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Invisible Punishment: Hell as Social Control

FireHell has been on my mind. I recently dug up a list of all the places in the Gospels where Jesus talks about hell (there are quite a few), so hell is all up in my face right now. It’s one of the religious beliefs that I find most disturbing and most profoundly fucked-up — and I want to talk about why.

Part of it, of course, is that there’s no evidence for it. But that’s true for a lot of religious beliefs — arguably all of them — and not all religious beliefs anger me nearly as much as hell does. (The evidence problem is, however, a problem I’ll be coming back to.)

JusticePart of it is that it’s missing the entire point of punishment and justice. For me, the point of punishment is either to change people’s behavior — to show them that bad actions have bad consequences, and thus to teach them not to do it again — or to provide an example, to demonstrate to others than bad actions have bad consequences, and thus to teach them not to do it.

Hell completely fails on both counts. The permanence and eternity of it means that it utterly fails as a teaching tool. It’s not like you’re going to learn from your mistakes — the whole idea of hell is that, if you haven’t learned your lesson by the day of your death or Judgment Day, you don’t get any more chances. It’s like punishing a child by sending them to sit in the corner… for the rest of their life.

And as far as hell being an example for others… well, here’s where we come back to the fact that there’s no evidence for it. It’s not like the souls being burned and tortured in hell for eternity are on display for the rest of us to see, so we can go, “Oh. Got it. That’s what happens when you steal from your neighbor and cheat on your wife. Important safety tip. Thanks.” All we have is the word of some ancient texts, Jerry Falwell, and the guy screaming at us from the Powell Street cable car turnaround.

So it’s a truly lousy form of punishment. It takes all the good stuff out of the concept of justice, and turns it into pure revenge, simply for revenge’s sake. Simply because it makes people feel good to believe that bad people are being punished.

WaterboardingAnd then there’s the problem of how wildly disproportionate hell is; how it’s what Ebon Musings calls “infinite punishment for finite sins.” There is no math in the world that makes infinite torture a proportionate response to anything that any human might do on Earth. To punish even crimes like mass murder with burning and torture for infinitely longer than a billion years… it’s like punishing a parking violation with waterboarding.

But none of that is my biggest problem with hell.

My biggest problem with the idea of hell is that it’s such a powerful, insidious form of social control.

Here’s what the concept of hell does. It tells people, “If you behave in bad ways, if you disobey (God in theory, religious texts and teachers in practice), the consequences will be bad — extraordinarily bad, much more bad than anything you’ve seen or can even imagine. No, we can’t give you any evidence that this terrible bad consequence will happen — but take our word for it, you don’t want it to happen. In fact, even questioning its existence and asking for evidence of it is one of the most disobedient bad things you can do, and will get you sent there for sure.”

StoveNow. Think about how learning, and the idea of consequences, works in an ordinary non-hell-based context. In everyday life, if you’re reasonably sane and don’t have a personality disorder, you learn about what to do and what not to do by experiencing consequences or seeing them happen to others. Touching a hot stove burns you; hitting people gets them mad at you; drinking too much makes you hungover; saying cruel things to people you love makes you feel sick and sad; etc.

We also learn from one another, of course — our parents or friends say, “Don’t drink milk past the expiration date,” or, “For the love of God, do not see ‘Deuce Bigalow, Male Gigolo,’” and much of the time we’ll just take their word for it. But at least we have the option of verifying their statements. We can see for ourselves that when our parents and teachers told us marijuana would lead straight to heroin, they were talking out of their asses, and we can see for ourselves what the consequences of smoking pot are and make a decision about whether it’s okay.

Hell doesn’t work that way. Because hell is invisible, people have no way of deciding for themselves whether it’s real… and because hell is such a grotesquely appalling consequence, people will do anything to avoid it.

Therefore. If you can convince people that hell is real and that you are an authority on its existence and what they have to do to avoid it… you can make them do ANYTHING.

Anything at all.

Joan_of_arc_burning_at_stakeYou can get them to give you money. You can get them to go out and convert more followers for you. You can get them to suck your cock. You can get them to turn against their children. You can get them to vote for your friends. You can get them to go to war against your enemies. You can get them to torture, to kill, to tie people to stakes and set them on fire, to blow themselves up in crowded places, to commit mass murder, to commit mass suicide. And of course, you can get them to never ask questions about you, or whether what you’re saying and doing is right, or whether this hell place even exists.

Anything. The combination of hell’s invisibility and the extremity of its horror makes it a singularly effective form of manipulation and social control. It’s a terrifying consequence that people will avoid at all costs… and they have no way to look at the world around them and ask, “Hey, is that really true?” Then when you add the “doubting hell’s existence will get you sent there” meme, it makes it even more powerful by making it self-perpetuating. And all of this is especially powerful, and especially troubling, when it’s directed at children… whose brains are, as Richard Dawkins points out, built, for very good evolutionary reasons, to believe what adults tell them.

Part of me gets it. It is awful to think of wicked people thriving, living their lives out in comfort and never suffering the consequences of their badness. I hate that Ken Lay died of a heart attack before he could rot in prison. Part of me wishes I believed in hell, so I could believe he was there.

BiblefireBut the idea of hell is an evil, hateful idea, and it’s not one I want in my world. It exists for one reason and one reason only: to scare people into doing what you tell them, to squelch questioning and dissent. It takes people’s innate fears — and maybe worse, their ability to trust and learn from one another — and manipulates them to create obedience. It is an idea that has nothing but contempt for people’s autonomy. It is an idea that has nothing but contempt for people, period. It is social control, pure and simple. It is completely at odds with the idea of a compassionate, loving God. And any religion that has it as a central theme has a tremendous amount to answer for.

Comments

  1. says

    Greta,
    I agree that hell has been used for oppression and control of others.
    One of the more interesting heresies to arise out of Christianity was “Universalism.”
    Originally, Universalism arose out of the belief that a loving god would not condemn anybody to eternal punishment.
    Eventually, some Universalists moved towards an even more loving view of god who would not condemn anyone to hell and also would not demand an atoning sacrifice as well — in other words, god didn’t demand the death of Jesus as an atonement sacrifice.
    However, this is still considered heretical by most Christians.
    The interesting thing about all of this is usefulness of getting rid of hell if we really want to freely explore religion and philosophy.
    Many months ago, I had read Sam Harris’ book The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and The Future of Reason and this book implicitly suggests one reason “universal salvation” or “no hell” Universalism would give birth to the awareness of insights in other religions and other non-religious philosophies.
    For shorthand usage, let’s call the no-hell variant “Classic Universalism” and the awareness – appreciation of other faiths and philosophies variant “Modern Universalism.”
    I’m using these terms as chronological and not in any judgemental sense. From the history of Universalism in North America, we know the “Classic Universalism” was around before the “Modern Universalism.”
    Harris makes the following observation early on in his book:
    “Intolerance is thus intrinsic to every creed. Once a person believes — really believes — that certain ideas can lead to eternal happiness, or to its antithesis, he cannot tolerate the possibility that the people he loves might be led astray by the blandishments of unbelievers. Certainty about the next life is simply incompatible with tolerance in this one.”
    My suggestion is that the no-hell “Classic Universalism” makes any afterlife concerns irrelevant for people who might be curious about what other faith traditions offer. It also makes it possible for people to freely accept or freely reject faith as well.
    I can see how this no-hell view would provide us with the freedom to explore the wide range of religious views out there beyond the Christianity that gave birth to “Classic Universalism.”
    It would give people the freedom to explore Hinduism, Judaism, Islam, Humanism, Earth-based Spirituality, etc without the fear that they are doomed to eternal torment for following what their friends and neighbors might think is the wrong religious path.

  2. Rebecca says

    Two comments, one serious and one just odd.
    1. Teaching children the existence of hell seems abusive to me. What’s particularly fucked up is that if you took a five year old to see Hellraiser, or Friday the 13th, or even Poltergeist, people would freak, but somehow it’s ok to tell a 5 year old that there is a place where people burn for eternity and he might go there. What the fuck! It’s one more case of societal acceptance of something that would be totally unacceptable if it occurred outside of religion.
    2. Both hell and heaven always seemed silly to me. I mean, even as a kid, it was perfectly obvious that there was dirt underneath us and the sky and clouds and then space and stars and planets above us. No room for millions of dead people, with or without wings.
    Plus, the whole thing with heaven being a bunch of clouds? Airplanes fly through clouds, so people obviously couldn’t sit on them.
    I was a skeptical little brat. And I am infinitely grateful for parents who never tried to convince me of anything patently ridiculous.

