Why I Believe In God

I believe in God because the Jews terrify me.

The atheistic explanation of religious belief — that it is cosmic wish-fulfillment and an opiate of the masses — cannot be applied to יאַרמלקע-rocking people. They did not follow the dictates of their God because they were promised everlasting bliss for doing so. They did not live a religious life because they would be rewarded for it after death. In fact, the early Jews didn’t even believe in Heaven. They believed in Sheol, “a place of darkness to which all the dead go, both the righteous and the unrighteous, regardless of the moral choices made in life, a place of stillness and darkness cut off from God.”

If this seems mere trifle, allow me to probe the implications of this fact: The Jews agreed to give up the pleasures of fornication, drunkenness, cheating, laziness, idol-worship, and all the rest, and to spend their lives in prayer, fasting, and strict obedience to hierarchy, all without an eternal reward. If you’ve ever ventured into the depths of the book of Deuteronomy, with its seemingly endless list of nitpicking laws, you know how fantastic this actually is. The Jew stands in fervent contradiction to the idea that religion was invented to make us feel good, to allow us to forget all our fears and tragedies by looking to everlasting bliss.

So, thanks to the circumcised, my initial doubt that religious belief is wish-fulfillment is weakened. But — my opponent might argue — even if the Jews did not believe that they would be rewarded in Heaven, they certainly believed that God would be with them, help them, and fight for them on Earth. Surely then, their religion is still a form of wish-fulfillment?

And my answer can only be: Yes. Yes, and that’s the absolutely terrifying part about the Jews. Their relationship with God is not based on abstractions, it is based on a pact — a tangible, visible, and earthly pact. The covenant is offered by God himself: “You shall be my people and I shall be your God.” He will help the Jewish nation and work his plan of salvation through them, and they will be faithful to him.

I, being a modern human being, don’t want this. I want to be told that God’s relationship with me comes in the abstract form of love and peace. God is He Who Operates on the Level of My Soul — and thus he remains unquestionable to the atheist. For how can you question what goes on in my soul?

But the Jews didn’t have the luxury of compartmentalizing their God to spiritual matters. God was the God who parted the Red Sea for them, who won their battles, who descended as a pillar of fire and of cloud, who spoke to Moses in the burning bush and who fed them manna from Heaven. In short, their pact with God was entirely testable, manifesting itself as it did by intensely personal interaction of the Divine into the life of his people. God promised them he would help them survive as a nation, and the Jews — despite being small, weak, and detested — survived as a nation.

This does not prove the existence of God. All of those interactions could have been made up, the Jews may have survived by mere chance, and the Jew on a bench in New York City today might be no more than an accident of history. But it does lay to waste the idea that the belief in God originates from untestable hypotheses. The Ancient Greeks could say that Helios draws the sun across the sky in his chariot, a claim no one (then) could really argue with. The claims of all ancient religions are similar, and even some of the modern ones, as when the Christian says, “I know God exists because I feel his presence.”

But the Jew claims that on an exact date, at an exact place (which we moderns know exists), when so-and-so was ruler (who we know lived and indeed ruled), God rained down 10 plagues upon the slave-master Egyptians, and the Jews were freed (as we know they were.) The existence of God rests on the tangible pact between them, the promise that he will fight for him. Is it wish fulfillment? Yes, but in the shocking sense that their wishes are tangibly fulfilled.

Thus it is left to us, having been terrified by their claims, to decide what to do with the Jews. As Walker Percy says, “The Jews are both a sign and a stumbling block. That is why they are hated by theorists like Hitler (fascism/racism) and Stalin (fascism/communism). The Jews cannot be gotten around.”

They are living, breathing evidence that belief in God that did not originate from the promise of eternal reward, that it is nothing like an opiate, and that continued belief was validated — not by abstracts — but by concrete events, recorded in history. The idea that these events (The Parting of the Red Sea, the Water From the Rock, etc.) could not possibly have happened is silly. Anyone claiming that is going to get trounced in a debate, for his argument — if he is a good scientist — will end up as this: “In normal human experience, the abnormal event of a Voice issuing from a burning bush is not likely.” No, it is most certainly possible that they happened.

And when I look on the face of a Jew, living and worshipping God today, I believe they did.

Thanks for reading! I wanted to take a moment and apologize for the tone of my previous two blog posts, which weren’t charitable in the least. Mea culpa, mea culpa, and I promise to do better.

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and LOVE My Smartphone
The Spirit of Rebellion
No, Christianity’s Not Eurocentric (But You Kind Of Are)
Fury and Catholicity
  • Lauren G.

    Really, REALLY excellent. ALL of it:)

  • Caisey1

    The apology at the end was surprising to me. I personally didn’t feel that the last two articles had a problem. Thank you for recognizing and being open about this, your apology has helped me come to understand charity better myself.

    • Cal-J

      I would love to see some more posts themed on Art and Beauty; I first started reading right around when you were discussing the Golden Ratio. Some apologetics and history would fit nicely in, too.

  • Carol C.

    Some of your information is not factual—there are Jews that indeed believe in heaven.

    • Cal-J

      “In fact, the early Jews didn’t even believe in Heaven.”

      Modern Jews, certainly. Early Jews, not so much.

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=500402795 Joanna Henzel

        The idea of an afterlife didn’t really surface until the post-exilic period. That’s about the time that the “Messiah” idea surfaced as well.

        • Cal-J

          So, remind me, does “Sheol” refer to that proto-afterlife you mentioned or to what I remember being something along the lines of a post-death annihilation?

          • Sophias_Favorite

            Think it’s basically Hades (Greek mythology) or the Yami-no-Kuni (Shinto).

          • Louis Tully

            The pharisees believed in the eventual resurrection of the body, right? I may be mistaken, but I think they did.

          • carol c.

            I think you should ask a Jew rather than assume you know. :)

          • Louis Tully

            I wish I knew 1st century pharisees and could do so! Here’s something I found that affirms what I thought: http://www.qcc.cuny.edu/socialsciences/ppecorino/phil_of_religion_text/CHAPTER_7_SOULS/Resurrection.htm

          • Barefoot Momma

            Yes, and the saducees did not.

    • AOR

      No the information is factual. The Jews of the B.C. era did not believe in heaven, you are probably talking about modern or reformed Jews. Just as Christianity has been watered down from how it was in the first century (some Christians deny the Trinity or the soul or the fact that we go to heaven even) so has Judaism. Some reformed Jews today say that eating shrimp is allowed also. He is taking about the Jews of ancient history, the foundation of Christianity.

  • Fisherman

    Judaism is the bees knees.

  • Jay E.

    Brilliantly put!

  • Alexandra

    I’m confused, do Catholics believe that Exodus is true? I thought that it was generally accepted that the Jews were never enslaved in Egypt. Even prominent Jewish scholars acknowledge that.

    • Cal-J

      True in what sense? I was always under the impression that Exodus was historical; you’re the first to tell me otherwise.

      Which Jewish Scholars dispute it?

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=500402795 Joanna Henzel

      1) Slavery has a completely different connotation in the ancient world than it holds for us post-American slavery.

      2) Scholars point to Deir el Medina (a somewhat middle class Egyptian society) and its similarities with how the Bible describes the Israelites — having livestock, trade (midwives), etc. But the Bible clearly points to a shift in the attitudes towards the Israelites by the Pharaoh at some point (probably a shift between one of the intermediate/kingdom periods). Josephus was the one to foster the erroneous idea that the Israelites erected the pyramids, but even the Deir el-Medina-ites used their talents to construct the higher class’s tombs. The Israelites were conscripted (a method that Solomon used to build the temple by the way) to build storehouses. The poor treatment shows up in this context — a chance for the Egyptians to lord it over the Israelites, perhaps out of a sense of bias (because that’s never happened to the Jews, ever. Heh.) or resentment.

      The point, however, was that God had promised them a land of their own: in the Levant. In fact, when God says that He will take them to a land flowing with milk and honey, that is the life of a farmer (honey) and a shepherd(milk), hard living in fact!! Even the Bible points to when the people began to grumble they referenced how they could plant crops more easily in Egypt by dragging their foot from the Nile to water their gardens.

      Enslavement is a word, that in this context, could definitely use a bit of accurate explanation. But quite simply: yes, they believe Exodus. As do Catholics.

      • MichaelR

        Slavery was not so different in the ancient world. I don’t know what gave you that idea. Read the ancient texts from Egypt and Mesopotamia about slaves, or even read texts from classical antiquity about slavery.

        • Sophias_Favorite

          Egyptians treated slaves loads better than Romans or Greeks did—the Renaissance was the reason that America treated its slaves so badly (although nobody in America ever fattened up conger eels by feeding slaves to them, which was the occasion of some possibly-apocryphal scandals in Rome).

          Egyptian slaves were probably more like post-conversion Anglo-Saxon thralls (so not quite as many rights as medieval serfs, but more than chattel-slaves) than Roman or Greek slaves—masters didn’t have total rights over their slaves the way they did in the Classical world.

    • http://youngandcatholic.net Mary Lane

      Yes, the Church teaches that the Exodus truly happened. There are prominent Jewish scholars that argue otherwise and so, unfortunately, it has come to be taken by many as “fact” that the Exodus never happened as a result. But there are also many prominent scholars who argue otherwise (Hershel Shanks, to name just one).

