|AGE OF REASON - READER FEEDBACK
New additions: November 26, 2006|
Betty writes: Earl, your latest Comment titled Götterdämmerung is beautiful and thought provoking. At the same time, it is sad, poignant, almost depressing, yet makes me so glad to be an unbeliever. My heart aches for those who cling to religious fantasies that falsely assure them of life after death. Their foggy eyesight can’t focus on the wonderful life they could have in the here and now. Our planet is practically ruined because of “heaven or paradise bound” religionists, thereby ruining any chance for our world to better itself. Fighting, always fighting; proselytizing, always proselytizing. And for what? Do they really care about others? Or is this simply an exercise in obedience to the dictates of a nonexistent savior to go into all the world, preach to every creature, and make disciples?
I’m not looking forward to the dying process, but I don’t fear death. The darkest cloud that hangs over my head in my declining years is not death, therefore, but the one that rains hatred and mistrust down on the heads of those of us who do not believe in supernatural beings. I hope it doesn't get worse for us before it gets better.
Based on human morality and ethics that do not involve a supernatural being, I personally can live a responsible, fulfilled life for as long as I have breath. I would be so much happier if every man truly became my brother, every woman my sister, every teen my pride, and every little child my delight– no matter how divergent our beliefs or non-beliefs are. If religion would stop insisting that everyone adopt the same belief system, i.e. theirs, perhaps this could happen. Perhaps peace for all could become reality not for just an earthly millennium, as some Christian denominations teach, but for as long as the sun bestows its life-giving rays, nurturing rain keeps our farmlands arable, undefiled air fills our lungs, and the planet remains in its orbit. But is it too late? What chance do we have with so many weapons of mass destruction in the hands of warmongering nations? If these nations do not worship supernatural gods, they seem to worship their human leaders who rule and punish like gods. Are there not enough earthlings to truly care about our planet? Have not yet enough gods faded out of existence?
E.D.: This is as fine a comment as I have received from a reader, and wonderfully
expressed. The future lies with people like Betty bold;">—indeed, it is our only hope.
Sarah writes: I appreciate
your review of The Passion of the Christ [Mel Gibson's film]. I think
you make many great points on the film and the acting. It was a
well made film and I, too recognized creative license with Jesus'
statement to His mother after falling with the cross. It still
stuck out to me, no matter how poetic it was.
"The saving death of Jesus represents a primitive concept, the principle of
There is much to be said about blood sacrifice in
both the old and new testaments, however I don't want to force feed
you. If you are interested, check out Hebrews 9:15, 10:3-7.
The concept was set up in the old testament to be completed in the new
E.D.: It is always good to get comments from the believing side of the
fence. I will let Sarah's sentiments speak for themselves, and simply
call attention to my review of The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins
and Letter to a Christian Nation
by Sam Harris, just posted. The only thing I will respond to here is
that the passages in the Epistle to the Hebrews do not deal with the
point I made, that nowhere in the bible is the principle of Jesus'
blood sacrifice, or any other blood sacrifice, explained.
Why should the bloodletting of animals, or of an incarnated Son of God,
bring about forgiveness or salvation? Why should it be the desire or
requirement of a God to be given such a form of sacrifice, why should
it persuade him to forgive sin, to answer prayer? The key verse in
Hebrews is actually 9:22: "Everything is cleansed by blood and without
the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness." Why? How does one
explain God, then or now, in such terms? Hebrews makes no attempt, nor
does any other ancient writer or modern theologian, to my knowledge.
The idea is a primitive one, arising in prehistoric times and human
thinking. My point was that we have progressed far beyond that sort of
thinking, yet we preserve it in Christian soteriology. In my review of The God Delusion
I quote Dawkins' discussion of Christian views of the Trinity. Similar
to any theological discussion of the blood sacrifice of Jesus,
Christian apologetic presentation of the Trinity is obscurantist and
unintelligible, probably because the doctrine itself is unintelligible.
To style either doctrine a "mystery" is a cop-out, the commission of
intellectual suicide (which explains why they are, or ought to be, "a
hard sell" to the modern rational mind). Dawkins quotes Thomas
Jefferson: "Ridicule is the only weapon which can be used against
unintelligible propositions." Uncovering their historical roots is
another. Just as the Trinity is better explainable as a theological
device invented in the early Christian centuries in order to induct
Jesus into the Godhead rather than a reasonable proposition that
eternal Godhead was in fact tripartite (how convenient for
Christianity, and what an insult to earlier Judaism that never enjoyed
the revelation of God's true nature from him), the blood sacrifice of
Jesus was simply an outgrowth of prehistoric concepts of placating and
dealing with deities. We may not yet have anthropologically uncovered
the full workings of the primitive human mind that came up with such an
idea (though Vardis Fisher in his early
Testament of Man novels attempted
to do so), but we have come far enough to reject the principle as
untenable for enlightened human society
—in all settings but one.
1. I am an engineer and I know from first hand experience that designers/builders/creators want their creation to function as designed.
2. Human beings are “designed” with the ability to think logically and reason deductively.
3. It is illogical and unreasonable to “just believe” in things for which there is no credible evidence.
4. This illogicality represents an aberration, a flaw in your function—you are not performing as you were designed to.
5. I would hate to be YOU on judgment day.
If you assume that you were designed
by a creator, combine that assumption with indisputable FACTS which you
can verify empirically (with your own eyes), and the conclusion is
inescapable—God does not want
you to believe in God!
Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe...For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men....God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise, God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong.
What an indictment
against everything that the rational mind holds
dear! What games God is presented as playing with those he created!
God, in his "wisdom" has set up this whole cockeyed scheme, where what
appears to be, is not, and what we are led to conclude and achieve
through our own devices is actually a trap to ensnare us. This "wisdom
of the world" cannot be God's product, since he
has set things up to discredit it. Human pride, enlightenment, progress—it's all a
dangerous aberration, contrary to the Deity's omnipotent
design. In fact, God has set up an acknowledged "folly" in their place.
The world itself has no value, since God places none upon it (except
perhaps as a testing ground) and demands that we fear and divorce
ourselves from it in order to attain salvation to some other place while trying to avoid an
horrific damnation to an
unspeakable fate he has provided for those who have fallen into his
trap. According to minds like Paul's, and Robert's, God has no
interest in making the present world a better one to live in. What did
his all-knowing Son do when he visited and 'dwelt among us'? Did he
give us the formula for penicillin? Explain optics to compensate for
in his Father's design of the eye? Perhaps some information on the
workings of nature, so that we might better cope with the often
difficult environment he provided for us? Did he give us an insight
into human psychology, and how
better to understand ourselves? No, he conversed with demons as the
instigators of illness; he talked endlessly of heaven and hell; he gave
messages about love while declaring that to follow him one must hate
one's father and mother, and warned that only through belief in himself
could anyone be saved, while the rest of humanity would be relegated to
unending pain and darkness. And he demonstrated that the route to
unlocking God's love and forgiveness was through the torture and murder
of himself by those same people who needed God's love and forgiveness.
. . . Of course we are on opposite ends of the faith spectrum, for I came from an apathetic, almost agnostic frame of mind to finally seeing the light. Nothing is as beautiful as finding God and I would hope everyone would, but we all know that is unlikely. I say unlikely because anything is possible with God! I noticed in your reply that you state that Christianity is pretty much a good for nothing religion or something along those lines. In speaking of Jesus you state;
"Did he give us the formula for penicillin? Explain optics to correct the flaws in his Father's design of the eye? Perhaps some information on the workings of nature, so that we might better cope with the often difficult environment he provided for us? Did he give us an insight into human psychology, and how better to understand ourselves?"
No, he did much more that that. Mere men have been able to accomplish such trivial things. Jesus reunited us with His Father so we could live for eternity with Him, rather than separated from Him.
First, when you speak of the environment today, I believe God has already explained why it has fallen. The reason is because of sin, that was our choice not His. Now I'm sure you won't want to waste time on theology so I will just make a brief statement. What has atheism truly given this world? Who has ever been inspired by atheism? What hope does atheism give to this world other than live now because it's all we got? Now let's ask the same question of Christianity, and I mean the "TRUE" Christianity that Jesus left for us. Look at the art, poetry (which you have a fondness for), missions, hospitals, orphanages, soup kitchens, charities even science that has been inspired by one person, Jesus Christ. I don't believe I have ever seen a St "who's kidding who" Hospital, or Our Lady of Intellectual Thought Missions. Now you name me one person who has inspired 1% of the people who Jesus has? How many millions have turned their lives around from hateful thinking to addictions to whatever else ails us, by turning to the true Christ? The hope, the beauty, the great anticipation of a loving God just waiting for us to choose Him with His arms wide open saying," I love you, now enter into your eternal paradise I have prepared for you". This is more real to me than thinking we are one big accident hurling through space heading nowhere with a gorilla as an ancestor. So I guess what I am saying is, thank God I am so foolish as to believe in Jesus. I know he will be waiting for me when I finally leave this world and I will be happy that I chose to love Him rather than laugh Him off as a foolish fantasy. Remember, love has to be a choice, it can't be manipulated or coerced, otherwise it is not love!
Thank you from the bottom of my heart, for strengthening my relationship with my savior Jesus Christ!! May you find His love again someday.E.D.: I think the word for all this is "sad." It is sad to live one's life so out of touch with reality. It is sad to be so fixated on sin, forced to believe that we ourselves are responsible for all the evil we encounter in our world. I call it "the guilt defense." It is not a defense of ourselves, but of God. The problem with belief in an omnipotent, all-loving God, is that one must defend him against all the evil in the world. How to do that? By declaring ourselves guilty! To justify the failings of God, we transfer the failings onto ourselves in order to absolve him. We have forced this omnipotent, all-loving God to punish us. In some twisted reverse irony, we crucify ourselves to forgive God's sins against us.
Such a doctrine is fatal to human pride, to optimism, to intellectual and emotional maturity. If the evil of the world, God's punishment, is so great and overwhelming, it can only mean that our own sin and degradation is equally great and overwhelming. It must mean that the world is a total write-off, along with our human selves, and so our focus must be on a future world and a transformed state. At the same time, as the ultimate punishment for sin, God has prepared a horrific place of damnation beside which the evils of this world are a summer picnic, a few troublesome ants and a bit of rain. Our energies must be devoted to avoiding this eternal torment and finding the 'eye of the needle' to squeeze into Heaven. To make matters worse, we are told that we have been offered this privileged place in God's company only through the murder of his Son, the sacrificed Lamb gutted on our behalf, the only means available to persuade God to unlock his mercy vault. (This doctrine is founded in the ancient and prehistoric practice of human and animal blood sacrifice; this is something which more modern times have long since repudiated as primitive and odious, yet it is perpetuated at the heart of Christian faith.)
Human pride? How about human sanity? How do we achieve simple mental health in the face of debilitating dogma like this? How do we achieve cohesiveness in human society when one set of preposterous beliefs is in mutually exclusive competition— sometimes bloody — with other preposterous beliefs? How do we raise our children to be functional in the world when we fill their heads with the nonsense that governs Robert's view of reality? I talked in one of my Age of Reason Comments about the mother in evangelical Middle America whose outlook on the world is so warped and soured she declares herself willing to see her 9-year-old daughter's life cut short by Jesus' Second Coming, which she hopes and expects is imminent. She has taught her daughter that the one thing she can be certain of in life is that Jesus died for her. (Seeing the daughter declare this on camera was particularly sad.) What messages about the world and human nature has that vulnerable young mind been infected with? How can she prepare for a productive and mature adulthood?
In Robert's eyes, none of this matters. After all, didn't Jesus ignore and dismiss it all as inconsequential beside the only thing that does matter, a future in another world which only he can guarantee? Another world whose arrival was imminent (2000 years ago!) while the present one was on the verge of being destroyed? Since Jesus gave us nothing to better our lot here on earth, nothing to improve our health, our self-knowledge, our understanding of the universe, these things are rendered unimportant — even inimical— to faith, since faith flourishes best in conditions of ignorance and a troubled spirit.
Robert speaks of Jesus inspiring so many. If Jesus preached a message of love (if he existed at all), it was not original to him and it was in any case an ambivalent one, since he preached intolerance in equal measure. (To reject the objectionable words placed in the mouth of the Gospel Jesus as inauthentic is simply to beg the question, since there is no secure method by which to judge such things.) In the Gospel of John, the dictum to "love one another" is not even universal, but restricted to members of the sect, the elect. (If you don't believe it, consider the plain meaning of John 13:35 in its context.) I don't need to detail the catalogue of horrors inspired by Jesus' name throughout 2000 years, against Jews, against infidels, against heretics, against the pagans and their ancient religions, against the New World populations, against Protestants, against Catholics, against blacks and various 'inferior' humans, against gays and lesbians, against atheists and other dissenters. Jesus inspired two millennia of belief in devils and witches. His parable with the line "compel them to come in" was the scriptural backbone of the Inquisition. Not a single advance in technology, in understanding and controlling the world around us, in medicine, in alleviating human misery or improving mental health, was prompted by the teachings of Jesus, and much was impeded. Jerome said that it was not necessary for a Christian ever to wash again once he had been washed in the blood of the Lamb. The churchmen of Galileo's day refused to look through the astronomer's telescope since, they declared, they already knew from scripture that the sun went around the earth. From lightning rods to stem cell research, religious belief has stood in the way of scientific advancement, of human rights, of education. Almost half the population of the United States lives in a lunatic state, expecting the Rapture within their own lifetimes, when they will be lifted out of this world and carried bodily into Heaven.
