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 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.

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.

Rotten Cherries: Bible Magic

 

One of the unpleasant discoveries in store for intrepid theists who actually read the Bible cover-to-cover, is that the Bible is loaded with questionable magic ceremonies and spells. For example, here’s how God commands a priest create a magic potion to make a woman have an abortion and become infertile, if her husband suspects her of infidelity:

 

“If a man’s wife goes astray and is unfaithful to him so that another man has sexual relations with her, and this is hidden from her husband and her impurity is undetected (since there is no witness against her and she has not been caught in the act), and if feelings of jealousy come over her husband and he suspects his wife…”

‘The priest shall bring her and have her stand before the Lord. Then he shall take some holy water in a clay jar and put some dust from the tabernacle floor into the water. After the priest has had the woman stand before the Lord, he shall loosen her hair and place in her hands the reminder-offering, the grain offering for jealousy, while he himself holds the bitter water that brings a curse. Then the priest shall put the woman under oath and say to her, “If no other man has had sexual relations with you and you have not gone astray and become impure while married to your husband, may this bitter water that brings a curse not harm you. But if you have gone astray while married to your husband and you have made yourself impure by having sexual relations with a man other than your husband”— here the priest is to put the woman under this curse—“may the Lord cause you to become a curse among your people when he makes your womb miscarry and your abdomen swell. May this water that brings a curse enter your body so that your abdomen swells or your womb miscarries.”

“‘Then the woman is to say, “Amen. So be it.”

‘The priest is to write these curses on a scroll and then wash them off into the bitter water. He shall make the woman drink the bitter water that brings a curse, and this water that brings a curse and causes bitter suffering will enter her. The priest is to take from her hands the grain offering for jealousy, wave it before the Lord and bring it to the altar. The priest is then to take a handful of the grain offering as a memorial offering and burn it on the altar; after that, he is to have the woman drink the water. If she has made herself impure and been unfaithful to her husband, this will be the result: When she is made to drink the water that brings a curse and causes bitter suffering, it will enter her, her abdomen will swell and her womb will miscarry, and she will become a curse. If, however, the woman has not made herself impure, but is clean, she will be cleared of guilt and will be able to have children. — Numbers 5:12-28

I hope that most readers can recognize that this kind of shamanic voodoo is more likely the product of primitive minds alone than of a truly all-knowing, all-powerful, benevolent god.

Here’s another one, for lepers:

“…the priest shall command them to take … two live clean birds and cedarwood and scarlet yarn and hyssop. And … kill one of the birds in an earthenware vessel over fresh water… take the live bird with the cedarwood and the scarlet yarn and the hyssop, and dip them and the live bird in the blood of the bird that was killed over the fresh water… sprinkle it seven times on him who is to be cleansed of the leprous disease. Then he shall pronounce him clean and shall let the living bird go into the open field… And on the eighth day he shall take two male lambs without blemish, and one ewe lamb a year old without blemish, and a grain offering of three tenths of an ephah of fine flour mixed with oil, and one log of oil … And he shall kill the lamb in the place where they kill the sin offering and the burnt offering… The priest shall take some of the blood.. and… put it on the lobe of the right ear of him who is to be cleansed and on the thumb of his right hand and on the big toe of his right foot. Then the priest shall take some of the log of oil and pour it into the palm of his own left hand and dip his right finger in the oil that is in his left hand and sprinkle some oil with his finger seven times before the Lord. And some of the oil that remains in his hand the priest shall put on the lobe of the right ear of him who is to be cleansed and on the thumb of his right hand and on the big toe of his right foot, on top of the blood of the guilt offering. And the rest of the oil that is in the priest’s hand he shall put on the head of him who is to be cleansed…” — Leviticus 14:1-32

And so forth. It goes on like that, as you will see if you click the link.

I should note here that apologists are quick to defend this passage by pointing out that it is not supposed to be a magic spell to cure leprosy, as it might appear. Heavens, no. Rather, it’s God’s instructions for how to spiritually cleanse a recovered leper — as though that makes it any less preposterous.

Scarlet yarn… sprinkling people seven times with live birds dipped in blood … dabbing people’s big toes and earlobes with oil… Can any theist read the passage above and affirm, “My Lord commanded that,” with a straight face? A God who would create such systems for people to interact with Him would be too inane to deserve your worship, even if He did exist. If you believe the Bible is the inerrant, inspired word of God, then you owe it to yourself to read through the entire Bible and see what it actually says. You’ll be amazed … and not in a positive way.

Rotten Cherries: Elisha and the Two Bears

Editorial note: Believers like to cherry-pick favorite quotes from their religious texts, often ones they’ve heard from others, when they haven’t even read their scriptures for themselves. This is the first of an ongoing series wherein I’ll be sharing some of the less comfortable passages in the other 99% of their holy books.

You’ve all heard the tale of Goldilocks and the Three Bears, but have you heard the short, surreal biblical tale of Elisha and the Two Bears? Here it is:

“And he went up thence unto Bethel, and as he was going up by the way, there came forth little children out of the city, and mocked him, and said unto him, Go up, thou bald head; go up thou bald head.”

“And he turned back, and looked on them, and cursed them in the name of the LORD. And there came forth two she bears out of the wood, and tare forty and two children of them.”

“And he went thence to mount Carmel, and from thence he returned to Samaria.” 2 Kings 2:23-25, King James translation

That’s the whole story. The Bible doesn’t mention anything about it again, later in the book. Really, what else is there to say after this?

So, to recap: The prophet Elisha came to the town of Bethel. Kids came out to him, taunted him about his baldness, and told him to go away. In response, Elisha called down upon them a curse from God. God’s curse miraculously brought forth two bears from the woods. These bears mauled forty-two children. Then Elisha nonchalantly continued on his way.

Don’t take my word for it that this is really in the Bible. Go see for yourself.

In case this needs to be said: Elisha was considered a righteous man, and this was not a transgression from righteousness. Indeed, the miracle of the bears slaughtering the youths could not have happened without God channeling his power and making it so.

Because. God. Approved.

It’s popular for apologists to justify this by purposely mistranslating to “young men,” and then spinning this story so that it was a gang of adult hoodlums harassing Elisha, the prophet of God, as an act of rebellion against God (which would still not justify the response, in my estimation). They will tell you that the ancient Hebrew word translated into English here as “children” was “na’ar” — which could mean a “youth” up to as much as 30 years old. What they won’t tell you is that “na’ar” is modified by “ketan” (“little”) into the compound word “na’ar-ketan” in the text, which does, indeed, mean “little children” — not young adults.

While this particular apologetic is a combination of reading what’s simply not there and distorting what is, one can hardly blame apologists for this. They realize the big problem here: they have to reconcile a loving and just God with the actions He takes in the story to massacre seemingly innocent little kids over practically nothing.

As is often the case, the problem of reconciling fairness, justice, and goodness, with God’s actions in the Bible, leads apologists to get a little too creative with their readings.

To my view, Elisha’s and God’s actions in this tale are unjustifiable. Even if I believed in the God of the Bible, this is one of many examples of why I would deem this God unworthy of worship. If you are a believer, it is incumbent upon you to take a frank look at God’s action here, and wrestle with the issue of justness  for yourself.