      Remember that an argument from silence is a very weak argument. Scholars who claim the Exodus from Egypt never occurred base this argument entirely on the fact that there is [supposedly] no archaeological evidence. But all this would prove is that no one has found any archaeological evidence; in no way would that definitively prove that it never happened.

      • Cal-J

        Then what did we make of the Store-City of Pithom? From what I recall, M. Naville (1883) sucessfully identified it with Tel-el-Maskhuta, which corresponds both to Pithom and the Bible’s Succoth.

        Naville found three kinds of bricks used in the walls: the first were mud and straw, the second were mud and nile reeds (“kash” in Hebrew, after the Egyptian word for reeds), and then further bricks of just plain mud.

        In both the Vulgate and Douay translations, when the Hebrews exhausted the straw, they were sent all throughout the land to find more; if I remember correctly, this was changed from the original sense of them being sent out to gather “stubble”, i.e. reeds instead of straw. So we have the progression of straw –> reeds –> plain mud.

        • http://youngandcatholic.net Mary Lane

          Right. I said, “supposedly” no evidence because I knew that there actually is evidence; I just didn’t know any off-hand. :) My point was that, even if there was no archeological evidence for the Exodus as some scholars try to argue, an argument from silence doesn’t prove anything.

          I’d also like to point out that there’s an entire written account of a people living in exile in the desert for 40 years. It’s called the Book of Exodus :) No reason why that shouldn’t be counted as evidence as to why it happened.

          • Cal-J

            But that would be the obvious thing to do. We’re human. We hate obvious.

          • John

            I agree. Funny how some people won’t credit any book of the Bible, but are more than willing to put stock in other historical texts. Also, I’m certainly no history scholar, but in my trusty New American Bible there is a picture of a “stele found at Beth-shan” showing Ramesses II, who is believed to be the Pharaoh of the Exodus, before an Egyptian god. Translated from the stele is the phrase: “he [Ramesses] build up [the city of] Ramesses with Asiatic Semitic [that is, Hebrew] slaves.” I assume this is authentic (if anyone knows otherwise, please point that out). Also, I’m not sure about the translation or whether the word “slaves” is used as we understand the term. Nonetheless, this suggests that the Egyptians were in fact using Hebrews in some capacity to build their cities. Interesting. Doesn’t necessarily prove that they were enslaved as we see in the movies. But interesting. BTW, love you blog, Mary. keep it up.

          • Sophias_Favorite

            Egyptian slaves had more rights than Greek or Roman slaves, or American slaves, but about as many as Byzantine or Germanic or Latin American-colonial slaves. Masters couldn’t treat them completely as they liked, although harming them was a less severe crime than harming freemen.

      • Alexandra

        Well it says something that people have searched for archeological evidence and found none. Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, obviously, but the absence of evidence isn’t entirely meaningless. The lack of evidence absolutely doesn’t disprove the historicity of Exodus, but it certainly suggests that it is highly likely that the Exodus story is a myth.

        Only half of American Jews are theists, and I would assume that a good percentage of the rest of the Jewish population is aware that there is not evidence for the Exodus, so I’m surprised to hear that it isn’t similar among Christians.

        • http://youngandcatholic.net Mary Lane

          I would recommend you take a look at James Hoffmeier’s book, “Israel in Egypt: The Evidence for the Authenticity of the Exodus Tradition,” published by Oxford University Press. He goes into great detail about the evidence for the Exodus.

          Just know that scholars are certainly not unanimous on the lack of historical evidence for the Exodus.

        • Cal-J

          Well, no, not quite.

          Old stories do not automatically get moved into the “myth” category because of a lack of archeological evidence. (Which we do have some of, by the way).

          This would be the case if a couple of very sparse, very ancient documents vaguely illustrate the existence of a fantastic location, say Atlantis or Mu. But this is a whole storyline, produced hundreds upon hundreds of times over and maintained throughout history. Lots of concrete sources.

        • Jpcheffers

          Since when do biblical accounts not count as evidence? Generally historians take written and oral traditions seriously.

          • Alexandra

            Of course, but only to a point. There’s no archeological evidence and that is very significant.

          • http://youngandcatholic.net Mary Lane

            Except that there is archaeological evidence!

          • Alexandra

            That’s not what I’ve read, and it seems to be the general consensus in the field that there is no archeological evidence of the exodus. No geological evidence of the parting of the Red Sea, no remains of the armies that drowned when it came back together.

            The couple of people I see claiming there is evidence are all theists. There will always be a few professional who don’t agree with the consensus, and the fact that they are all theists definitely says something about their claims.

          • susan

            Alexandra, You’re just wrong…chariot wheels, armor and human remains have all been found at the bottom of the Red Sea. I seriously think you need to do some further research.

          • Alexandra

            Can you supply me with a source? Preferably an internet one? I can’t find anything.

          • susan


            (I hate these skinny columns :(
            Alexandra, there’s plenty out there to show that there is certainly evidence for this possibility even if the numbers and quality of evidence don’t fit your preconceived requirements.. I think the old saying that “for those with faith, no proof is necessary; for those without faith, no proof is adequate” stands in all times. Yet God is such a loving Father that He continues to use advancements in science to prove His Word to His skeptical, stiff-necked children: The Eve Study that discovered the mitochondrial DNA that proves a common, single mother to all of extant mankind; advancements in modern embryology that show mothers, in their own bodies and for the rest of their lives, carry stem cells from their children–magnificent support for the doctrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary…she was and IS a living, eternal tabernacle; the Anthropic Principle that points in glaring terms to a majestic, detail-oriented, meticulous Designer; and the list goes on ad infinitum. His Word is eternal, and His word is Truth itself. That word became flesh for us, and calls us to believe. I always tell the kids I teach to never EVER fear TRUE science….it will ALWAYS point to its Creator.

          • Alexandra

            I mean you’re right, there have been all of those things found at the bottom of the Red Sea, but none of them date to the right time, nor is it of the correct magnitude for the exodus. Especially with abundant human remains the dating should be incredibly easy, and the data just doesn’t exist.

          • Sophias_Favorite

            We don’t know the precise date of the Exodus, so it’s difficult to say if some of the remains don’t date from then. Based on the Amarna Letters (which definitely mention the Trojan War), we tend to date the Exodus to sometime in the 14th century BC, but we could be off by a few centuries in either direction.

        • http://www.facebook.com/kickintheface Jacob Timothy Michael Hughes

          Well, up until relatively recently, the same was said of the Assyrians. Outside the Bible, they didn’t exist. That was until 1845, when a library was discovered, from which we gather almost all of our history of Mesopotamia.

          • Sophias_Favorite

            Ditto the Hittites. And outside the Bible, not only have we found Troy (although the idiot who discovered it wrecked a large portion of the site), we’ve also found at least one letter between a Hittite chief and an Egyptian king that mention a city-state called “Wilusa” or “Truwisa” being destroyed by the “Akhiyawa” during the reign of a “Piyamaradusa”—or in other words Ilion/Troy being destroyed by the Achaeans (Greeks) during the reign of Priam.

            That letter is also one of the few documents where Egyptians acknowledge the existence of Israel as a tribe.

      • http://www.2catholicmen.blogspot.com/ Ben of Two Men

        “It is quite often forgotten that the full truth of history eludes documentary verification just as much as the truth of being escapes the experimental approach. So it must be said that historical science in the narrowest sense of the term not only reveals, but also conceals history.” Professor Ratzinger

      • Joanne K McPortland

        To be clear, Catholics are not required to take Scripture literally or to insist that every detail is factually based. The message of Scripture is divinely inspired and is true. We are free to accept arguments from history and archaeology that add dimension to scriptural accounts, but arguments against the literal interpretation of Scripture from a scientific or historical perspective have no bearing on our faith, and we waste time attempting to refute them. If our experience of the Paschal Mystery and God’s saving power rested on being able to establish an historical record for every detail of Exodus, we would be a pretty sorry bunch.

        When it comes to Scripture and truth, I was schooled by a third grader in a religious ed class many years ago. The students were arguing about whether the story of Noah and the Flood was true. Some kids had seen a TV documentary about the claim that the Ark had been found on Mt Ararat, and insisted that proved the Flood really happened. Others said No way the whole earth was wiped out! The room erupted into fierce debate, until one boy stood up and said, “It doesn’t matter whether it actually happened or not. It’s still true.”

        • Helgothjb

          Actually, Catholic believe in the inerrancy of Sacred Scripture. That applies to things historical as well. What ever the human author intended as true. Fr. William Most has a great book about this. There is much confusion among Catholics about this on both sides.

      • badkungfu

        Remember that an argument from silence is a very weak argument.

        But surely no weaker than an argument without evidence, right? Typically we seek “extraordinary evidence for extraordinary claims”. The Exodus et al are very extraordinary claims.

        • Sophias_Favorite

          Hume—who coined the “extraordinary claims” idea—also said that any book not about math, science, or history “could contain only sophistry and should be consigned to the flames”. Only…he said it in a book on philosophy. Which is not math, science, or history.

          Me, I don’t prostrate myself before the authority of that titanic intellect.

          • badkungfu

            One need not prostrate oneself nor throw out the baby with the bath water.