Robert says he'd rather believe in Genesis than Darwin or that he is descended from a gorilla. He makes the mistake of thinking that what he would prefer to be true is in fact what is true. But the world doesn't work that way. We should judge what reality is by the evidence, not by wishful thinking. What makes more sense? Robert's primitive, antiquated, jerry-built assemblage of irrational belief, for which there is not a shred of objective evidence, or the picture of a world that has passed through geological ages to support the evolution of life through natural processes, a picture supported by a mountain of evidence which forms the bedrock of modern science and its understanding of the world's workings? What makes more sense, the evolution of languages through long ages of human development and migration, or God striking down the presumptuous builders of a mud-brick tower and inflicting on them a 'babble' of different tongues? What makes more sense, that humanity, evolving without divine creation or direction, has flaws and failings, is capable of evil while slowly striving to improve itself, or that all evil proceeds from some first-parent sin of eating an apple in contravention of God's directive, an eternal Original Sin staining every descendant and requiring the blood sacrifice of a divine being to override? (To simply label the now-objectionable elements of the Bible as allegorical undermines its entire authenticity — and, of course, biblical inerrantists realize this and have taken refuge in uncritical acceptance that every word must be literally true. Perhaps even the life and figure of Jesus was meant to be allegorical.)
Robert asks about inspiration. What could be more inspiring than the work of scientists and researchers like Charles Darwin, who unlocked for us, after millennia of ignorance, the key to understanding our actual nature and heritage? What of the orator Robert Ingersoll who in the face of a 19th century establishment that could still throw freethinkers in jail for blasphemy, spoke out in public meetings about the irrationalities and repressive practices of religion? What of the late Carl Sagan, who helped open our minds to the wonders of the universe and to a fearless realization that we need see nothing supernatural behind it? Socrates, Democritus, Copernicus and Galileo, Sigmund Freud, the U.S. Founding Fathers, David Hume and Albert Einstein, countless others who owed no allegiance to church or dogma, all brought mankind to greater enlightenment and freedom and have been an inspiration to many. Medical researchers over the last two centuries have brought us better health and longer life, a conquest of many diseases (supposedly created by God), a slashing of infant mortality rates; we are on the verge of controlling our internal environment, perhaps even to do evolution one better and a lot sooner— one of it due to a Jesus who cast out demons and believed that the end of the world was at hand, and none of it requiring any belief in supernatural dimensions and divine overseers.
These are Robert's "mere men" with their "trivial" work who have done more than he is willing to acknowledge to better his own life and the lives of millions, more than all the fantasies of personal saviors and prophets and apocalyptic judges whose pragmatic usefulness to society would not fill a thimble. Robert also makes the mistake of thinking that advances which took place within Christian societies took place because of Christianity, whereas advances take place in most societies, including ones holding to beliefs, or lack of them, which Robert hardly accepts as "true." It might be better to say that advances took place in western society in spite of religion, and in fact, the great leap forward in the Renaissance was made possible by the rediscovery and dissemination of ancient Greek learning, whose culture and documents had been lost or destroyed at the beginning of the Dark Ages by Christian forces (kept alive only in the Muslim world).
The type of inspiration proceeding from Jesus which Robert speaks of is, I suggest, of dubious benefit. While the tendency to do charitable work may be Christianity's one saving grace, there is much to be less thankful for. In order to feel rescued from sin, one must be convinced of sin and guilt in the first place, and Christianity has traditionally been very good at supplying these in unhealthy abundance. Indeed, without them, religion would not survive. To "find" God, one must be converted to a world of fantasy and uncritical thinking, along with a lot of things which are not at all "beautiful," and thus I cannot share in Robert's enthusiasm for achieving this state of mind. I am also skeptical of exaggerated testimonials by so many who portray themselves as having been aimless reprobates and moral wretches in their previous lives before being "born again." Much of that 'conversion' relates to beliefs as well, but this celebrated transformation out of agnosticism or atheism is often into slavish surrender to irrational doctrine. Paul wasn't the only one to declare his beliefs "foolish," an attribute too many believers seem to revel in. They rejoice, too, in their reversion to medievalism, to superstition (ever notice how large Satan looms in the outlook of the newly converted?), prejudice against unbelievers, and an ever greater fixation on sin, evil and correct faith. This type of inspiration the world can do without.
Finally, Robert speaks of God's "love" in preparing an eternal paradise for those who believe. Why did he not create us for that paradise directly? Why bother with this world at all? Simply to put us to a test? A test which many (if not most, according to traditional views) are fated to fail and suffer an unspeakable punishment;a test for which God created us with a capacity to fail, thus sharing in responsibility for that failure; a test loaded against us in that its requirements for belief contravene the evidence found in the world of science and reason, or in the flawed 'record' of God's dealings with humanity and the sending of his redeemer Son. Much is made of the issue of 'free will.' But a test of moral behavior may be one thing; a Deity might reasonably require such a thing, for which free will would presumably be needed (although whether in fact we do possess this in any usable measure is perhaps debatable). Quite another is a test of belief in his very existence or legitimacy, when so much argues against it, when so much leads us to believe he doesn't exist, or operate in a rational manner. Is all this fair play? Is this unconditional love? What parents conceive a child with the intention of requiring a "test" of that child before they will bestow their love upon it, before they will give their child the best they can offer for a good and happy life in the world into which they have brought it? What parents will choose to create a child and then refuse to have any direct contact with it, but only through unreliable (and competing) intermediaries, uncertain messages or dubious emotional experiences, expecting out of all this to elicit totally committed faith, love and obedience, upon which hinges the child's entire fate of happiness or pain? If we as imperfect, sinful humans would never think of perpetrating such a travesty upon our own children, why would be wish to impute it to an omnipotent, all-loving God?
Robert speaks of love (toward God) being a choice, but we know from modern psychology that love in children is a response, not a "choice." If they are given love, children will return love, children will be capable of love in their lives. There is little in this world which can be identified as God's "love," despite religious claims. Indeed, much of Robert's energy, and religion's in general, is devoted to explaining why there is such misery in the world, and how it is our own fault, and yet how God expects us to recognize and love him unconditionally, with so much hinging on that response. If children develop self-esteem, they are much more capable of love and positive action toward others, yet religion seems bent on destroying any self-esteem and pride we might be capable of, undermining any sense of achievement and enlightenment arrived at by our own devices. Children are disoriented by contradictions in parental messages, by insecurities and conflicts around them, yet God's created world is full of such things, conflict between reason and revelation, between science's wisdom and God's "folly," between human impulses and divine fiat; yet in Robert's view, all the responsibility lies with us, including the responsibility to cut through all the crap and devote ourselves to the love and worship of this maddening, inscrutible, neurotic — and probably non-existent — Being.
To subscribe to such a bizarre view of "the truth" would be more than the reasonable mind could bear. And yet, in the face of such arguments Robert thanks me for strengthening his commitment to Jesus Christ. That, too, is a mark of the religiously uncritical mind: when faith is threatened by reason, one must weld that mind more firmly shut, surrender it to irrationality with even greater determination and devotion. Paul and the early Christian Fathers and apologists praised such an approach. Today, we ought to find it crazy, illogical and destructive.
And it's too great a price to pay for the childish fantasy of living forever with Daddy in a perfect world in the sky. It means we never grow up in this one.
I don't get to your website as often as I should, the information on your site just keeps building. I read the email from Robert. It's just sad that someone like that has accepted a metaphysical doctrine with so little study, research, and thought. Here is something that is coloring every aspect of Robert's life and yet he seems to have spent all of 5 minutes in any kind of deliberative process. If Robert were representative of the next generation of Americans, who would we have to design and build the ship that will take humans to Mars? Who is going to find cures for the tropical diseases moving north because of global warming? Who is going to educate our children? Robert and people like him can't do it, their minds have closed down to such a narrow view of existence, they're unable to think or be creative.
If I were a praying person, I'd pray that Robert was an aberration, but sadly he is not. When I get up tomorrow, I'll have to look in the mirror and appreciate the "zombie" staring back at me. :)
I thought the "Deliver Us to Evil" story [ in Comment 12] was very good, and, unlike you, I'm actually a little surprised that it wasn't chosen as one of the winners. Perhaps it was just a little too graphic for widespread consumption?
E.D.: Perhaps so, although the language itself is not graphic, just the imagery conveyed. I noted that several years ago when the Canadian TV film "The Boys of St. Vincent" (about a sexual abuse scandal in Newfoundland during the 1970s at a boys' orphanage run by the Christian Brothers, which was covered up at the time) was shown in the U.S., a couple of scenes were edited out. One involved the head Brother (played by Henry Czerny) and the young boy who was his main target, about 8 or 9 years old. The scene took place in the orphanage's swimming pool at holiday time, when most of the other boys had been sent out to volunteer homes to celebrate Christmas. While in the water, the Brother removed the boy's swimsuit and sodomized him. Apparently the scene (though not graphically shown) was considered too shocking for American audiences. No doubt my short story entry produced the same reaction in the minds of the contest judges. Such censorship is regrettable, because what is truly needed is to bring home to the public in the clearest fashion this vile criminality by so many of the clergy which has devastated so many lives.
Incidentally, a report was issued by the Catholic Church of Ireland recently, resulting from a study of the period 1940 to 2004. In the Archdiocese of Dublin alone, charges of sexual abuse had been made during that time against 102 priests (out of a total of 3000), affecting over 350 children; and that's only what came to light. God has a lot to answer for.
I must say that I agree with you that religion is the cause of a majority of the conflicts and the root of many of the major problems in the world today. It will probably be as you describe, and lead to the destruction of the human civilization that we have built from the mud and toil of our ancestors.
My main question is this: is that such a bad thing? We've succeeded in almost ruining this planet and killing most of the other life forms that share it with us. As much as I hope to live until I die a painless, quick death, the demise of human civilization would be the best thing for the rest of the biosphere.
I'm not in favor of everyone dying, but you must admit that we've sure made a mess of things, and there's no guarantee that our species is endowed with a divine right to be immune to extinction. I can't see much hope that the people of this Earth will suddenly wise up and realize that the spiritual beliefs they hold so dear are all a bunch of hooey. That being the case, we may well be doomed to the mutual destruction you warn about. Sad, isn't it?
E.D.: Matt is certainly right that the human species enjoys no divine right to persevere, and I give it about a 50-50 chance of surviving the next century, at least in any prosperous or civilized form resembling what we know today. But then, I guess that's one chance in two, which is better odds than a lot of things we bank on in our everyday lives. On the other hand, one might say that we have a 50-50 chance of destroying the planet environmentally, and another 50-50 chance of falling into a catastrophic war, most likely impelled by religion from the looks of it now. Does that give us a sum chance for survival of 0? But seriously, evolution always hedges its bets, without caring how long it takes to deliver on its wagers, and if we pass into extinction through our own failings, the planet may take a bit of time to recover but it will keep trying. Or perhaps evolution is operating on a much larger scale. This little dirtball we live on is only one among probably countless other planets elsewhere in this very large universe that have the potential to produce life, or have already done so. If this one incinerates or is rendered barren, there will be lots of others the evolutionary process can choose from.
[Millie has written to me before, as one can see below. This time, both her emotions and her fingers ran away with her, but I decided to reprint much of her outburst here, as there is something to be said for an unrestrained reaction to the often blind lunacy we see around us. I won't make any further comment on it, except to say that the same sort of reaction would apply in great measure to the issue of overpopulation.]
You know, regarding the issue of abortion, I have two sisters who are against it. One of them can be reasoned with and says she is against it but doesn't want to see us fall back into the "coat hanger" self abortions or the shoddy phony "doctors" who will sell you one in a back alley as I used to read stories about when I was a kid. My other sister is a staunch Catholic and no more need be said to her on that issue, she proclaims, but I did while spending two days together after the funeral of my brother, and what I said seemed to make them think (even if only just a little) and though it may or may not be of help to others when faced with relatives who are anti abortion, what I asked of them was this: I asked, first of all, who on earth did they know who doesn't dislike abortion; no one thinks that abortions are the ideal or that they are preferable to letting healthy loved children be born who will lead happy, productive, and fulfilling lives.
