Pakistani Bill to Ban Child Marriages Withdrawn for being Un-Islamic

There was a news item yesterday that a bill in the Pakistani legislature to ban child marriage has been withdrawn, because an advisory council — The Council of Islamic Ideology — declared the bill “un-Islamic,” not in compliance with Sharia law. The council maintains a stance that men should be able to marry girls as young as nine years old, “if signs of puberty are visible.” You can read more about the story here.

Seriously. Banning child marriages is “un-Islamic.” According to a council on Islamic ideology.

The founder of Islam, the Prophet Muhammad, married his wife, Aisha, when she was six years old and he was fifty years old, and had sex with her when she was nine years old and he was fifty-three. This is well documented by multiple contemporary sources† and widely accepted throughout the Islamic world. In context that Muhammad is commonly considered within Islam to have been picked by Allah because he was perfectly upright, it would follow that such child marriages must therefore be sanctioned. In this sense, there’s a strong argument that banning child marriages is indeed “un-Islamic.”

Just think about that for a moment. Many millions of people revere as morally perfect someone they know to have been an unabashed pedophile. And a sizable portion of them see that as divine warrant for pedophiliac marriages, which supports institutionalization of child rape and molestation.

Any historical, legal, or theological sanction of child marriage within Islam is not an acceptable defense for the continuation of the practice. Rather, it is a profound problem with Islam. Furthermore, the withdrawal of this bill due to the Council of Islamic Ideology’s declaration that the bill is “un-Islamic” shows once again that government and religion should be kept completely separate. And the entire situation exemplifies how religions often perpetuate ancient barbarism and misery, and retard the progress of civilization.

Utterly contemptible.

 

† To give an example from the many accounts of this in the Hadiths, here’s Sahih Bukhari 7:62:64

Narrated ‘Aisha: that the Prophet married her when she was six years old and he consummated his marriage when she was nine years old, and then she remained with him for nine years (i.e., till his death).

Some Thoughts about the Ten Commandments

[Editorial notes: (1) As I discussed previously, the “Ten Commandments” which people commonly refer to by that title are not the actual Ten Commandments, according to the Bible. Nonetheless, since most people consider them the real ones, today’s post is about the set popularly called the “Ten Commandments,” which is found in Exodus 20:2-17. Also, if you have any issues with what I’ve written, please be sure to read my Caveats page.]

 

The Ten commandments are revered by many, who consider them the most primary of God’s laws, the essence of our morals, and the foundation of Western law. And yet, I characterized them in a previous post as “profoundly flawed.” Today, I’ll go through them and share some of my thoughts about them.

Number One:

I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.

You shall have no other gods before me.

First, mentioning that He brought people out of Egypt and liberated them from slavery loses its cachet when one recalls that this was only necessary because He previously brought people into Egypt and into more than 400 years of slavery, before finally freeing them. (Genesis 15:13)  This would be like me stealing your car, getting in a wreck with it, and then returning the damaged car to you, while boasting about how I am your great benefactor for giving you a car.

Second, saying “…who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage” indicates that these commandments were intended exclusively for the ancient Israelites of a particular place and time, and were not intended to be universally applicable to all people, forever after. He didn’t bring you and me out of enslavement by the Egyptians.

Third, “You shall have no other Gods before me”? All God would have to do is unambiguously show that He exists as claimed, and people would naturally put Him before all the other gods which do not, without any need for this commandment. And if He can’t or won’t even do that, then there’s literally no reason people should take Him seriously.

Fourth, make no mistake, God is not a proponent of free will, freedom of choice, or freedom of religion. He commands people to worship him, and commands people not to worship others. The options given in the Bible were (A) worship, follow, and obey Yahweh and only Yahweh, or (B) be put to death.

Fifth, this commandment has nothing to do with treating each other rightly, nor behaving honestly, nor with not harming each other. In other words, it’s irrelevant to morality. It’s the first and foremost of God’s laws for humanity, with higher priority than all else, and there is no moral principle whatsoever, here.

Number Two:

You shall not make for yourself a graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them or serve them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.

First, not making any kind of likeness of anything — no illustrations, paintings, sculptures, photographs, videos, etc. — would cripple the ability to convey any kind of visual information, and would thereby have catastrophic consequences for education, science, technology, engineering, mathematics, medicine, navigation, the economy, art, entertainment, and much more. Furthermore, to disallow making any likeness of anything, in order to prevent idolatry, is excessive and superfluous; people can make uses of likenesses without falling into idol worship (and they do, every day). This commandment is simply not reasonable and not feasible — which is perhaps why this commandment is rejected and ignored by almost everyone, no matter how religious they profess to be. Whenever you see Bible thumpers on television, enshrining the Ten Commandments, keep in mind that you’re watching them break the second commandment.