  3. stephen gottlieb says

    hell makes no sense until you put it into a greater context, then it is really fucked. just as all other flawed religious teachings hell is a concept to keep the yokels manageable. otherwise they would realize that their leaders are handing out fuckings with ruthless consistency. at our basis, human beings are easily startled, panicky stupid hysterical animals with a strong cruel streak. humans like to hurt animals, and we like to hurt one another. what better way to hurt somebody than to keep them in fear of screwing up a rule set they can barely understand, supposedly created by a benevolent god that really just wants you to behave. nothing about any religious theory or writing has its basis in anything other than control. the practical upshot is that god, should he/she/they/it exist, is by any modern definition a complete asshole, and I hope those who worship him have to spend eternity with him. that would truly drive me up the wall, as for hell, bring me my marshmallows.

  4. Donna Gore says

    Yes, Hell is too heavy a concept for children. Hence, Santa Claus. It’s the same thing, one is for children, the other is for adults. Old man with white beard in the sky watching you, taking notes. If you are good you are rewarded; if you are bad you are punished. Santa is the gentler version of God; God is the meaner version of Santa Claus. Both used to manipulate and control others.
    NOW the obvious question for me regarding hell is this: how can a disembodied spirit burn? Wouldn’t you have to have FLESH in order to burn? But supposedly your “soul” left your body at the moment of death. So how does that work? Does god, or satan, or whomever, put your flesh back on just for the purpose of burning it? If so, what then happens to the corpse you left in the coffin? This is a perfect example of the absurdity of religion. For me, as a skeptic, religion just causes more and more questions, and no answers.

  5. Rebecca says

    I just figured out the other reason that I never even slightly believed in hell: its resemblance to Hades.
    When I was a kid, I ADORED Greek mythology. The hell/Hades thing was one of the many examples of parallels between Judeo-Christian and Greek mythology which led to my childhood assumption that it was ALL a bunch of myths. I mean, if Sisyphus wasn’t really down there pushing a big rock uphill, what was the likelihood that anyone else was down there burning.
    I don’t mean to trivialize the abuse and control issue. But I am curious if anyone else who read d’Aulaire’s classic children’s books of mythology had similar thoughts as a child.

  6. Donna Gore says

    In Norse mythology, Hel was the goddess of the underworld.
    http://www.pantheon.org/articles/h/hel.html
    All of these myths (including the saviour myth) were copied and then re-hashed across many time periods and cultures. There’s really nothing original in any religion.
    That’s what makes me laugh. A “new” religion comes along, adopts the beliefs of another, changes them a little, and then re-packages them. Then turns around and condemns the very thing from which they stole. Isn’t imitation the sincerest form of flattery??

  7. says

    Just a quick reply to Steve Caldwell: I agree. For completely different reasons, I don’t believe in Universalism either (assuming I have a good understanding of what Universalism is, which I may not) — I don’t believe in God or the soul or any kind of metaphysical entity, for reasons I’ve discussed elsewhere in this blog. But while I do think a Universalist belief in God is mistaken, I don’t think it’s evil or hateful in the way that hell-based religions are.
    And Donna, I wish desperately that young children were taught about Santa Claus in lieu of Hell. But alas, plenty of children are taught about hell, in vivid and horrifying detail, at a very young age.
    Oh, and re Hades: Assuming the Revised Standard translation is accurate, there are actually places in the Gospels where hell is referred to specifically by the word “Hades.”

  8. says

    Hell as serves as relativistic justification:
    “what we’re doing might seem bad, but it’s nothing compared to what they deserve and will get in hell”

  9. Triumphal_Thusnelda says

    (stands up, applauding)
    I skipped over here from a link at Pharyngula, and woman, you rock! This is the best essay and most concise refutation of the concept of Hell I’ve read (of many I’ve read).
    Thanks – keep it up!

  10. michael says

    Beautiful! Check Joyce’s ‘Portrait of an Artist…’. He describes an Irish catholic Jesuit technique in which a bunch of pubescent children udergo a special, three day retreat. Three days of Hell theatre designed to scar you for life…ending with, ‘every sin you commit acts retroactively so as to cause jesus more pain on the cross’.
    Sick stuff, I went through it in the sixties and am still trying to recover.
    I like to imagine that there is a hell for those that use hell.

  11. says

    “…what’s this about getting people to suck my cock?”
    You people keep asking this. Perverts. ;-)
    Seriously… sorry to be a buzz-kill, but the answer is really not very nice. Ask the Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh; ask Jim Jones; ask the Catholic priests who molested kids. Any of them could give you a crash course.

  12. says

    Greta,
    Nice job. I am a Christian who believes in the reality of hell, though I understand and somewhat empathize with your criticisms of the doctrine.
    But let me add these two thoughts:
    1. You may want to reconsider what you accept as proof (see this comment http://www.twoorthree.net/2007/08/atheists-should.html#comment-78703598) – being overly narrow may be an error. We all accept indirect proofs, even take things on faith regularly, and with good reason.
    2. A better question than “do I like it” is “is it true?” While our sense of right and wrong and what is logical do play into determining if we think something is true (and just), those things alone can not determine what is true. There are other epistemelogical tools (like the proofs I suggest in the link above) at our disposal.
    Sometimes we do not like the truth, but that doesn’t make it untrue. It could be that “you can’t HANdle the truth!”
    Cheers.

  13. says

    Thanks for writing, seeker. I’m going to take Part 2 of your comment first, since it’s both more relevant and easier to dispatch.
    Yes, I understand that “do I like it?” is an irrelevant response to the question of “is it true?” And I completely agree that, of the two, “is it true?” is the more important question by far. In fact, I’ve made that exact argument many times in debates with theists and other spiritual believers: just because you want God/ spirituality to be true, and strongly feel it to be true, doesn’t make it true.
    That’s just not what *this particular argument* I’m making, in *this particular post,* is about. I’ve written elsewhere on this blog — at great length and in extensive detail — about many of the reasons I think beliefs in God/ hell/ afterlife/ any sort of spiritual or metaphysical entity are mistaken. Visit my Atheism category and you’ll see those arguments. (I also have many other reasons I think religious belief is mistaken that I haven’t talked about in this blog, mostly because other atheists have made those arguments better than I could.)
    That just doesn’t happen to be the point I’m making here. I’m not trying to argue that the idea of hell is evil and hateful… and therefore it’s mistaken. I’m starting with the assumption that the idea of hell or any kind of afterlife is mistaken (an assumption I’ve argued for elsewhere and thus didn’t see a need to re-argue here)… and am pointing out why I think the idea, in addition to being mistaken, is evil and hateful.
    Now to your Part 1. The essence of which seems to be, “The Bible says it’s true. For an assortment of reasons I find the Bible to be trustworthy. I can’t prove its truth for certain, but the evidence is strong enough to justify a leap of faith.”
    I don’t know how much more clearly I can say this: The Bible is NOT evidence.
    Let’s look at your own standards of evidence. (I’m quoting the headers only, for brevity’s sake.)
    “1. How reliable are the scriptures? Can we measure or confirm their accuracy?”
    Not very reliable at all. Kind of laughably unreliable, actually. The Bible is flat-out factually incorrect on many, many counts, from the value of pi to basic animal biology, to known historical events, to the physical age of the Earth. It is internally contradictory in many, many places. Much of its logic is absurd. And much of its wisdom is unworkable at best and appalling at worst.
    A few links:
    http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/jim_meritt/bible-contradictions.html
    http://www.ebonmusings.org/atheism/biblecontra.html
    http://www.ebonmusings.org/atheism/pillows.html
    http://www.ebonmusings.org/atheism/atrocities.html
    If the Bible was written by God, then God is a pretty bad writer. And an even worse historian, and a much, much worse scientist, and a truly terrible ethical philosopher. It makes far more sense to think — as most serious Bible scholars do, even the ones who do believe in God — that the Bible was written by people, describing their beliefs: beliefs which varied considerably from writer to writer, and which changed over the course of several thousand years.
    “2. If we accept that the Bible is a good record of what Jesus taught, then we can look at his teachings and examine them for validity.”
    Even if the Bible does accurately record what Jesus said (which we definitely don’t know or have any real reason to beieve)… it’s very common for people to be right about some things and wrong about others. In fact, it’s pretty much universal. Even if you think Jesus had a lot of good, workable ideas (an idea I do in fact agree with), that’s hardly evidence for everything he said being right. You don’t have to think he was crazy to think he was mistaken about some things.
    “3. Do we find that his followers believed his extraordinary claims?”
    First, there’s no reason to think scriptural accounts of Jesus’s supposed resurrection are accurate. They hardly come from unbiased sources: they come from sources who were very anxious to demonstrate Jesus’s divinity.
    But more to the point: Who cares what his followers thought? Why is that relevant? Again, you don’t have to think they were crazy — or frauds — to think that they were mistaken… and/or to think that their actual experiences may well have been recorded inaccurately by scripture authors, who were, again, strongly biased in favor of believing in Jesus’s divinity.
    “4. The things we can prove should lead us to ask if we should take on faith the things that we can not.”
    The gist of this seems to be that, while 1 through 3 don’t conclusively prove the case for God, they provide such compelling evidence that people should be able to fill in the gap with a leap of faith. As a general guideline about life, I don’t disagree with you: we can never have 100% certainty about anything, and we have to take the evidence we have and our power of reason and make the best assumptions we’re able to. (We also have to be willing to change our assumptions if new evidence contradicts them… a concept that many religious believers have a very hard time with.)
    The problem is that 1 through 3 are not conclusive evidence. Not even remotely. See arguments above. They make assumptions and assertions that are completely unfounded and, in some cases, are demonstrably untrue.
    And I will say once again: The Bible IS NOT EVIDENCE.
    The Bible is *opinion.* (Plus some extremely biased and often very inaccurate history.)
    You are never, ever, EVER going to win an argument with an atheist by saying, “Look at what the Bible says!” The Bible is a collection of writings by several dozen different people, written over the course of several thousand years, describing and explaining what they believed, from extremely biased and slanted points of view. It is not evidence for the existence of God or for the beliefs described in these writings… any more than the Koran or the Bhagavad Ghita or the Book of Mormon are evidence for those beliefs. The fact that these beliefs were written down in a book and have been passed down for a long time doesn’t prove — even in the slightest — that the beliefs expressed in it are correct. There is absolutely no evidence that the Bible is the word of God… other than what the Bible itself says, which of course is circular reasoning.
    (I never cease to be amazed by religious believers who seem to think that atheists have never thought of these questions. Trust me. We’ve thought of them.)
    There’s a very good piece of writing by Ebon Musings, called “The Theist’s Guide to Converting Atheists.”
    http://www.ebonmusings.org/atheism/theistguide.html
    In it, he describes what would convince him — and most atheists — that religion is true. If you’re going to continue to debate with atheists, I suggest you familiarize yourself with it. In fact, I suggest you read the bulk of the Ebon Musings website, as well as the work of Dawkins, Dennet, et. al. They make the case against religious belief far more thoroughly and effectively than I can do here.
    (P.S. When you’re putting a URL in parentheses and want it to convert to a live link, you need to put a space between the URL and the parentheses. Otherwise it won’t open correctly.)

