The mind-rape called fundy evangelical belief, leads the follower down a ritualistic path of self-harm. It begins with admitting that you are a hopeless sinner and unworthy. That is an important first step necessary to start the foundation for the royal heart-rape of Salvation. It is based, or was in my experience, on feeling the truth in things. As a child I was made to understand that I was unworthy by being human, born in sin. That became my world as it was given to me in love from my parents, in a fashion similar to their own childhoods. I knew I was evil because I knew I was evil, as it were. It was my beginning. I thought bad words in my head for no reason whatsoever than that I was clearly evil. How else could the word ‘shit’ or the evil ‘fuck’ appear to me? The path was laid out long before my time, churches were built on every corner and nobody much questioned this reality. I have thought and expressed every word Allison says above here and I have believed that I was right. Trouble is, the human body, the mortal life of a person does not just go-along like a follower. It protests with feelings and ideas, with dreams and daily LIFE! The cycle of belief always left me needing to be ‘saved’ again by Jesus, forgiven or whatever, and the cycle persisted no matter what sort of maturity I had in my faith. You know, I still remember just weeping like a helpless lump when I realized I actually had a choice in the matter. I had heard and ingested all the preaching about free choosing and so forth but I did not get it because, well, I never did have a choice, did I…. not from the get-go. It took me over a quarter of a century to realize I could choose…. Both Allison and me as young people should have been wearing warning labels so that others would know how truly we believed! When I actually realized I had a choice to say, No, it floored me. I had to practice it secretly, whisper it, keep No in a closet. But I knew I could not let No go because, you know what, I could really breathe when it came to me. I could feel my chest fill fully and the air was mine to use. I sensed freedom in my body long before my heart and mind could even see it from the church basement they lived in… I did not even dare think that one day my heart and mind would come home with me, so to speak. They never did for much of my family. We still produce many preacher teachers and missionaries for the cause…. they pray for me and I am sure would not mind at all if I agreed to wear a warning label myself: Fallen, ungrateful backslider! Beware!
I just now – fifteen minutes ago – came to realize with the most crystal clarity I have ever had why I cannot call myself a Christian. Of course, as most of you know, I have not called myself a Christian publicly for a very long time, twenty years or so I suppose. But a number of people tell me that they think at heart I’m a Christian, and I sometimes think of myself as a Christian agnostic/atheist. Their thinking, and mine, has been that if I do my best to follow the teachings of Jesus, in some respect I’m a Christian, even if I don’t believe that Jesus was the son of God, or that he was raised from the dead, or that… or even that God exists. In fact I don’t believe all these things. But can’t I be a Christian in a different sense, one who follows Jesus’ teachings?
Fifteen minutes ago I realized with startling clarity why I don’t think so.
This afternoon in my undergraduate course on the New Testament I was lecturing on the mission and message of Jesus.
In today’s lecture I wanted to introduce, explain, and argue for the view that has been dominant among critical scholars studying Jesus for the past century, that Jesus is best understood as a Jewish apocalypticist. I warned the students that this is not a view they will have encountered in church or in Sunday school. But there are solid reasons for thinking it is right. I tried to explain at some length what those reasons were.
But first I gave an extended account of what Jewish apocalypticists believed. The entire cosmos was divided into forces of good and evil, and everything and everyone sided with one or the other. This cosmic dualism worked itself out in a historical dualism, between the current age of this world, controlled by forces of evil, and the coming age, controlled by the forces of good. This age would not advance to be a better world, on the contrary, apocalypticists thought this world was going to get worse and worse, until literally, at the end, all hell breaks out.
But then God would intervene in an act of cosmic judgment in which he destroyed the forces of evil and set up a good kingdom here on earth, an actual physical kingdom ruled by his representative. This cataclysmic judgment would affect all people. Those who had sided with evil (and prospered as a result) would be destroyed, and those who had sided with God (and been persecuted and harmed as a result) would be rewarded.
Moreover, this future judgment applied not only to the living but also to the dead. At the end of this age God would raise everyone from the dead to face either eternal reward or eternal punishment. And so, no one should think they could side with the forces of evil, prosper as a result, become rich, powerful, and influential, and then die and get away with it. No one could get away with it. God would raise everyone from the dead for judgment, and there was not a sweet thing anyone could do to stop him.