Did they think that abortion is something anyone thinks is "nice"? I asked them to think about this: "Since you always seem so worried about the state of America and its rampant street gangs, crimes, poverty, joblessness, robbery, rapes, murders, etc., what do you think the future is going to be like for your grandchildren and great grandchildren after abortion is abolished and all these unwanted babies are left to fend for themselves because no one wanted them in the first place? Some will be born to the proverbial crack addicts and prostitutes, and will end up living in ghettos, and others may just be born to mothers who may not be financially, intellectually, or emotionally EQUIPPED to bring a child into the world and to actually care for it and raise it well, lovingly, healthfully and intelligently for the next eighteen years (when obviously most of their parents did'nt even have the foresight to use birth control so they wouldn't end up having to have abortions or unwanted children in the first place)? And the government (who is even now about the business of cutting all medical assistance and food stamps, etc., off from the poor, and sending all our jobs out of the country) is'nt going to get any better in the future, I'll wager, so what do you think life is going to be like then? No jobs except for MacDonald's and Walmart's with their "starvation paychecks", and too many people to even begin to fill those? The state of education is going even farther downhill than usual now, (Americans are among the most poorly educated people in the world....sorry, folks, that's the statistics), so what's it going to be like in twenty or thirty years when we have even more children to feed, love, raise, employ, educate, or imprison? What kind of people are we going to be raising? Thousands, maybe millions, more neurotic or insane, unloved, unwanted, neglected, and abused people to fill up even more prisons and more execution chambers (so we can annihilate them after they've gone berserk and killed someone....or maybe who've just been "framed" and are unable to afford anyone but an often useless and incompetent public defender to go to battle for them or just take a snooze in the courtroom) for them? (To any "good" public defenders out there, forgive me....but I know of too many cases of others who weren't good). What kind of a future do you think America has if you hate what's going on now, I asked?
I personally know a woman who doesn't believe in abortions but whose children, age 3 and 5, (and since then she's had 4 more) were found outside at 3 am one morning after they'd awakened to find themselves once more all alone and frightened and this time unable to go back to sleep because they heard "scary noises", out walking the darkened city streets trying to get to where they thought their "grandma's" house was, (grandma who is herself an alcoholic and was more than likely in her daily drunken stupor), while clutching their little plastic baseball bats (so no one could hurt them) and who ended up lost, crying, and eventually unable to even remember how to return home. They could'nt go forward and they could'nt go backward and so they just broke down and began wailing til someone woke up and called the police (who weren't very kind to them). The five year old is now fourteen and told me this story after she'd been raped and her family did'nt believe her, and her 16 year old brother backed her up, not that I was disbelieving as I'm quite sure this happens to lots of children! My own parents were alcoholics who should have NEVER had children and I remember some very frightening nights waking up alone and going outside crying and looking for someone to help me or just keep me company as I was the second to the youngest in the family and my sisters were grown and gone, (and my brother just a baby himself and left in my care since I was nine, as usual.
My parents fought DAILY, and we were raised with such screaming and yelling and name calling fights that we were all nervous wrecks all the time. My mother sent my sisters away to live for 4 years with their aunt in Tennessee while my father fought in WW2 and they felt our mother could'nt have loved them at all to send them away at such young ages. They (I had three older sisters...one is dead) all had had babies and were out on their own by the time they were fifteen or sixteen. That was how they escaped! And they have their own horror stories to tell, stories of being neglected, terrified, and of feeling worthless, unloved, and unlovable and these feelings can last all your life, believe me, I know. And being always pointed out as "that drunk couple's kids" doesn't lead to feelings of self worthiness or find you with a lot of friends or playmates in your life. Only the other "losers" kids wanted to play with us. You spend your whole life trying to find the love you missed out on; trying to find self confidence enough to get and keep jobs, and you often end up marrying the wrong kind of people who are often abusive and who have also been neglected, unwanted and unloved themselves....
I just want people to ask themselves where their "outrage" is on behalf of the neglected, unloved, hungry, warped, frightened children out there now and who will be coming along later. I asked my sisters to think about our own childhood(s) and what's REALLY a cruel thing to do to children? What sort of lives are these little unwanted beings going to end up living? Little future Christians who "love" their neighbors..... to death?? Who let their fear and their refusal to even find out what is true about their own government and their own religious "values"and who allow and even encourage their leaders to sell out their rights with so called Patriot acts? People who never even learn to question whether patriotism is a good thing or a bad thing in the long run? Or how much good religion has really done for the world. Or what hypocrisy is?
I apologize for going on so long but I am so completely distraught at the thought of what is happening in my country, and in the world, that I sometimes wonder how I've managed to go on for 65 years. The cruelty, the torture stories, the abject poverty that is already rampant around the world, and the suffering of children are just chilling to me but I must tell you another thing that I asked my sisters and that other folks out there might want to ask theirs: "If you think there are no decent jobs out there that pay enough for someone with children to survive on now, what do you think it's going to be like when these children grow up? More hungry, neglected children out wandering the streets scared and alone at night, while mom (and often nonexistent dads) are out getting high, selling their bodies, committing crimes (or maybe it's just maybe middleclass mom's, curled into a ball of hopelessness and depression in a corner somewhere while oblivious to the fact that her kids aren't even in the house at 3 am.....if there is a house to be in). Is this preferable to being aborted in the womb?" Why don't people THINK?
Your work has helped open expression that was long dormant within my psyche....
There are two, now three authors who have had a seminal influence on my under-educated mind (I have no college worth mentioning).
The first is Desmond Morris, a zoologist who nearly 40 years ago penned two accessible books, The Naked Ape, and The Human Zoo. Mr. Morris did tend to engage in speculative conclusions, but there are two key concepts that I drew from his work that were epiphanies to me.
First,evolution progresses glacially, and this progression is inclusive of all aspects of an animal: its appearance, its survivability, its psyche - more specifically and importantly, its social behavior. We tend to miss that, in terms of evolution, much of the modernization of human endeavors has taken place in the blink of an eye, so to speak. There is most definitely an exponential curve in our technology.
A correlation lies in nature, in that species can find themselves in social settings which they are not yet adequately “wired” to deal with. Mr. Morris sites numerous examples of animals behaving oddly when they find themselves in an unusual social setting. This certainly applies to humans. Mr. Morris deduces from the anthropological record that early humans first behaved much like monkeys, then later much like wolves. Today we live in extremely crowded conditions, with an outlook that must include all other humans, both similar and different. In my own take, we are like wolves living in an bee hive. Without extreme adaptability, we’re most likely to tear hell out of our very existence. Indeed, Mr. Morris describes his amazement and respectful awe that we manage to survive this cathartic social setting we find ourselves in, before our “circuitry” has had time to (hopefully) mutate appropriately.
The important point here, I believe, is that there is nothing
“unnatural” about this state of human affairs. We
must at least entertain that this can take place wholly within the
context of evolution, a process which most definitely countenances,
indeed, embraces change and conflict. Yet,
probably because early “thinking” man did not yet have much of the
evidence we can now take for granted, for most of our recorded history,
we sought an “outside” explanation as to why humans tend to behave so
badly, and by natural extension, so nobly. It’s
the social setting! juxtaposed against our present wiring!... (continued below)
E.D.: I like this observation, in that it provides yet another insight into why religion and its narrow (and always out-dated) viewpoint holds back progress in human self-understanding. When one rejects the evolutionary picture, when one relies for guidance about human nature and ethics on a set of ancient, primitive writings, one closes the door on anything but the most simplistic understanding of what we are, why we are that way, and what we can do to improve it. Religionists hold the deepest abhorrence and fear — of so-called "moral relativism," but a far greater danger lies in trying to impose a presumed and simplistic "objective" morality (based on the bible, of course) which bears no relation to our true reality in a universe which the bible writers could have had no conception of.
....The second author who made a profound influence on my thinking was Karen Armstrong, who, amazingly, wrote her earliest prolific drafts in longhand! I have only read one book, The Battle for God, an exegesis on fundamentalism in monotheistic religions.... A central theme of her book is what she continually characterizes as “mythos” and “logos”, the old religion vs. science scenario. She contends that both types of thinking appear to be necessary for human fulfillment. I tend to agree, though I may not agree with whatever mythos path she heads down.... (continued below)
E.D.: For students of ancient religion and philosophy, it is unfortunate that she chooses the word "logos" to refer to the science half of the dichotomy, since "logos" had everything to do with the "mythos" half, especially in regard to incipient Christianity. And I would have to dispute her contention that both types of thinking are necessary for human fulfillment. "Myth" has been needed precisely because we were not in a position to understand the universe on its own terms, through the language of natural law and direct examination of its workings on a material, rational level. Once that process of understanding is completed and we are well on our way to achieving that the use of myth can be discarded. Its continuing retention is already proving to be counter-productive.
...As you likely have guessed by now, Mr. Doherty, you are the third author to affect me deeply. I started voraciously with the meat on your website, the main and supplementary articles, and have moved on to the potatoes, that is, the rest of your site....You whisk the reader back to the beginnings of Christianity, pull back the veil, and simply ask, as if to say, “What is it that you see?" Because of the way I grew up, within a fundamentalist setting, it somehow has come as a tremendous relief to me that there appears to be no such thing as a solid and authoritative historical Jesus. At first, I repudiated all that was religious, at about the time I reached adulthood. In returning to my roots, I slowly worked backwards, discarding one after another the preconceptions of this preposterous “logical faith”. First to go were the unique heterodoxical beliefs of my particular childhood religion. Next, the inerrancy of the Bible and the authority of canonical selection were jettisoned; by extension, so too the factual overall historicity of the Bible, as well as its supposed moral high ground. But that last nut, that is Jesus, proved to be a tough one to crack, at least head on. Your site has done this for me, for which I thank you.
I would like to claim that I subliminally caught that which you so
handily point out in your work, only waiting for someone like you to
trip the trigger, but it is much more accurate to say that I am left
thinking, “Of course! Why didn’t I see
that before?” It is relatively easy to
move in and out of the various vagaries of doctrinal dispute, the
dogmatic doggerel produced by theological wrestling, but it is quite
another to assail the one fundamental of 99.9% of Christianity, that of
an historical Jesus.
I could discern an evolution (or
devolution, perhaps) from the Hebrew faith to Catholicism, from
Catholicism to Protestantism, from Protestantism to my own Seventh-Day
Adventism, and Lord only knows what next. The
missing link, as it were, was that the Hebrew faith went to an early
form of Christianity, before moving on to Catholicism. Nor were any of these transitions as happily full of clarity as
we tend to pride ourselves in thinking. Further,
I used to allegorize this concept as an onion, with layers being
stripped away one at a time. There were
two fundamental problems here, first, an onion implies a core center of
truth, and second, there was many a branching, some which withered,
some which went their own way. A tree
provides a better allegory.
By at least entertaining the notion of a mythical
Jesus, the transition between articulations of faith somehow seems to
flow more smoothly in my mind. To express
it another way, there is no longer such a watershed moment in worldly
history. Why, even our timeline
demarcation may be entirely base on a wholly contrived personification.
I simply cannot stop reading your Age of Reason website! As a former
researcher at a major U.S. university, and now medical student, I am
appalled, terrified, and fascinated by the information exposed in your
articles and the books you bring to my attention.
A quick question, if I may: Which country can one go to that does NOT
embrace fundamentalist religion? Perhaps none, so the question might
then be: Over which country does religion hold the least sway in terms
of setting policy, etc.? I have heard that European countries, in
general, are not following the example being set in the U.S., and in
fact, are begining to feel the U.S. to be a country of religious
fanatics (to which I would agree).
Sigh...it's lonely out here on the fence. But I cannot enter that place again. I love your writings. Do you have any advice about getting down off the fence for good?E.D.: The "herd" instinct is very strong in human nature, and naturally so, since it's an essential component to societal cooperation. Herd views and behaviors are inevitable; we couldn't do without them. There always have been and always will be current collective beliefs, philosophies, practices, artistic and recreational activities, and so on, since cultures and civilizations are formed on them and progress proceeds through such mediums, even if they include elements which are anything but 'progressive' or eventually lose their usefulness. Like evolution, such progress takes place when something out of the ordinary, outside the herd's common makeup, happens: a mutation in thought, insight or discovery. Soon it spreads into the herd (or becomes a new, dominant herd), and the process continues. (A common view of how evolution itself proceeds is very much like this, known as "punctuated equilibrium.")
My point is that, by recognizing this process, and accepting that there will always be dominant and at least temporarily successful expressions of societal belief and behavior, whether in the religious, social or political arena, one is less likely to be deceived into thinking that any current expression enjoys some kind of eternal truth or validity. Some may certainly be more useful, progressive and intellectually supportable than others, but ultimately nothing is permanent. The ancient world out of which Christianity grew had a culture of philosophy, cosmology and religious beliefs which lasted for centuries but are virtually dead today (except as they have evolved into later forms such as Christianity), yet were regarded by contemporaries as expressions of eternal truth. The mega-churches of today are no different than the faith cultures of ancient Egypt or Olympian Greece and Rome, believed in by millions over millennia. No one today remains on the fence regarding Amon-Re or Zeus, Osiris or Mithras, and the Platonic views of a dualistic, earth-centered universe which enthralled and enslaved philosophers and believers of the period lie fossilized in the cemetery of dead delusions.
