Skeptimus Prime » Bible One atheist's thoughts on politics, religion, and philsophy Mon, 11 May 2015 01:55:18 +0000 en-US hourly 1 I see ridiculous tweets. Sat, 03 Aug 2013 07:17:00 +0000 Continue reading ]]> I saw a post on twitter this evening that went like this.

The main reason for the existence of atheism is Christians who do not follow Jesus.

— Colton Graham (@LucasColtGraham) August 3, 2013

Now Christians say this all the time but I find it rather presumptuous, it’s as if they are the only game in town. Atheists have to pick, Christianity or Atheism. This is silly because there are plenty of other religions out there. Most people who are atheists are going to disbelieve for other reasons, since if this were there reason they might just as well go off and join some other religion.

I pointed this out to him and ended up in a short conversation that turned to the bible and he had this to say about slavery in the bible.

@SkeptimusPrime the servant who believed in God did not believe the wealthier person owned them. Only in this life did they have power

— Colton Graham (@LucasColtGraham) August 3, 2013

So there you have it folks, slavery was ok because you were only a slave for life, you got to go free once you died.

And he also said this

@SkeptimusPrime are employees working under a company owner not the same as modern day slaves? Yet you don’t find this immoral

— Colton Graham (@LucasColtGraham) August 3, 2013

Don’t get me wrong I have some problems with the way modern American Capitalism is run, but to claim it is exactly the same as a system that allowed you to beat your slave to death as long as it took a couple of days for him to die, (Exodus 21:20-21) is just plan ridiculous.

It’s like the old joke PSA Futurama did about downloading songs from the internet being exactly like ripping out a beating human heart. Except that was a joke and this guy was apparently serious.

Of course when none of that works he throws out Pascal’s freaking wager.

@SkeptimusPrime one more thing, if I’m wrong about then I’ve only wasted my life trying. If you’re wrong, its eternity in punishment.

— Colton Graham (@LucasColtGraham) August 3, 2013

We moved on to science and of course he asked about evolution, when I answered I got this gem.

@SkeptimusPrime if so, why is evolution still not occurring?

— Colton Graham (@LucasColtGraham) August 3, 2013

Then he ended with this one.

@SkeptimusPrime I’ll tell you what, I’ll pray for you. You continue to search for answers. Maybe one day you will have them.

— Colton Graham (@LucasColtGraham) August 3, 2013

I replied.

@LucasColtGraham Very well, I’ll hope that one day you educate yourself on how amazing the world actually is.

— Dylan Walker (@SkeptimusPrime) August 3, 2013

@LucasColtGraham and learn to respect evidence and rational inquiry over a comfortable but blind belief.

— Dylan Walker (@SkeptimusPrime) August 3, 2013

Overall more polite than many of my interactions on twitter, but still full of the same bad arguments that drove me to stop believing in the first place. I think it’s funny how Christians always talk about one day having the answers. They talk about it as this final thing where you finally know what’s going on and can just stop thinking. Personally I am a curious person and don’t much mind the uncertainty of rational thought. It just means there is more thinking to be done, and I actually like thinking.

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Relational Apologetics: A book review/criticism Thu, 03 Jan 2013 04:24:00 +0000 Continue reading ]]>

This will be a rather long post.  I don’t often write book reviews here, but I do from time to time pick up a book written by someone I disagree with.  It is a good way to sharpen my debate skills, and know what the non skeptical groups out there think about various things.  Of course, I also might find out I was wrong about something which is always good.

I saw a post on twitter the other day advertising a book on Christian apologetic being given away for free on Amazon and thought I’d give it a read to see if I was surprised.  I won’t make you wait till the end of the article to find out that I wasn’t.

The first thing I should mention before getting into this is that this book was clearly written by a fundamentalist Christian for other fundamentalist Christians to help them be better “apologists.”  That is to better defend the claims of Christianity for those unfamiliar with the term.  As a former believer I have a rather unique way of seeing books like this one different from either a Christian or an unbeliever who was never religious.  I read lots of books like this one when I was a believer and they haven’t changed much since then.
First, I will say that I appreciated the generally friendly tone the book was written in.  It seemed the author genuinely wanted to be respectful of unbelievers.  He failed at this quite spectacularly in a few places which  I will speak about shortly, but he did try to be nice.  He also spends some time complaining about how being a bible believer is so hard because Christians are hated in this country for what they stand for.  I found that part a bit silly given all special treatment Christians have traditionally received in this country.
He tells Christians to form real friendships with unbelievers but to make sure we don’t “influence” them, which I thought was humorous but the first thing I really noticed came on page 61 where he write.
It is good to ask God to give you eyes that can see past clever arguments into a person’s motive. Clever words are a smoke screen for a deeper issue.  Arguments that appear to be logical are just a mask covering some emotional or volitional problem. Man’s default position is a belief in God (Romans 1:19-32) In the attempt to hide from Him they will devise seemingly wise arguments to convince their heart that it is right in its rebellion.

So very quickly he has dismantled all those nice feeling I had from him when I started the book.  This sort of statement goes right to the heart of why I am hesitant to consider Christian evangelists to be my friends.  The claim of friendship is a duplicitous one.  In this statement he has said that those who do not believe in god are either willfully deluding themselves or have serious inability to examine their own motives.  He is also suggesting that we really believe in god but are just denying it because of some emotional reaction.