And when would this happen? When would the judgment come? When would this new rule, the Kingdom of God, begin? “Truly I tell you, some of you standing here will not taste before you see the kingdom of God come in power.” The words of Jesus (Mark 9:1). Jesus was not talking about a kingdom you would enter when you died and went to heaven: he was referring to a kingdom here on earth, to be ruled by God . Or as he says later, when asked when the end of the age would come, “Truly I tell you, This generation will not pass away before all these things take place.”
When I finished laying it all out in my lecture, stressing that Jesus thought this all was going to happen within his own generation, I had about two minutes left, and I had a final point to make (on my PowerPoint outline): “Jesus Now and Then.” Today the idea that Jesus expected the imminent end of the age to be brought in a cataclysmic act of judgment leading to a world of peace and universal happiness is no longer preached or taught in churches (well, the vast majority of churches). But it does appear to be who Jesus really was.
I told my students they had to decide for themselves if they agreed with this scholarly view or not, after looking at all the evidence. But I stressed that they should not reject the view (historically) simply because they thought it was wrong religiously (since Jesus then would have been wrong about when the end would come). I then explained why, and it was when I gave this explanation – impromptu, off the top of my head – that I realized why it was that I was not and could not be a follower of Jesus’ teachings.
I told my students that the apocalyptic Jesus realized that ultimate reality and true meaning do not reside in this world. Following Jesus means to realize that ultimate reality resides outside this world, in a higher world, above this mundane existence that we live in the here and now. I stated this as emphatically as I could. Students surely thought I was preaching, that I was affirming this message. I made the statement as rhetorically effective as I could.
And I’m not sure I’ve ever said it this way before in my 32 years of teaching. When I said it I had two immediate mental reactions to what I had just said: (a) I realized that I really do think this is Jesus’ ultimate (apocalyptic point) and, even more graphically, (b) I don’t agree with that view at all.
My personal view is just the opposite. My view is that there *is* no realm above or outside of this one that provides meaning to life in our world. In my view this world is all there is. Yes, I know there are aspects of physical reality that are extremely odd and completely inaccessible to me. But I don’t think there is anything outside our material existence. Meaning comes from what we can value, cherish, prize, aspire to, hopeful, achieve, attain, and … love in this world. There is no transcendent truth that can make sense of our reality. Our reality is the only reality. It can either be (very) good for us or (very) bad for us. But however we experience it, it’s all there is.
That’s what I really think. I never push this view on anyone else. It’s simply my view. And I think it is diametrically (not just tangentially) different from the view of Jesus. It is completely at odds with his view. That’s why I don’t think I do subscribe to his teachings, his views, or his message (in some metaphorical way).
For lots of personal reasons I do find that sad, but I’m afraid it appears to be the case.
Now, let’s jump from my impressionable years to just a few years ago. I was touring the country in a show about the Scopes Monkey Trial. Ed Asner was playing William Jennings Bryan and I played Clarence Darrow.
This was not Inherent the Wind. This was the actual 1925 trial transcript arguing the teaching of evolution in the public schools—an argument, I’m sorry to say, that’s still raging today for all the wrong reasons.
We were on the college circuit, but performances were open to the general public. During our month of touring, we were picketed, yelled at, and booed—most of the time before the show even started. At one of the universities, I was finishing up a Q&A for a group of 100 or so students when the teacher said he’d seen the play the night before and highly recommended it.
Then, with a wink in my direction, he turned and asked the class, “With a show of hands, how many of you believe the earth was created on October 22, 4004 BC?” Seventy-five students raised their hands. I was stunned. Speechless. My head dropped as I silently bore witness to the death of knowledge, the death of curiosity—wiped out in an instant by some religious nonsense—yet these college students believed it. And they were secure in their belief, you could even say smug considering the enthusiasm with which their hands shot up into the air, affirming: “I believe.”
In the green room that evening I told the cast about my experience. There was a young theater “groupie” hanging around, and I asked her if she would have raised her hand like the others.
“Oh yes,” she said.