While it may be hard to envision our own Jesus as going down the same road to extinction, it will happen. To some extent it has already happened in parts of the civilized world, such as Europe, where mega-churches are not to be found hollow cathedrals that few of the younger generation are entering. Kirk need only adopt a wider perspective. If he stands up on his fence and takes a look around, across geographical, historical and scientific vistas, I am sure he'll soon jump off toward the other side. He's already recognized the things that drove him out from his previous seat, the "zombie-like humans" and the "right-wing absolutism" of those who did their best to cripple his intellect and bury his spirit under a load of guilt, bigotry and superstition. I suggest he spend more time looking into the face of modern science and humanism. He might even find ways of losing his fear over death.
And by the way, there's often no better antidote to the
Bible than...reading the Bible. Here's what another reader had to say
on the subject:<
Wanted to drop you a few lines to thank you for the great work. As an atheist I have tended to keep to myself on discussions on religion in general and Christianity in particular, unless cornered. I find it abhorrent that Christians try and take the high ground in terms of morality, simply because they believe in the Bible. Most have not read the Bible, at least not reading it in the sense of understanding it fully....I am always amazed at how people can take things at face value and let them run their lives without thinking more deeply. The challenge I had was that while I have read broadly and deeply on religion, Christianity, etc, I had not spent the time to accumulate and document any arguments as I uncovered them. Partly, I suppose, because atheists are by their nature unlikely to form into groups like a religion. So I am thankful to find access to sources of material such as yours. Apart from the Freke book [The Jesus Mysteries, by Timothy Freke and Peter Gandy), I have not found as eloquent an argument as in your works. I am amazed at how I may have read passages and not read them as deeply as you. Once pointed out, of course, things seem to be so obvious, such is life.
Just want to say that I just stumbled upon your website, and I have to tell you that you are so right on, so intelligent, knowledgeable and caring, and I am so in agreement with all that I've seen so far that I will be spending a lot of time there until I've seen it all. I am absolutely starving for intelligent reasoning and common sense wisdom. I am so tired of religion and all its ridiculous ideas and its priests, popes, ministers, and butt kissing liars who are absolutely ruining America and the rest of the world with it....
I remember a cartoon I saw in the New Yorker magazine once a long time ago. It went like this (I can't remember the exact name they used, so I stick my own in there just for the hell of it): A couple standing around at a cocktail party glance over at a lady who is chatting with friends, and one says, "Mildred is the voice of reason in an otherwise insane society," and his partner says, "Yes...let's kill her." My absolute favorite cartoon of all times, and pretty much the story of my life (as well as yours, I'd wager). Take good care, my friend. And write on!
E.D.: I seem to remember that cartoon myself, Millie. (Or maybe I'd just like to, since it is so appropriate.) Unfortunately, it is anything but a joke. It epitomizes what has happened to countless people throughout history who have been killed precisely because they have raised the voice of reason in an insane society. If they have not been killed, their voices have been silenced through ostracism and imprisonment, through the burning of their writings, through being shouted down and drowned out by the din of irrationality. Even today, the murder or execution of dissenters is not unknown in certain religious societies, and if Dominionist Christians were to gain the power they seek in the U.S., it would not be unknown within our own.
I happened upon your site by chance, for which I am thankful, for I was pondering whether I was in total obscurity for having a deep fear of evangelicalism and their influence upon politics. Having been raised in a very rigid Pentecostal environment, I am well acquainted with the mentality of evangelicals and fundamentalists. When I asked people I know why they voted for Bush (all asked me how I knew before they replied), all but one answered because of abortion. The one aunt who answered otherwise said it was due to a fear of the UN/Globalization and the Antichrist. I found that statement rather contradictory, but that is nothing new to religion. When asking literally dozens of Christians why they voted for Bush and getting an overwhelmingly anti-abortion answer, I began pondering how to take this emotional element out of the political arena....
I very much fear for the future of this country as I sensed you do as well. I cannot sit idly by and watch this country slide into some theocratic-like state without a serious fight, but I do not find the methods of Michael Moore suitable for facilitating change, but on the contrary, he polarizes people which makes the environment even more combative.
E.D.: There should be many methods, with Michael Moore's being simply one of them. Sometimes you have to rant to gain people's attention, especially when everyone else is protesting in a whisper. Moore's voice has perhaps gained the highest profile simply because most others are inaudible. Where is America's intelligentsia? When George W. Bush pronounced his support for the 'teaching' of Intelligent Design in the schools, why didn't the scientific community rise up in unison to condemn it as a sham? Not just a handful of individuals, like Richard Dawkins (who is British), and a few in the spirit of the late lamented Carl Sagan. There are hundreds of thousands of scientists in America who could make (and have made) short work of Creationism and Intelligent Design, and fundamentalism's naive and ignorant objections to evolution. Why do they not organize to speak with a single strong voice? Why are they not all over the media? (If they stepped up to the plate with the same unity and aggressiveness shown by our religious fanatics, the media would not dare deny them a forum.) Why don't the universities devote some of their energies to the public promotion of things like the sound scientific basis for evolutionary theory? Why don't they demand that textbook publishers refuse to cave in to conservative religious pressure, removing virtually all indication of evolution and the age of the universe from their teaching materials? Why doesn't the medical community, in an organized and insistent fashion, argue for the wisdom of stem-cell research, challenging the metaphysical views of religionists who claim that a three-day-old cultured embryo formed artificially in a petri dish is a human being with a soul? Where are the media networks and talk-show hosts who value the United States Constitution who should be giving air time to condemning assaults on the separation of Church and State? (A few magazines, like Harper's and Slate, occasionally do have hard hitting articles.) Why doesn't the citizenry that prizes human rights object vocally and strenuously to the evangelical hate mongering against gays who only want basic equality and against women who want control over their own bodies? On these and many other issues, is the voice of rationality being heard loud and clear, on a universal basis, facing the issues squarely and without pulling its punches? Kid gloves and the soft, reasoned voice will make little dent against those who are mindlessly striving to drag the country back into the fourteenth century. No wonder Michael Moore seems to have much of the field entirely to himself.
As part of the background plot of my Jesus Puzzle novel (posted in its entirety on this website) I portrayed the formation of a broadly based organization called the Age of Reason Foundation to openly combat religious irrationalities and promote science and reason in society. This is the sort of response to the religious right which the U.S. is lacking and which is sorely needed.
America is descending into an ever more primitive religious tribalism, into an ever increasing scientific illiteracy and medieval world-view, and the rational elements of the nation are not speaking up the way they should and must. Polarization already exists, and it is being created and spread not by the likes of Michael Moore, but by the growing boldness and stridency of the religious right which seems to have cowed and intimidated much of the rest of the population, and is now convinced its goals are in sight. Organized atheist and humanist groups do protest and campaign (the situation would be even worse without them), but their numbers and resources are relatively small, and because they can be relegated to a categorized 'fringe' lot, they are largely marginalized. They need to be joined by loud and courageous mainstream voices, whether religious moderates (if there are any left) or by the great numbers of atheists-in-disguise among the population (who are far more numerous than even they imagine), by the substantial non-religious community in academia, in the media, in arts and entertainment. Among politicians, the more rational element (which seems to be shrinking) is afraid to grapple head-on with religion's destructive force for fear of losing votes, but even they must speak up if they want to stop the nation's slide into Book of Revelation politics with its visions of Rapture and Armaggedon, into James' "theocratic-like state" which before long will be joining the regressing Islamic world in all its medieval splendor.
Soon, too many of us will be asking with Michael Moore: "Dude, Where's My Country?"
I recently read a new book which I consider to be the most powerful and effective indictment of religion yet published, focusing not only on its irrationality, but on the ever increasing danger it poses to all of civilization and to our very survival. Brilliantly written, with enviable intelligence, it tackles both Christianity and Islam, with enlightening insights into secular-based ethics and the nature of consciousness. It should be read by every political and religious figure in our society. I can only urge everyone to get a copy of Sam Harris's The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason, published by W. W. Norton, 2004. Regardless of which side of the fence you are on, or whether you are sitting directly upon it, you will never look at religious faith the same way again. Buy one for yourself, and one for the politician of your choice. (See my review of the book in my latest Age of Reason website commentary.)
I just visited your "Age of Reason" website for the first time as a result of its mention in your superb commentary on the "The God Who Wasn't There" DVD. [For those who haven't heard of this, "The God Who Wasn't There" is a promotional documentary in advance of next year's release of a film called "The Beast," a thriller movie that puts forward the idea of the non-existence of Jesus. The DVD contains, among other things, a number of interviews, including one by telephone between myself and the Los Angeles producer.]
Your (commentaries) of June 18, 2005 [Comment08 and Forum06] are excellent, and in my opinion, frighteningly true. I'm sorry to say that I share in your pessimism, and do not see any way out of our bad situation. In fact, I'm now convinced things are going to get much worse in respect to an increasing religious (Christian-based) fanaticism, dogmatism, and bigotry across our land. And I'm even beginning to think the Constitution and the liberties it carries are itself in grave jeopardy. At the age of 54, I'm appalled and saddened. I at what this nation has become. I do not recognize it at all anymore.
I wanted to comment on the "Reader Feedback" letter by Arsalan who wants to plead for tolerance from Christians as "the only powerful idea left" [see below]. I'm always reading similar sentiments that use the terms "tolerance" and "toleration" quite frequently on atheist forums, but I strongly agree with your reply to Arsalan on this issue and wanted to share with you this brief piece written by Larry Darby (Atheist Law Center) from one of his newsletters that contained some important points on "toleration":
"Tolerance" or "toleration" is another word atheists should not use, in order to avoid ambiguity. Atheists want to be accepted, not tolerated by those who believe they are superior and can dole out tolerance to others. Promoting tolerance of homosexuals or atheists or minority religions is equivalent to promoting Jim Crow laws as to black citizens 60 years ago.In Rights of Man Thomas Paine spoke on the mythology of "tolerance" that is worthy of consideration:
"Toleration is not the opposite of intoleration, but it is the counterfeit of it. Both are despotisms. The one assumes to itself the right of withholding liberty of conscience, and the other of granting it. The one is the pope, armed with fire and fagot, and the other is the pope selling or granting indulgences."
Please continue with your great work. We need you!
Some years ago the movie series "The Planet of the Apes" was popular. It always amused me that this was considered to be science fiction. We have been, are now, and always will be the Planet of the Apes. That's us!!! What else can we be? All of us are descended from apes. (Some of us haven't descended very far from that status.) All of the stuff happening now and in the past is the product of minds evolving from a more primitive form and hopefully into something less primitive.
I enjoy Vardis Fisher's work and would like to see a revival of his Testament of Man on the shelves of the book stores. Thanks for your thought provocative site.
I thought I'd send you a comment about a subject near and dear to me: women's reproductive rights.
I read that scary article "The Covert Kingdom" [Forum04]. Recently the Christian Right hijacked liberal sympathies to win a crucial battle concerning the reproductive rights of women: a fetus was defined as a human being, and an adult was convicted with the fetus' murder and given the death penalty because of it.
Now I am not saying Scott Peterson is a nice guy. But the constant rhetoric that he "killed Laci and his unborn son, Connor" is a clandestine (and successful) attempt to give a fetus full legal rights as a human being. He has a name, he is a son, a child, a human...and killing him is murder (Scott Peterson was actually charged with the murder of Connor, and this was reflected in his sentence). It is not too far from here before a pregnant woman is charged with murder for having an abortion. Giving a fetus the legal status of a living, independent human being is a sly way to get around legalized abortion. They don't have to overturn Roe vs. Wade. They just have to set a legal precedent that killing a fetus is murder. This frightens me. A lot.
I have yet to meet another liberal who was even aware of the move. Everyone truly believes that Scott Peterson murdered two people! I think we need to raise awareness of this sly move by the Dominionists to use our own sense of compassion against us.
[See below for Khalida's more recent comments on feedback by "Steve"]
E.D.: Although I did not follow the ins and outs of the Scott Peterson case, this aspect of it went right by me, too. Nor did I see any comment along these lines in the media, though this too I could have missed. Abortion is one of those issues that involves two 'evils' if you like. It is difficult not to feel uncomfortable (or worse) at the idea of terminating a potential life in the womb, but the alternative, to deny a woman her right to choose to do so, is far scarier and more dangerous. The bottom line is, we live in a non-utopian world, and there are other considerations to be taken into account besides the fate of a fertilized and developing egg inside a woman's body which is allegedly sacrosanct from the very moment of conception. Besides, it has often been pointed out that almost half of such sacrosanct pregnancies are spontaneously aborted, "miscarried" (often unknown to the woman). From the religious point of view, does this make God "the greatest abortionist"? Are we required to have greater respect for life than He does?
