiths that preceded it, but not if it was wholly different and uniquely supernatural. In that case, one would anticipate an artistic expression equally exclusive.
(2817) Jesus overlaid on John the Baptist
There is compelling evidence that Jesus began as a celestial god imagined by Paul who was later made into an actual historical figure who was interwoven into a narrative involving the real-life John the Baptist. The following was taken from:
The death of Paul – or whoever the New Testament character “Paul” was based upon – left a void in the leadership of the ‘gentile faction’ within the proto-Christian movement. To preserve and defend themselves they wrote a story of a ‘Jesus’ character, inspired partly by the life and teachings of Paul himself. In what proved to be the most profound act of religious synthesis Paul’s Judaised pagan sun-god was given human form and placed in a recent past.
To win over the Baptists, a clever story was woven. Firstly, the baptist’s importance was acknowledged but John is conveniently quoted as saying that ‘one greater than he’ will follow (Mark 1.7). A less than celestial Jesus is then conjectured and given a connection to the baptist – Jesus, it would seem, like any other follower, had gone to John to be baptised! The ‘theology’ here is very weak – why would the superior and sinless Jesus have need of a baptism of repentance from the inferior, ‘born with sin,’ John? Apparently, at this point the Holy Spirit had worked its magic and had enlightened Jesus as to his mission (‘and the Spirit like a dove descending upon him’) (Mark 1.10) – and this, for the same Pauline Christ that had existed ‘since the world began’ and presumably knew a thing or two!
Nonetheless, the superiority of Jesus over John the Baptist was demonstrated by the tale. John’s story was then closed off by his arrest (‘Now after that John was put in prison…’ (Mark 1.14). In less than three hundred words, the baptist was disposed of! With John safely out the way, Jesus began his own ‘ministry,’ coming out of the shadows (or rather, the ether) and taking on a public role (in a Palestine, a half century earlier).
The fictitious life of Jesus has been overlaid on the real life of John. The divine ‘eagle’ had landed.
Within a few years the legend – that a celestial Christ had actually lived on earth – had gained embellishments. John had met a pretty dramatic end by beheading; no better way to upstage that fate than a torturous crucifixion. The problem was squaring that particular claim with Jewish scripture. Followers of a Pauline faction combed through the authoritative Greek/Jewish text, the Septuagint for an answer. They already had – from pagan sources – the notion that their hero went from life to death to life again. Now they sought out each and every ‘prophecy’ that could confirm that a fallen leader could and would be the anticipated Messiah. For them the crucial text was an obscure reference in Isaiah, to a ‘suffering lamb.’
‘We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way;
and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.
He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth;
he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent,
so he did not open his mouth.
By oppression and judgment he was taken away.
Yet who of his generation protested? For he was cut off from the land of the living;
for the transgression of my people he was punished …
Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise him.
This ‘prophecy’, from the long dead sage (in reality, Isaiah is a work of many hands and reflects Jewish history of the 7th to 5th centuries) did not wash with most Jews (it was a blatant wrenching out of context). But for the partisans of Christ it was enough to ‘prove’ the messiah would indeed be a ‘sacrifice’ rather than a conqueror. The embryonic crucifixion sequence in Mark is very brief (it takes up just eight verses from a total of six hundred and sixty five!), makes no mention of Jesus’s resurrection, and ends with frightened women fleeing from an empty tomb and saying nothing! (see J. Spong, Resurrection, p 59]
The Paulites could now defend the ignominy of their fallen hero’s wretched death by scripture – but they faced an uphill struggle. The later Matthew re-write will add tomb guards, cast off burial clothes and ecstatic women – it is they who have the first, uplifting encounter with the risen Christ. But for the moment, the crucifixion/resurrection is a flimsy finale to a gospel taken up more with baptism.
If many Jews remained reluctant to accept that a ‘pacifist’ messiah had already lived and died it was because their vast messianic hopes in no way included a pathetic criminal, hanging limp on a cross.
But for gentiles, with centuries of tradition of dying gods, the dramatic story had great appeal …
There is good reason to believe that John the Baptist was a real historical figure who began a religious movement, but who was captured and executed by the Romans. There is less certainty about Jesus. If the Jesus of the gospels is a fictional person, it would help to explain why Paul seemed to know nothing about him. After Paul died, there would have been an incentive for Christians to absorb the cult of John into their movement and the best way to do that would have been to write a story making Jesus’ ministry dovetail with John, but making Jesus superior. By the time this happened, there would have been no remaining eyewitnesses of John to refute the claim.
(2818) The Bible fails as a moral guide
It would be expected that a book inspired by the creator of the universe would be the premiere source of moral instructions for humans. It would transcend anything that humans could make on their own. But as a moral guide, the Bible is lacking, as discussed below:
I don’t think the bible is a good moral guide in today’s world. It might have been comparably decent in some point in time, but the more I read from other sources, it seems like we can do so much better.
There’s the old atheist saying that improving the bible is easily done (even with just a pair of scissors). And I think this is true – even if we just make it easier to understand.
I do not deny that there are some good moral teachings in the bible, but sometimes they seem to contradict other moral advice in the same book. So if I had only the bible to go on, and could not use my own moral intuitions to decide what was what, then I would end up very confused I think.
These days, you cannot do a plain reading of the bible to find out what is moral – no, you need special knowledge about Koine Greek, what “slavery”/”love”/”neighbor”/”hell” meant back in the day, and an explanation of why it’s significant that it was a Samaritan who did good. While you’re at it, why not listen to CS Lewis – who ostensibly is mandatory reading to understand the bible.
I would like to outline what I think a moral text should contain (feel free to add to it):
- It should work as a rough guide how to act morally.
- It should be relatable to today’s moral quandries.
- It should also be adaptable to new situations, if possible.
- It should be persuasive – it should explain why to act as prescribed.
- It should be clear and precise where possible.
Here is what I think the bible is lacking:
- The bible lacks an “ought” for non-believers (why should an atheist avoid sin?).
- It’s not clear what’s required for a moral action to be good.
- Interpretation is required to understand which morals are still good.
- The bible does not include democratic values.
- It’s not clear what the authors’ intent was.
- The text contains immoral-seeming actions/recommendations that are lauded as good.
- The bible does not seem like a self-contained moral text – outside help is often required.
The fact that there are thousands of books authored without divine intervention that are superior to the Bible for imparting moral guidance should be of concern to Christians. If the Bible was the inspired work of the Lord, as they assume, then why did non-biblical authors do a better job of contextualizing the landscape of human morality?
(2819) Indoctrination masks probabilities
A case can be made that indoctrinated beliefs are generally immune from probabilistic analysis or requests for additional confirming data. That is, a belief in a very unlikely fact, instilled into the mind of a child, is often retained throughout adulthood because the human brain erroneously credits the childhood indoctrination as sufficient evidence in its own right. The following provides an example using Russell’s teapot analogy:
Let’s wrap up the Jesus/celestial teapot thought experiment. We could argue that it’s possible there’s a planet, on the other side of our galaxy, on which life evolved, producing tea-like plants and intelligent creatures who learned how to make ceramic teapots. These creatures also developed astronomy and space flight, and set out to explore the galaxy. A few million years ago one of their spaceships, passing through our solar system, did a trash dump that included kitchen utensils…and voilà, a teapot ended up in orbit around our star. We could argue that this is possible, while there is no actual data whatever to remove this imagining from the realm of fantasy.
But wait, what would happen—as Bertrand Russell suggested— “if the existence of such a teapot were affirmed in ancient books, taught as the sacred truth every Sunday, and instilled into the minds of children at school…”
Probabilities and requests for data are ignored.
Voilà too—that’s how we got Jesus, and why the Ancient Jesus Mystery Cult has a couple of billion followers today.
An adult desiring an undistorted version of the truth should re-evaluate any belief that was impressed on them as a child. Only by removing ‘hard wires’ that bypass the brain’s logic center, implanted by parents (et al), can they expect their beliefs to harmonize with objective probabilities. Once done, it is easily seen that Jesus as God is extraordinarily improbable.
(2820) Peter’s call versus John imprisoned
There is an irreconcilable conflict between the Gospels of Mark and John as to the timing and place of Peter being called as a disciple and John the Baptist being placed in prison. As shown below, it depends on which gospel you read:
Was it in Galilee and after John was imprisoned?
“Now after John was put in prison, Jesus came into Galilee …
As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew his brother casting a net into the sea: for they were fishers. And Jesus said unto them, Come ye after me, and I will make you to become fishers of men.“
– Mark 1.14-17.
Or was it across the Jordan and before John was imprisoned?
“This all happened at Bethany on the other side of the Jordan, where John was baptizing …
When the two disciples heard him say this, they followed Jesus … The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him, “We have found the Messiah” (that is, the Christ). And he brought him to Jesus.
Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You will be called Cephas, which, when translated, is Peter. The next day Jesus decided to leave for Galilee.”
– John 1.28-43.
“After this, Jesus and his disciples went out into the Judean countryside … This was before John was put in prison.“
– John 3.22-24.
How a Christian apologist would approach this contradiction is enlightening. The first way is to just deny that a problem exists, perhaps by insisting that John was imprisoned twice, with a period of time being free in between. The other is to admit that a problem exists, but to say that Mark, being written perhaps 30 years before John, got it wrong, and that the author of John fixed the error.
Literalists, because of their reticence to admit any fault in the scriptures, would likely take the first approach, while failing to explain how John escaped a Roman prison as well as why Mark said Peter was called in Galilee while John said it was in Judea (Bethany). Non-literalists would likely take the bitter pill and admit there was a mistake, and further admit that it is unknown which narrative is correct. Either way, the image of the gospels being inerrant is seriously damaged by this example.
(2821) Virgin birth appears, disappears from scripture
When the books of the New Testament are read in chronological order, a curious trend can be observed- documentation of Jesus’ virgin birth is missing for the first 40 years after the crucifixion, during which time the Gospel of Mark (c. 70) and the authentic letters of Paul (First Thessalonians (c. 50), Galatians (c. 53), First Corinthians (c. 53–54), Philippians (c. 55), Philemon (c. 55), Second Corinthians (c. 55–56), and Romans (c. 57)) were written, then in the next 10-20 years, two contradictory accounts (Gospels of Matthew (c.85) and Luke (c.85)) of the virgin birth were written, after which no book written later than this (Gospel of John (c. 90), Revelation (c.110) and the inauthentic Pauline letters and other letters (c. 95-125)) mentions anything about it.
It seems as though the virgin birth story appeared in popular belief and then disappeared. Two gospels do not mention a virgin birth, Mark and John. Although Mark was written before Luke and Matthew, John was written later. That means that the author(s) of John must have been aware of the virgin birth tradition but deliberately left it out of his (their) account. This would be an extraordinary omission if it did not have a good reason for it.
What this appears to indicate is that early Christians did not hold a belief in Jesus’ virgin birth for several decades after his death, but then for a short period it became a popular meme, only to be discarded in later years. Then, sometime even later, the canonization of the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, brought the virgin birth back into the conventional theology of the faith. Because of this inconsistency, it can be asserted that the virgin birth of Jesus did not occur- otherwise, it would have been a persistent and unchanging doctrine.
(2822) Jesus is an idea
Over the centuries, the image of Jesus has been massaged and contextualized to the point where he is no longer recognizable as an actual historical figure, but rather he resides in the imaginations of his followers, each with a slightly or sometimes greatly different perception. When Christians speak of a ‘relationship’ with Jesus, they are actually engaging in an experience with their own psyche. The following was taken from:
Jesus Christ, for all the wondrous elaborations and embellishments, is an idea, an idea that exists, and has only ever existed, in the minds of his devotees. Take for example the physicality of Jesus. Nowhere do the Gospels (nor any other sources for that matter) describe the phantom superstar – and yet we all know that slender frame, the flowing hair, that soft yet troubled face. The vivid image originates not in history but in the human mind, conditioned over centuries by the Church. We conceptualize the Jesus of our hopes, dreams and expectations.
The idea of Jesus is real enough and the idea extends to everything about the superstar – what we think he did, what we think he said, and above all what we think he was. Jesus Christ, in reality, is not an objective fact in the historical record but a “relationship” with our own psyche. Our rational selves might concede that his miraculous deeds are a tad exaggerated; that his words may in fact be taken from other sources, but what he was permits no revision: he was and remains a standard of perfection when real-world people are anything but, and he offers the promise of a life beyond the grave when reality denies any such possibility.
There are several modern-day equivalents, particularly with recent American heroes Martin Luther King, and John F. Kennedy. In both cases the public images of these men have evolved greatly since their untimely and violent deaths to the point where it no longer resembles the realities of their lives. The image of Jesus, assuming he ever existed, though it is not necessary to assume he did, certainly must have grown over time with retellings that generally added certain new features and wonders, until, in his followers’ minds, he became a picture of perfection and the embodiment of the eternal god of the universe.