            If I claimed to see a chicken cross the street, you’d believe me. If I claimed to see a unicorn behind it, you’d withhold belief until I showed you a picture. If I went to claim lottery winnings they’d withhold the money until I gave them the winning ticket.

            The “extraordinary claims idea” is just well-stated common sense. Without it, one could simply use “Outside of normal human experience” as a trump card when arguing for the reality of highly improbable events. That seems to be Marc’s tactic in the post.

  • Thom

    Holy crap, Marc. ANOTHER incredibly appropriately-timed blog post for me. Thanks!

  • http://everythingtosomeone.blogspot.com/ Christie

    The Book of Job is a real conundrum for even the most devoutly Christian folks trying to wrap their heads around why they believe, so I imagine it is completely absurd to atheists.

    • Cal-J

      Fun read, though.

    • Shamarvin

      Why don’t you people ask God to open up your understanding to the bible. It comes from a personal relationship with Jesua Christ our soon comming King

    • Sophias_Favorite

      Job isn’t much of a conundrum, actually. It simply means “ha-Shem is not invisible Santa Claus, and your misfortunes in this world are not an accurate gauge of your standing with him.”

      Ecclesiastes is more of a conundrum by far.

  • BadWolf

    This is considerably less laughter inducing than your previous posts. You bring up some interesting feelings I don’t think many people are familiar with these days. People don’t get that we need God even in suffering. God isn’t someone we simply rely on for our own comfort. He’s not a security blanket. We worship him because we can’t live without him, he is the reason we are alive and the reason we live. Your explanation of your fear of the Ancient religion of the Jews I think is very perceptive, and explains some of my trepidation with Buddhism. The Hebrew people weren’t idiots wandering around in the desert for no reason, they saw something in the God of Israel and they couldn’t deny it. I’m scared of Buddhism because, like the God of Israel told the Hebrews in the wilderness they couldn’t see him or his heaven, Buddha told his disciples there is suffering but it doesn’t really tell you why. It doesn’t give a reason for the suffering it just tells you to get over it. But Buddhists continue teaching about the respect for life, the taming of desires, and the acceptance of suffering. They live on without answers. I’m anxiety prone enough, that would just cause my mind hardship it doesn’t need.

    • BadWolf

      My bad, Buddhism tells people the reasons for suffering but not the purpose. I meant purpose.

      • Sophias_Favorite

        But Buddhism does offer hope—it promises salvation from the cycle of suffering and rebirth. Far from simply telling you to get over it, it promises to tell you how, and some sects (Vajrayana) promise to help you. Buddhism is not Stoicism, not even in Zen or Theravada.

        Fundamentally, Buddhism is as much an evangelistic, salvation-centered religion as Christianity is—and most Asians will agree. Most of the people who say otherwise are Westerners basing their interpretation exclusively on the “plain sense” of (some of) the Buddhist scriptures, and ignoring the tradition for interpreting those scriptures. Because of course, Sola Scriptura is authentically Buddhist!

  • http://thepulp.it/ Tito Edwards

    About the header pic, I married a Hittite! They’re still around!

    • Aysdwy

      Really??? Like where??

      • Sophias_Favorite

        Most of the people we call Turks are probably still genetically Anatolians. Don’t know if that’s what Tito means.

  • Audrey Assad

    I hope you’re not apologizing for not being nice. Nice and charitable aren’t always the same thing. You’re a great writer. Keep it coming!

    • Angela Joyce

      Yes, Marc… no need to apologize for standing up and defending the Church and her beliefs. You hit the nail on the head and I love that you are such a strong soldier! Aaaannnd… Thank you, Marc, for turning me on to Audrey Assad! Audrey, I downloaded The House You’re Building! I love it! Especially Restless. St. Augustine is one of my favorites!
      Peace to you all!

      • Stephen K.

        If you like Audrey Assad I would check out Matt Maher. His songs have a more prominent rock sound, but are similar to Assad’s music.

        • Angela Joyce

          I’ve been a HUUUUUGE fan of Matt Maher for several years. I have all of his CDs on my iPod. My son has experienced him up close and personal at a Life Teen conference. He IS awesome!

        • Booishboos

          I just saw him last night, opening for Third Day. He really is amazing.

  • http://www.facebook.com/maryliziz Mary Liz Bartell

    I have always admired my Jewish friends, and I wish they knew the truth that Jesus is the Christ they await. It’s still easier for you to state there is a Loving and Merciful God to any Jew than to an atheist. The Jews for the most part know that God is there, they believe it! They have a long lineage that they can trace their roots to. Most atheists don’t care who their ancestors were or what they believed and find very little room in their lives for even discussing history of religions – as if it doesn’t apply to them. My God is a historical figure and a living force in my life. I need not see the Red Sea parted to believe in him. I know that my redeemer lives and I believe in the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar which is the true bread of life. Moses and Manna doesn’t hold a candle to Christ Jesus in the Eucharist. So if God can crack a sinner like me over the head with this kind of faith, yes it becomes possible that there is a God and I can’t possibly imagine what life will be like when my earthly vessel is gone. All I know is God is. Who can doubt what a person believes when we have 2000+ years of Scripture to reveal the person known as “I AM”??? It’s an inconvenient thing for atheists to have to address this possibility, because it scares the pants off of them. Some get down right hostile towards me for openly professing my faith in God and Christ Jesus. Most of my Jewish friends don’t mind. Strange isn’t it?

    • Brian Lasater

      The Eucharist is a grecco roman heresy. To eat the flesh and drink the blood of a dead Jew, is not biblical. (neither is human sacrifice)

      • Kyle Whittington

        I love it how you make claims without backing it up with facts.

        Clement of Rome (80 A.D.) in Corinthians 36:1 refers to the Eucharist as the “offering of the gift.”
        St. Clement, bishop of Rome, 80 A.D., to the Corinthians, 40:
        Since then these things are manifest to us, and we have looked into the depths of the divine knowledge, we ought to do in order all things which the Master commanded us to perform at appointed times. He commanded us to celebrate sacrifices and services, and that it should not be thoughtlessly or disorderly, but at fixed times and hours. He has Himself fixed by His supreme will the places and persons whom He desires for these celebrations, in order that all things may be done piously according to His good pleasure, and be acceptable to His will. So then those who offer their oblations at the appointed seasons are acceptable and blessed, but they follow the laws of the Master and do not sin. For to the high priest his proper ministrations are allotted, and to the priests the proper place has been appointed, and on Levites their proper services have been imposed. The layman is bound by the ordinances for the laity.

        Teaching of the Twelve Apostles (the Didache), 9:2; 14:1, circa 90 A.D.:
        Regarding the Eucharist … Let no one eat and drink of your Eucharist but those baptized in the name of the Lord; to this, too, the saying of the Lord is applicable: Do not give to dogs what is sacred.
        On the Lord’s own day, assemble in common to break bread and offer thanks; but first confess your sins, so that your sacrifice may be pure. However, no one quarreling with his brother may join your meeting until they are reconciled; your sacrifice must not be defiled. For here we have the saying of the Lord: In every place and time offer me a pure sacrifice; for I am a mighty King, says the Lord; and my name spreads terror among the nations. [Mal 1:11,14].

        Ignatius of Antioch, Epistle to the Smyrnaeans, Chapter 6, 110 A.D.:
        Take note of those who hold heterodox opinions on the grace of Jesus Christ which has come to us, and see how contrary their opinions are to the mind of God … They abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer because they do not confess that the Eucharist is the flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ, flesh which suffered for our sins and which that Father, in his goodness, raised up again. They who deny the gift of God are perishing in their disputes.

        St. Ignatius of Antioch, Epistle to the Smyrnaeans, 8:1, 110 A.D.:
        Let that Eucharist be held valid which is offered by the bishop or by the one to whom the bishop has committed this charge. Wherever the bishop appears, there let the people be; as wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church.

        St. Ignatius of Antioch, Epistle to the Romans, 7, 110 A.D.:
        I desire the Bread of God, the heavenly Bread, the Bread of Life, which is the flesh of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who became afterwards of the seed of David and Abraham; I wish the drink of God, namely His blood, which is incorruptible love and eternal life.

        St. Ignatius of Antioch, Epistle to the Philadephians, 4:1, 110 A.D.:
        Be ye careful therefore to observe one eucharist (for there is one flesh of our Lord Jesus Christ and one cup unto union in His blood; there is one altar, as there is one bishop, together with the presbytery and the deacons my fellow-servants), that whatsoever ye do, ye may do it after God.

        Justin Martyr, Apology, I.66-67, 2nd century:
        Communion in the Body and Blood of Christ

        It is allowed to no one else to participate in that food which we call Eucharist except the one who believes that the things taught by us are true, who has been cleansed in the washing unto rebirth and the forgiveness of sins and who is living according to the way Christ handed on to us. For we do not take these things as ordinary bread or ordinary drink. Just as our Savior Jesus Christ was made flesh by the word of God and took on flesh and blood for our salvation, so also were we taught that the food, for which thanksgiving has been made through the word of prayer instituted by him, and from which our blood and flesh are nourished after the change, is the flesh of that Jesus who was made flesh. Indeed, the Apostles, in the records left by them which are called gospels, handed on that it was commanded to them in this manner: Jesus, having taken bread and given thanks said, “Do this in memory of me, this is my body.” Likewise, having taken the cup and given thanks, he said, “This is my blood”, and he gave it to them alone.