Religious views on the nature of life and when it should be considered to begin are really a smokescreen. In religious opposition to abortion, its chief argument against it is based not on the Bible, by the way, which has no such proscription, and is even a practice urged on his conquering Israelites by Yahweh as a measure against their enemies — but on the idea that at the moment of conception and cell-division, a spiritual "soul" is implanted in the fetus. This has nothing to do with biological life or ethics, but is a religious concept. And it involves unresolvable paradoxes for the religious claim. Once a soul has been 'created' by God and installed, is it not immortal? Should it not survive the 'death' of the fetus and be able to enter Heaven immediately, being guiltless? Why should that be such a horror to the religious mentality? But wait no, it's not guiltless, since it has been created, or instantly attracts at the moment of creation (like a spiritual magnet, one supposes), the stain of Adam and Eve's Original Sin. This mythical phenomenon supposedly ties the hands of an omnipotent and omnibenevolent God, forcing the unbaptized soul into some dismal fate separated from God. (The theology of that idea has never been satisfactorily worked out and the old solution of Limbo is currently, well, in limbo.) That 'salvation' is dependent on a ritual act which only the 'true faith' can bestow further complicates the matter, and one wonders why religionists are so anxious to preserve every spark of life and condemn it to this vale of tears and uncertain eternal fate. Perhaps the real factor is the authority of God. We have no right to override it. I suspect that this is the bottom line: the surrender of all human initiative, intellect, responsibility and pride to a divine overseer who has prescribed for us, automaton-like, strict behaviors from conception to death, and beyond. It seems to be an appealing world-view to a great many people.
As long as undemonstrable religious considerations and spiritual fantasies are being applied to the issue, we will never be able to arrive at a proper and ethical position on abortion, a human solution to a human situation. Life on this planet throughout its long history and evolution has never operated at some ideal and comfortable level. For the most part, it's been a dirty business. Nature herself or the God who created her seems to know nothing about idealism. Life and death and everything in between is entirely pragmatic and strictly unfeeling. Evolution has never been governed by the sanctity of individual life, including in the womb. There's nothing wrong with intelligent awareness >now that we have developed doing its best to improve the world's lot and introduce some form of moral order to better our lives, but we will only make matters worse for ourselves if we try to do it on an unrealistic and unworkable basis. If that sounds like "relativism," reality is always preferable to fantasy.
(Other letters and responses below also deal with the abortion issue.)
I am a newcomer to your website. And I am pleased I did come across it. I restrict my comments to perhaps the most important issue facing all of us: the resurgence of an extreme evangelical fanaticism in the US that will take us, or our children, to a disastrous end.
In all your works, you write with conviction and from knowledge. You zero in on specifics and attack fearlessly the religious fanatics and apologists with reason and evidence. The result is devastating. You do not display the overbearing and hypocritical aura of scholarship most scholars display in their works. It is therefore refreshing and pleasant reading.
Despite your valiant efforts, you will not make a dent in the beliefs of those who have closed their minds to reason. On the contrary, such attacks will indeed make them more resolute in silencing any voice opposing their dark intentions. To fight them, one must be armed with a more powerful and gripping idea, because only ideas can be used to defeat ideas. Reason would have been effective if masses knew how to make logical deduction.
It seems to me the only powerful idea left to minimize the impact of the frighteningly destructive religious fanaticism grinding down the foundation of the fragile American democracy is the idea of tolerance. The ignorant masses will not be asked to give up their beliefs, nor will they be asked to listen to counterarguments, but will be asked to do something they understand. After all, they have the right to believe in anything they wish. All we ask them to do is to tolerate other views. The message "Have Tolerance" is forceful and persuasive. It will persuade the masses to restrain the burn and hell message advocated incessantly by the intolerant evangelical preachers.
E.D.: I find it hard to be so optimistic. Your "powerful idea" is a noble one, but I fear it may not be practical. I am not sure on what basis you maintain that tolerance is something they understand. The religious mind, especially of the fundamentalist variety, may not be capable of tolerance because it contradicts dogma and goes against so much of the religious instinct. If you truly believe you have a monopoly on the truth and you are required to proselytize it, let alone impose it by law on society as a whole, if you truly believe that those who don't share your faith are destined for damnation, I don't see how tolerance is a feasible option for you. To become truly tolerant would jeopardize one's whole way of thinking. And if it's a choice between tolerance and having the opportunity to impose their views on society, which do you think will prove the more persuasive? Perhaps I'm being overly pessimistic (and somewhat intolerant in my own way), but I've seen too much of the religious mentality.
On the other hand, there can be nothing to lose by voicing the suggestion. Perhaps someone could show that I am indeed being overly pessimistic.
You quickly dismiss the idea of a benevolent creator, when speaking of the tsunami tragedy. You speak from a standpoint that death is somehow a "bad thing". What if it is not? What if death (especially of children) meant an end to the cycle of birth and death? I know it is not a "christian" concept, but then again, how often are christians correct about anything? What if, in a spiritual sense, death was a GOOD thing? What if "death" on earth meant "life" on another plane of existence? What if this tragedy was only a "tragedy" to the survivors, and to those fortunate enough to "perish" it meant something different and better?
As a man of reason, you must know that earth is subject to "natural law", and maybe our Creator(s) don't interfere with natural events.
I cannot understand your total denial of any being(s) who not only created this place, but are possibly watching it's development without direct intervention. In this situation, the deist ideology makes more sense than either a "religious" explanation, or an atheistic explanation. Since man has no clue as to what exists beyond the human experience, attempting to come to conclusions about whether or not there is a higher power is extremely naive.
E.D.: What if we and universe were created by a God who was mad? One who in his insanity continues to laugh away at our desperate struggles to cope with his pain-filled creation? Isn't this as equally a feasible postulation as deism to explain the nature of our world? You suggest a deity who regards death as a "good" thing, the gateway to a better plane of existence. Why set up such a system in the first place? Why create the world and humans just to observe them like rats in a labyrinth? Isn't there a certain madness or at least inhumaneness to this? (In fact, considering the lack of God's help in the miseries of the world, it's not very different from the normal Christian view.)
As "a man of reason," I don't try to postulate scenarios that are totally beyond verification, much less govern my life and outlook by such things. And I definitely don't do it in the face of a reality I see around me which creates rational and moral problems in such scenarios. The impersonal and evolving universe which has no innate directing or 'moral' creator or authority (before beings with such capacities as in ourselves arrive on the scene) presents the best explanation with the fewest problems, as stark and unappealing a concept as this might be to some people. There is a lot of scope for interpreting such a "best explanation" which could lead to a far better experience in this world for us all, better joy and fulfilment, better cooperation, a better environment, a better destiny, if you like, than the fantastic and destructive imaginings of most theistic or deistic world-views involving the supernatural.
Nor do I see naivete in attempting to use our rational faculties and scientific facilities to come to a conclusion about the existence of higher powers. Why surrender the use and application of things we have so long struggled to acquire?
Steve's feedback also
sparked comments by "Khalida": ....I kept reading
down and my mind got caught on the post from Steve who suggests that
the victims of the tsunami might have been "blessed" by some benevolent
God who was ending the cycle of life and death for them. If an
all-powerful, omniscient God really wanted to bless someone with the
end of the cycle, why not just make them die in their sleep, or make
them disappear from the Earth Rapture-style? Why make them suffer
through such horrendous deaths first? These people drowned at
best. At worst, they were beaten to a pulp against trees and cars
and debris, or died of exposure, or hypothermia, over the course of
hours or even days. Even after the tsunami, people died from lack
of food, water, and shelter, or from terrible diseases.
sentiments from Khalida, and it's hard not to agree with them when one
considers the horrors that God (whoever or whichever he is) seems to
have inflicted upon us. The range of them is particularly striking. Two
counter-arguments which theists regularly offer on the existence of
evil in the world go something like this:
Before we let God go on, we should look at an attendant problem in regard to natural disasters. Aren't these all part of the workings of nature? So one could say that they are not inherently evil. One could maintain that they are almost necessary in providing us with a world at all, although we might also ask whether God could have created a safer, more stable environment in giving us a place to live. If that was not possible, and if Adam and Eve had not fallen, would he not have needed to be constantly devoting himself to the task of protecting human beings from suffering or dying at the hands of the planet's complex of "natural disasters"? Food for thought.
But back to God's catalogue of evils. Having come up with a hefty range of hazards of nature, he didn't stop there. Disease: what a potential this had, what with all the possible viruses, bacteria and what not he could come up with to attack the human body. One could hardly begin to enumerate all the illnesses we poor humans have been subjected to in bodies that have been rather ill-equipped to deal with the onslaught especially in the absence of modern scientific medicine, something achieved entirely through our own devices. The sophistication of the various ministers of misery we share our world with can often be something quite ingenious, showing that God must have put a lot of thought into them. Blood-sucking mosquitoes to spread malaria and other diseases were especially creative, woodland ticks waiting for the hapless hiker to come by, to inject him or her with the Lyme virus grown in the bellies of deer. And so on.
Lest it be thought that there should be any safe haven from this vale of tears, even temporarily, God must have decided that he had to inflict his evils on us as early as possible. Let's have them deformed in the womb, born with mental and physical defects. Perhaps this was to demonstrate (and to reassure Christian theologians) that we were indeed all victims of Original Sin, making us all guilty and deserving of punishment from the moment of conception. Let's not wait for individual responsibility in each person's own life. Somehow, in God's universe, the stain of sin and its consequences could be passed down from the first parents, presumably infecting the spiritual DNA molecule right from the beginning. (Might modern science come up with a cure for that, and would God permit it?)
Even given the gift of foresight, however, God must have altered the human body after the Fall, to introduce features like ageing, dementia, degenerative illnesses, failing eyesight and memory--culminating, of course, in death itself, supposedly the greatest of evils. All these burdens could hardly have been built in to Adam and Eve beforehand. After all, that would have made the whole Eden exercise something of a farce. Wouldn't God have needed to project at least the semblance of trust in human free will? Besides, the Bible itself declares that death and suffering did not enter the world until after the first sin.
And we haven't even started on post-death punishment.
All one can say is, thank God ours is a loving God. One would hate to think what things would be like if he weren't....
Anyway, the point to all this facetious irony (some would call it irreverent) goes back to my first observation: the sheer quantity of evil present in the world at least from our point of view. Given a supposed legitimacy to the theistic arguments about the inevitability or necessity for evil, was it encumbent upon God to create so much of it? In order to understand and appreciate the "good" did we really need to be overwhelmed by the "evil"? How much punishment did we deserve in consequence of the eating of an apple? Or of "disobeying God"? Is God so offended by disobedience, large or small? Ought we to think he has a tendency to get carried away in the face of perceived slights to his authority? And what does that say for his own character? And while we're on the subject, I thought the idea of eating the forbidden fruit from the tree of knowledge was that the apple represented the acquiring of knowledge of good and evil. It follows that prior to eating the apple, Adam and Even could not have possessed a knowledge of good and evil. If God told them not to eat, how could they understand it in such terms? Could they truly be held responsible for not grasping the concept of disobedience to God as an evil? Given their limited understanding of what they were doing, was God justified in engineering such sweeping punishment upon the entire human race? One might be forgiven for seeing this as an overreaction.
All this, of course, is pertinent only to the literal, fundamentalist mind though there are certainly plenty of those around these days. But even for those who take Genesis symbolically, we are still pressed for an explanation on the matter of the existence of so much evil if a benevolent and omnipotent God exists, and for a response to Khalida's understandable indignation.
I enjoy and learn from all the articles and reprints posted, but I especially appreciate your commentaries. The last two were remarkably rich with strength and conviction.
Regarding your "Obituary" commentary [Comment07], the "sparrow" image from which so many christians take comfort most likely comes from the following bible verse: Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your father (Mat. NIV).This is supposed to be comforting? I think not. Perhaps the catholic hierarchy thinks whatever happens, however heinous, within the confines of their church, is known by the father and, therefore, is his will. How revolting especially when little children and young people "fall to the ground" as a result of the evil impulses of adults in authority!
E.D. When you have a pipeline to God, when you consider yourself his appointee, it's easy to rationalize that he would not like misfortune or scandal to fall upon you. This justifies cover-ups and a downplaying of the damage one's evil actions actually cause. Preserving the image becomes of overriding concern. As Betty suggests, it's a short rationalizing step to regarding the actions of God's representatives, no matter what their objectional nature, as somehow in accordance with his will, or at least his tolerance. Only this kind of insidious idea would explain why the Papacy failed to react more strongly than it did to the scandal of thousands of pedophilic priests following their inclinations in its churches. No "zero tolerance" program necessary, and instead of censuring Boston's Cardinal Law for his reshuffling of the clerical deck chairs on ecclesiastical morality's sinking ship, they promoted him to a position at the Vatican. Apparently they take Jesus' pronouncement "Suffer the little children" literally.
