Notable Facts, #4: The Elder Gods

Most Christians think that Jesus’s story — son of God, born of a virgin, rising victorious from death, bringing salvation, etc. — is unique in history. However, Jesus is actually one of a long line of similar, purported gods to emerge from the ancient Middle East and surrounding areas.

Here’s a brief list of some of the notable ones who preceded Jesus, that Dr Richard Carrier researched and was able to confirm are solidly backed up by ancient documentation:

Adonis — Adonis was a dying-and-rising god from ancient Syria.

Inanna — Inanna was an ancient Sumerian goddess. She is one of the oldest known gods of this type; her story is inscribed on clay tablets dating about 1700 BC. In her story, she descends into Hell, is stripped naked, tried in a kangaroo court, stricken dead by a death spell, and then her naked corpse is nailed up. Then, three days later, her minions came down and fed her the food of life, and she resurrected and ascended to glory. So, her story bears many of the same elements that were later incorporated into Jesus’s story, such as trial and punishment, dying and rising, crucifixion, and three days in Hell. Her cult was one of the leading ones worshipped around Jesus’s time, in the city of Tyre. Jesus is depicted as visiting Tyre. One of the largest temples there would have been the temple celebrating Inanna’s death and resurrection. Tyre was one of the major ports in the region, so a lot of pilgrimage and and lot of trade went through there.

Osiris — The Osiris cult was a dying-and-rising god cult that originated in Egypt, then spread all over the Mediterranean. In the Osiris cult, people who were baptized in Osiris’s death and resurrection were saved in the afterlife. It is not plausible that the Osiris cult, popularly being preached in Egypt before the emergence of Jesus, did not influence the incorporation of baptism, resurrection, and afterlife salvation into Christianity. Egypt neighbored Judea, had a large Jewish population, and many among those Jews made pilgrimages to Judea and back.

Romulus — Romulus was the Roman state god. His death and resurrection were celebrated in annual passion plays throughout the Roman empire, in the time immediately before the emergence of Jesus. Thus, Romulus was a well known example of a dying-and-rising savior god (however, he was a savior of the Roman empire, not a personal savior) in Judea, which was a province of the Roman empire.

Zalmoxis — Zalmoxis was a Thracian dying and rising god dating 5th to 6th century BC. Zalmoxis’s death and resurrection assured followers of eternal life, especially those who participated in a ritual meal (i.e., a Eucharist). Zalmoxis’s cult is described in The Histories of Herodotus. The Histories was one of the standard school texts in rhetoric schools of the time. Anyone who learned Greek well enough to be composing stories such as the Gospels of the Bible would have passed through that level of education, and thus would have read Herodotus. Ergo, they knew about the Zalmoxis cult.

All of the above are gods who died and rose again. All of them are savior gods, that grant eternal happiness after death to those who worship them. All of them are the sons or daughters of God, serving God as the intermediary for your salvation. All of them underwent a “passion.” All of them obtained victory over death, which they shared with their followers. All of them were claimed to be historical figures, with stories setting them in human history, despite never actually existing. All of them were popularly being worshipped in the Mediterranean and Middle East at the time that Jesus emerged on the scene. And all of them are indisputably documented, with these features, before Christ. There was a dying-and-rising savior god trend sweeping through all of the national cultures of the Mediterranean, and Jesus was the one to emerge in Judea.

There are many more instances before Christ in the same area or within regions close enough for contact, with features that Christ later shared. Perseus, Horus, Krishna, Attis, Dionysus, and myriad others, were divinely conceived without sexual union. Zoroaster, Buddha, and various others, were tempted by the devil to give up their ministries to rule the world. And so on with Tammuz, Baal, Horus, Glycon, etc.

What do Christian apologists have to say about this? Modern day apologists tend to take either one of two approaches.

(1) It’s a lie. Those are all hoaxes.

Whether out of their own ignorance or out of cynical belief in your ignorance and unwillingness to research for yourself, most apologists these days simply deny that these claims are real. We’re separated enough from Bronze Age Middle East and Asia Minor that they can often get away with simply saying it’s not so. Furthermore — unfortunately — there really is a lot of poorly-cited, overreaching material on the topic (such as the movie Religulous, and books by Kersey Graves, and Acharya S. / D.M. Murdock), which seems to bolster the apologist’s claims that it’s false. Despite the topic being muddied by questionable research, there’s solid substantiation available for many parallels with those prior to Jesus, such as the ones listed above.

(2) Yes, but they’re not identical to Jesus.

When denial doesn’t work, modern apologists tend to point out that there may be some similarities, but they’re not completely identical to Jesus. While no religion is completely identical to another religion (or else it would simply be that other religion), we have here cases which (in my judgment) are too close to be mere chance.

 

Early Christian apologists did not have the luxury of denying the reality of these other, older religions with parallel characteristics, which were still current or within memory. Instead, they handled the issue by accepting the existence of similar prior religions, while trying their best to spin that fact in a way that supported Christianity.

(1) They argued that if you believed that stuff about other gods, then it’s not much of a stretch to believe the same about Jesus, too.

For example, around the year 150 AD, Justin Martyr wrote (Apology 21):

“When we say that the Word, who is the first-birth of God, was produced without sexual union, and that He, Jesus Christ, our Teacher, was crucified and died, and rose again, and ascended into heaven, we propound nothing different from what you believe regarding those whom you esteem sons of Jupiter.”

Yes, that was intended to be taken as an argument in favor of Christianity. That might seem unpersuasive, but what else could he say? Well, there is one more thing…

(2) They argued it must’ve been the work of Satan to plant these other cases before the coming of Jesus, to instill doubts.

For example, Justin Martyr also wrote:

“For when they say that Dionysus arose again and ascended to heaven, is it not evidence the devil has imitated the prophecy?”

“For when they tell that Bacchus, son of Jupiter, was begotten by [Jupiter’s] intercourse with Semele… and when they relate, that … having died, he rose again, and ascended to heaven; and when they introduce wine into his mysteries, do I not perceive that [the devil] has imitated the prophecy announced by the patriarch Jacob, and recorded by Moses?”