      • Dill-Bro Baggins

        Indeed your description is heretical. But according to the Catholic Catechism Christ neither is dead nor does he die in the Eucharist. We are united “in one flesh” if it were and brought into the family of “the new Adam” also known as “G-d the Son” the Word made flesh, and are according to the writings in the law of Moses “cut off from our kinsmen according to the flesh”. We are therefore cut off from the fallen family of the old Adam to be joined to the family of the “new Adam” “outside of the city gates where we bear his reproach” (paraphrase) who is Christ Jesus. If human sacrifice is unbiblical as a self immolation in the case of Christ as you posit than the salvation offered by Christ is irrelevant according to your own theory. The Eucharist as it is apart from fallacious slander is the jealousy of the unbelieving world…it is everything the person whether Jew or Gentile desires…It is G-d ordained Greco-Roman Truth!

  • http://ideasaboutgodandtheworld.wordpress.com/ Alejandro

    Exactly my thoughts.

  • Aubrey

    This post reminded me of that scene where Tony Soprano is mobbing a Jew who says something like: “the Jews during the siege of Masada would rather resist to the last man than surrender to the Romans. And we are still here: where is the Roman Empire now?” To which Soprano replies: “you are looking at it right now”.

    Sorry for the profane reference :) I’ve always thought that scene to be funny and very true.

    • Sophias_Favorite

      A better, though less intimidating, reply would be, “You maybe don’t want to brag about your ancestors basing the defense of a fortress on Romans not building a road. That’s what Romans do.”

  • Gail Finke

    A lot of modern Jews don’t believe that anything at all in the Bible really happened. But the weird thing is that it doesn’t matter. The Jews as a people aren’t going anywhere. If you read the Bible, which many people forget to do, you find out that a lot of the Jews never believed it back then either. They were always off worshiping idols. Even the people saved by Moses abandoned God whenever things got tough. The whole point of the Old Testament is that SOME of them had to be faithful. That’s all. God is always faithful. People? Not so much. Yet the fact that so many Jews over history have abandoned God doesn’t seem to matter. As a people, the Jews are still here. Jewish-American literature is full of laments that no matter what, the Jews can’t stop being Jewish. And it is a pain in the neck to be Jewish, because let’s face it people have persecuted Jews since Day One. Back in my children’s Veggie Tale days, I used to love the episode about Jericho. Larry the Cucumber says the Israelites had actually lived through miracles and so they MUST have been faithful. Bob the Tomato says something like, “Oh, you might THINK so…”

  • Bill

    I loved this! Very insightful and apparently true.

  • Paul Bonekamp

    The apology might not have been necessary, but it’s good to see the recognition of the need to be as charitable as possible while discussing our faith.

    I was actually just thinking about that this morning (the whole being charitable thing). I happened upon a debate/argument between a self – proclaimed agnostic who was “leaning toward atheism” and a fundamentalist-leaning Christian last night in a book store. I stuck my nose in, naturally :P… Anyway, I sometimes forget when I am responding to someone online that I am not merely criticizing a set of beliefs, but a set of beliefs that belong to someone. Someone who probably holds these beliefs very close to their heart. It is very easy to offend people and to turn them off completely if we don’t speak with patience and kindness.

    This point was driven home to me last night. These two individuals were getting very frustrated with one another. There was even a verbal insult levelled at one point. When it came to their most cherished beliefs, neither one was being particularly rational. They each set up a sort of “firewall” and just shot completely passed one another (one dude criticizes belief in God as being irrational because Richard Dawkins says so, other dude responds with a quote from scripture – insert “facepalm”). When I stepped in, I tried to deal with the issues in a very calm, rational and charitable manner. And I think I succeeded. The debate calmed right down, we got to the bottom of the issues, discussed our differences, and by the end (an hour and a half later) we were able to smile and joke about it. The “agnostic” individual actually complemented me and said he enjoyed discussing the issues very much, he appreciated how I was “flexible” and knowledgeable about philosophy and science. The fundamentalist had his eyes opened a bit, as I explained to him carefully how one could believe in God and in evolution at the same time! Philosophy, rationality, science – these are good things! And they are certainly no enemy to belief in God. Looking back I’m not too sure if he really bought it though. Oh well. I tried.

    Anyway, it was the contrast between how I spoke to these men in person, and how I often feel tempted to speak and write online that struck me. Being face – to – face with them, I wanted to create meaningful dialogue that would build bridges, rather than burn them. I wanted to question ideas and attack them if necessary, but never attack the person behind them. I find that it is easy to lose this charitable approach online, as you can sometimes feel like you what are fighting is a faceless, inhuman entity, rather than a group of people with whom you disagree. I love debate, I love discussing the big issues. But I don’t ever want to lose sight of the goal of that debate in the maelstrom, and forget that love should be the force that drives us to seek and defend truth.


  • Robert

    I’m very glad you apologized for your last two posts. I think it would be good to expound on why you apologized. Maybe point out certain phrases and words that you thought were uncharitable.

    • Amanda

      While an apology might have been nice. I don’t think Marc needs to expound to the world bit by bit where he possibly could have been interpreted as uncharitable. I’m sure he reread his articles and understood where he could have written things a bit better, but this does NOT deserve a post unto itself.

      Apology accepted. Let’s move on.

  • SavannahRob

    Can you walk me through the logic here?

    The idea that these events (The Parting of the Red Sea, the Water From the Rock, etc.) could not possibly have happened is silly. Anyone claiming that is going to get trounced in a debate, for his argument — if he is a good scientist — will end up as this: “In normal human experience, the abnormal event of a Voice issuing from a burning bush is not likely.” No, it is most certainly possible that they happened.

    It sounds like you’re saying that because events possibly happened, they vindicate a religious belief. Would that extend to miracles in other traditions? I suppose it’s possible that a monkey army built Rama’s Bridge. Is that a reason to accept Hinduism? It’s possible, by some stretch of the word, that Mohammed ascended to Heaven…

    P(A and B) = P(A) * P(B), right? The probability of two events happening when each has a 25% probability of happening is 6.25%. I’m not even sure what probability should be assigned to the Parting of the Red Sea but there would be a vanishingly small likelihood that all of the claims around, say the Exodus, were true. It can’t help that there is no evidence outside of the Torah for an exodus from Egypt, the plagues, or Hebrew enslavement at all.

    I would agree religion can’t be summarily attributed to “wish-fullfillment” or “the opiate of the masses”, though I think those are factors. Maybe the Jews just believed because those with power wanted them to believe and they dealt pretty harshly with those who stepped out of line. Maybe, as another commenter pointed out, they never really believed that much to begin with. Religious memes have been so successful because they’ve found so many ways to get into new minds, become entrenched, and spread.

    • Cal-J

      You’re coming at it from the wrong direction.

      The possibility of the occurance isn’t being offered as proof; what’s happening here is that the possibility is first being denied, and what Marc is saying is that such a denial ultimately ends up with the necessary qualifier of, “in normal human experience,” which has no bearing at all on the possibility of something.

      • badkungfu

        Ok, that’s interesting. But it still means that all religious claims are equally plausible, right? So what does it get us? It kinda seems like a dodge.

        • Cal-J

          “But it still means that all religious claims are equally plausible, right?”

          I assume you mean “possible”. And, short some careful poking around, it would. The issue Marc is dealing with here, however, is sheer implausibility of the particular set of circumstances.

          Marc is here addressing the idea that the idea of “God” is founded in shallow wish fulfillment, athwart which the historical existence of the Jewish people and their religion stand.

          “But the Jew claims that on an exact date, at an exact place (which we moderns know exists), when so-and-so was ruler (who we know lived and indeed ruled), God rained down 10 plagues upon the slave-master Egyptians, and the Jews were freed (as we know they were.) The existence of God rests on the tangible pact between them, the promise that he will fight for him. Is it wish fulfillment? Yes, but in the shocking sense that their wishes are tangibly fulfilled.”

          Rather than most ancient polytheisms, which, like the ancient Greeks and Romans, ascribed the happenings of the world around them to distant superhuman intelligences and passed the time by spinning tales of those “gods”, the Hebrews claim that there was a God who took interest and deliberately acted in their real history.

          “So what does it get us? It kinda seems like a dodge.”

          It’s not a dodge itself, but a criticism of one. If this were in the context of a specific debate, you might certainly level that against him, but this isn’t one. Marc isn’t debating, but rather writing about the phenomenon of Hebrew history.

          • badkungfu

            I don’t see how it could be a criticism of a dodge or how it amounts to anything other than historical wish-fulfillment.

            If I said “I know this doesn’t happen in normal human experience, but God visited my house yesterday. He told me you must never wear plaid on Tuesdays”, no rational person would accept it or change their lifestyle because of my claim.

            Marc claims that the Jews did change their lifestyle and that indicates that it really happened. But he neglects any other possibilities that would fit normal human experience. Perhaps people who didn’t acknowledge the priests’ authority were killed. There’s a suspiciously high penalty for blasphemy, you know.

            If I had the priests on my side and we ruthlessly enforced our no-plaid-on-Tuesdays decree, then it wouldn’t take too many generations until no one remembered any version of events besides what my priests had written. Rational people would still dismiss my initial claim absent strong evidence from an unbiased source.