I am in no way a scholar but I have great admiration and respect for those of you who are, and also greatly appreciate the stand you are willing to take on behalf of reason. I've arrived at the conclusion of the non-existence of god(s) through some fairly basic thought processes.
#1 As humans the only things we can have knowledge of are what we can observe. Gods are not observable so therefore they must be beyond nature, supernatural. So, even if one or more gods existed we could never know about them. We can't know anything about the supernatural. #2 Not one person living or dead was ever told, by a god that a god exists. The idea of gods is as cultural as language or fashion. It's inherited knowledge/superstition. Keep it up, the world needs people like you.
E.D. While religious believers might agree that we can never know anything about deity and the supernatural by our own devices, they have always maintained that they can do so through revelation, bestowed upon them by a god or some revealer representative. The problem is, such subjective claims can never be proven one way or another. And when a society constructs itself, its laws and its treatment of others on the basis of such subjectivity, strife can only be the result, because it will never be the case that everyone agrees on the same revelation, or that such a thing exists. I agree that no person living or dead was ever told by a god that a god exists, but there have been no shortage of those who have fantasized, hallucinated, or fraudulently claimed that they were. Since this is what a majority of people have always wanted to believe, such 'prophets' receive a ready audience.
Thank you for this site. I am a public school superintendent in Kansas where a newly elected conservative (religious) majority have already vowed to take evolution out of the state science standards. In Kansas we have been through this before and voters responded rationally. However, these religious zealots are politically motivated and are back in power. My background is biology and I have been a "born again Christian". Now I attend the Catholic Church, but it's out of respect for my wife and an unwillingness to damage our relationship. Furthermore, I live in southeast Kansas which is in the Bible Belt. So being a skeptic is I suppose like being a "closet homosexual". I too am very concerned about the political strength of the religious majority and the implications that will have for my grandchildren in America. I have lived 59 years and have not been fearful of many things, but I am now very fearful of regressive and repressed thinking. I believe a violent revolution is in the making.
I believe in the "Power of One" but I don't know where to begin. Maybe it's through a forum like you have established. I fear I am just babbling, but I am glad I found your site.
I happened upon your site by chance, for which I am thankful, for I was pondering whether I was in total obscurity for having a deep fear of evangelicalism and their influence upon politics. I have pondered long on what I might do to help diffuse this radical element in politics. I would like to share some of my thoughts with you on this if you are willing. First I would like to say I am very grateful for your site.
Having been raised in a very rigid Pentecostal environment, I am well acquainted with the mentality of evangelicals and fundamentalists. When I asked the ones who vote why they chose Bush, (which they all asked me how I knew before they replied) all but one answered because of abortion. The one aunt who answered otherwise was due to a fear of the UN/Globalization and the antichrist. I found that statement rather contradictory, but that is nothing new to religion. When asking literally dozens of Christians why they voted for Bush and getting an overwhelmingly anti-abortion answer, I began pondering how to take this emotional element out of the political arena. This is something I am trying to figure out as both sides are rather emotional and combative.
I have some background in studying the Bible from scholarly sources and I plan to pick up on some of the sources on your site as well. Another thought occurred to me in this process. My wife’s uncle who is a moralist not due to religion but because of traditionalism has made the comment to me that these radical elements act as a ballast to bring a certain level of morality to the country and government. I found this statement rather absurd, but he is a rational and educated man so I sought to converse with him along these lines and began doing my homework. One day while driving, I pulled up behind a vehicle displaying the bumper sticker “WWJD?” It struck me that Jesus would not be making the kind of emotional judgments upon others and disassociating himself [from] the marginated members of society. He would certainly not be a capitalist or wealthy individual. When I confronted members of my family about this hypocrisy, it made them pause. I certainly could not alter their thinking about abortion, but it did seem plausible to alter their gut reaction using the Bible against them in an emotional manner. For people like my wife’s uncle, I use reason and get good results, but for people like my family, you have to appeal to their emotions that drive their fervent religious beliefs.
I very much fear for the future of this country as I sensed you do as well. I cannot sit idly by and watch this country slide into some theocratic-like state without a serious fight, but I do not find the methods of Michael Moore suitable for facilitating change, but on the contrary, he polarizes people which makes the environment even more combative.
E.D.: I agree that appeals to rational argument generally have no effect on the evangelical religious mentality, because rationality plays no part in the mindset and worldview of such people. Occasionally, as James here has done, one can find chinks in the armor and make an impression. The issue of abortion and the importance it has assumed in the evangelical community is in some ways startling and puzzling. Most people's lives are not affected by the issue, and certainly not by the presence of the practice of abortion in society around them, particularly as that practice, now medical and controlled, is hardly something that accosts us on the streets and halls we move through. Abortion is something that women have practiced since time immemorial; it is simply part of the human condition. (I won't try to address the morality of it here.) And the very fact that the Bible has nothing to say condemning it, even accepting it as a given in certain Old Testament passages (not to mention God's directive to perform it on certain Israelite enemies), shows that it was not an issue in ancient times. And yet it has become a flashpoint for modern evangelicals. As such, they have joined forces with the Catholic Church linking the anti-abortion stance with the equally irrational stand against birth control in a destructive campaign against social harmony on the domestic front and with catastrophic damage to third-world countries through the suspension of foreign aid to those societies trying to cope with poverty and overpopulation.
And all on what basis? My own thinking is that abortion has become a convenient marker in the "us vs. them" mentality of religious fundamentalism. Religion is all about elitism, it is a philosophy of the elect. My beliefs and practices are superior to yours, mine set me apart, mine give me a channel to truth and divinity. The religious mind needs a Satan, and Satan has his practices. Abortion supplies a needed focal point, and while there are many such points in the fundamentalist catalogue, abortion serves well because it is something few evangelicals ever have to worry about themselves. (When, of course, they do, usually involving a family member, one often finds that the real world will intrude and override the fantasy and fanatical one.)
You allude to a possible genetic predispostion for religious belief in the Reader Feedback #24, but, apparently, as of that writing, only as a possible explanation. I recently found references to the idea on the Internet and elsewhere and am wondering just when this idea emerged? Is this an old concept, or an actual recent human genome discovery?
If there's anything to the idea I would enjoy reading your thoughts about addiction in general and, specifically, if the God gene may simply be just another addiction.
E.D.: I can't pretend to be an expert in these matters, but I think David is blurring lines a bit here. While "addictions" (such as to alcoholism) may be governed or influenced by genetic dispositions, and while one might say it is possible to become 'addicted' to the expression of any human emotion, god-worship included, the point I was making, to which David is referring, was based on researches and discoveries about the behavior of the brain long before recent genome mapping. I am thinking of those, for example, which found that certain parts of the brain were responsible for religious experiences and could be stimulated in that direction. Also, it has long been speculated that the evolution of religious conviction in the human mind conferred a survival advantage, both in regard to social cohesion and in the ability of the individual to cope with the world. Insofar as, I suppose, every disposition within us is governed in one way or another by our genes and the evolution of those genes, then I would have to agree that the "God" gene is simply part of the list, though it's perhaps somewhat misleading to put it under the heading of an "addiction."
I just read about the Christian Reconstruction movement on the Age Of Reason website and I'm curious as to how much of that is true? Capital punishment for unbelief, faith abandonment, etc. seems a little outlandish, if you forgive my skepticism.
E.D.: Several years ago I saw an interview on TV with a leader of the Reconstruction movement. While I don't remember all the details, I do remember him stating clearly that capital punishment would have to be used for adulterers, because the Bible specified it. You can take it from there.
While I was not familiar with all the details mentioned in the article by Joe Bageant, I have no reason to doubt his veracity. "Outlandishness" is not a limitation on the religious mind, something most people who don't share that same mindset don't seem able to understand. That makes it even more dangerous.
I'm writing you as an agnostic and one who has absolutely no belief in any supernatural being or beings. Your comments about the election of G. W. Bush were very offensive. There are millions of conservative voters who are not religious in any way, yet who supported and support G. W. Bush. You make a grave error by focussing on religious conservatives. There are also fiscal and geo-political conservatives, and they are often not religious at all. I am of that catagory, in fact, I have very strongly held beliefs that there never even was a historic Jesus. I am a student of science and history. Your painting of all conservatives with a religious brush, and your arrogant comments concerning G. W. Bush show your complete misunderstanding of who the majority of conservatives are. You are yourself engaging in a dogma, much like religion. Your hatred of religious people has made you blind to who conservatives actually are, and blind to many of the fine ideals they purport. I suggest you re-evaluate your position on conservatives, because your strident opinions are actually being aimed at many people who are rational, educated, non-religious, and great world citizens.
E.D.: Whenever one "focuses on" a particular group or issue, one inevitably leaves others out of the spotlight to some degree, and Paul has certainly taken umbrage with me on neglecting other aspects of the "conservative" constituency. I responded to him personally when his message first arrived, and this is what I said:
Thank-you for your comments. I personally know two atheists myself in L.A. who voted for George Bush. However, my view and that of many others, including American media commentators, is that Bush's reelection was made possible only by great numbers of religious conservatives who voted because of their religious stance (principally on abortion) and their perception that Bush believed as they did and would act accordingly. (Whether he will or not remains to be seen.) I am aware that there are other types of conservatives, but the visible and determining element in Bush's power base is the evangelical movement. No one speaks of the Republican Party as being "hijacked" by the educated non-religious conservatives.
While I do not "hate" religious people, I, along with the friends and contacts, do regard the evangelical religious movement as the greatest threat to liberty, secularism, intellectual progress and human rights America has ever witnessed, and Bush in power raises that threat to Orange. We will see what happens over the next four years.
To which Paul replied:
Your response is the
typical response that conservatives are used to hearing. The
problem with it is that in no way do "media
commentators" represent an unbiased factual approach to
anything. Using media commentators to support any thesis
is simply not relevant. The media seldom relies on primary
source documentation for any of its views, especially op-ed pieces
whether they be from the right or left. The main source of all
news is generally AP. I find this particularily interesting given
your reliance on science in disproving the Jesus Myth. I suggest
that everyone apply your level of religious scrutiny to all
aspects of life. I must tell you that I am a former
liberal, who changed his stripes after seeking out primary sources to
inform me on geo-political issues. The media is no help in this,
because the use of context and primary source documentation in the
media is seldom used. At this time in history, I can't support
the liberal agenda geopolitically. It is my belief that
liberalism is itself a religion that is emotionally based, just like
Christian conservativism. As far as the mythical Christian Right
putting Bush over the top; I believe that that is a myth as much as
Jesus. It makes liberals feel good that a supposed bunch of
Christians put Bush in. There is no hard evidence of this.
Polls show a completely contradictory picture; and polls are hardly a
source unless many different polls, by many different agencies, show a
consistant result over time.
I just wanted to comment on your post-election day editorial. First, I have lived the majority of my life in the "Bible Belt" so I know this beast well. But the Christian right is merely the means to an end. Mr. Bush is not acting as an agent of the Christian right (however much he adopts their language), he is acting as an agent of the corporate elite. As any demagogue would do, he is preying upon the ignorance of a part of the American populace that ideally meets three criteria: (one) they are numerous; (two) they are not self-reflective in the least; and (three) they view the world in mythic terms. What I mean by this is that the Christian right is more convinced by pithy sayings than it is by factual reporting. In fact, when reality bumps up against myth, the Christian right will always choose its myth. This makes it the ideal constituency for the neocons (Neo-Conservatives), because they can literally do anything, so long as they wrap it in a Christian guise.
If all we had to fear from Bush was his religious views, that would be bad enough, but in his first term Bush and his cronies did so much to extend the powers of what many call "the secret government" that America is hardly recognizable anymore. The things he attacked the most relentlessly during his first term were not the "religious" issues, they were freedom of information, civil liberties, due process, and the creation of the largest bureaucratic beast in the history of the country a beast that is essentially one big intelligence agency. It's job? To keep people afraid (another trump card in the demagogue's deck).
And how about this term? He immediately escalated the war in Iraq, and he is going about a "purge" of all moderate or liberal Democrats from the ranks of the CIA. Why? Because if you control the secret government, it doesn't matter whether or not you win elections... You are still in charge. I will always contend that the Christian right are simply dupes in this neocon charade.
I may be proven wrong, but in my opinion the neocons can't simply overturn Roe v. Wade. If they do, what happens to their Christian constituency? Perhaps there are other issues (like gay marriage) that they could focus on, but let's face it: abortion is this group's "cash cow" (so to speak). They will skirt around the issue, appear to oppose it, and yet keep it in their back pockets. Or, they will be prepared with a new "moral issue" that is equally dependable before they finally do something about it. These people are about power, and they are thinking long term. Why voluntarily give up something that has been so good for you?
What I am saying is that yes, the political power of the Christian right is frightening, but what is more frightening is what the neocons are using it to achieve. The Christian right constituency is completely clueless about the real goals of the people it elects to office.