Second, the Lord is a jealous God? That just doesn’t fit with “God is love” (1 John 4:8) and “Love is not jealous” (1 Corinthians 13:4).

It’s also utterly preposterous. He’s the all-powerful ruler of the universe, creator of about one-hundred-octillion stars, and yet He gets grievously affronted whenever anyone doesn’t put him before all others. He’s perfect in every way, yet he’s so vain, insecure, and needy that he covets absolutely every last crumb of adoration in the entire cosmos, and he’s so vindictive that he’ll even curse your great grandchildren if you deprive him of the acclaim He feels He’s due. The “jealous God” idea is laughable, and an obvious sign that this God is an invention of mankind.

Third, He visits the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generation? God is purported to be perfectly just, and yet here He is explicitly proclaiming that He’ll punish people for the wrongdoings of others. This is the very antithesis of justice.

Additionally, saying here that He’ll visit the iniquity of the fathers upon the children directly contradicts what He says elsewhere: “The son shall not suffer for the iniquity of the father, nor the father suffer for the iniquity of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself.” (Ezekiel 18:20)

Fourth, “…showing steadfast love to — thousands?” Not billions, nor paltry millions? Not even to a trifling one-tenth of one percent of those who worship Him? This looks to me like the supposedly all-knowing God was too limited in His outlook to imagine how many followers He’d have through future generations. Or, those who made up this God and ascribed their words to him were too limited in their outlooks.

Fifth, as with the previous commandment, this one has nothing to do with moral guidance.

Sixth, as with the first commandment, this second commandment would be unnecessary if God would simply show that He exists as claimed. The entire problem stems from the fact that He has not.

Seventh, commanding people not to pray to idols was already covered by commanding people to have no other gods before Him. The second commandment is redundant with the first.

Number Three:

You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.

This fits well with the one and only sin that the Bible flatly states will never be forgiven, blaspheming the Holy Spirit (Mark 3:28-29) — but it speaks tellingly of God’s psychopathic egocentrism that He can forgive any wrongdoing from child rape to mass murder, but the one single thing He absolutely will not ever forgive is speaking badly about Him.

Or, alternatively, it shows that the people who made this God up took extra measures to try to make  people take Him seriously.

Number Four:

Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work; but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; in it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your manservant, or your maidservant, or your cattle, or the sojourner who is within your gates; for in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and hallowed it.

These last two are the third and fourth in a row that focus on appeasing God’s bizarre neuroses, and have no bearing on treating people fairly and kindly. We’re now up to a full forty percent of the supposed top-ten most important things God has to say to mankind that’s been wasted.

Number Five:

Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land which the Lord your God gives you.

Most parents love their children beyond measure, and do everything they can to raise their children right and ensure them the best futures they can. Such parents deserve to be honored. In this sense, I’m more sympathetic to this commandment than the first four.

Unfortunately, some parents are hateful, abusive, and neglectful. Such parents should not be honored by their children. Thus, a commandment to categorically honor your parents — regardless whether they’re the best or the worst — is a mistake. Honor your mother and father if they merit it, but not if they don’t. Mindless obeisance does not make a good rule.

The second half of this commandment, “…that your days may be long in the land which the Lord your God gives you,” is awful. Not just because the proposition (that you will live longer if you honor your parents) is often false, and not just because the assertion (that God gives you the land) is unsupportable. Rather, for the deeper reason that it shifts this commandment from morality to bribery. Instead of honoring our mothers and fathers because our hearts tell us to, because it’s the right thing to do, because they’ve earned our love and respect, because we truly want to be good to them — now we’re to honor our parents specifically so that we may get the reward of a long life.

Also, this commandment doesn’t jibe with Jesus’s directive that you must hate your father and mother (Luke 14:26).

Moreover, this commandment is too vague. Does “honoring” your mother and father mean standing when they enter a room, or seating them at the head of the table, or remembering them on their birthdays, or defending their honor in a duel against those who dishonor them, or always obeying them, or taking care of them in their dotage, or speaking deferentially toward them, or what? I imagine that the ancient Israelites would’ve understood what it meant in their culture, but, once again, the allegedly omniscient God was seemingly too limited in perception to write the fifth commandment with future generations in mind.

Number Six:

You shall not kill.