“Why? In light of everything we know today, why?”
“Because I believe God is my bus driver.”
“I’m sorry,” I said, “I don’t know what that means.”
“That I can sit at the back of the bus and party-hearty because God is driving my bus. And if the Bible says 4004 BC, who am I to disagree?”
“4004 BC is not even in the Bible,” I said.
“Well… I don’t know. That’s what I believe.”
“But that doesn’t make sense, you idiot. Next, you’re going to tell me that you believe vaccines give you autism; or that Obama is a Muslim; or that not having healthcare makes you free; or that AIDS is a punishment for being gay; or that Sandy Hook was staged.”
Of course, I didn’t say any of this. I just looked on in despair and half-heartedly asked her if God required exact change to get on the bus. She didn’t get the joke.
“God is my bus driver” precludes any and all critical thinking. It exposes this young woman to a lifetime of nonsense both benign and dangerous. It typifies the mindset of a segment of our population who can’t tell the difference between truth and fiction because they’ve wasted their formative years focusing on whether Adam wore flip-flops or walked barefoot in the garden—with his dinosaur.
The willingness of these twenty-first-century college students to believe the calculations of a seventeenth-century prelate, in spite of indisputable evidence to the contrary, is astounding. And because they’ve gone down this path, these young people are entering a world woefully unprepared for the challenges they’ll encounter. They will look at a hillside and see, perhaps nothing—certainly not iron ore. In their youth, they’ve not been encouraged to understand the world they live in, but rather have been directed to explore an imaginary world. They will enter adulthood with neither the disposition nor the skill to untangle complex, earthly problems. Healthcare, global warming—too complicated. Same-sex marriage, bathrooms—perfect.
When someone we love dies, it can intensely undermine our sense of stability and safety. Our lives have been changed forever, generally by forces we had no control over—and it can feel as if nothing’s in our control. It can feel like the ground under our feet, which we once thought was stable, has suddenly gone soft. Our sense of being able to act in the world, and of having some reasonable expectation of what the consequences will be, can be deeply shaken.
This feeling can be especially strong if the person who died was someone we were exceptionally close with and who had a large presence in our everyday lives, like a spouse or a partner or a child. It can be especially strong if they were someone we knew for all or most of our lives, like a parent or a sibling. And it can be especially strong if the death was unexpected, like an accident, a sudden illness, or death by violence.
Typically, religion teaches us to cope with these feelings by denying them. It tells us that, no matter how insecure we may feel, in reality we’re completely safe. The people who have died aren’t really dead—we’ll see them again. Their death hasn’t actually changed our lives permanently. In fact, the next time we see them it’ll be in a blissful place of perfect safety. (There are exceptions—many Buddhist teachings, for instance, focus on the inherent impermanence of existence.)
The opposite is true for nonreligious and nonspiritual views of death. Nonbelievers don’t deny this experience of instability. So instead we can try to accept it, and find ways to live with it.
The reality is that safety isn’t an either/or thing. We’re never either entirely safe or entirely unsafe. The ground under our feet is never either totally solid or totally soft. Stability and safety are relative: they’re on a spectrum. We’re more safe, or less safe.
Coping with grief and moving on with it doesn’t mean that the ground feels entirely solid again. It means that the ground feels more solid. It means we feel more able to make plans, more trusting that our actions will have consequences that are more or less what we’d expect. We still understand that things can come out of left field—terrible things, and wonderful ones. We can go ahead and make plans; and make contingency plans in case those plans don’t work out; and do risk-benefit analysis about possible actions and possible outcomes; and accept the fact that a sudden wind could rise up and radically change everything.
There’s no such thing as perfect safety. That can be difficult to accept. But it can also be a relief. Imagine an existence where there are no surprises, where everything happens exactly as you expect. It would be tedious to the point of derangement. It would be sterile. It would be isolating.
When we let go of the search for perfect safety, it can be frightening and upsetting. But it can also be comforting. Letting go of the struggle for something that can’t be attained, and letting go of the guilt or resentment when we don’t attain it, can be a relief. It can even be liberating.
