Silver-Bullet Argument #27: Christianity Is Full of Symbolism

Silver-Bullet Argument #27: Christianity Is Full of Symbolism November 7, 2019

symbolism

Christianity and the Bible are full of symbolism. For example, during the Flood it rained for forty days, not just a good long time. Baptism rinses away sins like water rinses away dirt. In Communion, the faithful consume the flesh and blood of God—at least in a symbolic fashion.

Why doesn’t the Bible read like a history book? That Christianity needs and uses symbolism is a silver-bullet argument against Christianity.

(This is argument 27 in a list that begins here.)

Symbolism in everyday life

Consider first the symbols we see around us. Red means stop and green means go, but together they mean Christmas. Thanksgiving, Halloween, and other holidays have their own colors, as do sports teams, political parties, and political movements. Green means concern for the environmental, or maybe it means concern for money (at least in the US). White means purity, though in China, it means death. In Japan, “death” is a homonym for “four,” which is why gift tea sets for the Japanese market have five cups, not four. Hoping to attract Japanese gamblers who want to avoid unlucky room numbers, there are hotels in Las Vegas where the floor numbering has no 4s, and the floor after 39 is 50.

Movies and television use standard symbols as shorthand. Fireworks might mean sex. Pages can fly off a wall calendar to show the passage of time. The dismantling of a small piece of the Berlin Wall or the toppling of statues of Lenin or Saddam Hussein in themselves meant little, but they are convenient and photogenic symbols of an enormously significant regime change.

Another area of fiction where symbolism can be important is literature. Water at night can be used as a symbol for the unconscious. Fog or a squawking bird might suggest danger. Spring and flowers represent youth and vitality, and falling leaves and snow represent age and death. Mention a rose to suggest love or beauty, or focus on its thorns to suggest danger or deception. The town in the 2016 Preacher television series is Annville (think “anvil”). In Shakespeare’s Macbeth, guilt drives Lady Macbeth to imagine her hands stained with blood that won’t wash off (a denial of another symbol, the cleansing effect of water through baptism).

Red meaning “stop” is arbitrary, but literary symbolism makes a more universal appeal. One purpose of symbolism is to engage the reader. Instead of writing, “Bill’s wicked side slowly overcame his good side in his mind,” you might show a black crow picking at a dead white dove. Readers enjoy figuring things out for themselves. In addition, a symbol can be taken as a more universal statement than, say, the moral contest in a single person’s mind.

Symbolism in science and history

Contrast storytelling in literature or on the screen with science and history, which have no use for literary symbolism. There is no point in the reader having to figure out what the author means. Here, good writing is clear and straightforward.

Let me mention one apparent counterexample. Take one aspect of quantum physics—for example, that the nucleus of an atom has protons and neutrons. This is just a model. We don’t know for certain that this model is exactly how it is in reality, but if we assume that model, we can make very accurate predictions. The theoretical model correctly predicting or explaining experimental results is as good as it gets.

Notice the difference. A scientific model is as clear as possible, like a window. A symbol is something to figure out and think about.

Symbolism in Christianity

Christianity claims to tell us true things that happened in the past (history) and true things about reality (science). Nevertheless, we find lots of symbolism, which puts it in the fiction camp with literature and movies. If there really were a God with a message we needed to understand, he’d just present himself and give us the message. He’s not even constrained by a limited timeframe so that he would need to document his message for posterity in a book. He could effortlessly be on call to every person on earth throughout history.

As an example of Christian symbolism, baptism claims to rinse away sins like water rinses away dirt. You do something in the real world (baptism), and something parallel happens in the supernatural realm (sins washed away).

Christian pilgrims may dial it up by getting baptized in the Holy Land. But baptism is baptism, and there are no bonus points for doing it a second time, doing it in the Jordan River where Jesus was baptized, or doing it while wearing a white robe. But they do it anyway. There’s no doubt that these are important to the Christian pilgrims, but they’re just symbolic additions to a symbolic ritual.

Communion is another ritual. As background, remember that this comes from a religion where God was fed with food offerings. The energy of the sacrificed animal would rise up as smoke, which the Bible tells us 37 times is accepted by God as a “pleasing aroma.” We also learn that the food value varies depending on the sacrifice. Larger animals are more valuable than smaller ones, human sacrifices are more valuable than animals, and a god (Jesus) is more than a human. Communion is the Christian’s opportunity to participate in this nourishment, because it is a weekly celebration of the sacrifice of Jesus commemorated by symbolically consuming his flesh and blood (or actually consuming it, according to most Christians).

We see more symbolic blood magic with the idea of “the blood of the Lamb” washing things clean (see Revelation 7).

Number symbolism is also popular. God rested on the seventh day, and Revelation has lots of sevens (bowls, trumpets, and more). There are ten Commandments and ten plagues of Egypt, and some of the parables have tens (ten virgins, ten talents). There were forty days of rain in the Flood and forty years of wandering in the Sinai desert, and Jesus fasted in the desert for forty days.

Harold Camping’s embarrassing prediction of the end of the world on May 21, 2011 was based on that date being, by his calculation, (5 × 10 × 17)² days after the crucifixion. What do those numbers mean? According to Camping, 5 = atonement, 10 = completion, and 17 = heaven, so the Rapture would happen after a time period of (atonement × completion × heaven) squared days. (More on Brother Camping’s $100 million absurdity here.)

There’s more number symbolism, of course. The number of the Beast is 666 (or is it 616?). The disciples made a miraculous catch of 153 fish. There were twelve disciples and twelve tribes. There are four authentic gospels (out of dozens) because there are four winds and four points of the compass. But let’s move on.

The new kingdom as described at the end of Revelation was made with “every kind of precious stone.”

Jesus was described as a lamb, a reference to the unblemished lambs in the Passover meal.

The symbol of a fish (ichthys in Greek) was a secret symbol in the early church. The word was an acronym for “Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior.”

Jesus died to respond to original sin.

Flames symbolized the Holy Spirit visiting the apostles on Pentecost.

A rainbow symbolized God’s promise to stop destroying the planet.

Conclusion

That was a cursory tour, and you can probably think of more instances of symbols within Christianity—things that mean something different in the supernatural world than they do here.

But symbolism is what you do when you’re trying to bridge a gap. Symbolism is used by art and literature, not history and science. You don’t need to conjure up the supernatural with mystical ideas, symbolism, coincidences, numerology, and so on if it really exists.

If the Bible is God’s message, its purpose is presumably to explain his plan. There’s no room for and no need for symbolism. That the Bible has symbolism argues that it has a different purpose than history.

See also: Why Not Call What God Does “Magic”?

Science has never killed or persecuted a single person
for doubting or denying its teachings,
and most of these teachings have been true;
but religion has murdered millions
for doubting or denying her dogmas,
and most of these dogmas have been false.
— Charles L. Wallis, Stories on Stone (1954)

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Image from Thought Catalog, CC license
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  • larry parker

    Nice article. Pure as freshly fallen snow. (we got 2″ last night)

    • I’m sensing something (dare I say it?) symbolic happening here.

      • Lord Backwater

        The other night I pulled off a triple entendre.

        • Greg G.

          A magician asked me a trick question. I still don’t know how he did it.

        • TheBookOfDavid
  • Milo C

    Sacred numbers were most definitely a cultural influence at that time. Lots of cultures thought certain numbers had particular significance, and 12 and 7 had special prominence among those. The long-lived figures of the bible(Adam, Methuzeleh, etc) all lived to ages that are multiples of these numbers.

    • Raging Bee

      So they started to get really worried whenever their age approached one of those multiples?

      • Milo C

        Haha!

        But seriously, no one lived that long. They didn’t have a strong grasp of mathematics so anything over 12 just meant ‘many’ to most people. When you take 12 and multiply it by another number or two or three other numbers, you’re just adding very to ‘many’. So Adam was, symbolically, Very, Very, Holy, Good, Very, Old.