Now, on a certain level I understand why they say this.  This guy believes the bible is inerrant, and the bible says I know god is real so he believes it. No amount of protestations on my (or anyone’s) part would convince him his conclusion is wrong.  However, nothing will change the fact that his statements are also incredibly insulting.  The catch is that this book was written to other Christians, I imagine he would never say this to an unbelievers face, but he is always thinking it. I used to be an evangelist myself so  I can say with certainty that this is very common belief among them.  It’s in the bible after all.

The next quote I found interesting was this.

Instead of feeling cornered and just ending the conversation at your friends next question by saying, “Well you just have to have faith,” ask this question; “If God does not exist to create where do you think life came from?” The reason you ask this question is because the origin of life is a problem that skeptics need to be able to answer just like Christians.

I found this particularly interesting because earlier he has told Christians it was OK to use the phrase “I don’t know” when asked a question they are unsure about.  I applaud that because there are far too many Christians who just make stuff up.  By comparison skeptics will readily admit they don’t know what the origins of the universe are and point out that we don’t default to his god being real just because we don’t know the answer.  He continues along the same line:

 The believer has faith that God is unmade and has always existed, and the skeptic believes, on faith, that some matter has always existed. Each person is a person of faith.

This is blatant false equivalence.  A religious person doesn’t just believe in a god, they believe in a specific god with all sorts of traits, often expounded upon in a sacred book of some kind. To pretend that this is at all equivalent to the belief that matter, which we are actually made up of, may exist eternally in some form is just absurd.  And besides most atheists/skeptics don’t claim to know with any certainty what the origins of the universe are, just that the god claim hasn’t been demonstrated with sufficient evidence. He is clearly arguing as a presuppositionalist here so it is hard to take him seriously.  He engages even more openly in presuppositionalism later on in the book which I will point out too.

Further, this entire line shows they the writer doesn’t really understand big bang cosmology very well.  As I understand it, and of course I am no expert, the notion of an “eternal” universe is inherently meaningless since time is a construct that is relative to matter.  By this standard it is absurd to speak of “prior” to the big bang, because time, and therefore causality, as we understand them have no meaning once we roll the universe back to the point of planck time.

He then goes off the rails about women several times in the same chapter showing he doesn’t understand much about them either.  He does some shtick about how women and men talk about things differently. (women talk to much and men don’t listen) that made me want gag.  A few pages later he claims that when pro-choicers talk about women’s rights it’s a distraction from the real augment because women’s rights are not relevant to the subject of abortion, even after admitting that science does not have a certain answer about when life begins. My eyes nearly popped out of my head on that one.

It was especially ironic because later on in the book he mentions how “some religions” think you can use women as you want because they less valuable than men. He implies this sort of behavior makes a religion bad.  Perhaps he meant Islam, but honestly Christianity doesn’t have a stellar track record on women’s rights.

He then goes into a section where he presents his actual “evidence” for the Christan god.  He starts by  repeating his claims that skeptics are illogical and just come up with rationalizations to justify their emotional reasons for disbelief.  He goes on to a poorly structured attempt to ask a few questions to get the skeptic to admit that there might be a god which seems to rely totally on the person they are speaking to not knowing much about science, which I suppose is a good assumption because most people don’t, but it makes it seem as if he doesn’t care that his arguments are weak because he knows most people will be too ignorant to notice.

Having “convinced” us that there might be a god, he skips over presenting any actual evidence for any particular god’s existence and jumps right to proving the bible is reliable.  There are a couple of gems.

What is agreed upon by historians regardless of their religious persuasion is that Jesus died by crucifixion.

I’m not even sure what to do with this one.  Which historians is he talking about? The biblical narrative can’t even provide a solid birth date for Jesus as Luke gives conflicting data.  There is no record of his crucifixion in any contemporary work, Pilate (who historians do agree was real) never mentions anything about the conversation he had with Jesus according to the gospels.  The gospels mention people getting out of their grave and wandering around, yet no one outside the bible records this event, at least not that any that has been found. Historians seem uncertain if Jesus existed in any form, much less the version written of in the gospels.

People do not suffer for a lie when there is nothing to be gained; none of the apostles recanted their testimony of a risen Jesus, and the only thing they gained was their death. The best conclusion to be drawn from this data is that Christ rose from the grave.

This seems to be the crux of his argument for the veracity of the bible.  I’ve read similar arguments from more well known apologists like Josh McDowell and they are just as bad there. First there is an historical problem with this argument.  There is no extra biblical evidence to prove the existence of the apostles.  There are, of course, stories that they were executed in various ways, but there were stories told by the early church and there is no corroboration for them.

The second problem is one of psychology.  Even if the apostles were real and were executed, people believe crazy things on no evidence all the time.  It is not necessary to believe they were lying to believe the resurrection did not happen.  Elvis died just over 35 years ago, there is video of his funeral and yet there are people who earnestly believe he faked his own death.  People are mistaken all the time, and eye witness testimony is incredibly unreliable.