The fear that grief can bring on, the anxiety about an unstable, unpredictable world, is still frightening. And none of this philosophy makes that pain or fear go away. But it may make that fear more manageable, less overwhelming, and easier to accept.
Sex outside of marriage, however, was regarded very differently. The Puritans followed the teachings of the Old Testament in believing that adultery was a sin of the deepest dye. They defined an adulterous act in the conventional way as extramarital sex involving a married woman (not necessarily a married man), but punished both partners with high severity. Their criminal codes made adultery a capital crime, and at least three people were actually hanged for it in the Puritan colonies.
When cases of adultery occurred, it was not uncommon for entire communities to band together and punish the transgressors. In the town of Ipswich, Massachusetts, for example, a married woman named Sarah Roe had an affair with a neighbor named Joseph Leigh while her mariner-husband was away at sea. Several townsmen warned them to stop.When they persisted, no fewer than thirty-five Ipswich neighbors went to court against them and gave testimony that communicated a deep sense of moral outrage. In this case, adultery could not be proved according to New England’s stringent rules for capital crime, which required two eye-witnesses to the actual offense. But the erring couple were found guilty of “unlawful familiarity” and severely punished. Joseph Leigh was ordered to be heavily whipped and fined five pounds, and Sarah Roe was sent to the House of Correction for a month, with orders that she was to appear in Ipswich meetinghouse on lecture day bearing a sign, “For My baudish Carriage,” written in “fair capital letters.” In this case as in so many others, the moral code of Puritan Massachusetts was not imposed by a small elite upon an unwilling people; it rose from customs and beliefs that were broadly shared throughout the Puritan colonies.
In cases of fornication the rules were also very strict. For an act of coitus with an unwed woman, the criminal laws of Puritan Massachusetts decreed that a man could be jailed, whipped, fined, disfranchised and forced to marry his partner. Even in betrothed couples, sexual intercourse before marriage was regarded as a pollution which had to be purged before they could take its place in society and — most important — before their children could be baptized. In both courts and churches, the Puritans created an elaborate public ritual by which fornicators were cleansed of their sin, so that they could be speedily admitted to full moral fellowship.
Puritan attitudes were almost maniacally hostile to what they regarded as unnatural sex. More than other religious groups, they had a genuine horror of sexual perversion. Masturbation was made a capital crime in the colony of New Haven. Bestiality was punished by death, and that sentence was sometimes executed in circumstances so bizarre as to tell us much about the sex ways of New England. One such case in New Haven involved a one-eyed servant named George Spencer, who had often been on the wrong side of the law, and was suspected of many depravities by his neighbors. When a sow gave birth to a deformed pig which also had one eye, the unfortunate man was accused of bestiality. Under great pressure, he confessed, recanted, confessed again, and recanted once more. The laws of New England made conviction difficult: bestiality was a capital crime and required two witnesses for conviction. But so relentless were the magistrates that the deformed piglet was admitted as one witness, and the recanted confession was accepted as another. George Spencer was hanged for bestiality.
This hostility to unnatural sex had a demographic consequence of high importance. Puritan moralists condemned as unnatural any attempt to prevent conception within marriage. This was not a common attitude in world history. Most primitive cultures have practiced some form of contraception, often with high success. Iroquois squaws made diaphragms of birchbark; African slaves used pessaries of elephant dung to prevent pregnancy. European women employed beeswax disks, cabbage leaves, spermicides of lead, whitewash and tar. During the seventeenth and early eighteenth century, coitus interruptus and the use of sheepgut condoms became widespread in Europe.
But the Puritans would have none of these unnatural practices.They found a clear rule in Genesis 38, where Onan “spilled his seed upon the ground” in an effort to prevent conception and the Lord slew him. In Massachusetts, seed-spilling in general was known as the “hideous sin of Onanism.” A Puritan could not practice coitus interruptus and keep his faith. Every demographic test of contraception within marriage yields negative results in Puritan Massachusetts. The burden of this taboo rested heavily upon families throughout New England. Samuel Sewall, at the age of 49, recorded the birth of his fourteenth child, and added a prayer, “It may be my dear wife may now leave off bearing.” So she did, but only by reaching the age of menopause.
