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Christianity is Self-Defeating

Why settle for a Hollywood cutout when you can have the real thing?The book of Exodus gives God’s demand that the Jews avoid foreign religions when they returned to Canaan. The first commandment was, “You shall have no other gods before me” (Ex. 20:3). God had to make sure that they weren’t corrupted.

[SFX: Record scratch]

Wait a minute—how could they have been corrupted?

The Jews enter a land full of foreign gods—invented gods—but God had made plain the correct religion. How would those made-up gods look next to the real deal? Judaism would be a stunning and brilliant jewel compared to the other religions’ tawdry plastic beads.

Imagine the Hollywood set of a Western town, built with plywood facades, compared to a real building—a castle full of antiques and tapestries, say. Who’d be tempted to stray to the cutout imposter if you could have the real thing?

Another example: imagine that God provided Disney World for the Jews but warned against moving into the filthy trailer park across the street. Why bother with the warning? How could anyone possibly be tempted?

Similarly, with the Jews given the correct religion, how could God have ever been worried that another religion would be the least bit compelling?

… or maybe Judaism didn’t look special. Perhaps the prohibitions—remember that these were imposed by priests whose livelihood depended on Yahweh worship—made a lot of sense because in fact Yahweh of early Judaism looked similar to Chemosh, Molech, Baal, and other gods of the Canaanite religions.

The Bible’s own prohibitions argue that Judaism was made up, just like the rest.

If God exists, I hope he has a good excuse.
— Woody Allen

(This is a modified version of a post that originally appeared 9/30/11.)

Photo credit: Wikipedia

About Bob Seidensticker
  • DrewL

    Easily the weakest post you’ve put on here. I’d probably be willing to ship you a used Bible commentary, just to save us from this type of poor reasoning.

    The Old Testament is full of stories of Israel wavering from Yahweh into other gods and religious practices. If you read Deuteronomy, there is an embryonic notion of free-will here, based upon the idea of covenant: you do this, God blesses you, you do that, God curses you. It’s hardly catching God by surprise that they break the covenant again and again.

    You seem to be operating from the presumption that if a person chooses to defect from said covenant, this proves the entire deity never existed really existed, less they would never defect. Quite the presumption, but one that you’ll have to provide empirical evidence for.

    Hopefully you do a little better providing empirical evidence fro your beliefs this time around.

    • Nox

      If you’re going to complain about the point of a post, you should probably read it first and try to understand what the point of the post is.

      If god was reliably and observably blessing those who served him, while reliably and observably cursing those that didn’t serve him, there wouldn’t be many israelites not serving him. The bible claims these people were witnessing miracles from yhvh left and right. If they had actually witnessed all those miraculous acts, they would know their god was the right one. The idea of people who had seen the one true god being fooled by people telling stories about other gods would be inconceivable.

      It is only if those people had witnessed nothing more than one set of priests claiming yhvh existed, and another set of priests claiming baal existed, that people straying from yhvh should have been an issue.

      • DrewL

        You’re projecting a modern notion of miracles and naturalism vs. supernaturalism on a time period that lacked those conceptual categories. Whereas today we perceive nature being mechanized, consistent, a “closed system,” and “disenchanted”–that is, nothing is going on in nature beyond what we could neatly quantify for measurement and predict with the proper formulas–no one in the ancient world perceived the world working like that.

        This is relevant because your presumption of what would most likely maintain someone’s interest in a religion is essentially the quantity and quality of “non-natural” (outside of nature) events said religion could incite and exhibit. That may be true for you, but you and Bob are going to need to produce some evidence as to why we would presume ancient people were doing their deity evaluations with categories not conceptualized until 2500 years later. You’ve got some work to do here.

        I should note that many theologians are open to the idea that the other ancient gods of the time were most likely driven by demonic forces. This throws Bob’s argument for a loop. He of course would immediately dismiss this possibility, being that he assumes a naturalistic, demon-free universe for all of history, but this essentially reveals the conclusion of his argument was actually built into one of the (scientifically unverifiable) premises: the Israelite god wasn’t supernaturally powerful because Israelites defected to other gods, and the other gods weren’t supernaturally powerful because no gods are supernaturally powerful. Couldn’t we have saved time by starting with that last part?

        Incredibly weak post, but I assume we’ll see it recycled again in 2014. Gotta keep the circus going.

        • smrnda

          It’s odd that, since the rise of our understanding of science, few events have occurred which seem to require demons, gods or supernatural powers, to explain, and that, when people believed in these things, demons or gods or whatever were just accused of say, sending rain or plagues or droughts or other natural phenomena, or the lack of favor of a god resulted in a loss on the battlefield. To me, the thesis that gods and such were simply invented to explain natural phenomenon, and since these things are kind of random a lot of the time, that gods would be seen to be capricious and jealous, and there would about stories of powerful and seductive false gods since once in a while, the guy who worships the golden calf is gonna make it big.

        • DrewL

          Fair assessment. But again, this makes Bob’s argument unnecessary. Christianity is “self-defeating” because it’s a religion, not because of anything that happened in Exodus.

        • Nox

          No. That’s not what happened here. You are assuming me and Bob are saying that, because that is the position you want to argue against (regardless of whether that position is present in the argument you are responding to).

