I received yet another email from an Evangelical man named Joseph. I mentioned him previously in the post titled, Email From the Peanut Gallery. Today’s nutty email said (all spelling/grammar in the original):
Wow! You really believe this is truth, that the universe and the world always existed. Physics, without debate points to a beginning of time. The REAL QUESTION is, what existed before time began? And let me point out, if time had a beginning then it logically has an end. Maybe God, the creator, is the eternal one, as scripture tells us, and He is the one who was there before time began! I agree that it takes faith to believe this, but everything in creation points to a creator, a master designer. And, as you know, and so conviently avoid, is it possible that the evil and wickedness of mankind is the reason for all the wickedness in the world! If, as you say, there is no God ( and you seem to blame God for all the ills of the world), then how can you blame someone who doesn’t exist for all the ills of the world? I find this article intellectually dishonest and really a denial of reality. We, the people are responsible! And one day each of us will have to give an account of our time here on earth to the Creator of this universe, especially those who say they are christians! Those who misuse christianity and present a false christ to this world, will be held accountable on that day. And let me say, I also hate this false christ! But, as you know, God in His mercy and love expressed to us through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, has made it possible to live a godly life of love for Him and others. I have found this to be true in my own life as He has given me true peace and hope and joy as I’ve learned to live a life of service to others and to God. All I see in your posts is someone who is bitter towards God, and I sense, is belittling to my faith. I find this to be hateful and discriminating and judgemental. But I am praying for you and your beautiful family. I think one of the purposes of your blog is to convince yourself of your own self-righteousness and serves as a boost to your pride. I may be wrong, and if I am I apologize. But this is how it seems to me. May the peace and love of God be with you.
Joseph’s comment was in response to Bertrand Russell’s dismantling of Christianity in his seminal tract Why I Am Not a Christian. Joseph fails to understand both Russell’s writing style and my own. I write from the perspective of someone who believes in the Christian God. I argue from that perspective so Christians will understand what I am talking about and know that I am conversant in their “language.” It’s not that I believe in the Christian God, I don’t. My objective is to show the irrationality and inconsistency of arguments used to defend Christianity. What better way to do so than to use the words of Christians and the words of the supposedly inspired, inerrant, infallible Protestant Christian Bible. I am not a fan of esoteric or never-ending philosophical arguments, so I choose, instead to use the Bible as my weapon of choice. It is that which is most familiar to me.
Joseph seems hell-bent on defending his God’s character from all attacks. God’s not to blame for the evil in the world, man is. Yet, at the same time, Joseph says that his God is the Creator, the first cause of everything. If that is so, then God, by necessity, is culpable for EVERYTHING that follows, including sin. Joseph, yet again, fails to understand my writing style and approach. It’s not that I actually believe God is responsible for sin, I don’t. What I am saying is this: if you believe God is the first cause, then he is totally responsible for everything that follows. That’s the rational, logical conclusion one comes to when believing the Christian God is the first cause. From my perspective, Christian apologists have miserably failed in their attempts to answer the problem of evil. Theodicy remains a noose around the neck of believers who attempt to explain how God is Creator, the first cause, and sovereign over all, yet he is not, in any way, culpable for the behavior (sin) of humans. If Ford manufacturers an automobile and a customer buys it and the wheels later fall of the car, who’s to blame? The driver (human)? The salesman (pastor)? The dealership (the church)? No, Ford is responsible for the wheels falling off. As the company (God) who designed the auto, produced the parts, and assembled them, is not Ford (God) ultimately responsible for the wheels falling off the car? So it is with God. If the Christian God is the manufacturer of everything, then he, and not the church, its pastors, or humans, is responsible for any failures.
The problem for people such as Joseph is that they believe that Bible is a perfect book inspired by God and it is their duty to square all the contractions found within its pages. These internal contradictions force Christians to defend conflicting beliefs. One need only sit in the stands and watch Calvinists and Arminians fight to the death to see how these contradictions have affected Christianity over the past two thousand years. Here it is 2018, and the various Christian sects can’t even agree on the basics: salvation, baptism, communion. Yet, the Josephs of the world would have us believe they have found ways to neatly fit the square peg in the round hole. Only by shaving off (explaining away) these contradictions do Evangelical apologists make everything “fit.”
Joseph seemingly forgets that I was part of the Christian church for fifty years. I spent twenty-five of those years pastoring Evangelical churches. I spent thousands and thousands of hours reading and studying the Bible. I KNOW the Bible inside and out. I can argue multiple theological positions. Why? Because the Bible is a hopelessly contradictory book, and it can be used to “prove” every theological system from Pelagianism to hyper-Calvinism. I remember hearing John Loftus say years ago that he had come to the conclusion that ALL the various and peculiar systems of belief were right. Each and every one of them goes to the Bible to find justification for their beliefs. I agree with John. The Bible is similar to a paint-by-number picture, with each sect deciding which number corresponds to which paint. Colorful, to be sure, but what viewers of the work of art are left with is a Jackson Pollock painting. Nice colors, but what the hell is it?
