The Bible’s greatest hits: Genesis edition

The Atheist Experience episode #606 will be about the Bible’s impact on our culture, focusing on the book of Genesis. Dust off that Bible and follow along. We’ll talk about

  • how just-so stories have been used to blame and repress minority groups,
  • how the in-group uses the stories to align with power and justified thuggery,
  • how the breeding log of Genesis provides convenient hooks for derivative religions, and
  • how so many aspects of the goofy episodes in Genesis still remain with us while the really embarrassing ones are forgotten.

In future episodes, we’ll look at the greatest hits from some other parts of the Bible.

“Stop bashing my religion”

Fairly often, we get e-mails complaining about how we are only out to bash Christianity and will we please just stop. Usually, the author will have a glowing impression of their religion and its impact on the world and we are just misinformed.

We do beat up on Christianity. I know I do. I think it’s a good thing to make people aware of the harm that misplaced faith can cause, both in the abstract and the concrete. Christianity provides many examples. The fact that most Christians are unaware of the harm that their religion is cause is compounds the problem. Ignorance may be bliss, but it’s not a valid excuse.

Most of the problems we point out about Christianity apply to other religions, as well. But perhaps I am being somehow unfair to Christianity. I try to be open to criticism myself so that I’m not perceived as a hypocrite and so I’m not closed to opportunities to learn and grow.

My first response is usually, “Can you give me an example where I/we have unfairly criticized your religion?” This usually gets me no response. The only conclusion I can draw is that they are making a lame attempt to silence the critics of their cherished belief system. If you can’t provide evidence for a claim, then why should anyone take the claim seriously?

One thing I’m “guilty” of is pointing at a subgroup of Christianity such as the religious right, the fundamentalists, or the evangelicals, and implying that these groups represent the whole. Under most circumstances, this sort of generalization would be inappropriate. I do feel it is appropriate for Christianity. Christians claim that their god is the author of the one true absolute morality. They claim that their god is omniscient and created all of humanity, including Christians themselves. They claim to be able to talk with that god via prayer and that the god can guide those with faith. They claim that their god is the same as Jesus who they strive to emulated and follow. They claim that the “Holy Ghost” is the same as their god and that it dwells within believers. How is it then, that there is can be any Christian subgroup that is doing something embarrassing to Christianity? The simple answer is that one or more of these claims are false. I try to get the complainer to identify which of these assumptions is incorrect. I have yet to get a response.

Perhaps a believer can claim that they alone have the true religion™ and that everyone else is a poser. Such a claim would need to be justified, but it’s easy to demonstrate that most believers don’t think that way. Overall, Christians value tolerance of other religious beliefs, especially those of other Christian sects. This tolerance grew out of centuries of killing each-other in holy wars because none of the warring parties had any solid evidence for their beliefs. The lack of an objective reality underlying their belief systems explains the large number of competing sects of the various religions of the world.

Tolerance can be insidious, however. You often hear, “Thou shalt not judge…” especially when somebody is trying to soft peddle some heinous act to which they are a party. I view this attitude as an agreement among thugs. It means, “You don’t draw attention to how I’m screwing people over, and I won’t draw attention to how you’re screwing people over.” Practically speaking, it’s a free pass for the thugs to screw people over, which is exactly what Christianity does so well. “You don’t hold me accountable for my rape of children and I won’t hold you accountable for your obsession with trying to end the world via meddling in the Middle East.” “Let’s get together in the spirit of ecumenicism and trash the next guy.” Usually the next guy is a non-believer.

My attitude is that believers should be held responsible for the harm done based on those beliefs. We’re doing our part by pointing out the systematic problems caused by religious belief. Those who just complain about our message obviously want to evade that responsibility. Perhaps I should take heart that these people are motivated to somehow reduce their discomfort. With a little guidance, they might be encouraged to take responsibility for their religion or leave it. Either way is fine with me.

Ratzinger is a self-serving hypocrite and the press is too brow-beaten to tell the truth

In the May 12th Austin American Statesman, there is an article from the Los Angeles Times concerning the Pope’s visit to the Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem. (Unfortunately, I can’t find a link to the story that was printed.)