          Pretending Bob is saying something obviously different from what Bob has actually said, and responding to that imaginary statement by calling Bob a simpleton for not understanding why something he never said is wrong, has been the recurring theme of everything I’ve seen from you on this site.

          It might be an easy way to give yourself a sense of intellectual superiority, but do you really think you’re fooling anyone else here. Anyone literate enough to read your comments will be able to read what you are responding to (on the same page) and anyone who does will have to conclude your argument is at best off-topic.

          This is why after observing your comments for a few months, the first words I said directly to you were “if you’re going to complain about the point of a post, you should probably read it first and try to understand what the point of the post is”. Apparently you didn’t read that either. That must be how you missed the words right after it.

          Your constant misunderstanding and/or misrepresentation of a living author who is repeatedly and directly telling you “no, dumbass, that’s not what I said” does not inspire much confidence in your ability to properly contextualize the tenth hand accounts of a dead culture.

          You are of course right to mention that the israelites in question (which would include the priests in the Second Temple Era who probably wrote most of Exodus and the much earlier characters in Exodus) wouldn’t have recognized a hard and fast distinction between natural and supernatural (they would have thought of the natural as an extention of the supernatural).

          Or at least you would be right to mention that if you weren’t pulling it out in a transparent attempt to distract from another topic.

          The important distinction is not between natural and supernatural (and for my last comment, you can read “supernatural” as “impressive” if we agree they wouldn’t have known the difference). The distinction is between what someone tells you about and what you’ve seen with your own f*cking eyes.

          Have you ever been seriously tempted to convert to islam? How about worshipping Zeus or Angra Mainyu? Do those seem like remotely viable options to you? Why not? Why are those thousands of other gods out there so utterly untempting to you? Because you already have the real god and those gods are made up?

          You haven’t seen god with your own eyes. You haven’t watched him part the seas or rain frogs from the sky. You haven’t eaten of the manna he left on the physical ground for you to eat. You have no pillar of fire to confirm your faith. All you have is what people have told you and your own desire to believe what people have told you.

          Even though you have far fewer tangible reasons to believe than the characters in the story would have had, I can confidently predict you are not going to go out and convert to hinduism next week.

          So why should they?

          Why the f*ck would you bother worshipping a statue of god when the real God is prancing around right in front of you.

          That was Bob’s (obvious) point in the original post.

          The point wasn’t that “the Israelite god wasn’t supernaturally powerful because Israelites defected to other gods” (and “the other gods weren’t supernaturally powerful because no gods are supernaturally powerful” is something you just completely imagined into this post).

          Theoretically, a belief system could have some people stop believing it without that reflecting on whether the belief system were true. Unless that belief system had some specific traits which do tie the likelihood of them being true with whether people believe them (which christianity and judaism do have).

          When a belief system is built on “You have god damn seen the things you are being asked to believe” it has no need to ask for faith. When a belief system is built on “other people have seen the things you are being asked to believe” it is asking for faith.

          Seeing this doesn’t require projecting anything more than what the text of the bible says onto the characters in the bible.

          (If the bible is telling the truth) In designing the original jewish belief system (upon which christianity is loosely based), yhvh’s primary concern seems to have been making sure the people he had just freed and was living among (and blessing) didn’t wander off. If there were any chance any of them could have wandered off, it would call into question whether they had seen the things they had supposedly seen.

          (If the bible is telling the truth) In designing the christian belief system, yhvh’s primary concern seems to have been making sure the people who just saw him raise a guy from the dead would not stop believing in him. If there were any chance any of them could have stopped believing, it would call into question whether they had seen the things they had supposedly seen.

          The entire structure of judaism is built on the assumption of “our ancestors witnessed these things”. The entire structure of christianity is built on the assumption of “those people witnessed these things”. If the people in question (pretending for a moment they existed) did not witness the things they were supposed to have witnessed, that would be one more example of how christianity and judaism are built on false assumptions.

        • DrewL

          Most of your post seems like mis-directed anger and frustration. I’m guessing you are still working through some anger toward a religious upbringing.

          I’m just going to keep it simple. You asked a decent question:

          Why the f*ck would you bother worshipping a statue of god when the real God is prancing around right in front of you.

          You’re presuming, again, rejection of a god indicates the observer perceives said god not being a “real” god, or as Bob says, indicates Judaism is “made up.” This is a poor conception of how the ancients viewed reality since it doesn’t at all align with the narrative Bob is using. The Exodus writer has the Israelites trembling in fear at the base of Mount Sinai, physically observing the smoke coming over the mountain, and seeing the “glory of the Lord appear like consuming fire on the mountaintop.” And then a few chapters later they turn to Aaron and say “Okay, you make us some other gods.” Woah woah woah, had they decided the god at the top of Mount Sinai wasn’t “real” at that point? Seems doubtful, particularly when you consider things like fire and clouds ALWAYS entailed some sort of cosmic force. Their minds wouldn’t be able to construct a “naturalistic” explanation for things they sensed because those didn’t exist for a few thousand more years. It seems more likely they were torn between two equally “real” gods in the case of the golden calf. Now, does this seem crazy to our modern intellectual minds? ABSOLUTELY YES. But does it suggest Ancients had a very particular way of seeing gods that is difficult for us to cram into our modern categories? YES.