Joseph fails to understand that I totally agree with him on who is culpable for human behavior. I am an atheist, a humanist, so I without question believe that each of us is responsible for what we do. Certainly there can be mitigating factors — genetics, mental illness, drug addiction, poor upbringing, to name a few — but at the end of the day each of us bears the weight of our choices and actions. I can believe these things to be true without believing in the existence of God or accepting what the Bible says about human nature and sin. Orthodox Christian teaching on human sinfulness, redemption, and the forgiveness of sin actually make humans less culpable for their behavior. After all, according to the Bible, humans are broken and in need of fixing; sinners in need of salvation and the forgiveness of sins. This leads to dependency on God for right behavior. The Bible says of humans, without me (God), you can do nothing. The Bible also says that humans are so helpless that unless God gives them the breath to breathe and the muscle strength to walk, they would all be dead.
As far as Joseph’s attack on my character; that I am bitter, self-righteous, and only write to boost my pride, I have a standard reply to such caricatures: go fornicate with yourself. I know the kind of man I am, as do those who know me well. Years ago, such judgments would drive me wild. Not any longer. Christians are going to say what whatever they want about me. I can’t stop them from doing so. All I can do is limit their access to this site and hopefully get them to STOP emailing me. Joseph seems to think that telling me that I have a beautiful family somehow ameliorates everything else he said. It doesn’t. The Josephs of the world want to shit on my doorstep while pointing out to me that there is a silver dollar buried in their offering. How about saving the shit for the outhouse, and stick to polite, reasoned comments? Leave my motivations for doing what I do to those who know and understand me. And Joseph is most certainly not part of that group.
Joseph says that he could be wrong , and if he is, he apologizes. If there is the possibility of being wrong in judgment about someone’s character and motivations, why say anything? Doesn’t the Bible command believers to defer such judgments until they know the whole story and have all the facts? Why does Joseph ignore what the Bible says about uninformed judgment? The reason is simple. Joseph doesn’t believe he is wrong, and no matter what I say, he will remain certain in his judgments of the Evangelical-pastor-turned-atheist Bruce Gerencser. And it is for this reason I no longer cast my fifty millimeter pearls before swine.
After writing this post, I received yet another email from Joseph. Here was my response:
You wrongly thing that I am the least bit interested in receiving emails/sermonettes from you. I am not. Please stop emailing me. I have no interest in hearing from you or corresponding with you. I turned your previous email into a post. It will be live later tonight after my editor goes over it. You will have one opportunity to respond to what I have written. Please use this one opportunity wisely. After you have said what you feel God has laid upon your heart, I will approve no further comments from you. That’s the commenting rules, which I am sure you have read.
About Bruce Gerencser
Bruce Gerencser, 61, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 40 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.
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As your Chairman has told you, the subject about which I am going to speak to you tonight is ‘Why I am not a Christian’. Perhaps it would be as well, first of all, to try to make out what one means by the word ‘Christian’. It is used these days in a very loose sense by a great many people. Some people mean no more by it than a person who attempts to live a good life. In that sense I suppose there would be Christians in all sects and creeds; but I do not think that that is the proper sense of the word, if only because it would imply that all the people who are not Christians—all the Buddhists, Confucians, Mohammedans, and so on—are not trying to live a good life. I do not mean by a Christian any person who tries to live decently according to his lights. I think that you must have a certain amount of definite belief before you have a right to call yourself a Christian. The word does not have quite such a full-blooded meaning now as it had in the times of St Augustine and St Thomas Aquinas. In those days, if a man said that he was a Christian it was known what he meant. You accepted a whole collection of creeds which were set out with great precision, and every single syllable of those creeds you believed with the whole strength of your convictions.
Audio version of Why I Am Not a Christian can be accessed below
WHAT IS A CHRISTIAN?
Nowadays it is not quite that. We have to be a little more vague in our meaning of Christianity. I think, however, that there are two different items which are quite essential to anybody calling himself a Christian. The first is one of a dogmatic nature—namely, that you must believe in God and immortality. If you do not believe in those two things, I do not think that you can properly call yourself a Christian. Then, further than that, as the name implies, you must have some kind of belief about Christ. The Mohammedans, for instance, also believe in God and in immortality, and yet they would not call themselves Christians. I think you must have at the very lowest the belief that Christ was, if not divine, at least the best and wisest of men. If you are not going to believe that much about Christ, I do not think you have any right to call yourself a Christian. Of course there is another sense which you find in Whitaker’s Almanack and in geography books, where the population of the world is said to be divided into Christians, Mohammedans, Buddhists, fetish worshippers, and so on; and in that sense we are all Christians. The geography books count us all in, but that is a purely geographical sense, which I suppose we can ignore. Therefore I take it that when I tell you why I am not a Christian I have to tell you two different things; first, why I do not believe in God and in immortality; and, secondly, why I do not think that Christ was the best and wisest of men, although I grant Him a very high degree of moral goodness.
But for the successful efforts of unbelievers in the past, I could not take so elastic a definition of Christianity as that. As I said before, in olden days it had a much more full-blooded sense. For instance, it concluded the belief in hell. Belief in eternal hell fire was an essential item of Christian belief until pretty recent times. In this country, as you know, it ceased to be an essential item because of a decision of the Privy Council, and from that decision the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Archbishop of York dissented; but in this country our religion is settled by Act of Parliament, and therefore the Privy Council was able to override Their Graces and hell was no longer necessary to a Christian. Consequently I shall not insist that a Christian must believe in hell.