“For the apostles, in the memoirs composed by them, which are called Gospels, have thus delivered unto us what was enjoined upon them; that Jesus took bread, and when He had given thanks, said, “This do ye in remembrance of Me, this is My body;” and that, after the same manner, having taken the cup and given thanks, He said, “This is My blood;” and gave it to them alone. Which the wicked devils have imitated in the mysteries of Mithras, commanding the same thing to be done. For, that bread and a cup of water are placed with certain incantations in the mystic rites of one who is being initiated, you either know or can learn.”

This “the Devil came ahead of Jesus, planting parallel religions” argument, as an explanation of Christianity’s relationship to the similar religions that preceded it, is perhaps the flimsiest apologetic I know of — and it remains standard Christian doctrine, to this day. When one believes with blind faith, this is the quality of argument one may have to ultimately found one’s beliefs upon.

To those outside of the Christian faith, it appears that most or all of what we know about Jesus from the Bible and from extra-biblical lore is really an amalgamation of the beliefs in the surrounding cultures at that time. The Jews seem to have been influenced by their neighbors to make a Jewish version of nearby personal savior cults.

Make of that what you will.

 

 

[Note that the first half of this post borrows heavily from Richard Carrier. For more information, please seek out his books, lectures, and other work. You can also find more information from the works of David Fitzgerald, Raphael Lataster, and Hector Avalos.]

Quote of the Day: Marcus Aurelius

“Live a good life. If there are gods and they are just, then they will not care how devout you have been, but will welcome you based on the virtues you have lived by. If there are gods, but unjust, then you should not want to worship them. If there are no gods, then you will be gone, but will have lived a noble life that will live on in the memories of your loved ones.” — Marcus Aurelius

Questions from Theists: Who Are You to Judge God?

It’s not uncommon for theists to be taken aback when I criticize the alleged words, actions, and plans of their purported gods (such as here). Which often leads them to ask me….

Question(s):

Who are you to judge God and his actions?

Who are you to criticize God?

Who are you to question the wisdom of God?

etc.

Answer:

I’m someone who strives to live compassionately and rationally, in an effort to be good to others and myself. Such striving requires critically examining claims about truth, knowledge, morality, and purpose — such as the claims people make to me about gods, scriptures, and religions. We’re bombarded with many different claims of these types, and the only way to sort the worthier ones from the lesser ones is to be critical about them.

To be clear, when I render such criticism, I don’t think I’m actually criticizing God. I think I’m merely criticizing people’s claims about God. That said, I would criticize God, if He existed, and if (in my best estimation) his words and actions warranted criticism.

Any god worthy of my respect would appreciate the necessity of putting claims to the test and seeing how they hold up, to separate real ones from false ones, and would not have a problem with people honestly striving for truth the best they can.

If a god is indeed all-knowing and wise, loving and benevolent, and perfect in its plans and actions, then it should be able to come through such scrutiny without any problems. If my examinations of a god you make claims about do turn up issues of injustice, malevolent acts, and erroneous declarations, then the problem isn’t that I criticized your god, the problem is either with your dubious god or with you for worshipping it.

You might say that I cannot assess your god because your god is incomprehensible, and works in mysterious ways. However, if that is true, then you can’t assess your god either, and thus have no grounds for any claims that your god is wise, good, or whatever else. In any case, our limited mental faculties are what we have to help us navigate through the world, and we’re better off using them the best we can, rather than neglecting them because they’re not perfect.

I may not be immune to making errors when applying my critical faculties, but at least the critical process is more reliable than simply taking every claim and assertion that comes my way on faith. So, I’ll dare to judge claims about gods and their actions, while keeping my determinations, themselves, open to criticism and revision. If your god actually exists and actually is good and wise, it’ll understand.

 

Free Will and Theology

Free will is the ability to create decisions through conscious thought processes, and then effectuate them, free from being overridden by determinative effects from all sources other than consciousness — independent from such factors as coercion, environmental history, genetics, and causation.

Most Christians think we have free will to believe in God and Jesus or not, and free will to obey God and Jesus or not. The doctrine that we have it is theologically necessary for most forms of Christianity on at least two major fronts:

(A) It’s a standard part of the apologetics of why evil and suffering exist in the world. That apologetic typically goes something like this: “God is perfectly loving and good, so God doesn’t create evil. God gave us free will, because He loves us. Adam and Eve (and humankind, in general) freely chose to disobey God, thereby bringing evil and suffering into the world.” For an example of this apologetic, click here. (For today, we’ll put aside that God repeatedly and explicitly says in the Bible that He creates evil, such as here, and we’ll put aside any logical of theological issues with this apologetic, and we’ll stick strictly to the topic of free will.)

(B) Free will is considered a necessary foundation for a morally viable system of sending the saved to Heaven and the damned to Hell. That apologetic goes something like this: “If God damned people to eternal torment in Hell when they had no free will over their actions, He’d be an evil monster — but we know God is benevolent and loving and righteous, not an evil monster; therefore, we must have free will.” (Again, we’ll put aside any problems with this reasoning, for today, and stick strictly to the topic of free will.)

In addition to the points above, the most common argument Christians give for why God does not simply reveal Himself unequivocally to us is because revealing Himself would remove our free will to reject or disobey God. For an example of this apologetic, click here. (Once again, we’ll put aside that the Bible tells us God revealed Himself unequivocally to Satan, Adam and Eve, and a number of others who were still quite able to disobey Him, which undermines this argument. It is nonetheless the primary explanation offered for the lack of evidence for God.)

And so, many Christians insist that we have free will, out of theological necessity. However, their assertion does not seem to hold up well under scrutiny. Let’s examine some of the issues.