          So I return to Bob’s argument:
          How would those made-up gods look next to the real deal?

          The Exodus writer chose to include a very direct side-by-side comparison of a made-up god and the Mount Sinai god, we get to see that Ancient minds weren’t too skilled on choosing “disney world” over the “filthy trailer park.”Yet if we believe with the armchair Bible scholars below that Scripture was edited later to propagate certain agendas, why keep this passage in there? Just for atheist bloggers to point out thousands of years later? If we buy Bob’s argument, the Exodus writer and later editors have given us all the evidence we need to know that religion is self-defeating. Does it seem likely that they’d do that?

          Not to me it doesn’t. I think I’ll hold out for a better explanation, maybe one not conceived by someone with no knowledge of hebrew or ancient middle-east culture, history, and literature.

        • Nox

          “I’m guessing you are still working through some anger toward a religious upbringing.”

          Lots, but I’m way more angry at christianity for f*cking up the world and poisoning the soul of humanity for two millenia. In comparison, any harm it ever caused me personally is relatively minor and it would just be a really selfish thing for me to dwell on.

          So I treat my anger at my religious upbringing the way many people treat their belief in god. I compartmentalize it and bring it out when it’s useful.

          Most of my last post wasn’t anger or frustration. Most of it was pointing out that your rebuttal of Bob didn’t really apply to what Bob had said. I intentionally stated it in an insulting way to poke fun at how you’ve unnecessarily stated all your points in an intentionally insulting way (and to stop you from claiming ground you haven’t earned).

          It did come off more hostile than I was intending and more hostile than I like to be in my initial interactions with people. So for the rest of this comment I will completely refrain from insulting you (I will however be insulting your god and one of his main prophets).

          “The Exodus writer chose to include a very direct side-by-side comparison of a made-up god and the Mount Sinai god”

          By “chose to include” do you mean they decided what to put in the bible independent of what they thought was true or what they thought god told them to write?

          If that’s what you’re saying I don’t entirely disagree. But I’m sure you realize this is an incredibly unorthodox belief which would get you chased out of nearly any christian church.

          I’m pretty sure that is not what you’re trying to say here. If it is, then maybe I do have some misconceptions about what you believe.

          “It seems more likely they were torn between two equally “real” gods in the case of the golden calf. Now, does this seem crazy to our modern intellectual minds?”

          Only to those who believe the god of Moses was any more real than the god of Aaron. If both were idols, people being torn between two equally “real” gods would make perfect sense.

          “The Exodus writer has the Israelites trembling in fear at the base of Mount Sinai, physically observing the smoke coming over the mountain, and seeing the “glory of the Lord appear like consuming fire on the mountaintop.” And then a few chapters later they turn to Aaron and say “Okay, you make us some other gods.”

          Correct. That stuff happens in Exodus. And that is a huge plot hole in Exodus.

          Well maybe not so much a plot hole in Exodus, as a plot hole in what christianity claims Exodus says (since the Torah often treats those other gods as real entities that do exist).

          If yhvh is, as modern christians and jews still believe, a real god who actually exists (and one powerful enough to create a universe ex nihilo, and the one who did), and the statue of the cow was just a plain old statue of a f*cking cow, then yhvh should have been able to do things the statue couldn’t do. In which case it would be kind of weird if anyone were torn between them.

          It might not have been about the difference between “real” and “not real” for them. But christianity today claims there is only one real god and has only ever been one real god. And christianity claims the one and only real god ever, is the one who the jews saw on Mount Sinai.

          If the jews were not visited by a real god, then the story based on that visit is not true. If we don’t assume the israelites were visited by the real god, and are thus uniquely qualified to tell the rest of us about the real god, then christianity falls apart. That is why it does matter whether the god they saw is real (and it doesn’t really matter whether that particular distinction would have mattered to them).

          That entire story rests on the testimony of one generation of jews, who might not have even existed, and who left no surviving texts telling their side of the story. We have only a highly unreliable book written centuries after the alleged events to assure us of what they saw. Leaving all that aside and assuming the testimony was from the jews of Moses’ generation, the strength of their testimony depends on the idea that they were visited by a real god (and that they would be able to tell the difference between a real god and a fake god).

          And yet our only source for the story, the Book of Exodus itself (as well as your defense of them here) describes these uniquely qualified witnesses as not being able to tell the difference between the alpha and omega walking among them and a statue of a cow.

        • http://www.hongkongudy.com Karl Udy

          DrewL and Nox,
          As far as I understand it, the golden calf was not a breach of the first commandment but of the second (worshipping graven images). Israel did not view the golden calf as a separate God, but as a physical expression Yahweh who had delivered them from Egypt:
          Exodus 32:4, 5 “He took what they handed him and made it into an idol cast in the shape of a calf, fashioning it with a tool. Then they said, “These are your gods, Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.”
          When Aaron saw this, he built an altar in front of the calf and announced, “Tomorrow there will be a festival to the Lord.”

        • DrewL

          Thanks for the thoughtful response. I’m not a Biblical scholar so I won’t go much farther in this subject. My goal was only to pinpoint how poor Bob’s reading of the Exodus narrative and context were.