  14. says

    YOU WROTE: “That just doesn’t happen to be the point I’m making here. I’m not trying to argue that the idea of hell is evil and hateful… and therefore it’s mistaken. I’m starting with the assumption that the idea of hell or any kind of afterlife is mistaken (an assumption I’ve argued for elsewhere and thus didn’t see a need to re-argue here)… and am pointing out why I think the idea, in addition to being mistaken, is evil and hateful.”
    OK, just checking. The “I don’t like it, therefore it must not be true” argument is bogus, as you have admitted.
    YOU WROTE: “For an assortment of reasons I find the Bible to be trustworthy. I can’t prove its truth for certain, but the evidence is strong enough to justify a leap of faith.”
    That’s not a bad translation of what I meant, but I would say that this approach is LOGICAL, and that we do it all the time, to a lesser or greater degree.
    YOU WROTE: “The Bible is NOT evidence.”
    Then I would say that you have an overly narrow view of what constitutes evidence. Based on your argument, we should disregard all sources that witness to realities that we can not confirm, no matter how trustworthy they are in other realms. In fact, if you are denying the existence of such things as God and hell, I would say that you are making an argument from ignorance, since no evidence to the contrary exists either. At least, no direct evidence.
    And to head you off on the typical counter-argument, this does NOT mean that arguments for the existence of the FSM or Zeus are just as likely as those for any other unprovable claim like the existence of hell. This is one of the maddening things about the modern atheistic approach to evaluating claims of faith – they are unable or unwilling to distinguish between the value of faith systems because they irresponsibly relegate them all to the same level of incredulity, ignoring the context of (1) the track record of the other teachings of the faith system, and (2) this historical evidences and interactions.
    YOU WROTE: “The Bible is flat-out factually incorrect on many, many counts, from the value of pi to basic animal biology, to known historical events, to the physical age of the Earth.”
    Allow me to “dispatch” with such incorrect claims. First of all, the value of pi argument is based on a hyper-literal reading of the scriptures (I Kings 7:23-26), rather than a phenomenological one. What I mean by this is such – when we describe seeing the sun in the morning, we say that it “rises.” Of course, technically, that is not correct, because it is not really the sun moving, but us. But such a “phenomelogical” description of reality is not wrong, any more than when the bible says something like “the circle of the earth.” We know it’s a sphere, not a 2d circle, but only an overly literalistic interpretation of such descriptions would conclude that they are wrong. As one writer has correctly noted:
    “the essential point was the impressive size of the cauldron, and its dimensions were only approximate, because the ratio of the circumference to the diameter is stated to be exactly three rather than the real value of pi which is 3.14159….”
    When you make such an argument, you are disobeying the logical and reasonable rules for how to correctly interpret a document – you are doing what hyperliteralist fundamentalists do, only in reverse. It’s anti-intellectual, and really really poor argumentation.
    Second, if your animal biology arguments are based on such things as explanations of which animals “chew the cud” etc. those arguments have been dispatched with by others, so I won’t go into them. And as for such arguments as “bats are not birds,” this type of apparent contradiction can easily be “dispatched” by understanding that (a) we are dealing with phenomenological descriptions and (b) we are dealing with translations into English which are often incorrect.
    The first of your links is filled with so many superficial and easily explained “contradictions” that I would say that anyone who claims to agree with many of those claims is really not thinking at all, but is the victim of cheap sophistry.
    For example, the very first contradiction mentioned – the “contradictory creation accounts” has such an easy answer that I won’t even bow to recreate it here. Such complaints are juvenile and easily answered by grade school students (go look it up at AIG).
    As to known historical events, I have two things to say. First, it is well known that the farther back you reach into history, the less evidence you find because it degrades. Such anomalies as absence of evidence for King Solomon’s kingdom are arguments from ignorance. And as has been readily testified to, the bible’s historical notes have been overwhelmingly confirmed, even down to minute details like the names of obscure public servants.
    http://www.twoorthree.net/2007/07/archeology-in-t.html
    YOU WROTE: “If the Bible was written by God, then God is a pretty bad writer.”
    The bible was NOT written by God, and Christians to not claim such. They claim that it was written by men inspired by God. Therefore, it is colored with their language, culture, and personalities. Inspiration only adds that they may write about thing that can only be revealed by God, and sometimes, you must distinguish between when they are reporting facts or cultural practices and when they are making prescriptive commands.
    I’m sorry you disagree with biblical philosophy, but that subjective opinion. I find it to be ethically and morally excellent.
    I won’t answer point by point the rest of your claims, but they are peppered with subjective opinion, not logic.
    And let me add that if you find the scriptures unreliable, you will have to discard most all ancient written histories, since we have comparably minuscule amounts of extant copies, corroborating archaeological and external evidence as compared to the bible.
    Mostly, what I perceive you have done is reaffirm your commitment to a very narrow view of what constitutes proof or evidence, having a priori rejected my explanations of other logical and helpful epistemological evidences used in determining truth. Your objections seem to be not much more than “I don’t accept that.”
    That may be a fine way for you to live, but it is certainly not a way that I would force upon others, declare as the only way, or affirm as the best.
    In fact, I would call it the most restrictive and fear-based way. Limiting myself to what I can only directly observe or prove is the faithless way to live. Using reason and logic to identify trustworthy sources of information, and believing them before waiting for my ability to understand them or validate them as true is a much broader and sensical way to live. It has it’s risk, but if you want to live by the “I won’t get fooled again” method, that’s your choice.
    I would also like you to check out my article The Atheist’s Caricature of Faith. You seem to fit it.
    http://www.twoorthree.net/2006/05/the_atheists_ch.html

