Archive for August, 2011

God is the Source of Morality. (Not.)

Posted in Uncategorized on August 9, 2011 by Derreck Bennett

 

Atheists and agnostics do not require belief in a higher moral authority figure, because we realize that there are real world consequences for our actions. Contrary to the arguments posed by many believers, the Bible is not the original source of morality. The moral codes of conduct by which most of us adhere represent “universals” among mankind that, over the course of time, naturally came about for the sake of social order and harmony within developing civilizations. By the time Moses is said to have revealed the Ten Commandments at Mt. Sinai, the ancient Egyptians had already condemned theft, murder, adultery, lying, etc. A divine or otherworldly source simply wasn’t necessary. Even Thomas Aquinas readily admitted as much. Religion has no trademark on these values.

Thomas Jefferson understood this all too well, as reflected by his 1824 letter to John Cartwright:

The proof … is incontrovertible, to wit, that the common law existed while the Angle-Saxons were yet pagans, at a time when they had never heard the name Christ pronounced, or knew that such a character existed.

And don’t bother playing the “mankind had morality written on his heart” card. This is the same excuse that Paul had to conjure up in Romans 2:14-15 when he observed moral behavior among the Gentiles. The problem with this excuse is that it clashes violently with what the Old Testament has to say on the matter, particularly Jeremiah 31:33-34:

This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time,” declares the LORD. “I will put my law in their minds and WRITE IT ON THEIR HEARTS. I will be their God, and they will be my people. No longer will a man teach his neighbor, or a man his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest,” declares the LORD. “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.

The Book of Jeremiah was written, at the earliest, during the 6th century BC, and it is referring to heart-inscribed morality/law by God as a future event, something that has yet to take place. However, the Papyrus of Ani, from which ancient Egyptian morality can be gleaned, had already been composed by the 13th century BC. According to Jeremiah in the 6th century BC, God hadn’t written such things on the hearts of men, yet. Ergo, the “morality was written on their hearts” excuse doesn’t work. Not from any consistent, biblical standpoint, anyway.

Most of the atheists and agnostics that I know lack belief in a God precisely because of the fact that they are intelligent and thoughtful people. For that reason, many of them are some of the most pleasant, enjoyable, and considerate folks I’ve met. Our reaction to the gratuitous suffering that pervades this world has much to do with our lack of belief in God, and what does this indicate if not a certain compassion for those who suffer?

It is for this reason that we also reject the cruel and malevolent, genocidal god of the Old Testament, a character who resorts to extermination even of women and children in order to advance his passionately partisan agenda. Slaughtering the defenseless, those who could not possibly have posed any real threat, is tantamount to mass murder; therefore, it is also a flagrant contradiction of the Sixth Commandment.

This should also quiet any charges by theists who illegitimately equate us with the likes of Hitler, Mao, Stalin, Pol Pot, etc. Atheists and agnostics don’t take their moral cues from any of these historical tyrants, regardless of whatever worldview they might’ve held. But, Christians do indeed proclaim as their moral compass the divine authority of the Bible, a book which, like Hitler, flagrantly endorses genocide and infanticide:

Joshua 6:21 & 27
And they utterly destroyed all that was in the city, both man and woman, young and old, and ox, and sheep, and donkey, with the edge of the sword…So the LORD was with Joshua; and his fame was noised throughout all the country.

Joshua 10:39-41
They [Joshua and his troops] took the city, its king and its villages, and put them to the sword. Everyone in it they totally destroyed. They left no survivors. They did to Debir and its king as they had done to Libnah and its king and to Hebron. So Joshua subdued the whole region, including the hill country, the Negev, the western foothills and the mountain slopes, together with all their kings. He left no survivors. He totally destroyed all who breathed, just as the LORD, the God of Israel, had commanded. Joshua subdued them from Kadesh Barnea to Gaza and from the whole region of Goshen to Gibeon.

Deuteronomy 20:16-18
But of the cities of these people, which the LORD thy God doth give thee for an inheritance, thou shalt save alive nothing that breatheth: But thou shalt utterly destroy them; namely, the Hittites, and the Amorites, the Canaanites, and the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites; as the LORD thy God hath commanded thee.

1 Samuel 15:1-3
Samuel said to Saul, “I am the one the LORD sent to anoint you king over his people Israel; so listen now to the message from the LORD. This is what the LORD Almighty says: ‘I will punish the Amalekites for what they did to Israel when they waylaid them as they came up from Egypt. Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy everything that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys.”