            The fact that the Jews may have made theological innovations doesn’t lend credibility to the claim.

          • Cal-J

            “I don’t see how it could be a criticism of a dodge”

            The dodge Marc is criticizing is one that often comes up when discussing the idea of miraculous happenings. Some people outright reject this, which doesn’t fit into a truly scientific worldview, which should take the agnostic approach of “I don’t know”.

            “or how it amounts to anything other than historical wish-fulfillment.”

            I never said it wasn’t wish fulfillment. I said it wasn’t shallow wish fulfillment. There is no promise of reward at all, here.

            ‘If I said “I know this doesn’t happen in normal human experience, but God visited my house yesterday. He told me you must never wear plaid on Tuesdays”, no rational person would accept it or change their lifestyle because of my claim.’

            Okay, let’s analyze that “no rational person” bit. You’re invoking (possibly without meaning to) the very assumption Marc was criticizing; that extraordinary happenings simply cannot occur. Of course no one would change their lifestyle; of all the life-changing revelations the living intellect behind the universe would make, telling you to stop wearing plaid is so utterly trivial as to be nonsensical, and that assumes that you have any credibility as a witness to God in the first place. Besides, it sounds almost like you may be begging the question a bit: Tell me, does a person who acknowledges the possibility of miraculous happenings cease to be a “rational person?”

            “…But he neglects any other possibilities that would fit normal human experience. Perhaps people who didn’t acknowledge the priests’ authority were killed. There’s a suspiciously high penalty for blasphemy, you know.”

            Perhaps, but that leaves you with the burden of explaining how the priests were established as authorities in the first place. I mean, really, to set that kind of hierarchy up would require a great deal of effort to convince the Hebrews not only to obey the priests, but to obey God, and to convince and supply a sufficient force to help enforce the priests’ will in a way that maintained and established the authority, and to convince a whole people to submit to the authority of that small class of priests. And this would have to successfully perpetuate itself for thousands of years without imploding under the heavy weight of human foibles and with the Hebrews being in conflict or outright under the heel of a dozen major powers since the beginning of their history.

            All with a religion that offers little to nothing at all in the way of any kind of reward outside of “God will make things better eventually,” not to mention extensive requirements and harsh punishments. That’s quite a lot of detail to fit under what you call “normal human experience”.

            “If I had the priests on my side and we ruthlessly enforced our no-plaid-on-Tuesdays decree, then it wouldn’t take too many generations until no one remembered any version of events besides what my priests had written.”

            -That you had any priests at all.
            -That they all agreed to ruthlessly enforce “no plaid.”
            -That you had access to the force necessary to ruthlessly enforce anything.
            -How many generations are required again? Seriously, this is starting to sound like 1984.
            -That this could be successfully kept up for more than five minutes.

            The problem with your example stems primarily from the fact that you demand obedience to utterly trivial claims, with only a vague aside to why.

            “Rational people would still dismiss my initial claim absent strong evidence from an unbiased source.”

            You’re begging the question again.

            -Rational people don’t believe in miraculous happenings.
            -Unbiased sources don’t have miracles in them.

          • badkungfu

            -Rational people don’t believe in miraculous happenings.
            -Unbiased sources don’t have miracles in them.

            I probably should have said “no person would rationally decide to change lifestyles based on my claim”. People are not binary rational/irrational- they compartmentalize, or they may lack all of the relevant facts, or they may have incorrect facts. I do not believe it would be rational to make a change of life based on a claim without proof. I think we agree on that much.

            Whether or not the unbiased sources contain miracles is mostly irrelevant. In a trial, for example, multiple independent accounts would be preferable to the lone account of the person being examined. They would bolster the claims.

            -That you had any priests at all.
            -That they all agreed to ruthlessly enforce “no plaid.”
            -That you had access to the force necessary to ruthlessly enforce anything.
            -How many generations are required again? Seriously, this is starting to sound like 1984.
            -That this could be successfully kept up for more than five minutes.

            I was sketching a non-supernatural alternative and simplified for brevity. I don’t expect these things could happen overnight starting from scratch. Maybe you prefer to imagine God parting seas, leading with towers of fire and cloud, giving Commandments on stone tablets- defining a religion and a people practically overnight. Perhaps, as a result, you avoid imagining non-supernatural hypotheses that fit the evidence equally well. More likely, you (and Marc) could imagine them but you’re satisfied with your beliefs and are willing to overlook arguments to the contrary. While I cannot rule out the supernatural, it seems as unnecessary to me as invoking God to keep the planets in their orbits.

            Let’s imagine the story not happening overnight. Let’s imagine a tribe in ancient Canaan that worships El, as do other nearby tribes. They also believed in and sometimes revered other gods (Elohim). They have priests, naturally. I can’t imagine it would be unusual for priests and tribal leaders to work together to maintain their authority.

            This tribe begins to exalt El above all other gods (el) and even give him a new name. To solidify authority, El’s worshippers violently repudiate El’s wife Asherah and the other el in the Canaanite pantheon, along with their devotees in the tribe. They continue to develop their own religious traditions, and these gradually diverge from their neighbors’. Per the links I’ve included, traces of this proposed version of events may be found in the Bible.

            Let’s suppose that, over time, they’ve differentiated themselves by keeping increasingly good records of history along with social and religious customs. I imagine there was a big advantage for the Hebrews here. It’s very likely that they could maintain a healthier and more stable society than their more free-wheeling neighbors because of their extensively detailed laws. The practice of keeping geneologies and an interest in family histories may have kept the group closely-knit over time.

            Perhaps along the way, the few people who have access to these records- the priests- make insertions to “improve” the recorded history by incorporating oral tradition and the leaders’ opinions about the world. It wouldn’t be surprising to find references to real places and appropriate dates. They could also lend El’s authority to their social rules. Remember we’re not talking about the modern West here. I’m guessing that most people wouldn’t have had- or be able to read- a copy of the sacred text (actually, you die if you get too near the holy places or the Ark said to contain proof either by God’s supernatural smiting or his agents’ more natural smiting). It wasn’t until Ezra that the Torah was regularly read to the people. At any rate, the people didn’t have encyclopedias and they certainly didn’t write blogs or tweet the latest happenings. What was the average lifespan- 45? In such a scenario, it wouldn’t take long to officially change history and no large conspiracy is required- just several generations of priests making their own improvements, issuing harsh punishments for blasphemy, and a lack of independent accounts that might disagree. We can look at the modern Middle East and see how easy it is to keep people in line. The imams needn’t enforce blasphemy laws themselves- or any other rule that reinforces the religious and social order- when the people are happy to do it because the religion is part of who they are. Violations of the religion are violations of their collective identity.

            I don’t think the world of 1984 was depicted to have sprung up in 1982. Nothing we know of appears instantly ex nihilo- galaxies, solar systems, organisms, or religions. They continue to evolve. Modern Judaism is not the same as Judaism in the Torah even if the Torah has been preserved- perhaps because too many independent accounts exist for there to be changes. The Torah itself seems to contain fossils of Judaism’s evolution.

            And this would have to successfully perpetuate itself for thousands of years …

            It’s a pretty neat little self-perpetuating package, I’d say. Religions are, particularly in the absence of disruptive advances like printing presses, rationalism, empiricism, free speech, etc. I don’t think it’s surprising given those advances that so many Jews de-emphasize the supernatural while maintaining the cultural identity and many of the traditions.

          • Sophias_Favorite

            Empiricism (which means denying all proofs save empirical evidence, not merely acknowledging the validity of empirical evidence) is a self-contradictory eschatology…since it is not itself empirically verifiable.

            Also, the opposition between rationalism, the scientific method, and free speech/press exists only as an unhistorical canard, like the idea that people in Columbus’ time thought the world was flat, or that medieval Europeans didn’t bathe (they bathed about as often as Edo period Japanese people, and far more often than many modern Europeans).

            Rationalism and the scientific method were invented by monks, and the main purpose of printing presses for their first several centuries was Bibles and religious pamphlets. (Gutenberg, however, gets too much credit—leaving Korea’s printed Tripitaka Sutra to one side, we’ve got people in Europe using movable type printing when he was a child; the only thing we can prove Gutenberg invented was a way to print capital letters in a different color.)

          • badkungfu

            I think you’re nitpicking. I’m not claiming to know of a perfect epistemology. I think that competing epistemologies and the invention of new methods for disseminating knowledge have been disruptive to religion as the way of knowing.

            That’s not really the point, though. If there are two explanations for something- one that is only possible outside of “normal human experience” and has little to no verifiable evidence, while the other comports with human experience and offers evidence through textual criticism, archeology, anthropology, etc. – why prefer the former? Why believe that the Jews only obeyed because they saw God and were terrified into obeying harsh laws over the idea that Judaism developed from earlier religions and follows a fairly normal pattern for maintaining order in society?

            People believe because they want to believe and faith does not need reasons. Accepting that we believe some things simply by choice should at least make us more humble. It means we know we could be wrong.

          • Sophias_Favorite

            And when, precisely, did Christians consider religion—by which I assume you mean sacred authority—to be the way of knowing? You won’t find any of the Fathers talking about that; they were already talking about faith’s interaction with reason and facts from the time of St. Paul on.