(2823) Christians are not changed
The adage ‘the proof is in the pudding’ aptly applies to the Christian ideal that when you commit to Christ you become a new person, supercharged with the power, insight, and blessings of an almighty deity who forms a ‘relationship’ with you. This is a testable hypothesis, though it is measured not scientifically, but rather anecdotally. Yet the anecdotes are all too obvious to ignore. Christians show no more grace, morality, wisdom, or judgement than non-Christians. The following was taken from:
The driving reason for my rejection of the Christian faith was simple: Christians are not people who have been supernaturally changed and the new birth doesn’t work. After living and leading in the church for decades, I saw no consistent evidence of an ongoing supernatural presence—and I wanted to see that evidence with all that was in me.
People imbued with a supernatural presence should be extraordinarily distinct from those who are not. The fact that Christians show no differentiating qualities is good evidence that they are not interacting with anything miraculous or otherworldly.
(2824) Bible refutes how God reveals himself
It’s obvious, assuming God exists, that he is doing a poor job of accurately revealing himself, given the numerous denominations holding sometimes wildly disparate beliefs. But even beyond that, the Bible itself casts doubt on the ways that God has chosen to make himself known. The following was taken from:
The Biblical God reveals himself two ways:
1) The Words of Men
We know everything about the Biblical God through the Bible, and Christians and atheists agree that the Bible was written by men. Christians will argue that these words were inspired by God, and thus these words of men are also God’s word, but they only believe this because the words of men tell them to believe it.
If a boy came to me and told me that a billionaire promised me a large sum of money if stood on one leg for a day, and I then attempted this challenge in the hope of reward, I am trusting first and foremost the words of the boy more than the promise of the unseen millionaire. The millionaire’s promise means nothing if the boy’s claims are untrustworthy. The root faith is placed in the trustworthiness of the boy. In the same way, Christians trust first and foremost the writers of the Bible, that they spoke the truth about their unseen God, before they can even make a decision whether or not they will trust this God.
The problem with this is that the Bible also makes repeated claims about the untrustworthiness of men, how sinful they are, how resistant to truth they are, how they are ready to deceive and be deceived.
The concept of revelation through man is self-defeating. We are warned not to take candy offered by strangers in vans, and yet we are expected to get all our candy from strangers in vans who promise they’re not like the other strangers.
2) The Human Heart
The other way the Biblical God is apparently revealed is through perception. Dreams, visions, a deep-seated knowledge of his existence, etc.
The problem with this is that all of these things are internal and prone to misinterpretation. The Bible makes clear that the human heart is deceitful, and we cannot even trust our own hearts. How then can we be sure we are accurately perceiving God’s “voice” or the “workings of the Spirit”?
Anything we perceive or feel is felt through an already tainted vessel, and so our feelings are entirely unreliable. We can never know the difference between our own imagining and the supernatural movings of a Holy Spirit, because we can be deceived into believing the Spirit or other forces are working when in fact nothing is actually working beyond our own imagination. Even Christians believe this, as evidenced by the many denominations that renounce each other despite the fact that they all claim the endorsement of the Holy Spirit.
What about nature? Doesn’t Romans say that God is revealed through nature? Yes it does, but this is ultimately still relying on the human heart. The argument in Romans claims that nature is easily seen to be made by God. This is still a matter of trusting our own hearts. We trust our own hearts when we perceive that nature is designed and so at the end of the day, the human heart is set up the judge by which nature is ultimately interpreted. Nature reveals God because, due to our limited experience, we perceive nature to be created when we behold it. The problem is, many of us now also perceive that it might not be created. Which interpretation is correct, and how do you tell independent of the human heart?
We either get our information from what is written in the Bible (the words of men) or what we feel and perceive in our minds (the human heart). The Bible condemns both as entirely trustworthy, therefore we have no reliable source of information about the Biblical God.
What all of this implies is that a real god would not use these unreliable methods to communicate with humans. It would use definitive and verifiable forms of revelation, such as to provide a consistent message to humankind. This is one way that we know that Christianity is a human-conceived theology.
(2825) Escape velocity
Jesus allegedly performed many miracles, such as raising to life dead people, turning water into wine, calming a storm, walking on water, healing the sick and afflicted, casting out demons, and withering a tree, but, arguably, his greatest miracle was bodily lifting himself off of the Earth and traveling into the atmosphere and supposedly outer space itself. It is a little bit concerning for Christians that his greatest miracle was discussed only in the Gospel of Luke and Acts, two contradictory accounts apparently written by the same person. The nebulous account in Mark (16:19) is discounted because it was an obvious interpolation.
The gospels make it clear that Jesus was raised to life in his body, that is, not just as a spirit, so that means that his resurrection and ascension were physical events. There is no suggestion where Jesus’s body ended up during his flight, but it is instructive to think of what limitations might have existed.
To escape the Earth’s gravity, Jesus would had to have achieved a velocity of about 25,000 miles an hour and to escape the sun’s gravity, to exit the solar system, around 95,000 miles per hour (at the distance of earth from the sun). This velocity requirement is just part of the problem as Jesus would have been subjected to a lack of oxygen and exposure to radiation.
Although this argument is somewhat frivolous, it exposes the scientific ignorance of early Christians and the continuing problem of defining what happened to Jesus’ body. Without a bodily ascension, we are left with the assumption that Jesus, as a human, must have died a second and final time on the surface of our planet. If Jesus’ body actually left the Earth then he must have achieved a blazing speed without the use of any conventional source of propulsion, which is, again, his greatest miracle and the honor of being the world’s first astronaut.
(2826) Elevating Peter to Paul’s status
The early church had an embarrassing problem- most of the New Testament was written by a person, Paul, who had never met Jesus, while the principal apostle of Jesus, Peter, had written nary a word. So the solution was to create the myth that the author of the Gospel of Mark was a companion to Peter and that he had documented what Peter had recalled to him. The following was taken from:
Simon Peter, as a figure of legend, of course wrote nothing, and Paul had written a great deal – his letters make up a quarter of the entire New Testament. How, then, to elevate Peter as an literary source? ‘Mark’ provided the answer. Versions of this early gospel were in wide circulation and yet Mark was not an apostle. Taking advantage of this short-fall, ‘Mark’ was adopted as the ‘companion of Peter’ and Mark’s gospel became, effectively, ‘the gospel that Peter would have written’, boosting the apostle’s status.
Clement of Alexandria, at this stage allied with the Roman see, spread rumors that, though seemingly written in Alexandria, ‘Mark’ had been writing in Rome, recalling the deeds of his master Peter ‘as best he could.’ In the intense rivalry of Christian sees, that link was at best tenuous and not convincing, not least because Peter had been proclaimed the ‘apostle of the circumcision’ with a mission to the Jews. He had even been linked to Antioch. Peter needed missionary activity equal to Paul’s, journeys that would place him incontrovertibly in Rome.
Like many Christian traditions, the nexus of Mark to Peter is highly improbable and it was merely a convenient way to add authenticity to the first biographical account of Jesus. This was kind of like a course correction for the faith, as it was seen as being too much dependent on the visions of Paul and not sufficiently rooted in the actual footsteps of Jesus. In reality, most independent scholars agree that Mark never met Peter, and, in fact, never traveled to Rome, and thus his account was most likely a reflection of his imagination- a reflection that most likely was inspired by the writings of Paul rather than the recollections of Peter.
(2827) Islam conversion outpaces Christianity
Although this in no way proves that Islam is true, it is interesting to note that Islam is more successful than Christianity in gaining converts. This is not an expected outcome if Christianity is true and Islam is false. The following was taken from:
Like Americans in many other religious groups, a substantial share of adults who were raised Muslim no longer identify as members of the faith. But, unlike some other faiths, Islam gains about as many converts as it loses.
About a quarter of adults who were raised Muslim (23%) no longer identify as members of the faith, roughly on par with the share of Americans who were raised Christian and no longer identify with Christianity (22%), according to a new analysis of the 2014 Religious Landscape Study. But while the share of American Muslim adults who are converts to Islam also is about one-quarter (23%), a much smaller share of current Christians (6%) are converts. In other words, Christianity as a whole loses more people than it gains from religious switching (conversions in both directions) in the U.S., while the net effect on Islam in America is a wash.
People converting to a religion represents more significant evidence of the truth of that religion than the existence of people who are raised to believe it from birth. This is because conversion usually involves an objective reasoning process that is lacking in childhood indoctrination. The fact that Islam has a higher percentage of converts serves as evidence against the unique truth of Christianity.
(2828) Mark, the playwright
The author of the Gospel of Mark was not a historian. Much of his account is written in a way that would be suitable for a theatrical play, and one of the best examples of this was how he composed the episode of Jesus’ arrest. The following was taken from:
CNN in the Garden of Gethsemane?
Is it unreasonable to ask just who recorded not only one of the last prayers of the godman but also the last occasion when the “living” superhero was with his acolytes? The only possible witnesses were asleep.
‘And he said, “Abba, Father, all things are possible unto thee; take away this cup from me: nevertheless not what I will, but what thou wilt.”
And he cometh, and findeth them sleeping, and saith unto Peter, “Simon, sleepest thou? Couldest not thou watch one hour?
Watch ye and pray, lest ye enter into temptation. The spirit truly is ready, but the flesh is weak.”
And again he went away, and prayed, and spake the same words.
And when he returned, he found them asleep again, (for their eyes were heavy,) neither wist they what to answer him.
And he cometh the third time, and saith unto them, “Sleep on now, and take your rest: it is enough, the hour is come; behold, the Son of man is betrayed into the hands of sinners.”
– Mark 14.36,41 (Matthew’s version is almost identical, Luke has a shortened version and John omits the scene entirely.)
But of course as sacred theatre – a fabula praetexta – such perambulations back and forth and rhetorical declamations to an audience are precisely what we would expect.
The dramatic effects of this scene are too obvious to ignore and it can be imagined how it would be quite conducive for presentation on a stage. For comparison purposes, let’s consider how a legitimate historian would have documented this event:
In the wake of unsettling rumors, Jesus and his apostles retreated to the Garden of Gethsemane, concerned that Roman authorities were considering legal action against them. Adding to this worry, the apostle Judas had absconded from the group and it was imagined that he might be conspiring with the authorities to help them in making an arrest. As the night wore on, Jesus prayed incessantly while the apostles struggled to stay awake, even though they realized that they might be needed at any time to come to Jesus’ aid. Shortly after midnight, their worries were realized as a Roman cohort led by the betrayer Judas arrived and arrested Jesus. A short scuffle occurred as the apostles put up a haphazard resistance including a sword swipe that injured one soldier’s ear, but, by and large, the apostles were too frightened to offer any defense for Jesus, and they cowered away from the scene as Jesus was being taken back to Jerusalem.
The difference between these two portrayals is night and day. It should be seen that the second example is how a historian would have documented this event, while the first is simply an exercise in fictional sacred theater.
(2829) Destroying excuses for biblical slavery
Christians have been routinely challenged to explain the treatment of slavery in the Old Testament, some of which bleeds into the New Testament, as being consistent with their ideal of God’s omni-benevolence. The following explains why these exculpatory efforts fail in the face of an objective analysis of the scriptures:
The Old Testament approves of slavery.
This fact has been one of the most difficult for Christians and Jews to contend with in modern times. Every decent human being living today agrees that slavery is deeply wrong, and yet the Old Testament allows it, makes it legal, and treats it as a normal social institution. This is an unforgivable moral evil, and immediately by itself shows the gods of both Judaism and Christianity to be evil and unworthy of worship. Believers in the Old Testament have worked hard to produce endless excuses, justifications, and sophistry to distract away from this horrid truth. So today, I’d like to discuss slavery in the Old Testament, and refute the many defenses of it.
For this post, I’ll be using Google’s definition of “slave”:
A person who is the legal property of another and is forced to obey them.
The Old Testament’s most important passage about slavery is Leviticus 25:39-46. Here it is in full.
39 “‘If any of your fellow Israelites become poor and sell themselves to you, do not make them work as slaves. 40 They are to be treated as hired workers or temporary residents among you; they are to work for you until the Year of Jubilee. 41 Then they and their children are to be released, and they will go back to their own clans and to the property of their ancestors. 42 Because the Israelites are my servants, whom I brought out of Egypt, they must not be sold as slaves. 43 Do not rule over them ruthlessly, but fear your God.
44 “‘Your male and female slaves are to come from the nations around you; from them you may buy slaves. 45 You may also buy some of the temporary residents living among you and members of their clans born in your country, and they will become your property. 46 You can bequeath them to your children as inherited property and can make them slaves for life, but you must not rule over your fellow Israelites ruthlessly.
This passage clearly and unambiguously allows slavery. It also summarizes many relevant laws, and lays out a framework for the structure of slave law.