Isaiah 13:15-18
Whoever is captured will be thrust through; all who are caught will fall by the sword. Their infants will be dashed to pieces before their eyes; their houses will be looted and their wives ravished. See, I will stir up against them the Medes, who do not care for silver and have no delight in gold. Their bows will strike down the young men; they will have no mercy on infants nor will they look with compassion on children.

Hosea 9:12-16
Though they bring up their children, yet will I bereave them, that there shall not be a man left: yea, woe also to them when I depart from them!…Give them, O LORD: what wilt thou give? give them a miscarrying womb and dry breasts…Ephraim is smitten, their root is dried up, they shall bear no fruit: yea, though they bring forth, yet will I slay even the beloved fruit of their womb.
(Holy Abortion, Batman!)

Go ahead. Complain that those passages are taken out of context. I’d challenge the believer or apologist to place them in their biblical context, and then we’ll see if they come out smelling like roses. I don’t know any context the world over that justifies this kind of depravity.

And let us not overlook the most critical distinction between secular and biblical morality. It is far nobler to live a virtuous life and perform good deeds for goodness’ sake alone, rather than to do so under the threat of eternal damnation or the promise of a blissful hereafter.

All told, the debate over morality is a dead end for evangelical Christianity. They should abort it outright, just as Yahweh is said to have done to the unborn children of Ephraim.

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My Da Vinci Code

Posted in Uncategorized on August 2, 2011 by Derreck Bennett

 

If I had written The Da Vinci Code, the controversial scene at Leigh Teabing’s mansion would have gone as follows. Of course, it’s easy for me to say this, given that I’ve had the luxury of researching everything in retrospect. But, we can thank Dan Brown, despite his errors, for sparking inspiration and providing a literary template. Without further adieu:

TEABING:
The Bible did not arrive via facsimile from Heaven. It’s not even a cohesive work, let alone a divinely inspired tome. The New Testament, for instance, represents an entire departure from the Old.

LANGDON:
The whole thing practically springs from Paul’s Hellenistic vision.

SOPHIE:
Hellenistic?

LANGDON:
Ah, yes. The period in history that followed Alexander the Great’s historic conquests. Ancient Greece was known as Hella, or the land of the Hellenes. After Alexander, Greek influence was infused throughout half the known world. Even among the Jews.

SOPHIE:
And what does this have to do with Paul?

LANGDON:
Well, Paul was a Hellenized Jew. According to the Book of Acts, he hailed from outside of Palestine, in Tarsus of Asia Minor–a city that rivaled both Athens and Alexandria in Greek thought during Paul’s day. Moreover, he is history’s formal introduction to Christianity. His Epistles are the earliest documents in the New Testament, and virtually everything that follows accords with his theology.

TEABING:
Paul was indeed the preeminent apostle to the Gentiles. He took Jesus’ earthly message and shrouded it in a cloak of divinity.

LANGDON:
Some of that arguably predates Paul. There’s some question as to how much he innovated and how much he inherited.

SOPHIE:
So, what are you saying? That Jesus was not the Son of God?

TEABING:
Not even his nephew twice removed!

LANGDON:
Christianity among Jesus and his disciples would have been much more Jewish in orientation than what we see today. Jesus’ death on the cross had made him a martyr for the faith, and his earliest followers would have inevitably read some sacrificial meaning into the event.

TEABING:
Such was the tradition set forth by Isaiah 53 and the suffering servant–the Israelite captive to Babylon that so many Christians unwittingly mistake for a prophetic charade about Jesus.

LANGDON:
2 and 4 Maccabees feature martyrdom accounts as well. Christ’s admirers would have found consolation in those passages, reasoning that his death had been an expiation for the sins of Israel. Furthermore, they probably expected his imminent return with the coming Kingdom of God and the resurrection of the dead, at which point he would fulfill the duties of the Jewish Messiah. To them, it was just around the corner.

TEABING:
Ah, but time would tell another story. The Kingdom of God that Christ had so feverishly heralded did not come quite so soon as expected.

LANGDON:
And this delay opened the movement up to further interpretations and outside influences. Once it hit Hellenistic soil and arrived in the hands of someone like Paul, it was bound to take the form of a Gentile religion. As a Jewish man with a Greek background, Paul knew how to present Christianity in such a way that had vast appeal to Gentiles, as well as Hellenized Jews.

TEABING:
Jesus became the ubiquitous dying and rising god of the Hellenistic mystery religions.

LANGDON:
It would have been all too easy for Hellenists to make the association. As someone expected to return from the dead–perhaps already believed to have done so at this point–Jesus would have instantly struck a chord with anyone familiar with the dying and rising gods of the mystery cults.