Ordinarily, I try very hard to ignore the ridiculous antics of the Pope and the Vatican. Maybe I secretly believe that if we don’t give them any attention, they’ll just crawl back under their rocks and leave the world alone. It’s not true, unfortunately. So many papers and TV stations seem to use any excuse at all to write some fawning piece on Ratzinger’s latest pontification or self-serving act of “reconciliation”.

What never fails to piss me off is that the news rarely covers the skeptical position on the issue. Supposedly, the “big controversy” of the Pope’s visit is how the Vatican is dealing with some idiot Bishop that denied the Holocaust. That’s just a minor side show compared to the issues the article failed to mention at all.

The article failed to mention that as a lad, Ratzinger was a member of the Hitler Youth. No redeeming tale of heroism or defiance of a great evil excuses his actions, just a lame half-assed apology to the effect that everybody joined up, therefore he should get a moral “passs”. When this issue is brought up in the news, it’s quickly pointed out that he defected from the Hitler Youth. They fail to mention that his defection only happened when the winds changed and Germany was facing collapse. Remember that Ratzinger is supposedly the world’s best Christian. Maybe he is.

It’s rarely mentioned how the Catholic church was embedded in German culture and that the Church never spoke up against the atrocities of the Holocaust. Yes, there were a few exceptions among individuals. The Church had a millennium plus history of persecution of Jews and I honestly believe that the church was happy to have some godly people take care of those evil Jesus killers. It was only later, after the failure of Nazi Germany that the Catholic church felt any embarrassment about what they had done. This whole bullshit propaganda phrase “Judeo-Christian” was coined to attempt to spin clean the blood on the hands of both Catholics and followers of Martin Luther, perhaps Hitler’s only rival for the title of anti-Semite extraordinaire. (Fun fact: Hitler thought that Martin Luther was so wonderful that he chose Martin Luther’s birthday to launch Kristallnacht. The Holocaust was an ecumenical undertaking.)

I don’t think I’ve ever seen it mentioned in the press that Hitler was a Catholic. He was never excommunicated by the Catholic church. God is on his side. Presumably, if you go to heaven, you’ll get to have lunch with the guy.

So when I read about Ratzinger visiting the Holocaust memorial and claiming that the event should “never be denied, belittled, or forgotten,” I get a little pissed off at the jaw-dropping show of self-serving hypocrisy. And the fact that most Americans are completely ignorant of the back story. Ignorance is bliss, as they say. The sad irony is that the few papers that would print this information would be beaten into submission by loyal Christian thugs who would claim persecution of their cherished religious beliefs (for printing facts about the real persectuion done because of those beliefs).


We had a caller on the March 22nd show who was hearing impaired and we attempted to interact with him via a TTY service. Unfortunately, we didn’t get very far with the caller as the interaction was so painful, but he did get out a rather strange phrase having to do with abortion. Matt and I didn’t get gist of the call, so we moved on.

Some of our sharper fans figured out what the caller was trying to say. He was quoting a rather amusing book title, “BIRTH CONTROL IS SINFUL IN THE CHRISTIAN MARRIAGES and also ROBBING GOD OF PRIESTHOOD CHILDREN!!”. It’s being sold on Amazon and it’s worth checking out if you’d like a chuckle. Especially check out the description (mostly capital letters), reviews of the book, and its price. If it weren’t so expensive, it might make a nice book for a devout family member.

So, thanks to our caller. The message finally got through.

Ray probably exists, I think…

Ray has asked for evidence that Darwin existed and, as expected, has decided to imitate his strawman view of atheists by declaring every piece of evidence unacceptable because we can’t be absolutely certain.

Here’s my response:

“Ray’s right, we can’t be absolutely certain that Darwin existed. We can’t be absolutely certain about any historical event.

But absolute certainty is a red herring, the only issue is one of reasonable certainty – that a claim has been verified as ‘most probably true’, to the best of our ability to do so. Some claims have more supporting evidence than others. Additionally, some claims require more evidence than others before they become ‘reasonable’.

The only answer anyone needed to give, and the only answer that is correct is this:

We have sufficient evidence to claim that Darwin most probably existed and that the events attributed to his life (the voyage on the Beagle, his writings, articles about him by contemporaries – favorable and unfavorable, his family line, etc) are most probably accurate.