Not a bad commandment, but — between all of the killing God does in the Bible, and all of the killing He commands his followers do in the Bible — it’s surprising He could spare a moment to tell people not to kill. To put this in perspective, Moses’s first order of business when he came down from the mountain with the Ten Commandments was to kill 3,000 of his brethren on God’s command. (Exodus 32:25-29) We’re talking about the God that boasted that He will make his arrows “drunk with blood” and that His sword shall “devour flesh.” (Deuteronomy 32:39-42). The God that slaughtered so many of His own Chosen People that they lamented, “We are perishing. We are being destroyed. All of us are being destroyed. Anyone who approaches the Lord’s dwelling will die. Are we doomed to perish?” (Numbers 17:12-13) This is Yahweh, the Master of Disaster, who slaughtered 14,700 more Israelites for protesting that He was unnecessarily killing too many of them. (Numbers 16:41-49) This is the God that, in the story of the Great Flood, wasn’t content to kill only the wicked or criminal, nor even content to “merely” kill all of humanity (including all the innocent newborn babies), but instead chose to flood the whole planet and kill every living thing. If there is one area where the God of the Bible truly stands out as the most superlative, it is the area of wanton killing.

It seems like a strange decree from the God who commanded and helped his followers to kill the people of Ai, and the Amalekites, the Ammonites, the Anakites, the Aradites — and that’s just a few of the Bible genocides starting with the letter A. So… sometimes he gives orders to kill non-virginal brides, witches, blasphemers, beastialistsfalse prophetsfortune-tellersnon-believers, followers of other religionspeople who engage in homosexual acts, people who don’t listen to priests, people who work on weekends, and a variety of other kinds of people who have harmed nobody — and other times he orders “You shall not kill”?! Really?

Anyway, while there are instances where killing is justifiable (such as to protect your child), I don’t have a lot of trouble with the sixth commandment. However, it should be noted, for those who think we need God, the Bible, and the Ten Commandments for our morality, that people figured out rules against killing each other long before Moses ever went up Mount Sinai. For example, the Code of Hammurabi, from 1754 B.C.

Number Seven:

You shall not commit adultery.

This commandment is more complex to assess than it initially appears. Due to the very different cultural context — where men could have multiple wives and concubines, women were sometimes treated like chattel, and no-fault divorce didn’t exist — I don’t feel competent to fully assess and critique the seventh commandment. So, I’ll keep it to a couple brief comments.

First, while an injunction not to betray your partner in life may be commendable, it would be better framed as a matter of contract law with civil liabilities than as a divine decree with a death penalty attached.

Second, there’s some redundancy between this and the tenth commandment, since there can be no adultery without first coveting someone’s spouse. With minor tweaks, either this or the tenth commandment could be deleted without any loss.

Number Eight:

You shall not steal.

This is a fine commandment. My only comment is to point out that, as with number six, nobody needed God giving the Ten Commandments to learn not to steal. Many legal codes from before the Ten Commandments, such as the Laws of Eshnunna and the aforementioned Code of Hammurabi, had laws against stealing.

Number Nine:

You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.

Like the eighth commandment, this is a good one — and most of the cultures in the area figured it out on their own and wrote it into their laws long before the Ten Commandments, such as the Code of Ur-Nammu.

Number Ten:

You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his manservant, or his maidservant, or his ox, or his ass, or anything that is your neighbor’s.

This last commandment is distinctly different in kind from all the others, and not in a good way. Whereas the others are about your actions, this one is about your thoughts. Since mere thoughts without actions cannot alone directly cause harmful consequences, they are outside of the legitimate scope of legal codes and moral imperatives.

Moreover, as I’ve touched upon previously, we do not have full volition over our thoughts. This commandment holds people responsible for something outside their control.

Furthermore — envying your neighbor’s ox? Are you kidding? This commandment is far too trifling to belong on a list of the top ten most critical moral rules. Where is the sense of priority?

 

Beyond the ego-stroking, absurdity, hypocrisy, contradictions, injustice, unoriginality, redundancy, and the triviality of these commandments, we must also take note of everything that could have been on this list, perhaps should have been, which is not. Here are a few examples of possible commandments that would have been better than at least half of the ten we have:

Do not possess slaves. You shall not own another human being, shall not force others to your will, shall not exploit others as your property, shall not treat people as work animals, and shall not fail to fairly compensate those who work for you.

But instead of a prohibition of slavery, the Bible gives us enthusiastic advocacy of slavery with all of its horrors, as I’ve discussed before.

You shall not engage in any sexual activity of any kind with anyone against their will.

But instead of stern prohibition of rape and molestation in the top ten list, the Bible gives us psychotic commands that a rape victim and her rapist must marry and never divorce. (Deuteronomy 22:28-29)

You shall not harm children, neither beat them nor mentally abuse them.

But instead of prohibition of child abuse, the Bible gives us commands to beat children with rods (Proverbs 23:13-14), and stone stubborn children to death. (Deuteronomy 21:18-21)

Do not torture anyone for any reason.

But instead of a prohibition of torture, the Bible gives us the example of a purportedly benevolent and just god who tortures people for all eternity over even a single minor infraction, thereby tacitly endorsing the morality of torture. (Revelation 20:10, Revelation 20:15, and Revelation 21:8; etc.)

