Stalin False Equivalence

A few weeks ago, I posted The Hitler Canard, wherein I replied to theists who point to Hitler as an example of godless morality at its most extreme. I showed that Hitler was actually a devout Christian who explicitly stated he was acting on the behalf of God and Christ.

A few theists replied to that post by bringing up Stalin. “What about Stalin? He was a genocidal dictator who really was an atheist, wasn’t he?”

Yes. As far as historians can tell, Stalin was indeed an atheist.

However, equating Hitler and Stalin this way is a false equivalence, because there’s a critical difference between the two: Hitler committed his actions in the name of his religion. By his own words, he committed atrocities for religious purposes. Stalin, on the other hand, may have been an atheist, but he was not slaughtering people in the name of atheism. He wasn’t committing atrocities to further atheism. He may have considered atheism expedient to his other goals, but it was not the goal on its own. This doesn’t make Stalin any less of a monster, but it also doesn’t implicate atheism in the same way it implicates religion.

Indeed, there have been many acts of mass slaughter committed for religious reasons, such as the Inquisition, the Witch Hunts, and the Crusades. Yet, there have never been any similar mass slaughters committed for the sake of atheism. Whereas religion has been a motivating factor for genocides on numerous occasions — as far is is known, atheism has never been a motivating factor for any genocides in history, even if some atheists have committed genocide. Neither atheism nor theism has consistently people prevented from committing genocide — but theism has incited people to genocide, while atheism has not.

As I said in the Hitler post, lunatics come in all stripes, and I don’t really think focusing on the theological inclinations of those who commit genocide is a productive line of argument, regardless whether you’re arguing for theism or atheism. But since people specifically asked me this question about Stalin, there’s your answer.

The God of the Bible Likes Slavery

Editorial Note: if you have any issues with what I’ve written, please be sure to read my Caveats page.

 

Introduction

You don’t see the word “slave” much in most English translations of the Bible. Instead, translators have usually changed it to other terms, such as “servant,” “bondman,” and “handmaiden,” perhaps to obscure the upsetting fact that the Bible depicts God allowing slavery and even engaging in slave ownership. For example, in the original Greek version of the New Testament, the Greek word for “slave” appears 130 times; but in the King James translation, it is translated into English as “slave” only once. It tends to get translated into English Bibles as “slave” mostly when discussing people’s relationships with things, such as being a “slave to sin” — but not when referring to God-condoned, coerced relationships between people, nor when talking about people’s relationship to God.

The ancient Greek word for “slave” is doulos, and this word is widely used throughout the Bible. There are many other Greek words for various kinds of “servant,” such as oikos (house servant), leitourgos (public servant), diakonos (steward, or non-menial servant), misthios (hired servant), huperetes (galley-rower, or an attendant who serves with his hands), and paidiske (handmaiden). However, (according to the most authoritative word on the topic, Gerhard Kittel’s Theological Dictionary of the New Testamentdoulos was not ever used by the ancient Greeks to refer to any kind of “servant;” it specifically and exclusively meant “slave.” Translating doulos as “servant” would be like me saying, “Harriet Tubman was a servant before she came to the forefront of the cause for abolishing service.”

Doulos refers to one who is owned as property, and owned exclusively; one who must be always and utterly available and obedient to her / his owner; one who is entirely subject to the will of the owner as to what s/he may do and what s/he may not do, with no autonomy; one who must rely completely upon her / his owner for food, water, clothes, shelter, medical care, family, sex, and everything else; one who gets any and all recompense or punishment from the owner. Which is slavery, not mere service. Slaves had to submit to physical abuse if their owners chose to assault them. Servants were under no obligation to put up with such treatment. Slaves were forced to discharge the work put upon them, with no choice not to, regardless of preferences — and were likely to be branded, beaten, and even crucified for attempting to escape their subjection. Servants were hired, and could quit. Slaves owned nothing, and everything in their possession ultimately belonged to their owners. Servants owned their material possessions and owned what they earned. Slaves had no citizenship because they were considered property; they could not own land, had no rights, had no legal recourse available to them for injustices, could not testify in court, and couldn’t hold public office. Servants were citizens, with the benefits that confers.