THE EXISTENCE OF GOD
To come to this question of the existence of God, it is a large and serious question, and if I were to attempt to deal with it in any adequate manner I should have to keep you here until Kingdom Come, so that you will have to excuse me if I deal with it in a somewhat summary fashion. You know, of course, that the Catholic Church has laid it down as a dogma that the existence of God can be proved by the unaided reason. That is a somewhat curious dogma, but it is one of their dogmas. They had to introduce it because at one time the Freethinkers adopted the habit of saying that there were such and such arguments which mere reason might urge against the existence of God, but of course they knew as a matter of faith that God did exist. The arguments and the reasons were set out at great length, and the Catholic Church felt that they must stop it. Therefore they laid it down that the existence of God can be proved by the unaided reason, and they had to set up what they considered were arguments to prove it. There are, of course, a number of them, but I shall take only a few.
THE FIRST CAUSE ARGUMENT
Perhaps the simplest and easiest to understand is the argument of the First Cause. (It is maintained that everything we see in this world has a cause, and as you go back in the chain of causes further and further you must come to a First Cause, and to that First Cause you give the name of God). That argument, I suppose, does not carry very much weight nowadays, because, in the first place, cause is not quite what it used to be. The philosophers and the men of science have got going on cause, and it has not anything like the vitality it used to have; but, apart from that, you can see that the argument that there must be a First Cause is one that cannot have any validity. I may say that when I was a young man and was debating these questions very seriously in my mind, I for a long time accepted the argument of the First Cause, until one day, at the age of eighteen, I read John Stuart Mill’s Autobiography, and I there found this sentence: ‘My father taught me that the question, “Who made me?” cannot be answered, since it immediately suggests the further question, “Who made God?” ’ That very simple sentence showed me, as I still think, the fallacy in the argument of the First Cause. If everything must have a cause, then God must have a cause. If there can be anything without a cause, it may just as well be the world as God, so that there cannot be any validity in that argument. It is exactly of the same nature as the Hindu’s view, that the world rested upon an elephant and the elephant rested upon a tortoise; and when they said, ‘How about the tortoise?’ the Indian said, ‘Suppose we change the subject.’ The argument is really no better than that. There is no reason why the world could not have come into being without a cause; nor, on the other hand, is there any reason why it should not have always existed. There is no reason to suppose that the world had a beginning at all. The idea that things must have a beginning is really due to the poverty of our imagination. Therefore, perhaps, I need not waste any more time upon the argument about the First Cause.
THE NATURAL LAW ARGUMENT
Then there is a very common argument from natural law. That was a favourite argument all through the eighteenth century, especially under the influence of Sir Isaac Newton and his cosmogony. People observed the planets going round the sun according to the law of gravitation, and they thought that God had given a behest to these planets to move in that particular fashion, and that was why they did so. That was, of course, a convenient and simple explanation that saved them the trouble of looking any further for explanations of the law of gravitation. Nowadays we explain the law of gravitation in a somewhat complicated fashion that Einstein has introduced. I do not propose to give you a lecture on the law of gravitation as interpreted by Einstein, because that again would take some time; at any rate, you no longer have the sort of natural law that you had in the Newtonian system, where, for some reason that nobody could understand, nature behaved in a uniform fashion. We now find that a great many things we thought were natural laws are really human conventions. You know that even in the remotest depths of stellar space there are still three feet to a yard. That is, no doubt, a very remarkable fact, but you would hardly call it a law of nature. And a great many things that have been regarded as laws of nature are of that kind. On the other hand, where you can get down to any knowledge of what atoms actually do, you will find they are much less subject to law than people thought, and that the laws at which you arrive are statistical averages of just the sort that would emerge from chance. There is, as we all know, a law that if you throw dice you will get double sixes only about once in thirty-six times, and we do not regard that as evidence that the fall of the dice is regulated by design; on the contrary, if the double sixes came every time we should think that there was design. The laws of nature are of that sort as regards a great many of them. They are statistical averages such as would emerge from the laws of chance; and that makes this whole business of natural law much less impressive than it formerly was. Quite apart from that, which represents the momentary state of science that may change tomorrow, the whole idea that natural laws imply a law-giver is due to a confusion between natural and human laws. Human laws are behests commanding you to behave a certain way, in which way you may choose to behave, or you may choose not to behave; but natural laws are a description of how things do in fact behave, and being a mere description of what they in fact do, you cannot argue that there must be somebody who told them to do that, because even supposing that there were you are then faced with the question, ‘Why did God issue just those natural laws and no others?’ If you say that He did it simply from His own good pleasure, and without any reason, you then find that there is something which is not subject to law, and so your train of natural law is interrupted. If you say, as more orthodox theologians do, that in all the laws which God issues He had a reason for giving those laws rather than others—the reason, of course, being to create the best universe, although you would never think it to look at it—if there was a reason for the laws which God gave, then God Himself was subject to law, and therefore you do not get any advantage by introducing God as an intermediary. You have really a law outside and anterior to the divine edicts, and God does not serve your purpose, because He is not the ultimate lawgiver. In short, this whole argument about natural law no longer has anything like the strength that it used to have. I am travelling on in time in my review of the arguments. The arguments that are used for the existence of God change their character as time goes on. They were at first hard, intellectual arguments embodying certain quite definite fallacies. As we come to modern times they become less respectable intellectually and more and more affected by a kind of moralising vagueness.