          But christianity today claims there is only one real god and has only ever been one real god. And christianity claims the one and only real god ever, is the one who the jews saw on Mount Sinai.

          I’d point you again to the idea among many theologians that Old Testament gods could have very well been demonic forces. Supernatural, active, world-intervening demonic forces were a big part of New Testament Christianity worldview, and shows up many times in the Old Testament. This is a strange argument to push (I’m not pushing it here) because obviously any modern thinker committed to a world of naturalism won’t accept it, but it’s important to remember if you’re trying to argue with a believer that the Israelites chose a “real” god over an “unreal” god, which is exactly what Bob is doing. In other words, this isn’t really the slam-dunk argument Bob thinks it is.

          (But the golden calf is interesting–the Israelites literally witnessed it being made and THEN worshipped it. I’ll leave it to someone else to google interpretations of that, but I don’t think Bob’s really works all that well.)

          But I’m sure you realize this is an incredibly unorthodox belief which would get you chased out of nearly any christian church.

          …I’m personally skeptical of the presuppositions behind the documentary thesis and other very systematic arguments about late editing, but I think you’d be surprised to find even at orthodox Christian seminaries there is acceptance of later editing for many books. Like I said below, most of Biblical scholarship operates from a methodologically atheist perspective, but many orthodox scholars with different presuppositions are still open to later editings or additions for many books. And they don’t get thrown out of their churches somehow.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          drewl:

          Most of your post seems like mis-directed anger and frustration. I’m guessing you are still working through some anger toward a religious upbringing.

          That’s always what I think, too. It’s gotta just be misplaced anger against a bad priest or something, never justifiable annoyance at Christianity’s bull-in-a-china-shop actions within society.

          we get to see that Ancient minds weren’t too skilled on choosing “disney world” over the “filthy trailer park.”

          Right.

          If we buy Bob’s argument, the Exodus writer and later editors have given us all the evidence we need to know that religion is self-defeating. Does it seem likely that they’d do that?

          When they acknowledged that Yahweh was not the only game in town, sure. Keep in mind that we’re not talking about a monotheism yet. We’ve already seen their acknowledgement of Chemosh in a recent post.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Nox:

          then yhvh should have been able to do things the statue couldn’t do.

          And on command, too. I’m reminded of Elijah and the 450 prophets of Baal (who were killed when they failed the test). Yahweh lives–and was quite happy to put on a dramatic demonstration of this fact.

        • DrewL

          When they acknowledged that Yahweh was not the only game in town, sure. Keep in mind that we’re not talking about a monotheism yet.

          I’m confused now, in the post you said…

          The Jews enter a land full of foreign gods—invented gods—but God had made plain the correct religion.

          If we momentarily bracket what we infallibly-enlightened modern selves know to be true now (no gods, no superstitions, all myth, etc etc), are you saying that– in the Hebrew mind of that time period:

          Yahweh was the only “real god” among “invented gods” at the time and thus the Disney World among trash heaps,

          OR

          Are you saying monotheism was a later development, thereby suggesting in the Hebrew mind Yahweh was one “real god” among many real gods (“not the only game in town”), thereby undermining your “real god” vs. cutout impostor argument.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Drewl:

          If we momentarily bracket what we infallibly-enlightened modern selves know to be true now

          Now, drewl, you know what happens when you try to paraphrase. Best if you just stick with quoting so you don’t embarrass yourself.

          Are you saying monotheism was a later development, thereby suggesting in the Hebrew mind Yahweh was one “real god” among many real gods

          Yes, this is what I’m saying. Why–does this cause a problem?

          … (“not the only game in town”), thereby undermining your “real god” vs. cutout impostor argument.

          I recommend a charitable interpretation (that is, don’t assume that I’m on drugs when I write stuff) so that I don’t have to undo all your confused ramblings. It’s just quicker all around.

          Sorry–there’s no undermining here except what you’re trying to do. The early Hebrews were henotheists. But if the Christian interpretation is correct, the one correct God should be the shining jewel compared to the other gods’ tawdry plastic.

          Got it now?

        • DrewL

          Ah, so your real gods vs. “invented” or “made up” god binary–which was originally your underlying point here–has now shifted. It’s now real gods vs. real gods. Your argument really shifts more to the free-will question: why did Yahweh permit/allow/make possible for the Israelites to choose other gods, which you’re declaring to be (by some standard you’ve left undefined–perhaps your standard?) are “tawdry plastic” relative to Yahweh.

          We didn’t really need Exodus for the free will argument.

          The henotheism article in Wikipedia is quite good; if you were familiar with the term I’m surprised you didn’t take time to research it more.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Drewl:

          has now shifted

          Perhaps your understanding has shifted. My argument has not.

          It’s now real gods vs. real gods.

          It always was real gods vs. real gods in the minds of the Israelites.

          We didn’t really need Exodus for the free will argument.

          Irrelevant, since I’m not making a free will argument.

          if you were familiar with the term I’m surprised you didn’t take time to research it more.

          And what’s not surprising is that you’re able to twist the facts to support your preconceptions. Drewl wins again!

        • DrewL

          It always was real gods vs. real gods in the minds of the Israelites.

          Earlier…

          The Jews enter a land full of foreign gods—invented gods…

          How would those made-up gods look next to the real deal?