    • Good point about the ages. One guy lived to be 365 years. Another, 777 years.

      • Greg G.

        The 16 oldest people in the Bible.
        Adam – 930
        Seth – 912
        Enosh – 905
        Kenan – 910
        Mahalalel – 895
        Yered – 962
        Enoch – 365
        Methuselah – 969
        Lamech – 777
        Noah – 950
        Shem – 600
        Terach – 205
        Abraham – 175
        Isaac – 180
        Jacob – 147
        Moses – 120

        Note that the last digit is always 0, 2, 5, 7, or 9.

        • Michael Murray

          I’m currently 62. This is worrying me. Could you sacrifice 5 chickens for me ?

        • Greg G.

          That is 20 + 6 * 7. Not good!

          I will put in an emergency order at KFC.

        • Michael Murray

          There is a nugget of truth in there somewhere.

        • Greg G.

          A wing and a prayer?

        • b s

          Grilled, roasted, or fried?

        • Michael Murray

          Doesn’t matter. Just as long as they are arranged in a pentagram.

        • Note that the last digit is always 0, 2, 5, 7, or 9.

          Mind. Blown. What could this be but divine intervention?

        • Greg G.

          It is 7 times 0, 1, 5, 6, or 7 plus a multiple of 10.

  • Lord Backwater

    Other articles you could write in a similar vein (or perhaps you already have)

    Ways in which God is really just an oversized version of a person. For example, despite being perfect he is desperate to be loved, in creationism sometimes similar features in related animals are passed off as re-use of design, but why would an omnipotent being need to re-use design? That is the sort of economical effort a person would consider to compensate for their lack of infinite time and resources.

    Arbitrary rules made up to make the theology work. I.e. God must send His son to die for other people’s sins. Why? Who makes the rule that people’s sins must be paid for? Who makes the rule that someone must be kill to pay this debt? Couldn’t God just snap his fingers and have all the sin forgiven? How about if salvation were attained by eating cake, not by killing the son of a carpenter? If you stop to think about any of this, it is just total nonsense.

    • Raging Bee

      That is the sort of economical effort a person would consider to compensate for their lack of infinite time and resources.

      Dilbert is God?! So who’s God’s pointy-haired boss? Maybe it’s Satan, and he’s pretending Godbert is in charge, just to cover his own six…

    • Since the rule is that a sacrifice must be burned to be effective, apparently Jesus’s sacrifice didn’t count. Maybe that’s the purpose of the Second Coming®–to get a do-over for the sacrifice.

      How about if salvation were attained by eating cake, not by killing the son of a carpenter?

      That’s a religion that makes more sense to me.

      • JustAnotherAtheist2

        Not for us pastry disinclined folk! What’s going to happen to us!

        • Ignorant Amos

          Like gluten free Jesus wafers?

        • “All Jesus … and now gluten free!”

        • JustAnotherAtheist2

          I’m think a delicious quesadilla slice. Mmmmmm…..

    • Matt Brooker (Syncretocrat)

      Two thoughts:
      1) Salvation: one act of disobedience – eating from a single fruit – curses mankind for eternity, but torturing and executing the embodiment of God himself makes us eligible for redemption?
      2) Wouldn’t being washed in the blood of the lamb just make you dirty in a really icky way?

      • Carol Lynn

        You are confusing ‘cleanliness’ with ‘ritual purity’. Ritual purity has noting at all to do actual cleanliness or other sorts of purity.

        • NSAlito

          See also: cooties

    • Alitheia
  • Jezebel’sOlderSister

    I took Old Testament as History in college (it was a Catholic college and I had to take a few religious classes — since I was never Catholic, and at that time was already calling myself a Secular Humanist, I went for the light weight stuff). In that class, the professor taught that, for the Jews of that period, the number 40 was interpreted as in a really, really, REALLY long time — kind of like we use millions. Hence 40 days of rain, 40 years in the desert, etc.

    • Which says a lot of both their society in which that number is something so big and the literalists who insist on taking those histories literally.

  • Greg G.

    In Japan, “death” is a homonym for “four,” which is why gift tea sets for the Japanese market have five cups, not four.

    A Vietnamese friend explained that about the Japanese teasets but he also told me that Chinese teasets have four cups because their word for “five” is a homonym for “death”. He said Vietnamese teasets have six cups because Vietnamese people like to party.

    • Lord Backwater

      According to a book I read on mythological beasts, Chinese imperial dragons have five claws. Commoners are not allowed to use this royal symbology, so Chinese dragons not representing imperial power have four claws. Japanese dragons have three claws.
      more info

      And yet some people still doubt the power of evolution.

    • Matt Brooker (Syncretocrat)

      Various Japanese electronic goods manufacturers avoid using the number four in their model names for the same reason: for example, Canon’s popular “G” series digital compact cameras went from the G3 to the G5. It seems to be more of a trend for consumer electronics than pro gear, though; Canon’s pro-level 5D series DSLR’s had a mark iv, and Nikon had F4, F-401, D40 and D4 SLR’s.

    • al kimeea

      Wiki says 4 in Chinese sounds like death. Pretty sure my Chinese co-workers told me the same.

    • Cynthia

      Is there a mixup in those details? 4 is definitely avoided among Chinese because the word for four sounds like the word for death. (My parents house number was 4, and their city was majority Chinese so they worried about being able to sell and even looked into changing it. City council said no because they had been overwhelmed with requests.)

      • Greg G.

        Is there a mixup in those details?

        Probably, but it’s still a pretty good joke. The guy who told me knew some Chinese and had a good working vocabulary in English, but Vietnamese was his native tongue. I don’t think ye knew Japanese. He told me that nine or ten years ago. I don’t recall which was which but the article had “4” being taboo for Japanese so I made it five for Chinese. But we do have a Chinese tea set with four cups.

  • Matt Brooker (Syncretocrat)

    There are four authentic gospels (out of dozens) because there are four winds and four points of the compass.

    Also, I believe, because there were four pillars holding up the flat Earth.

    • Greg G.

      The Gospels could not possibly be either more or less in number than they are. Since there are four zones of the world in which we live, and four principal winds, while the Church is spread over all the earth, and the pillar and foundation of the Church is the gospel, and the Spirit of life, it fittingly has four pillars, everywhere breathing out incorruption and revivifying men. From this it is clear that the Word, the artificer of all things, being manifested to men gave us the gospel, fourfold in form but held together by one Spirit. As David said, when asking for his coming, ‘O sitter upon the cherubim, show yourself ‘. For the cherubim have four faces, and their faces are images of the activity of the Son of God. For the first living creature, it says, was like a lion, signifying his active and princely and royal character; the second was like an ox, showing his sacrificial and priestly order; the third had the face of a man, indicating very clearly his coming in human guise; and the fourth was like a flying eagle, making plain the giving of the Spirit who broods over the Church. Now the Gospels, in which Christ is enthroned, are like these.    Irenaeus, Against Heresies, III.11

      • Matt Brooker (Syncretocrat)

        Thank you… I knew I’d read that somewhere (possibly one of Ehrman’s books?) On rereading it I’m honestly not sure if that implies four pillars of the Earth or not.

      • Michael Neville

        There should only be three gospels because there’s three members of the Trinity, three attributes of God (omniscience, omnipotence and omnibenevolence), Three Musketeers, three wheels on a tricycle, three blind mice, three goals in a hat trick, three sheets to the wind, three strikes and you’re out, three leaves on a shamrock, and Three Stooges (Shemp wasn’t a real Stooge)

        • Greg G.

          Three in a crowd, the value of pi in the OT,

        • Cozmo the Magician

          There should only be ONE gospel since there is only one true god… And that gospel is whatever damn book I happen to be reading today /snarkies

        • No–five gospels! Five sides on a pentagon, five senses, five Platonic solids, Mao’s Five-Year Plans. Five is the fifth Fibonacci number. Five is prime.

          Don’t make me continue, cuz I will.

        • Greg G.