The last problem is one of statistics.  When someone uses the phrase “best conclusion” what is usually meant is that one conclusion is statistically more likely than others. How exactly are we suppose to measure the statistical likelihood of the resurrection when it we have no scientifically verifiable cases of resurrection? If we took a random sample set of 1000 dead people what do you think the chances are that one of them would be alive again in three days?  To say the resurrection is the best conclusion assumes that we are willing to accept an event which have have no evidence ever occurs is more likely than any other possibility. 

He does touch on one thing  I actually agree with him on, which is the problem of religious pluralism.  That is people who treat all religions as equally true on some fundamental level.  He says they can’t all be right, and I agree. They are all wrong.

The last bit he writes on is the “problem of evil.”  He borrows heavily here from C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity. The argument is a mess of semantic and logical flaws like defining the word “wrong” is a peculiar way and demanding that the only way to meet this definition is a god who tells us what is wrong.  He engages in the typical false dichotomy that if there is no “ultimate” authority (and only god fills this role in his estimation) everything is left up to mere personal preference.

I have written and spoke quite a bit on the subject of secular morality so I’m not going to debunk this fully here but to any one who is interested I recommended to the debate I did here.

I also highly recommend this talk by Matt Dillahunty.
Matt Dillahunty: The Superiority of Secular Morality

He seems confused by how the non religious handle the is/ought dilemma.  It isn’t really difficult, to handle this.  The old saying “those who live by the sword die by the sword” applies quite well here. If you treat other people poorly in some way there is a good chance you will suffer consequences. I can’t force anyone to agree with me with or without religion, but we don’t need a law to be universal to be useful.

I will leave this topic with a real world example of how all this talk of ultimate purpose and objective morality is nonsense.  Lets look at the black plague.  The black or bubonic plague killed wiped out somewhere between 30% to 60% of Europe population in the 14th century.  Further if we had known more about medicine and germ theory many if not most of these deaths could have been avoided.  I think we would all agree that the plague and the ignorance that magnified it’s effects were bad things.

Now ask yourself this?  Would the bacteria who caused the plague agree with us?  To them the plague was like a golden age for bacteria.  Human suffering resulted in a huge population boom for bubonic bacteria.  Of course you can argue that bacteria lack the self actualization to recognize any of this, but it doesn’t really change the point.  If the bacteria could answer a question and you asked it if it was evil to kill humans the question would likely have no meaning to it.  Humans are just a food source as far as the bacteria is concerned. It would be like asking humans if it is moral to eat broccoli.

It is clear the reason we consider it wrong to kill humans (and various other moral injunctions) is because we are human and share a particular social heritage with them, and further are a part of the hominidae family of animals who strongly value social cohesion. There is no need to invent deities to explain our morality when there is so much science that already explains our behavior.

Well that was pretty much the whole book in a nutshell.  Truth be told I was hoping for a bit more, it seemed like the same recycled arguments every modern apologists uses.  I keep hoping one day to see some novel idea or argument from apologists, but I’m pretty skeptical I will run into one at this point.

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Christian salvation and why it makes no sense. Sun, 10 Jun 2012 03:29:00 +0000 Continue reading ]]> I’m sure it is no surprise to any regular readers that there are a lot of things I find disagreeable or downright immoral in the bible.  From the downright frightening way all of the Abrahamic religions advise we treat women to ludicrous insults hurled at unbelievers.  There is a lot more in the bible to dislike than there is to like, but one of the most troubling problems from a philosophical standpoint is the concept of salvation.

Now many of of my readers, specifically those who don’t give a shit about religion or aren’t huge history nerds like me, may not know that much about this topic, so let me give you a short primer into how Christian salvation works.  Christians all generally agree that salvation is a very important aspect of their religion, and they all agree that Jesus plays a part in that salvation.  What Christians sometimes disagree on is exactly how salvation actually works.  If you are not knowledgeable about Christian theology this might seem simple, but actually an entire category of theology known as soteriology is devoted to discuss this very question.

As it turns out Christians have come up with more than one answer to this question, Calvinism and Arminianism, for instance end up with very different answers to the question of whether or not humans play an active role in their own salvation.

Now, the specific thing I want to talk about is one aspect of the Christian salvation concept that is generally shared by all traditional theologies, substitutionary atonement.  There are a lot of liberal theologians who have rejected any form of substitutionary atonement, but most Christians sitting in a pew on Sunday believe in it. To be clear there are several different types of substitutionary atonement which you can read about here.  However, the two that are generally preached by most fundamentalists are called penal substitution and satisfaction theoryAnselm proposed satisfaction theory, and penal substitution was proposed by Calvin and other reformers as a modification of Anselm’s model.  Both of them, however, suffer from a flaw I find rather problematic. 

To really understand these models work one has to go back to the old testament.  See, in the old testament God had a very strict set of rules, but he knew that people would mess up from time to time so he implemented another set rules governing how people could repent and get forgiveness for various breaches of the law.  The manner in which people were granted forgiveness almost always involved animal sacrifices.  For a good description of  these practices you can turn to a lot of places in the Pentateuch but Leviticus Chapter 1 is a good place to start, it pretty much continues on until chapter 9.  The rules were clear, if you committed a sin you killed an animal to atone.  The type of animal and the ritual involved depended on the sin and how wealthy the person in question was.