Throughout this article, I’ve quoted and used links that accurately translate “slave,” whenever possible. If you look up these passages in your Bible at home, and find that “slave” has been expunged from the translation you have, then keep what I said above in mind, and also keep in mind the context. For example, if a passage suggests that a “servant” is property that can be passed on to your children after you die, it should be obvious that this fits in better with the paradigm of slavery than voluntary service.

Part 1

The God of the Bible is pro-slavery. He consistently permits it. At times, He commands it. He even practices it.

Let’s take a look at what the Bible says on the topic.

“About your men and women slaves: You may get men and women slaves from the other nations around you. Also, you may get children as slaves if they come from the families of the foreigners living in your land. These child slaves will belong to you. You may even pass these foreign slaves on to your children after you die so that they will belong to them. They will be your slaves forever. You may make slaves of these foreigners. But you must not be a cruel master over your own brothers, the Israelites.”Leviticus 25:44-46

From this passage, we can see the following:

• The God of the Bible is permitting buying and selling people;

• Slaves are inheritable property;

• These are slaves for life, unlike indentured servants;

• Masters have complete ownership over these slaves, unlike indentured servants;

• Child slavery is explicitly endorsed.

The last sentence of the above passage also tells us some notable things about how varying groups were treated differently.

• Full and permanent slavery of foreigners was allowed, but full and permanent slavery of Israelites was not allowed. We’ll get back to this, soon;

• We see an example here, as in many other places in the Bible, that the God of the Bible is supremacist, discriminating in favor of the Israelites, His “Chosen People,” and discriminating against everyone else;

• The word “brothers” is intentionally sex-specific, because full and permanent slavery of Israelite women was allowed, but full and permanent slavery of Israelite men was not allowed. We’ll get back to this, shortly;

• We see an example here, as in many other places in the Bible, that the God of the Bible is sexist and misogynistic, discriminating in favor of men, and against women;

• God’s explicit exception to the allowance of cruel mastery in the case of slavery over Israelites makes clear that cruel mastery is permitted for slavery over foreigners. We’ll get back to this, shortly;

• By disallowing cruel mastery over His Chosen People, we see that God recognizes full-blown slavery is a harmful way to treat people, even though He allows such treatment over non-Israelites.

Elsewhere in the Bible we find more about the separate system of slavery that applied only to Israelites, with stricter rules for how masters were allowed to treat them. For examples:

“If you buy a Hebrew [i.e., Israelite] slave, he may serve for no more than six years. Set him free in the seventh year, and he will owe you nothing for his freedom.”  — Exodus 21:2

“If any of your fellow Israelites become poor and sell themselves to you, do not make them work as slaves. They are to be treated as hired workers or temporary residents among you…” — Leviticus 25:39-40

Although, even within the separate system for these Israelite indentured servants, there’s an exception to the rules commanding for them to be treated better than foreign slaves: God mentions a way for a master of a Hebrew indentured servant to bait a trap, so to speak, to trick the servant into full and permanent slavery  — by giving him a wife, then holding the wife and children hostage and ransoming them against his release from slavery:

“If a master gives him a wife and she bears him sons or daughters, the wife and the children shall be her master’s, and he shall go out alone. But if the slave plainly says, ‘I love my master, my wife, and my children; I will not go out free,’ then his master shall bring him to God and he shall bring him to the door or the doorpost. And his master shall bore his ear through with an awl, and he shall be his slave forever.” — Exodus 21:4-6

Apologists often falsely claim that the “slavery” God condones in the Bible was not what we think of as slavery today, not a brutal and unjust system like American black slavery. These apologists point to passages like Exodus 21:2 and Leviticus 25:39-40, above, to say that it was not kidnapping people and forcing them to work as slaves. Rather, the apologists purport, it was a mutually beneficial relationship, more of an ’employee / employer’ situation than ‘slave / owner’ situation. Apologists like to say that it was really what we now call “indentured servitude,” where people voluntarily sold themselves temporarily to pay off debts or take care of their families. These apologists would like you to believe that slaves in the Bible were actually just hired servants. However, this ignores that Exodus 21:2 and Leviticus 25:39-40 are special exemptions that applied only to male Israelite slaves, while there was a very different system — full slavery with all of the horrors we associate with it — in place for all others.