            Your Whig history of philosophy is risibly false.

            And the reason one must believe the Jews really saw God is that the name he tells them is his, in Exodus, is the name of a concept they didn’t even have. There was essentially no ontology, in philosophy, until Socrates. There still isn’t any in Jewish thought, even Maimonides makes God the form of the cosmos, that is, the world-soul.

            Also, the Jews’ law is not remotely “normal”. Other than divorce, they don’t try to get away with any of the shenanigans any of their neighbors did. Women’s status in Jewish law was insanely high, higher than that of any of their neighbors—Jewish women had the highest status in the world until the High Middle Ages, when Frenchwomen beat them. If all they were after was “maintaining order in society”, they would’ve gone with the same customs as every other Levantine culture—every one of which was vastly more successful than the Jews, by every worldly measure.

            But then again, given the silly things you say about the intellectual history of Christianity, and that you seem to think Judaism is a creed (it’s not), I don’t know if it’s worth it to continue this.

          • Patrick J Loveless

            Not to mention, they treated their slaves with some measure of equality – compare the slavery laws to some of those within, say, the Code of Hammurabi. No comparison.

          • Kristen InDallas

            Rational people don’t believe in miraculous happenings.
            -Unbiased sources don’t have miracles in them.

            Read CS Lewis’s “Miricles” It very rationally takes down the 2 statements above, using modern scientific understanding and process… but requires a little more space than the combobox allows.

          • Cal-J

            Thanks for the recommendation, but I think you might want to aim it at Badkungfu.

    • Shamarvin

      Well thats funny Pharoah and his whole army drowned there read the book of Exodus

  • Alexandra

    Susan, I appreciate your points and you’re absolutely right that the saying “for those with faith, no proof is necessary; for those without faith, no proof is adequate” is often true, but I don’t think that is the case with this. I’m simply holding this story up to the same standard of proof I would for anything else. My search of the literature shows no scientific journal articles about the archeological proof for Exodus, only these kind of hookey looking websites. If there really was archeological evidence for Exodus, there would absolutely be scientific articles about it.

    I used to work for a professor, who was a theist, who wrote several articles about the historicity of Noah’s Flood. There is some truth to the Flood story. I accept that. I don’t automatically deem these things to be false, I just don’t accept them without the necessary proof. The consensus in the archeological community is that there is not archeological evidence for Exodus, but that doesn’t mean that the story has no meaning. Just that it’s probably not historically true.

    • MichaelR

      There is substantial archaeological proof for the Exodus story. I’m not sure what journals you have been looking through, but there are a variety of articles and books by archaeologists that address the evidence for the Exodus. The evidence ranges from Israelites in Egypt (Hebrew names on the Brooklyn Papyrus, for example), to a possible Egyptian account of some of the plauges (Admonitions of Ipuwer), to the earliest mention of Yahweh from an Egyptian text associating that god with foreigners near Canaan (Ta Shasu Yahweh inscription ca. 1400 BC), to the appearance of Israel in Canaan (destruction of Hazor and Jericho ca. 1400 BC, numerous epigraphic sources mentioning Israel or one of the tribes at the end of the Late Bronze Age). That is just a brief overview of some of the evidence. The Israelites were in point A (Egypt), mention of Yahweh worshipping nomads between Egypt and Canaan, Israel ended in point B (Canaan). That’s an Exodus from Egypt.

      • Alexandra

        Sources would be helpful, but my search of ISI Web of Knowledge didn’t show anything like that. I’d definitely take it into consideration if someone could show me real journal articles.

      • Alexandra

        Also, those things you cite, they just say that there were some Hebrews in Egypt at one point, and then they weren’t there anymore. What about the wandering the desert for 40 yrs? The parting of the Red Sea? The drowning of the soldiers? If tons of slaves fled Egypt you should see a dip in the Egyptian economy, and you don’t. Sure there were some Hebrews in Egypt and then they left, but that’s not archeological evidence for the book of Exodus.

        I really don’t think I’m being particularly obstinate about this point, but I’m sure other readers think I am. There just isn’t the historical evidence to show that the story of the exodus as described in the Book of Exodus is even nearly similar to any sort of exodus that took actually place.

        • Sophias_Favorite

          A Christian no more needs every detail of the Exodus to be true than a Navajo needs the Upwardreaching Way to be completely true. In both cases, the gist of the story is “The people were taken up as dependents by their god(s), during a time of strife when they were fleeing their enemies, and have since lived more happily.”

          St. Augustine said that any story in the Bible that directly contradicted known facts (that is, not merely the implausible-seeming but “we have evidence to the contrary”) must be interpreted allegorically. His example, amusingly given that was the 4th century, was paleontology contradicting Genesis—that’s how out of date Young Earth Creationists are.

          • Will

            So books that essentially have been proved not historically accurate are to be taken as a metaphor, but books that haven’t been refuted yet are to be taken as fact? That makes no sense.

            All of you remind me of the religious zealots in Galileo’s time. Ridiculing him for believing the Earth revolved around the sun…”Well that just can’t be true!” Rabble rabble rabble.

          • prin

            @Will and Alexandra- The problem is not that the Bible is to be read in whatever “pick and choose” way we feel like in order that we can never be wrong about anything and continue justifying whatever we feel like. Although, that’s not to say that Christians don’t do that – fundamentalists do it all the time and it is hurtful and misleading to many. In any case, what you must understand is that the Bible is an immensely complex compilation of different people’s accounts, passing on the story of God’s revelation to man, going back thousands of years – the ultimate aim of which was not to set down a scientific proof of God’s existence and the history of the Jews (that kind of historical documenting was never even used back then), but to provide a prologue, anticipation or preparation for the coming of the messiah. The Old Testament was to tell the story about how God has revealed Himself to man before He Himself took on the form of man. Anyone who really thinks about this sensibly knows that you can’t just expect people are going to understand these profound spiritual, metaphysical and theological truths dealing with God and the universe and its prophetic significance by merely writing down a historical document of hard, provable facts. So yes, in many cases throughout the Bible, you are not reading a text that is meant to be taken literally or written to serve as a record of proof, as we moderns expect everything should be written if it’s to be “true,” (like God creating the world in 6 days – although God could have created the world in 6 days if he wanted, it’s probably not the case and the Genesis story needs to be read with a certain kind of lens). In fact, many of the Church fathers warn that it’s not prudent to take certain parts of the Old Testament literally, for the spirit and purpose of the teachings would disappear. Why do you think there is constant disagreement about what the Bible is doing – there are many different ways one can approach it.

            So, know this, much of the Old Testament is not meant to operate as a historical record of facts, places, dates and times, (although some of it does). It really takes a great deal of expertise, time and study to know which parts in the Bible are to be read as a certain type of genre. Many of the stories told in the Old Testament are literary works that operate to instruct the individual of faith in matters that deal with humanity’s relationship to God and morality etc. I think it is a huge strength and proof of the divine wisdom in the Bible that it has this diversity-for if everything was just a historical recording of fact after fact, what meaning would the word “faith” have and furthermore, what the heck exactly are we going to learn about God’s actual teaching and the spiritual nuances within the relationship between creator and creature, and then the fulfillment of all of that in the figure of Jesus Christ? Also, compare this all to the New Testament, where Jesus Himself in many of His teachings, uses parables and stories in order to help the people understand better the nature of God, Heaven and Hell, sin and salvation etc etc. Scientific understanding or proof is not enough – and I think that even if Jesus did procur the exact kinds of facts for the doubting Jews/Pharisees at the time to prove his divinity and sonship, He still would have been rejected and crucified by them. Some people are just not willing to open themselves up to the truth, they don’t want to believe and would rather hold onto their own theories and their own system of ideas and laws. And you know what, that’s every single person’s freedom and God does not force Himself to make you reckon with the truth. That’s why faith is so special and so hard to grasp when you are not open.

          • Alexandra

            I understand your point, but mine was that Marc talked about the Exodus story saying that we know it is historically true, when indeed it isn’t.

            Of course it still has meaning, but it isn’t historically true. The Jews may have believed it to be true, and maybe they didn’t.

            What we can say is that today, there is no reason to believe that the Exodus story is historically true. Which is much less hand-wavey than what Marc said we could say about it.

          • prin

            “Of course it still has meaning, but it isn’t historically true.”

            But you cannot take that position with certainty either. You cannot make your claim as an objective fact, you can only say that based on your subjective opinion. Just because one can raise the doubt about biblical historicity, does not disprove its historicity. In terms of archaeological findings: archeology can only prove the existence of artifacts unearthed, not disprove that which hasn’t been found. Lack of evidence is no evidence of lack. In fact, only a tiny fraction of archeological sites related to the parts of the Bible which treat large events such as Exodus, have been excavated, and even when artifacts are discovered, the interpretation of what they mean is a whole other problem.

            So people are left to decide for themselves what stance they choose to take until proven right or wrong. For some people, hard evidence is not necessary and the authority of the bible account itself is enough. For other it is not enough. It reflects more the subjective preferences or faith of individuals than it does the actual fact of the matter.