(1) Coercion

Coercion is defined as “the practice of forcing another party to act in an involuntary manner by use of intimidation or threats or some other form of pressure or force. It involves a set of various types of forceful actions that violate the free will of an individual to induce a desired response… In law, coercion is codified as a duress crime.”

Duress,” in the term duress crime, “…has two aspects. One is that it negates the person’s consent to an act, such as sexual activity or the entering into a contract; or, secondly, as a possible legal defense or justification to an otherwise unlawful act.”

The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy notes, “Coercion is typically thought to carry with it several important implications, including that it diminishes the targeted agent’s freedom and responsibility….”

Suppose, for example, that a married man got anally raped at gunpoint. Most judges would agree that raped man did not thereby break any wedding contract of fidelity, and most Christians would likewise agree that he did not commit sins of sodomy and adultery. Through the circumstances of life-threatening coercion, his free will was violated, his consent was negated, he was compelled to act involuntarily, his actions were justified, and his responsibility was diminished.

In the Old Testament and New Testament of the Bible, God uses coercion. He frequently threatens those who might disobey him with ruination of crops, thirst, drought, cattle pestilence, hunger, starvation, nakedness, loss of property, losses in battles, invasion by hostile nations, rape, cruel enslavement, cruel enslavement of descendants, incurable itching, inflammation, hemorrhoids, leprosy, blindness, confusion, insanity, mutilation, plague, death, destruction, and much more. He kills those who disobey him, over even the smallest infractionseven when they are only trying to help, or commands others to kill those who disobey him, over even the tiniest trifles. He arranges for His followers to kill unbelievers and those who don’t seek or don’t worship God. And, of course, He threatens those who don’t believe or don’t obey with eternal torture in Hell — which is literally one of the most coercive threats possible.

If you think that threatening someone with a gun to compel him tampers with his free will, then how could you not think that God’s far more extreme threats cause at least as much interference? It should be obvious that such behavior violates free will, and also that any God who engages in such behavior does not care about people’s free will.

(2) Mind Control

God doesn’t stop at mere coercion. The Bible also tells us over and over that God actively exerts mind control over people to get them to act as He wants.

I’ve already previously discussed the case of God exerting mind control over the Pharaoh.

If we’re to take the Bible at its word, it is standard operating procedure for God to control the minds of rulers: “The Lord controls the mind of a king as easily as he directs the course of a stream.Proverbs 21:1

But it’s not just rulers. According to the Bible, God exerts mind control over you, too. Here are a couple of many instances where the Bible says so:

“And I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to follow My Laws and be careful to do what I tell you.”Ezekiel 36:27

“God is working in you to make you willing and able to obey him.”Philippians 2:13

Furthermore, the Bible tells us that divine mind control is why believers believe: “No one is able to come to Me unless the Father Who sent Me attracts and draws him and gives him the desire to come to Me….” — John 6:44

And likewise, the Bible tells us that divine mind control is why nonbelievers do not believe:

“But despite all the miraculous signs Jesus had done, most of the people still did not believe in him. This is exactly what Isaiah the prophet had predicted:

“Lord, who has believed our message?
To whom has the Lord revealed his powerful arm?”
But the people couldn’t believe, for as Isaiah also said,

“The Lord has blinded their eyes
and hardened their hearts—
so that their eyes cannot see,
and their hearts cannot understand,
and they cannot turn to me
and have me heal them.”
Isaiah was referring to Jesus when he said this, because he saw the future and spoke of the Messiah’s glory.”John 12:37-41

Mind control clearly contradicts free will.

(3) Omniscience

It’s a standard part of most versions of Christian theology that God and Jesus are omniscient, i.e., they know everything. This claim comports with a number of Bible passages, such as 1 John 3:20: “…God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything.” This omniscience is typically asserted to include knowing everyone’s futures. Again, this claim comports with a number of Bible passages, such as Psalm 139:15-16: “Nothing about me is hidden from you! I was secretly woven together deep in the earth below, but with your own eyes you saw my body being formed. Even before I was born, you had written in your book everything I would do.”

If God knows everything you will ever do, before you are born, then everything in your life is predetermined, and you can’t change it — which excludes the possibility of free will.

(4) Inability to will ourselves to believe or disbelieve things.

Either something is believable to us, or it isn’t. Believability might be based on things like evidence, likelihood, and congruence with other data, but it’s not based on things like desire and decision. Our inability to control what we do or don’t believe can be easily demonstrated. Let me show those of you who insist that we can indeed control belief through will.

By the end of this sentence, will yourself to believe that a centaur and a pegasus are copulating with each other in my backyard, right now.

At the end of this sentence, will yourself to disbelieve you just read this sentence.

Now that you’ve failed to believe a centaur and a pegasus are copulating in my backyard, and you’ve also failed to disbelieve that you read the previous sentence, you know that you do not have the ability to will yourself to believe things or disbelieve things.

We do not control our beliefs.

(5) Unconscious decision-making

This might be hard to fit into our world views, but a growing body of neuroscience experiments seems to disconfirm that our “conscious decisions” are actually decided consciously. For example, the first in the series of Soon et. al experiments used a set up with people hooked up to functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging machines to show that people’s decisions could be  determined from their brain activity up to ten seconds before their decisions were “consciously made.” Indeed, the researchers were thereby able to predict what people were about to decide, before they consciously made their decisions.

It turns out that our experience of conscious decision-making is often really just our consciousnesses reporting what we unconsciously decided, then confabulating rationalizations for these unconsciously made decisions.

So, if your conscious self isn’t making your decisions, then do you really have free will over those decisions? Without consciousness, there’s no volition, and without volition, there can be no free will.

(6) Determinism

As far as science can tell, every occurrence happening around us, except for subatomic occurrences, is the consequence of prior events and conditions, along with the way nature works. From this, everything that will happen is the inevitable result of what has already happened; and (with sufficient knowledge) we can even make predictions about what will occur, based upon events and conditions. For example, whenever we throw a ball: the weight, the angle, the direction, the force, the air pressure and turbulence, the gravity, and so on, determine the exact trajectory the ball will travel, and precisely where it will land. The world seems consistent in this regard, and we rely on it all the time for everything we do.