THE ARGUMENT FROM DESIGN
The next step in this process brings us to the argument from design. You all know the argument from design: everything in the world is made just so that we can manage to live in the world, and if the world was ever so little different we could not manage to live in it. That is the argument from design. It sometimes takes a rather curious form; for instance, it is argued that rabbits have white tails in order to be easy to shoot. I do not know how rabbits would view that application. It is an easy argument to parody. You all know Voltaire’s remark, that obviously the nose was designed to be such as to fit spectacles. That sort of parody has turned out to be not nearly so wide of the mark as it might have seemed in the eighteenth century, because since the time of Darwin we understand much better why living creatures are adapted to their environment. It is not that their environment was made to be suitable to them, but that they grew to be suitable to it, and that is the basis of adaptation. There is no evidence of design about it.
When you come to look into this argument from design, it is a most astonishing thing that people can believe that this world, with all the things that are in it, with all its defects, should be the best that omnipotence and omniscience has been able to produce in millions of years. I really cannot believe it. Do you think that, if you were granted omnipotence and omniscience and millions of years in which to perfect your world, you could produce nothing better than the Ku-Klux-Klan or the Fascists? Moreover, if you accept the ordinary laws of science, you have to suppose that human life and life in general on this planet will die out in due course: it is a stage in the decay of the solar system; at a certain stage of decay you get the sort of conditions of temperature and so forth which are suitable to protoplasm, and there is life for a short time in the life of the whole solar system. You see in the moon the sort of thing to which the earth is tending—something dead, cold, and lifeless.
I am told that that sort of view is depressing, and people will sometimes tell you that if they believed that they would not be able to go on living. Do not believe it; it is all nonsense. Nobody really worries much about what is going to happen millions of years hence. Even if they think they are worrying much about that, they are really deceiving themselves. They are worried about something much more mundane, or it may merely be a bad digestion; but nobody is really seriously rendered unhappy by the thought of something that is going to happen to this world millions of years hence. Therefore, although it is of course a gloomy view to suppose that life will die out—at least I suppose we may say so, although sometimes when I contemplate the things that people do with their lives I think it is almost a consolation—it is not such as to render life miserable. It merely makes you turn your attention to other things.
THE MORAL ARGUMENTS FOR DEITY
Now we reach one stage further in what I shall call the intellectual descent that the Theists have made in their argumentations, and we come to what are called the moral arguments for the existence of God. You all know, of course, that there used to be in the old days three intellectual arguments for the existence of God, all of which were disposed of by Immanuel Kant in the Critique of Pure Reason; but no sooner had he disposed of those arguments than he invented a new one, a moral argument, and that quite convinced him. He was like many people: in intellectual matters he was sceptical, but in moral matters he believed implicitly in the maxims that he had imbibed at his mother’s knee. That illustrates what the psychoanalysts so much emphasise—the immensely stronger hold upon us that our very early associations have than those of later times.
Kant, as I say, invented a new moral argument for the existence of God, and that in varying forms was extremely popular during the nineteenth century. It has all sorts of forms. One form is to say that there would be no right or wrong unless God existed. I am not for the moment concerned with whether there is a difference between right and wrong, or whether there is not: that is another question. The point I am concerned with is that, if you are quite sure there is a difference between right and wrong, you are then in this situation: is that difference due to God’s fiat or is it not? If it is due to God’s fiat, then for God Himself there is no difference between right and wrong, and it is no longer a significant statement to say that God is good. If you are going to say, as theologians do, that God is good, you must then say that right and wrong have some meaning which is independent of God’s fiat, because God’s fiats are good and not bad independently of the mere fact that He made them. If you are going to say that, you will then have to say that it is not only through God that right and wrong came into being, but that they are in their essence logically anterior to God. You could, of course, if you liked, say that there was a superior deity who gave orders to the God who made this world, or could take up the line that some of the gnostics took up—a line which I often thought was a very plausible one—that as a matter of fact this world that we know was made by the devil at a moment when God was not looking. There is a good deal to be said for that, and I am not concerned to refute it.
THE ARGUMENT FOR THE REMEDYING OF INJUSTICE
Then there is another very curious form of moral argument, which is this: they say that the existence of God is required in order to bring justice into the world. In the part of this universe that we know there is great injustice, and often the good suffer, and often the wicked prosper, and one hardly knows which of those is the more annoying; but if you are going to have justice in the universe as a whole you have to suppose a future life to redress the balance of life here on earth. So they say that there must be a God, and there must be heaven and hell in order that in the long run there may be justice. That is a very curious argument. If you looked at the matter from a scientific point of view, you would say: ‘After all, I know only this world. I do not know about the rest of the universe, but so far as one can argue at all on probabilities one would say that probably this world is a fair sample, and if there is injustice here the odds are that there is injustice elsewhere also.’ Supposing you got a crate of oranges that you opened, and you found all the top layer of oranges bad, you would not argue: ‘The underneath ones must be good, so as to redress the balance.’ You would say: ‘Probably the whole lot is a bad consignment’; and that is really what a scientific person would argue about the universe. He would say: ‘Here we find in this world a great deal of injustice and so far as that goes that is a reason for supposing that justice does not rule in the world; and therefore so far as it goes it affords a moral argument against deity and not in favour of one.’ Of course I know that the sort of intellectual arguments that I have been talking to you about are not what really moves people. What really moves people to believe in God is not any intellectual argument at all. Most people believe in God because they have been taught from early infancy to do it, and that is the main reason.