SOPHIE:
Mystery cults? I’m not familiar with any of this.

LANGDON:
Salvation religions that were particularly popular around that time. Originally agricultural faiths, most of them centered upon a dying and rising god who symbolized the death and rebirth of croplife: Osiris, Dionysus, Attis, et cetera–all of whom had been imported from foreign lands into the Greek world via Hellenism. The overriding belief in these cults was that one could, through certain rituals, mystically reenact the experience of the god’s death and resurrection in order to bring about a spiritual death and rebirth in themselves.

TEABING:
And, as a result, realize the promise of a blissful life after death.

LANGDON GRABS A BIBLE FROM A NEARBY SHELF, PROCEEDING TO LOCATE A PRECISE CHAPTER AND VERSE.

LANGDON:
Notice the way that Paul speaks of baptism in Romans 6:3-5: “all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death … buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead … we too may live a new life;” and, having “been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection.”

TEABING:
The homologic principle, or imitatio dei. As above, so below. As within, so without. As is done by the god, so is manifest in the believer.

LANGDON LOCATES A PARALLEL EXPRESSION FROM AN ANCIENT NOVEL, METAMORPHOSES, WHICH HE SITS ATOP AN ANCIENT EGYPTIAN REFERENCE BOOK, ALREADY IN HIS LAP.

LANGDON:
Likewise, the initiate into the cult of Isis had “approached the frontiers of death” in unison with Osiris, and, by “a kind of voluntary death and salvation through divine grace,” they “returned … in a manner reborn … set once more upon the course of renewed life.”

SOPHIE:
I am familiar with that work, yes. But, there’s a hitch. Metamorphoses stems from the late 2nd century, after the birth of Christianity.

LANGDON:
True, but it depicts a religious expression which is undoubtedly far older. Its conceptual roots date to the 2nd millennium BC according to ancient Egyptian burial inscriptions, wherein the devotee is identified with the dead and risen Osiris: “As Osiris died, so has the believer died; and as Osiris rose, so shall the believer rise.” Already, hundreds of years in advance, we have an expression of parallel death and revival between devotee and deity.

TEABING:
Similarly, the Orphic worshipers of Dionysus left gold leaves behind in graves from the 4th century BC, which state, “Now you are dead, and now you are born on this very day, thrice blessed. Tell Persephone that Dionysus has redeemed you.”

LANGDON:
Like Osiris, Dionysus had been violently killed and regenerated, and his devotees likewise shared in his rebirth, just as Christians are reborn through the death and resurrection of Christ.

TEABING:
Really, you mustn’t get a symbologist started on pre-Christian icons. Perseus was fathered by a High God and a mortal woman, Danae, who’d previously been a virgin. Caesar Augustus was deemed “Savior” and “Son of God.” Asclepius healed the sick and raised the dead. Zalmoxis conquered death and extended immortality to his devotees. Romulus made a post-mortem appearance, upon which he delivered a Great Commission to Rome and subsequently ascended to heaven.

SOPHIE:
So, is anything in Christianity original?

LANGDON:
Plenty in Christianity is original. Just because a religion absorbs outside elements, that doesn’t make it a mere recapitulation. The Christian religion was, and still is, an extremely unique blend of Judaism with these Hellenistic and pre-Christian concepts. It produced something unprecedented in the ancient world, and it’s no wonder it rose to such success. It offered the whole Jewish panorama of sacred narratives along with mystery religion salvationism. It was entirely unique in that sense.

SOPHIE:
So, do you think Jesus ever parted Mary Magdalene’s “Red Sea”?

LANGDON:
There’s no good, historical evidence for that. But, I sure hope so. Everybody’s gotta knock one off from time to time. Which reminds me, Sophie…

AND SCENE.

Disenchantment

Posted in Uncategorized on August 2, 2011 by Derreck Bennett

 

“I believe that someday you will come to Christ.”

 

Have you ever had a Christian friend or family member tell you this? “God” knows I have. And this is precisely how I’d respond:

Have you ever had a magician show you how he does one of his tricks? It has quite a profound effect. From that point forward, you can never see that trick the same again. It loses its awe and wonder. You become disenchanted.

For me, it is the same with religious belief. I’ve been there. I once experienced the same, childlike awe and wonder and credulity that you do. But, anymore, I know your feeble religion better than you do. I know its history and development. I know how it came to be–how and why it is entirely a product of man. I am disenchanted. Completely incredulous. The jig is up, my friend.

What you’re insisting is patently false. I will never “come to Christ.” And the sooner you understand that, the sooner you will possibly come to accept me for who and what I am–not what you want me to be.