Sunday, September 28, 2014


"I would ask whose historicity was questioned in antiquity, when both pagan historians and Christian Fathers accepted pagan saviour gods as historical personages? (Herodotus says Attis was the son of a king of Lydia and that Horus, son of Isis and Osiris, was a ruler of Egypt. Clement of Alexandria regarded pagan saviour gods as 'mere men' and Firmicus Maternus called Osiris and Typhon 'without doubt' kings of Egypt). Can one expect much in the way of critical scepticism when, even in modern times, Wilhelm Till long passed as a real person?"
G.A. Wells
The Jesus Legend (La Salle, IL: Open Court, 1996), p. 47.

Note: William Tell is at present the more familiar name of the legendary character referenced as Wilhelm Till

Yup, Everyone gets it wrong (including Amy)

Amy-Jill Levine's recent CNN Belief blog post,"4 teachings from Jesus that everybody gets wrong", was rather entertaining. It is usually somewhat amusing to read theists go another round of linguistic and logical gymnastics but this one was exceptional in that she manages to imply standards that would in effect erase the Bible (both Old and New Testament) entirely. Her arguments were as subjective, ignorant, deluded, and self serving as they were just plain stupid.

Setting aside for the moment that the whole piece is simply a review of her opinions on specific sets of scripture backed by nothing beyond her own personal preference, the four sections of the post essentially self-destruct almost immediately. In the first part, "The 'Parable of the Prodigal Son'", one of her first objections and supposed proofs that "everyone gets wrong" is incredibly foolish and quite telling. Levine writes, "It is not, however, what first-century Jews would have heard. Jesus’ Jewish audience already knew that their “Father in heaven” was loving, forgiving, and compassionate."

It sounds rather innocuous until you think about what it implies. She seems to be saying that only original/unique messages are worthy of being written down and becoming scripture. Seriously?! Not only does she not establish that all Jews would have been familiar with the messages current theists favor, which is possible, but she never seems to notice that there were numerous cults, sects, and religions around both before and during the first century. Not all of those would fall under the label of Judaism or Christianity. How can she possibly determine the origin of any given concept or teaching given that every faith we are aware of has been built on the faiths that came before them and on their contemporaries. Many of the teachings did overlap and were by no means unique to any one faith.

The scriptures themselves are fairly repetitive on a number of points. If you follow this premise to its logical conclusion the Bible should not exist. Each "Testament" is internally largely redundant. The New Testament is in some ways even worse since it rehashes a number of stories, lessons, and concepts from its predecessor before restating them over and over again. According to Levine's low standards, the New Testament should be viewed as "wrong."  That would be somewhat convenient since it negates the foundation of Christianity (she's Jewish) but it also basically destroys her arguments related to Jesus' teachings. She herself has to be "wrong" since her supposed insights are also not original. Even if you could still make the assumption Jesus existed without scripture, which you can't, his teachings are not unique. So why argue about others getting his messages wrong when there are no worthwhile messages or no messages at all to interpret?

Levine not only reinforces this flaw in her writing, she makes a number of similar ones. She clearly thinks she is helping people better understand the true nature of Jesus Christ. I believe she does actually mean well but that doesn't change the fact that it is just as clear that she really doesn't have a clue what she's talking about. She ends her piece by stating, "I am not a Christian, but I hear profound messages in these parables. If I as an outsider can be so moved by Jesus’ stories, surely people who worship him as Lord and Savior can appreciate them even more."

I have to wonder what her definition of "profound" is. I got the distinct impression that she wrote the piece for herself more than anyone else. She seems to need to convince herself of her own interpretations. Perhaps deep down she realizes that it really is completely subjective and devoid of any substance.

Sunday, September 21, 2014


“I never yet have seen the person who could withstand the doubt and unbelief that enter his mind when reading the Bible in a spirit of inquiry.”

Etta Semple
"A Pious Congressman Twice Answered"
Truth Seeker, Feb. 23,1895

"Is new atheism dead and is it even a term worth saving?"