  15. says

    Okay. Let me see if I understand this correctly. You’re saying that atheists have a more stringent standard of what constitutes evidence (not “proof,” atheists rarely talk about proof, but evidence) than theists and other spiritual believers.
    And you think this is a criticism?
    When atheists say, “If you’re going to convince me of the existence of beings and places that nobody can point to and nobody has ever seen and that don’t make logical sense, you’ll need to do a lot better than pointing to a book written thousands of years ago and saying, ‘Look, they believed it, and they got some other things right, so they must be right about this as well’”… you think this is a bad thing?
    When religious writers and leaders claim to know the truth about God and the afterlife and so on, and try to win converts and followers and convince people to follow their rules and do what they tell them, and atheists reply by saying, “If you want me to believe you and do what you tell me, you’ll have to come up with something more solid than just your word”… you think we’re doing something wrong?
    And you think it’s atheists who can’t handle the truth?
    The atheists I know care passionately about the truth. Having stringent requirements for evidence, and being willing to let go of beliefs and opinions when new evidence suggests that they’re wrong, and not believing things just because somebody else says so and a lot of other people believe it… that’s what caring about the truth looks like to us.
    Of course atheists make leaps of faith. (I’m actually writing an entire piece on that right now.) The difference is that atheists don’t hang on to their leaps of faith no matter what.
    And yes, I think that is a better way to live. It’s not “restrictive or fearful” — quite the opposite. It allows us to move forward with our lives, while still being open to changing our minds. I’m hardly trying to “force it upon others” — I challenge you to find ANYWHERE in my writing where I propose trying to force my atheism on others — but yes, I will continue to try to convince people of this, using reason and evidence and my powers of persuasion. The history of people believing and following other people simply on their say-so is a history of people being duped by charlatans and megalomaniacs. I fail to see how resisting gullibility and credulousness — and encouraging others to do the same — is anything other than good.
    If you think I’m making an a priori assumption that God doesn’t exist, you clearly haven’t been reading my writing for very long. I do no such thing. My a priori position is not that God doesn’t exist, but that the existence of God is highly unlikely, and the case for his existence has nor been successfully made. My position is that the evidence and arguments I’ve seen so far supporting God’s existence are shaky at best, and the evidence and arguments supporting his non-existence are very strong… and unless that situation changes, I’m going to assume that he probably doesn’t exist.
    But I have, in fact, been a spiritual believer in the past. I never believed in the Christian God per se, but I believed in a spiritual entity that many Christians (the more ecumenical ones) would recognize and understand. (I changed my mind over time because it became increasingly clear that my belief was merely wishful thinking, and didn’t really make sense.)
    And the reality is that *every single time* that I read or hear someone trying to convince me that God exists, a part of me thinks: Is this it? Is this the thing that will change my mind, that will show that I’m wrong? Is this something new, something I’ve never heard before? (Not because I’m unhappy about being an atheist, but because I’m trying to keep an open mind.)
    And it never, ever is. I’ve looked at hundreds of these arguments, and it’s never been anything new. It’s always the same ones I’ve seen before: belief based on the Bible or other religious texts, and/or belief based on personal religious experience (or the testimony of other people’s personal religious experiences). And no: for reasons I’ve detailed at great length, both here and elsewhere, that isn’t enough. And I don’t think it should be.
    (I’m breaking this reply into two comments, since otherwise it would be unreadably long.)

  16. says

    I’m not going to get into a debate over whether the inconsistencies and inaccuracies in the Bible are or are not defensible or explainable. Partly because other atheists have made those arguments at greater length and in more detail that I can do here.
    But mostly, because it’s missing the point. (Points, I should say.)
    Point 1 is that, unless you already believe in the Bible, you have no reason to believe that the Bible is any more true than any other written account of a set of beliefs and historical events. I have no more reason to believe that the Bible depicts divine truth than the Koran, or the Bhagavad-Gita, or the Book of Mormon. It’s no more consistent, and in the areas where its accuracy can be verified it’s no more accurate.
    Point 2 may be even more important: You’re trying to have it both ways. You say, “I believe the Bible is divine because it’s so consistent and accurate.” But when people point out its inconsistencies and inaccuracies, you say, “Well, those parts are due to human error.”
    In other words, you’re cherry-picking. When you argue that the Bible was divinely inspired but written down by fallible humans, you’re basically giving yourself carte-blanche to cherry-pick — to say that the parts you agree with are divine and true and the word of God, and the parts you don’t agree with are due to the error of the humans who wrote it down.
    For you, the true, divine parts apparently include a belief in hell. But plenty of Christians don’t believe in hell, and think hell is one of those mistaken, fallible-human parts. In fact, for just about every part of the Bible, there are Christians who think that’s the part we should be focusing on, and others who say it’s the part we should be setting aside.
    And my question is: On what basis do you make those decisions?
    Why should I believe you when you say hell is real, rather than my Christian friends who DON’T believe in hell? And why should I believe you when you say the Bible is true, and not a Muslim about the Koran, or a Hindu about the Bhagavad-Gita? They all have the exact same arguments you do: “Look at this wonderful inspired text! And look at the amazing experiences of people who believe it!”
    If you’re going to convince people that they should believe in God/ hell/ etc. because of the Bible, which is the divinely inspired and perfect word of God, you can’t just explain away the inconsistencies and errors by saying, “That was human error, it was written down by people who were shaped by their personality and culture and sometimes made mistakes.” You can argue that the mistakes are understandable (I don’t agree with your arguments, but whatever)… but the fact is that the mistakes are there. When you look at the parts of the Bible that are independently verifiable, some of them prove to be accurate… but a lot of them really don’t. So on what basis should we believe that the parts that *aren’t* verifiable are all still true?
    And perhaps more to the point:
    If you’re going to argue that the Bible doesn’t need any external evidentiary support because it’s divine truth, and you know it’s divine truth because it’s so self-evidently accurate and consistent and perfect… doesn’t the fact that it has *any errors at all* completely undercut your argument? Regardless of why the errors are there?
    I’m not saying that accounts written by other people should be ignored. That’s a big part of how we learn about the world, after all. But when I read an account of a trip to Patagonia, or an account of an experiment showing that infants begin processing language from birth, I have the option of going to Patagonia myself, or repeating the experiment, to see if what they say is true. (And when it comes to history, we do have evidence other than people’s personal accounts — we have archaeology, and things like birth and death and financial records, to help us confirm or question those accounts.)
    When I read an account in the Bible of what God is like and what he does and doesn’t want me to do, I can’t do any of that. All I have to go on is the word of other people — other people who were clearly biased, and clearly had axes to grind, and were clearly trying to perpetuate their faith and/or win converts, and many of whom disagreed dramatically with each other. The Bible may be a more or less accurate depiction of what a certain group of people believed over the course of several thousand years… but that’s no reason to believe that what those people believed was true.
    This is something Ebon Musings has pointed out: that everything — EVERYTHING — we supposedly “know” about God and the soul and the afterlife comes from people. It’s all just people’s opinions. The only reason to believe that the Bible is true and the divinely inspired word of God is (a) the Bible itself, which is obviously circular reasoning, and (b) personal religious experiences, which in addition to being easily explainable by psychology and neurology, also tell different people such completely different and opposite things about divine truth as to make them useless as evidence of anything other than an interesting psychological phenomenon.
    You can argue that secularists cherry-pick as well: that we read a philosopher or a scientist and decide which parts of their writing we disagree with and which parts we don’t. But there is an enormous difference. There’s a difference between saying, “These are the parts that work for me,” and saying, with equal certainty and authority, “These are the parts that work for God.” And there’s a difference between saying, “I think these parts are supported by evidence and reason — but if I’m wrong then please convince me otherwise,” and saying, “For no reason except my own personal gut feeling, I think these parts are right — and nothing anyone could say or do could possibly change my mind.”
    Finally. When you say that you find the philosophy of the Bible to be “ethically and morally excellent”:
    Really? All of it? Most of it, even?
    http://www.ebonmusings.org/atheism/atrocities.html
    http://tinyurl.com/yt7139
    You think it’s good to slaughter men whose religious beliefs differ from yours? You think it’s good to rape and kill their wives and children? To take female captives of war and make them into sexual slaves? To visit horrible tortures on someone you know to be a good person, just to prove a point? And then to defend those tortures by saying, “I’m powerful, how dare you question me?” To commit genocide? To drown every human being on earth except for one family? To hold someone in a fire while they scream and beg for mercy — not for a minute, or an hour, or a day, but forever — just because they disagreed with you or doubted your word?
    Really?
    I don’t know if you do. I certainly hope not. I know there are Christians who are so attached to their belief in the divine and infallible truth of the Bible that they’ve completely twisted their own moral instincts in an attempt to accept these and other Biblical atrocities as good. I sincerely hope you’re not one of them. But if you are, then I have nothing more to say to you.