          • Littlemissfls23

            But if there is no punishments in an after-life, what does it matter if you believe or not. The answer by the argument of this blog would be that you will prosper on earth, as was the promise. Yet it seems that billions of non believers or believers in other gods have also prospered. A ‘no winner takes all’ approach. Maybe this is why Jews can be so `driven’ and are known for being successful in business because they have to keep on proving that they are right and are the ones who are going to `win’ in life as god promised. They are doing it for god and for themselves. However, this makes for a very unhappy world for as Jews keep on with this mentality of having to be the winners it can make them very sore losers and makes human life a competition for survival in a way that modern life has made less necessary (we have enough to go around and can use technology to feed the world etc). Of course believing that you are a survivor and are doing it for god will make you a good fighter for you are fighting for your life, for life , and for identity as opposed to just a nice trophy for the mantel piece but for those who are looking for a more peaceful existence, this is not likely to be the outcome of such thinking. It’s not that I blame the Jews for developing such a strategy at all, it is just that it seems to make less and less sense as people develop better communications and the ability to get on and get past ideas of races and ethnicities.
            And of course we should do everything in our power to stop those who want to wipe out Jews in the same way we should do everything in our power to prevent those who want to wipe out any group or individual.

          • Sophias_Favorite

            Nobody ridiculed Galileo for his geocentrism, and none of his opponents were motivated by religious zealotry. They were his academic rivals.

            As for “rabble rabble rabble”, are you asserting that I am a member of some lower class than yourself? Or are you accusing me of “babble babble babble”, and just too stupid to know the difference?

            As for your deliberate misinterpretation of my position: you have no knowledge of the civilized world’s approach to Scripture. Go debate your fellow backwoods literalist Bible-thumpers, those of us who have the arch don’t have the time to waste on you.

          • Cal-J

            There’s also the fact that when called upon to prove his theory, Galileo was missing a crucial piece of evidence — demonstrable parallax shifts in the stars above. It’s not just that Galilleo had a new idea, it’s that the known universe as understood deliberately contradicted his theory, even as heliocentrism gained more acceptance among scholars (many of them Jesuits).

          • CPE Gaebler

            That’s really ironic, because Galileo actually received opposition from learned scholars and astronomers based on physical evidence (e.g. the lack of observed stellar parallax) which made geocentrism seem more likely, so it is actually you who is holding the ridiculous belief here.

            Or: You remind me of Galileo, ridiculing honest, rational religious folk for not accepting your fanciful theories that fly in the face of the known evidence.

  • JaneDoe

    You had better not take back those last two blogs; I enjoyed them tremendously! I, for one, do not think an apology was needed in the least. Keep on writing! I read almost every blog that you post, and I just want to say, well done!

  • Shamarvin

    The Jews are Gods chosen people and I love and pray for their salvation You would be wise to do it to. God will bless you

  • Sobibor

    But they don’t believe in Jesus, and the Orthodox Jews actuallys say he was a false prophet, and they say horrible things about the Blessed Mother.

    • Recusant

      Maybe, but at least they don’t use the name of an extermination camp as their moniker. Disgraceful

  • Michelle Thuldanin

    Hurrah for our Beloved Elder Brethren! Go Jews!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=500251945 Boyd Allen

    I appreciate your apologetics posts much more than you political-ish ones. This one in particular, I enjoyed. Thanks.

  • Cmatthews123

    Well, the apology helped but not much.

    Why does name calling seem like so much fun?

    Aren’t we all divided enough?

    Can we possibly hurt each other more?

    Do you realize what is at stake here?

    • guest

      I feel there was no need for Marc to apologize. BadCatholic shines light into the darkness, as well as crafting beautiful posts. His last two posts would not qualify as nice or necessarily charitable, but did they need to be? I don’t believe they did. Growth and change never occur when people are comfortable. This is evident in the amount of dialogue that was created in the two posts in question – 760 comments. Compare this to his 3 outstanding Lenten 2012 posts – 100 comments. BadCatholic has something for everyone. I’m sure there is a post brewing inside that ADD fueled mind that you will find appealing. Until then, I’m fine with him pointing out the elephant in the room and the telling the elephant that its tiny tail is ridiculous.

  • Philippa Gilbert

    Hi Marc – Read this, if you haven’t already: http://actsoftheapostasy.wordpress.com/2012/04/18/the-problem-with-patheos
    It’s an important challenge for all Patheos Catholic bloggers.

  • Malusxzumi

    Simply put, I have never thought of it that way before.

    Well done Marc. Powerful stuff.

  • Korou


    Since there are some people who are saying, “No need to apologise,” I think I ought to write this: I’m glad you made that apology. I’m sorry to say this, but I must agree with you when you write “I wanted to take a moment and apologize for the tone of my previous two blog posts, which weren’t charitable in the least. Mea culpa, mea culpa, and I promise to do better.”

    Good for you, and I look forward to commenting on the forthcoming posts.

  • Jacob Neeson

    The Moses pic is probably the most awesome thing I’ve seen in a while.

  • TheDragonofMordecai

    I’ve noticed several people asking for evidence of the Exodus…well, we do have one site where Semitic (Hebrew) writing is all over the place. It was some kind of quarry or stonework station. The writing is basically graffiti. There’s also some of the things other people mentioned. If you’re looking for a fair and balanced (not Fundamentalist and not intentionally Anti-Theist, some of you sound like you’re directly quoting A History of God, sheesh) way to understand any of the Old Testament in regards to History, I’d recommend this particular book by Lawrence Boadt.


    As for the Miracles themselves, well, let’s be rational. Would a nation strongly held together by the authority of a god-king (Egypt) be smart to record that god-king getting his rear-end handed to him by a bunch of desert hicks and their punkish monotheistic Deity? It’s reasonable to assume that any defeat (even ones recorded in the Bible) is downplayed (although many Biblical ones were directly linked to the sinfulness of Israel itself) by the defeated party, especially when they have a reputation to uphold. Which is why you don’t see too much about the plagues or losing an army. As for the number of slaves leaving? Do you know when Exodus was written down? The precise time period when everybody upped the numbers of forces in HISTORICAL TEXTS to make things cooler. It was also when Israel was a nation, and it’s not too much to assume that they, in imagining a whole nation fleeing when looking back on their past, and not a smaller group of fleeing slaves, guessed a big number and used it.

    As for any other miracles aside from the plagues and sea parting (many Catholic Scholars also think it may be the Reed Sea, which is a different one, etc.), well, archeology is hardly going to be able to prove that something happened on Mount Sinar/Heshbon, or that water came from a rock.

    Now, you may ask, why trust in miracles with no proof? Well, if you’re like me, and have seen at least one yourself, and have had friends who’ve experienced them, and proceeded to cross-check scientific explanation and the possibility of other “supernatural” forces aside from Christ doing these things, and figured the most probable answer actually was Him, then yeah, the possibility takes on more merit.

    And before you ask, I’m actually a Geology major heading into Paleontology. Preferably, large carnivorous dinosaur evolution. I’m specializing in picking out patterns and possibilities from dead stuff far older than anything recorded in the Bible. That we usually only have fragmented remains of.

    • Alexandra

      Thanks for that reply, I can see your point of view, but I think that you’re coming to a very different conclusion than I am while looking at the same evidence.

      As a student of geology I’m sure you’re aware of the kind of deposits that would be expected had a large body of water retreated and then come back together that quickly. The lack of these deposits is very telling.

      I definitely agree that it’s possible some small community of Hebrews lived in Egypt and then left, but the idea that it was anything like it is described in Exodus is unsupported by physical geology and archeology. While the Egyptians may not have kept written records of it, there should still be archeological deposits confirming the Exodus story. The plagues especially should have left archeological evidence.

      Regardless, my point isn’t to prove whether or not the exodus really happened, or on what scale it did happen on. My point was to respond to the way that Marc wrote that we know these things with good certainty. The truth is we don’t. You have to take a lot of it on faith. It is not an unreasonable position to say that we have no reason to believe that the Book of Exodus describes a historical event. It is most likely mythical, but there are theists who chose to accept it as historical on faith.

      • Humbletorte

        Well, we’re in accordance on the point I was trying to make about the numbers of Israelites who left…

        A few things: those deposits you’re talking about aren’t surefire for telling anything. The massive turbidites you get during severe storms and stuff occur on coastal shelves and areas where truly massive amounts of water (like what you see in the movies when Moses cuts straight through the freaking middle of the Red Sea) are present. We aren’t even exactly sure of the location of the crossing event in Exodus(Archaeologists are still mulling it), because it’s left vague by default (when you’re trying to make a point aside from general highly detailed historical recordings, this is no surprise). Either way, the name used in the Bible is actually Reed Sea, or Sea of Reeds. So given that…the amount of water and mud disturbed once for a shallower area is going to show up jack squat in the scheme of things. I mean, the events I’d be looking at that would show dramatic change are so big, it would take a once-a-century hurricane to lift that much water. I’d wager there isn’t a way you could confirm this geologically. We only tend to be able to see really big events that happened over larger periods of time than just a wham-bam one-shot parting of waters. It’s the nature of how geologic events are recorded. Heck, the seasonal water-influx from various sources could even cover up the disturbed layers and alter them.

        Really the point you’re trying to make concerning the Geology just doesn’t work in relation to the Science itself.