The reason why this relates to Christ’s death is that substitution atonement views his death as an extension of these animal sacrifice.  See, these little animal sacrifices could clear away one sin, but God taking human form and offering himself up as a human sacrifice as a being with no sin could pay the price once and for all.

In the new testament Hebrews Chapter 9 describes it this way:

And almost all things are by the law purged with blood; and without shedding of blood is no remission.  (Verse 22)

When I was a believer I found such things comforting, but as I began to doubt my religion I noticed something about this narrative that really began to disturb me.  This system seems rather like all the other religious systems in the middle east at the time, ritualistic sacrifices to appease a deity, rather like a magic spell when you think about it.  The descriptions of the old testament laws as well as the description in Hebrews seem to suggest that the power of forgiveness is contained in the blood.  One had to spill the blood in a particular way, and often sprinkle the blood on an altar.  It seemed very much like all sorts of practices from other religions that I would, and still do, dismiss as crazy.

Ritualistically killing animals to get the rain to return or to gain favor with a deity in an oncoming war.  These sorts of practices were exactly the sorts of things that Israel was doing, there was no major difference.  So if this system is so absurd, it is reasonable to conclude that even if there is a creator god he probably had nothing to do with it.  Finally since the system of sacrifices that Christs death is resting upon makes no sense, then the death itself makes no sense. 

The notion that the all powerful creator of the universe would require a ritualistic blood sacrifice to in order for us to find favor with him again is laughable.  Perhaps it was believable by people who genuinely thought that those same sacrifices could bring back the rain after a drought or help one country win a war with another, but scientific analysis has squashed those ideas long ago.  Cut open an animals throat and let it bleed out on an altar and all you have is a dead animal and a bloody altar.  No rain, no military victory, no favor with omnipotent beings, and no salvation.

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True reason ain’t what it used to be. Fri, 23 Mar 2012 06:09:00 +0000 Continue reading ]]>

Some of you may know about the Reason Rally going on in Washington D.C. this weekend.  I am unfortunately unable to attend, but I did come across a website for a Christian group calling themselves True Reason.  (humble I know) This group is planing an “outreach,” which is another word evangelism, at the Reason Rally to convince us that Christianity is the most logical position and they even wrote a book entitled “True Reason” for the occasion.

I realize that most of you have no time to read through arguments by Christian apologists so I have gracefully done it for you.  Let me say that every time I pick up a book by an apologist I think to myself that this could be the one that convinces me.  Perhaps Christianity is reasonable after all and I just missed it.  Of course  I don’t feel this as strongly as I did a few years ago but I always hope, at least for their sake, that theist in question has managed to come up with something new.  Anyone willing to bet money on that?  I didn’t think so.

The book is a compilation of essays by a host of the “most reasonable” fundamentalist Christians so of Course William Lane Craig makes this list.  For those who pay attention to apologetics you might remember Craig as they absolutely horrid person who tried to justify the biblical genocide of the Canaanites by saying that the true victims where the Jewish soldiers who must have suffered a lot from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) after all that baby killing god order them to do.

I quote from his article here:

So whom does God wrong in commanding the destruction of the Canaanites?  Not the Canaanite adults, for they were corrupt and deserving of judgement.  Not the children, for they inherit eternal life.  So who is wronged?  Ironically, I think the most difficult part of this whole debate is the apparent wrong done to the Israeli soldiers themselves.  Can you imagine what it would be like to have to break into some house and kill a terrified woman and her children?  The brutalizing effect on these Israeli soldiers is disturbing.

Now I don’t care what degree’s Craig has, if this is the standard for high levels of rationality in Christianity then they have already lost their argument before it began.  However, In the books defense Craig’s chapters mostly focus on the Kalam Cosmological argument, an argument which has been dismantled so many times I won’t even bother.  Check out the Iron Chariots Wiki for a detailed rebuttal.  However, writers of the chapters dealing with moral arguments fair little better than Craig does.

Now, it would be impossible for me to go into all of the failures in reason I found in this book even in the chapters I have read thus far. So for the moment I will focus on on Chapter Fifteen by Glenn Sunshine which is about Slavery.  The reason for this is that history happens to be a topic I am better versed in than many of the others, and one that Sunshine is apparently quite ignorant (or just lying) on despite his degree in the subject.

So here is the first mistake I noticed, he says:

Whatever the reasons for being enslaved, throughout the ancient world slaves were legally property, not persons, and their status was permanent unless for some reason the master chose to set the slave free.  The sole exception to this was Israel.

Now, this is a gross oversimplification of the issue to the point of being inaccurate.  First, the notion that slave status was permanent in all other ancient cultures is wrong.  In Rome, for instance, though it was not common it was possible for a slave to buy his freedom.  Secondly the institution of slavery in Israel according the bible was not the kind and gentle institution he seems to want us to believe.  The exception he speaks only allows one to be slave for 6 years, however, of it only applied to Jewish men, all women and foreign men could be enslaved forever.  Further, in Exodus 21:4-6 the law gave the owner a way to turn someone into a permanent slave.  He could give the man a wife from his female slaves and upon manumission the slave would have to pick between his freedom and his family, since his wife and children would still belong to the slave owner.

He also engages in very selective reinterpretations of various passages.  Take this quote.