The so called "new atheism" never had any merit to begin with. I have never understood why any atheist would view this term as anything more than yet another attempt to pigeon-hole and dismiss atheists. In most instances when it has been used by theists it has served as a smear and a way to maintain and spread a wide variety of myths and stereotypes about us. Dan Arel doesn't seem to get it. His use of the "Four Horsemen" is another example of this mindless crap. Just because the media and hostile critics insist that guys like Dawkins, Harris, Hitchens, and Dennett are the spokesmen of atheism doesn't mean the really are. There are plenty of other publicly vocal atheists who could be said to be leaders, again, not that that makes them our official spokespeople. How often does the media pay attention to individuals like Ophelia Benson, S.T. Joshi, A.C. Grayling, Greta Christina, Steve Novella, Anni Laurie Gaylor.....?

To be clear, the only thing "new" about the supposed new atheists was that they were able to get mainstream publishers. In the past, no mainstream publisher would touch works by or about (unless they were negative) atheists. Basically, it can't be said to be dead since it was a fabrication to begin with. The label is definitely not worth saving. The momentum that this media attention has helped to spur is worth keeping, however.

Decent intentions can still be arrogant and negative

I would emphasize "decent" since I can't completely tell what Nicole Fulgham's intentions are from the interview Jonathan Merritt conducted in "What Christian parents need to know about America’s schools" or from the video embedded in the piece. There are a few instances where it seems like her support for education is conditional on its ability to proselytize for Christianity.

Even if that is not the case I do have some concerns about Fulgham's approach. With or without implied, or worse overt, indoctrination she makes it clear that her message is geared toward Christians. This is disturbing. Does she think non-Christians don't care about their children or education in general? Her constant repetition of "Christian children" and "Christian parents" seems to be very arrogant, bigoted, and misguided. Everyone should be concerned about the well-being of children and of education. If this is the message she is trying to get a cross she is doing a shitty job. At times it does seem like she wants to exclude, even discourage, non-Christians from being involved.

Whether her intentions are good, at this point I'd give her the benefit of the doubt, the results are not likely to be so wonderful. I can't imagine that her manner of presenting issues and concerns won't automatically alienate most non-Christians. Sadly, I can easily see her doing more harm than good

Exceptioanlly weak Apologetics or Mental Diarrhea?

The overwhelming majority of apologists seem to share the same penchant for willful ignorance, self-delusion, and logical fallacies. Yet another example of this intellectual bankruptcy is clearly demonstrated by Brandon Jones in his recent piece at The Global Dispatch, "Evidence of Jesus Christ’s life, resurrection and how atheists are foolish." Jones lobs numerous definitive statements without the slightest reference or support. It is hard to summarize the massive doses of bigotry, bias, and plain stupidity contained in this rather short piece but I'll give it a shot.

"Jesus is on ancient Roman records to have been crucified in 28 AD.  Even Orthodox Jews, who still hate Him, acknowledge His existence and death, but have trouble with his birth and resurrection....The tomb of Jesus, which can still be seen today in the Garden Tomb area (not the Catholic traditional site), still has the metal spikes which were sheared off when the angel rolled the stone away....The tomb of Jesus, which can still be seen today in the Garden Tomb area (not the Catholic traditional site), still has the metal spikes which were sheared off when the angel rolled the stone away....Why was the body of Jesus never found…, at least by unbelievers?  How is it that God managed to have the Ark of the Covenant hidden for 600 years, right under the place where Yeshua was crucified, so that His blood would flow down the earthquake crack of the hill of rock, and drip 24 feet down upon the West end of the Ark?"

All of that came from the first page of his two page rant. The first thing I noticed was that unlike many other apologists he makes no attempt at citing anything. Usually, they try to make some bogus claim that this historian or that stated something about Christ in one of their works. In each instance it is either a completely fabricated "source" or the source actually refers to what Christians said about their beliefs, which the historian was simply conveying. The historian makes no value judgement on the beliefs themselves. It's pretty pathetic that this asshole is as lazy as he is deluded. There are no Roman records related to Jesus Christ. In point of fact, Roman records discredit most aspects of the Jesus narratives. The supposed court case against Christ, for example, never would have proceeded the way it is described in the Gospels. There are certainly no accounts of such a noticeable event as an earthquake of the magnitude and consequence that he recites.