          Don’t forget The Jackson Five.

        • Otto

          Personally, I take the 5th.

        • Michael Neville
        • Ignorant Amos

          But given the choice, not a metric “5th”, which 1% smaller than a proper US 5th.

        • Michael Neville

          Today being Veterans Day/Remembrance Day I’ll be having a drop or two of The GlenDorach Allardice 18 Year Old in memory of those who won’t be sharing any of the good stuff.

          Have a good Poppy Day, Corp.

        • Ignorant Amos

          Good on ya. I’ve nothing that rich on the shelf, but I’ll be taking a wee dram of something later.

          We hold our parade on the Sunday nearest the 11th, so yesterday morning I paraded to the local cenotaph, booted and suited, headdress and medals on display. Of course that meant having to listen to a clique of holy rollers talking shite for half an hour, but given the occasion, that was a small sacrifice to pay. Then it was all pile into the pub to get slaughtered with a bunch of comrades, old and new. Some that I see only on that day of the year. Good times reminisced.

          Have a good Poppy Day, Corp.

          You too Sir. Say hello to Castor and Pollox for me. “Semper Fortis”

        • epeeist

          Unfortunately these only go up to four.

          We decided not to go around the distillery at Bruichladdich since we wanted to do the tour at Kilchoman so we asked the bar man if it was OK if we just tasted the whisky, to which he replied, “Yes, no problem”. We asked how much this would be and he told us that this was complementary except for the whiskies at £200 per bottle and upwards. He asked what kind of whisky I liked (my wife was driving) and when I told him I preferred peaty ones he gave me a selection from their Port Charlotte and Octomore ranges. I came away with a bottle of Octomore which I am due to receive as a Christmas present.

          A couple of other stories from the trip.

          We went for the end of day tour at Bunnahabhan but got there extremely early. We went into the visitor centre to put our names down for the tour and asked if there was somewhere that we could get a coffee. One of the people in the centre said there was no need to wait, he would take us round straight away. This he did, he didn’t charge us for the tour, gave us a selection of drams at the end as well as a voucher which we exchanged in the shop.

          At the end of our tour around Laphroaig we went into the warehouse. One of the tasters was sampling a cask that was due to become bottles of single cask, cask-strength whisky. He looked at us, realised we were a fairly small group and said, “Would you like a taste?”. He wasn’t quite killed in the rush.

        • Michael Neville

          We’ve already determined that you’re an Islay man and I’m a Speysider. But I would have loved to have made the trip with you.

        • epeeist

          But I would have loved to have made the trip with you.

          You would have enjoyed it. As for Islay, see if you can taste Kilchoman and Bunnahabhan, they are both lighter than other Islay malts.

          We also went up to Skye, which is one of my all-time favourite places. We did have some Skye weather (liquid sunshine), so we went to Talisker. I tasted a 25 year old, the smoke had almost gone from this apart from a hint right at the end.

          Skye on a good day, this is the Black Cuillin from near the old Sligachan bridge.

          https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/02526c59b5674328a019b03e7a6a022d7f5b229a90ffcbd1bd9594333b026bb1.jpg

        • “Super-heavily peated”?? I visited the Talisker brewery, which apparently makes just moderately peaty whisky. Maybe you have to grow up with that taste. It’s not for me.

        • epeeist

          It’s not for me.

          Excellent, more for me then. Of course if I was religious about this then I would claim that peaty whiskies are the true whiskies and others don’t count as whiskies at all.

        • I know very little about either whisky or whiskey.

          What do you think about Jack Daniels?

        • epeeist

          What do you think about Jack Daniels?

          I try not to think about Jack Daniels 🙂

          Bourbons don’t do an awful lot for me. Part of it may be because American whiskies have to be matured in new barrels, which means that they don’t get the complexities of Scotch, which has to be stored in used barrels. This means they can use bourbon, Madeira or sherry casks all of which add to the flavour of the finished whisky.

        • Pofarmer

          FWIW, I’ve been drinking some Tellamore Dew. Some Proper 12. Quite a bit of Clan McGregor, cause, let’s face it, it’s cheap splashed in Soda. At some point I’ll have to try some actual Scotch. Forgot about Johnny Walker Red and Johnny Walker Black.

          Yeah, my pallet ain’t that sophisticated. Lol.

        • epeeist

          FWIW, I’ve been drinking some Tellamore Dew. Some Proper 12

          At which point certain aficionados would become quite snooty (I see the same thing when it comes to photography, with people becoming condescending when they see photographs being taken with a phone).

          If that’s what you want to do then fine. I might not get the best whisky out if you came to my house, but I certainly wouldn’t refuse you a dram.

        • Pofarmer

          That’s pretty much the reply I expected. Lol. My income stream doesn’t allow me to be a connoisseur , but I would definitely try some of the finer stuff if offered.

        • Ignorant Amos

          Yeah, my pallet ain’t that sophisticated. Lol.

          I can’t afford for my palate to be that sophisticated.

        • Pofarmer

          That is certainly an issue.

        • Greg G.

          No sense having champagne taste on a beer budget.

        • Ignorant Amos

          Give the Irish a shot too…though me maself don’t go down that route too often either.

        • Ignorant Amos

          In my youthful days I would drink Southern Comfort and dry ginger. But I find that, JD, Jim Beam, etc., too sweet.

          Of course as me auld da used to say, “there’s good drink, and not so good drink, but there’s no bad drink”…so any port in a storm, pun intended.

        • epeeist

          so any port in a storm

          Port you say? We will be opening a bottle of my dwindling stock of 1963 vintage when my children come up for Christmas.

        • Ignorant Amos

          Very nice. Do you observe tradition?

          Passing the Port is a great military tradition. In RE mess etiquette, the decanter is not allowed to leave the surface of the table.

          https://www.messetiquette.co.uk/port.html

        • epeeist

          Do you observe tradition?

          In our house it is more a matter of prising the decanter out of my younger daughter’s hands.

          Passing the Port is a great military tradition.

          I worked with the head of physics at Huddersfield, he was a retired naval commander. He was a gin drinker though, and large pink ones at that

        • Ignorant Amos

          Am partial to gin maself. Wetherspoons do a good deal on a double with mixer and they have a decent selection.

          When I lived in the Old Town in Benidorm I was spitting distance from this place…

          https://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/ShowUserReviews-g187525-d8551145-r435473814-Gins_Tonics-Benidorm_Costa_Blanca_Province_of_Alicante_Valencian_Country.html

          Could be a bit pricey, but the selection of gins and tonics combinations was astronomical.

        • Greg G.

          I have heard it said that there’s great sex and fairly great sex.

        • Greg G.

          I know very little about either whisky or whiskey.

          Which means you either haven’t drank enough or you have drank too much.

        • Hmm. Sounds like each is a problem.

          I’d better get drinking …

        • Ignorant Amos

          Welcome to the dilemma.

        • Pofarmer

          In honor of this thread I picked up some Johnny Walker Red today, and am imbibing a thimble full as we speak.

        • Ignorant Amos

          I was two bottles of Pinotage invested maself when a read this, this morning. Am supposed to step away from the keyboard at that stage, but a just can’t help maself.

        • Ignorant Amos

          I know very little about either whisky or whiskey.

          Except that the word is gaelic for “water of life” of course.

        • Oh, well yeah–I knew that.

        • Dang! I forgot the core of my argument.

        • Greg G.

          One bad apple don’t…

          (Oh wait… That was The Osmonds. Nevermind.)

        • Ignorant Amos

          And don’t forget the fifth element, she is lovely, and the savior of the Universe.

          http://hero-live.s3.amazonaws.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/FIFTH-ELEMENT-HERO-1132×620.jpg

        • No kissing without permission!

          https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EGRa7I0t4xc

      • the cherubim have four faces

        Now, that’s some solid science on which a true worldview can be built.

    • Otto

      Also, I believe, because there were four pillars holding up the flat Earth.

      And a turtle.