…and if a servant died soon after being struck by a master, the master was considered guilty of murder.  (Ex:21:20)

Uh….is that really what that passage says?  Lets take a look.

When a slaveowner strikes a male or female slave with a rod and the slave dies immediately, the owner shall be punished.  But if the slave survives a day or two, there is no punishment; for the slave is the owner’s property.  Ex: 21:20:21

Does anyone notice how he doesn’t quote the second verse?  He doesn’t even correctly reference verse 20, the passage does not say the owner is guilty of murder, it says he will be “punished.”  True it doesn’t name the punishment, but considering this is the book that makes being an unruly child a capital crime I think we can assume that if they had wanted the person killed for it they would have said so.  So this is clearly not considered murder, in fact as long as you only beat the guy bad enough to make live a few agonizing days before he dies then you get off with no punishment at all, after all he is your property.

He continues his series of audacious claims by saying that Christianity was alone responsible for the  decline of slavery in western Europe after the fall of the Roman Empire.  This is a typical post hoc fallacy.  It is true that slavery did decline after the fall of the Roman Empire, but the causes for its decline were varied.  Even his own arguments seem to defeat this position, for instance he mentions that one of the reasons that most Christians in the Roman empire where not abolitionists was because it slavery was such an intrinsic part of Roman culture and economics.  One of the reasons slavery declined was the total collapse of the economy rendered it infeasible for most people to own slaves, and the collapse of the legal system meant that slaves who escaped could not have been tracked down as easily as they could have been prior to the fall.  Owning slaves was simply more difficult after Rome’s fall.

In fact, even as Sunshine begins to talk about the middle ages he points out that Clovis II passed laws against slavery because of the influence of his wife, Bathilda, who was a former slave.  Exactly where was the influence of Christianity in this?  However, the truly humorous part of this is when he mentions that by the 11th century a law that banned the enslavement of Christians

…effectively abolished slavery in medieval Europe, except at the southern and eastern interfaces with Islam where both sides enslaved one another’s prisoners.

So Christianity ended slavery…except for the slavery they didn’t end?  Why did non-Christians not get protection under the law?  Also, how can you argue that slavery is not a religious issue when people started drawing legal lines on who you could enslave based upon the religious beliefs of the individual?

Most of the rest of the article devolves into a string of no true Scotsman fallacies.  He basically admits that a lot of people who practiced slavery used the bible to justify it, but they weren’t “true” Christians.  Even Pope’s like Innocent the VIII don’t escape his quick dismissal.

In the end Sunshine manages to completely miss the point of the criticism that atheists bring to bear on this point.  His entire argument is a straw man of the position of most atheists on this issue.   When we point out that Judaism institutionalized slavery we are not saying their culture was horrible or that it was worse than any other culture of the time.  We are pointing out that it is exactly the same, and thus the notion that the book was inspired by an all powerful being is in question. 

Sunshine’s argument amounts to saying that the Jewish or Christian cultures he writes about are very slightly better than the other cultures around them, and even if I were to grant that argument, which I don’t, it would be an incredibly weak one.  If the Bible were only the work of men living in that time it looks rather like we would expect, but if it were the work of the creator of the universe we ought to expect much better, not slightly better.

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More brilliant morals from the god of the bible. Deuteronomy: 22:23-24 Fri, 17 Feb 2012 04:45:00 +0000 Continue reading ]]>

Back when I was a fundamentalist I carefully studied the bible quite a bit.  You see, back then I took very seriously the command in 1 Peter 3:15 that states:

But sanctify the Lord God in you hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear.

You see, I felt as if I needed to be able to offer justification for everything I believed.  I was, for most of my time as a Christian, a literalist, that is to say I believed that the entire bible was scientifically, historical, and ethically accurate.  This belief served to keep me well in the fold of Christianity during my high school days, but once I got to college and started taking my beliefs more seriously I began reading the bible every day.  I began evangelizing to people, leading bible studies, etc.

I found passages that troubled me often but I usually could find ways of rationalizing them.  However, now and then I found passages which seemed wrong in one of the three ways I mentioned with no good answer to them.  My inability to mesh my faith with reality or morality was one of the primary things that lead me away from Christianity. 

So with that in mind, for your viewing pleasure I would like to present one of the many passages I came across during that time of my life which I spent years in a vain attempt to find an explanation that didn’t make my skin crawl.

Deuteronomy: 22:23 If a damsel that is a virgin be betrothed unto an husband, and a man find her in the city, and lie with her;  
22:24 Then ye shall bring them both out unto the gate of that city, and ye shall stone them with stones that they die; the damsel, because she cried not, being in the city; and the man, because he hath humbled his neighbour’s wife: so thou shalt put away evil from among you.

So, to be clear about what is going on here, we have a women who is engaged and she and another man have sex.  If she cries out the man gets stoned but if she doesn’t cry out the she gets stoned too.  To be clear this is not the kind of stoned that leaves you with a desire for brownies, this is the getting your head bludgeoned in with large rocks until you die kind of stoned.

The explanation that is most often offered here is that the sex was consensual, otherwise she would have cried out.  I see two problems with this, one I can easily see a circumstance where a woman is raped and stays silent, drugged, knocked out, threatened with a weapon, or just plain scared, yet there is no consideration for those things in this law.