The same is true for George Washington, though the “I cannot tell a lie” story is most likely false, and there may be other romanticized, mytho-heroic tales attributed to him which aren’t very accurate.

The same cannot be said for Paul Bunyan or King Arthur… or Jesus.

When we try to determine whether a particular historical figure existed, we have to collect the stories about them to define the personage we’re trying to verify. If the preponderance of evidence confirms a significant portion of those stories, it’s very probable that the individual existed.

If the stories are supported by nothing more than anecdotal evidence or hearsay, they’re unreliable. If they also include claims of supernatural/magical abilities, they’re better relegated to the “tall tales” bin.

Ray has mistakenly tried to represent the case for Jesus as being of a similar nature to the question of Darwin’s existence. They’re not remotely comparable – and if we find out tomorrow that Darwin never existed, that he was a fictitious invention, it doesn’t change a single thing about the science of evolution or the value of the discoveries attributed to him. The same isn’t true for Jesus.

Ray is comparing apples and motorcycles and making a childish appeal to absolute certainty where no such appeal is required or justified.”

Though that will come as no surprise to anyone.

Merry Christmas (to those celebrating it for any reason). Happy Holidays, or not, to those who celebrate something else, or nothing at all. :)

Ray’s idea of justice…

Ray wrote:

“…would you want Dahmer to go to Hell? Or are you quite happy (assuming that you are an atheist) for him simply to be dead.”

Since he’s censoring many of my responses, here it is:

I’m not Alex, but I’ll answer.

I’m satisfied that Dahmer was imprisoned for the remainder of his life and, unlike some of my liberal friends, I’d have been content to see him put to death by the state (a position that Dahmer is reported to have shared), though I generally oppose capital punishment on the grounds that the legal system isn’t structured in such a way that we can satisfactorily prevent unjust executions.

I also wouldn’t want to see him tortured, and certainly not forever. I don’t think that’s justice, it’s revenge. He was beaten to death by a fellow inmate and some might consider that justice, but that’s a very simplified view of justice that I don’t share.

Interestingly, Dahmer is reported to have repented and accepted Christ as his savior. I have no idea if this is true, and neither do you, but it does raise two points:

1. If it is true (and if your religion is true) then any decent Christian should oppose the death penalty and, instead, prefer to give convicts as much time to repent and avoid hell as possible.

2. If it is true (and if your religion is true) then Jeffrey Dahmer is in heaven, right now.

Do you think that’s just? Clearly not, as you just used him as an example of someone that you feel most people should want to see sent to Hell.

You also mentioned Hitler. Hitler was, according to his public and private statements a devout Catholic and whether or not you accept that, you must accept that you don’t know his ‘heart’ and aren’t his judge, and that it’s at least possible that he, too, could have been saved – even if only during his dying breath.

Your religious views have nothing to do with justice because they aren’t based on punishing the wicked and rewarding the virtuous. There is no system of merit associated with salvation by grace. To you, salvation is a matter of capriciousness. A death-bed conversion is more valuable to your God than a life spent as a good person.

So, your dichotomy is false on several grounds. As an atheist, I don’t have to simply be “quite happy” with the death of a murderer – I can be satisfied with a proper implementation of justice that denies the murderer liberty and, on occasion, life. Also, as an atheist, I never have to rationalize blood lust as justice or be dissatisfied that justice might be overturned by the whim of a divine dictator. I can, instead come to a proper understanding of justice that isn’t bound by bronze-age myths.

Ray’s threat of hell…

In today’s post at Ray Comfort’s blog,

Ray wrote:

“…but I don’t think that people should become Christians because of a fear of Hell. Rather, they should come to Christ out of a fear of the God that can cast them into Hell..”

I’ve submitted the following response and I don’t care if it gets posted there or not, it’s worth adapting for our blog as well.

Ray, you cited Luke 12:4-5 to justify your position that we should fear God. While I’d normally point out that this is still an absurd doctrine of fear that isn’t something I’d expect Christians to be proud of (and I will), you’ve attempted to avoid that response by claiming that there are two types of fear.

It’s curious that you quoted 1 John 4:17, yet you didn’t bother to note that it’s verse 18 from which you draw the idea of fear as torment.

The text of verse 18 reads:

“There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love.”

So, the question, Ray, is this:

What is your authority for claiming there are two different types of fear referenced in the passage in Luke?