  17. says

    Oh, a couple more things. If you’re going to make assertions about what I do and don’t believe and why, you might want to read more of my writing than just one blog post. My objections to theism are a lot more extensive than “I don’t accept that.” Here are a few of the places where I explain some of the reasons for my atheism:
    http://gretachristina.typepad.com/greta_christinas_weblog/2007/01/the_unexplained.html
    http://gretachristina.typepad.com/greta_christinas_weblog/2007/03/how_i_became_an.html
    http://gretachristina.typepad.com/greta_christinas_weblog/2007/03/how_i_became_an_1.html
    http://gretachristina.typepad.com/greta_christinas_weblog/2007/03/how_i_became_an_2.html
    http://gretachristina.typepad.com/greta_christinas_weblog/2007/06/the-problem-of-.html
    http://gretachristina.typepad.com/greta_christinas_weblog/2007/07/give-her-an-out.html
    You moight also visit Ebon Musings; it’s an excellent site with extensive, eloquent, thoughtful counters to theism, and when I want to point to arguments for why I’m an atheist, I often just point to his site.
    http://www.ebonmusings.org/
    Also, if you’re going to say things like “That’s such a juvenile argument and it’s so easy to counter a child could do it,” it’d be nice if you’d provide some links. When I didn’t want to actually list all the Biblical inaccuracies and absurdities and atrocities, I was nice enough to offer links to lists of them. Saying “Oh, that’s just juvenile” to an argument without actually countering it isn’t very effective. Thanks.

  18. says

    YOU WROTE: ” You’re saying that atheists have a more stringent standard of what constitutes evidence (not “proof,” atheists rarely talk about proof, but evidence) than theists and other spiritual believers. And you think this is a criticism?”
    Not just more stringent, but *overly* narrow and restrictive. You set the bar so high as to accept only one type of evidence. And while empirical observation is some of the best evidence, to ignore the other types is, well, restrictive and unintelligent, in a practical sense. While in principle and on paper that may seem reasonable, in fact, it is not how we live, make decisions, or go about determining truth. It is restrictive to the point of being of only limited use.
    While using such narrow standards *may* assure you of being correct much of the time (depending, of course, on your assumptions), omitting the other epistemelogical methods because they are more prone to misinterpretation means that much of truth and human knowledge will be outside of your ability. It’s like the person who won’t love because they can’t quantify it.
    ————————–
    YOU WROTE: “convince people to follow their rules and do what they tell them”
    This is a bit of a misunderstanding of what true faith is, but it is true of religious systems. Faith is not about following rules, it’s about entering into a relationship with the Divine.
    —————————
    YOU WROTE: “and atheists reply by saying, “If you want me to believe you and do what you tell me, you’ll have to come up with something more solid than just your word”… you think we’re doing something wrong?”
    I am definitely offering something more than just my word. I am offering:
    - a verifiable historical leader whose life and teachings you may investigate
    - a body of wisdom that you may survey and understand
    - the testimony of my life and hundreds of thousands of others who have experienced a change, subjective as it may be
    - historic claims that you may research
    - a logical moral and ethical framework, not to mention frameworks for everything from relationships to government to economics to science to justice to child raising and personal finance, and on it goes
    But to some extent, you are correct, I am asking you to step beyond your limited ability to reason and understand with your mind, not to necessarily contradict it, but to step beyond its limitations. I understand why you might doubt that, but we have more faculties for determining truth than our mere intellects, and the scientific method.
    ——————————
    YOU WROTE: “The difference is that atheists don’t hang on to their leaps of faith no matter what.”
    Neither do responsible and mature people of faith. As one of my favorite quotes goes, “Before faith comes, reason is king. After faith comes, reason is servant.” When real faith comes (did you read my post on The Atheist’s Caricature of Faith?), reason is not discarded, and still acts to understand, confirm, revise, or abandon ideas as evidence and understanding take place. However, you need not wait for reason to catch up before employing faith and acting on things you learn from your trusted authority. That’s faith.
    ——————————
    YOU WROTE: “I challenge you to find ANYWHERE in my writing where I propose trying to force my atheism on others”
    What I meant was that, by spouting such narrow rules for evidence as the only and best approach, you are trying to cow others into your restrictive view of epistemology. You are forcing a materialistic, Godless view onto others by claiming that you know there is no God (if you are a “hard” atheist – “soft” atheists are more like agnostics).
    ——————————
    YOU WROTE: “If you think I’m making an a priori assumption that God doesn’t exist, you clearly haven’t been reading my writing for very long.”
    I have not. In fact, I have only read this one post. I have not yet become a devotee. I dare say you have not read my extensive writings on atheism and other isms I dislike, not the least of which is fundamentalism :)
    ——————————-
    YOU WROTE: “And the reality is that *every single time* that I read or hear someone trying to convince me that God exists, a part of me thinks: Is this it? Is this the thing that will change my mind, that will show that I’m wrong? Is this something new, something I’ve never heard before? (Not because I’m unhappy about being an atheist, but because I’m trying to keep an open mind.)”
    Admirable. But if you limit yourself to, for lack of a better descriptor, empirical evidence, while ignoring historical evidence, beleiving some of the superficial bible contradictions spouted by the unlearned (seriously, those links you provided show some of the lowest level of understanding of bible controversies, having not even addressed the very good counter arguments, such as those I alluded to like the phenomenologicla nature of scripture), and while also failing to enter the subjective realm of spiritual experience, I’d say you may not be open minded enough, or at least, not open hearted enough.
    ———————————
    YOU WROTE: “It’s always the same ones I’ve seen before: belief based on the Bible or other religious texts, and/or belief based on personal religious experience”
    Belief based on the bible is more than just believing it because it is in that book. It is about reading the purported words of Jesus and asking yourself if they make sense, and are true. It’s about experimenting with the faith by asking God, if real, to make things sure and clear to you.
    There are many many things about the bible that are historically verifiable. There is much common wisdom in there, shared by all religious systems, worthy of implementing.
    I left xianity for many years, and yet returned, and I’ll tell you why. Because I believe that the Christian views of justice and forgiveness, of love and faith in a life to come, in the nature of man (divine and fallen), more accurately reflect reality than any other I have read. When I add to that my subjective experience of being inwardly changed (yes, subjective, I know), I am confident enough to doubt my doubts due to what things I DO believe. I am not without doubt, but such doubts do not keep me from pursuing Christ any more than any other argument from ignorance – lack of information, or lack of faith in some areas is merely inconclusive, not counter-conclusive, if you know what I mean.
    I suspect you may have tried such things, and perhaps most arguments regarding faith boil down to the bibical record and subjective experience. But there are also the compellingly logical biblical fields of endeavor elucidated around government, marriage, sex, justice, forgiveness, war, economics and finance, and even science and math that are compelling, if not interesting.
    ———————————
    YOU WROTE: “unless you already believe in the Bible, you have no reason to believe that the Bible is any more true than any other written account of a set of beliefs and historical events.”
    Untrue. For example, we can test any work of antiquity against archaeology, not to mention the other extant historical texts. The work in biblical archaeology has overwhelmingly confirmed many of the bible’s narratives, and few, if any, contradict them.
    You can also do analyses for internal consistency (or contradiction) and quantify it.
    ———————————–
    YOU WROTE: “I have no more reason to believe that the Bible depicts divine truth than the Koran, or the Bhagavad-Gita, or the Book of Mormon.”
    I dare say you’ve done such a comparison. If you had, you would know of the many clear historical contradictions in the book of Mormon. You would see the murderous and racist content of the Koran, and the moral bankruptcy of it’s prophet (would a real holy man marry a 6 year old and have sex with her at age 9?).
    If you actually evaluate these texts with some objective, ethical, historical, and logical tools, you will find, as many skeptics turned believers who’ve done such have, they are not all the same. I find this objection from most atheists frusrating. They are so intelligent (at least, they claim they are, and in many cases, I believe them ;), yet somehow their analytical skills fail them when they feign to evaluate faith claims.
    The fact that they refuse to agree to a qualitative difference between suicide bombers and abortion clinic protestors is maddening in it’s willful ignorance. Same goes for their lack of ability to evaluate the religious claims of the various holy books. The truth is, while they may find them all wanting (in part because they are looking to find fault rather than understand), their inability to qualitatively evaluate, or compare the worth or validity of such texts is pure zealotry and polemic laziness.
    ——————————
    YOU WROTE: “You say, “I believe the Bible is divine because it’s so consistent and accurate.” But when people point out its inconsistencies and inaccuracies, you say, “Well, those parts are due to human error.”
    I said no such thing. What I said was that (a) scripture is not some automated dictation taken from God, so you can’t expect perfect grammar, pi calculated to the nth decimal, and writings that are unaffected by the culture of the writers. (b) I never stated that the scriptures were inaccurate, only that they were phenomenological, i.e. describing phenomenon in a more vernacular manner. To say that the bible was wrong about pi because it records it as 3 instead of 3.14 is just silly nitpicking.
    And any “inaccuracies” in translation to our language are to be expected. The orthodox view is that the original autographs were inspired, not our translations.
    But this gets to the heart of another matter. I see the Bible as a signpost that points us to God, not God himself. It is meant to point us towards a relationship with the LIVING God, not just an intellectual grasp of spiritual truth. I think I agree with theologian Karl Barth who said “The bible is NOT the revelation of God, it is the RECORD of the revelation of God.”
    ———————————-
    YOU WROTE: “to say that the parts you agree with are divine and true and the word of God, and the parts you don’t agree with are due to the error of the humans who wrote it down.”
    That is not what I am saying. What I am saying is that all of scripture is not presriptive. For example, when it says that Elijah took his sword and hacked the prophets of bail to pieces, it is not necessarily telling us that we should hack people of other faiths to pieces, it is recording an event. Now, his action may have application, but to be a hyper literalist is insane. When Jesus said “take up your cross and follow Me” he was being figurative. I don’t have to fashion a cross and carry it around.
    As Christians, we are people of principles, not rules. Thought, not rote. Perhaps I did not explain the concepts well enough. Needless to say, all I meant was that a hyper literalist interpretation of scripture is neither biblical, intellectually honest, nor logical.
    Like it or not, atheists often want us to be hyper-literalist fundies, or accuse us of being disingenous or cherry-picking. And while some may be doing that, taking a more mature and complex approach is not necessarily disingenous or inconsistent.
    ————————————
    YOU WROTE: “For you, the true, divine parts apparently include a belief in hell. But plenty of Christians don’t believe in hell, and think hell is one of those mistaken, fallible-human parts.”
    I dare say that they do so, like you, not out of a consistent hermeneutic, but because they don’t like the clear biblical claims on the matter.
    ————————————
    YOU WROTE: “On what basis do you make those decisions?”
    There are two questions I see here. One is “how to you determine if the bible really teaches hell?” That depends on your hermeneutics, a.k.a. logical rules for interpreting texts (e.g. interpret in context, in literary type, etc.). I’d say it clearly teaches it.
    The second is “if that’s what the bible clearly teaches, how do you decide if it’s true?” Depends on whether or not you think the bible is authoritative or not, and on your epistemologic method.
    ————————————-
    YOU WROTE: “Why should I believe you when you say hell is real, rather than my Christian friends who DON’T believe in hell? ”
    The question is, WHY do they not believe it? Because their understanding of the bible is that it doesn’t teach it? If so, I would question their interpretive methods. If they find hell unbelievable and so don’t believe, I would say that the are CHINOs. Christians in name only. The heart of the xian message is that we are all guilty, and that Jesus died for our sins. If there is not judgment, and no hell, why call yourself a Christian at all? Perhaps they like the label, but they don’t in essence believe Christ’s words.
    ————————————-
    YOU WROTE: “And why should I believe you when you say the Bible is true, and not a Muslim about the Koran, or a Hindu about the Bhagavad-Gita? They all have the exact same arguments you do: “Look at this wonderful inspired text! And look at the amazing experiences of people who believe it!”
    Because you can evaluate these texts side by side, and see the vast differences. See above. Don’t discard all logical analyses just because some of their claims are unverifiable. There are many ways to evaluate both texts and their historical, ethical, moral, logical, and wisdom contents.
    —————————————
    YOU WROTE: “If you’re going to convince people that they should believe in God/ hell/ etc. because of the Bible, which is the divinely inspired and perfect word of God, you can’t just explain away the inconsistencies and errors by saying, “That was human error, it was written down by people who were shaped by their personality and culture and sometimes made mistakes.”
    You misunderstood my argument.
    —————————————
    YOU WROTE: “If you’re going to argue that the Bible doesn’t need any external evidentiary support because it’s divine truth, and you know it’s divine truth because it’s so self-evidently accurate and consistent and perfect… doesn’t the fact that it has *any errors at all* completely undercut your argument?”
    I am not making that argument at all. The bible has plenty of external evidentiary support for its trustworthiness, even if NO such direct support exists for some of its supernatural claims (though as I said, the behavior of the disciples after Jesus’ supposed resurrection is one type of support for the resurrection itself).
    —————————————-
    YOU WROTE: “When I read an account in the Bible of what God is like and what he does and doesn’t want me to do, I can’t do any of that.”
    Untrue. You can apply the principles revealed in it and test them out. You can ask Gd to confirm the bible’s allegations, or ask Jesus into your life and see what happens. You can try implementing Jesus’ sayings or wisdom and see what happens.
    —————————————–
    YOU WROTE: “It’s all just people’s opinions.”
    Sure. However, we can all test things out in the subjective lab of our own lives. And we CAN confirm some of the things such “prophets” have said, and see who is the most consistent in the things we can confirm with evidence or logic.
    ——————————————
    YOU WROTE: “There’s a difference between saying, “These are the parts that work for me,” and saying, with equal certainty and authority, “These are the parts that work for God.” And there’s a difference between saying, “I think these parts are supported by evidence and reason — but if I’m wrong then please convince me otherwise,” and saying, “For no reason except my own personal gut feeling, I think these parts are right — and nothing anyone could say or do could possibly change my mind.”
    I agree with you, it does seem like hubris to say “God says.” Nevertheless, it may be true ;)
    ——————————————-
    YOU WROTE: “You think it’s good to slaughter men whose religious beliefs differ from yours?”
    It can be, if their beliefs are, for example, unrepentant Nazism or Islamofascism. As for killing their children, even that may be morally defensible. I know your reaction will be “you have GOT to be kidding,” but I am not. More on that later, this is way too long. Note that the Isrealites were never ordered to rape.
    Needless to say, the bible balances justice with mercy. I dare say we are sometimes too squeamish for what justice requires.
    ——————————————-
    YOU WROTE: “To visit horrible tortures on someone you know to be a good person, just to prove a point? ”
    You referring to Job? If so, you misunderstand the purpose and content of that story.
    ——————————————–
    YOU WROTE: “To commit genocide? To drown every human being on earth except for one family?”
    Unremediated and unrepentant wickedness is justifiably punishable. Do you not know that Noah preached repentance for a century while building his boat, and NO ONE repented? The bible says the earth was filled with wickedness.
    ——————————————–
    YOU WROTE: “To hold someone in a fire while they scream and beg for mercy — not for a minute, or an hour, or a day, but forever — just because they disagreed with you or doubted your word?”
    So it comes back to this one point (I feel I have superficially answered all of your other points, and my wife is mad b/c I am typing at 2AM). You find hell unjust. I understand, as I said. I even comisserate. But this one point of dislike, as serious as it is, does not make such things untrue, only unapalitable.
    And hell is not just for disagreement or doubt. It’s for being guilty of sin. It’s for rejecting the love of God. It’s for rejecting the sacrifice of Christ. It’s for calling God unjust, and for claiming our own righteousness. And in the end, it is for choosing our unbelief and sin over God’s offer of redemption. You see, in the end, God doesn’t impose hell, we choose it.
    With respect,
    Seeker.