The second, much larger problem, is that this apologetic is basically arguing that it is reasonable to make consensual sex a capital crime.  Even when I was a Christian and thought premarital sex was wrong the notion that someone should be killed for it seemed incredibly offensive to me.

Just so no one can claim I am making up this apologetic I found a link to the section of the Matthew Henry Commentary that speaks about this.  Here is the pertinent section from the page in question:

And it shall be presumed that she consented if it were done in the city, or in any place where, had she cried out, help might speedily have come in to prevent the injury offered her. Qui tacet, consentire videtur–Silence implies consent.

If you think that is the worst of it, there are some extremely twisted attempt to justify this particular passage  It didn’t take me long to find this one out there on the net which was very similar to things some Christians said to me years ago.

This law exists to protect everyone involved, and it actually demonstrates a rather impressive knowledge of human behavior and human nature. The key words here are “because she did not cry out for help though she was in the city,” under the assumption that if she went along with it willingly, it wasn’t actually rape. First, it protects the man from false accusations–if a malicious woman makes an accusation like that, she’s on the hook too. And second, it protects the woman. If she knows that if she plays along, she’s guilty under the law, then he can’t use the best-known of intimidation tactics employed by rapists, “play along or I’ll kill you!” It gives her a strong incentive to struggle, fight him off, and scream for help, which makes it less likely that she will actually end up being raped. All in all, this demonstrates the brilliance of God’s law, not the cruelty and immorality of it.

First off, creating a situation where women are afraid to report rape does NOT qualify as brilliance, secondly setting up a situation where the woman has to fight back to have any chance of living no matter the circumstances of the assault is outright repugnant.  Rape is about control, setting up a situation where the victim has even less control is the exact opposite of brilliant thinking.  I have yet to hear an apologetic for this passage from a Christian that does not appeal to some kind of misogynistic or anti-sex nonsense.

In concussion this passage is pretty damn immoral in my book.  I am always amazed at Christians who complain about the misogyny in the Koran and ignore all the stuff right in the middle of their own holy book.

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Biblical stories that will freak you out. #1 Tue, 12 Jul 2011 23:00:00 +0000 Continue reading ]]> After going through the ten commandments I began thinking about all of the really disturbing stories in the Bible and thought I might start an occasionally writing about passages in the bible which were disturbing or immoral.

Today’s entry is a gem of a story from Judges 11.  Jephthah goes to make war against the children of Ammon, this in itself is not that remarkable, but the there is much more to the passage starting in verse 30.

And Jephthah vowed a vow unto the LORD, and said, If thou shalt without fail deliver the children of Ammon into mine hands, then it shall be, that whatsoever cometh forth of the doors of my house to meet me, when I return in peace from the children of Ammon, shall surely be the LORD’s, and I will offer it up for a burnt offering. Judges 11, 30-31

So we see here at the start of the passage Jephthah makes a promise to God.  He tells god that if he is granted a victory over the Ammon he will kill and make a burnt offering of whatever comes out of his house first.  I find this a really odd promise to make, given that he was going to be coming home from a war did it not occur to him that it might not be an animal that came out, but a fellow human being?  Further, God, though silent in this passage, seems to find this arrangement acceptable.  He certainly speak up to tell Jephthah he might want to rethink his promise.

While we are on this subject I think it might be worth bringing up that this bargain looks very much like some sort of magic spell.  Offering up blood sacrifices in exchange for deities reorganizing reality in your favor seems very similar to the sort of things I often hear Christians condemn about other religions.

So Jephthah passed over unto the children of Ammon to fight against them; and the LORD delivered them into his hands.  And he smote them from Aroer, even till thou come to Minnith, even twenty cities, and unto the plain of the vineyards, with a very great slaughter. Thus the children of Ammon were subdued before the children of Israel. Judges 11:32-33

So, fairly straight forward here, Jephthah goes out to war and wins.  Indeed he apparently chases them across 20 cities.

And Jephthah came to Mizpeh unto his house, and, behold, his daughter came out to meet him with timbrels and with dances: and she was his only child; beside her he had neither son nor daughter.  Judges 11:34

So, unsurprisingly, Jephthah’s daughter comes out to greet him.  His only daughter as it turns out.  You might think Jephthah would have deemed it a good idea to tell his daughter not to come great him when he got back, but clearly he did not think that far ahead.  His daughter came out to greet him because she was presumably happy that he hadn’t been killed in the war, unaware that he had struck a blood bargain with his preferred deity for that safe return.

And it came to pass, when he saw her, that he rent his clothes, and said, Alas, my daughter! thou hast brought me very low, and thou art one of them that trouble me: for I have opened my mouth unto the LORD, and I cannot go back.  Judges 11:35

Well, at least he is upset about this turn of events.  However, he simply says that he can’t go back on a promise he made to God so he is going to have to kill her and make a human sacrifice of her.   Again, God could have popped in at this point to tell him human sacrifice is wrong, and killing ones own daughter is even more wrong, but He continues to be silent.