The same word (English and Greek) for fear is used in both references (in Luke and 1 John). The passage you quoted from Luke also appears in Matthew (10:28) and relies on the same Greek word in that instance as well.

The 1 John passage doesn’t say ‘fear (phobos) can also mean torment (kolasis)’ it says ‘fear (phobos) involves torment (kolasis)’.

The author of 1 John isn’t giving an alternate definition of fear, he’s explaining that fear has/contains (a more accurate translation of the Greek ‘echo’) torment, intrinsically.

Or, more accurately, ‘fear (phobos) does (instead of ‘can also’) mean torment (kolasis)’.

This is a subtle but significant point that will be important in a moment.

Now, I’m well aware that this word (fear/phobos) has several meanings, that’s not my point. My point is that you’re claiming that it means one thing in the first sentence and a different thing in the second sentence and you’ve provide no justification for that – nor have you offered a valid alternate definition (you appealed to some sort of ‘common sense’ fear).

Let’s re-write Luke 12:4-5 substituting your definitions (or with the most valid definition to replace your ‘common sense’ pseudo-definition):

“And I say to you, My friends, do not be afraid (tormented) of those who kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do. 5 But I will show you whom you should fear (be in awe of): Fear (be in awe of) Him who, after He has killed, has power to cast into hell; yes, I say to you, fear (be in awe of) Him!”

It’s worth noting that this passage is attributed to Jesus and one would presume that you consider it to be an accurate Greek representation of what he originally said.

I find it patently absurd for you to claim that this passage, is referencing two different types of fear.

Firstly, there is no indication from 1 John 4:18 that there are two different types of fear, as you claim – that’s simply an explanation that fear includes torment.

Secondly, you’re implying that Jesus was such a poor thinker that he would construct a ‘not this – but this’ comparison with predicates that have entirely different meanings and, as if that wasn’t enough, you’re implying that he was so careless with his words that translators were forced to use the same word to mean two different things (despite other words being available), even though he surely must have realized that this would lead to centuries of confusion over what he meant.

The verse is clear – ‘Don’t fear those who can simply kill you, but fear Him who can kill you and punish you forever.’

This is a clear threat of hell.

It’s clear in the Greek and in the English. Your appeal is a sophomoric apologetic that simply rationalizes your preferred softening with sophistry.

What’s worse is that even with your softened re-rendering, the text is still simply a threat of hell – because that’s the power that determines which personage one should fear.

There are only two reasons that I’ve been able to come up with for why you didn’t simply say “Yes, we’re supposed to fear God because he can send us to hell.” (A position that, while I despise it, would have at least earned you some respect for honesty.)

1. You really don’t have any firm understanding of what you’re talking about.

2. You were afraid of facing the contradiction that arises when one verse tells you to love god, another tells you to fear god and a third says that there is no fear in love.


Now, as a quick end-of-post comment:

The simple truth is that the fire-and-brimstone preachers used to use this precise passage to support their message. After all, we have Jesus directly telling you to fear God because of what he can do to you after you’re dead. Ray, I believe, knows this and he knows the distaste the general public has for fire-and-brimstone preachers, so he’s twisting and turning like a twisty-turny-thing in order to convince someone – anyone – that he’s not like those guys.

He doesn’t think we should fear Hell, just the guy who can send us there – because he can send us there – but not really fear, in the sense of being terrified, but fear in the common-sense, ‘healthy respect for’-fashion.


I therefore request that Fred Phelps of Shirley Phelps-Roper take a few minutes and call Ray to explain why his particular brand of exegesis isn’t Biblical. It may be more pleasant to Ray, but that’s only because he’s desperately trying to soften the message.

Ya hear me, Shirley? I’m tired of beating on Ray, it’s your turn!

Liars, Lunatics, Lords, Legends and Lemmings…

I’m starting a bit of a tradition here. Whenever Ray Comfort posts about atheists (he’s rather obsessed with us, some might claim it’s to the point of protesting too much), I write a response and as he’s not always keen about posting dissenting views, I copy it over here to our blog.

Ray’s latest post is partially correct and partially incorrect – but it’s worth offering some commentary. Give it a read and enjoy the response below…


I care very little about whether or not any of these individuals were atheists or not. The truth of a concept is not at all influenced by the number of people who accept it, nor their popularity, nor the strength of their conviction.