Arguing that an invisible god works inexplicable magic producing undetectable effects is the theological equivalent of a desperate child saying that the Tooth Fairy ate her homework. No parent or teacher or scientist can prove she didn’t. That said, it’s important to remember that humanity’s interest in prayer stems from a desire to get what we need and want. Actions of supernatural beings that have no discernable impact on actual lives are, from a human standpoint, simply irrelevant. Prayer persists because people believe that prayer affects this physical world and their own lives.
In the mind of atheist neuroscientist Sam Harris, prayer apologists had cut themselves too much slack long before they began arguing that prayer is uniquely exempt from the scientific method. He says that even before the double blind randomized trials we had a mountain of evidence that prayer requests don’t work, and Christians have tacitly adapted to what they know but won’t admit: “Get a billion Christians to pray for a single amputee. Get them to pray that God regrow that missing limb. This happens to salamanders every day, presumably without prayer; this is within the capacity of God. I find it interesting that people of faith only tend to pray for conditions that are self-limiting.”
A God Should Do Better; So Should We
God the Almighty shouldn’t operate at the margins of statistical significance. He shouldn’t be most evident when the evidence itself is of the poorest quality, fading into invisibility as the light of scientific rigor becomes brighter. He shouldn’t need defenders who are willing to tie their reputations to expensive research that they then dismiss as irrelevant when results are disappointing. God shouldn’t need defenders who engage in rabbit hole reasoning, who insist that he moves in our world and in our lives, but only as long as we aren’t looking; or who insist that despite all evidence to the contrary bad is actually good because it must be good, because by definition God is good and he’s in charge.
Since the year 2000, the U.S. government has spent over $2 million on prayer studies without producing any result that is remotely congruent with the bold claims made by the authors of the New Testament. And yet those bold claims are a reasonable set of assertions to make about an all-powerful and all-loving, interventionist deity.
Our ancestors put forward their best set of hypotheses about how the world works, who is in charge, and how we can get what we need. They did so without the benefits of enlightenment philosophy or the methods and discoveries of science, without the global flow of information and the freedom to debate ideas. They had no way of knowing that their hypotheses would fail when examined in the light of modern knowledge and analytic capacity. But at least they knew not to simply accept and repeat whatever their ancestors had said 2,000 years earlier. Maybe we could try living up to that bar.
Perhaps I should have been prepared for the fact that answers to my many-religions questions were not forthcoming in the Bible. It was, to say the least, disheartening. Instead, I turned to the theology of the faith itself, particularly the book of Hebrews. Hebrews explains how the death of Christ is wed to the Old Testament covenants that involved ritual animal sacrifice. The Jewish people sacrificed animals to appease the wrath of God brought upon them by their sins; Christ was a perfect sacrifice that allowed the old covenant to be discarded and a new one, based on faith, was forged.
Except, none of this made any sense to me at all. Why did God want ritual animal sacrifice in the first place? What does that have to do with forgiveness? Perhaps, I thought, God wanted people to make a sacrifice — farm animals, in those days, were precious resources. But that explanation evaporates with Christ, since he took the sacrifice upon himself. What was so special about the “blood of Christ”? What did that have to do with God’s willingness to forgive people? And why did God spend centuries on ineffectual covenants in the first place? How does an omnipotent deity “sacrifice” anything at all — Jesus could have, conceivably, poofed himself right back into existence or simply refused to die in the first place. Generally when we mortals talk about “sacrifice”, it means something quite different. We don’t get to come back a few days later and float into the clouds.
Worse, Christianity holds that Christ is God. How can God sacrifice himself to himself to fulfill his own covenant? A covenant whose terms were, as far as I could tell, completely arbitrary! Adding insult to injury is the fact that modern Christianity (generally) holds that humans are “fallen”, and born into sin. Even those few who reject Original Sin still accept the Biblical decree that “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God”. In other words, the system is rigged. You’re a sinner, and there’s nothing you can do to change that. But God can save you, as long as you assent to the belief that he created a convoluted system of arbitrary covenants and “sacrificed” himself to himself to appease himself of the terms he created so he could forgive you for being what you had no choice to be — a flawed human being. I should point out that it’s utterly irrelevant whether someone believes it’s all literal, as in the “penal substitution theory of atonement”, or they believe it’s either all or in part metaphorical. Either way, it doesn’t make an iota of sense.