As mentioned above, male Israelite slaves were indentured for six years, but female Israelites were slaves forever:

“When a man sells his daughter as a slave, she shouldn’t be set free in the same way as male slaves are set free.”Exodus 21:7

We see that it gets even worse for these unfortunate female slaves, when we read the rest of the passage:

“When a man sells his daughter as a slave, she shouldn’t be set free in the same way as male slaves are set free. If she doesn’t please her master who chose her for himself, then her master must let her be bought back by her family.”Exodus 21:7-8

That’s right. In above passage, God is condoning selling one’s daughter as a sex slave. (With the small consolation that if her master is dissatisfied with her sexual prowess, he has to offer her family a buy-back opportunity, before putting her for sale on the open market.) Indeed, the Bible always takes for granted that masters were entitled to sex with female slaves.

In case the term “please her master who chose her for himself” in Exodus 21:7-8 is not clear enough for doubters, here’s a clearer example that owners had sexual rights and reproductive rights over their slaves:

Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had borne him no children. But she had an Egyptian slave named Hagar; so she said to Abram, “The Lord has kept me from having children. Go, sleep with my slave; perhaps I can build a family through her.”

“Abram agreed to what Sarai said.  So after Abram had been living in Canaan ten years, Sarai his wife took her Egyptian slave Hagar and gave her to her husband to be his wife. He slept with Hagar, and she conceived.”

“When she knew she was pregnant, she began to despise her mistress.Genesis 16:1-4

Could the Bible get even worse on the topic of slavery than God condoning selling your daughter as a sex slave for life, or suggesting holding families hostage to coerce indentured servants to become permanent slaves? Perhaps. Let’s look at one of the cases where God doesn’t merely permit slavery, he commands it. In the following passage, God gives the Israelites orders for how they must deal with all of the cities in the territories surrounding the Promised Land:

“When you draw near to a city to fight against it, offer terms of peace to it. And if it responds to you peaceably and it opens to you, then all the people who are found in it shall do forced labor for you and shall serve you. But if it makes no peace with you, but makes war against you, then you shall besiege it. And when the LORD your God gives it into your hand, you shall put all its males to the sword, but the women and the little ones, the livestock and everything else in the city, all its spoil, you shall take as plunder for yourselves. And you shall enjoy the spoil of your enemies, which the LORD your God has given you. Thus you shall do to all the cities that are very far from you, which are not cities of the nations here.” Deuteronomy 20:10-15

In case the above passage isn’t sufficiently clear about what kind of slaves those women taken as “plunder” are going to be, there are plenty of similar passages in the Bible that give the necessary context, such as this one where Moses conveys God’s commands for how to handle the Midianites:

“So now kill every boy and kill every woman who has had sexual intercourse, but keep alive for yourselves all the girls and all the women who are virgins.” Numbers 32:17-18

From these passages above, note the following:

• God is not “merely” permitting the trading of slaves, He is commanding the taking of slaves through marauding, and using His omnipotent powers to make it happen;

• This includes sex slavery, i.e., perpetual, repeated acts of rape, as part of the exercise of ownership over another person;

• This also includes child slavery, and seems to perhaps be condoning pedophilia with these child slaves;

• This slavery is accomplished through kidnapping, i.e., seizing and detaining someone by force;

• This also includes genocide;

• This also includes theft;

• Since this slavery is by threat of death and by physical force, there is no semblance of any voluntary, mutually beneficial, indentured servitude-type employer / employee situation, here.

Having established that this is not just indentured servitude, what sort of cruelty does God warrant owners inflict upon their slaves?

“If a man beats his slave to death — whether the slave is male or female — that man shall surely be punished. However, if the slave does not die for a couple of days, then the man shall not be punished — for the slave is his property.” — Exodus 21:20-21

In the passage above, we can see that God grants slave owners the right to viciously beat slaves if they choose, without punishment, since the slaves are considered property. At the very least, this includes beating them right up to the brink of death. One could make a reasonable argument that it goes even further than that….

While the Old Testament permits masters to exercise cruelty over their slaves, the New Testament commands slaves to put up with it.

“You who are slaves must submit to your masters with all respect. Do what they tell you — not only if they are kind and reasonable, but even if they are cruel.”1 Peter 2:18

Slaves, you must obey your earthly masters. Show them great respect and be as loyal to them as you are to Christ. Try to please them at all times, and not just when you think they are watching. You are slaves of Christ, so with your whole heart you must do what God wants you to do.”Ephesians 6:5-6

Why? To protect God’s reputation, which comes before the quality of life and the safety of slaves.