Then I think that the next most powerful reason is the wish for safety, a sort of feeling that there is a big brother who will look after you. That plays a very profound part in influencing people’s desire for a belief in God.
THE CHARACTER OF CHRIST
I now want to say a few words upon a topic which I often think is not quite sufficiently dealt with by Rationalists, and that is the question whether Christ was the best and the wisest of men. It is generally taken for granted that we shall all agree that that was so. I do not myself. I think that there are a good many points upon which I agree with Christ a great deal more than the professing Christians do. I do not know that I could go with Him all the way, but I could go with Him much farther than most professing Christians can. You will remember that He said: ‘Resist not evil, but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.’ That is not a new precept or a new principle. It was used by Lao-Tze and Buddha some five or six hundred years before Christ, but it is not a principle which as a matter of fact Christians accept. I have no doubt that the present Prime Minister,1 [footnote 1. Stanley Baldwin.] for instance, is a most sincere Christian, but I should not advise any of you to go and smite him on one cheek. I think you might find that he thought this text was intended in a figurative sense.
Then there is another point which I consider is excellent. You will remember that Christ said: ‘Judge not lest ye be judged.’ That principle I do not think you would find was popular in the law courts of Christian countries. I have known in my time quite a number of judges who were very earnest Christians, and they none of them felt that they were acting contrary to Christian principles in what they did. Then Christ says: ‘Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away.’ That is a very good principle.
Your Chairman has reminded you that we are not here to talk politics, but I cannot help observing that the last general election was fought on the question of how desirable it was to turn away from him that would borrow of thee, so that one must assume that the Liberals and Conservatives of this country are composed of people who do not agree with the teaching of Christ, because they certainly did very emphatically turn away on that occasion.
Then there is one other maxim of Christ which I think has a great deal in it, but I do not find that it is very popular among some of our Christian friends. He says: ‘If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor.’ That is a very excellent maxim, but, as I say, it is not much practised. All these, I think, are good maxims, although they are a little difficult to live up to. I do not profess to live up to them myself; but then after all, it is not quite the same thing as for a Christian.
DEFECTS IN CHRIST’S TEACHING
Having granted the excellence of these maxims, I come to certain points in which I do not believe that one can grant either the superlative wisdom or the superlative goodness of Christ as depicted in the Gospels; and here I may say that one is not concerned with the historical question. Historically it is quite doubtful whether Christ ever existed at all, and if He did we do not know anything about Him, so that I am not concerned with the historical question, which is a very difficult one. I am concerned with Christ as He appears in the Gospels, taking the Gospel narrative as it stands, and there one does find some things that do not seem to be very wise. For one thing, He certainly thought that His second coming would occur in clouds of glory before the death of all the people who were living at that time. There are a great many texts that prove that. He says, for instance: ‘Ye shall not have gone over the cities of Israel, till the Son of Man be come.’ Then He says: ‘There are some standing here which shall not taste death till the Son of Man comes into His kingdom’; and there are a lot of places where it is quite clear that He believed that His second coming would happen during the lifetime of many then living. That was the belief of His earlier followers, and it was the basis of a good deal of His moral teaching. When He said, ‘Take no thought for the morrow,’ and things of that sort, it was very largely because He thought that the second coming was going to be very soon, and that all ordinary mundane affairs did not count. I have, as a matter of fact, known some Christians who did believe that the second coming was imminent. I knew a parson who frightened his congregation terribly by telling them that the second coming was very imminent indeed, but they were much consoled when they found that he was planting trees in his garden. The early Christians did really believe it, and they did abstain from such things as planting trees in their gardens, because they did accept from Christ the belief that the second coming was imminent. In that respect clearly He was not so wise as some other people have been, and he was certainly not superlatively wise.
THE MORAL PROBLEM
Then you come to moral questions. There is one very serious defect to my mind in Christ’s moral character, and that is that He believed in hell. I do not myself feel that any person who is really profoundly humane can believe in everlasting punishment. Christ certainly as depicted in the Gospels did believe in everlasting punishment, and one does find repeatedly a vindictive fury against those people who would not listen to His preaching—an attitude which is not uncommon with preachers, but which does somewhat detract from superlative excellence. You do not, for instance, find that attitude in Socrates. You find him quite bland and urbane towards the people who would not listen to him; and it is, to my mind, far more worthy of a sage to take that line than to take the line of indignation. You probably all remember the sort of things that Socrates was saying when he was dying, and the sort of things that he generally did say to people who did not agree with him.