Most obviously, the passage creates a sharp division between two classes of people: Israelites and foreigners. Whenever reading a verse about slavery in the Old Testament, you must remember to ask – who does this apply to, Israelites or foreigners? The law is very different for the two groups, and this passage already shows some of the major differences. Israelites are not allowed to be treated as slaves, and must instead be treated as hired workers or servants. (This is why verses like Exodus 21:2 are translated as “Hebrew servant” instead of “Hebrew slave”, despite using the same Hebrew word עֶ֣בֶד used elsewhere to refer to slaves.) Israelites have some protections, including being released on the year of the Jubilee.
In stark contrast, the second half of the passage discusses foreign slaves, who do not have any of these protections. Foreigners are allowed to be kept as slaves – not as hired workers, but as “property”, bona fide chattel slaves. This isn’t just property in name, either – they can be bought, can be left to the children of their master as inheritance, and remain slaves for life.
Most strikingly, we see here the difference in attitude towards Israelite and foreign slaves. The section on Israelites ends by emphasizing the importance of not ruling over your fellow Israelites ruthlessly. The section on foreigners doesn’t mention Israelites at all, and lists harsh terms for foreign slaves, and then ends with “but you must not rule over your fellow Israelites ruthlessly.” The implication here is deafening to anyone honestly reading the verse. Imagine the following memo issued in a corporation:
To All White Staff:
Please remember not to mistreat fellow white employees. If you have white subordinates, remember to treat them with respect. If you ask them to work overtime, you must pay them their due overtime wages. You should offer them the opportunity for promotion and raises. Above all, remember to treat white employees with respect.
As for black employees, the rules from before don’t apply. You may have them remain to work overtime without compensation, and punish them if they refuse. You need not ever offer them the opportunity to be promoted or get raises – but remember to treat white employees with respect!
This memo is clearly and heavily implying that you do not need to treat black employees with respect. Similarly, Leviticus 25:39-46 clearly and heavily implies that it is permissible to rule over foreign slaves ruthlessly. This is reinforced by the law for taking female captives as sex slaves in Deuteronomy 21:10-14, which presents an ‘exception that proves the rule’ – unlike usual, female captives made sex slaves cannot be sold, and cannot be treated brutally, which strongly implies that it is usually acceptable to treat foreign slaves brutally.*
Where Slaves Came From
So the OT permits slavery, but where did these slaves come from? The OT references four ways someone could become a slave.
- Debt slaves
As we have seen in Leviticus 25:39-46, both Israelites and foreigners could sell themselves into slavery, usually to pay off debts. This was a financial transaction, with slaves or their families receiving a payment or forgiveness of debts. It could be voluntary or pseudo-voluntary – if you have debts and no means to settle them, you could be forced into slavery under threat of other consequences. It also wasn’t always a person selling themselves into slavery – for example, fathers could sell their daughters as sex slaves (Exodus 21:7-11). Thieves were forcibly sold into slavery if they could not afford the penalty for thievery (Exodus 22:2-4), strongly implying that criminals in general who could not afford their fines were involuntarily made debt slaves. There is also strong indication that children could be forcibly taken as slaves to repay the debts of their deceased fathers (2 Kings 4:1–7).
Many apologists try to trivialize the suffering of these debt slaves, and while no doubt some were treated kindly, it is important to remember that these were still people who had their freedom stripped away at the most vulnerable points in their lives, were taken away from their homes and families for extended periods, and in the case of women were sexually exploited.
- Born slaves
Another source of slaves were the children born to existing slaves. The OT makes it clear that children of slaves also became slaves, and had reduced rights and protections. The passage addressing this is Exodus 21:2-6:
2 “If you buy a Hebrew servant, he is to serve you for six years. But in the seventh year, he shall go free, without paying anything. 3 If he comes alone, he is to go free alone; but if he has a wife when he comes, she is to go with him. 4 If his master gives him a wife and she bears him sons or daughters, the woman and her children shall belong to her master, and only the man shall go free.
5 “But if the servant declares, ‘I love my master and my wife and children and do not want to go free,’ 6 then his master must take him before the judges. He shall take him to the door or the doorpost and pierce his ear with an awl. Then he will be his servant for life.
As this passage makes clear, even Hebrew servants – who must not be treated as slaves, as we have seen in Leviticus 25:39-46 – could still be slaves. Children of Hebrew servants would become permanent slaves, though it’s unclear if they would become property (the word “belong” is not explicit in the Hebrew). Other verses confirm this (Exodus 23:12, Leviticus 22:11, Genesis 17:12-3). Once a child was born to a debt slave, they would be their master’s slave forever, as would their children and their children’s children. This is a source of slaves many apologists forget about when discussing Biblical slavery – children who, through no fault of their own, were born into lifelong slavery, never having any right to self-determination or dignity, forever at the whim of their masters physically and (for women) sexually.
In addition, this passage outlines a procedure for a Hebrew servant to voluntarily become a permanent slave, one repeated elsewhere (Deuteronomy 15:12-18). Apologists often point to this as proof of how humane OT slavery must have been – after all, why would a servant voluntarily give up their freedom if it wasn’t an awesome lifestyle? But the passage itself gives the answer – getting your freedom would mean abandoning your wife and children, who would remain slaves for life. One of the greatest cruelties of slavery (which is often neglected when the OT is discussed) is the forcible separation of families. When given the choice of never seeing their families again or submitting to lifelong servitude, many male slaves understandably chose the latter, no matter how abusive their masters were. In this way, “voluntary” debt slavery could easily be made involuntary.
- War captives.
A third source of slaves was war. Apologists often refer to these as “prisoners of war”, but the more Biblically accurate term would be “spoils of war”. These people were forcibly taken from cities and nations whom the Israelites had defeated in war, and the passage governing their enslavement is Deuteronomy 20:10-18. The circumstances for cities who immediately surrender are slightly more open to debate, but for those who did not, it was clear – they were plunder, property of the Israelites kept as chattel slaves. Once again, since these were foreign slaves, they were not protected as Israelites were and became slaves for life. This was how the Israelites were to treat all cities they attacked (with the exception of the few listed, which they had to massacre instead). To clear up any doubts of how these slaves were treated, Deuteronomy 21:10-14 lists the procedure for taking a woman captured in war as a sex slave; after a mourning period, the woman – her parents murdered in front of her, her home and belongings taken – becomes the wife of her captor, and remains his possession until he tires of her. This law was not merely hypothetical – Numbers 31 documents one example of the Israelites executing it under the direct orders of Moses and God himself.
These slaves were women and children who were attacked by Israelite aggressors, watched their brothers, husbands, and fathers be put to death, were stripped of all they owned and cared about, and were taken by the murderers as plunder to be physically and sexually exploited and kept as property for perpetuity. It is impossible to overemphasize how horrific, vile, and evil this law is; were it found anywhere but the Old Testament, excusing it in any way would be treated no differently than excusing the Holocaust.
- Kidnapping victims.
The fourth and final source of slaves was kidnapping. The Old Testament directly addresses kidnapping, or man-stealing, exactly twice. The verse most apologists point to is Exodus 21:16:
16 “Anyone who kidnaps someone is to be put to death, whether the victim has been sold or is still in the kidnapper’s possession.
This verse prohibits kidnapping of people (the Hebrew word used is גֹנֵ֨ב, or “steal”). What most apologists don’t reference is the second verse about kidnapping, Deuteronomy 24:7:
7 If someone is caught kidnapping a fellow Israelite and treating or selling them as a slave, the kidnapper must die. You must purge the evil from among you.
This verse restricts the law to only the kidnapping of Israelites, not people in general. It’s for this reason that Talmudic law has always interpreted the prohibition on kidnapping to only apply to the kidnapping of Israelites (source). As such, kidnapping of foreigners in order to enslave them was probably not a capital crime, and may have even been permitted in some cases. Regardless, even if we are overly charitable to the text here and assume it prohibits all kidnapping, we must still note a few things. Firstly, this is kidnapping by an individual; as we have seen, victims taken in war did not fall under this category. Secondly, the punishment here is only for the kidnapper, not for the buyer; Israelites were allowed to purchase slaves from foreign nations (Leviticus 25:39-46), where it was potentially impossible to tell if they or their ancestors had been kidnapped.**
Protections for Israelite Slaves
A common apologetic is that OT slavery was not as bad as the slavery we usually think of. That it was a Slavery Lite™ of sorts, with ample protection for the slaves – as if the owning and exploitation of human beings would be a righteous practice if only the slaves got vacation days and dental. So let us turn to the laws regarding the treatment of slaves.
As we have seen, there is a sharp delineation in OT law between Israelite slaves and foreign slaves. Israelite slaves in fact received a wealth of protections and benefits (although this does not make their enslavement OK). Here is a comprehensive list of all protections that applied only to Israelite slaves:
- Israelite debt slaves were not to be made to work as slaves, and were to be treated as hired workers instead (Leviticus 25:39-46).
- Israelite debt slaves were not to be ruled over ruthlessly by Israelite owners (Leviticus 25:39-46) or by foreign owners that resided among the Israelites (Leviticus 25:47-55).
- Israelite debt slaves were not to be sold as slaves (Leviticus 25:39-46).
- Israelite debt slaves were to be released after 6 years of service unless they chose to stay permanently (Exodus 21:2-6, Deuteronomy 15:12-18, Jeremiah 34:8-22). They were to be given a generous severance when leaving (Deuteronomy 15:12-18).
- Female slaves who had been matched with male slaves and gave birth, as well as their children, did not have this protection (Exodus 21:2-6).
- Female sex slaves also did not have this protection (Exodus 21:7-11).
- Once every 49-50 years, during the Year of Jubilee, Israelite debt slaves were to be freed whether owned by Israelites (Leviticus 25:39-46) or foreign residents (Leviticus 25:47-55).
- Israelite debt slaves sold to foreigners living among the Israelites could be “redeemed”, or have their freedom bought back (Leviticus 25:47-55). They could do this themselves or have a relative do it for them.
- This implies Israelite slaves could own property, which is supported by other verses.
- The price was computed by counting the number of years until the next Year of Jubilee, and calculating how much total wage would normally be paid to a hired worker working until then (Leviticus 25:47-55). This means the price could range up to 50 years’ worth of wages.
- A female sex slave did not have this protection unless her master broke his betrothal with her (Exodus 21:7-11).
- A female Israelite sex slave married off to her master’s son was given the rights of a daughter (Exodus 21:7-11).
- A female Israelite sex slave betrothed to her master was to be granted food, clothing, and marital rights, and went free if she did not receive them (Exodus 21:7-11).
Note that the majority of these protections apply only to debt slaves, not to children born as slaves or female sex slaves. Most protections probably applied only to slaves under Israelite owners; for example, the wage calculation for redemption under a foreign owner in Leviticus 25:47-55 strongly implies the law did not require foreign owners to release their Israelite debt slaves after 6 years. It is also questionable how many of these were implemented in practice; the Old Testament itself tells us that at least one major law – the freeing of slaves after 6 years – was not followed in practice (Jeremiah 34:8-22).
Protections for Foreign Slaves
All of the aforementioned protections were for Israelite slaves only, and did not apply to foreign slaves, who had vastly reduced protections. Let’s examine those now.
First, we have Exodus 21:20-21:
20 “Anyone who beats their male or female slave with a rod must be punished if the slave dies as a direct result, 21 but they are not to be punished if the slave recovers after a day or two, since the slave is their property.
This verse offers a bare minimum of protection to slaves – owners are not permitted to kill slaves. The NIV translation here takes some serious liberties, but the Hebrew says that the slave must be “avenged” (נָקֹ֖ם יִנָּקֵֽם). Jewish interpreters have read this as meaning a death penalty (source), but some modern scholars have argued it was a lesser penalty (source).
However, this verse also explicitly allows cruel and severe beating of slaves as punishment, setting the standard that a beating is not to be punished if the slave can stand after two days (again, the Hebrew specifies standing [יַעֲמֹ֑ד] as the standard while the NIV generalizes to recovery). This is put into context by the previous verse, Exodus 21:18-19, which makes clear the ‘standing’ criterion, and shows that for free people there is actual recompense required in this scenario (but of course, not for slaves).
It also makes it clear once again that the slaves being discussed are property, and that this treatment is justified because they are to be treated as property. This is not Slavery Lite™, it’s not an apprenticeship – it’s cruel and inhumane abuse. Note also that there is no reason required for these beatings, and a master who beats his foreign slaves at his own whim is acting perfectly within the law; it is explicitly forbidden to punish him, because he is rightfully exercising his right to do as he pleases with his property.
Just a few verses down, we have our second major protection for foreign slaves, Exodus 21:26-27:
26 “When a man strikes the eye of his slave, male or female, and destroys it, he shall let the slave go free because of his eye. 27 If he knocks out the tooth of his slave, male or female, he shall let the slave go free because of his tooth.