If everything that occurs is the consequence of prior events and conditions, then this also includes everything we do. If we are subject to the same laws of nature and physics that everything else appears to be, then the states of our brains — and thus, our decision-making processes — appear to be the consequences of prior events and conditions. If our decisions and actions are the inevitable aftereffects of prior events and circumstances, then we do not have freedom to do otherwise (even if it feels like we do), and we are not truly acting with free will.

The hypothesis that our brains behave independently of causal factors is testable and has been refuted. Alcohol, LSD, and other drugs affect our thoughts, decisions, and behaviors. Geneticists have demonstrated that our psychological experiences in given environmental conditions are linked to genetic factors, such as adolescent girls with a specific oxytocin receptor genotype feeling more lonely when exposed to judgmental friends than people without that genotype. Psychologists have demonstrated that people can be “primed” — predisposed toward certain opinions and behaviors — through prior environmental stimuli. Neuroscientists have demonstrated that electrical brain stimulation can induce specific thoughts, feelings, and sensations, such as stimulation of the amygdala producing rage, fear, and aggression.

For our decision-making processes and our actions to be independent from the laws of causation would mean some magical kind of dualism that does not appear to apply to anything else we can see. If such free will were occurring (i.e., if we were able to operate our minds and bodies outside of the bounds of physics and nature through the choices we make) this would have detectable consequences — which we do not see.

Some people argue that quantum randomness could still be a source of free will, but this doesn’t really work. Even if we are affected by quantum randomness, random is still random, not voluntary. Even if quantum randomness were part of the factors affecting our decisions and actions, we’d still be reacting to external factors, rather than acting independently of them. Adding quantum randomness doesn’t do anything for an argument that we can act independently of overriding determining factors.

We appear to be operating deterministically, which contradicts the notion that we are operating with free will.

 

For all of the reasons above, the Christian notion that we have the ability to decide and act solely upon our conscious thought processes, free from having our choices determined by outside forces, is untenable, no matter how theologically indispensable. Of course, the concept of free will is also integral to many other religions, and most of these arguments apply to free will doctrines in those religions, too. It is incumbent upon believers to honestly re-examine the issue of free will, and, if necessary, adjust their theological stances accordingly.

 

The Hitler Canard

In response to my blog post, Questions from Theists: What are the Tenets of Atheism, someone wrote to me, “My problem with human morality is that who defines what that is ? To show it in extreme, Hitler and the Nazis thought they were behaving very morally to rid the world of Jews …”

Ah, yes. Hitler. I’m going to put aside the “who defines what human morality is?” part of the question for another day, and today strictly address the Hitler-as-an-example part.

Discussion of atheism with theists usually comes around to Hitler, at some point or another, especially regarding the topic of morality without God. Thus, I knew I’d have to talk about him on this blog, eventually. So, let’s get this over with.

Theists like to bring up Hitler as an example of godless morality at its most extreme. Hitler is widely considered the worst humanity has to offer — a genocidal dictator, and one of the most hateful, flagitious, murderous people who ever lived. Thus, theists see him as a strong example of what can happen when you take away God as a moral compass.

Without God there’s no moral accountability, and without moral accountability, one is more likely to become a Hitlerian, bloodthirsty, psychopathic monster. Or so the argument goes.

However, there’s a significant problem with using Hitler as the trump card against the moral dangers of godlessness: Hitler was a devout Catholic. In Adolph Hitler’s own words:

“I am now as before a Catholic and will always remain so.” — Adolph Hitler to General Gerhard Engel, 1941

He was a baptized Catholic, in good standing throughout his entire life, and was never excommunicated. Hitler sought the Roman Catholic Church’s approval when he became the German Chancellor in 1933. This resulted in the Vatican Concordat of 1933 with the Third Reich, which has been described as “a marriage between church and state,” and which Hitler considered to be the approval he sought for himself and the Nazi regime. He met cordially with Pope Pius XI on several occasions, and the Vatican sent archbishops to represent the Pope at Hitler’s birthday parties, every year.

Hitler had the slogan “GOTT MIT UNS” (German for, “God with us”) put onto the belt buckles for all German soldiers. He called himself a Christian and made frequent references to God and Christ.

In accordance with the Law On the Allegiance of Civil Servants and Soldiers of the Armed Forces, all of the members of the SS had to swear this three-part oath:

“What is your oath ?” – “I vow to you, Adolf Hitler, as Führer and chancellor of the German Reich loyalty and bravery. I vow to you and to the leaders that you set for me, absolute allegiance until death. So help me God !”

“So you believe in a God ?” – “Yes, I believe in a Lord God.”

“What do you think about a man who does not believe in a God ?” – “I think he is arrogant, megalomaniacal and stupid; he is not eligible for us.”

When Hitler came to power, he outlawed the German Freethinker’s League, Germany’s largest atheist organization. On this topic, he said, “We have therefore undertaken the fight against the atheistic movement and that not merely with a few theoretical declarations: we have stamped it out.” — Adolph Hitler, Berlin, October 24, 1933

Furthermore, Hitler believed that he was acting on the behalf of God and Christ. His actions were not rooted in godlessness, but rather in godliness. Again, here are Hitler’s own words:

“My feelings as a Christian points me to my Lord and Savior as a fighter. It points me to the man who once in loneliness, surrounded by a few followers, recognized these Jews for what they were and summoned men to fight against them and who, God’s truth! was greatest not as a sufferer but as a fighter. In boundless love as a Christian and as a man I read through the passage which tells us how the Lord at last rose in His might and seized the scourge to drive out of the Temple the brood of vipers and adders.” — Adolph Hitler, speech in Munich, April 12, 1922

“The work that Christ started but could not finish, I — Adolf Hitler — will conclude.” — Adolf Hitler, December 1926