You will find that in the Gospels Christ said: ‘Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell?’ That was said to people who did not like His preaching. It is not really to my mind quite the best tone, and there are a great many of these things about hell. There is, of course, the familiar text about the sin against the Holy Ghost: ‘Whosoever speaketh against the Holy Ghost it shall not be forgiven him neither in this world nor in the world of come.’ That text has caused an unspeakable amount of misery in the world, for all sorts of people have imagined that they have committed the sin against the Holy Ghost, and thought that it would not be forgiven them either in this world or in the world to come. I really do not think that a person with a proper degree of kindliness in his nature would have put fears and terrors of that sort into the world.
Then Christ says: ‘The Son of Man shall send forth His angels, and they shall gather out of His kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity, and shall cast them into a furnace of fire; there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth’; and He goes on about the wailing and gnashing of teeth. It comes in one verse after another, and it is quite manifest to the reader that there is a certain pleasure in contemplating wailing and gnashing of teeth, or else it would not occur so often. Then you all, of course, remember about the sheep and the goats; how at the second coming to divide the sheep and the goats He is going to say to the goats: ‘Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire.’ He continues: ‘And these shall go away into everlasting fire.’ Then He says again: ‘If thy hand offend thee, cut it off; it is better for thee to enter into life maimed, than having two hands to go into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched; where the worm dieth not and the fire is not quenched.’ He repeats that again and again also. I must say that I think all this doctrine, that hell-fire is a punishment for sin, is a doctrine of cruelty. It is a doctrine that put cruelty into the world and gave the world generations of cruel torture; and the Christ of the Gospels, if you could take Him as His chroniclers represent Him, would certainly have to be considered partly responsible for that.
There are other things of less importance. There is the instance of the Gadarene swine where it certainly was not very kind to the pigs to put the devils into them and make them rush down the hill to the sea. You must remember that He was omnipotent, and He could have made the devils simply go away; but He chooses to send them into the pigs. Then there is the curious story of the fig-tree, which always rather puzzled me. You remember what happened about the fig-tree. ‘He was hungry; and seeing a fig-tree afar off having leaves, He came if haply He might find anything thereon; and when He came to it He found nothing but leaves, for the time of figs was not yet. And Jesus answered and said unto it: “No man eat fruit of thee hereafter for ever,” . . . and Peter . . . saith unto Him: “Master, behold the fig-tree which thou cursedst is withered away”.’ This is a very curious story, because it was not the right time of year for figs, and you really could not blame the tree. I cannot myself feel that either in the matter of wisdom or in the matter of virtue Christ stands quite as high as some other people known to history. I think I should put Buddha and Socrates above Him in those respects. s THE EMOTIONAL FACTOR
As I said before, I do not think that the real reason why people accept religion has anything to do with argumentation. They accept religion on emotional grounds. One is often told that it is a very wrong thing to attack religion, because religion makes men virtuous. So I am told; I have not noticed it. You know, of course, the parody of that argument in Samuel Butler’s book, Erewhon Revisited. You will remember that in Erewhon there is a certain Higgs who arrives in a remote country, and after spending some time there he escapes from that country in a balloon. Twenty years later he comes back to that country and finds a new religion, in which he is worshipped under the name of the ‘Sun Child’, and it is said that he ascended into Heaven. He finds that the Feast of the Ascension is about to be celebrated, and he hears Professors Hanky and Panky say to each other that they never set eyes on the man Higgs, and they hope they never will; but they are the high priests of the religion of the Sun Child. He is very indignant, and he comes up to them, and he says: ‘I am going to expose all this humbug and tell the people of Erewhon that it was only I, the man Higgs, and I went up in a balloon.’ He was told: ‘You must not do that, because all the morals of this country are bound round this myth, and if they once know that you did not ascend into heaven they will all become wicked’; and so he is persuaded of that and he goes quietly away.
That is the idea—that we should all be wicked if we did not hold to the Christian religion. It seems to me that the people who have held to it have been for the most part extremely wicked. You find this curious fact, that the more intense has been the religion of any period and the more profound has been the dogmatic belief, the greater has been the cruelty and the worse has been the state of affairs. In the so-called ages of faith, when men really did believe the Christian religion in all its completeness, there was the Inquisition, with its tortures; there were millions of unfortunate women burnt as witches; and there was every kind of cruelty practised upon all sorts of people in the name of religion.
You find as you look around the world that every single bit of progress in humane feeling, every improvement in the criminal law, every step towards the diminution of war, every step towards better treatment of the coloured races, or every mitigation of slavery, every moral progress that there has been in the world, has been consistently opposed by the organised Churches of the world. I say quite deliberately that the Christian religion, as organised in its Churches, has been and still is the principal enemy of moral progress in the world.
HOW THE CHURCHES HAVE RETARDED PROGRESS
You may think that I am going too far when I say that that is still so. I do not think that I am. Take one fact. You will bear with me if I mention it. It is not a pleasant fact, but the Churches compel one to mention facts that are not pleasant. Supposing that in this world that we live in today an inexperienced girl is married to a syphilitic man, in that case the Catholic Church says: ‘This is an indissoluble sacrament. You must stay together for life.’ And no steps of any sort must be taken by that woman to prevent herself from giving birth to syphilitic children. That is what the Catholic Church says. I say that that is fiendish cruelty, and nobody whose natural sympathies have not been warped by dogma, or whose moral nature was not absolutely dead to all sense of suffering, could maintain that it is right and proper that that state of things should continue.