          Apparently the Israelites couldn’t make up their minds here?

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Drewl:

          I can’t imagine anyone sees a problem except you but, for you, ’cause you’re a pal. Or something.

          It always was real gods vs. real gods in the minds of the Israelites.

          In the mind of the Israelites, Chemosh was real, Baal was real, and of course Yahweh was real.

          The Jews enter a land full of foreign gods—invented gods…

          How would those made-up gods look next to the real deal?

          but from our standpoint, Chemosh and Baal are fiction. And all the other Canaanite gods. The only one who still has believers is Yahweh. Different people have different viewpoints.

        • Nox

          You can find theologians who will say Baal and Chemosh were demons. You can find a theologian who will say anything. This doesn’t really solve the problem.

          The jews of the time said they had the best god. If their god was no better than a random god/demon/statue, they were wrong.

          The jews and christians of today say they have the only god. If their god was no better than a random god/demon/statue, they are wrong.

          Why is one ancient canaanite god any better than another ancient canaanite god?

        • DrewL

          In the mind of the Israelites, Chemosh was real, Baal was real, and of course Yahweh was real.

          Earlier….

          How would those made-up gods look next to the real deal?

          Might want to rethink this post before you recycle it in 2014.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Drewl:

          I’ve already explained it many times. No, despite your bizarre desires otherwise, there is no contradiction here.

          If someone else is confused, let me know. I have no interest in responding more to Drool’s deliberate confusion.

          Might want to rethink this post before you recycle it in 2014.

          You think so little of the content here? Then why do you stay? Suggestion: instead of whining about how things work around here, do your own blog.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Drewl:

          Special new rules, just for you: any future comments with phrases that I consider obnoxious I may change to make them more amusing.

          FYI.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      drewl:

      Easily the weakest post you’ve put on here.

      A new record–woo hoo!

      I’d probably be willing to ship you a used Bible commentary, just to save us from this type of poor reasoning.

      Don’t bother. I’m sure the remainder of your comment will clarify the error(s) quite precisely.

      You seem to be operating from the presumption that if a person chooses to defect from said covenant, this proves the entire deity never existed really existed

      Ever notice something? I never use the words proof or prove, and you imagine that I always do. Weird. Might want to be more careful.

      Ignoring that error, no, this doesn’t at all capture what I was saying above.

  • Hilary

    Point of order – those aren’t Jews you’re talking about, the people in Exodus. Those people are tribal Hebrews, or stories about the past of the Hebrews, written by Israelites. The first recognizable signs of Judaism show up after the Babylonian Exile. The developement of modern, rabbinical, diasposa Judaism starts about a century before Christ, but it isn’t until the fall of the Temple in 70 CE, and finalized by the failed Bar Kochba revolution in 135 CE, that it really developes into modern Judaism, ie the developement of the Talmud, synagoge, the portable Judaism of the diaspora.

    So for you to talk about “The Jews” in Exodus shows a poor grasp of religious history and understanding. Besides, why are you talking about Jews if your point is to disprove Christianity?

    • Bob Seidensticker

      Hilary:

      those aren’t Jews you’re talking about, the people in Exodus.

      OK, thanks.

      So for you to talk about “The Jews” in Exodus shows a poor grasp of religious history and understanding.

      I make errors.

      Besides, why are you talking about Jews if your point is to disprove Christianity?

      Uh … because they worship the same god? Or is this a trick question?

      Anyway, my goal isn’t really to disprove Christianity but more to talk about it.

  • Greg G

    DrewL completely misses the point. The question is why would they try a different religion? If there was a real religion dictated by a real God, it should appear so different from a man-made religion that there could be no mistake. It’s not like the difference between a bowl of fruit and a bowl of plastic fruit, it should be like the difference between a real WWII airfield on a South Pacific island and the ones made of bamboo by the cargo cults.

    A false religion would be like watching television without an antenna. A real religion would be like participating in a live performance.

    Instead all we have ever had is bamboo airfields to get the gods to fly in with cargo, except nobody has the vaguest idea what a real one would look like. They just mimic other bamboo airfields.

    • DrewL

      Looks like you make the same mistake Nox does. You should take a look at the writings of Karl Jaspers , Robert Bellah, or Max Weber on religion in the pre-modern world. The whole world was “enchanted” and full of mystery, danger, uncharted cosmic forces acting on people all the time. I know the modern conception of having all religions on a buffet to “choose” from is thoroughly ingrained in our heads, and thus we presume ancient choosers would make such decisions the same way we would today. But anyone familiar with the time period will tell you: this was absolutely not the case in the ancient world.

      Keep in mind the word “religion” is a relatively new invention that works to make distinct an aspect of our lives that in ancient times absolutely permeated the entire existence of individuals. There was no religion; there was just reality.

      This is a topic I’d be glad to provide more information on if you’re interested.

      • Kodie

        Sounds like you are describing superstition. They didn’t have a supernatural world, they described the real world as having supernatural properties and we’ve researched the subject a bit since then.

      • http://www.seditiosus.blogspot.com Schaden Freud

        I know the modern conception of having all religions on a buffet to “choose” from is thoroughly ingrained in our heads, and thus we presume ancient choosers would make such decisions the same way we would today. But anyone familiar with the time period will tell you: this was absolutely not the case in the ancient world.