It’s very telling, though, that you do seem to care – as if you’re bound and determined to show the ‘truth’ of Psalm 14:1 (the second, lesser-quoted half of that verse, in particular).

I’m not surprised that you’d want to make veiled appeals to authority, but it seems very dishonest of you to point out reasons why these people weren’t atheists when it is clear that they weren’t believers in anything remotely resembling the God you believe in…which makes them atheists with respect to your God, just as you’re an atheist with respect to Zeus.

That said, there is a slight bit of anachronism and selective quoting going on here. You seem to overlook many things, not the least of which is that a human life can’t be summed up in a simple quote. People change. People represent themselves differently, at different times, to different people. People express ideas using the conventions of their contemporaries – and people, for various reasons are not always comfortable publicly expressing their most private thoughts. The common views about gods during the lives of the individuals you cite were very different from those of today and it is a disservice to misrepresent this.

For example, you may be able to find quotes from me from when I was a Christian. You may even be able to find people who knew me during that time, and quote their assessment of my thoughts and beliefs. That doesn’t change the fact that I’m an atheist now. Additionally, I find it curiously hypocritical that you might claim that I was never “really” a Christian – as evidenced by my eventual apostasy – and yet you attempt to twist the views of the individuals above in order to make them appear less atheistic.

I have no reason to debate whether or not these individuals were atheists, agnostics, deists, Christians or whatever – because it doesn’t matter. We can’t know what was in their minds (or hearts, if you prefer), we can only take the information available and make a reasonable guess at what they believed, or disbelieved. By picking and choosing quotes from different eras of their lives, one could easily make a case for any number of beliefs.

I’m curious though, do you think any of these individuals were Christians when they did their greatest works? Do you think they believed in the ‘one true God’ you believe in? If so, how do you explain their clear contempt for Christianity and the God of the Bible? If not, what Biblical basis do you have for holding them in a significantly different light from atheists?

As far as I can tell, the Bible is pretty clear about which God is real and how Jews and Christians are expected to view the character of those who reject that God in favor of other gods or no gods.

If the individals in question are all, according to your belief, given over to a reprobate mind and destined for hell – why would you bother to attempt to venerate them and reclaim them from the ‘atheist’ label?

Despite that, here are some quotes and comments on the individuals above, just to stretch the point. I am not claiming these people as atheists, I am simply providing reported quotes that give us more information about what they did or didn’t believe. Additionally, these quotes may not be correct as the internet (as evidenced by this blog source) is cluttered with good information and bad:

Thomas Edison:

“My mind is incapable of conceiving such a thing as a soul. I may be in error, and man may have a soul; but I simply do not believe it.”

“I have never seen the slightest scientific proof of the religious theories of heaven and hell, of future life for individuals, or of a personal God.”

“I cannot believe in the immortality of the soul…. No, all this talk of an existence for us, as individuals, beyond the grave is wrong. It is born of our tenacity of life — our desire to go on living — our dread of coming to an end.”

About Col. Ingersoll (The Great Agnostic), Thomas Edison wrote:

“I think that Ingersoll had all the attributes of a perfect man, and, in my opinion, no finer personality ever existed. Judging from the past, I cannot help thinking that the intention of the Supreme Intelligence that rules the world is to ultimately make such a type of man universal.”


Mark Twain:

“There has been only one Christian. They caught him and crucified him–early.”

“If Christ were here there is one thing he would not be–a Christian.”

“The so-called Christian nations are the most enlightened and progressive…but in spite of their religion, not because of it. The Church has opposed every innovation and discovery from the day of Galileo down to our own time, when the use of anesthetic in childbirth was regarded as a sin because it avoided the biblical curse pronounced against Eve. And every step in astronomy and geology ever taken has been opposed by bigotry and superstition. The Greeks surpassed us in artistic culture and in architecture five hundred years before Christian religion was born.”

“I am plenty safe enough in his hands; I am not in any danger from that kind of a Diety. The one that I want to keep out of the reach of, is the caricature of him which one finds in the Bible. We (that one and I) could never respect each other, never get along together. I have met his superior a hundred times– in fact I amount to that myself.”