      • I Came To Bring The Paine

        And more turtles…all the way down….

      • Cozmo the Magician

        It is ELEPHANTS on the back on the turtle. Not pillars. This was directly observed by Rincewind and Twoflower. Although neither did bother to check the gender of the turtle IIRC.

    • Irenaeus’ explanation is a bit romantic (fanciful). I seriously doubt that symbolism was the reason the four canonical were considered inspired and the others were not. If four were required, there were others you might expect to have been accepted, at least by the time that the canon was firmed up. But the weren’t.

      Most significant was the sense among the churches of the second century that the four gospels that the churches ultimately acknowledged had a spark of inspiration the others did not. Second in importance was that there was a consistency in the picture of Jesus and the message of the Gospels. If you read what remains of the various other Gospels that were written even remotely close to the events they depict, even a casual reader will see the difference. Check out the writings of the first century at earlychristianwritings.com

      • Even on those there’re differences (note I’m saying this thinking on literalists). Remember also one of them -John- is of Gnostic nature unlike the others and differences are even more prononunced.

        • There are differences, but those are expected due to the different audiences addressed. I don’t find John at all Gnostic. If anything, John is countering the growing nascent Gnostic ideas turning up at the end of the century.

        • Ignorant Amos

          Imagine Gnostics turning up at all, it’s like they hadn’t heard the story in the gospels and only read Paul’s letters. You’d have thought the “real” story would’ve been established by then.

        • Gnosticism has its origins earlier than Christianity, probably in Persia. It absorbed Christianity or adopted some of the ideas and created a syncretistic new religion with elements of Middle Eastern mystery religions and Greek philosophy. It distorted the “real story” and was roundly condemned by those who knew the real story. It offered no hope and became a elitist religion for those who had the deeper knowledge. Hence Gnostic meaning to know.

          Christianity, on the other hand, offers hope to all of being truly connected to God.

        • Ignorant Amos

          Gnosticism has its origins earlier than Christianity, probably in Persia.

          So what? Christianity had its origins earlier than Christianity, in a Jewish cult. Which had its origins earlier in Judaism. Which had its origins earlier in earlier polytheistic semitic religions.

          The origins of Judaism lie in the Bronze Age amidst polytheistic ancient Semitic religions, specifically Canaanite religion, co-existing with a syncretization with elements of Babylonian religion and of the worship of Yahweh reflected in the early prophetic books of the Hebrew Bible.

          It absorbed Christianity or adopted some of the ideas and created a syncretistic new religion with elements of Middle Eastern mystery religions and Greek philosophy.

          Indeed, there was a lot of that about at the time.

          It distorted the “real story” and was roundly condemned by those who knew the real story.

          That’s just your opinion. As it happens, there were lots of Christianities in the first 3 centuries. Yep, the proto-orthodox versions won the day and the victors got to dictate the story from there. But don’t kid yourself that you know the “real story” was the one that went on to become the state religion of the Roman empire at the expense of all those other flavours of Christianity and the Pagans too.

          The version of Christianity that won through, only did so by breaking the rules.

          Pauline Christianity represents a whole new type of Christianity: It dropped all the difficult Laws of the Old Testament. The early Ebionite Christians who may have been the very first Christians, correctly upheld them but this made it hard to obtain converts. Pauline Christianity won many converts amongst Romans, which is why much of the Canon chosen by later Pauline Christians in the fourth century were in Greek rather than in the native tongue of anyone who had spoken to Jesus in person. Gnostics in the second century complained of a growing form of Christianity that dispensed with the inner, gnostic, teachings of Christianity and only embraced the outer stories. They said this growing form of Christianity was “a ‘worldly Christianity’ suitable for ‘people in a hurry’. Gnosticism, by contrast, was a truly ‘spiritual Christianity’. These particular quotations are not from some little known Gnostic heretic, but from the writings of two of the most eminent Christians of the early Church – Clement, the head of the first Christian philosophical school in Alexandria, and his successor Origen”. But it was the easier, more simplistic and literalist form of Pauline Christianity that was to grow.

          Pauline Christianity was therefore quite an extremely liberal (at the time), loose, and Gentile-orientated form of Christianity. It came to dominate Christianity from the 5th century so completely that it is hard, in modern days, to appreciate just how different Christianity in the past was, compared to Christianity today.

          http://www.vexen.co.uk/religion/christianity_cappadocian-nicene.html

          It offered no hope and became a elitist religion for those who had the deeper knowledge. Hence Gnostic meaning to know.

          An irrelevance to my point.

          But what hope did it not offer that other flavours of Christianity did?

          Christianity, on the other hand, offers hope to all of being truly connected to God.

          Only if one buys that particular brand of snake oil. Other religions off the same. It isn’t a unique selling point. Pascal’s Wager isn’t impressive.

          Heresy is a subjective concept. The problem with calling the others heretics in the first 3 centuries, is the accuser didn’t yet have the established orthodox doctrines yet.

          “Bauer proceeds by looking at certain geographical regions of early Christendom for which we have some evidence – particularly the city of Edessa in eastern Syria, Antioch in western Syria, Egypt, Asia Minor, Macedonia, and Rome. For each place, he considers the available Christian sources and subjects them to the closest scrutiny, demonstrating that contrary to the reports of Eusebius, the earliest and/or predominant forms of Christianity in most of these areas were heretical (i.e., forms subsequently condemned by the victorious party). Christianity in Edessa, for example, a major centre for orthodox Christianity in later times, was originally Marcionite; the earliest Christians in Egypt were various kinds of Gnostic, and so on. Later orthodox Christians, after they had secured their victory, tried to obscure the real history of the conflict. But they were not completely successful, leaving traces that can be scrutinized for the truth.” ~”Lost Christianities” by Bart Ehrman

          Jesus may well have started out as the creation of Gnostics, who were telling a symbolic story with many parables, much mysticism, and little historical truth. But this story paired well with the Jewish community who were expecting an actual Messiah to arrive. Whether or not Jesus existed as an actual person, it soon transpired that the generations after his supposed existence came to believe in him has an actual person. Although St Paul wrote exactly like a gnostic in all his early writings, Greek authors forged seven epistles with a strong literalist slant, which they then included in the Christian Bible.

          “Paul’s epistles make up 7 of the Books of the Bible. Also, six more were written in Paul’s name at later dates (in some cases some believe the text was written over 80 years after Paul’s death). There are 13 epistles (epistles) which were canonized into the Bible under the name of Paul. The authentic writings are gnostic, whereas the later pseudonymous texts are more literalist and misogynistic.”

          http://www.vexen.co.uk/religion/docetism.html

          Nothing in your reply tells me why so many gnostics bought into the Docetic story if the “real story” was as well established as Christians believe, want to believe? If the gospel stories were well known, it would be silly to think the guy wasn’t what the gospels say he was.

          You’ve bought into the propaganda big style.

        • A long post deserves an adequate reply. But I have time only for a few short comments.

          Amos. Christianity had its origins earlier than Christianity, in a Jewish cult.

          Yes, it did,though it is really a continuance of the faith of Israel rather than a digression. Gnosticism was a digression from both Jewish faith and Christianity.

          Amos. Pascal’s Wager isn’t impressive.

          .

          You’re right. It is not impressive to those who do not believe in the fundamental truth of God. But neither is it an argument I am putting forward.

          Amos. As it happens, there were lots of Christianities in the first 3 centuries.

          That is true as well. But there were not so many in the first century. Except for a few Jewish spins on Jesus and the gospel, first century and early second century witnesses to the Gospels are pretty consistent in naming the canonical four. A few minutes reading of the early fragments we have of “other Gospels” from the first century will demonstrate why. See the list on http://earlychristianwritings.com/index.html

          Later Gospels were written, of course. But being late in the second and third centuries and in locations distant from the epicenter of Christianity places them beyond the limit set by the church of being either the words of the Apostles or someone close to them. They also demonstrate a divergence from the original Gospels which you can easily detect if you read them. The official selection of a canon in the fourth century only reflected the earlier consensus of the churches dating back to the late first century.