Then, of course there are all the other ridiculous things he manages to cram into such a short space. The Jews knew/know Christs existence and hate him. Really?! Jones knows this, how? Even if another group of theists accepted something as true what makes that factual? There is a lot of blind bigotry that Jones conflates with historical fact. The Garden Tomb, as he implies, is one of a handful of sites theists have speculated is the site of Jesus resurrection. There is no archeological evidence for this assertion. There isn't even any remotely objective reason to favor his preferred site over the various other proposed one. Also as Jones implies, many Christians refute this as a legitimate holy site. A fact about the Garden Tomb that can be easily confirmed is that it is a highly profitable tourist trap. Just follow the link to it's official website to check it out.

And, what the fuck is with his reference to the Ark? The supposed Ark of the Covenant, if it were real, would have pre-dated Christ and has no direct connection to any aspect of the Jesus narratives. Referencing multiple mythical events and figure does not provided reinforcement to any of them being historical. Its almost as if he contracted some type of mental diarrhea that he was then compelled to put down in writing. And remember the excerpts above are from just a handful of paragraphs on the first page. It doesn't get any better. You really have to read it to fathom the level of stupidity it contains. There is far more to ridicule than just what little I've pointed out.

Sunday, September 14, 2014


"Properly read, the Bible is the most potent force for atheism ever conceived."
Isaac Asimov

An Apt Corollary

A recent CNN Belief blog post by Matthew Paul Turner, "5 ways America changed God", seems to pair quite nicely with Jonathan Merritt's "Have American's made God in their image." Had these been written as speculative pieces by non-belivers as a way to explore the variations of the "God" concept they might not have been so preposterous. But they weren't. I pointed out how foolish Merritt's piece was in my own post "Duh, of course" (August 31, 2014) and many of those points are equally true of Turner's. I would, however, go even further. Turner unintentionally brings up aspects of the God concept that are innate contradictions.

As a supreme being it seems a bit ludicrous that such fallible limit creature like human being could have even a slight affect on such an entity. To change God implies quite a lot of power on our part. But, wait, isn't the supreme being "all-powerful"? How can humans have any power if God has all the power. Yes, it is true Turner is largely talking about perceptions and interpretations but not entirely. There are implications that God might be changeable. Even internally this is inconsistent and contradictory. God is supposed to be eternal and perfect. How can you change from a state of perfection without becoming imperfect? It is a conundrum that cannot be resolved without dismantling God.

It also seems a bit myopic to, even superficially, focus on America. Doesn't every culture have some variation of the the God concept. Haven't those variations been subject to a variety of interpretations over time. The ideas Turner ascribes to America are not original or unique to America. His summary of American relgious history is as pointless as it is brief. It seems to be little more than a handful of examples wandering around in the hope of finding some cohesive theme to bind them all together.

How many assumptions can be squeezed into one title?

The title of a recent post by Jonathan Merritt seems to be attempting to answer the question, "how many assumptions can be squeezed into one title?" rather than the one posed in his September 11th "Have evangelicals diluted Jesus’ radical message?"

By the title you would have assume: 1. Jesus existed, 2. there is a single interpretation of who the Jesus figure was, 3. that it is possible to know which interpretation of the Jesus figure is accurate/correct, 4. that those who identify as "evangelicals" among Christians are incorrect or inaccurate in their views of Jesus, 5. that there is a clear "message" attached to the Jesus figure, 6. that message is uniquely Jesus, and 7. that message is "radical."

It is possible I may have missed a few assumptions. Even so, that's a lot crammed in one short question. And, yes, they are entirely assumptions. There is no sound evidence to support a single one of the assumptions enumerated. In point of fact, a few of them are refuted by Christians themselves. The overwhelming majority of religious scholars who happen to also be Christians concede that there were any number of itinerant preachers and reformers roaming around the middle east before, during, and after Christ's supposed life-time. Many of them conveyed very similar ideas and practices. John the Baptist, an equally historically suspicious character, is said by many Christians to be a precursor to Christ. According to scripture there were even groups of theists who mistook John for the Messiah.

Then, of course, there's a problem with characterizing Christ's message. I have heard many Christians reference Mark 12:17, "And Jesus answering said unto them, Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's. And they marvelled at him.", for a variety of purposes. This is just one of many that I would personally interpret as a very conformist stance. Last I checked conforming to conventional norms is the exact opposite of being a radical. But, once again, this is just one possible interpretation. There can be no definitive views on Christ or Christ's message since the only available information is highly dubious and completely subjective.