Confused and frustrated, I sought out some church leaders to discuss these matters. One chaplain, in particular, was particularly patient with me as I probed for answers about the blood of Christ, ritual sacrifice, and atonement. But he couldn’t offer anything more than trite platitudes about having faith, that there are some thing we just don’t understand. Maybe that was good enough for him, but I couldn’t assent to beliefs that were, on their face, ridiculous. Frankly, I didn’t think it was too much to ask that a logically coherent explanation of basic Christian theology was forthcoming. These aren’t tertiary issues of theology, after all — they’re the fundamentals of what Christianity is in the first place.
There is, perhaps, no more striking example of the credulity of man than the widespread belief in immortality. This idea includes not only the belief that death is not the end of what we call life, but that personal identity involving memory persists beyond the grave. So determined is the ordinary individual to hold fast to this belief that, as a rule, he refuses to read or to think upon the subject lest it cast doubt upon his cherished dream. Of those who may chance to look at this contribution, many will do so with the determination not to be convinced, and will refuse even to consider the manifold reasons that might weaken their faith. I know that this is true, for I know the reluctance with which I long approach the subject in my firm determination not to give up my hope. Thus the myth will stand in the way of a sensible adjustment to facts.
Even many of those who claim to believe in immortality still tell themselves and others that neither side of the question is susceptible of proof. Just what can these hopeful ones believe that the word “proof” involves? The evidence against the persistence of personal consciousness is as strong as the evidence of gravitation, and much more obvious. It is as convincing and unassailable as the proof of the destruction of wood or coal by fire. If it is not certain that death ends personal identity and memory, then almost nothing that man accepts as true is susceptible of proof.
The beliefs of the race and as individuals are relics of the past. Without careful examination no one can begin to understand how many of man’s cherished opinions have no foundation in fact. The common experience of all men should teach them how easy it is to believe, what they wish to accept. Experienced psychologists know perfectly well that if they desire to convince a man of some idea, they must first make him want to believe it. There are so many hopes, so many strong yearnings and desires attached to the doctrine of immortality that it is practically impossible to create in any mind the wish to be mortal. Still, in spite of strong desires, millions of people are filled with doubts and fears that will not down. After all, is it not better to look to the question squarely in the face and find out whether we are harboring a delusion?
It is customary to speak of a “belief in immortality.” First, then let us see what is meant by the word “belief.” If I take a train in Chicago at noon, bound for New York, I believe I will reach that city the next morning. I believe it because I have been to New York, I have read about the city, I have known many other people who have been there, and their stories are not inconsistent with any known facts in my own experience. I have even examined the timetables and I know just how I will go and how long the trip will take. In other words when I board the train for New York, I believe I will reach that city because I have reason to believe it.
If, instead, I want to see Timbuktu or some other point on the globe where I have never been, or of which I had only heard, I still know something about geography, and if I did not I could find out about the place I wish to visit. Through the encyclopedia and other means of information, I could get a fair idea of the location and character of the country or city, the kind of people who live there and almost anything I wish to know, including the means of transportation and the time it would take to go and return. I already am satisfied that the earth is round, I know about it size. I know the extent of its land and water. I know the names of its countries; I know perfectly well that there are many places on its surface that I have never seen. I can easily satisfy myself as to whether there is any such place and how to get there, and what I shall do when I arrive.
But if I am told that next week I shall start on a trip to Goofville; that I shall not take my body with me; that I shall stay for all eternity: can I find a single fact connected with my journey — the way I shall go, the time of the journey, the country I shall reach, its location in space, the way I shall live there — or anything that would lead to irrational belief that I shall really make the trip? Have I ever known anyone who has made the journey and returned? If I am really to believe, I must try to get some information about all these important facts.