And she said unto him, My father, if thou hast opened thy mouth unto the LORD, do to me according to that which hath proceeded out of thy mouth; forasmuch as the LORD hath taken vengeance for thee of thine enemies, even of the children of Ammon. And she said unto her father, Let this thing be done for me: let me alone two months, that I may go up and down upon the mountains, and bewail my virginity, I and my fellows.  And he said, Go. And he sent her away for two months: and she went with her companions, and bewailed her virginity upon the mountains.   Judges 11:36-38

To being told her dad is going to have to kill her now she responds rather calmly in this story.  I rather expect if this event were real she would not be so understanding.  She only asks that she be allowed two months to hang out with her friends to bewail that she will die a virgin.  Considering the age of marriage at the time this means that Jephthah’s daughter (funny they never give her a name) would probably be no more than 13 or 14.  There is also some rather inherent sexism in this passage, the fact that she chooses to bewail her virginity rather than the fact that she was about to be made a burnt offering focuses on her role as a producer of babies to the exclusion of any other value she might have possessed.  “It’s just a shame she has to die before she could pop out a few babies,” is the way this reads to me.

And it came to pass at the end of two months, that she returned unto her father, who did with her according to his vow which he had vowed: and she knew no man. And it was a custom in Israel, That the daughters of Israel went yearly to lament the daughter of Jephthah the Gileadite four days in a year. Judges 11:39-40

Well, as promised she calmly comes back to her father so that he can preform the sacrifice.  If she had any sense she would have run away from that abusive nut job that calls himself her father, but she comes back and he goes through with it.  Again it should be noted that God could have intervened here but did not.  He did so for Abraham, not that God showing up at the last second up and yelling, “Psyche” makes the story all that great, but at least there was no actual human sacrifice in that one.

I have actually had Christians try to absolve this story by treating it as a object lesson about the need to keep the promises one makes to God.  The passage actually even supports this conclusion when Jephthah says, “I have opened my mouth unto the LORD, and I cannot go back.”  I personal think if there is any lesson to be found here it’s that we shouldn’t make bat shit crazy promises to invisible beings, but I am just weird like that  I guess.  Mostly I just point out to them that this kind of thinking can only lead to a rather openly relativistic moral position.  (you know, the sort of position that Fundamentalist Christians claim is a flaw with atheism)

How does one know that all of those parents who killed there kids weren’t doing God’s will?  Perhaps all those pedophile priests in the Catholic church were told by god to do what they did?  God wouldn’t do that?  Why? Because it is wrong?  Just like human sacrifice is wrong even if its to keep a promise to god?  One cannot have it both ways, either we always keep our promises to god and this guy is a spiritual hero for his actions, or there are somethings that should never be done in any circumstance and this guy is the poster boy for what religion can make people do at its worst.

If it is the first, then Fundamentalist can not reasonably claim to have the moral high ground on anything, If it is the second then the it becomes increasingly difficult to treat the Bible as if it has anything useful to say about our morals.

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Commandment #11 of 10….wait…what? Fri, 08 Jul 2011 00:22:00 +0000 Continue reading ]]> Roy Moore’s 10 commandment display being removed.

OK, there are no more commandments, but I thought I would make a final post about the commandments to comment on one of the most troubling things about the ten commandments.  The biggest issue I have with the ten commandments is not with anything in them as much as it is with what they left out.  The commandments speak about a wide variety of subjects to be sure, but as I have pointed out much is included that is either unneeded or downright unethical, on the other hand many things are missing from the ten commandments which would have made this set of commands much more useful as an ethical guide, and considering the author is supposed to be omniscient it does beg the question of how they didn’t make the list.

1. How about a “thou shalt not own other humans as you would property?”  Most Christians quite rightly distance themselves from slavery these days, but until less than two hundred years ago many Christians felt that slavery was not only acceptable, but an entirely ethical practice, and based their arguments on the bible.  I pointed out that in commandment #10 it actually mentions slaves under the list of things you shouldn’t covet with not the slightest hint of condemnation for the owning of slaves. But this is hardly the only passage mentioning slavery.  Exodus 21, just one chapter after the 10 commandments is full of laws expressly telling people how to properly go about owning slaves.  Not once in this or any other passage in the bible does it so much as say, “but it would be better if you didn’t treat other human beings as property.”  It is a hard truth that few Christians will admit but the bible not only does not condemn slavery it encourages it.

There is an argument out there presented by some Christians that slavery as laid out in the bible was not as bad as the practice of slavery was in the American south.  In other words, they argue that our impression of slavery in America “poisons the well” of slavery in general, which is, apparently, carried out in such a humanitarian fashion in the bible that no one could rationally object to it.

Not quite it turns out, because I object.  First, no matter how well treated a slave is still property, and I find it inherently unethical and logically unjustifiable to own other human beings.  Second, the Bible makes it clear that the slavery therein was anything but kind and gentile.

Take this passage for example:

And if a man smite his servant, or his maid, with a rod, and he die under his hand; he shall be surely punished.  Notwithstanding, if he continue a day or two, he shall not be punished: for he is his money.  Exodus 21:20-21

In case you are unsure of the meaning here, this passage says it is not a crime to beat your slave to death as long as they survive a day or two.  No, slavery in ancient Israel was not humanitarian.