That is only an example. There are a great many ways in which at the present moment the Church, by its insistence upon what it chooses to call morality, inflicts upon all sorts of people undeserved and unnecessary suffering. And of course, as we know, it is in its major part an opponent still of progress and of improvement in all the ways that diminish suffering in the world, because it has chosen to label as morality a certain narrow set of rules of conduct which have nothing to do with human happiness; and when you say that this or that ought to be done because it would make for human happiness, they think that has nothing to do with the matter at all. ‘What has human happiness to do with morals? The object of morals is not to make people happy.’
FEAR THE FOUNDATION OF RELIGION
Religion is based, I think, primarily and mainly upon fear. It is partly the terror of the unknown, and partly, as I have said, the wish to feel that you have a kind of elder brother who will stand by you in all your troubles and disputes. Fear is the basis of the whole thing—fear of the mysterious, fear of defeat, fear of death. Fear is the parent of cruelty, and therefore it is no wonder if cruelty and religion has gone hand-in-hand. It is because fear is at the basis of those two things. In this world we can now begin a little to understand things, and a little to master them by help of science, which has forced its way step by step against the Christian religion, against the Churches, and against the opposition of all the old precepts. Science can help us to get over this craven fear in which mankind has lived for so many generations. Science can teach us, and I think our own hearts can teach us, no longer to look round for imaginary supports, no longer to invent allies in the sky, but rather to look to our own efforts here below to make this world a fit place to live in, instead of the sort of place that the churches in all these centuries have made it.
WHAT WE MUST DO
We want to stand upon our own feet and look fair and square at the world—its good facts, its bad facts, its beauties, and its ugliness; see the world as it is, and be not afraid of it. Conquer the world by intelligence, and not merely by being slavishly subdued by the terror that comes from it. The whole conception of God is a conception derived from the ancient Oriental despotisms. It is a conception quite unworthy of free men. When you hear people in church debasing themselves and saying that they are miserable sinners, and all the rest of it, it seems contemptible and not worthy of self-respecting human beings. We ought to stand up and look the world frankly in the face. We ought to make the best we can of the world, and if it is not so good as we wish, after all it will still be better than what these others have made of it in all these ages. A good world needs knowledge, kindliness, and courage; it does not need a regretful hankering after the past, or a fettering of the free intelligence by the words uttered long ago by ignorant men. It needs a fearless outlook and a free intelligence. It needs hope for the future, not looking back all the time towards a past that is dead, which we trust will be far surpassed by the future that our intelligence can create.
— Bertrand Russell, Why I Am Not a Christian, Watts & Company, for the Rationalist Press Association Limited, 1927
Bertrand Arthur William Russell (1872–1970) was a British philosopher, logician, essayist and social critic best known for his work in mathematical logic and analytic philosophy. His most influential contributions include his championing of logicism (the view that mathematics is in some important sense reducible to logic), his refining of Gottlob Frege’s predicate calculus (which still forms the basis of most contemporary systems of logic), his defense of neutral monism (the view that the world consists of just one type of substance which is neither exclusively mental nor exclusively physical), and his theories of definite descriptions, logical atomism and logical types.
Together with G.E. Moore, Russell is generally recognized as one of the main founders of modern analytic philosophy. His famous paradox, theory of types, and work with A.N. Whitehead on Principia Mathematica reinvigorated the study of logic throughout the twentieth century.
Over the course of a long career, Russell also made significant contributions to a broad range of other subjects, including ethics, politics, educational theory, the history of ideas and religious studies, cheerfully ignoring Hooke’s admonition to the Royal Society against “meddling with Divinity, Metaphysics, Moralls, Politicks, Grammar, Rhetorick, or Logick” (Kreisel 1973, 24). In addition, generations of general readers have benefited from his many popular writings on a wide variety of topics in both the humanities and the natural sciences. Like Voltaire, to whom he has been compared, he wrote with style and wit and had enormous influence.
After a life marked by controversy—including dismissals from both Trinity College, Cambridge, and City College, New York—Russell was awarded the Order of Merit in 1949 and the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1950. Noted also for his many spirited anti-nuclear protests and for his campaign against western involvement in the Vietnam War, Russell remained a prominent public figure until his death at the age of 97.
Every day, without fail, I spend time reading numerous Evangelical Christian blogs and websites. Doing so allows me to stay informed about what goes on in the insane asylum. One such blog is the Isaiah 53:5 Project — a site I have used as blog fodder numerous times before. Today, a man by the name of James wrote a post titled, Not Enough Evidence God. (link no longer active) I thought, oh boy, this ought to be good.
James starts out by saying that this post is a repost of one of the blog’s most-read articles. He goes on to say “If you think there is no evidence to support Christianity, you may want to think again. I thought, okay, James is going to present evidence that supports the existence of the Christian God. Perhaps he is even going to present evidence to support a virgin having a baby, dead people coming back to life, and a man walking through walls. Sadly, James left me quite disappointed. No cigarette after reading this post.