This law protects slaves from major physical injury. The verse lists only eyes and teeth, but of course this is a modification of the famous “eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth”, and so applies more generally; Jewish law has held that any injury which causes permanent disfigurement counts (source). Note, however, that unlike the normal “eye for an eye”, there is no punishment at all for the master. The slave is let free, and the master goes about his business – his eye and tooth are not taken in return, he does not have to provide any recompense to the slave beyond his freedom, and the slave is left to deal with his injury and destitution on his own. This is reinforced by Exodus 21:20-21, which as we’ve seen protects the master from any punishment if the slave survives.
Also note that this only applies to disfiguring injuries, and leaves cruel torture via non-disfiguring means completely legal and protected as a master’s right. Apologists often say that this would rule out any cruel treatment, since any cruel punishment would surely be disfiguring. To anyone who says this, I challenge you to undergo some non-disfiguring torture yourself – such as being beaten unconscious with a rod, being starved or denied water to the edge of death, being made to hold heavy weight for hours, and more – and tell me how non-cruel it is.
And… that’s it. As far as protections for foreign slaves, those are the only two. Don’t murder them, and free them if you disfigure them – anything else is not just fair game but legally protected and justified as a property right. There are a few other minor details – for example, circumcised slaves are allowed to eat of the Passover feast (Exodus 12:43-45) – but no other real protections. Oh, that reminds me – foreign slaves, even the adults, must be circumcised (Genesis 17:12–13). Imagine being purchased as property, separated from your spouse and children, hauled off to a distant land, beaten harshly with a rod for no reason at all, and then having your foreskin mutilated with no anesthetic in accordance with the barbaric customs of your new owners. Slavery Lite™ indeed.
There are still a few loose ends to tie up. Some apologists like to point to the verses about keeping the Sabbath (Exodus 20:9-11, Exodus 23:12, Deuteronomy 5:12–15), which specify that slaves must rest as well. What they neglect to mention is that these same verses specify that animals rest too, as well as everyone else. This is not a protection for slaves as much as it is a wider social practice. In modern-day Israel it is tradition not to drive on Yom Kippur, and the streets are nearly empty on that day, but this is not a protection for taxi drivers; they incidentally benefit from this social practice, but it is not instituted for them. Apologists also like to try and apply broader verses about foreigners to slaves specifically, such as Deuteronomy 10:19 saying to love the foreigner. This is, of course, ridiculous; in the law, the specific overrides the general – for example, killing a man is punishable by death in general, but it is allowed and required to kill all men during a siege of an enemy city. It’s also obvious that slaves and foreign residents are two different classes under the law, with different rights and privileges.
Another relevant verse is Deuteronomy 23:15-16, which governs fugitive slaves. People sometimes misunderstand this verse to mean that any escaped slave essentially goes free and is protected from recapture. However, as is clear from verse 16 speaking about letting the slave take refuge in any town he chooses, this verse is in fact speaking about refugee slaves from other nations taking refuge in Israel, and the Jewish Gemara interprets it this way as well (source), and even recounts a case that specifies escaped slaves in general fall under the law in Deuteronomy 22:2-3 to return lost property to its owner.
A final verse to consider is Exodus 21:28-32, which illuminates the general treatment of slaves and their worth in the eyes of the law. This verse lays out what to do when a rowdy bull kills a person through the negligence of their owner. If the bull kills a man or woman, son or daughter, then the punishment for an irresponsible owner is death (though the family may demand payment instead). However, if the bull kills a slave, the owner of the bull need only pay thirty shekels of silver to the owner of the slave (a price comparable to the purchase price of slaves, see Genesis 37:28). There is no restitution to the slave or his wife and children, there is no punishment for the negligent owner – only financial compensation for property lost. One man’s property damaging another’s. This immediately refutes any attempt to depict OT slaves as sons of the household; it is clear that sons are valued human beings whose lives must be avenged with blood even when negligently manslaughtered, but that slaves are less than human and are only worth the price it would take to replace them.
Common Defenses of OT Slavery
Much like any group whose revered leaders have committed atrocities, defenders of the OT offer all kinds of defenses for of the horrific practice of OT slavery. Here, I list and refute the most common ones.
Slavery wasn’t that bad
This is perhaps the most common defense, and is usually the first to be offered, even by big-name apologists (e.g. Frank Turek). This defense seeks to trivialize the suffering of slaves in order to paint the institution of slavery as acceptable. This is usually done by claiming that slavery in the OT was not like US slavery – that it was voluntary debt slavery, unlike the race-based forced chattel slavery in the US.
As we have seen, this is patently false. Chattel slavery – the owning of human beings as property – was permitted, with slaves working for no wages or recompense, being bought and sold, and remaining enslaved for perpetuity. It was also race-based, with Israelites being given many special protections over foreigners. The law also allowed and protected very harsh punishments given to slaves at the whim of the master. Slavery in the OT was cruel and inhumane, and attempts to whitewash it are misguided at best and dishonest at worst.
God did the best he could for a barbaric nation
This defense claims that God gave the best law he could, but that he could not uproot the social institution of slavery that was present at the time. God gave the best law he could, the defense goes, but if he gave any better law the Israelites would not be able to follow it. Usually, those who offer this defense claim that God desired better and better law to be used as it became practically possible, with Christians saying the New Testament improved upon the Old, and Jews saying God knew we would eventually give up slavery on our own. They also point out that slavery was commonplace in cultures at the time, and say that OT law was better than the surrounding law.
The problem with this defense is that God didn’t do the best he could have. As we have seen, there is a massive gap in the law between Israelite and foreign slaves, with foreign slaves receiving only the barest minimum of protection. It was clearly possible to protect foreign slaves much more, by simply giving them the same protections as Israelites – for example by forbidding ruling over them ruthlessly. The fact God did not do this is indefensible.
Furthermore, God has never shied away from giving the Israelites difficult-to-follow laws. In fact, the OT itself reports that some laws protecting slaves in the OT were not followed (Jeremiah 34:8-22), probably because there was no punishment specified for disobeying them. God gave this law multiple times across multiple books of the Old Testament (Exodus 21:2-6, Deuteronomy 15:12-18, Jeremiah 34:8-22), all the while knowing it would almost never be followed; given this, the defense crumbles, and there is no excuse for God not to also give other laws he knew would be difficult to enforce, for example making the protections equal for foreign and Israelite slaves, or forbidding slave-beatings done without good reason.
There are many other practices and social institutions which were reportedly common among the surrounding nations, and yet God was happy to do away with them. For example, idolatry, child sacrifice, and sexual immorality as defined by the OT were also entrenched in the cultures of the day, but God was not afraid to require radical change in his people and command them to abandon these evil practices. Why not slavery?
The ends justify the means
This defense is subtly different from the last, and claims that God was only interested in some other end – most commonly making sure the Israelites survived to the present – and therefore all the atrocities he committed were justified.
However, this argument seriously undersells the power of God. The ends may justify the means if there are no better means available, but there were far better means available. If someone is suffering greatly from an infected wound, you may be justified in amputating them – but if you can easily cure them by washing their wound, you are not justified in amputating anyway. God is the almighty creator of the universe, and is regularly depicted performing large-scale miracles in the OT. In particular, he is credited many times with the power to decide who wins and who loses in battle, as well as which civilizations prosper and which fall to ruin. If God wished to preserve the Israelites to the present, he could have easily done so while forbidding slavery. Furthermore, for Christians, the New Testament itself disavows the idea that the ends justify the means (Romans 3:8).
God can’t fix every little problem
This defense attempts to paint slavery as just another evil out there. God can’t fix every little evil, the defense goes; do you expect him to also give law on how to handle cyber-bullying and climate change? Sometimes, defenders will claim that the primary goal of the OT was not social reform, but spiritual redemption, and therefore that these laws are fine. Some will even attempt to transmute the issue of slavery into a general Problem of Evil – saying “if God was to fix slavery, why not just fix every evil in the world?” – and then use the canned responses they have prepared for it.
This defense fails because slavery isn’t just another evil out in the world – it is a practice the OT heavily discusses. The OT takes the time to specifically address slavery in great depth and provide sophisticated legislation about it. There is no excuse for doing that and then getting it wrong. Regardless of what you perceive the goal of the OT to be, there is no doubt it is in large part a law book, laying out a sweeping and intricate legal system that was the basis of a society for centuries. God chose to actively decree law regarding slavery, and for him to actively decree law that was not only lacking, but was needlessly horrific and vile – is simply indefensible. It would be evil if a religion were to decree that murder was totally allowed and that murderers were legally protected, but they had to use sharp knives so as to not cause too much suffering. But this is exactly what God did with slavery.
Different time, different morals
This defense relies on a common adage that we should judge historical figures by the standards of their time. We should not condemn Lincoln for being racist, for example, just because he didn’t immediately arrive at the views on race we hold today – we should instead consider his views relative to the views of the time. The OT was better than the standards at the time, the argument goes, and since it was a different time we can’t judge them for keeping and abusing slaves.
This defense fails because it does not consider the source of the laws. We do not judge Lincoln for his racial views because he didn’t know any better. If he had been born today, and had knowledge of today’s views, we would judge him for thinking blacks and whites were not equal. But God is not bound by his time. When decreeing OT law, God had full knowledge of the standards of the time, and also of our standards today, and the standards we will have in the future. Because he lacks this limitation, God cannot give this excuse. This defense also necessarily relativizes and subjectivizes morality, contrary to the views of most theists; no longer are things objectively right or wrong, and the standards change with the times. Finally, God himself does not take this approach; he judges people not according to the standards of their culture, but according to his own standards. He condemns, for example, the detestable practices of the surrounding nations, like child sacrifice, divination, sorcery, witchcraft, and necromancy, and drives those nations out of their homelands as punishment (Deuteronomy 18:9-13). So too should he condemn the detestable practice of slavery, and punish any who engage in it.
It got better eventually
This defense attempts to excuse the OT law on slavery by pointing to the fact that we don’t practice it anymore. It’s most common among Christians, who say that the old law no longer applies to us in the modern day due to the New Testament.
The problem with this defense is that it is a red herring. Whether or not the law applies today is irrelevant – it applied for centuries, and harmed countless people. As such, it was an evil law, and its writer was evil for writing it. None would say that slavery law in the US was good and just because we don’t follow it anymore, and yet for some reason people say this for OT law.
Furthermore, for Christians, Jesus explicitly affirmed the old law as perfect to the last letter, and made clear it was not abolished (Matthew 5:17-20). Even if you interpret him to mean it needn’t be followed anymore, that does not excuse him upholding it as good, which makes him complicit in all the horrors of OT slavery. Imagine a politician saying today, “All of the US’s law about slavery before the civil war was perfect. It doesn’t apply to us, and we shouldn’t use it, but it was such great law, perfect for the people of that time and place, and its authors were flawless and morally perfect.” This is exactly what Jesus did, and it is disgusting and unforgivable. Also, the New Testament’s treatment of slavery is separately horrible, but that is outside the scope of this post.
We can’t judge God
This defense attempts to excuse slavery in particular by arguing that God is immune from our moral judgements generally. Sometimes, the defense is that we do not have the standing or authority to judge God. Other times, the defense is based on knowledge instead, claiming that we do not have the full picture and don’t know what God knows, and that he could have reasons we don’t or can’t comprehend for allowing slavery.
The irony of this defense is that the vast, vast majority of Jews and Christians judge God to be good. Whether they do this based on his teachings, his actions, or just by taking his word for it, this is undoubtedly a moral judgement upon God. If we can judge God to be good, we can judge him to be bad as well. Also, judgements of this nature do not require authority or standing. A beggar can rightfully call an emperor evil, despite having no power to act on or enforce his judgement. Drawing conclusions from observations is not something that needs a stamp of approval from an authority figure, and when we observe God committing evil acts, we are forced to conclude he is evil.
As for our incomplete knowledge: we have examined all reasons we can think to justify God’s actions and found them lacking, but it is of course possible that God has some hidden reason we can’t comprehend that makes slavery OK. It’s also possible that Hitler or Jack the Ripper had some hidden reason that justified their actions; maybe they were time travelers acting to prevent an even greater evil. When such reasons are found, we will change our judgement of these monsters – but until such time, we condemn them. Furthermore, this response can be given to any argument. When someone makes an argument, you can always respond, “OK, I can find no fault with your argument, but what if there is some fault that is beyond our comprehension? Therefore we shouldn’t accept your argument!” We can also reverse this argument. God seems to be loving and to teach peace and brotherhood, but what if there is some hidden reason we cannot comprehend that makes those things actually evil? No believer would accept this as a reason to stop calling love good, and thus it is clear this defense fails.
God is good by definition
This defense attempts to excuse slavery by defining God to be good. If God is defined to be good, then anything God does is good, so his law on slavery is good by definition.