2. Here is another one that would have been nice, “thou shalt treat women as equals.”  Imagine how many problems throughout western history could have been avoided if this had been in the bible.  As bad as the treatment of slaves was in the bible, the treatment of women was often worse.  If you were unlucky enough to be both slave and woman then you might as well forget having any sort of freedom.

Take this cheerful piece of literature:

Now therefore kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman that hath known man by lying with him.  But all the women children, that have not known a man by lying with him, keep alive for yourselves. Numbers 31:17

This is after the extermination of the Midianites.  Moses is essentially telling the Israeli soldiers, at the behest of god presumably, that they, after destroying a city including the girls parents apparently, they may force said girl to marry one of the very people who just murdered her parents.  Even worse it specifies virgins meaning these women were mostly likely younger that 15 years old.

Or should we talk about some of the statements about women’s rights in the Pauline and pseudo-Pauline letters.  How he tells them to remain silent in church in 1st Cor. 14 or in 1st Tim 2.  If there is a treatise on women’s equality to be found in the bible I have not found it.

3. How about a command against racism, or religious intolerance?  Not found anywhere in the 10 commandments I am afraid.  However, we can find plenty of passages in the bible where God orders genocide against whatever race, culture or religious group he happened to dislike, or happened to be on a patch of land he promised someone else.

All in all the Ten Commandments leave out a lot of things which would have helped make peoples lives much better.  Instead we get commands demanding worship and leveling threats at those who  refuse, and thought crimes.  If these were merely written by bronze age men who did the best they could, it would be understandable, in fact it would make perfect sense.  However if they were written by a all knowing God, it seems he could have done quite a bit better.  I find it impossible to believe that these were written by any sort of god.

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Commandment #10 of 10 Sun, 03 Jul 2011 15:14:00 +0000 Continue reading ]]> Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbor’s.
Exodus 20:17
Well, since I actually praised the last commandment it is appropriate that we end with one of the worst commandments in the lot.  There are so many things wrong with this command I am not even sure where to begin.

For starters god is criminalizing thoughts. This is both entirely opposed to common sense and very much in opposition to American law.  How does one criminalize a thought to begin with?  Exactly how is god expecting the Jewish legal authorities to detect a breach of this law?  Of course the American legal system is pretty clear on this.  Thoughts cannot be considered crimes in and of themselves.  

Of course another problem stems from what thought he decides to criminalize.  He could have criminalized thinking about something bad, like “don’t think about being a serial killer,” or “don’t think about furry porn,” but no, he criminalizes coveting, which last time I checked was the basic thought process that makes capitalism possible.  Coveting is practically an American institution, and considering the number of Christians out there who seem to think that American free market capitalism is exactly the economic system their god wants in this country I submit that many of them do not know the bible as well as they think they do.

Lastly, I would point out the type of things god says we are not to covet is probably the most disturbing thing in this command.  That is, that among the “property” of your neighbor you are not supposed to covet he includes both his wife and his slaves.  For those who don’t think god approves of slavery in the Bible, feel free to point them towards this command.  Of course women are property right?  I mean what else would they be, certainly not individuals with their own desires and thoughts separate from your own.  That’s just crazy talk.

So there you have it, in one fell swoop god condemns free thought, capitalism, and civil rights.  Well that’s just great god, I mean really really great, way to end on a high note.
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Commandment #9 of 10 Fri, 01 Jul 2011 15:54:00 +0000 Continue reading ]]> Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.  Exodus 20:16
Okay, we now come to the only commandment that I actually think is good.  I actually have nothing bad to say about it.  Though interestingly the reason I have nothing bad to say about it is because the command doesn’t actually seem to be saying what most Christians assert that it says.  

Almost without fail, Christians will tell you that this is a command to never lie.  I would argue the wording is much more specific.  In the context, the rule seems to be much more specific.  To “bear false witness” seems indicate a legal meaning, meaning that the command is telling people to not accuse others of illegal activities they are not guilty of.  In essence this command is one against perjury.  
As such I find this command like the others, reasonable, clear, concise, and fairly closely matches laws in our own legal system.  Of course it doesn’t provide for what the punishment will be, but otherwise I have nothing really bad to say about this commandment.  I just wish Christians would read it more closely and realize that this commandment does not deal with lying in general.  Don’t get me wrong I prefer honesty, but I don’t think it makes sense to make lying a crime.
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Commandment #8 of 10 Thu, 30 Jun 2011 03:37:00 +0000 Continue reading ]]> Thou shalt not steal.  Exodus 20:15

To be honest I don’t have much to say about this one that I didn’t say about #6.  It sounds good on the surface but is too vague to be truly useful.  There are plenty of reasons that stealing might end up being ethical in certain situations.   If it were to save someones life for instance I would be willing to steal, this law seems to fail to make any such exceptions.

The other thing about stealing is that the concept goes hand it hand with the concept of property ownership, just about every sufficiently developed society in human history has developed this concept, usually about the same time they traded hunter-gather culture for that of an agrarian one.  The point is that the idea that, in general, we shouldn’t take others stuff is not unique to Christianity and requires no god to mandate it.  Stable societies require such a law if they wish to stay stable.  It seems to me there is no real way to claim that our founding fathers only made theft illegal because the bible said so, even if they were super religious.  Plenty of societies prior to Judaism’s advent made this a crime and plenty since. 
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