James quotes 19th-century atheist Bertrand Russell’s response to the question, What will you say some day when God asks you, why didn’t you believe in me? Russell replied: “I would say, ‘Not enough evidence, God! Not enough evidence!’” Again, James raises the issue of evidence. I thought, here it comes. Finally, an Evangelical is going to give the evidences for the existence of the Evangelical version of the Christian God. Once again, James leaves me disappointed.
According to James, Russell’s answer is, and I quote, “loaded with problems.” I thought, okay, loaded with problems. James is now going to unpack his powerful arsenal of proofs and slay the mighty dragon of atheism. My body tingled with excitement as I pondered what was coming next. I thought, oh how I want to be a Christian again. Finally, someone is going to give me sufficient reasons to believe the Christian narrative. And, just like that, James, ever the tease, left me, yet again, disappointed.
After James’ coitus-like build-up, I was expecting a rousing defense of Christianity. Instead, James showed that he was a virgin and in but a few moments the deed was done. The only evidence James gave for the existence of the Christian God was the tired, worn out Evangelical trope, the Bible says __________. That’s right — for all his talk about evidence, James gives none. Lest you doubt that I am accurately reporting James’ magnum opus, here is exactly what he had to say:
Problem number one is what God Himself has to say. I don’t think He minces any words here. [emphasis added]
“For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities–his eternal power and divine nature–have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.”
– Romans 1:20
Let that sink in a minute then ask yourself if Russell is making the arrogant mistake of blaming his lack of belief on the failure of a divine being who can do no wrong and gave humanity no excuse.
Are you making the same mistake Russell did? If so, how do you think the conversation at judgment will go?
You: “Not enough evidence, God! Not enough evidence!”
God: “…without excuse.”
Seems fairly cut and dry to me.
“Do you see a man who is wise in his own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for him.”
– Proverbs 26:12
That’s it. According to James, the Bible says God reveals himself through creation, and that by looking at creation, humans know that God exists. Those who look at creation and do not see God are deliberately ignoring what is plain for all to see. Thus, those who refuse to acknowledge God are without excuse. As I read this, I thought, That’s it, James? Come on, surely you have more evidence for God than this?
When someone uses Romans 1:18-21 as “proof” for the existence of God, I quickly grant them their assertion. Fine, I say. I accept your claim that creation reveals to everyone the existence of God. Usually, Evangelicals are taken aback when I do this, but they fail to see that what I am really doing is setting a trap.
After I admit that someone could look at creation and conclude God exists, I then ask, which God? The Evangelical usually quickly responds with, why the one true God, the Christian God. I then ask them, what is there in creation that tells anyone that the Christian God created everything?What proof is there for the God of the Christian Bible being the creator God? What is the bridge that gets us from creation revealing that there is A GOD to that God being THE GOD of Evangelical Christianity? There is nothing in the universe that shows the Evangelical God created everything. At best, creation testifies to there being some sort of deistic God. When I look at the stars at night, I can easily understand how someone might conclude that a deity of some sort created the universe. However, I see no evidence in the sky that tells that this God is the Evangelical God.
Eventually, Evangelicals will finally say, the Bible says ________________. And just like that we are right back to where we started. James’ non-evidence evidence falls flat on its face because the real issue is not what the universe tells us, but whether the Bible is what Evangelicals claim it is. I have long argued that the best way to disabuse Evangelicals of their Fundamentalists beliefs is to attack the foundation of those beliefs — the Bible. And not just the Bible, but their interpretation of the Biblical text. The goal should be to convince Evangelicals that the Bible is not what they think it is. Specifically, Evangelicals need to be shown that the Bible is NOT an inspired, inerrant, infallible text.
The biggest problem is that Evangelicals have been brainwashed into rejecting out of hand any claim that casts doubt on the veracity and authority of the Bible. When the mythical Satan tempted the mythical Adam and Eve in the mythical Garden of Eden, he said to them, Yea, hath God said (Yes, even Satan uses King James English)? Evangelicals see challenges to the accuracy and truthfulness of the Bible as modern-day equivalents of Yea, hath God said? Thus, it becomes very difficult to breach the inerrancy wall that surrounds Evangelical minds. Not impossible, but hard. This is why when Evangelicals attempt to argue with me about something I wrote, I ask them, have you ever read any of Dr. Bart Ehrman’s books? (Please check out our bookstore for a list of Ehrman’s books.) I have yet to have an Evangelical answer yes. Often, they will say they have read reviews of his books or Dr. so-and-so’s take-down of the agnostic Bart Ehrman’s books. When pressed to read several of Ehrman’s books, most Evangelicals reply, I don’t need to. I have the Bible. And therein lies the problem. Until Evangelicals are willing to at least entertain thoughts of the Bible not being what they claim it is, there is no hope for them. If Evangelicals are willing to honestly and studiously read Ehrman’s books, I am confident that they will be disabused of the notion that the Bible is an inspired, inerrant, infallible text. Until the Jameses of the world are willing to wrestle with the history, nature, and complexity of the Biblical text, there is little hope of delivering them from their Fundamentalist beliefs. While I think someone can remain a Christian after reading Ehrman’s books, it is impossible for them to remain an Evangelical. The evidence provided by Ehrman is so overwhelming that those saying they are still Evangelical after reading his books are living in a state of denial.