It must also be noted that all but one of these ten commandments tell you what not to do, but this list could likely have been improved by commandments of what you should do, instead. Here are a few examples:

Treat others as equals, regardless of their sex, race, nationality, religion, sexual orientation, or creed.

— or perhaps —

Help anyone in mortal need that you meet.

— or —

Preserve the environment that those around you need to survive and thrive, and that future generations will need to survive and thrive.

If we further extend the commandments beyond moral guidelines (as God does), there are many other possibilities that would be better than at least half of the Ten Commandments, which would’ve decreased unnecessary suffering and death, and would’ve sped up human progress. For examples:

Protect yourselves from pathogens. Wash your hands before preparing food or eating it, and boil the water you collect before drinking it.

— or —

Invest a portion of your time and income into education, research, and development.

— or —

Test your ideas, hypotheses, and beliefs as rigorously as you can, and dismiss those that fail testing.

 

The Ten Commandments are not impressive and do not warrant reverence. Almost anyone could come up with a better list off the top of their head, in five minutes or less; and any God who would create this list would be a fool, undeserving of respect.

 

Quote of the Day: Aristotle

“A tyrant must put on the appearance of uncommon devotion to religion. Subjects are less apprehensive of illegal treatment from a ruler whom they consider god-fearing and pious. On the other hand, they do less easily move against him, believing he has the gods on his side.” — Aristotle, Politics

As the American presidential campaign season is heating up, and candidates are making a show of professing their religiosity, this quote comes to mind.

Agnostic and Atheist

Religious folks tend to use the words “agnostic” and “atheist” somewhat differently than the way that irreligious folks do. This can create misunderstandings, when they and irreligious people try to discuss their theological stances with each other.

These are just generalizations, of course. You can find plenty of people on both sides who use the words in other ways than I describe here, including individual, idiosyncratic ways. However, I see many religious and irreligious people use these words as follows:

Religious people tend to use the word “atheist” to mean someone who feels certain in her / his belief that no gods exist. Related to this, they tend to use the word “agnostic” to mean someone on the fence, unsure whether any gods exist.

Used this way, “atheist” is at one extreme end of the “belief in god/s” spectrum, and “agnostic” is somewhere in the middle of the spectrum. From this view, you’re either one or the other; if you aren’t sure, then you’re not really an atheist.

Irreligious people tend to use the word “atheist” as a straight etymological construction of a-theist — someone without theism, i.e., someone without any beliefs in the existence of any gods. Likewise, irreligious people tend to use the word “agnostic” as a straight etymological construction of a-gnostic — someone without knowledge, i.e., someone who doesn’t know whether any gods exist. (Or, to put it a bit differently, since nobody actually knows with certainty, despite claims to the contrary: someone who recognizes that s/he doesn’t know whether any gods exist.)

Used this way, the two words are on two entirely different spectrums — one about belief (or lack thereof), and the other about knowledge (or lack thereof). From this view, you can be both an agnostic and an atheist. They’re not mutually exclusive. For example, I’m both an agnostic and an atheist: I don’t know for certain whether any gods exist — so I’m an agnostic — and I have no beliefs in any gods — so I’m an atheist. Most irreligious people I know would say they are both.

Some of you might want to interject here about what the dictionary says the words mean. I’m not going to go there. This post is about helping people understand what others are saying to them, not about urging adherence to dictionary definitions.

I must also note here that some folks have trouble distinguishing between “I don’t believe” (i.e., I have an absence of belief in the existence of any gods), and “I disbelieve” (i.e., I have a presence of belief in the nonexistence of gods). They’ll often insist that not believing is really disbelieving. Most self-proclaimed atheists do not actively believe that no gods exist (though many think that the existence of gods is unlikely), but that’s often what religious people think they’re actually saying.

For those who don’t see the difference between “I don’t believe” and “I disbelieve,” imagine we’re talking about items in my refrigerator. Do you, Dear Reader, believe that I have buttermilk in my fridge, right now as you’re reading this? Probably not. I haven’t said that I do and I haven’t said that I don’t. Nor have you looked in my refrigerator. You are simply without the necessary information for a sensible opinion about whether there’s buttermilk in my fridge, and so most of you probably have no belief. Does that lack of belief mean you have an active disbelief, a feeling of certainty that I have no buttermilk in my refrigerator? Again, probably not, because you are still without the necessary information. Just like your lack of belief that I have buttermilk in my refrigerator does not equate to disbelief that I have buttermilk in there, one’s lack of belief in any gods does not necessarily equate to disbelief in all gods.

So when people start using words like “atheist” or “agnostic,” or when they start talking about not believing in God, don’t assume you know what each other means. Just ask. It might lead to better understanding, and more productive conversations.

 

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.]

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.