“I believe today that my conduct is in accordance with the will of the Almighty Creator.” — Adolph Hitler, Mein Kampf

“Only in the steady and constant application of force lies the very first prerequisite for success. This persistence, however, can always and only arise from a definite spiritual conviction. Any violence which does not spring from a firm, spiritual base, will be wavering and uncertain.” — Adolph Hitler, Mein Kampf

“As for the Jews, I am just carrying on with the same policy which the Catholic Church has adopted for fifteen hundred years, when it has regarded the Jews as dangerous and pushed them into ghettos etc., because it knew what the Jews were like. I don’t put race above religion, but I do see the danger in the representatives of this race for Church and State, and perhaps I am doing Christianity a great service.” — Adolf Hitler, 1936, to Bishop Berning and Msg. Steinman, representatives of Pope Pius XI

“By warding off the Jews I am fighting for the Lord’s work.” — Adolph Hitler, speech, Reichstag, 1936

Not only was Hitler a Christian, but almost all of Hitler’s high command were Christians, too. Some examples:

Adolph Eichmann, the main logistical organizer of the Holocaust: Protestant.

Heinrich Himmler, the Reichsfuhrer of the S.S., the General Plenipotentiary of the entire Third Reich, and Hitler’s second-in-command: Catholic.

Hermann Goring, one of the heads of the Nazi party, and founder of the Gestapo: Catholic.

Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s Reich Minister of Propaganda: Catholic.

Reinhard Heydrich, General of the Police, Chief of the Reich Main Security Office, the “Hangman of Prague,” and the main architect of the Holocaust: Catholic.

Rudolph Hess, Deputy Fuhrer to Adolph Hitler: Catholic.

(Note that some of the people mentioned above eventually separated from traditional Christianity because its semitic roots offended their anti-semitic sensibilities, and so they came to replace it with their own, Teutonic “Positive Christianity,” which renounced Christianity’s Jewish origins.)

What about the regular soldiers in the army? The population during the Nazi era was 54% Protestant, 40% Catholic, 3.5% deists, and 1.5% non-religious; assuming that the same was true for those in the army, that means that about 94% of those in the army were Christians, and less than 2% were non-religious.

So, in short, Hitler was a Christian, not an atheist, and almost everyone responsible for the Holocaust, from top to bottom, was Christian, not atheist.

This is all very well documented in film clips, Hitler’s preserved correspondence, his own book, book collections of his speeches, newspaper articles, and the like.  You can research it for yourself.

The best that apologists can offer in response is, “Hitler wasn’t a real Christian. He was just cynically using Christianity for his desired ends.” For now, I’ll ignore the no true Scotsman fallacy involved with making this claim, and also set aside that such a view is speculation, in contradiction to the available data. Instead, let’s actually take the assertion seriously. If Hitler wasn’t a real Christian, and was merely using Christianity for his desired ends, what would that tell us? It would tell us that Hitler correctly recognized that Christianity was the perfect vehicle for rousing Germany into a warmongering and genocidal frenzy — which hardly helps the apologists’ case.

In the Bible, God committed genocide routinely, such as with the Egyptians in the Exodus story and all of humanity in the Noah story. God also commanded people to commit genocide on numerous occasions, such as with the Amalekites. Believers already train themselves to excuse their God’s genocidal tendencies in the Bible, and to convince themselves genocides can be godly and righteous. It wasn’t a big stretch for Hitler and his followers to think God was on their side for another religious genocide. Just like Christians thought about The Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, the witch hunts, the Russian pogroms, and so many other cases.

Of course, I’m not saying that theists in general, nor Christians in specific, are genocidal. That would be silly. Most folks, religious or otherwise, are kind, caring people. I’m simply pointing out that religion can be, and has been, tied to many genocides — including Christian ties to the Nazis who planned and executed the Holocaust.

And, of course, even if Hitler had been an atheist, the point would be completely preposterous. There have been genocidal dictators who believed in God and genocidal dictators who didn’t. Lunatics come in all stripes. I don’t think arguing from Hitler’s beliefs gets you very far on either side of the debate. The only thing I think the case example of Hitler certainly shows is that religious belief does not prevent such behavior. I wouldn’t have even bothered with this topic, if not for the fact that it’s already come up in a reply to a post on this website, and doubtless will come up again.

Theists try to pin Hitler on atheism, rather than take credit for Christianity’s role in Hitler’s actions. But this spurious, revisionist tactic backfires when the truth comes out. Rather than ask atheists how Hitler’s deeds were possible within the context of humanist morality, theists with such concerns should ask themselves how Hitler’s deeds were possible within the context of God-based morality. Or, better yet, drop this unproductive line of argument, entirely.

[Note that parts of this post borrow heavily from Devon Tracey. For more information, click here for a Google search of his online presence. Some may take issue with his approach, but his facts on this topic are supported.]

The Secret Society of Atheists

Since I started this website a couple weeks ago, something has happened that has surprised me. And it’s happened not just with one person, but multiple!

Basically, it’s gone like this each time:

First, someone informed me privately how much he appreciates what I’ve been writing on this website.

Second, I thanked him, and told him I had no idea he’d seen or read this blog, because he’d made no comments, left no “likes” or “plus ones,” had not re-shared it or re-tweeted it, or any such. Then I told him that I really need to gain some readership traction for this new website, and I’d love it if he’d re-share my posts, tell others about the website, and help me spread the word about it.

Third, he responded by telling me he could never do that. He’d get too much flack from his family. It would harm his business too much. And so on. BUT he told me he’s part of a secret, private group that discusses such things. Then he told me he’d share it there, and invite me.

And so I’ve been recently invited to these groups so secret that — even as a long-time, outspoken atheist — I had no idea about them. The good news is that there are more atheists, secularists, and the like out there than it seems. The bad news is that the bigotry against them is still so pronounced, even right here in the United States in the 21st century, that many of them still feel the need to remain in the closet.