          A very few issues of what constituted orthodox doctrine were decided in the fourth century. But the fundamental issues of the words of Jesus, the sacrifice for sin, and the resurrection were long standing.

          Bart Ehrman. I think Ehrman is mistaken about the earliest Christians in Egypt. From what we know, they were the ancestors in theology of the Coptics not the Gnostics. See https://www.huffpost.com/entry/who-are-egypts-coptic-christians-and-what-do-they-believe_n_58ebc537e4b0c89f912058d5?guccounter=1&guce_referrer=aHR0cHM6Ly93d3cuZ29vZ2xlLmNvbS8&guce_referrer_sig=AQAAAH64X8QQWlKaHqCYS_g7-qeHr8h3i25dl_slrKiy6BTmI65mC-vLBXcKZhHwWesAWqZ5DbNR4qL6C68qq0OQXQSwoRpOLK0E8pCgHFSe5YiULuJL1FTXaXnXhMEWT6QmB3FByIk7NpAr4koYxjXIMUQo2Lg99jbbJiPeR-sM_tH-

          That Paul wrote as a Gnostic would be very hard to prove. It is Paul’s theology that is the basis of Orthodoxy. And it is the faith of the church even earlier than Paul that formed the theology of the the early Christians. One example is the hymn embedded in the letter to the Philippians 2:

          Who, being in very nature[a] God,
          did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
          7 rather, he made himself nothing
          by taking the very nature[b] of a servant,
          being made in human likeness.
          8 And being found in appearance as a man,
          he humbled himself
          by becoming obedient to death—
          even death on a cross!

          Paul wrote before the Gospel were available in written form. So Paul is the earliest witness to Christianity in writing. Yet, Paul seems to take the theology of the Gospels to its logical conclusion theologically. He and the Gospels are not at odds.

          I think you are reading in the wrong places if you want the real story.

        • Ignorant Amos

          Yes, it did,though it is really a continuance of the faith of Israel rather than a digression. Gnosticism was a digression from both Jewish faith and Christianity.

          Which Christianity?

          But as a Christian you would say that. Jews, not so much, they’d say all versions of the merging Christianity’s were digressions. The Jesus believing Gnostics were also Christians. Muslims would claim they were really a continuance of the faith of Israel. The Mormons claim the same. The Jewish faith was itself a continuance from what was earlier.

          You’re right. It is not impressive to those who do not believe in the fundamental truth of God.

          Which God? It’s a false dichotomy.

          But neither is it an argument I am putting forward.

          A rose by any other name and all that jazz.

          Christianity, on the other hand, offers hope to all of being truly connected to God.

          What is the hope of which you speak? Eternal life in Heaven if one connects to the big “G” God of Christianity? That’s Pascal’s Wager in a nutshell.

          Pascal’s Wager:- the argument that it is in one’s own best interest to behave as if God exists, since the possibility of eternal punishment in hell outweighs any advantage in believing otherwise.

          But there were not so many in the first century.

          How many were there? We only know about the ones that survived, or were written about in the treatises of the works of the followers of the ones that survived.

          Except for a few Jewish spins on Jesus and the gospel, first century and early second century witnesses to the Gospels are pretty consistent in naming the canonical four.

          They are? Where? I don’t think it panned out like that at all.

          https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/religion/story/emergence.html

          A few minutes reading of the early fragments we have of “other Gospels” from the first century will demonstrate why. See the list on http://earlychristianwritin

          Am not going to wade through a list that contains hypothetical texts that don’t exist, and may never have. Point to where these four texts are first mentioned in antiquity. There is no mention of the canonical gospels for the first hundred years of Christianity, if we take the start time as the alleged death on the cross as 30-33 CE.

          Pauline Christianity contradicts gospel Christianity in a number of important ways. So straight away there are problems. The NT itself speaks of the divisions in the faith within its pages.

          Later Gospels were written, of course. But being late in the second and third centuries and in locations distant from the epicenter of Christianity places them beyond the limit set by the church of being either the words of the Apostles or someone close to them.

          But that’s just not the case. First off, we can only deal with what survived. And we know heretical texts were destroyed. And we can’t be sure the canonical gospels are first century writings either. The first century writings of Paul don’t mention gospel Jesus at all.

          They also demonstrate a divergence from the original Gospels which you can easily detect if you read them.

          Nope. You are taking the canonical gospels and declaring them original and their contents original Christianity because of that. The fact that the gospels are at best late in the first century means ya can’t get away with that. The gospel of Thomas has been dated as maybe earlier that the big four and some scholars call it Gnostic in nature.

          The official selection of a canon in the fourth century only reflected the earlier consensus of the churches dating back to the late first century.

          Behave yerself. First off, there was no “official” selection of a canon in the fourth century. The canon didn’t become “official” until the Council of Trent in the 16th century as the panic set in with the Reformation.

          A very few issues of what constituted orthodox doctrine were decided in the fourth century.

          I know.

          But the fundamental issues of the words of Jesus, the sacrifice for sin, and the resurrection were long standing.

          Nah, that’s just not true.

          Bart Ehrman. I think Ehrman is mistaken about the earliest Christians in Egypt.

          Of course ya do, it doesn’t fit your narrative. So what? I prefer to get my knowledge from scholars when possible.

          Even if accurate, how does that link to the HuffPo article refute what Ehrman said?

          Let’s see what Ehrman said…

          …the earliest Christians in Egypt were various kinds of Gnostic, and so on.

          Let’s see what expert Birger A. Pearson says…

          As to what varieties of beliefs and practices existed among the Jesus believers in first-century Alexandria, we are left to engage in historical inference, for we have no first-century sources at all, at least not any complete texts. It is possible that the non-canonical Gospel of the Hebrews and Gospel of the Egyptians, attested by Clement of Alexandria and other church fathers, are products of first century Alexandrian Christianity. Gos. Heb., containing both narrative and sayings material, has a distinctly Semitic flavor, though it was written in Greek. As its name suggests, it probably circulated among Jesus-believing Jews for whom the symbolic authority of James, brother of Jesus, was an important feature. Gos. Eg., of which only sayings material is preserved, shows a strong encratic flavor and contains tradition that overlaps with the Gospel of Thomas. Also written in Greek, it may have circulated among native Egyptian Christians living in the Rhakotis district of Alexandria. If that is so, it would imply mission activity among Gentiles in Alexandria, presumably carried out by Jesus believing Jews there.

          As already noted, Walter Bauer posited that the original and most dominant form of Christianity in Alexandria was heretical, specifically Gnostic. In making that judgment Bauer was extrapolating backward from the time of Hadrian, when such Gnostic teachers as Basilides, Valentinus, and others were active. While it is probable that Gnostics could be found in first-century Alexandria, it is more likely to suppose that other, more dominant, varieties of “Christianity” existed there, more reflective of the Jerusalem origins of the Christian mission and of the dominant varieties of Judaism in Alexandria at that time.

          We can conclude this discussion of Gnosticism in Alexandria with the observation that Gnostic forms of Christianity were probably the most prominent forms of Christianity in Alexandria until toward the end of the second century, when Demetrius was bishop there from 189 to 232. Alexandrian Gnosticism can be said to have originated among Alexandrian Jews already in the first century.

          We can conclude this paper with the observation that the greatest “extent of theological diversity in earliest Christianity” can be found in first- and second-century Alexandria.

          https://austingrad.edu/images/SBL/Earliest%20Christianity%20in%20Egypt.pdf

          From what we know, they were the ancestors in theology of the Coptics not the Gnostics. See https://www.huffpost.com/en

          From what I know, Basilides and his contemporary Valentinus were preaching Christian Gnosticism in Alexandria from the beginning of the second century. Legend has it, Mark brought Christianity to Egypt in the middle of the first century, though that’s unlikely. Fleeing Jewish Jesus followers are the likely carriers to the diaspora in Egypt. But neither were Coptic.