“Christian slaves should work hard for their owners and respect them; never let it be said that Christ’s people are poor workers. Don’t let the name of God or his teaching be laughed at because of this.”1 Timothy 6:1

Jesus perhaps takes God’s permission for cruelty toward slaves somewhat further than God’s rules in the Old Testament, in the Parable of the Faithful and Unfaithful Servants:

“But if that slave says in his heart, ‘My master is delaying to come’, and he begins to strike the male-servants and the female-servants, and to eat and drink and get drunk — the master of that slave will come on a day which he does not expect, and at an hour which he does not know. And he will cut him in two, and assign him his part with the unbelievers. But that slave having known the will of his master, and not having prepared or acted in accordance with his will, will be beaten many blows. But the one not having known, and having done things worthy of blows, will be beaten a few blows. From everyone who has been given much, much will be required, and from the one who has been entrusted with much, even more will be asked.”Luke 12:45-48

From this passage, note the following:

• Jesus appears here to think it’s a matter of course that a misbehaving slave would be put to death, and seems to have no problem with it;

• Jesus appears to think that a slave who did something not in accordance with his master’s will because s/he didn’t know better should still be beaten, albeit less severely;

• This is a parable for how God and Jesus treat people;

• Jesus considers people slaves of God and Jesus.

 

Part 2

Regarding the last point, there are well over a hundred passages in the Bible which mention people being slaves of God. Here’s an Old Testament example:

“Israelites cannot be permanent slaves, because the people of Israel are the Lord‘s slaves. He brought them out of Egypt; he is the Lord their God. “Leviticus 25:55

Here’s a New Testament example:

“But now you are free from sin. You have become slaves of God, and the result is that you live only for God.”Romans 6:22

Even in Heaven, people will be there to work for God as slaves, according to the Bible’s descriptions of Heaven:

“And there will no longer be any accursed thing. And the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it. And His slaves will serve Him….”Revelation 22:3

The Bible’s view is that God bought you and owns you:

“Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.”1 Corinthians 6:19-20

Likewise, Jesus owns you, too:

“And you belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God.”1 Corinthians 3:23

You are theirs exclusively, and you must even repudiate your family and your own life in your complete and exclusive servitude to Jesus and God:

For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.”Matthew 10:35-37

“If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.”Luke 14:26

You can only have what they deign to let you have:

“You are my Lord; all the good things I have come from you.” — Psalms 16:2

“Who do you think you are? Everything you have was given to you. So, if everything you have was given to you, why do you act as if you got it all by your own power?”1 Corinthians 4:7

God commands you, and you must obey:

“You must love the Lord your God and always obey his requirements, decrees, regulations, and commands.”Deuteronomy 11:1

Otherwise, you’ll be punished most severely. Here’s a greatly abbreviated version of one part of the many-pages-long list of ways God threatens He will punish you for disobedience:

“If you don’t obey the Lord … by carefully doing all his commandments and his regulations … all these curses will come upon you… Your own fertility, your soil’s produce, your cattle’s young, and your flock’s offspring will be cursed… The Lord will send calamity, confusion, and frustration on you no matter what work you are doing until you are wiped out and until you disappear—it’ll be quick! … The Lord will make a plague stick to you… The Lord will strike you with consumption, fever… with scorching heat and drought; with destruction and disease for your crops. These things will chase you until you are dead and gone. … The Lord will turn the rain on your land into dust… until you are completely wiped out. The Lord will hand you over defeated to your enemies… The Lord will afflict you with … hemorrhoids, rash, and itch. You will be untreatable. The Lord will make you go crazy, make you blind, make your mind confused… You might get engaged to a woman, but another man will have sex with her. You might build a house, but you won’t get to live in it… Your ox will be slaughtered while you watch, but you won’t get to eat any of it. Your donkey will be stolen right out from under you… Your flocks will be given to your enemies. No one will save you… You will be nothing but oppressed and mistreated constantly. The sights your eyes see will drive you insane. The Lord will strike you with horrible inflammation … from the sole of your foot to the top of your head. You will be untreatable. You will become a horror, fit only for use in proverbs and in insults by all the nations where the Lord drives you. You might scatter a lot of seed on the field, but … the locusts will eat it all. You might plant lots of vineyards and work hard in them, but … worms will devour them… your olive trees will fail. You might have sons and daughters, but they won’t be yours for long because they will be taken away as prisoners. Crickets will take over all your trees and your soil’s produce… That’s how all these curses will come over you, pursuing you, reaching you until you are completely wiped out, because you didn’t obey the Lord … by keeping his commandments and his regulations that he gave you… Because you didn’t serve the Lord your God joyfully and gladly above all else, you will serve your enemies—the ones the Lord will send against you—during famine, drought, nakedness, and total depravation. God will put an iron yoke on your neck until he has wiped you out. You will eat the offspring of your own womb—the flesh of your own sons and daughters, whom the Lord your God gave you—because of the desperate and dire circumstances…” Deuteronomy 28:15-68