When George Bush was campaigning for the presidency, he said at a press conference, “I don’t know that atheists should be regarded as citizens, nor should they be regarded as patriotic. This is one nation under God.” Now imagine replacing the word “atheists” in that quote with “blacks” or “gays” or “women.” It would cause an uproar, and the fallout would be huge. It probably would have ended Bush’s political career to say such a thing. But when a presidential incumbent made such a statement about atheists, it was literally not even noteworthy enough to make the evening news.

No doubt, blacks, gays, women, and various other groups still have to deal with prejudices, these days, but no real contender for the presidency would dare openly say at a press conference that they shouldn’t be regarded as citizens. The tides have turned in favor of these groups, and while too many still have to put up with prejudice, discrimination, and inequality, the fact that public figures speaking openly against these groups would be widely censured shows that these groups are on the path of winning acceptance.

Meanwhile, atheists are perhaps the only remaining group toward whom such open bigotry and discrimination are widely considered normal and acceptable.

Because of this, most nonbelievers hide their irreligion from others. For example, look at Barney Frank, the ex-congressman from Massachusetts. He came out of the closet as a homosexual in 1987, 6 years into his 32 year political career — yet did not dare admit he was an atheist until after he retired from politics, in 2013. It’s a choice I can understand, unfortunate as it may be.

Almost every atheist has experienced cases where reaction to her / his unbelief has negatively impacted family relationships, friendships, romances, business associations, and the like. Currently, a mother in Fort Wayne, Indiana, is suing her 7 year old son’s public school teacher for berating and punishing her boy when he answered that he doesn’t believe in God, as you can read about here. Atheists are still banned by state constitutions from holding public office, in Arkansas, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas. And even where constitutions don’t ban them, those who are openly atheist are generally considered unelectable. Recent polls have shown that a higher percentage of people — more than half — would not vote for an atheist presidential candidate than would not vote for a black, a Jew, a Mormon, or a homosexual. Recent studies have shown that more people, many more, would disapprove of their son or daughter marrying an atheist than marrying a black, a Jew, or a Muslim; and more people think that atheists “do not at all agree with my vision of American society” than blacks, gays, immigrants, Jews, and Muslims. Another recent study has even shown that atheists are more distrusted than rapists.

Part of the problem stems from the theistic notion that without God’s edicts and without fear of God, atheists have no basis for morality, or perhaps even have no morals. (An erroneous view that I’ll address in another post, later.) Another part of the problem is that, like the little girl that the little boy spoke to in the Indiana elementary school incident linked above, many theists find disbelief intrinsically offensive; they take offense that atheists reject what devout believers hold dear. Yet another issue is that many religions’ holy scriptures encourage bigotry and misbehavior toward nonbelievers, with explicitly prejudicial passages about them and / or about how they should be treated. Here’s one of many such passages in the Bible, for example: “Only a fool would say, “There is no God!” People like that are worthless; they are heartless and cruel and never do right.” Psalm 14:1

While I can sympathize with those atheists who hide their irreligion, changing the bigotry and discrimination that atheists put up with requires theists meet atheists, learn about them, and see that they’re not the wicked bogeyman many theists imagine.

Which is one of the reasons I consider this blog important.

Questions from Theists: How Did You Become an Atheist?

Question: How did you become an atheist?

Answer:

Many atheists are ex-theists, with brilliant deconversion stories, such as this one. However, I am not one of them, and I have no such interesting story. Here is my dull non-story.

I never became an atheist. Becoming an atheist requires making a transition from being a theist. Since children are born atheists, i.e., they are born free from any theistic beliefs until such beliefs are inculcated into them, any theist had to become a theist, making a transition from her or his starting point as an atheist. I never became a theist. and so I never became an atheist, once again. I simply started as an atheist, and remained one.

My parents were not religious, and religious belief was simply not a part of my toddler years. My first encounter with religion came from my neighbors, when I was around three or four. I was living in an apartment building in Santa Monica, and one of the neighbors was a little girl named Amber, whom I often played with. One day, Amber’s family took me with them to church / Sunday school. I don’t know why or how my parents agreed to this, but somehow that’s what happened.

When I got to church, they told me some of the typical Christian stuff — about how there was an invisible, all-powerful man who lived in the sky who created everyone and everything; and how I and everyone else was born bad because Adam and Eve ate the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge when a talking snake tempted them; and God’s son died for my badness and then rose from the dead; and Jesus’s blood would wash me clean if I accepted him; and so on. And even at that age, first I thought these people were joking with me; then I thought they were lying to me; then I thought they were crazy. Even as a preschooler, I was amazed that they were so unable to tell make-believe from reality, stunned that they did not understand these were just tall tales.

As I got older, I encountered ever more people who were progressively more insistent about their beliefs in invisible, all-powerful overlords who controlled everything, and who demanded my conviction, praise, submission, and and servitude. I became more aware that what these people told me didn’t add up, and more acutely cognizant that they couldn’t substantiate any of it in the slightest, and more attuned to how distasteful I found the underlying premises and the implications.

My parents sent me to Hebrew school. I disliked it, and found it unproductive.

Eventually, I started to approach the age where people in my life wanted me to be bar mitzvahed. I refused, because I did not believe. The rabbi at my Hebrew school repeatedly took me aside and told me I had to do this. He asked me to promise him. I refused. I eventually quit Hebrew school. My parents hired a private Hebrew and Judaism tutor named Bruce. That went nowhere. My Pa’sMa and Pa’sPa accused me of just being rebellious, and asked me why I always had to be so difficult. My Ma’sMa let me know there would be good rewards if I got bar mitzvahed, like my brother had received. But I still refused, because I didn’t believe in the doctrines. I never got bar mitzvahed, to most everyone’s minor disappointment.

As I grew up, I came to see ever more of the negatives associated with religions, and how much they outweighed the purported positives of religions. I saw the harm religions did to some of the people close to me, and the harm religions did to people all over the world. I’ve been an open nonbeliever and outspoken critic of religions since my adolescence or earlier, and now I’m using this blog as my platform.