A full discussion of ethics and meta-ethics is outside the scope of this post, but I will say this: the quibbling of philosophers rings empty in the face of horror. If you ask 99% of people to provide you with a complete and consistent definition of “car”, they will fail. They will be unsure of some of the edge cases (e.g. golf cart, hovercraft, car with parts progressively removed), and probably give inconsistent answers to appropriately designed hypotheticals. But they know a Toyota Camry is a car. No matter your philosophical shenanigans and your discussion of ideal forms or essences – if your definition of “car” does not include a Toyota Camry, you are wrong. So too, if your definition of “good” includes the horrors of OT slavery, you are wrong.
Defending slavery is not a morally neutral act. Those who try to excuse the horrors of OT slavery spit in the face of the millions who lived, suffered, and died as slaves. Who were stripped of their freedom and dignity and were treated as property. Who were beaten and abused at the whim of their masters for no reason at all. Who were mercilessly raped after watching their families be murdered in front of their eyes. Who were torn away from their spouses and children, never to see them again.
Slavery alone is enough to refute entirely the idea that the Old Testament was written by a good being. Those who maintain it was inspired by God and records his true words must accept that he is evil, and should they follow him nonetheless, they become complicit in his horrors. Apologists of slavery have a lot to apologize for.
It would seem that Christians have no choice but to concede that God did not attempt to end slavery but rather just applied some modest and mostly inconsequential adjustments to the practice. Un-indoctrinated observers will see this as explosive evidence that the scriptures were written by men with no divine intervention.
(2830) Matthew’s confusion
The Bible contains thousands of contradictions, most of which are between different books and different authors, which is not unusual given a reasonable assumption that they are working within their own limits and not receiving any measure of divine guidance. But what is more egregious is when a singular author contradicts himself, as can be seen in the following two excerpts from the Gospel of Matthew:
“Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law—a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.”
Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?”
Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.
We have to assume one of two things. Either Matthew made a mistake documenting one or both of these Jesus quotes or Jesus himself was mightily confused about how family members should interact with each other. Christians should be excused for being justifying confused as to which of these scriptures they should take to heart.
(2831) Religions created for social cohesion
There are two potential principal reasons why religions exist- either there actually exists a supernatural conscious deity (deities) that interacts in some way with humans, or religions provide a framework for (lack of a better term) lubricating the workings of civilization. The first is a response to an external stimulus, the second is an internal mechanism found to be useful. The fact that the latter is well documented and the former is inexhaustibly nebulous, it can be averred that the plethora of religions over history is much more a response to utility than an artifact of interactions with supernatural creatures. The following was taken from:
Even though there is no actual proof a God exists, societies still created religions to provide social control – morals, rules. Religion has three major functions in society: it provides social cohesion to help maintain social solidarity through shared rituals and beliefs, social control to enforce religious-based morals and norms to help maintain conformity and control in society, and it offers meaning and purpose to answer any existential questions.
Religion is an expression of social cohesion and was created by people. The primary purpose of religious belief is to enhance the basic cognitive process of self-control, which in turn promotes any number of valuable social behaviors.
The only “reasoning” there may be a God is from ancient books such as the Bible and Quran. Why should we believe these conflicting books are true? Why should faith that a God exists be enough? And which of the many religious beliefs is correct? Was Jesus the son of God or not?
The fact that religions would surely exist even without the existence of gods is qualifying evidence to suppose that the supernatural component is probably missing. This supposition is intensified by the fact that there are no well documented interactions with otherworldly beings, at least none that meet scientific scrutiny.
(2832) Punishment in eternity
Christianity created a problem for itself when it introduced the idea that human beings will exist in an eternal afterlife, either in heaven or hell. Not the least of which is the fact that the difference between the two destinations combined with the unending time frame poses a stark dividing line whereas human behavior and actions lie on a continuous scale.
In the real world, punishment is usually served as incarceration for a given period of time. Say, a 40-year old person is sentenced to a 5-year prison sentence. He gets out at 45 and lives another 40 years. This works out logically. But what if humans lived for a million years on average. Then, a 5-year sentence would be mostly meaningless. In prison for 5 years, and then 999,955 more years of freedom. To have any impact, the term of prison would have to be significant portion of the person’s expected remaining life span, or in this case, around 50.000 years at least.
So, instead of a million years, we are talking about eternity, a concept that is outside the imagination of human brains. Extrapolating from the example above, it can be seen that there is no finite amount of punishment time that can be administered in an eternal situation that has any impact whatever. So, for example, it would not make sense to send someone to hell for a billion years, and then say, ‘OK that’s enough, now you can go to heaven.’ Fine, after that you get to spend a trillion trillion trillion years in heaven, and you’ve just begun. In mathematical terns, the percentage of time you spend in prison (hell) compared to the time you will spend in freedom (heaven) is zero. Therefore, timed punishment does not work in an eternal framework.
There were some half-hearted but recently discarded efforts to install a timed punishment scheme by ‘creating’ limbo or purgatory for people not good enough for heaven but not bad enough for hell, but, as the example above shows, such a time-limited punishment is meaningless in the course of an eternal afterlife.
So how could this problem have been avoided? There are two possibilities:
(1) limit the afterlife to a certain period of time, perhaps a thousand years for each person. This would allow for a justifiable and effective gradation of punishment by sentencing persons to a certain amount of time in hell before they are granted heaven, but now with less time remaining to enjoy it.
(2) create thousands of afterlife destinations, from the worst to the best, such that each person would be granted an eternity in one of these locations. This would avoid the abrupt separation between heaven and hell, and give each person a representative afterlife commensurate with the righteousness of their earthly life.
In the final analysis, an eternal afterlife is obviously a fictional concept from the start, and it creates a situation where it is virtually impossible to apply a fair system of justice. Once it is acknowledged that there is no afterlife, all of these mental contortions disappear.
(2833) Parental influence on adult religious belief
The Pew Research Center conducted a study to measure the effect of a person’s parents’ religious affiliation on their own affiliation once reaching adulthood. The data shows that the correlation is statistically significant. The following was taken from:
Because Christianity bases its judgement scheme on a person’s religious beliefs, the above indicates that some individuals are, through no fault of their own, handicapped, as compared to others, for achieving a favorable outcome in the afterlife. Once again, this points out the utter absurdity of basing the afterlife assignment on what someone believes rather than their actions and content of their character. This is where Christianity fails and it fails in a spectacular manner- not only is this judgment scheme unfair, but it disincentives expressions of kindness, charity, and acceptance while promoting division, strife, and condemnation.
(2834) Explaining why the universe has no cause
Christian apologists often assert that everything must have a cause and that that therefore the universe as a whole must have a cause, and, of course, they go on to assume that this cause was their preferred god, Yahweh. The following analysis uses physics to contradict this line of reasoning:
So, lately, I’ve watched some William Lane Craig (WLC) interviews and got interested in the Kalam (KCA). The KCA is aiming to give weight to the claim that the universe had a cause. I’ll try to challenge this.
The first premise of WLC’s version of the KCA posits that ‘everything that begins to exist has a cause’. To this end, WLC defines ‘beginning to exist’ thusly (not an exact quote):
“Something begins to exist at the time T if it exists at time T and T is the first point in time at which it exists.”
In physics, time is a property of the universe, which is inextricably linked to the existence of space (spacetime) and the arrow of time (its direction) is defined by entropy production. Therefore, time – as we understand it – is defined by the existence of the universe and the occurrence of irreversible processes within it. So, at the first point in time – the first point where we can define time in this sense – the universe had to already exist. Hence, my first premise:
P1: The universe ‘began to exist’ at the first point in time.
From what I can tell, WLC agrees with this.
Having defined time, I want to define what causality is. I don’t know of any definition given by WLC so I’ll give my own. Consider two distinct events A and B.
Event A causes event B if B happens because of A.
Therefore, information needs to be transmitted from event A to event B. According to special relativity, the maximum speed at which this can occur is the speed of light c. If the spatial distance between A and B is a length d, then the minimum ‘temporal distance’ between A and B is (d/c).
If d=0 (A and B have the same location) there still has to be a ‘temporal distance’ between the two, since it was assumed that A and B are distinct and two events in the same location at the same time (i.e. with the same spacetime coordinates) are the same event. From this, my second premise follows:
P2: If an event A causes an event B, then A needs to occur at an earlier point in time than B.
This holds in all reference frames.
From the two premises we can surmise: Since the universe ‘began to exist’ at the first point in time and a cause must occur at a time before the cause,
C: The universe can’t have a cause since there was no point in time before it existed.
The KCA fails to incorporate the fact that time and space are intertwined and that events of causality are limited by the speed of light. If the universe has no cause then there is no reason to assume the existence of a god, as everything that has happened since can be explained in the absence of any supernatural beings.
(2835) Jesus’ resurrection was not unique
Christianity did not plow new ground by claiming that its originator had been raised back to life after dying. Rather, it borrowed this theme from earlier religious traditions. The following was taken from:
Thesis: There were many different resurrections before Jesus’. Therefore, Jesus’ resurrection is not unique.
Jesus’ resurrection is no different than many other stories of dying and rising saviors. Even in the New Testament, figures such as Lazarus rose from the dead, just like Jesus. In fact, Lazarus was dead for even longer than Jesus was (four days)! The words typically used for resurrection in the NT, egeirō and anistēmi, were used for the resurrection of tons of different figures in the ancient world. For example ,with Alcestis, Epiphanius regarded Alcestis’s emergence from Hades as an example of resurrection, along with other similar stories (Epiphanius Anc. 85.1–3). Epiphanius describes Alcestis as being “raised” (egeirō) by Heracles.
Osiris is clearly expressed to have been resurrected in one of the Pyramid Texts: “Osiris awakes, the languid god wakes up, the god stands up, the god has power in his body. The King awakes, the languid god wakes up, the god stands up, the god has power over his body. Horus stands up and clothes this King in the woven fabric which went forth from him.” This may be one of the earliest affirmations of the afterlife in ancient literature.
In ancient Greek literature, many men and women were resurrected from the dead and became immortal. Asclepius was killed by Zeus, only to be resurrected into a major deity. Achilles, after being killed, was resurrected, brought to an immortal existence in either Leuce, the Elysian plains or the Islands of the Blessed. Memnon, Alcmene, Castor, Heracles, and Melicertes were figures considered to have been resurrected to immortality or deity.
According to Herodotus’s Histories, Aristeas of Proconnesus was resurrected and gained immortality. He also left an empty burial place and later appeared to people.
There are many other examples of this. Wiki writes:
“The concept of resurrection is found in the writings of some ancient non-Abrahamic religions in the Middle East. A few extant Egyptian and Canaanite writings allude to dying and rising gods such as Osiris and Baal. Sir James Frazer in his book The Golden Bough relates to these dying and rising gods, but many of his examples, according to various scholars, distort the sources. Taking a more positive position, Tryggve Mettinger argues in his recent book that the category of rise and return to life is significant for Ugaritic Baal, Melqart, Adonis, Eshmun, Osiris and Dumuzi.
Greek philosophers generally denied this traditional religious belief in physical immortality. Writing his Lives of Illustrious Men (Parallel Lives) in the first century, the Middle Platonic philosopher Plutarch in his chapter on Romulus gave an account of the mysterious disappearance and subsequent deification of this first king of Rome, comparing it to traditional Greek beliefs such as the resurrection and physical immortalization of Alcmene and Aristeas the Proconnesian, “for they say Aristeas died in a fuller’s work-shop, and his friends coming to look for him, found his body vanished; and that some presently after, coming from abroad, said they met him traveling towards Croton”. Plutarch openly scorned such beliefs held in traditional ancient Greek religion, writing, “many such improbabilities do your fabulous writers relate, deifying creatures naturally mortal.”
Alcestis undergoes resurrection over a three-day period of time, but without achieving immortality.
The parallel between these Greco-Roman and Middle Eastern stories of Resurrection and the later resurrection of Jesus was not overlooked by the early Christians. Justin Martyr argued:
“when we say … Jesus Christ, our teacher, was crucified and died, and rose again, and ascended into heaven, we propose nothing different from what you believe regarding those whom you consider sons of Zeus.” (1 Apol. 21).”
All of this, of course, makes it equally likely that the belief in Jesus’ resurrection just stems from these stories.
One of the hallmarks of a true religion would be its uniqueness. Christianity fails that test. Christians will often state that if Jesus had not resurrected, then a widespread belief in it would not have occurred, but the history of belief in other resurrections belies that assertion.