Denis writes (following up his earlier message below):
I read your reply to my query about intelligence and purpose in "Existence" and agree for the most part, I think.
As to G. Bush and the Republican party being hi-jacked by the Christian Fundamentalists, I too am appalled and concerned with the direction the USA is taking. The Founding Fathers of the US were well aware of the dangers of Christian fundamentalism and took great pains to separate Church and State. The problem is that morality SHOULD be an inherent part of Government. The issue is that Christians, Muslims and Jews (to some extent) view their particular take on this subject as the only valid one. As I have told many of my friends, family, and any one else who was willing to listen and discuss this, you can judge a movement or a "Religion" by the behaviour of the fundamentalists. A truly moral, that is, life serving, (supportive of life appropriate to our species), religion would raise each practitioner's level of consciousness or ethics (or whatever you want to call it). They would be preceived as friends of human life. Laws would make sense. Independence, productivety, courage, honesty, integrity and ambition, would be honored as would kindness, generosity and compassion. There would be no conflict between being virtuous and being successful. I don't see that happening for many generations, if at all.
Keep up the good work. You are a shining beacon in a valley of darkness.
In the excellent article by Frank Zindler ["Disinforming the Faithful"] the following statement was made: "The conclusion that we live in an unplanned, insentient universe became ineluctable."
I feel that there is a kind of intelligence in "Existence." It seems that even in evolution there is a kind of open ended groping for solutions to problems or opportunities, but more like our subsconsious operates, not focused and goal oriented like the human mind is capable of. Every possibility is tried, but most fail, and only those "eureka" that can fit into the existing matrix of "being" continue and flourish.
While I agree that the forces of nature are unplanning and insentient, the materials and forces that underlie consciousness are made of these things, yet we are conscious! What are your thoughts on this?
E.D.: I think the majority of evolutionary scientists would disagree with Denis' way of seeing evolution, or at the very least with the language he uses. They would balk at any teleological interpretation of evolutionary processes; that is, that there is an 'end result' or inevitable 'improvement' toward which the process is moving, consciously or unconsciously. To speak, as Denis does, of "groping" or "trying" implies this, even if only thought of in the limited sense of moving away from or beyond the present state (usually with the further implication that it is a 'better' state). Neither the universe nor evolution itself has the capacity to 'think' or act along these lines. It has the capacity to change, but it is change without purpose or specific direction, operating on random principles.
"Intelligence" as we would define it could not have been present until it was developed. One might say that the potential was there, but only in hindsight. Evolution proceeds by the accidental mutation of genes, which may enable the new form to interact with its environment in benefitted ways. The 'enabling' process is Darwinian "natural selection": in the interaction of the mutated life form with its environment, those mutations may confer an advantage, and thus are 'selected' (through natural means) for better survival and expansion. Even if the mutation turned out to be advantageous, it was still accidental, and the advantage achieved is dependent on surrounding conditions, which themselves developed by natural and undirected processes. When the mutation happens to be in the direction of greater complexity and improved capacity, the evolving life form may move further toward intelligence and the ability to take control of its environment.
All that being said, it could be maintained that these evolutionary processes, and their potential for improvement and increased complexity, are 'inherent' in nature; that the building blocks of the universe, from atoms to molecules to cells and so on, possess this capacity for forming themselves into ever more complex and improved entities. Indeed, it would be difficult to conceive of it being any other way, since if the basic ingredients of matter did not possess this capacity, we would certainly not be around to remark on it. Perhaps this capacity is what Denis has in mind when he says that "Existence" (presumably meaning "matter") has a kind of intelligence. I personally would have no objection to such a concept, and it's possible that matter could not exist otherwise. However, this does not have to introduce some form of intelligence in the more usual sense of the word, let alone an "intelligent designer," since nothing about the processes of evolution, the way matter organizes itself, speaks to a directed 'design.' If everything about evolution is random and without conscious purpose, it is likely that any inherent capacity in matter is similarly random and not conscious; it is simply just the way it is.
Denis raises an interesting point. We humans are made of the materials and forces of nature, which are themselves "unplanning and insentient," and yet we possess consciousness, the capacity for intelligence, the ability to plan and create purposes along with possibly the greatest marvel of all: self-awareness. If, as products of the universe and its evolutionary processes, we have these things, does not the universe ipso facto have them as well? We still have to realize that the development of intelligent life was, as noted before, accidental and undirected. While we ourselves may appreciate our apparent superiority (though some might dispute that) to what came before, the universe was in no position to make value judgments ahead of time. Nor could it make them at the molecular level. The things we call intelligence, purpose, value, ethics, are the product of evolution; they, along with self-awareness, seem to be properties of the ever more complex organization of our components, which is to say, the components of the universe as organized in ourselves. Until the universe reached that degree of complexity, one would have to say that they did not exist.
Incidentally, if we as human beings are simply evolved components of the universe (something profound and exhilarating in itself), then our self-awareness is also one of those evolved components, and thus we could say that we are the universe become aware of itself, a developing of awareness for itself. The awareness we carry, though expressed through the identity each of us experiences as individuals, could be said to be the awareness of the universe. This has unexpected implications for our ideas about life and death on a personal level, and perhaps for where evolution may be headed in the future, but I'll leave it to the reader to contemplate what these might be. All of it with the proviso, however, that evolution has still been a non-conscious, undirected, non-teleological process. That could change only if the universe (which is to say, we or some other intelligent life form) evolved to the point where it could establish such a consciousness-based direction.
Denis had further thoughts on these questions, and on my reply to him:
Further to my question about intelligence in existence, imagine we are
bacteria size living in a human brain. We would see activity,
seemingly random and unfocussed at the molecular level, as we do at our
level in the Universe, which contains the known, unknown and perhaps,
the unknowable (from our perspective). Yet the brain in question
is the generator or holder of intelligence. If we look at
the constituent parts of our World, the molecules and atoms that make
up our physical existence seem, and likely are, insentient and
unplanning (and unplanned?). If Existence is as I suspect,
infinite in all dimensions, why couldn't there be some kind of
awareness of which our own intelligence is a reflection?
I stopped in Barnes and Noble to purchase your book, The Jesus Puzzle, only to be shocked that they not only didn't carry it, but they hadn't even your name on any authors listings. I was greatly surprised and displeased.
I have another question that I was hoping you might be able to give me some insight into. If, as we know, evolution is the truth of mankind's existence, and not creationism, and that mankind evolved from primates, why then are we not seeing that occurring today, and also why then are there still primates? And how is it possible that both male and female species of humankind evolved precisely at the same period of time in order to procreate?
Thanks for your input, and hard work in clarifying what the truth really is.
E.D.: Barnes and Noble turned down carrying The Jesus Puzzle a few years ago, saying that they had limited space on their shelves. They also turned down carrying it in their Internet catalogue, so one presumes that virtual shelf space is also at a premium.
From the nature of his questions, it seems that Fred has emerged from a creationist/fundamentalist background, as these kinds of objections are often voiced in such circles, and (not to cast any aspersions on Fred himself) they reveal the naive and uninformed kind of thinking the scientific viewpoint is up against. Evolution proceeds, as I said above, by chance mutation, but this mutation is not uniform or common throughout the entire population. Quite the contrary, being by accident, it happens only rarely, and on the individual scale, but it may give those individuals an advantage which ensures that they will survive and spread beyond their initial numbers. The vast majority of the population does not mutate in the same way but continues more or less as before, reproducing without much change. Other individuals within the population may undergo less consequential evolution, or mutate by chance in ways that are not advantageous within the environment and thus they die out.
To answer Fred's questions, there are still primates (that is, older non-human primates, since humans are also primates) because the great bulk of the old primate population did not undergo those chance mutations which led to humanity. Actually, one hears the creationist version of this objection usually in the form of, "Why are there still apes?" In point of fact, modern apes, generally speaking, are not the same as our distant pre-human ancestors, but both have evolved from a common ancestor; it's just that the non-human primate branches have evolved less dramatically.
It is asking a lot (as the creationists insist on doing) that we see evolution "happening today." Evolution operates on a vast time-scale, of which our human experience has been but a sliver. Modern genetic studies have shown that humanity has evolved very little in the last 50,000 years. However, I understand that evolution has been witnessed on the scale of certain insects in the laboratory. To identify a specific evolutionary mutation in a modern human population, with possible consequent advantages that might take generations to reveal themselves, would be extremely difficult, especially as our knowledge about evolution and the DNA system is only a few generations old. On the other hand, I'm quite sure that science is heading in the direction of acquiring that capacity, and of 'proving' evolution beyond the shadow of a doubt, if it hasn't done so already. (On the other hand, if modern American scientific education keeps going in the direction the fundamentalists are pushing it, we may no longer be able to turn out 'scientists' who have the knowledge and capability to accomplish that kind of progress.)
Although one sex may often express the viewpoint that the other sex is of a different species (speciously, of course), this is naturally not the case. Male and female do exist within the same species. Long before humanity came along, most life forms evolved into sexually-differentiated individuals (in a great variety of ways) as a means of propagating the species. Thus it is not that male and female coincidentally came along conveniently at the same time, any more than that we happen to be born conveniently with right arms and left arms.
I really enjoyed your piece The Morning After. It made a great deal of sense as to why the vote went the way that it did (other than the possibility— probability?— of major fraud. As someone that worked on the Kerry campaign, I talked with a lot of people and I observed several traits in supporters of the candidates that were pretty much a rule rather than exception.
Individuals for Kerry seemed very willing to engage in conversation on the issues and were generally familiar with them. They were also the friendliest and most candid of the people I canvassed. Individuals for Bush seemed very closed off and almost hostile, in a few cases a bit more than almost. Non-committed voters seemed basically either too busy, unplugged from politics altogether, trying to find a reasonable justification that would allow them to sleep at night while voting for Bush or just plain clueless, in general.
While commiserating over the election with my brother-in-law and a cousin at a family gathering, it suddenly became crystal clear why Bush is supported so vehemently by the evangelicals and why the Bush campaign reached out to them in the first place.
Firstly, Bush has claimed rebirth in Christ as the evangelicals have, so they see him as one of them. Watching 60 Minutes several months ago, there was a piece on Bush and the evangelicals. This woman with "the eyes of the true believer" was asked if she still believes our president even after the WMD and al-Queda links were proven false. Her reply was of course she did, because he "is one of us." She believes in him completely.
Which leads into the second premise, that with the evangelicals, Bush has a base that will not question anything he does because the questioning and critical discerning components of their mental abilities have been turned off by fear of disapproval by their peers in the church. That is part and parcel of being a true believer. There is no questioning any part of the Bible as it is the word of God and this has been extrapolated to Bush, who God talks to. In the evangelical right, Bush has a base that will follow him to the gates of hell, and in all likelihood, through.
E.D.: I'm more concerned with Bush and his followers dragging the rest of society through hell— and back to the medieval era.
I read with interest your essay, "The Morning After" re the re-election of President Bush. Questions for you: Isn't it possible for a person to be a Republican, a conservative, and a supporter of Bush, and at the same time be in full agreement with a non-historical Christ as you present the case? Where's the "equals sign" for Republican and belief in a historical Jesus? Objective reason is, after all, apolitical. (Likewise, there is no equals sign for Democrats and religious beliefs.) Please leave a little room for conservatives, like me, who are convinced that all religions are myth. Many of the people I know are Democrats (Kerry supporters) and most of those people, like Kerry, are also religious.
By the way, I enjoyed reading your books and web site, and I've recommended those to many.
E.D.: I don't think I said, or implied, that Republican per se equals specific religious beliefs. The Republican party was traditionally a fine party until the Christian Right took it over, and I am sure there are still many members who are not evangelicals and do not favor some of the regressive policies promoted by the Bush administration and the like-minded portion of its electorate. "Objective reason" should indeed be "apolitical," but it can only exist within politics when the given political movement allows it to do so. Perhaps it is incumbent on that 'old guard' to rescue the Republican Party from its abductors, though I'm not sure how easy it would be to accomplish that. (My next correspondent had some ideas.)
I read your critique of the recent debacle in which Bush was reelected to a second term. My own fear about the consequences of this match your own.
I had the sense, in your thoughts about 'what' we can do to respond to the avalanche of the evangelical right, that you, like most of us, are caught in a kind of response vacuum. First, oddly perhaps, I recommend that you read a sci-fi story from the early fifties by Theodore Sturgeon, called, I believe, "A Way of Thinking." It may help give another track to your (our) ideation....Bayard Rustin, the 'man behind the curtain' of the civil rights movement, gives another analogue to ways and means by which we may act.