I’m not mad at God — a popular notion theists have about atheists, which contradicts itself. You could be mad at people who use their religious beliefs against you, but how could you be mad at a purported entity you don’t think exists? Nor have I ever had any major emotional trauma from religion, as many theists seem to suspect is the case for outspoken atheists. Just a constant stream of minor incidents of exposure to theistic illogic, bigotry, and imposition. Neither did I have any moment when my faith shattered. There was never any such faith, to begin with. Simply, no one could ever present a sound reason why I should be persuaded by their religious beliefs, and so I never believed.

Not much of a story, since I was never a believer, but there it is.

List of Bible Contradictions and Errors

Here is a very incomplete list of contradictions and errors in the Bible. Making a complete list would be a nearly impossible task; it takes a lot of time, and there are thousands. I’ll be slowly adding more over time. Eventually, I’ll try to organize them for easier reference.

 

Contradictions

When it comes to love, God isn’t what He is, and is what He isn’t:

God is love. — 1 John 4:8

Love is not jealous. — 1 Corinthians 13:4

The LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous god. — Exodus 34:14

 

When it comes to love, God doesn’t do what He does, and does what He doesn’t do:

God is love. — 1 John 4:8

Love does not keep a record of wrongs. — 1 Corinthians 13:5

God judges the dead according to what they had done, as recorded in his books. — Revelation 20:12

 

Will God keep anger forever?

No. — Jeremiah 3:12, Micah 7:18

Yes. —  Jeremiah 17:4

 

Has everyone except Jesus sinned?

Yes. — Romans 3:23Romans 3:10

No. — Genesis 6:9, Job 1:1, Luke 1:6

 

Will God destroy the world and kill everyone and everything?

No. — Genesis 8:21

Yes. — 2 Peter 3:10-11

 

Who has seen God?

Jacob has seen God face to face. — Genesis 32:30

No one has ever seen God. — John 1:18

 

Was Abraham justified by faith and works, or by faith alone?

The combination of faith and works, not faith alone, justified Abraham. — James 2:21-24

It was faith alone, not works, which justified Abraham. — Romans 4:2-3 & 13

 

Is giving birth to a child good or bad?

Child-bearing is a sin that requires atonement. — Leviticus 12:6-7

Child-bearing is a virtuous path to salvation. — 1 Timothy 2:15

 

Is long hair on a man good or bad?

Good, and a man who has vowed himself to God [called a “Nazarite”] should never cut his hair as long as he remains in God’s service. — Numbers 6:5

Bad; it’s disgraceful and unnatural. — 1 Corinthians 11:14

 

Should a man cut off his genitals for God?

Yes. “There are some eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. He who is able to receive this, let him receive it.” — Matthew 19:12

No. “No one who is emasculated or has his male organ cut off may enter the assembly of the Lord.” — Deuteronomy 23:1

 

Are those who follow God’s laws righteous?

“The man right with God is the one who obeys the Law.” — Romans 2:13

“No person will be made right with God by doing what the Law says.” — Romans 3:20

 

Should you put God to the test?

Yes. — Malachi 3:10

No. — Matthew 4:7, Luke 4:12

 

Who incited David to conduct a census?

God. — 2 Samuel 24:1

Satan. — 1 Chronicles 21:1

 

Does God ever repent?

No. — Numbers 23:19

Yes. — Exodus 32:14

 

Will God punish children for their father’s wrongdoings?

Yes. — Exodus 20:5

No. — Ezekiel 18:20

 

Was John the Baptist the returned Prophet Elijah, who was prophesied to come before the Messiah?

According to Jesus, yes. — Matthew 11:12-14, Matthew 17:10-13

According to John the Baptist, no. — John 1:19-21

 

When was Jesus born?

Before 4 B.C.E., during the reign of King Herod the Great. — Matthew 2:1 & the date of King Herod the Great’s death, April, 4 B.C.E.

After 6 A.D., when Quirinius was governor of Syria. — Luke 2:1-4 & the date Quirinius became Governor of Syria, 6 A.D.

 

Did Jesus come into this world to judge it? 

No. — John 3:17, John 12:47

Yes. — John 9:39

 

Who was it that the angel informed about Mary’s immaculate conception of the son of God?

Joseph. — Matthew 1:20-23

Mary. — Luke 1:28-32

 

Where and when did Peter and Andrew meet and start to follow Jesus?

By the Sea of Galilee, after the imprisonment of John the Baptist. — Matthew 4:12-20

In Bethany, next to the River Jordan, before the imprisonment of John the Baptist. — John 1:28, 1 John 35-42, John 3:24

 

How did Peter know that Jesus was the Messiah?

God revealed it to Peter, when no human had told him. — Matthew 16:15-17

Peter’s brother Andrew told him. — John 1:40-41

 

Did the Apostles question where Jesus was going during the last supper?

First, Peter asked Jesus where he is going in John 13:36

Second, Thomas asked Jesus in John 14:5

Third, Jesus said, “None of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?'” in John 16:5

 

Did Jesus carry the cross the whole way to Golgotha by himself?

Yes, Jesus alone carried it. — John 19:17

No; Simon of Cyrene helped him carry it. — Mark 15:21, Matthew 27:32, Luke 23:26

 

What day and time was Jesus Crucified?

9 A.M. on the first day of Passover. — Mark 14:12Mark 15:25

The day before passover, some time after 12:00 P.M. — John 19:14

 

What drink was Jesus offered on the cross?

Vinegar. — Matthew 27:48, Luke 23:36

Wine mixed with myrrh, but Jesus refused to drink it. — Mark 15:23

Vinegar, and he drank it. — John 19:29-30

 

Who anointed Jesus’s dead body?

Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome. — Mark 16:1-3

The women who had come from Galilee with Jesus. — Luke 23:55-56

Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea. — John 19:39-40

 

How long was Jesus dead, before his resurrection?