          None of this is relevant to my point. If the gospel Jesus was as embedded in the belief of Christians so early on, as you’d like us to believe, how could such diverse thinking as Gnosticism even be a thing?

        • You’re right about Gnosticism in John. At best, there’re common roots with similar Jewish ideas.

          The problem with those differences -and I remark it again- are literalists, who insist everything written down there happened even if some events should have had been recorded.

        • Ignorant Amos

          Johannine texts are specifically anti-gnostic, which begs the question “Why?”.

          The story of Doubting Thomas seems to be about countering Gnosticism.

          The Johannine epistles

          Because of the anti-Docetic polemic in the Johannine epistles the view is widespread that the opponents condemned were certainly Gnostics.

          https://earlychurch.org.uk/article_gnosticism_yamauchi.html

    • Alitheia

      Early in the history of Christianity, critics argued that the Gospels contradicted one another and thus their accounts could not be trusted. The Syrian writer Tatian (about 110-180 C.E.) came to the defense of the Gospels. He felt that any apparent contradictions would disappear if the Gospels were skillfully harmonized and blended into one account instead of four.

      Tatian set about preparing such a harmony. It is not known whether his original was in Greek or in Syriac. Whatever the case, about 170 C.E., Tatian completed his work, known as the Diatessaron, a Greek word meaning “through [the] four.” Why should you be interested in this non-inspired composition?

      In the 19th century, critics began to promote the view that none of the Gospels were written before the middle of the second century C.E.; hence, they could have little historical value. Ancient manuscripts of the Diatessaron discovered since then, however, provide definitive evidence that the four Gospels—and only the four—were already well-known and accepted as the only authoritative collection on the life and ministry of Christ by the middle of the second century C.E.

      Discovery of the Diatessaron and commentaries on it in Arabic, Armenian, Greek, and Latin led Bible scholar Sir Frederic Kenyon to write: “These discoveries finally disposed of any doubt as to what the Diatessaron was, and proved that by about A.D. 170 the four canonical Gospels held an undisputed pre-eminence over all other narratives of our Saviour’s life.”

  • eric

    I’m only sorta on board with your argument here. I specifically disagree with this:

    But symbolism is what you do when you’re trying to bridge a gap.

    That’s not necessarily true. As you point out, symbolism can be used in literature to pique people’s interest, because most humans like figuring out puzzles, and symbolism can be a sort of puzzle. It engages the reader/listener, and that means a reason for including it can be to engage the reader/listener. If we consider the Bible as literature (and before that, oral storytelling), then it seems reasonable to say that the symbolism fits the art form and is there as part of the art form, not because the authors are trying to hide or paper over some gap. Thus, I don’t see the use of symbolism in the bible as necessarily indicating some flaw or gap in the theology. Having said that…my whole argument against it being a gap in theology depends on viewing the bible-as-storytelling, which is (and should be) cold comfort for any believer wanting to claim it’s the absolute, unvarnished truth.

    • Ignorant Amos

      Symbolism is a large part of military life.

      • You mean like pageantry and the meaning of the flag? I suppose the ribbons and other elements of the uniform, too.

        • Ignorant Amos

          In everything. From the tactical map board to the badges of rank. From regimental cap badges to the battlefield colours. From the battle honours (my corps, the Royal Engineers, don’t have battle honours as they have been involved in every conflict, hence the motto “Ubique”) to the medals awarded.

          Coincidentally, there was a lot of symbolism about yesterday on Remembrance Day parades the length and breadth of the country.

        • al kimeea

          https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-50367727 – A cultural icon complaining aboot “you people” not wearing poppies, smh

        • Ignorant Amos

          The symbol created by a US humanitarian lady called Moina Michael, inspired by Canadian John McCrae battlefront-theme poem “In Flanders Fields” and first produced by a French lady Madame Guérin.

          It is still a symbol of some controversy here in the UK, particularly so in Northern Ireland.

          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Remembrance_poppy#Protests_and_controversy

        • al kimeea

          ha, the racist ol phuq was fired – outrage galore on Facebunk

        • Ignorant Amos

          The freedom to chose whether to wear a poppy or not, was what those folks laid down their lives for…it should remain so.

        • al kimeea
        • Cynthia

          Ironically, a lot of the group he was trying to smear is actually known for military service.

          Maybe Don Cherry should look up the background of Canada’s Minister of Defence. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harjit_Sajjan

        • And now it’s Veteran’s Day, so happy Veteran’s Day to you!

    • it seems reasonable to say that the symbolism fits the art form and is there as part of the art form

      Agreed, but doesn’t that make the point? If the Bible were history or dictates from God, why the symbolism?

  • Phil Rimmer

    Metaphor is why we have abstract concepts. Using elements of physical reality (our body, its actions and physical responses etc) metaphorically transports us into the realm of metaphysics and opens up a means to talk about (possibly even to be able to have in the first place) an interior life of feelings. (Damasio: Feelings are emotions introspected upon.)

    What came first “Love” or our rapidly beating heart?

    We have metaphor because our wildly (randomly) cross coupled brain at age two is only partially pruned back by later experience. The less pruned (for genetic and cultural reasons) may become the artists, the religious, schizophrenics, synaesthetes and autists depending on the unpruned residuum. Our ability to use induction depends on our fundamental neural capacity to detect coincidence, not only in sensed data but also, post-inference, meta-data. The residuum of cross coupling has a notable cultural component.

  • Grimlock

    I think you might have set a bit of a high bar for these Silver Bullet arguments. As you wrote in the initial post about these arguments,

    Silver-bullet arguments must be (1) pro-atheism arguments that (2) are broad enough that Christianity as it is understood by most Christians can’t coexist with it.

    Is this argument from symbolism a pro-atheism argument? Only in the very narrow sense that it’s an argument against a very specific subset of theism.

    Can this argument coexist with Christianity, as understood by most Christians? I think the answer to this is ‘yes’. My impression is that most Christians acknowledge that there is a lot of symbolism in the Bible.

    This seems like a variant of a more general problem for Christians, namely the ambiguity in the alleged revelations of their god.

    • Only in the very narrow sense that it’s an argument against a very specific subset of theism.

      But all flavors of Christianity use the Bible. If the Bible were simply a handbook from God, it would look like a handbook.

      • So it is not a handbook. It is a story. It is the story of many many people who connected with God. They become the handbook, if w are willing to pay attention and learn from them.

        • Right. And a story is what you do when it’s just made up. You don’t need symbolism when you’re just listing God’s properties and explaining what he wants from us.

        • Ignorant Amos

          Parts of it read like a story in instructional handbook form.

        • Or parts read like an instructional handbook in story form. but read the wider context. Even the instructions are given in the context of establishing the nation of Israel, in the case of the OT law. The only instructions in the NT are love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength and love your neighbor as yourself. Everything else is subsumed under that command.

          But even that is spoken in the context of a story. And, if you can step far enough back, everything is in the context of the one story which is God’s seeking to reconcile a lost creation to himself.

        • Ignorant Amos

          Or parts read like an instructional handbook in story form. but read the wider context.

          Whatever! A difference without a distinction. It’s mostly nonsense instructions.

          Even the instructions are given in the context of establishing the nation of Israel, in the case of the OT law.

          Just a pity that so many Christians just can’t get that part when quoting those instructions to support bigotry.

          The only instructions in the NT are love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength…

          Nonsense.

          Condemning everyone to eternal damnation because they won’t lick your favourite gods arse, is not an instruction I’d call loving.

          The sectarian anti-semitism found in the NT isn’t very loving.

          …and love your neighbor as yourself.

          Again, just a pity that so many Christians just can’t get that part when quoting those instructions to support bigotry.

          But let’s not be too silly about who ones “neighbor” was in biblical terms. It didn’t include slaves for example…

          Slaves, obey your earthly masters with deep respect and fear. Serve them sincerely as you would serve Christ. Ephesians 6:5 NLT

          And what about the part that infers special love for the in-group neighbors.