I also urge you to read Aaron Lynch's small book: "Thought Contagion" which is a popular introduction to memetics. The propagation, mutation and auxiliary 'hooks' by which ideas infect host populations and defeat competitive ideas is the core theme of the book. Within this paradigm lies a thought we should investigate, and it is this. If there is a possible technology of ideas, and their comcomitant relationship to psychology, history etc., then it should be pursued as a means to deflect the threat of the 'new right'. At the risk of overdoing the literary reference, Asimov's Foundation trilogy gives the final analogue for action: a core group(s) of trained individuals, acting to reshape a present sinister outcome into a more benign and expansive future outcome.
Despite the melodramatic tone of the idea, and the perhaps covert and 'different' means by which it can be instituted, I have a gut feeling that something along these lines is necessary to avert a genuine disaster in this country.
I am a college instructor and an author. I have survived a heart attack
and just passed through the barrier of prostate cancer surgery. I speak
as a father and husband, as a teacher and creative personality, and as
somone who has passed through some metaphorical gates that have, to say
the least, gotten my attention as to what counts, what doesn't, and how
much time is available to act. If my ideas have given you any thoughts
that you would wish to share, I would most appreciate 'listening' to
Here is some of the response to my review of Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ, again with the occasional comment of my own added:
Your comments are very thought provoking, especially to anyone who was raised to go to church and be continually bombarded with doctrines and theories that were perplexing at best. As I grow older, the story of Jesus continues to pervade the fundamental creeds of all mainstream Christian churches. I don't have an answer to what I truly believe, except that I guess I have to believe in the ultimate Goodness of Creation, and that for whatever reason, bad things happen to good people AND bad, and we look in vain for answers. For those who find solace in the Crucifixion of the Christ, and all that embodies, I will not quibble with them, but I must admit in my own soul I have pondered the rationality behind the event and why it had to occur. So much of the writings of Old and New Testament seem to contradict and at the same time concur. My spirituality is threatened, but I continue to profess Christianity through faith, as some things cannot be explained one way or the other. Thanks for your perspective.
I have worried about myself after seeing this movie. You see, I was totally unmoved by it. I saw only actors playing roles. And though I know crucifixion was a horrible, gruesome death, I couldn't help but think of all the helpless people who die horrible, gruesome deaths all the time, the prolonged agonies, murders and tortures of innocent persons at the hands of criminals, not to mention the slow, painful deaths from disease and everything else. I have always tried to believe the Gospel, but one thing is for certain: the sacrifice of Christ didn't help suffering humanity one whit, at least not in this life. I wish I didn't feel this way. It's all so confusing. Thanks for listening.
E.D.: This letter, and several others that follow, are a startling indication that more and more people today are becoming disillusioned about Christian doctrine and its gospel message, and are finding it emotionally and rationally unacceptable. It is unfortunate that the path to liberation from these untenable and outdated ideas must often pass through a state and period of psychological (and for some, even physical) malady, as well as a sense of isolation from former social ties.
Thank you for your article on Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ". I watched the film on Good Friday and for me it was the catalyst which finally made me realise that Christianity is untenable and will remain so for me. I thought I was the only person to react to the film in this way. My Christian friends who have seen it felt it confirmed their idea of a loving God, and wasn't it wonderful that Jesus was prepared to die for them.
I can no longer worship a God who can stand by and watch his own son killed so brutally to be a ransom in a system which God himself set up. The whole thing is too illogical for words. After almost a lifetime of trying to "square the circle" and make sense of Christianity and its teachings, this film, more than anything else, brought home to me the absurdity of the gospel as presented to and by Christians.
In the two months which have followed, I have tried to rescue some sort of spirituality from the wreckage of my faith, but have come to the conclusion that we can know nothing for sure. Maybe there is nothing to know, other than what we can see and sense for ourselves. I shall print out your article to show to a close friend who cannot seem to understand my reaction to the film. You explain it much more clearly and convincingly than I can.
A very, very insightful review but for one thing: how easy it was for the religious establishment of the day to control the 'uneducated' masses, a sort of blueprint on which religion seems to have been established. I missed many of your points when watching the film...not being an intellect of your standing I tend to forgive myself...but if nothing else I came away from the film with a total disgust of how religious leaders abused their position to manipulate such a set of events...if in fact they truly happened at all.
Provided you could control the masses, the 'common man', you had real power. To me it showed beyond doubt how easy it could be for a religion such as Christianity to get a foothold in the mind of the common man. it strikes me that the more educated the 'common man' has become the more man rejects religion.
Christianity, in the main, has been taught through the use of fear...to keep people in line. Tell a lie to an uneducated man and you may never be found out. Tell a lie to an educated man, with ability to reason, and you will be asked questions. In my view Christianity has told a lie too many and those lies are coming home to roost.
The Passion of the Christ just proved how easy it could be for a lie to be manifested into the truth. Control and conditioning.
Thank you so much for your review. I have the same reasoning but thought myself a lunatic.
All too many people are put here to suffer, yet evil people like Bin Laden, Castro, and many others are allowed to live on and on. I live in Florida and many people were emailing me to say they were "praying" for me. I told them not to bother. Did not all the poor people in Haiti who were already suffering from poverty not praying? The hurricane hit poor towns while passing up the rich towns. I do not wish anyone harm but the rich towns could afford to replace their homes, not the poor living in mobile homes in their old age.
And look at priests molesting boys—did they not pray everyday to stop the evil? And the Pope lives in a palace while people are starving—I would prefer to live in a tent if I believed I was God's messenger. If the Vatican sold its assets every person in Haiti (and other poverty stricken countries) could live a decent life. And how many ministers preach but have affairs and/or embezzle their sheep?
I apologize for rambling like some idiot. Thank you again for your article. I will read others.
Great review! Your writing is a marvel of skill and clarity. It is obvious that you care greatly about whether others understand what you write. Always a great pleasure to read.
Thank you for providing such a distinctive, challenging perspective to The Passion of the Christ.
In your excellent website review of Mel Gibson's "Passion of the Christ" you say about sacrifice "no one anywhere in the Bible...offers a justification for it, or an explanation of how it works." Yet while I generally agree with your views, I think there is a possible rationale for sacrifice even though it is not exactly the standard Christian view! Jesus is described as somebody who "takes away the sins of the world" and not necessarily a blood sacrifice to an angry God in the older primitive sense. In the Old Testament man is burdened with original sin becasue of the "fall." Jesus's death on the cross is not about paying the debt from man's misdeeds back to God (as one Jehova's witness once insisted to me). That (as you imply) doesn't make any sense at all! The sacrifice is symbolic. It is his life and death and his self-sacrifice that is redeeming because Jesus shows mankind a way of living without sin, loving others and being prepared to go as far as being tortured and murdered in order to demonstrate it. He absorbs the brutality without complaint and shames it absolutely. This I believe is part of what the gospels are referring to in the Kingdom of God. It is his demonstration of this taken to its ultimate test that removes sin, at least from those who sincerely attempt to follow his way. Jesus was without sin. A true follower of Jesus is without sin, ergo Jesus is a redeemer.
E.D.: I find this "rationale" somewhat convoluted. It doesn't change the fact that, symbolic or not, the redemption is achieved through a repugnant act which is still sacrificial. I think there are other, less objectionable, ways of demonstrating to mankind a commitment to live without sin and love others, especially on the part of a deity. On the other hand, if one wishes to impute to an historical Jesus such an outlook, that he submitted to death with such a demonstration in mind, we are simply analyzing the possible motives of an alleged human figure, and I have no objection to that, although I would not agree with him (the supposed Jesus) that this is the best way to go about it.
That is to say, the objections to the atonement concept which you articulate in your film review do not apply to original Christianity, long-buried by the Romanists. I agree that 'He died for my sins' is beyond sappy, to the point of senseless incoherence. But that's not the only way to depict the meaning of Christ. Peter Novak's book is a better way.
E.D.: Since I am
not familiar with Peter Novak's book, I cannot comment on its
depiction. However, I do not think the New Testament contains any
evidence of an "earlier Christianity" that held a more
enlightened and acceptable view of Jesus' death. Certainly Paul (as in
1 Cor. 15:3) and Hebrews (as in chapter 9) are fully in keeping with
the sacrificial atonement doctrine and they are the earliest record we
have. In fact, my own reading of what we might be able to glean about
pre-Pauline thinking points to a less developed view of Jesus'
sacrifice, namely the principle of "paradigmatic parallel." What the
heavenly figure undergoes in the spiritual world has a guaranteed
similar effect upon his counterparts in the physical world, those who
are joined to him through faith and ritual. We not only see this basic
principle enunciated by Paul, as in Romans 6:5, "For if we have become
united with him in the likeness of his death, certainly we shall be
also in the likeness of his resurrection," it is implied in the hymn in
Philippians 2:6-11 (assumed by most scholars to be pre-Pauline), where
Jesus' death and subsequent exaltation has an implied benefit for
believers which seems to have nothing to do with atonement. Much the
same is true in Revelation's view of the sacrifice of the Lamb
resulting in the salvation of an elect, which also lacks the idea of
universal atonement. And we find it in the Similitudes of
Enoch, where the heavenly Righteous One (Son of Man/Messiah) will
guarantee the exaltation of his counterparts on earth. Perhaps the idea
of universal atonement for sin is a Pauline innovation, though having
Stephen writes (from Oxford, England):
I wanted to thank you for a great website on the subject of Jesus' historicity, and the review of the Passion of the Christ. It was thoughtful and honestly presented it seems, as you were willing to give the film its due for its cinematic virtues, but also effectively criticized the idea of atonement presented in the picture as well as Christianity in general. Were you planning on writing any articles about the historical verisimilitude of the film, at least as far as its following both the Gospel accounts and what we know of the history of the period?
E.D.: I think my website as a whole does a good job of that—especially, thanks to Robert Price, my review of his great new book, The Incredible Shrinking Son of Man, which I would urge everyone to take a look at.
This is a beautiful, thoughtful, even inspiring "review" of Mel Gibson's film. I personally have not chosen to see "The Passion of the Christ" as I do not function well in the presence of violence. Just knowing what has gone on in past ages and what is transpiring even now between human beings is overwhelming enough for me.
As for why the death of Jesus should have atoning power with God is concerned, I was taught (when I was a practicing Christian) that the sacrifice for humanity’s sin had to be “perfect,” and only the son of god was “without blemish” in every way. Leviticus 3:1 talks about a “fellowship” or “peace” offering which had to be without defect. The NIV Study Bible states that this animal offering seemed to symbolize peace between God and man as well as “the inward peace that resulted.” This offering was “the only sacrifice of which the offerer might eat a part.” Christians, then, are taught that the Old Testament animal sacrifices were “types” or “foreshadowings” of Christ, depicting the ultimate and only effective sacrifice as the Passover lamb—without blemish or defect—who takes away the sin of the world. Thus, we could rightly blame God the Father for the death of his own son, not the Romans or the Jews. (The well-known John 3:16 verse admits this.) God himself, then, choreographed the whole thing—if it indeed happened.
E.D.: Church teaching tries to put the best spin on the idea of the sacrifice of Jesus, but it cannot paper over the fact that it is derived from a very human precedent which is not only primitive and irrational, but repugnant. The sacrifice of Christ owes its origin to the ancient world's commitment (especially that of Judaism) to the blood sacrifice of animals as a way of communing with and placating the gods, a practice going far back into prehistory and based on ignorance and superstition about the nature of the world. Often, human sacrifice stood beside animal sacrifice. (The former could be found in Israel and Phoenicia up to the 6th century BCE; in the latter areas, such as Carthage, even later.) The centerpiece of Christian dogma arises out of that thought world, one that should have been left behind many centuries ago. It is not only an insult to our intelligence and dignity, and the enlightenment we have struggled to achieve, it would be an insult to any Deity who might exist, certainly one along the lines of that envisioned by western religion.
As Betty notes, the sacrifice required by God had to be "perfect" and "without blemish [sin]"(thus, the "Son" Himself), but this is simply an extension of the requirements for the animals killed in the sacrifices performed by the Temple cult in Jerusalem up to 70 CE. The early formulators of Christian soteriology (like Paul) were re-interpreting the primitive practice of the ancients in general, presuming to find some loftier meaning in it, but it is still rooted in the slaughter of animals as practiced not only by the Jews but by non-Jewish state religions as well. Ironically, the Christian 'reinterpretation' of the practice in Christ's sacrifice, especially as fulfilling the "types/foreshadowings" which preceded it, only serves to impute to God the whole sanguinary system reaching back into prehistory. If he engineered Jesus' sacrifice, he must have engineered the practice which led up to it. If today we find the whole concept of blood sacrifice repulsive and abhorrent when applied in any other area, we are left with the concept of a God who has built salvation around something we have come to reject as belonging to the Dark Age of the mind.
I have just read your most masterful review of The Passion. The content is quite in contrast to the singular dichotomy that has constituted the discussion concerning this film. The viewpoint you have presented is like the third side of a triangle which grounds the opposing two sides of a cranked figure through pulling the components into a startling new dimension and perspective.
Or something like that.
E.D.: Hmmm... I guess I can take that as a compliment.
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