(2836) Jesus asserts belief in a unitarian god
The gospels fail to confirm in a conclusive manner the conventional Christian doctrine that God is composed of three persons- the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Usually, apologists will point to wording in John, Chapter 1, that hints at this concept. But to make matters worse for overburdened apologists, a verse in John, Chapter 20, completely obliterates the trinitarian concept. The following was taken from:
Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God(John 20:17). Can God have a god? This is of course impossible because it doesn’t make sense. How can an all powerful God have a god? Yet here we see that Jesus (AS) clearly states that he goes to his “Father” who is also his “God”. If Jesus is God than he cannot say that he has a god. Christians might say that he meant this in his humanity. First, nowhere does he say that he’s saying this out of his humanity. Second, why doesn’t Jesus say “I go to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, who are also my God”. Clearly, Jesus (AS) only sees the Father as his God. Even in his humanity, Jesus (AS) should be able to say that he goes to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. If he doesn’t say Son because he is the Son, than he should say Holy Spirit. Jesus (AS) clearly shows here that he himself believes in a unitarian God, not a trinitarian one.
The dogma of the Trinity evolved as a result of making Jesus into a god, one of Christianity’s biggest mistakes. There really wasn’t a need to do that. They could have kept Jesus as being a prophet, similar to Elijah, who also ascended to heaven, and as a result kept a monotheistic view of God. As it now stands, they are telling us to believe in the Bible while holding views in opposition thereof.
(2837) The mother and the cyclone
A real world scenario can show how humans show greater compassion than the god who is described in the Bible. The following was taken from:
I was thinking about God creating all humans (his children) and only some going to heaven while the rest suffer in hell. Some folks believe we have free will to choose heaven, others say that we were destined from birth one way or another.
Now, picture this in a contained human scenario: A mother has a bunch of kids playing outside. A terrible cyclone is coming and she needs to get the kids to safety before they are killed. She asks the kids to come inside, and some of her kids do, but some don’t. Some throw a tantrum, some don’t hear her, and some think she is joking.
If I was a mother, I would physically remove all my kids, even if they gave me attitude. Most deeply flawed humans would likely do the same. I have to imagine it is in a Divine God’s power to save even non-believers, right? Or is he so heartless, powerless or negligent to let them suffer?
If you believe God has already chosen his people for heaven, then the human scenario grows more sinister. The mother caught in the cyclone would deliberately choose her favorite children to live and others to die. That’s fucked up, even by human standards.
This is an insightful analogy and it reminds one of the movie, The Wizard of Oz, during the tornado scene when everyone is going into the shelter but they don’t know where Dorothy is. Her mother would be mimicking God if she said, “Ah, just let her die.”
(2838) Failed prophecies can spawn new religions
Humans have a tendency to latch on to people who make prophecies even after the prophecies fail. In some cases, entire religions form around these failures, which are conveniently reinterpreted to mean something different than what was previously understood. Christianity survived a failed prophecy as well. The following was taken from:
In addition to being a historic event, one might be forgiven for thinking that the inauguration of President Biden and Vice President Harris would sound the death knell of QAnon conspiracy theories. Now that Biden is actually president and QAnon predictions about Trump’s continuing hold on power have failed to come to fruition it would seem logical that they would pack up shop and admit that they were wrong. But if history has taught us anything it is that failed prophecies and frustrated predictions don’t always mark the beginning of the end for radical social movements. With apologies to Madonna, it’s prophets who are the mothers of reinvention.
In the early 19th century, New York farmer and Baptist preacher William Miller preached that the return of Jesus Christ was imminent. His prophecy was based largely on his study of the biblical book of Daniel. His interpretation led him to conclude, initially at least, that Christ would return sometime between March 1843 and 1844. When March 1844 passed without the appearance of Christ and his angels in the sky, Miller picked another date —April 18, 1844—which also slid by without cosmic incident or divine intervention. A follower of Miller’s, Samuel Snow, proposed a third date in October, but the Day of Judgment had still not arrived. The Millerites were understandably disillusioned. One member, Henry Emmons, wrote that he had to be helped to his bedroom, where he lay “sick with disappointment.”
You would think that three false prophecies, collectively known as the Great Disappointment, would be the end of the Millerites. To be sure, some members did leave to join the Shakers, but others began to reinterpret the prophecies about the end of days. One group began to argue that they were only partly wrong. The prophecies weren’t about the Second Coming and end of the world but, rather, about the cleansing of a heavenly sanctuary. It wasn’t an earthly event, it was a heavenly one, and this explained why, to us mere humans, it might appear that nothing had happened. It was out of this group that the Seventh Day Adventist Church arose. Today the Seventh Day Adventist Church has between 20-25 million members. They are, according to Christianity Today, “the fifth largest Christian communion worldwide.”
Ironically, the prophecies in Daniel that formed the basis for the Millerite (and many other!) prophecies about the end of the world were themselves the product of dashed expectations. Though it is set in the sixth century B.C., Daniel was written during the reign of the Seleucid king Antiochus Epiphanes IV (175-164 B.C.). At the time Judeans were wrestling with the Antiochus’s attempts to eradicate Jewish customs and traditions like Sabbath observance, circumcision, and dietary laws. As a response to this crisis the book contains a series of prophecies about what would happen at the end of time. The dates are very specific and, after the first date for the restoration of the Temple given in Dan. 8:12 passed without incident, a later author was forced to add a second prophecy (Daniel 12:11-12) to account for the mistake.
Clinging to a belief despite evidence to the contrary isn’t just a religious phenomenon. On 8 June, 68 A.D. the Roman emperor Nero died a few miles outside of the city of Rome. Fearing the wrath of the Senate and concerned that a gruesome end awaited him, Nero had his secretary help him commit suicide. Even though Nero was dead, legends about his return persisted for centuries. At least three imposters emerged during the reigns of his successors. Each pretender gained followers, was captured, and killed but the Nero Redivus legend continued to gain traction with his supporters.
While it might seem that the moral of this story is ‘be vague about your prophecies,’ the book of Daniel is in our Bibles and the Seventh Day Adventist Church is a major denomination in Christianity. The initial prophecies weren’t strictly accurate, but the movements they generated pivoted and flourished.
Social psychologists call this phenomenon cognitive dissonance. In their classic treatment, When Prophecy Fails, Leon Festinger, Henry Riecken, and Stanley Schachter studied the case of the Seekers, a small UFO religion that believed that they would leave the Earth in a flyer saucer before daybreak on Dec. 21, 1954. After the non-arrival of extraterrestrials, the group’s leader, Dorothy Martin, changed her name and continued to prophesy. Festinger and his colleagues concluded that when groups are deeply convinced that they are correct and individuals have social support from other members of their group, beliefs can be maintained even in the face of overwhelming counter evidence. According to Festinger, fringe members of a movement experiencing a moment of cognitive dissonance are more likely to admit they were wrong, but devotees double-down, reinterpret, and regroup.
Though Festinger’s work has been criticized by others, the theory can explain how some people cling to their belief structures even when they have been proven wrong. In the case of QAnon this has already happened. Hilary Clinton was supposed to have been arrested three years ago. Joe Biden was never supposed to have become president. As Chine Labbe, European managing editor at NewsGuard told the Financial Times, “there’s been lots of predictions from the beginning, none of which have come to fruition… but this didn’t prevent the [QAnon] Movement from growing.”
QAnon has already claimed a seat in Congress and branched out into the wellness industry, so there’s no reason to think that the 2020 U.S. election will be the death of the movement. It certainly doesn’t help that former President Donald Trump said in his parting remarks that he “will be back in some form.” All of which suggests that even if Trump is convicted, QAnon Trump loyalists—like supporters of Nero—may be holding out hope for years to come.
Christianity survived a failed prophecy allegedly uttered by Jesus:
“Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened.”
Either by ignoring or reinterpretation, this problem seemed to have had little impact on the success of the faith. This seems to be the outgrowth of a vulnerability of the human mind to reject or bend reality once an embedded strong belief is otherwise shown to be false. Religions thrive on this mental short-circuit.
(2839) Seven stages of gaslighting
Christianity operates on a model defined by the techniques of gaslighting. This approach is the main reason why so many intelligent people are duped into believing what otherwise would be seen as being obviously untrue. The following was taken from:
The 7 Stages of Gaslighting
Gaslighting is a form of psychological manipulation in which a person or a group covertly sows seeds of doubt in a targeted individual or group, making them question their own memory, perception, or judgment, often evoking in them cognitive dissonance and other changes including low self-esteem.
- Lie and Exaggerate
The gaslighter creates a negative narrative about the gaslightee (“There’s something wrong and inadequate about you”), based on generalized false presumptions and accusations, rather than objective, independently verifiable facts, thereby putting the gaslightee on the defensive.
- Original sin
- God and Satan
- Heaven and Hell
- Commandments and Sin
Like psychological warfare, the falsehoods are repeated constantly in order to stay on the offensive, control the conversation, and dominate the relationship.
- Church, community, prayer, holidays, scriptures
- 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
16 Rejoice always, 17 pray continually, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
- Escalate When Challenged
When called on their lies, the gaslighter escalates the dispute by doubling and tripling down on their attacks, refuting substantive evidence with denial, blame, and more false claims (misdirection), sowing doubt and confusion.
- Apologetics, shame and victim blaming, appeal to fallacies
- Wear Out the Victim
By staying on the offensive, the gaslighter eventually wears down their victim, who becomes discouraged, resigned, pessimistic, fearful, debilitated, and self-doubting. The victim begins to question her or his own perception, identity, and reality.
- Confession, prayer, commandments, purity culture
- Form Codependent Relationships
The Oxford Dictionary defines codependency as “excessive emotional or psychological reliance on a partner.” In a gaslighting relationship, the gaslighter elicits constant insecurity and anxiety in the gaslightee, thereby pulling the gaslightee by the strings.
The gaslighter has the power to grant acceptance, approval, respect, safety, and security. The gaslighter also has the power (and often threatens to) take them away. A codependent relationship is formed based on fear, vulnerability, and marginalization.
- Purity culture, communion, confession, sacraments,
- Called to spread the Good News
- Personal relationship with Jesus, walk with Christ
- Being saved
- Give False Hope
As a manipulative tactic, the gaslighter will occasionally treat the victim with mildness, moderation, and even superficial kindness or remorse, to give the gaslightee false hope. In these circumstances, the victim might think: “Maybe he’s really not that bad,” “Maybe things are going to get better,” or “Let’s give it a chance.”
But beware! The temporary mildness is often a calculated maneuver intended to instill complacency and have the victim’s guard down before the next act of gaslighting begins. With this tactic, the gaslighter also further reinforces a codependent relationship.
- Afterlife, Heaven
- “God is in control, It’s all part of God’s Plan”
- Confession, Forgiveness, Repentance
- Dominate and Control
At its extreme, the ultimate objective of a pathological gaslighter is to control, dominate, and take advantage of another individual, or a group, or even an entire society.
By maintaining and intensifying an incessant stream of lies and coercions, the gaslighter keeps the gaslightees in a constant state of insecurity, doubt, and fear. The gaslighter can then exploit their victims at will, for the augmentation of their power and personal gain.
- Love and fear god
- “Lean not on your own understanding”
By using these seven techniques, Christian sects corral their victims into accepting a false version of reality that makes them easy targets for manipulation, control, and fleecing. The end result is funneling people into a chute where individualism, personal growth, objective knowledge, and mental freedom are restricted.
(2840) The island ghost
The following analogy and discussion reveals the illogicity of believing in a being while at the same time admiting that nothing would be different if that being did not exist. The Christian belief in Yahweh falls into this category.
Imagine you have been trapped for ten years on a tiny island with two good friends named Tim and Tom, a ghost named George that only Tom can see, and a coconut tree. One day Tim tragically dies in a falling coconut accident. Will you notice any changes in life on the island? You might notice you and Tom have as many more coconuts to eat as Tim used to eat. You might also notice you have half as many friends to interact with. Tom will claim to have only a third as many friend to talk to since George the ghost is still there, but George does not seem to be giving Tom any useful knowledge about himself, the island, or how to survive on the island. Nor does George physically help out in any noticeable way on the island. If fact, the existence of George is practically identical to the non-existence of George. So you ask Tom “If George were to leave this island, how would you know? How would things change here on the island?” Tom responds “If George were to leave, I would know it in my heart. But George will never leave me.” You are not convinced. How could Tom convince you that George was real?
Christianity has made many claims about the intervention of God in our world. The following are just a few of the claims that Christianity used to make about God’s measurable influence the world, but for which it has recently been less vocal about as the purview of scientific and statistical scrutiny expands.
- God sends plagues and diseases as punishment for particular sins.
- God grants military victory to the side he considers righteous.
- God heals the righteous asking for healing more than the unrighteous.
- God gives superior practical wisdom and knowledge to the righteous.
Christianity has been backing away from these claims for good reason. These claims do not hold up scientifically or statistically. All of these claims should be statistically detectable given the tools of science we now have available to us, yet there is no corroborating evidence found in the statistical data.
But what of the many earnest testimonies of individuals swearing they could not have done X if God had not been there to assist them?