Robert Frost reportedly became more pious in his later years, although…

“Elinor Frost, his wife, thought he was, like her, an atheist. In 1920 (the couple had then been married twenty-five years) Frost confided to Louis Untermeyer:

‘Elinor has just come out flat-footed against God conceived either as the fourth person seen with Shadrack, Meshack, and Tobedwego [sic] in the fiery furnace or without help by the Virgin Mary. How about as a Shelleyan principal or spirit coeternal with the rock part of creation, I ask. Nonsense and you know it’s nonsense Rob Frost, only you’re afraid you’ll have bad luck or lose your standing in the community if you speak your mind.'”


With regard to Susan B. Anthony, I have no reason to doubt that she was a deist. Her continual references to Providence and the God of Providence represent the common language of deists in her time.


Finally, it’s curious that you acknowledge Hemmingway’s atheism only to use it as a tool to imply that this is a testimony to the truth of the words of Jesus and the perils one finds in a life lived without a personal relationship with Jesus – yet, you just finished pointing out that these others were also lacking this personal relationship, yet they didn’t suffer the sad fate of Hemmingway.

You go from implying that belief in some sort of deistic god is enough to justify good works, and then spin the final assessment as testimony to the futility of a life without Jesus.

This is the grand lie. This is hypocrisy at its finest. It’s this self-righteous, selective thinking that you engage in to malign those who don’t share your views. It’s transparent and pathetic. And while you ma
y not print this, it doesn’t change the fact that while some atheists may have misrepresented these historical figures as atheists (a charge that may or may not be accurate depending on the quotes used and the definitions involved), you’ve made an accusation of intentional falsehoods – while presenting a convoluted mess of misrepresentations that either represent the grandest lie or an intellectual laziness of staggering proportions.

Which is it?

Ray is preaching my stuff!

I just checked the latest post from Ray Comfort and submitted the following response. I’m doubtful that he’ll post it and I’m very doubtful that we’ll ever have any sort of dialog…but, darn it, I just can’t stop trying. I guess I’m a bit more masochistic than I thought.

For those that don’t want to read Ray’s post, the short version is: the OT and NT gods are the same, righteous, perfect and equally stern in their pure justice. This version has only a single change…I’ve actually provided the link to the wiki, as I can pretty much do whatever I want to do here. :)

Thanks, Ray…for (almost) preaching the very sermon I’ve been preaching for years.

So many Christians (and many non-Christians) dismiss the Old Testament view of God in favor of the cheek-turning compassion of the New Testament version. The mistakenly think that the NT version is better, softer or more kind.

There’s just one tiny area where we disagree (actually, there are several beyond this, but I’m only addressing the comparison)…you think the OT and NT versions are equally good, righteous and perfect. I don’t.

While some non-believers might agree with you, but opt for ‘equally bad’ as the appropriate description, I simply don’t agree. The NT doctrine is far worse.

Your cartoonish oversimplification of the wages of OT sin being “Hell” is not consistent with Jewish tradition and not Biblically supported without anachronistic reinterpretation of the OT. The very understanding of death and what happens after death is rather nebulous in the OT and much more vivid in the NT. This renders the NT version of God far worse than the OT version – because the immoral doctrines of original sin is compounded by the unjust concept of eternal punishment for finite ‘sins’ (though you’ll probably point out that sins against a God are necessarily infinite…that’s just a convenient interpretation that isn’t supported theologically, logically or Biblically).

The idea that it is just to punish people for their thoughts, doubts or disbelief is a perversion of any reasonable concept of justice. The system is further polluted by the claim that it rewards belief, regardless of, or in preference to action.

While you’ll find this sad, possibly offensive and may even refuse to publish it, I have no problem at all asserting that my moral values are superior to those of any character in the Bible, including the various characterizations of God. In fact, I’d argue that the God of the Bible may be one of the least moral characters in that entire collection of ancient writings.

When you sacrifice your humanity, your decency and your rational sense of justice in order to claim that the tyrannical acts of a more powerful being are intrinsically just, appealing to the banality of ‘might makes right’ – you’ve lost the battle.

The Euthyphro dilemma begins to make this point about fiat-morality…but it’s worth extending.

If you’re so impressed with the Sermon on the Mount, I’d be curious to hear your take on my response to it.