But people hesitate to ask questions about life after death. They do not for they know that only silence comes out of the eternal darkness of endless space. If people really believed in a beautiful, happy, glorious land waiting to receive them when they died; if they believed that their friends would be waiting to meet them; if they believed that all pain-and-suffering would be left behind: why should they live through weeks, months, and even years of pain and torture while I cancer eats its way through vital parts of the body? Why should one fight off death? Because he does not believe in any real sense; he only hopes. Everyone knows that there is no real evidence of any such state of bliss; so we are told not to search for proof. We are to accept through faith alone. But every thinking person knows that faith can only come through belief. Belief implies a condition of mind that accepts a certain idea. This condition can be brought about only by evidence. True, the evidence may be simply the unsupported statement of your grandmother, it may be wholly insufficient for reasoning men; but, good or bad, it must be enough for the believer or he could not believe.
Upon what evidence, then, are we asked to believe in immortality? There is no evidence. One is told to rely on faith, and no doubt this serves the purpose so long as one can believe blindly whatever he is told. But if there is no evidence upon which to build a positive belief in immortality, let us examine the other side of the question. Perhaps evidence can be found to support a positive conviction that immortality is a delusion.
All men recognize the hopelessness of finding any evidence that the individual will persist beyond the grave. As a last resort, we are told that it is better that the doctrine be believed even if it is not true. We are assured that without this faith, life is only desolation and despair. However that may be, it remains that many of the conclusions of logic are not pleasant to contemplate; so long as men think and feel, at least some of them will use their faculties as best they can. For if we are to believe things that are not true, who is to write our creed? Is it safe to leave it to any man or organization to pick out the errors that we must accept? The whole history of the world has answered this question in a way that cannot be mistaken.
And after all, is the belief in immortality necessary or even desirable for man? Millions of men and women have no such faith; they go on with their daily tasks and feel joy and sorrow without the lure of immortal life. The things that really affect the happiness of the individual are the matters of daily living. They are the companionship of friends, the games and contemplations. They are misunderstandings and cruel judgments, false friends and debts, poverty and disease. They are our joys in our living companions and our sorrows over those who die. Whatever our faith, we mainly live in the present — in the here and now. Those who hold the view that man is mortal are never troubled by metaphysical problems. At the end of the day’s labor we are glad to lose our consciousness and sleep; and intellectually, at least, we look forward to the long rest from the stresses and storms that are always incidental to existence.
When we fully understand the brevity of life, it’s fleeting joys and unavoidable pains; when we accept the facts that all men and women are approaching an inevitable doom: the consciousness of it should make us more kindly and considerate of each other. This feeling should make men and women use their best efforts to help their fellow travelers on the road, to make the path brighter and easier as we journey on. It should bring us a closer kinship, a better understanding, and a deeper sympathy for the wayfarers who must live a common life and die a common death.
Clarence Darrow, Why I Am an Agnostic and Other Essays, The Myth of the Soul
You can purchase Why I Am an Agnostic and Other Essays here.
Thirty-six different offenses in the Bible qualified for capital punishment. How many of these apply to you?
Cursing Parents For every one that curseth his father or his mother shall be surely put to death: he hath cursed his father or his mother; his blood shall be upon him. Leviticus 20:9 Working on the Sabbath Whosoever doeth any work in the Sabbath day, he shall surely be put to death. Exodus 31:15
Premarital Sex (girls only) . . .If, however, this charge is true, that evidence of the young woman’s virginity was not found, then they shall bring the young woman out to the entrance of her father’s house and the men of her town shall stone her to death, Deuteronomy 22:20
Disobedience (boys only) If someone has a stubborn and rebellious son who will not obey his father and mother, who does not heed them when they discipline him, then his father and his mother shall take hold of him and bring him out to the elders of his town at the gate of that place. They shall say to the elders of his town, “This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious. He will not obey us. He is a glutton and a drunkard.” Then all the men of the town shall stone him to death. Deuteronomy 21:18