First, the aggregate of all these testimonies should result in something statistical detectable. Yet it is not.
Second, individuals of religions incompatible with Christianity are making identical claims of divine intervention, but, of course, attributing the cause to their own God.
Third and most important, many individuals consider themselves incapable of overcoming certain temptations, of doing well academically or athletically, and of making decisions that will further their goals. They attribute any positive outcome in their lives to a power higher than themselves, the power most commonly cited being the God of their culture. Yet when carefully examined, these individuals have more than enough will-power, intelligence, skill and training to have accomplish what they have on their own without a God. There is nothing about their accomplishments beyond the scope of a natural explanation.
So, how would our world change if the alleged Christian God were to disappear? There is strong reason to believe a world without God would be identical to the one we currently experience.
This remains the skeleton in Christianity’s closet- that an omnipotent, omniscient deity who is interested in monitoring and interfering in human activity would leave the world looking exactly like it would if it did not exist. Sceptics have a rational basis for demanding more evidence.
(2841) God commanding worship is unsettling
It is inevitable that when humans create a god that they will imbue that god with traits with which they themselves are familiar. This is where the Abrahamic religions made the mistake of signaling that Yahweh’s number one priority was for people to worship him. The folly of this idea is discussed below:
Christianity teaches that God is the creator of everything and everyone. That even the universe is even bigger than we imagine it to be Billions upon billions upon billions of galaxies further containing trillions upon trillions of stars and planets. So sizing everything up makes this Earth and it’s puny, powerless humans look like a mere speck in a grand scheme……….like scattered dust in a desert
So now the question boils down to God, the Infinite, All Powerful, All Knowing and All Perfect Grandmaster needing human praise.
I find that concept as dumb as me commanding a bunch of bacteria hovering in the air, to sit down and sing praises to my name.
And even the idea that God cares about us, he looks after us, wants the best for us and doesn’t want us to be destroyed at the end of the world sounds cringey
Isn’t that also the same as me observing, caring for, and pampering the ants at my backyard?
Creating an all-powerful god who is inexplicably so needy that he requires the praise of his creation is absurd. But also predictable, especially by people who thought that the earth was the center of a very small universe governed by a god whose full attention was focused on them. In hindsight we can see how this idea, now quite dated, originated in the Middle East Bronze Age.
(2842) Doctrinal clarity
If God is what Christians claim that he is, he should be the greatest author of all time. The book he inspired (dictated) should amaze us in its structure, word choice, and clarity. Instead, the Bible is a jumbled mess of confusion. The following was taken from:
Imagine you are sadly expected to die in a couple of days. You desperately want your young children to precisely understand 1) who you are, 2) your will for their lives, and 3) rules to live by. Fortunately, due to your legal and journalistic background, you are the most precise writer on the face of the Earth. You fully understand what words will unequivocally convey your message to your children to avoid any confusion and disunity among them. What would your message look like?
Would it look anything like the Bible? Or would it instead have a precision even greater than legal and scientific documents? Why would any actual God write in the vague manner found in the Bible? Has the Bible led to more doctrinal unity than have other alleged holy books? Why would any actual God choose to communicate in a way that offers no more doctrinal clarity than do other alleged holy books? Is this not sufficient reason to doubt its divine origin?
There are hundreds of doctrinally diverse denominations who cite the Bible as their source of doctrine.
Consider the following doctrinal issues, many of them central to Christianity:
The Biblical canon | Speaking in tongues | The end times | Masturbation | Prosperity gospel | Liberation theology | Divorce | Salvation by faith alone | Significance of baptism | Female leadership | Homosexuality | Faith healing | An allegorical Genesis | Ecclesiastical authority | Demon possession | The mechanism of atonement | Age of accountability | The nature of Hell | Modern prophecy | Ecumenicalism | Eternal security | Relevance of the Mosaic law | Pacifism | A legitimate marriage | The conditions for answerable prayer | Taking vows
If you were to survey 1,000 Christians, even from the same denomination on these doctrines, what do you think you’d find? Do you think your findings would reflect the degree of unity that would confirm the Bible was written by a powerful and wise God who is fully capable of finding a method of reliably communicating his essence and moral intentions to humans?
Another interesting project would be to isolate two newly converted Christians from the doctrinal opinions of other Christians, and to simply let them read the Bible and extract doctrines as they sincerely understand the passages. What do you think you’ll find? Do you think the Bible has the precision that would allow them to reach doctrinal consensus?
Another interesting dimension is the historical evolution of Biblical doctrines. Simply consider the changing notions concerning demon possession, slavery and the treatment of non-Christians as cultures and science evolved. Would this be possible if the Bible had been written by an actual God who foresaw the diverse contexts the Bible would be read in?
Not only is the Bible missing the clarity and precision we would expect if it were written by a God as his primary source of communicating his essence and moral intentions, but it contains imprecision comparable to other alleged holy books as evidenced by the diverse and often quite polarized doctrinal positions found among Christians today.
This should be a fatal discrepancy that kills the Christian movement, but excuses are always available for insincere apologists and unthinking congregants. The Bible is the best evidence that the Christian god, at least with the properties he is assumed to possess, does not exist.
(2843 ) God is limited, apathetic, or non-existent
If we incorporate the claims of Christianity- that God is omnipotent and that he desires for all to come to know him, we encounter a conundrum that leaves us with only three options, as discussed below
According to the bible, nothing is impossible for god (Luke 1:37). Further, god desires for all people to be saved and come to know “the truth”, which in the context of the verse presumably means the existence of Jesus, heaven and hell, salvation, etc. (1 Timothy 2:3-4).
And yet, despite the biblical god’s supposed power and desires, there are many who do not believe this god exists – in fact, according to the bible itself, far more people will go to “destruction” instead of “life” (Matthew 7:13-14).
Even further, despite the bible’s many claims of clearly observable miracles (country-wide plagues, mass resurrection, creation of food ex nihilo, interfering with orbits in our solar system, etc.), nothing of the sort happens today, with any supposed modern “miracles” being vastly reduced in scope and observability, and being of dubious veracity. This is despite the bible’s own acknowledgment that such miracles lead people to believe (Acts 9:40-42), which supposedly is what this god wants.
The only way out of this conundrum is to acknowledge falsehood in the bible. I’ll posit three options in this direction.
Option 1: The biblical god has limited power, meaning there are things impossible for it. Perhaps the absence of large-scale observable miracles in the modern day is due to this god having to conserve limited energy?
Option 2: The biblical god does not, in fact, desire for all people to be saved and come to know “the truth”.
Option 3: The bible is simply one more of many books of religious mythology, alleging a god that does not exist and historical miracles that did not happen. This elegantly explains the existence of people who do not believe in this god and the absence of modern miracles of the sort claimed to have happened in the bible.
A typical Christian would feel uncomfortable picking any of these options. But it seems that a fourth option is not available, other than an overused and poorly supported idea that God gives people free will to do as they may and that therefore they send themselves to hell. This concept would justifiably apply only in the situation where God makes his existence undeniable by performing contemporary miracles and staging direct appearances.
(2844) You must worship the ‘real’ cave digger
The following analogy reveals the fallacy of the Christian doctrine requiring worship of the ‘right’ god in order to attain eternal salvation:
Imagine you and your friend Tom discover a cave and step inside to avoid the rain. Tom says “Look at this amazingly dug cave. Wherever you have a dug cave, you must also have a cave-digger. Bob the cave-digger holds us accountable for thanking him for the cave.” You respond “I don’t quite see how all that follows. Couldn’t the cave have been dug by a natural process?” Tom says “Have you ever seen something other than a human dig a cave?” You admit you haven’t. Tom continues “We are morally obligated to thank Bob the cave-digger due to his obvious superiority.” You respond “But I honestly don’t detect any particular cave-digger when I look at the cave. Could not the cave have been dug by a Jeff or a Jill?” Tom responds “You are suppressing the truth in your unrighteousness. You actually see cave-digger Bob, but you are denying this out of rebelliousness. You therefore will have no excuse when cave-digger Bob shows up and asks you why you did not recognize him and thank him.” How would you respond to Tom?
There have been millions of humans who have never heard the Gospel of Jesus Christ. According to the Bible, these individuals, regardless of whether they believe in some non-Christian God, deserve damnation due to their thankless rejection of the true God who can be clearly perceived in nature.
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. (Romans 1:18-21)
When you look around at nature, do you see something that can be called a righteous God deserving of thanks? Tom looks at a cave, and suggests you must give thanks to a particular and obvious cave-digger, and you deserve his wrathful damnation if you don’t. Does the figure of the Christian God emerge from an observation of nature as the only possible cause of nature from among all candidate Gods? If a child in a remote village is erroneously thanking the wrong God for their existence, does that child deserve the wrath of God for following others who also got it wrong? And what if the existence of that child is so full of suffering they would be more thankful for death?
You will also notice that the “suppression of the truth in unrighteousness” seems to clump around cultures. In traditionally Christian societies, nearly everyone seems to have recognized that the Christian God is the correct God, while in traditionally Muslim societies in which the Christian God is known, they apparently unrighteously suppress the truth that the Christian God is the only real God. Is there something intrinsically more wicked about children born in these cultures that makes them invariably rebel against the Christian God they truly recognize in nature? Why this clumping of rebellion?
Would any actual God of the universe eternally damn individuals because they 1) thanked the wrong God, 2) honestly did not perceive a benevolent God, or 3) suffered a horrific life for which thanks would be absurd?
The exclusivity of the Christian salvation plan simply does not work in the multi-cultural, divided- geographic, and splintered-sectarian world in which we live. What might have worked? The idea that God evaluates each person by their actions, their heart, and their intentions regardless of what they believe or not believe about the presence of supernatural beings.
( 2845 ) Evaluating standards of evidence
The following example illuminates the way that Christians apply a much laxer standard of evidence for biblical stories than for similar stories rooted in contemporary times:
Perhaps the most effective way to ensure we are not fudging on our standards of evidence when encountering ancient claims of the miraculous is to simply sit down and explore our response to two identical events occurring at two different times. Let’s take a look at an example. The following verses describe the resurrection of dead bodies in Jerusalem:
And the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose, and came out of the graves after his [Jesus’] resurrection, and went into the holy city, and appeared unto many. (Matthew 27:52-53)
Now let’s consider a contemporary event that would parallel this event. Imagine reading the following newspaper article:
Ten years ago in a cemetery in New York City, the graves opened, and the persons who had been dead arose and appeared to many across New York City.
With your normal standards of evidence, you would very likely ask, at minimum, the following questions:
- How likely is it that the newspaper reporter is simply telling an outright lie for some reason?
- How likely is it that those who allegedly told the reporter about the alleged event were telling an outright lie?
- How likely is it that the story was largely embellished by the time of its documentation ten years after the actual event?
- Should we believe the story if the reporter is no longer available to crossexamine?
- Should we believe the story if the alleged witnesses are not named, prohibiting us from following up on the claim?
- Should we believe the story if the alleged witnesses are no longer around to cross-examine?
- Given the amazing nature of the alleged event, why was it not written down immediately?
- Given the densely populated location of this amazing alleged event, why are there no corroborating reports of the event?
If these questions naturally emerge from our normal standards of evidence for modern claims, why should we not require that ancient claims of the same sort satisfactorily address these questions?
We can then move to the most critical question: How does the likelihood of many dead bodies rising to be seen by many in New York City compare to the likelihood of the other candidate explanations?
I think most of us would reject to a high degree of confidence the claim of the newspaper article. Yet many give the Biblical account of dead rising and appearing to many in Jerusalem 2,000 years ago an unexplained special status that allows much weaker standards of evidence. Is this rational?
Of course, this credibility bias is not rational. It is based on an assumption that the Bible transcends all other historical documents because it alone was inspired by the creator god. However, this theory is falsified easily by observing the large number of contradictions, scientific errors or omissions, and other consistency issues in the scriptures.
(2846) Christianity feeds infantile needs
There is a theory that one of the motivations to create gods was to engender a feeling of safety and to set up a system of instruction to normalize behavior and knowledge- or in other words, to extend the delivery of childlike needs into adulthood. This was especially important at a time when humans had very little understanding of their place in the universe. The following was taken from:
I argue that Christianity at its core, while describing God, appeals to our child-like nature both as individuals and as a species. I will address this in two respects: one is the need for external safety and assurance, whereas two is the dependence on external guidance and instruction. The need to feel safe and the need to be told what to do. The Christian God is of course modelled to meet this need by becoming in more ways than one, A Heavenly Father.
The Need To Feel Safe.
The childlike dependence on a parent is seen in the childlike dependence of the faithful on God. To provide. To assure. Most importantly, to protect. This is especially true for the Christian God who in many respects is modelled akin to the patriarch, the Father. The one we can run to when distressed. As individuals, we would naturally seek out our strong, commanding fathers for safety from danger. As a species, when the nights were dark and full of terrors, the gods we invented satiated that need to imagine that whoever was in charge of things to be on our side. To be our powerful, loving father that we can run to, that we can only ask and they can vanquish our fears.