Basically, if you adhere to standards of historical research the answer to Merritt's question is no since Jesus did not actually exist and therefore did not have a "message" at all. If you take a theological approach, no discernible standards at all, there can be no answer.

"Why atheists should be...."

Any time a sentence starts with "Why atheists should be_" you can be reasonably sure that what follows will be nonsensical crap. In this regard Vlad Chituc's "Why atheists should be vegans" post on Patheos does not disappoint. From start to finish it is some of the dumbest bullshit I've read from a fellow atheist in quite sometime. Even after setting aside that atheism isn't an actual "ism" and therefore has no identifiable set of beliefs that any of his ideas can be supported from, he makes a number of incredibly blatant errors.

Not only does Chituc fail to make any type of connection between atheism and veganism he grossly characterizes and conflates a variety of issues. It is highly debatable as to whether veganism is more ethical especially when you apply what this dumb-ass actually says about it. He actually isn't making a case against eating meat in general. He makes this clear from the very first paragraph which he ends with "...most atheists nonetheless have no good reason to consume factory-farmed animal products." It is true that the majority of meat consumed is from factory farming and it can be argued that this is unethical. However, this is misleading in that it cannot presently be used to advocate for "veganism." The overwhelming majority of produce consumed also comes from "factory farming" which has a whole boat load of ethical issues attached to it as well. Does Chituc really think that industrial scale agriculture has a squeeky clean record when it comes to labor rights or environmental issues?

Eventually he does get to purely animal rights arguments which do not depend on the methods and techniques used to raise, care for, and slaughtering of animals. It seemed to be more of an after thought than part of his main points. Perhaps he realised how weak and feeble his argument up to that point had been. They are still far more debatable than he seems to realize. He references science but in vague and misleading ways. Utimately, he fails to make a connection between a lack of religious beliefs with advocacy of veganism or animal rights.

Sunday, September 7, 2014


"No discourse whatsoever, can end in absolute knowledge of fact."
Thomas Hobbes

Still Logically Untenable

Even though I am sympathetic to TJ Montoya and I tend to favor more liberal strains of theism over their conservative cousins, his overall message is just as willfully ignorant and self deluded as the narrow minded pin-heads who condemn him. Montoya does a pretty good job with his Youtube video but he really does not accomplish what he seems to think he has. Demonstrating that conservative interpretations of the Bible are generally hypocritical self serving forms of bigotry does not itself prove that homosexuality is compatible with either the Bible or Christianity. The simple truth is that Christianity does condemn homosexuals. It just happens to also condemn a wide variety of other behaviors and practices common among all those currently alive. The brief HuffPo write-up on Montoya's video is actually rather annoying since they just pile on another layer of unnecessary bullshit.

"In this video, 18-year-old TJ Montoya discusses the conclusions he has reached as a self-identifying gay Christian after being out of the closet for five years. This well-researched and nuanced discussion serves as a response to Christians who don't necessarily understand what the Bible really has to say about same-sex attraction." Again, Montoya does produced a nice short video. However, it is laced with a wide variety of logical fallacies. It certainly isn't that "well-researched and nuanced." It appears to be more profound mainly due to that fact that the average theist, including nearly the entire stable of HuffPo writers, knows next to nothing about the Bible or Christianity. Reading the Bible cover to cover and paying attention to what it says is merely a small step in the right direction. Montoya probably also read a little further. He probably did a little more research than the average curious person but I don't get the impression he went much beyond that. Simply noting the opinions of others isn't really research.

Sorry TJ but the Bible really does condemn you. Christ also in more than one place reiterates support for Mosaic Law, which also condemns homosexuals. But, if it's any consolation, you and all other homosexuals will have lots of company in Hell. Virtually the entire human species are, according to Biblical standards, sinful "abominations". It's probably a good thing that Hell is as imaginary as God and/or Jesus (depending on whether they are a single entity or not).