  19. says

    When I meant that I would have nothing more to say to you if you defended the more appalling aspects of the Bible’s morality, I meant it.
    I have responses to every one of yours, but I no longer wish to engage in conversation with you. You clearly are, in fact, one of those people who is so attached to the Bible being inarguable truth that you are unwilling to consider the things about it that are blatantly wrong — not just factually inaccurate and internally inconsistent, but morally reprehensible.
    I know how this conversation will go. You keep saying, “But the Bible is so wonderful!” and I keep saying, “You know, it’s really not, here are all the things that aren’t wonderful about it,” and you’re just going to keep on saying, “But the Bible is wonderful!” And I know from experience with other people who share your attitude that nothing I or anyone can say will get us out of that loop, or get you to acknowledge even the smallest and most obvious Biblical errors.
    But more to the point, I don’t have enough respect for you — for someone who says “As for killing their children, even that may be morally defensible” and your other defenses of appalling Biblical morality — to be willing to spend any more time in conversation with you. Thank you for sharing.

  20. says

    As you wish. But as I say, it really comes down to your saying “I don’t like it, therefore it is untrue.” Your objections to the value and truth of the scriptures have little to do with evidence and logic, and appear to have much more to do with dislike for its contents, which you buttress with superficial, bogus, and straw man arguments (the value of pi one is laughable!).
    I read with interest your journey to atheism. But your rejection of the reality of God and the teachings of Jesus are your own business. I am glad, for the sake of your own integrity, that you are honest about your inability to believe such things, or ANY supernatural claims.
    But I suspect you are incorrect, and have given some reasons. Have a nice life.