“… Religion comes from the period of human prehistory where nobody… had the smallest idea what was going on. It comes from the bawling and fearful infancy of our species, and is a babyish attempt to meet our inescapable demand for knowledge (as well as for comfort, reassurance and other infantile needs)” — Christopher Hitchens
The worship of the Christian God in this respect, promotes a more childish approach to the issue of safety, in more ways than one. Rather than take up the responsibility of dealing with our fears as a rational adult would (individual or species) by seeking to either face them or embrace them, the use of a God concept as a parent hinders this. In it’s place, it affirms the need for an Omnipotent Parent: a father who can do all, who can cure all ailments, who can vanquish all fears, who can defeat all evils. For a faithful, there must be an eternal justice, an eternal parent to care for us so that we cannot face the cold dark universe alone.
The Need for Instruction
Religion is something left over from the infancy of our intelligence, it will fade away as we adopt reason and science as our guidelines – Bertrand Russell
The second principle is the need to be told what to do. What to know. What to learn. The childlike dependence on a parent is that the child must have a parent to tell them what’s right and what’s wrong, to punish them when they err, to reward them when they excel and to inform them, to satisfy their curiosity. Unlike an adult, who’s grown out of this infancy to go out and investigate, to question, to debate, to learn from experience, the child depends, as an infant, fully on the parent’s say so.
This can be seen in the Christian God’s 1) moral precepts 2) knowledge claims.
Morality: the A.G has strict dos and don’ts with eternal rewards and punishments for the former and latter respectively. This is embodied in Divine Command Theory Rather than observe what is beneficial for humanity as a whole as an adult would rationally establish by method of reason, the child in the faithful defends ferociously the absolute for “God to tell us what to do”. For daddy to tell us what to do. Also important is the childlike fear of punishment, equally represented in the proper use of fear of hellfire. A mature, rational adult need not be enticed to do what is right or scared out of doing what is wrong, they understand already the logically explicable merits and demerits, and forego the same merits our of greed or vice. A child however, depends on this moral instruction. However wrong or right an action is, it is not encountered by rationality as an adult would, but depends upon the reliable and unerring (from the child’s perspective) instruction of the parent.
Knowledge: the A.G has told us what there is to know. Read the Bible or the Qur’an. In them are divine knowledge claims. No matter how observably wrong they are, the faithful will find caveats to maintain this childlike need for instruction, that we must be told what is true. Rather than seek out knowledge as an adult, this encourages dependence on divine revelation and using it to interpret all further discovery and learning — the need to understand everything as daddy would want me to understand. See the effect this has on scientific advancement. Both the Galileo affair and Copernicus’ troubles are evidence of scientific advancement being opposed by theological concerns — when Biblical revelation was put over methodical observation.
These childlike principles have two detrimental effects I continue:
1) The disruption of moral progress. In favour of sticking to the immutable and all-encompassing parental instruction, moral principles which do improve over time by learning and growth of knowledge are stunted. When we finally realise that no murder is divinely justified, that it has no damage to the fabric of society to let gay people marry, that no good comes out of the subjugation of fellow humans and that women are not subject to men, the worship of the Abrahamic is in the way of these developments, because rather than acknowledge the progress as an adult, the child must stick to what daddy said.
Steven Tracy, author of “Patriarchy and Domestic Violence” writes: “While patriarchy may not be the overarching cause of all abuse, it is an enormously significant factor, because in traditional patriarchy males have a disproportionate share of power… So while patriarchy is not the sole explanation for violence against women, we would expect that male headship would be distorted by insecure, unhealthy men to justify their domination and abuse of women.” – Tracy, Steven. (2007). Patriarchy and Domestic Violence: Challenging Common Misconceptions.
2) The disruption of scientific progress. Just as Galileo and Copernicus had difficulty establishing what we now take for granted as obvious truth — that is, that the Earth revolves around the Sun not the other way around — scientists today are coming up against theology in the struggle to establish another truth: evolution by natural selection. Here again, divine revelation had taken precedence over universally observable evidence to hinder a scientific theory and put in it’s place what is no more than an old myth from 1/10000 myths. Some more sympathetic and I dare say, more educated theologians have gone a step father to introduce theistic evolution, a concept driven by the childlike need to keep the parental instruction as an adult, where rationality has threatened to disturb thjs childish ignorance. Note that it is very common for Flat Earth proponents to justify their claims, you guessed it, theologically..
In summary, the dependence on the Christian God for moral instruction and knowledge about the universe and ourselves comes from the fearfulness and ignorance of the early stages of our species, much like an infant. Our more mature and knowledgeable species as it is today is contending with the religious nature to appeal to our infantile senses — to delegate responsibility of our fears and curiosities to someone who is not us, and to desperately crave for safety and security in this seemingly cold dark universe. To childishly crave for these needs so much, that we go as far as inventing a Father that we are sure will meet them. Or so we think.
This suggests that Christianity, as well as other religious faiths, is not so much a consequence of stimuli received from outside sources, but rather an internal reflection of fears that were quite understandable for its time. Now that we have a better understanding of how the world works, there is less need for a comforting fable.
(2847) Moving the goalposts
Religions have a dismal record anticipating scientific discoveries or holding ground against them. The proverbial ‘line in the sand’ is always temporary and has to be redrawn frequently when science overwhelms sectarian dogma. The following was taken from:
I find it very frustrating that religion (Christianity in my case as I was raised in a Christian household), is constantly backsliding on its claims when it comes to science.
A thousand years ago God literally created the earth in a week, now it’s just a metaphor. A hundred years ago the idea that we have a genetic code that determines who we are, not God, was blasphemy. Now most Christians would agree we have DNA. Currently it is unimaginable to imagine we are descended from apes, but likely in a hundred years many Christian’s might accept this, but dig their heels in the ground about something else.
There is constantly a line drawn in the sand by religion. God stands here. The waves of science wash over the line, they take a step back, and draw a line again.
This is not what would be expected from a truly god-inspired religion. It would be more likely that science, guided by fallible humans, would take positions that would later be shown to be false, then retreat to be in line with scripture. For example, a theory of evolution might be posed, but later evidence would force a return to a creation model. The fact of who advances and who retreats is very important here- if science retreats against religion, then it is a good sign that scripture is god-breathed. If religion retreats, it is a good sign that scripture was written by men without divine guidance.
(2848) Paul’s biggest blunder
Writing in his letter to the Romans, Paul endorsed in a de facto sense, the idea that all governing authorities were installed by God and that everyone should faithfully serve and obey them. This was his biggest blunder and it spawned huge measures of human misery over the ensuing twenty centuries. Resisting authorities is one of the major reason that we currently have more compassionate governments. The following was taken from:
But laypeople—even those who publish big newspapers—seldom dig deeply into the context of scripture, especially those parts of it that flowed from the mind of Paul. His letters are not easy to read, although bits and pieces stand out as feel-good verses, e.g. “love is patient and kind,” and “where the spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.” But it is a misreading of Paul to think that he contemplated various forms of human government, let alone that he favored democracy. It was Paul’s passionate belief that Jesus would soon arrive on the clouds to establish his kingdom; all human regimes would be eliminated.
Moreover, in the meantime, Paul was certain that all existing governments had been put in place by God, as he states in Romans 13. Christians have to deal with this shocking chapter, surely one of the biggest blunders in the New Testament; in fact there are several embarrassments here. The chapter opens with this declaration:
“Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.” (Romans 13:1-4)
We have to wonder if Paul was clueless about history. “…rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad.” Was he just not paying attention? Of course this would be no surprise since he was so obsessed with religion and consumed by his visions (= hallucinations) of Jesus. We now know enough about history—which Paul didn’t even see coming—to dismiss his optimistic view of rulers. Hitler and Stalin come to mind. And of course, Christian monarchs who claim the “divine right of kings” have appreciated this text. Christians who despised Obama would have to explain why, according to Paul, God had put him in the White House: and why would Trump have been defeated if he was still in God’s favor?
No one who cherishes modern democracy can endorse Paul’s view that those who resist government authority will “incur God’s judgment.” Or his declaration in verse 5: “Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience.” Paul was big on God’s wrath, which we can avoid by remaining submissive to those in authority. This is alien to the way we practice good citizenship.
Paul’s unqualified endorsement of the existing authorities is another indication that he believed the world order was soon coming to an end. With that in mind, any effort to change the status quo would seem pointless. In the end, this shows that Paul was clueless about the space he occupied within the landscape of human history.
(2849) Debunking argument from consciousness
One of the angles used by apologists to suggest the existence of a god is that the presence of consciousness in humans is not explainable solely by invoking the material structure of the brain. They argue that a non-material aspect is involved, and that this implies the workings of a supernatural being. But the preponderance of the evidence supports the concept that consciousness is a purely mechanical event located in cerebral tissue. The following was taken from:
Consciousness is material. It is the result of incredibly complex particle interaction in the brain, which is the result of billions of years of evolution by natural selection. It is in no way, shape or form, immaterial or supernatural. Time and time again, supernatural answers have been shown to be nothing more, than answers made out of ignorance. Over time, those “answers” get replaced by very reasonable, naturalistic explanations. Likewise, consciousness should be no different.
I found a short version of this argument by our favourite theist philosopher, William Lane Craig. It goes as follows;
- If God does not exist, intentional states of consciousness would not exist
- But intentional states of consciousness do exist
- Therefore, God exists
Craig’s argument is highly fallacious. It makes out that God and consciousness go hand-in-hand and so, if one exists, the other must surely exist as well. Yet this is a very hasty generalization.
Secondly, theists must prove that consciousness is immaterial. I have found no evidence whatsoever to support dualism or any other philosophical view that argues the mind is non-physical. Now, I know many theists will argue the human mind is too complex to have arisen by chance. But they’re forgetting the 3.5 – 4 billion years of evolution that took place, if they support the scientific evidence of evolution that is.
Brain activity and consciousness correlate to the point where we should assume one affects the other. If you’re wide awake, you’re fully conscious. When you’re asleep or in a coma, your level of consciousness goes down. When you’re dead, you have no brain activity, and therefore, no consciousness.
It is now well understood that consciousness is experienced by non-human animals and that self-conscious states exist in many advanced mammals. If consciousness is a property assigned by a god to those beings that he intends to reanimate after death, then it would seem that this god is interested in giving a second life to bonobos, dolphins, and other animals as well. As science advances, religious defenders will have to retreat on this argument, just like they have surrendered every time before.
(2850) Paul equates his vision to other apostles
The words Paul used to describe his vision of Jesus appears to imply that he believed that his revelation of Jesus was similar to what the other apostles experienced. This, along with his failure to provide any biographical details of Jesus, implies that he did not see Jesus as being a flesh and blood entity but rather a spiritual being who revealed himself to others through visions. The following was taken from:
Paul only claimed to have a vision, and is thus not a valid witness. Galatians 1:12 says that Paul had a “revelation” (which seems suggestive of a subjective experience) and Galatians 1:16 says that Jesus was “revealed in me.” Furthermore, Paul uses the word “ophthe” for his experience with Jesus in 1 Cor 15:8, and can refer to subjective visionary experiences, and most likely does in this case. “Ophthe” is the aorist passive form of horao. When used with the dative, it’s usually translated ‘He appeared’, and as such emphasizes the revelatory initiative of the one who appears. This is interesting in light of Gal 1:12, which calls Jesus’ appearance a “revelation.” Paul Badham says: ‘most New Testament scholars believe that the word ophthe […] refers to spiritual vision rather than to ocular sighting’ (Paul Badham, “The Meaning of the Resurrection of Jesus,” p. 31). Acts 26:19 explicitly calls Paul’s experience a “vision (optasia)”:
“After that, King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision.
The creed of 1 Cor 15:3-7 uses the word “ophthe” for the appearances to the apostles and James. Paul uses this word for his experience with Jesus as well as if to equate his experience with the other apostles and James, so if Paul claimed to have a vision and he equates his experiences with the others, it seems likely that the others apostles also just claimed to have visions. Furthermore, many of the apostles simply dropped out of reliable history, so all we are dealing with most likely is Peter, Paul, James the brother, and John son of Zebedee.
Imagine if you came up to someone trying to convince them that Jesus was the messiah, and the person trying to convince appealed to a vision h/she had 20 years prior to the conversation! They would be laughed off most likely. That is what we are dealing with in 1 Corinthians and other Pauline epistles.
This suggests that Jesus may have been nothing but a vision to his followers until 40 years later when the author of the Gospel of Mark wrote a story that placed him into the arena of actual history. This would help to explain why Paul was not conversant with any of Jesus’ actions, words, or miracles as later documented in the gospels.
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