When you think about it, everything discussed in the introduction as specific characteristics of slavery, which demarcate slavery from mere service, also apply to what the Bible says about your relationship to God and Jesus. So it should be no surprise that the Bible uses the term “slave” — not “servant” — more than a hundred times to refer to people’s relationships to God and Christ. And it should be clear that “slave” is not meant to be just a metaphor for your relationship with God.

 

Part 3

At this point, believers are likely to start to protest. These protestations take a few forms. Let’s go through them.

1) “That’s a lie!”

Many believers never read the Bible. They simply don’t know what the Bible says, and don’t believe it could possibly say such pro-slavery things. But it does. If you don’t believe God endorses all of these horrors of slavery, then simply put, you don’t believe in Yahweh, the God of the Bible. I’ve given chapter and verse to show it. Please don’t just take my word for it; see for yourselves.

2) “You’re being too literal. It’s supposed to be taken figuratively. You’re missing the deeper meaning.”

OK, I’d like to hear anyone who says this explain the deeper allegorical meaning of, “So now kill every boy and kill every woman who has had sexual intercourse, but keep alive for yourselves all the girls and all the women who are virgins.” 

3) “It was a different time. You have to look at it within its cultural context.” / “Everybody was doing it.” / “Slavery was a major institution in all the nations of the region, and banning slavery would’ve caused too much social unrest.” 

When we’re talking about things like kidnapping people, owning another human being, permanently taking away a person’s rights and autonomy, stealing a person’s entire lifetime of labor, and beating and raping someone on a regular basis — to name a few everyday aspects of slavery — an “everyone was doing it” argument just doesn’t cut it. If God is moral and just, as is claimed, then cultural context shouldn’t matter to Him when people are committing such atrocities.

So what if slavery was a major social institution, and banning it would’ve caused significant social unrest? When in the Bible has that ever mattered to God? When God banned worshipping other gods (Exodus 34:14, etc.), commanded the destruction of altars, images, temples, and idols to other Gods (Deuteronomy 7:5, etc.), and commanded  killing those who worshipped other gods (Exodus 22:20, etc.), did those not upset major social institutions and cause significant social unrest? Disrupting major institutions and causing social upheaval have been God’s stock-in-trade throughout the Bible.

By its nature, slavery is unjust and causes misery and harm, and there is no excuse for a perfectly good, all-powerful being to sanction slavery.

4) “That was Old Testament. Jesus did away with all that. I only follow Jesus’s teachings in the New Testament.”

As with protest #1, this line of thinking only seems sensible to those who are ignorant of what the Bible says. For starters, the Bible tells us that Jesus was with God at the beginning. Then it tells us that Jesus can only do what God does, and whatever God does, Jesus also does. Then it tells us that Jesus and God are one. From such passages, it follows that Jesus must’ve been right there beside God, in perfect unison and agreement with God, while God was commanding taking slaves through kidnapping and murder, and using His almighty powers to ensure that enslavement occurred.

Additionally, the Old Testament also tells us in a number of places that God never changes, and never changes His mind. Likewise, the New Testament tells us Jesus never changes. Along with God and Jesus never changing, Jesus makes crystal clear in the New Testament that God’s law is also unchanging and Jesus is not altering any of it. From these, we know that Jesus has not changed his mind, and that everything the Old Testament says about slavery remains in effect. Anyone who takes seriously what the Bible says about Jesus must take it that Jesus’s position on slavery in the New Testament is identical to God’s position on slavery in the Old Testament.