Stick with comedy

     "As a comedy website, we tend to stay away from too much talk about religion. Sure, we'll run the occasional article about Jesus riding dragons -- but no way are we going to start declaring huge aspects of major religions 'wrong.' That's just not our place, and we'll never do it ... after today.
     Oh, relax. We're just going to point out some popular misconceptions about certain religions. Of course there's no wrong religion.*
*Except for Scientology."

Above is how kicks off "5 Myths You Probably Believe About Major Religions". It is still somewhat tong-in-cheek but overall is meant to be taken seriously. So I will. Though, they are not outright "wrong" they are themselves assuming far too much. The whole piece is based on a specific set of interpretations and biases. The "myths" described in the piece are just as accurate a portrayal of the various concepts and beliefs as those expressed by the author, Pat Carnell. Basically, in the strictest sense of the term "myth" they are not any such thing.

The 5 "myths" Carnell claims to be setting the record straight about are (the appear in descending order):
#5. The Amish Do Not Use Technology
#4. The Star of David Is the Official Ancient Symbol of Judaism
#3. Creationists Have Been Dragging Down Scientific Progress for Millennia
#2. Muslims Reject Jesus
#1. Buddhism Has No Heaven or Hell

I'll use #2 as an example of what I mean. It isn't a myth. It is a misunderstanding that is sometimes used  to bash Muslims. Most Muslims accept Jesus as a prophet. That much is true. If you stopped with that little factlet it would seem to be a myth that Muslims reject Jesus. The problem is that the Jesus figure means different things to different groups. Just accepting that Jesus is one prophet among many other prophets does not express his significance to Christians. Muslims DO REJECT the idea that Jesus was more than another prophet. They do not accept him as a savior. They do not accept him as an incarnation of God/God made flesh. In effect they do not accept Jesus in the way that Christians do. Stated more plainly, they do reject the Jesus virtually every Christian means when they invoke the name. So, yes, in fact from a Christian Theological perspective Muslims definitely reject Jesus (the Messiah).

Most of the other explanations of these "myths" are similarly flawed. They can only be seen as true from a very specific and narrow interpretation. This should not surprise any one who has spent any time studying religion. Religion by its nature is highly subjective and amorphous. What may be viewed as "myth" or "stereotype" in one set of circumstances ends up being true in others, at least to the practitioners of that religion.

Cracked probably should stick with their usually comedic take on subjects. Comedy does not have to be accurate to be funny. You don't have to back up what you write or say with anything substantial. Carnell doesn't seem to have the interest or ability to really comment on religion in a thoughtful manner.

Doubt doesn't automatically mean....

Simply having doubts does not make an individual an atheist. Having doubts from time to time also doesn't mean a person's surviving beliefs are particularly profound. I'm glad that overall Paul Jesep is comfortable enough to admit to having doubts and to at least think about them to some degree. However, he seems to have fallen for a number of foolish notions that seem to go hand-in-hand with many theists' doubts. One of the more annoying falsehoods implied in his Rainbow Times piece "Faith, Family and God: Dancing with Atheism as a Person of Faith" is the idea that Jesus is an excellent role-model even without religious ideas. That's not just nonsensical it's actually a bit arrogant.

He writes, "It may surprise some readers of this column, but I struggle with faith. There are days I’m a Christian and others when I lean toward deist, or “c”hristian-atheist—a person believing in the principles of Jesus, without a belief in Christ’s divinity, an afterlife or higher authority." Even after setting aside the silly view that occasional doubts somehow automatically strips him of his Christianity, the view that Christ has any merits outside the context of Christianity is ridiculous. There are no "principles" that are uniquely tied to Christ. Most of the supposed ethical teachings of the Christ figure pre-date the advent of Christianity. With or without divine traits the Christ figure is not that different from any number of religious figures from ancient traditions. Christ is not exceptional. The assumption that he is is both ignorant and arrogant.

Throughout the piece it seems pretty clear to me that Jesep firmly maintains his supernatural beliefs. I don't see how he can think he is "dancing with atheism." Jesep does seem to be a good person who genuinely wants to understand and encourage further thought. I applaud him for that but see no reason to withhold valid criticism. Ultimately, his muddled notions of doubt, faith, and what distinguishes belief from non-belief are far more likely to maintain a variety of myths and stereotypes than to help eliminate them. It is somewhat sad given his apparent intentions