          Yahweh wasn’t one bit concerned about loving the neighboring nations of the Israelites when he was giving ordinances for genocide and the taking of virgins as war booty to use as sex slaves and paedo rape wives. So are we talking about the same God here or what?

          Everything else is subsumed under that command.

          Those two commands ya mean? Hows that been working out over the past two millennia?

          But even that is spoken in the context of a story. And, if you can step far enough back, everything is in the context of the one story which is God’s seeking to reconcile a lost creation to himself.

          Or its all just a loada made up pish to give a semitic flock of wandering nomads a history. If you can step far enough back, you’ll find that Yahweh was a second tier war god that was seconded by that tribe to eventually become the big I Am.

          If you really believe what is described in the bible as the work of an all powerful entity that can do anything by any means, then yer crackers.

        • Amos. Just a pity that so many Christians just can’t get that part when quoting those instructions to support bigotry.

          Yes it is.

          Amos. But let’s not be too silly about who ones “neighbor” was in biblical terms. It didn’t include slaves for example…

          It didn’t the culture and eliminate slavery overnight. But slaves were included in loving your neighbor for Christians. Slavery was pervasive in the culture of the first century. If you were a slave it made no sense and it would have been dangerous to just walk away. Besides being a good slave was a better witness to your obedience to Christ than rebellion.

          Amos. you’ll find that Yahweh was a second tier war god

          A rose by any other name would smell as sweet. The name is far less important than the character and nature of God. For the Hebrews the name Yahweh meant “I AM,”the God who is always. That speaks to his nature. It was also a personal name as a God who personally relates to his people, and that speaks to his character.

        • Ignorant Amos

          It didn’t the culture and eliminate slavery overnight.

          Ah, yes, moral relativism at its finest.

          This is weak apologetics. We are talking an all powerful can do anything YahwehJesus here. You are restricting his attributes, rather than considering the alternative.

          This excuse is also feeble, YahwehJesus gave “thou shalt not” rules for all manner of things, serious and mundane. None of which were eliminated ever, still, the laws were given. So elimination overnight is a pathetic excuse. Humans started the prohibition of slavery, despite the God given ordinances in the bible. Rape is in the same bought too.

          But slaves were included in loving your neighbor for Christians.

          Great consolation for the slave, not. You are actually serious. Here’s an idea. Why not love them that much that ya don’t keep people as property?

          No, what we have is beat them more severely if the do wrong knowingly. Beat them more sparingly if they do wrong out of ignorance.

          47 “The servant who knows the master’s will and does not get ready or does not do what the master wants will be beaten with many blows. 48 But the one who does not know and does things deserving punishment will be beaten with few blows. From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked. ~ Luke 12:47-48 New International Version (NIV)

          Slavery was pervasive in the culture of the first century.

          Indeed. So was all the other stuff that laws were made prohibiting. Why is slavery a special case? Think about this for just a wee bit. The bible is a human thing written by people who had no problems with keeping people as property, because they did. So wrote rules into the mouth of their deity’s given ordinances.

          Again, you assert moral relativism.

          https://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Slavery_in_the_Bible#Moral_relativism

          If you were a slave it made no sense and it would have been dangerous to just walk away.

          You miss the point. In a universe where YahwehJesus exists, there should be NO FUCKING SLAVERY anywhere and at any time, period.

          Besides being a good slave was a better witness to your obedience to Christ than rebellion.

          I don’t believe you just wrote that obnoxious crap. What sort of Christian are you? You have the brass neck to cite the love demanded in the NT and then say something like that? Christians, ave shit’em. So at the end of the day, slavery isn’t bad in the correct circumstances? You need to get that God virus put in check.

          Sheeeesh! I need a shower.

        • Amos. You are restricting his [God’s] attributes, rather than considering the alternative.

          No, I am just not trying act like a Monday morning quarterback and criticize the means God choose to achieve the ends he desires.

          <b.Amos.slavery isn’t bad in the correct circumstances?

          For a Christian, slavery is not the ultimate evil.

        • Ignorant Amos

          No, I am just not trying act like a Monday morning quarterback and criticize the means God choose to achieve the ends he desires.

          Anything less than perfect defines the Christian God out of existence.

          What were the ends God choose to achieve when it came to slavery? How do you know?

          The means YahwehJesus chose were not anything trying to end a concept such as slavery.

          God doesn’t prohibit or even criticise slavery. God doesn’t even stay neutral on the concept. God handed down ordinances on keeping slaves. God assisted in the actions of taking slaves during conflict. That is morally reprehensible by today’s human standards. An omniscient God would know this. The books instructions look very much like other ANE cultures instructions on how best to keep slaves.

          For a Christian, slavery is not the ultimate evil.

          Oh, I know. That’s been problematic going forward. For God it wasn’t even evil. So why would Christians believe it was any different.

          It doesn’t even have to be the “ultimate evil”. You seem to be saying that it is okay under certain conditions, because the bible.

          Is the owning of another human being as property ever morally justifiable?

        • nydiva

          .There are hundreds of millions of people who id as Christian. How do you know how they may view slavery? Just a few generations ago, some Christians thought slavery was Biblical.

        • Ignorant Amos

          A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.

          Whoooosh!

          The name is far less important than the character and nature of God.

          And you think that character and nature is one to aspire too? Wise up.

          For the Hebrews the name Yahweh meant “I AM,”the God who is always.

          More ignorant ballix.

          Ehyeh ašer ehyeh (“I Am that I Am”), the explanation presented in Exodus 3:14, appears to be a late theological gloss invented to explain Yahweh’s name at a time when the original meaning had been forgotten.

          That speaks to his nature. It was also a personal name as a God who personally relates to his people, and that speaks to his character.

          That nonsense is not where we start though, is it?.

          The Israelites initially worshipped Yahweh alongside a variety of Canaanite gods and goddesses, including El, Asherah and Baal. In the period of the Judges and the first half of the monarchy, El and Yahweh became conflated in a process of religious syncretism. As a result, ’el (Hebrew: אל) became a generic term meaning “god”, as opposed to the name of a worshipped deity, and epithets such as El Shaddai came to be applied to Yahweh alone, diminishing the worship of El and strengthening the position of Yahweh. Features of Baal, El, and Asherah were absorbed into the Yahwistic religion, Asherah possibly becoming embodied in the feminine aspects of the Shekinah or divine presence, and Baal’s nature as a storm and weather god becoming assimilated into Yahweh’s own identification with the storm. In the next stage the Yahwistic religion separated itself from its Canaanite heritage, first by rejecting Baal-worship in the 9th century, then through the 8th to 6th centuries with prophetic condemnation of Baal, the asherim, sun-worship, worship on the “high places”, practices pertaining to the dead, and other matters.

        • Greg G.

          So it is not a handbook. It is a story.

          So it’s more like a jokebook.

          There’s the one about the man of God sitting there and the king wants to speak with him. So the king sends out 50 men and their captain. The captain tells the man of God that the king wants to speak with him and he must come with them.

          The man of God calls down fire from heaven and burns them all alive.

          So the king sends out another fifty men with their captain. The captain says the king wants to speak with him and he must come with them.

          The man of God calls down fire from heaven and burns them all alive, too.

          So the king sends out fifty more men and their captain. The captain says, “Please don’t kill us. The king wants to speak with you and we are supposed to escort you to him.”

          The man of God says, “Sure, no problem.” (2 Kings 1:1-16)

          Then there is Epimenides paradox:

          Titus 1:12 (NRSV)12 It was one of them, their very own prophet, who said,

          “Cretans are always liars, vicious brutes, lazy gluttons.”

      • Cynthia

        But HOW do they use the Bible? Do most Christians believe that they need to take it all literally, and read it as a history book and science book, or do some of them accept that it uses symbolism to discuss abstract religious ideas?