  21. says

    You’re very much mistaken about me, but you’re welcome to think that if you like. I am, as I said, completely unwilling to engage in further discussion with anyone who is willing to defend genocide and the infanticide of one’s enemies as morally excellent simply because the Bible says so. Thank you for sharing.

  22. says

    YOU WROTE: “You’re very much mistaken about me,”
    Possibly. But I am not mistaken about the bogus arguments regarding the bible’s factual and ethical/moral errors. The arguments presented here are worth discussing, but I do take issue with them, and some arguments like the value of pi need to be shot down for good as spurious.
    I never said that that infanticide was morally excellent, that’s your spin. What I said, or at least meant, was that there are moral and ethical situations in which such actions can be regrettably required and/or justifiable.
    In fact, some liberals would admit that abortion, arguably a type of infanticide, is morally justifiable. So perhaps you need to concede the morally high ground on this one and realize that all situations do not bow to such simplistic and universal declarations.
    If you can not even consider such a possibility, then you are correct, the discussion is over.
    Also, I have never argued that genocide is excellent, but again, justice or even prudence may require such. Like it or not, the children of enemies often grow up to take vengeance on you. Have you never seen Conan the Barbarian? Practically speaking, in cases where a nation or people have been committed to atrocities for generations, for the sake of humanity, perhaps their culture and people need to disappear.
    Admittedly, this should not happen every week, but if you look in the Biblical record, this only really happened ONCE in the history of mankind, so it’s not a pattern.
    Additionlly, the biblical principles are clear, practical, and make sense – if you have wicked leaders, often the consequences of their wickedness fall upon the innocent whom they rule. That includes the execution of justice. But whose fault is that? Not the executors of justice.
    While I am not, for example, happy about how we ended WWII, such regrettable actions may be necessary when a people are ruled by a murderous, immoral leadership and/or ideology.
    The bible is not easily excusing the killing of innocents (far from it, it has numerous commandments to protect the innocent), but it is admitting that innocents suffer as a result of the wickedness of their parents and rulers – and suffering justice such as the rare but mentioned case in the Bible is not outside of justification.
    You may find such possibilities offensive, but I find them regrettable realities that have to be entered into on rare occasions. No one is saying this should be a first course of action, but a rare one for extreme cases, such as the wickedness of Sodom (different subject).

  23. Rev. Cawley says

    You wrote: “Why should I believe you when you say hell is real, rather than my Christian friends who DON’T believe in hell? ”
    What do you think about near-death experiences of Hell? Here’s a link about it: http://www.near-death.com/experiences/research14.html
    http://www.near-death.com has a story of an athiest art teacher who converted to Christ and is now UCC minister because of a “Hell” near-death experience.
    I’ve heard all of the arguments against the validity of near-death stories (oxygen-deprivation to the brain, dying brain, hallucination, etc.). There are just as many physicians that speak FOR the validity of near-death stories.
    You couldn’t tell somebody who has had a of near-death experience of smoke and heat and pain that Hell is not real.
    What do you think?
    Blessings!

  24. Croc-a-Duck says

    Hi, I’ve been reading the argument/debate going on between seeker and Greta, and I just thought I’d add my own two cents into this. A major part of my turning atheist had to do with the morality and ethics of the bible. I read the bible, thinking to possibly find a way back to Christianity. What I found made me certain that I was never going back. If you think that the supposedly “only” incident where God allows or commands anyone to kill many is somehow justified, then I suggest you check out these examples:
    1)The Israelites slaughter Hamor and his city and plunder it (Gen. 34)
    2)Moses is commanded by God to exterminate the Canaanites, the
    Amorites and the people of Bashan “and show no mercy” (Deut
    7:1-2, 9:3, Num 21).
    3)Moses orders “every man” among the Israelites to slay his
    brother, companion and neighbor, as a punishment for the
    idolatry of all, and 3000 die (Ex 32:27-28).
    4)God commands Moses to slaughter 24,000 people and hang their
    heads in the sun (Num 25)
    5)God commands Moses to slay the Midianites because the Israelites
    are seduced by them. All males (including infants) and
    adult women are killed; virgins are enslaved (Num 25:17,
    31:1-2, 7, 15-18).
    6)God’s annihilation of Sihon’s people and others (Deut 2:30-35,
    36, 3:1-7)
    7)God commands Moses, in any city near the promised land which does
    not agree to become a vassal state of the Israelites, to
    kill all the males and take the women and children as slaves
    and the animals as booty, but in any city in the promised
    land the Israelites are to kill every living thing, sparing
    no one (Deut 20:10-17).
    8)Joshua, with the help of God, annihilates numerous tribes and
    cities, “left none breathing,” “destroyed all that breathed,
    as God commanded” (Josh 6:21, 8:24-27, 10:, 11:11,14,21-22).
    9)Slay utterly old and young, both maids and little children,”
    says God (Ezek 9:6).
    Anyone who still thinks that God did this only once, and that the reasons were justifiable, PLEASE RE READ WHAT I POSTED!

  25. Brandon says

    Seeker,
    You talk about the historical accuracy of the bible, but I could do the research, write an exceedingly accurate book on local history, and then add sections claiming that God was involved in certain events: would my claims be reliable? If someone makes claims as extreme as direct divine intervention, then those specific claims need to be backed up by extensive empirical evidence.
    I also find it hard to accept that you honestly believe that (for example) certain kinds of consensual sex should ever be punishable by brutal execution.
    Or how about the law stating that a woman who ‘seizes’ another man’s privates to help her husband in a fight should have that hand cut off? The bible is full of such blatantly immoral laws (assuming a morality even remotely based on human dignity and empathy).

  26. sexposfemme says

    the concept of hell is the only reason I think about Christian beliefs. I like nothing about Christianity. It doesn’t make logical sense to me, I don’t like how it’s so subject to interpretation/has discrepancies, I don’t like the potential and frequent hypocrisy, I don’t like putting myself in the same category certain “Christians”, I don’t like the sexism, I really really don’t like the concept of passive suffering, and most of all I hate the concept of hell. but the “what if it’s true” lingers in the back of my mind, so I might end up back in Christianity in the winter of my life. I can’t conceive of someone on this Earth at some point in human history being so evil as to deliberately craft the concept of hell, or to even improve upon it for example by making up a description of hell. I like to think prophets or whomever really thought there was a hell, like for example because they kept having dreams about it, and they felt called to spread the bad news of Christ’s “love”.
    In any case, I am enjoying my life as an atheist. I like the concept of an oblivious death (definitely better than a hierarchical heaven), survival of the fittest, and self-determination.

  27. serialies says

    dear seeker.
    one of the ten commandments is “thou shalt not kill”. that is unarguably one of gods most important commandments (10 commandments) although i agree that in SOME very rare situations it may be the lesser of two evils to kill one person rather than the other (for example a police officer shooting a mass murderer whos about to kill again…things along those lines)
    but to say “Like it or not, the children of enemies often grow up to take vengeance on you. Have you never seen Conan the Barbarian?” is one of the most redundant and repuslive things i have ever heard…first conan the barbarian is a MOVIE (a work of fiction), id be like me using the argument “hey we should go rob casinos, havent you seen oceans 12?”. secondly if you are “justified” and “morally correct” in killing those childrens parents, why may i ask would they have reason to exact vengance on you?, the answer is because you are NOT morally justified in killing you “enemys”
    god teaches people to “love thy neighbour” if you really were following his teachings you wouldnt have any enemies in the first place, if you plan to follow god you cant choose to follow the rules which are convenient for you and ignore the others.
    and no im not a christian (athiest), but i went to a catholic school for the first ten years of my life so i am very much in a qualified position to be saying these things. follow the teachings which help others, not the ones that incite hate, even as an athiest there is merit in the teachings of showing kindness and compassion. there is no benifit from harming people simply because they are from a different faith.

