Fighting War the Biblical Way

After several days, the fragile ceasefire in the latest iteration of Israel and Gaza's endless war is still holding. But while the bombs were falling, there was no shortage of voices calling for the battle to be escalated even further, like Gilad Sharon, son of the former Israeli Prime Minister, who wrote in an op-ed:"We need to flatten entire neighborhoods in Gaza. Flatten all of Gaza. The Americans didn't stop with Hiroshima - the Japanese weren't surrendering fast enough, so they hit … [Read more...]

Thoughts on the Embassy Attacks

As you've no doubt already heard, American embassies throughout the Middle East have been attacked by violent mobs in the last few days, ostensibly due to outrage over a YouTube video called "Innocence of Muslims" that lampoons the Prophet Mohammed as a blundering, deceitful fraud. At least one of the attacks, on the American consulate in Benghazi, Libya, was apparently an organized assault by Islamic militants who wanted it to seem like a spontaneous mob action. But the violence has been too … [Read more...]

Blogging Better Angels: The Bad Old Days

Back in May, I reviewed Steven Pinker's hugely ambitious new book The Better Angels of Our Nature, about the decline of violence through history. I couldn't do justice to all the ideas in this book with a single post, so I promised to return to it and write about Pinker's argument in more detail. It's taken me a while, but I'm getting back to that promise now. I plan to write several posts exploring some of the major ideas put forth in the book, which I intend to eventually collect into an essay … [Read more...]

Weekend Coffee: April 7

Here's what's in the news this week: • In these troubled economic terms, the Russian Orthodox church seems to be sensitive about their patriarch wearing a watch that costs 30,000 euros, which is why they tried to doctor a photo of him to hide the evidence. Unfortunately for them, they forgot to also edit out a reflection of the watch on his wrist. As I've said before, it's fortunate that most censors are unintelligent, unimaginative people. • In a story I definitely want to return to … [Read more...]

Replies to the Abraham Test

My post from last week, "The Abraham Test", provoked a vigorous discussion (225 comments and counting as of this writing) about the morality of committing violence in God's name. Since I did, after all, pose a question to believers, it's only fair to write a follow-up post summarizing the answers and discussing what they mean for religious morality as a whole. For this post, I'm only going to discuss comments that directly answered the question I asked (which, I have to say, were a minority). I … [Read more...]

The Abraham Test

The story of Abraham's near-sacrifice of his son on Mount Moriah is one of the formative myths of Western monotheism. And most theists of the Jewish, Christian and Islamic traditions look up to Abraham as a model of faith, believing that his willingness to kill his own child in obedience to God's command is a praiseworthy character trait. But as I wrote in "A Book of Blood":That the sacrifice was not actually carried out does not change the moral revulsion we should feel at this episode. … [Read more...]

The Biblical Cruelty of Child Beating

In 1877, the great freethinker Robert Green Ingersoll wrote these words about the then-common practice of corporal punishment:I tell you the children have the same rights that we have, and we ought to treat them as though they were human beings. They should be reared with love, with kindness, with tenderness, and not with brutality. That is my idea of children....I do not believe in the government of the lash. If any one of you ever expects to whip your children again, I want you to have a … [Read more...]

The Baffling Era of Religious Suicide-Massacres

By James A. HaughtOsama bin Laden achieved a remarkable feat: He mobilized the power of religion to spur devout young men to kill themselves in order to murder defenseless strangers. Grotesquely, the suicide-killers felt they were performing holy acts that would please God and assure them martyr rewards in paradise.The annals of faith-based killing are long: human sacrifice, the Crusades, the Inquisition, witch-hunts, Reformation wars, drowning of Anabaptists, jihads, pogroms against Jews, … [Read more...]

The Logic of Genocide

Last month, I wrote about the hideous spectacle of ordinary religious people defending genocide because it's commanded in the Bible - with some of them professing to not even understand why nonbelievers would have a problem with this. Greta Christina also highlighted this horrific mindset in the writing of William Lane Craig, the renowned Christian apologist who thinks that the worst consequence of Israelite soldiers slaughtering women and children would be the suffering it would cause to the … [Read more...]

On Qur’an Burning, Redux

A few months ago, I wrote briefly about an obscure Florida pastor who had the idea of burning a Qur'an. At the time he backed off under intense pressure, but later changed his mind and went through with it. This would have gone nowhere, except that some Islamic mullahs in Afghanistan (aided by Hamid Karzai, who cynically fanned the flames), incited their worshippers to frenzy. The mob proceeded to storm a U.N. compound, brutally killing a dozen U.N. employees. Protests and riots are still … [Read more...]


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