Jesus never explicitly condoned nor condemned people’s slavery of one another in the New Testament, but what he did say was nonetheless telling. He obviously knew that slavery was rampant and savage. His parables included slaves receiving brutal treatment — not as criticism of the practice, but to show examples of people receiving the consequences they justly deserved, and to make analogies for how Jesus and God shall treat you as His slave. This alone serves as tacit endorsement of slavery. Furthermore, in context of Jesus’s firebrand actions and vocal muckraking about other causes, his silence regarding the possible topic of denouncing slavery was deafening. For him to talk about slavery while never saying a word against it — while being quick to decry immorality and overthrow corruption in other areas — shows that he simply did not consider people enslaving one another to be a moral issue. Meanwhile, the rest of the New Testament further compounds the Old Testament’s reprehensible endorsement of slavery, as I’ve shown.

5) “Enslavement was often a preferred wartime alternative, chosen by enemy populations, rather than being massacred.”

Yes. The Bible does back this up, but how is this an adequate moral justification for slavery? “We gave them a choice when we invaded and conquered them, between being murdered and being enslaved. They begged to be enslaved rather than slaughtered — so it was really voluntary and fair.” Is this seriously an argument that people want to make?

 

Part 4

Slavery is an example of the divergence between secular morality and religious morality. From a humanist point of view, with morality based upon human welfare, forcing others to your will and treating other people as your property to exploit as you please, without regard for their personhood, is practically the definition of evil. And slavery is the epitome of such behavior. In contrast, from a divine command theory point of view, wherein what is good is good because God declares it so and thereby makes it so, and likewise with what is evil, treating people as chattel is considered moral and righteous when God supports it. As He does in the case of slavery, throughout the Bible.

The first slave ship to North America, which started the slave trade in 1562, was The Good Ship Jesus. It was captained by Sir John Hawkins, a devout Christian. He saw no contradiction between his Christian faith and his actions as the founder of the slave trade, because there is no such contradiction.

The proponents of the slave trade routinely used the Bible to defend slavery. For example, in the words of Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederacy during the United States civil war:

“Let the gentleman go to Revelation to learn the decree of God — let him go to the Bible … I said that slavery was sanctioned in the Bible, authorized, regulated, and recognized from Genesis to Revelation … Slavery existed in the earliest ages, and among the chosen people of God; and in Revelation we are told that it shall exist until the end of time shall come. You find it in the Old and New Testaments — in the prophecies, psalms, and the epistles of Paul; you find it recognized — sanctioned everywhere.”

As I’ve shown throughout this post, Davis was correct on this point. From Abraham, the founder of Judaism, fathering children through exercising sexual and reproductive rights over the slave Hagar, to the Apostle Paul sending the runaway slave Onesimus back to his owner, an early Christian church leader named Philemon — slavery is approved throughout the Bible on the deepest foundational levels.

Even when translators have replaced the word “slave” with words like “servant,” it takes some cognitive dissonance to read commandments about buying and selling people as inheritable property, whom you have rights to force to work for you without compensation, whom you have sexual rights to and also rights to viciously beat, without realizing this is obviously talking about full-blown slavery. Likewise, it takes willful cognitive dissonance to read the many passages throughout the Bible which support such a system, while insisting that the deity who would make these rules is benevolent, just, wise, loving, and morally sound.

Does ransacking foreign cities, looting all the valuables, killing all the males and deflowered women, and taking all of the virgins as plunder to enjoy, offend your moral sensibilities? How about selling daughters into sex slavery? And ransoming someone’s wife and children to coerce him into a lifetime of slavery? If any of these strike you as morally reprehensible, then your morals are unbiblical. Not merely non-biblical, but directly contrary to those of the God of the Bible.

God’s pro-slavery stance throughout the Bible puts those who worship Him in an awkward position, between pretending the Bible doesn’t mean what it says, and worshipping a God with grotesque and depraved morals. They can deny that Yahweh is pro-slavery, but deep down they’ll realize they are being dishonest, and they won’t fool anyone who actually knows the Bible. They can embrace the righteousness of slavery because it is divinely sanctioned, but doing so is sociopathic, and comes at the cost of one’s conscience and humanity. They can disregard the slavery stuff while accepting the stuff they like, but this implicitly admits that there are areas where God is wrong and should be rejected.

Or they can recognize that these could not be the proclamations of any god worthy of worship, and stop venerating Him. And then perhaps even see that God’s pro-slavery stance throughout the Bible signifies that God was created by man in man’s image, not the other way around.

 

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.]

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.