  28. says

    YOU WROTE: one of the ten commandments is “thou shalt not kill”
    Just don’t forget that the same god who said “thou shalt not kill” also in the very next chapter provided a list of capitol crimes. So don’t globalize that to mean “under nor circumstances.” Justice and the protection of humanity may require such regrettable actions.
    YOU WROTE: “first conan the barbarian is a MOVIE (a work of fiction)”
    Sorry, that was meant as a bit of humor, though if you have seen Conan you understand that it illustrates the historical principle exactly – the children of your enemies often grow up to become your enemies.
    YOU WROTE: “secondly if you are “justified” and “morally correct” in killing those childrens parents, why may i ask would they have reason to exact vengance on you?, the answer is because you are NOT morally justified in killing you “enemys””
    Under regular circumstances, I would say you are correct. However, this ONE incident in the Bible may be representative, not of a norm, but an extreme case – that is, the city was so wicked that even it’s children needed to be killed. Even God himself did such in the Flood, as well as the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.
    YOU WROTE: “god teaches people to “love thy neighbour” if you really were following his teachings you wouldnt have any enemies in the first place”
    Unfortunately, that is not true, because if you live and preach righteousness (not just goodness), you will always have those who want to kill you – cf. the life of Jesus.
    And while the commands to “love your neighbor” and “turn the other cheek” rightly apply to personal interaction, and somewhat to civil government, they must be balanced with other principles such as that of self-defense and justice.
    If someone is trying to rape my wife, should I kindly ask him to stop because I should love him? The fact is, I am also commanded to love my wife. Can I lovingly knock out the attacker? The answer is a clear YES. This same logic applies to national defense and just war, like when we stopped the Nazis.
    So, what about the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki? Awful. Was that biblically justified? It ended the war and saved lives. I would say that is in a gray area, and you could argue either way.
    YOU WROTE: “there is no benifit from harming people simply because they are from a different faith.”
    I agree, no one is saying that at all.

  29. Rebecca says

    Um…Seeker? Did you really just tell us not to globalize the Ten Commandments? I mean, are they commandments or are they just suggestions?
    Not that I care; I’m quite contents with my commandment-free morality. Just curious.

  30. seeker says

    By globalize, I merely meant that one of the primary rules of scripture interpretation is to interpret passages within the context of the entire teaching of the subject, rather than taking one passage and trying to make it the entire, global teaching on the subject.
    In this case, if you only apply thou shalt not kill, you will probably misunderstand the commands to kill animals, as well as the capitol crimes.
    The ten commandments may be authoritative to christians, but to be properly understood and applied, they need to be, among other things, understood in light of all of scripture.

  31. Rebecca says

    I can see why that’s one of the primary rules of scripture interpretation, since it so conveniently ameliorates the frequent “wait a second, didn’t it just say something totally conflicting a few pages ago?” effect of reading the bible.

  32. seeker says

    Yes, superficial readings can lead to misunderstandings, and the impression that there are conflicts where there really are none.
    This is especially true when people want simplistic answers to complex issues – they want either/or, black or white, or one line answers to deep and complex problems and ideas.

  33. says

    Hell is the ultimate expression of the LORD’s righteous and holy vengeance.
    Of course, this DOES beg the question. If it is okay for Jesus to condemn sinners to eternal torment in Hell (whatever Jesus does is justified by virtue of His station as Lord of Lords and King of Kings), what would be wrong with governments, that are ministers of God and revengers to execute His wrath upon those that do evil, condemning criminals to any period of torment?

  34. beloved zappa says

    “Practically speaking, in cases where a nation or people have been committed to atrocities for generations, for the sake of humanity, perhaps their culture and people need to disappear.” – by your reasoning in this statement, all white people should be wiped off the face of the earth for their enslavement of blacks, the crusades they started, the repression of science throughout the ages, colonialism, conquest, the hole in the ozone layer and other destructions of the environment and peoples. Add to this their continuing commitment to the manufacture of NBC weapons of mass destruction. According to some sources, the USA is responsible for 900 million deaths since the start of the 20th century. Are you volunteering the North Americans for extermination? I do not support your hypothesis of justified homicide.
    “While I am not, for example, happy about how we ended WWII, such regrettable actions may be necessary when a people are ruled by a murderous, immoral leadership and/or ideology.” – LOL! Japan surrendered before the second bomb was dropped – days before in fact, so don’t even pretend that americans were justified in committing that, the worst war crime ever committed in a single day.
    Also, Seriales, please spell Atheist correctly in the future. It does not need to be capitalised.
    Thanks for your time, just wanted to clear up those problems in people’s comments.

  35. TheMiddleMe says

    “It’s one more case of societal acceptance of something that would be totally unacceptable if it occurred outside of religion.”
    I can think of many things done for sexual purposes that if not used in that context would be considered absolutely appalling and unimaginable. SOmeone above mentioned “Paddles” and such — that would be considered abuse. We allow SO MUCH for sexual pleasures that truly make no sense whatsoever within or without sexuality, but we take a moment to point out how things are also allowed within religion that would seem insane otherwise. If you get rid of one you must get rid of the other, because both are stupid. Why is it ok to beat someone and choke them in the name of sexuality? Even religion doesn’t beat or choke people like that. With sex it’s ok to have the “master/slave” thing where the slave is compelled to do all sorts of bizarre stuff to please the “master” who basically is a selfish prick coming up with debasing things just to see another human hurt themselves. The whole sadism and masochism thing would not be accepted outside of sexuality but when it comes to sex, anything goes and all is acceptable. You have people electrocuting themselves in the name of sex. How on earth is that considered SANE?
    It’s really pathetic how many people here see the words “suck” and “cock” and automatically think the concept of “hell” is hunky dory as long as it results in a blow job for them. in fact many didn’t even comment on the article BEYOND the “sucking cock” sentence. They truly don’t GET IT.
    I think that’s why hell “exists.” Because people are incredibly lame and all they want is sexual pleasure at ANY cost 24/7.

  36. TheMiddleMe says

    “I’m quite contents with my commandment-free morality.”
    Rebecca I would wager you don’t have a commandment free morality at all. The commandments tell us not to kill, not to lie, not to steal. You may not adhere to all ten but I think you probably agree that many of the commandments are part of a basic human morality which allows us to live in peace with one another. Unless you actually believe it’s ok to steal, lie, and kill. Or maybe it’s just who is telling you it’s wrong is what you care about — if the Bible says it, you reject it but if a guy on the street says it you accept it. Same message, though.

  37. says

    It is grievously sad that in this, the 21st Century, Christian apologists can’t come up with anything new in their argument.
    All the arguments above have been posited for centuries at least. Christianity, at least the kind that feeds on blind faith, is losing market share. Every decade for the last three, the number of people answering the question, “What is your religion” with, “None.” has doubled. We are at like 15-17% of the population. Two decades out we will be in an demographically secular society.
    That is why religion is running scared. For the first time in history they are confronted with things that work far better than faith. Thus the intensive outrage and increased proselytization.
    They can’t build market share on dogs that just don’t hunt. Few people diagnosed with cancer settle for a faith healing these days.
    It is sad that somebody wasted so many keystrokes targeting readers that likely have been there heard that. Come on you guys – there must be SOMETHING NEW in your arguments. I will even accept something as lame as what you have put forward to date.
    All Hail Discordia.

  38. Eclectic says

    TheMiddleMe: It’s not at all exclusive to sex. Sports, too, involves many things that would be considered violent assault in other circumstances. Or many other recreational activities. I’m risking frostbite, injury and death climbing this frozen waterfall rather than using the perfectly good stairs why, exactly?
    Yes, the ethical decalogue includes a number of good common principles, but that’s only about half. The rest are bits about graven images and the sabbath.
    Just because some commandments are good doesn’t mean that all are. Any more than the fact that Dennis Rader, an active Christian and church leader was a serial killer means that all are.
    I can also give the example of the other ten commandments, the ritual decalogue, which most Christians pay not the slightest attention to (and think the Jews are weird for following).
    It boils down to having some criteria for evaluating a moral principle other than “God said so”.
    Why are so many people quoting Leviticus at gays wearing cloth of mixed fibers while doing so?
    Why go gay events get picketed more than Red Lobster restaurants?
    Very few people really do what the Bible tells them to; most pick and choose.
    I just don’t see why I need to start with a religion’s menu of moral precepts to choose from.

  39. Makyui says

    @TheMiddleMe:
    “Unless you actually believe it’s ok to steal, lie, and kill.”
    There are moments when lying, stealing, and killing are not only acceptable, but moral. You might lose that wager of yours.
    Also: I have to say, not only is your understanding of BDSM really misguided and simplistic (you’ve completely missed the concept of informed consent and the constant mind toward safety), your idea that sexuality should be punished with eternal burning is questionable, to say the least.
    If a commandment is followed merely because a god spoke it, then it’s entirely arbitrary. Anyone can claim that a god said anything. At least the man on the street can be asked to back up the reasoning for his “commandments”.

  40. Jeffrey Soreff says

    YOU WROTE: “To commit genocide? To drown every human being on earth except for one family?”
    SEEKER WROTE: Unremediated and unrepentant wickedness is justifiably punishable.

    Well, at least one thing is clear from the long discussion
    with seeker. If his god existed, it would make the worst of
    history’s killers look good by comparison. This god wouldn’t
    just be unworthy of human worship or obedience. Seeker’s god
    wouldn’t be worthy of civility.

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