        While that may have been true in some pre-modern societies it certainly wasn’t the case in all of them. The Vikings, for instance, did see religion as a “buffet to choose from”. Which gods a Viking chose to sacrifice to depended on what result he wanted to achieve at the time. Same with the Greeks and Romans, the Egyptians and probably the ancient Canaanites as well. It’s a feature of polytheistic faiths where gods have distinct spheres of operation, and where society allows people to rub shoulders with folks who worship different pantheons. The idea of having no real dividing line between religion and everyday life in the way you’re describing is essentially medieval Christian and doesn’t apply to the ancient Near East in quite the same way.

        • DrewL

          Thanks for the thoughtful response and the example of the Vikings. I would encourage you to read Jaspers, Bellah, or Weber. I believe you’re thinking I’m pushing some sort of integrationalism or scholasticism on these Ancient thinkers, which does seem similar. However, ancient religion was far different than what Medieval theologians were proposing.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      Greg:

      DrewL completely misses the point.

      Happens to the best of us. Drewl has been so on-target with his incessant and shrill whining that he had to stumble at some point.

      The question is why would they try a different religion? If there was a real religion dictated by a real God, it should appear so different from a man-made religion that there could be no mistake.

      Oh–so the post was as clear as I thought it was.

      That’s weird–Drewl was completely turned around so I thought maybe it was me. I guess not.

      A false religion would be like watching television without an antenna.

      I’ll have to remember that one!

      Instead all we have ever had is bamboo airfields to get the gods to fly in with cargo, except nobody has the vaguest idea what a real one would look like. They just mimic other bamboo airfields.

      Have you seen the electric pickle video? That’s what distinguishes Christians from non-Christians.

    • ctcss

      @ Greg G

      “If there was a real religion dictated by a real God, it should appear so different from a man-made religion that there could be no mistake.”

      “A false religion would be like watching television without an antenna. A real religion would be like participating in a live performance.”

      I think you may have a somewhat naive view of what a “real” religion might appear as to an inexperienced onlooker. Religion is a bit like having a physics or a calculus textbook. The book may be beautifully bound, with a nicely designed cover, and inside are high quality glossy pages with lots of dense writing on them, along with obscure but complex looking equations, as well as illustrations, diagrams, tables, charts, and graphs. Owning such an obviously nice book may make one feel good, and leafing through such a book and being able to read at least some of the words and sentences may make one feel as though one could, perhaps, understand more of it if one only had the time and the inclination to do so. But until one actually does make the time to study it, and try to understand it, as well as put into practice all of the concepts and ideas, as well as trying to work though all of the problems to see how useful the ideas and concepts are, it would be very hard to tell the difference between such a book and a similar beautifully bound, written, and illustrated book filled with pseudoscience. It’s only by delving in deeply and putting things into practice and seeing the kinds of results that one obtains that one can perhaps begin to tell something useful, from something not so useful, or even useless. So I agree with your comments in principle, especially the cargo cult illustration which I have used myself in teaching Sunday School. However, the macro sized cargo cult stuff strikes me as being a bit more obvious to a casual observer than voluminous, complex-seeming, and dense text and graphics would be. Discerning the truth or falsehood of such hard to discern things would only apply to someone who actually went a whole lot deeper into religion than most people ever do. And if one’s religion turns out to have feet of clay, that may not be known for a while. Similarly, it may also be somewhat hard to tell the quality of a better religion if the concepts in it are not immediately understandable from one’s current standpoint.

      Religion, at least as I was taught about it, is a non-trivial endeavor. It’s very all encompassing and life changing, and very much does require delving into it and putting it into practice before one can tell its usefulness or uselessness. But each book needs to be judged by it’s own contents, not by other book’s contents, or by the fact that the last nice looking book one pulled off the shelf turned out to be a useless book.

      My 2 cents.

      • Bob Seidensticker

        ctcss:

        I’m a little surprised by your approach. You’re saying that the correct religion is, without a decent amount of study, indistinguishable from the invented religion of the tribe next door?

        • ctcss

          Bob

          All I am saying is that unless a person makes a serious attempt to understand what they are looking at, they may misunderstand things that are true and reject them, and believe things that are false and accept them. People don’t approach things as a blank slate. They come with preconceptions as to what is correct and what is incorrect. In the NT, we see Jesus’ methods and teachings being disputed by the various theologians of his day. They acknowledged his healing work, but claimed it was not the result of God, and thus they continued to reject him.

          Humans are complicated. On the one hand, you have the types who have an intellectual turf to defend who value it more than anything else. (The Pharisees, scribes, etc.) And at the same time, you have those who, despite having the same turf, are impressed for some reason and want to know more. (Nicodemus.) Then you have the ones who may not have intellectual turf to defend who gladly embrace something because it is offering help. (The common people with need for help). And then some of these same people run into things they are not yet prepared to grapple with and reject it. (This is an hard saying. Who can hear it?) And then you have the many who like the freely given good, but have “better” things to do when called upon to expend the effort to look more deeply. (Most of the multitudes.)

          I guess all I am saying is that the “obviousness” of the true religion is very much in question because humans will only see what they are prepared to see.