Worshiping any god but Yahweh If there be found among you, within any of thy gates which the LORD thy God giveth thee, man or woman, that . . . hath gone and served other gods, and worshiped them, either the sun, or moon, or any of the host of heaven, which I have not commanded; . . .Then shalt thou bring forth that man or that woman, which have committed that wicked thing, unto thy gates, even that man or that woman, and shalt stone them with stones, till they die. Deuteronomy 17:2-5
Witches Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live. Exodus 22: 18
Wizards (epileptics? migraine sufferers? schizophrenics?) A man also or woman that hath a familiar spirit, or that is a wizard, shall surely be put to death: they shall stone them with stones: their blood shall be upon them. Leviticus 20:27 Loose Daughters of Clergy And the daughter of any priest, if she profane herself by playing the whore, she profaneth her father: she shall be burnt with fire. Leviticus 21:9
Girls who are Raped within the City Limits If there is a girl who is a virgin engaged to a man, and another man finds her in the city and lies with her, then you shall bring them both out to the gate of that city and you shall stone them to death; the girl, because she did not cry out in the city . . . But if in the field the man finds the girl who is engaged, and the man forces her and lies with her, then only the man who lies with her shall die. Deuteronomy 22:23-25
Blasphemers And he that blasphemeth the name of the LORD, he shall surely be put to death, and all the congregation shall certainly stone him: as well the stranger, as he that is born in the land, when he blasphemeth the name of the Lord, shall be put to death. Leviticus 24:16
Anyone Who Tries to Deconvert Yahweh Worshipers If anyone secretly entices you–even if it is your brother, your father’s son or your mother’s son, or your own son or daughter, or the wife you embrace, or your most intimate friend–saying, “Let us go worship other gods,” . . . you shall surely kill them; your own hand shall be first against them to execute them. Deuteronomy 12:6
Men who Lie With Men If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them. Leviticus 20:13 Adulterers And the man that committeth adultery with another man’s wife, even he that committeth adultery with his neighbour’s wife, the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death. And the man that lieth with his father’s wife hath uncovered his father’s nakedness: both of them shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them. And if a man lie with his daughter in law, both of them shall surely be put to death: they have wrought confusion; their blood shall be upon them. Leviticus 20: 10-12
Men who Lie with Beasts and Beasts who Lie with Men And if a man lie with a beast, he shall surely be put to death: and ye shall slay the beast. Leviticus 20:15
…before Israelite religion denied the existence of other Gods than Yahweh, it went through a phase of granting their existence but condemning their worship (by Israelites, at least; if the Moabites wanted to worship Chemosh, that was their business). In technical terms, Israelite religion reached monotheism only after a period of “monolatry” — exclusive devotion to one god without denying the existence of others.
This much is accepted by most Biblical scholars, including some who are believing Jews or Christians. But things get more controversial when you suggest that there was a long time when even “monolatry” was too strong a word from mainstream Israelite doctrine — a time when not all non-Yahweh gods were considered evil or alien; a time when Yahweh was ensconced in an Israelite pantheon, working along side other gods.
Yet, if you read the scriptures closely, you’ll soon see hints of such a time. The Bible famously says that God “created man in his own image,” but those aren’t Yahweh’s words. When Yahweh is actually quoted, in the previous verse, he says, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.” (Genesis 1:26) Then when Adam eats the forbidden fruit, Yahweh says, “Behold, the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil.” When people start building the Tower of Babel, which will reach to the heavens, and Yahweh opts for preemptive intervention, he says, “Come, let us go down, and there confuse their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech.” (Genesis 11:7)
Us? Who is us? If you ask this question of some Jewish of Christian clergy, you may get such answers as “angels” or the “heavenly host, God’s army.” In other words, Yahweh may be accompanied by other supernatural beings, but none of them qualify as gods. The Bible says otherwise. It talks more than once about a “divine council” in which God takes a seat ; and the other seats don’t seem to be occupied by angels Psalm 82 says: “God has taken his place in the divine council; in the midst of the gods he holds judgment.” And God himself, addressing the other council members a few verses later, says, “You are gods.”
The many biblical references to the existence of multiple gods are in a sense amazing. For, though the Bible was composed over many centuries, the earliest parts of it passed through the hands of later editors who decided which books and verses to keep and which to discard — and who seem to have had a bias against polytheism. So those hints of Israelite polytheism that remain in the Bible are probably, as Mark S. Smith suggested in his book The Origins of Biblical Monotheism, “only tip of the iceberg.”
— The Evolution of God by Robert Wright, The Emergence of Abrahamic Monotheism, pages 104-106