Three full days and three full nights. — Mark 10:34, Matthew 12:40

About one and a half days, beginning with his death some time after 3 P.M. on Good Friday, ending when the women found the tomb was empty before dawn on Sunday morning.

 

Was it dark or light out, when the women arrived at Jesus’s tomb in the early morning?

Dark. — John 20:1

Light. — Mark 16:2

 

Who went to Jesus’s tomb?

One person: Mary Magdalene. — John 20:1

Two people: Mary Magdalene, and “the other Mary.” — Matthew 28:1

Three people: Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome. — Mark 16:1

Five or more people: Joanna, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and “other women.” — Luke 24:10

 

Who did the women meet at Jesus’s tomb?

They went right into the tomb without needing to move any heavy stone blocking the entrance, and no guards were there to stop them. They met a young man inside. — Mark 16:5

An angel came down from heaven during an earthquake, then moved the stone blocking the tomb, then sat on it. Pilate’s guards were there, and they fell down. — Matthew 28:2-4

The stone was already moved aside when they got there, and no guards were there to stop them. When they went in, two men stood beside them. — Luke 24:2-4

The stone was already moved. The women didn’t go into the tomb, but they saw two angels in there. —John 20:12

 

What did the women do after their experience at Jesus’s tomb?

They women ran away from the tomb in fear, and were too afraid to follow through on the command to spread the word, so they told nobody. — Mark 16:8

The women hurried, filled with joy, running to tell the disciples as fast as they could. — Matthew 28:8

Mary lingered at the tomb and cried, while the others simply went home. — John 20:10-11

 

The same livestock die multiple times from plagues in the book of Exodus:

First, God’s plague of pestilence killed all the livestock in Exodus 9:6

A few days later, God threatens Pharaoh that the next plague, hail, will kill all of the livestock in the field, and warns Pharaoh to bring the livestock into shelter, in Exodus 9:19

A few days later, God’s final plague, killing all the firstborn males in Egypt, includes killing all the cattle, in Exodus 11:5

 

Should you love your brother or hate your brother?

You should love your brother. —1 John 4:20

You should hate your brother. — Luke 14:26

 

Age of Ahaziah when he became King:

22 years old in 2 Kings 8:26

42 years old in 2 Chronicles 22:2

 

Who has ascended into heaven?

Elijah. — 2 Kings 2:11

Nobody except Jesus. — John 13:3

 

How many stalls did Solomon have for his horses?

4,000 — 2 Chronicles 9:25

40,000 — 1 Kings 4:26

 

Errors

“What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun.” Ecclesiastes 1:9

Except for automobiles, gene therapy, nuclear weapons, microwave ovens, electric lightbulbs, mobile phones, manned space flight, and pretty much everything else about our world.

 

You [God] open your hand; you satisfy the desire of every living thing.” Psalm 145:16

Except for the the homeless who die of exposure to the cold or heat, those who die of starvation or drought, those suffering from debilitating pain and sickness, all the people and animals who lose their children, and so on.

 

The fear of the Lord prolongs life, but the years of the wicked will be short.”Proverbs 10:27

Seriously? Have you never known of someone of questionable character and deeds, who lived a long life — such as Joseph Stalin, Kim Il Sung, Hirohito, King Leopold the second, Idi Amin, Josef Mengele, and Charles Manson? This Bible passage simply does not comport with available data, nor with experience.

 

Beyond the problem that Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John’s accounts about Jesus’s tomb conflict with each other in every detail, all accounts of Jesus’s tomb conflict with the fact that the Roman’s didn’t allow those who were crucified to be buried in tombs; crucified people remained nailed to their crosses to rot and be eaten by scavengers. Their bodies were shamed, and they were a public warning for others. It would’ve gone against Roman policy for the body to be taken down, turned over to the the followers for anointing, properly entombed, with Roman guards posted at the entrance, etc.

 

“Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?”Matthew 6:26

Many species of birds “sow” and “reap,” such as sapsuckers (which drill rows of holes in trees, then return regularly to the holes, to feed on the sap and trapped insects in the holes). Many species of birds store up supplies of food to last them through the lean seasons, such as acorn woodpeckers.

 

The Lord God proclaims: When I turn you into ruins like uninhabitable cities, when the deep sea washes over you and the raging seas cover you, I will lead you down into the pit, to the everlasting people. I will install you in the world below, in the everlasting ruins, with those who go down to the pit. And so you will neither rule nor radiate splendor in the land of the living. I will terrify you, and you will disappear. You will be sought but never found again. This is what the Lord God says.”Ezekiel 26:19-21

This is part of a longer prophecy passage where God proclaims he will destroy the city of Tyre utterly and forever, and it will never be found again. However, the same city of Tyre that Herodotus says was founded in 2,750 B.C.E. is still right there where it’s always been in Lebanon, at the coordinates of 33.2708° N latitude and 35.1961° E longitude. It was never destroyed, and today it has a population of about 174,000 people. You can look at pictures of Tyre, Lebanon, here.

 

“And Jesus went all about Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and preaching the Gospel of the Kingdom, and healing all manner of sickness and all manner of disease among the people.”Matthew 4:23

Except that there were no synagogues in Galilee in Jesus’s lifetime. No synagogues in Capernaum, as mentioned in Mark 1:21, nor Nazareth, as mentioned in Luke 4:16, either.

 

The release of Barabbas? There was no Roman tradition for this kind of release of a prisoner. There was no Jewish tradition for this kind of release of a prisoner. And a prisoner who was an enemy of the Roman state, a rebel and a murderer, would be particularly unlikely to be offered for any release.

 

The thieves on the crosses next to Jesus? The Romans didn’t execute thieves.

Quote of the Day: Thomas Paine

“Is it more probable that nature should go out of her course or that a man should tell a lie? We have never seen, in our time, nature go out of her course. But we have good reason to believe that millions of lies have been told in the same time. It is therefore at least millions to one that the reporter of a miracle tells a lie.” — Thomas Paine, from The Age of Reason