          Does that make sense?

        • ctcss

          And just to avoid a possible misunderstanding in my examples, I was not trying to imply that Judaism is a “false” religion. I was simply trying to point out the possible confusing contrast between an entrenched but familiar theology and an unfamiliar but possibly hard to understand theology. Making the call is not easy because a lot of thought and effort and experience is going to be necessary in order to make a useful decision. IMO this area of thought is not necessarily an easy one for humans to navigate.

  • MNb

    What’s more, 1 and 2 Kings actually make crystal clear which god is the real thing, the Israelite version or the Kanaanite one. That contest would have made much more sense before the invading Israelites were confronted with all the tempting competitors, assuming an omni-everything god ánd the contemporary views on miracles DrewL is talking about.

  • jose

    The real deal can look a lot less convincing (and attractive, which is important too) than fakes. This is a trope called “reality is unrealistic”.

    It happens a lot with animals, especially apes. Chimpanzees “should” be funny, like in the movies, to the point that some zoos train them to be clowns so people don’t leave disappointed or disturbed by their real behavior.

    • Dain Q. Gore

      That phenomenon you are describing is known as anthropomorphism (like the polar bear “wave”), and is largely discouraged at modern zoos (excepting perhaps Sea World)–at least in North America–because it promotes “taming and training” especially inhumane and impractical if they are to be reintroduced into the wild.

  • Greg G

    I’ve read Tolkien and he describes a world with magic, too.

  • Greg G

    Jose

    Heaven could be like that, too. It could be like sitting in a boring lecture waiting for the minute hand to reach the top of the hour so you can leave. Except in heaven, Zeno’s Paradox applies so the minute hand only gets halfway to the top of the hour forever.

    • jose

      No wonder they decided the worship a solid gold goat instead.

  • Greg G

    The Yahweh and the Elohim stories talk about God and angels interacting with humans and people sacrificing wherever. The Temple priests knew there was no magic going on so they wrote the Priest story where Elohim was a cosmic god who didn’t interact directly but through the Temple priests and the only legitimate sacrifices were at the Temple. They all ended up redacted with the Deuteronomist writings into the big book of multiple choice, this part being better known as the Torah.

    See the Documentary Hypothesis for details.

    • DrewL

      I may or may not agree with your views on Scriptural composition, but thank you for bringing actual scholarly work to the conversation. Not sure why Bob shuns this and reads the Bible like a fundamentalist so often.

      • Bender

        Not sure why Bob shuns this and reads the Bible like a fundamentalist so often.

        Probably because he can see through the “scholars” claiming the emperor’s suit is really really awesome.

        • DrewL

          Actually most of Biblical scholarship today is oriented around an anti-supernatural, atheistic perspective. It’d be a field quite friendly and supportive of Bob’s “demystification” goals since they invented that concept a century ago. My impression is there are very few people in the field who personally adhere to orthodox Christianity or Judaism.

        • smrnda

          I was going to ask this – do you think this is because the fundamentalist or even many orthodox views just don’t hold up under scholarship (the facts don’t agree with fundamentalism) or do you think this is more self-selection, with fundamentalists and other literalists creating their own schools and publications and people of a more liberal bent heading to institutions friendlier to their viewpoints?

        • DrewL

          Early Protestant Bible Scholars were committed to methodological atheism: presume absolutely nothing supernatural would/did/or could happen, and scrutinize accordingly. Many in the field have not moved far beyond that approach.

          So it’s probably a little bit of both. But keep in mind it’s not that “orthodox views just don’t hold up,” it’s that orthodox views were completely ruled out a priori to the method of study. I’ve used the example before, but it’s like a murder investigation that operates from the assumption women never commit murder: there is no number of resulting male convictions that will tell us anything about the prevalence of women committing murder. The investigation simply dismissed the possibility a priori.

    • Paul D.

      Additionally, the point of the Torah and deuteronomistic history is not just to mandate worship of Yahweh above all other gods, but to mandate that Yahweh can only be worshipped in Jerusalem. The priests wanted to consolidate power in Jerusalem, and away from rival Yahweh cults in Samaria and Egypt.

  • Greg G

    Thanks for the reply, Ctcss.

    Your religion, Patel’s religion, and Abdul’s religion are mutually contradictory. At most one could be true but they could all be false. The method of study you describe would work equally well for each. After studying and meditating, one could believe theirs is real and the others false. That is because the brain is malleable so it can train itself to believe anything is true. You would have to pick the right one before you apply your method because the commitment required makes it hard to admit you were wrong.

    I would not expect the methods of believing a true religion to work equally well for a false religion.

    One can distinguish science from pseudo-science by asking what do you know and how do you know it. You could trace the findings of science to simple principles that have been tested and shown to be reliable. Pseudo-science is like cargo cult science. Science devises tests to determine if a hypothesis is the better explanation. True assumptions give different results than false assumptions.

    If a religion is true, one should be able to tell immediately and everyone would agree if it involved an actual deity as the deity could aid the prospective new believer in recognizing it.

    • http://www.hongkongudy.com Karl Udy

      Your religion, Patel’s religion, and Abdul’s religion are mutually contradictory.

      I said the creed together with Abdul and Patel on Sunday at church. I had no idea our religions were so different.