        As for the soldiers themselves? Do you think a country very obsessed with an overly detailed Afterlife depending on the preservation of the body would leave that many dead people in a shallow body of water? Their gear, maybe, but not their bodies. It doesn’t seem that likely, given what I know about Egyptians. The plagues, aside from the documents others have mentioned, not only make sense and are possible for the region, but would be an excellent thing for you know, the ruling people who depend on being god-kings and the priests of said god-kings, to sweep under the rug. It can’t seriously be that hard for you to consider that possibility. If people do it all the time with normal defeats, why not a Supernatural one? Heck, I’d say the miraculous quality adds a direct NEED for a Pharoah and his men to do exactly that.

        Also, where do the Israelites come from, then? There’s a period of time where the houses are all Canaanite in the Promised Land, and then, wham, these four-roomed, Israelite-unique houses start popping up out of nowhere. I mean, we have sites where they aren’t there one period, then, pop, Israelite homes everywhere.

        Part the problem also seems to be that the Exodus story seems like an awfully dumb thing to make up when you could say “Well, we started out here in small groups, and the Yahweh helped is kick-arse and take over.” Why mention Egypt at all unless SOMETHING important happened there?

        I’m not saying we have direct evidence of miracles that occurred ages ago. I’m saying it’s not unreasonable to think that it’s possible. You really don’t even have to think of them as miracles, you can see them as coincidences (yes, all but the death of every first born can be explained as natural phenomena, even crossing the Jordan and Sea of Reeds, or the water to blood).

        • TheDragonofMordecai

          “This does not prove the existence of God. All of those interactions could have been made up, the Jews may have survived by mere chance, and the Jew on a bench in New York City today might be no more than an accident of history.”

          Also, how does this even sound like stating something with certainty to you? He doesn’t even say the miracles are certain, only that the place and the ruler and the obtaining of freedom are pretty certain.

          And, one more question: Why the heck are you even here? I mean, I know why I am, I’m Catholic and Marc is a good read. But you? What purpose could this possibly serve? Are you that much of a missionary that you hang out and read Theists blogs to try and tear them down?

          • Alexandra


            Why are you being so hostile towards me?

            I’ve enjoyed talking to people on this blog and learning about what it is that Catholics believe. I grew up Catholic, but it was a very liberal version of Catholicism and I’m interested in learning more about the faith. There have been several people who I’ve had really interesting civil conversation with.

            I originally came here through a friend’s recommendation of one of Marc’s posts through FB, and I liked the community.

            I wasn’t trying to tear anything down. I was just trying to have a discussion with people about Exodus and the different views on it’s historicity. I wasn’t trying to play “missionary” or anything like that. This is actually the only religious blog that I follow, I’m not trolling for lol’s. I’m learning things.

            Kind of like how you could continue to consider the fact that it is weird that there isn’t any geology to back it up. If we’re gonna play pull the degree, I’ve got a MS in geoscience and my first publication was on a shallow marine core. I do know what I’m talking about with the geology. If you don’t want to discuss it, that’s fine, but I think you’re being unnecessarily aggressive because you perceive me as trying to tear down the Exodus story instead of what I feel is my goal, is to realistically discuss the truth of it.

          • Humbletorte

            Hostility? I don’t really feel like I’m giving you any. I asked legitimate questions about why you are here. I got answers that made sense.

            Could you break down for me just how one incidence like that is recorded in a shallow area of water that we aren’t even sure is a lake/reed sea/ect.? From everything I’ve seen, in pretty much every sed/strat course I’ve had to take, it doesn’t seem like one event would be recorded that well, especially in an area with regular sediment influx. Heck, do we even have an idea what sediment looks like when water moves in the way it supposedly did during the parting? The natural phenomena of receding waters in opposite directions, related mainly to earthquakes or high winds, does not seem to be common enough to give us an accurate picture.

          • Korou

            TheDragonofMordecai – I hope Alexandra won’t mind me commenting.

            Maybe you didn’t mean it in a hostile way, but when you said “Why the heck are you even here?” it does sound like “We don’t want you here.” And “Are you that much of a missionary that you hang out and read Theists blogs to try and tear them down?” does sound rather unkind.

  • http://www.catholicsforisrael.com/ Catholics for Israel

    Very insightful and thought-provoking article. Thank you. And the picture at the top is great too.

  • 1x2y3z

    from Bill Foley

    I aplogize that my comment does not apply to the article in question, but I have come across a paragraph that is one of the most beautiful things that I have ever read, and I want to disseminate it over the Internet.

    Human Person and the Tabernacle

    Paragraph from page 344 of Volume 1 of The Mystical Evolution in the Development and Vitality of the Church by Father Juan Arintero, O.P.

    “One day, at the time of Communion, Blessed Mariana of Jesus, the Lily of Madrid, being unusually aware of her lowliness and unworthiness, said to her Lord: “My Lord, the tabernacle in which Thou art is much more clean and beautiful.” Christ answered her: “But it cannot love me.” “From this,” said the holy nun, I understood how much more Christ prefers to reside in our souls than in gold or silver or precious jewels which are inanimate creatures incapable of love.”

  • Kristen InDallas

    Fasntastic peice Marc – powerful, uplifting and spot on! Love it when I find something I can share with my Catholic, Jewish and even thoughtful agnostic friends that can be appriciated by all.

    I also wanted to say that I appriciate your apology at the end – God has clearly blessed you with humility and empathy. Whether or not it’s “nesecary” is irrelevant – it just makes you a good man. To be honest though – actions go a lot further than words… and I could tell by the 3rd paragraph of this article that your spirit has been renewed in a big way. So for me, the final sentence was kind of a “Duh” moment…. You already have! :)

  • Seangough

    I notice you haven’t been blogging in a while, I just wanted to let you know that you are missed, and whats more, your work here is helping to save souls! Don’t stop, keep it up, if it’s hard pray that God will give you the grace. Thank you!

  • Joey McGoebbels

    I believe in God because of my own Catholic family history, not any Jews. (that’s very Protestant) In 1555 Pope Paul IV wrote Cum Nimis Absurdum (Since it is Absurd…), which introduced severe religious and economic restrictions on Jews throughout Europe. Jews had to wear yellow badges, live in ghettos, and couldn’t own property. There are many other examples, I suggest you learn more about Church history

  • http://northierthanthou.com/ nothierthanthou

    There is a stock “atheist explanation of religious belief?”

  • Korou

    The reason Jewish people were hated had a lot less to do with people thinking “Aaargh! Stop testifying to the truth of your religion by your perfect witness!” and a lot more to do with:
    - Sentiments, spread largely by the Catholic Church, that they were Christ-killers and enemies of God.
    - The lifestyle which, due to their cultural and religious practices, made it difficult for them to assimilate or be assimilated into other groups, and therefore made them a target for prejudice and hatred.

    Do you actually believe that the Red Sea parted? That it rained frogs? That an angel came down from heaven and murdered children?
    Do you believe that if we time-travelled back to the time when the Hebrew slaves were in Egypt, that we would see Pharoah’s army charge into a mysterious gap in the sea, with water magically held up in shimmering walls , which then collapsed on to them?

    “They are living, breathing evidence that belief in God that did not originate from the promise of eternal reward, that it is nothing like an opiate, and that continued belief was validated — not by abstracts — but by concrete events, recorded in history.”

    They are living, breathing evidence that people can believe strange things very easily and with great conviction for no apparent reward. And there are plenty of others, for a great range of reasons, many of them religious.
    Also, I didn’t know any of thesemiraculous events were recorded in history. Would you please direct me to reputable historians who wrote about them?

    “The idea that these events (The Parting of the Red Sea, the Water From the Rock, etc.) could not possibly have happened is silly. Anyone claiming that is going to get trounced in a debate, for his argument — if he is a good scientist — will end up as this: “In normal human experience, the abnormal event of a Voice issuing from a burning bush is not likely.” No, it is most certainly possible that they happened.”

    And it is also possible that fairies live at the bottom of the garden, and that Santa Claus actually does really deliver presents (maybe he possesses the parents and inspires them to buy presents? Maybe he flies around the world at night, goes down all the chimneys and replaces the presents parents bought with his own, identical to theirs? Ridiculous, did you say? Yes, but certainly possible!)

    Plenty of religions have plenty of claims. Can you provide evidence for the claims of your religion? Apart from the argument that you believe it happened because it’s not completely impossible that it might have done?

  • Anne

    I found this part confusing: “This does not prove the existence of God. All of those interactions could have been made up, the Jews may have survived by mere chance, and the Jew on a bench in New York City today might be no more than an accident of history. But it does lay to waste the idea that the belief in God originates from untestable hypotheses.” If it was all made up, etc, then couldn’t the belief in God have originated from untestable hypotheses and then the specific stories were made up afterwards to support that belief in God?

    I’m understanding the argument for belief in God given here as “Yes, it’s improbable that Moses parted the Red Sea, but it’s even more improbable that people wrote down that he parted the Red Sea in such detail if it never actually happened.” Is that a fair interpretation of it?

  • Ptgreb

    The Jews are God’s chosen people???? Wasn’t it stated by the Jews. Most Israel archeoligists believe the heros of the Old Testament were fabricated. There is no proof that Moses was ever near Egypt.

    If you want to read some interesting items on the Jews look at their involvement in the Russian Revolution or as Slave Traders.