  • smrnda

    It seems like a point nobody made explicitly but has come up is the difference in what is meant by ‘made up’ – consciously made up by people in order to gain some kind of social influence, or made up as in a guy sees fire and smoke and feels afraid and believes that the fire and smoke is a sign from a powerful god.

    In the latter case, we’re not dealing so much with deliberate deception. If you believe in gods and something happens you cannot explain and you run back to camp freaking out over the wrath of some god, you’re just reacting in a sensible way given your understanding of the world. If a person today knows that a lab uses mercury and notices some little ball bearings on the floor and they call someone to do hazardous waste disposal, it’s kind of similar.

  • John Kesler

    Consider the following passages:
    Joshua 24:15
    Now if you are unwilling to serve Yahweh, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served in the region beyond the Jordan River or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living…

    2 Kings 21:14-15
    14I will cast off the remnant of my heritage, and give them into the hand of their enemies; they shall become a prey and a spoil to all their enemies, 15because they have done what is evil in my sight and have provoked me to anger, since the day their ancestors came out of Egypt, even to this day.”

    Deuteronomy 9:7-8
    7 Remember and do not forget how you provoked Yahweh your God to wrath in the wilderness; you have been rebellious against Yahweh from the day you came out of the land of Egypt until you came to this place. 8 Even at Horeb you provoked Yahweh to wrath, and Yahweh was so angry with you that he was ready to destroy you.

    Aside from the fact that these verses make Yahweh look foolish for choosing Israel as his “special people,” to the exclusion of all others (Amos 3:1-2; Exodus 19:5; Deut. 7:6, 26:18), they also show that Israel couldn’t sustain fidelity to the “real” Yahweh but instead constantly followed “false” gods. This was one of the things that got me questioning my beliefs when I was younger. No, the constant apostasy doesn’t disprove Yahweh’s existence, but at the least, Yahweh missed an opportunity to distinguish himself from his competitors.

    • Kodie

      That is just like it is now. People are warned against leaving but there is nothing god seems to do about it. In severe cases, people step in and that proves their faith in a weak (if any) god as well.

  • Greg G

    As scholars progress through bible college, the lessons they heard from the pulpit and Sunday school that made the them want to study the Bible thoroughly turn out to be not exactly true. But they persevere in their belief that God will show them the Truth.

    They must discard the absurd and the reprehensible to salvage their worldviews by defending the plausible.

    The Clergy Project is a group of pastors who have lost faith. The are a support group to share strategies of dealing with issues like tending the needs of the flock without being hypocritical and trying to find an honest way to support their families with an education and work experience that is practically worthless in the job market.

    Perhaps there needs to be a Bible Scholar Project like that. There are likely to be some in the same situation. A few scholars have written Jesus Myth articles after retirement. They seem to have waited until their income was secure.

    • DrewL

      Uhh no.

      Bible Scholars write things about the “historical Jesus” and hold things like the Jesus seminar at the pinnacle of their careers. They occupy prominent positions at Harvard and other Ivy Leagues.

      Let’s try to stick with empirical evidence and examples over far-reaching persecution complexes on this one.

  • Greg G

    DrewL

    If I said that birds fly south for the winter, would you infer that it meant all birds or some birds.

    The scholars who think Jesus was just a man with the Messiah myth attached don’t seem to have noticed that the Epistles don’t support a real person. They begin and end with the Messiah. They don’t mention a ministry or sayings.

    There should be a distinction between scholars and theologians. One is open to the evidence and one isn’t.

    The presupposition was that Moses wrote five books but we have writings going back 1000 years of people noticing verses that didn’t fit that hypothesis. In the 18th century, some scholars independently separated out passages that used the name Yahweh and found it had its own narrative. Shortly after, others found a similar story within the rest of the text. Then it became apparent that the rest could be split in two. There were some passages that seemed to patch up differences.

    So the presuppositions to the DH were these facts. The DH simply accounts for these facts. That one person would write four stories that contradict and interleave them is farfetched.

    • DrewL

      Funny, because we have Bible scholars on the record saying they’re engaging in the process exactly how I described it: methodological atheism. It’s a fairly reasonable method to select, actually, seeing that the discipline has desired to appear as rigorous as “hard sciences” and their (deeply flawed and fundamentally self-contradictory) empiricism.

      You like their conclusions; I get it. Doesn’t change how they constructed their methods and the inherent flaws.

      • ZenDruid

        Please describe the flaws that you mention.

        • DrewL

          Already been discussed. But flaws was a poor choice of words: I should have said …how they constructed their methods and the inherent limitations.

          Not to say it isn’t flawed as well, but that drags us into a larger discussion that no one here seems to have the stomach for: the well-established flaws of empiricism that are still somehow embedded within new atheism.

          We’ll stick with limitations for the present case.

        • ZenDruid

          OK, describe the limitations then.

        • DrewL

          Limitations of methodological atheism? Well let’s see: it has absolutely nothing to contribute to our present debate because it’s the equivalent of the males-only murder investigation.

          Is that a limitation? Maybe not. It does quite well at getting the conclusions it wants to get. There’s a whole body of knowledge being generated within that framework that some people find very interesting.

          No idea what you’re getting at here…

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