        • All of the above, I’m sure.

        • Cynthia

          So, you described a “silver bullet argument” as being one that could work against most Christians.

          Wouldn’t this argument only work against those that follow the Bible literally and believe that it can and should be used as a history and science book, and not those that accept that the Bible uses symbolism to discuss abstract religious ideas? If “most” Christians don’t take everything in the bible literally, then this isn’t a silver bullet argument.

          From what I know, the idea of taking a literal, plain reading of biblical text is associated with the Protestant Reformation, so would this argument exclude Catholics and Orthodox Christians?

        • My point was that anyone who sees the symbolism (and that’s pretty much all Christians) should see that this is what fiction does.

        • Cynthia

          But I don’t think you are proving the point that you think you are.

          There is a long history of transmitting stories in the form of stories, with details that make oral recollection easier, and using certain conventions and symbolism to make a point. Don’t forget – we are talking about ancient texts from a period long before the printing press, when oral communication was far more prominent. Plain lists of rules don’t make an impression on anyone, and they aren’t of much use to the average person if they don’t have a way to transmit and read the list. You had a limited number of scribes, but most writing was occurring with more elite classes – we have records from rulers, some commercial transactions and some religious documents, but the average person wasn’t reading and writing constantly as they would today. Even news media does it today – you don’t just see a dump of raw data.

          Humans use stories to pass on information, and especially to pass on things like lessons and values and emotional messages. We see some of that even today with some works of fiction. I mean, The Handmaid’s Tale, 1984, The Trial or The Fountainhead (it is a phenomenon across the political spectrum) are all works invented by an author, but they have also been far more powerful at conveying ideas about the real world and shaping views and values.

          So yeah, it isn’t hard to make an argument against literalism. Lack of literalism isn’t really an airtight argument against Christianity as a whole though.

        • If it looks like fiction, it is likely fiction.

          That said, I didn’t do a great job differentiating metaphor, symbolism, and so on that is legitimately used in science and history from symbolism used in fiction. Perhaps a version 2 of this idea later will make that distinction clearer.

        • Ignorant Amos

          So yeah, it isn’t hard to make an argument against literalism. Lack of literalism isn’t really an airtight argument against Christianity as a whole though.

          When dealing with Christians that have been taught that the subjects in their silly holy book are historical facts, it can be.

          I’m about 85 pages into “The Bible Unearthed: Archaeology’s New Vision Of Ancient Israel And The Origin Of Its Sacred Texts”, which convincingly argues that the Pentateuch is a work of symbolic fiction that was constructed in the late 7th, early 6th centuries and later, BCE, depicting an earlier time to establish a cultural back story. If the creation myth, the patriarchs as analogous to the politics of the time, the 13th century BCE exodus, wandering the wilderness, conquest of Canaan yarns, all can be demonstrated as just that, made up fiction, then perhaps a couple of Christers will be driven to consider how reliable the rest of their silly holy book isn’t, and isn’t what it seems, they might just eventually look deeper and get cured of the God Virus.

        • Cynthia

          For sure, there are Christian groups, particularly evangelical Christians, who place a whole lot of emphasis on literalism and loss of faith in literal truth could mean loss of religion altogether.

          But if we are talking about an argument that would work with “most” Christians – do most actually believe in literalism? I was just talking on another board with someone who mentioned her Catholic friends who basically shrugged shoulders and said “OF COURSE it is full of metaphors and symbolism”. They had never been taught literalism, so the lack of literal truth didn’t phase them one bit. (I’m assuming here that Christian is an umbrella term, which includes Catholics, Protestants, Orthodox, etc.)

          Does your book get into the documentary hypothesis? I took a university course almost 30 years ago that focused on it quite heavily, but I know that current theories in academia change. Back then, our prof said that the earliest bits written were likely around the Song of Deborah (Judges chap 5), and it is only around David or Solomon that you can really argue that the text is dealing with historic figures. I actually learned a lot from some of the logic – you assume that any text is only proof of the fact that someone was motivated to write it down. So, if th re is a Book of Ruth, one assumption is that someone was motivated to write that David’s Moabite great-grandmother happened to be the bestest Moabite ever and had pledged herself to the Israelite people and their god. It isn’t that hard to picture that having a Moabite ancestor could ha e been a political problem when it was an enemy tribe, and this turned a liability into an asset. If they went through that effort, it is reasonable to assume that they existed.

        • Ignorant Amos

          Most Christians believe in a certain degree of literal truth is my point.

          Who the patriarchs are for example. A number of the stories in the OT for sure.

          Does your book get into the documentary hypothesis?

          Yep…here’s a documentary based on the same book.

          https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O5RfScpEcZ8

        • Cynthia

          I will leave others to discuss how essential literal belief is to Christians – unlike Gary, I won’t pretend a level of expertise that I don’t have with a religion that has never been mine. Most of the Christians I know are either Catholic or just not particularly religious, but I know the demographics here are different than they are for the United States.

          I found one interesting article from a Catholic POV: https://www.americamagazine.org/issue/786/article/fundamental-challenge So, it seems to say that literalism is a minority view among Catholics, but it is more common for the laity.

      • Grimlock

        Christianity is a narrow subset of theism in one sense (of all possibility versions of theism, Christianity is only one). It’s clearly not a subset in the sense that relatively few (human) theists hold to it.

  • RichardSRussell

    The symbol of a fish (ichthys in Greek) was a secret symbol in the early church. The word was an acronym for “Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior.”

    In case anybody was wondering how that 7-letter word was an abbreviation for a 5-word phrase, it’s because Greek has a couple of glyphs — X (chi = ch) and Θ (theta = th) — that English lacks, so we substitute digraphs for them. The word for FISH in Greek is ΙΧΘΥΣ, an acronym for ““Iēsous Christos, Theou Yios, Sōtēr””.

  • Bob, I think. answered his own question; people are attracted to symbolism and figurative language..People find more powerful messages in literature than they do in mere history or science. That is why we read and watch far more stories than we do history or science programs, though I love both, except when those are framed as literature. Remember the popularity of the film The Martian. (There actually was a lot of science in the film, brw.)

  • I recently had someone stating that the numbering in the periodic table of elements in addition to specific version of a English dictionary was proof of the Christian deity due to the symbolism. Of course he believes that English is the original language of Jehovah and the world before the Tower of Babel.

    • Michael Neville

      “English was good enough for Jesus when he wrote the Bible” –Attributed (falsely) to Michelle Bachmann

    • Lord Backwater

      he numbering in the periodic table of elements

      Huh? Because they are all positive integers or what?

  • abb3w

    Symbolism is used by art and literature, not history and science.

    Science uses mathematics and mathematical relationships, which could be characterized as a form of symbolism. Contrariwise, it seems a form very different from literary symbolism.

    • Phil Rimmer

      I have always thought of mathematics as the ultimate metaphor.

      It is cool and unbiased. prodigiously lawful and endlessly re-usable.

      Logic approaches this also.

      I propose there are two ways of knowing in science “understanding” and “mastery”. The forming is the wordy explanation that gives us a sufficient feeling of familiarity in its account of a piece of science, by which we are happy to stop asking “but why?”. That feeling of familiarity will often come from metaphorical accounts. Electricity in wires is like water flowing through pipes of different diameter under different pressures. Such narratives are not to be mistaken for mastery, when we employ mathematics to connect all the elements and are able to use it to make predictions. Ohm’s Law. At the upper reaches of quantum mechanics when particles are “entangled” and reality is “non-local”, say, verbal metaphor gets pushed to an increasingly puzzling limit. We run out of metaphorical road coupling to familiar experience and “understanding” fails and “mastery” through mathematics, chilly and austere, is all we might manage.

      • abb3w

        I propose there are two ways of knowing in science, “understanding” and “mastery”.

        I’d suggest that you seem to more be describing a feature of human psychology in general than science in particular, perhaps roughly corresponding to the proposed “c-system” versus “x-system”.

        • Phil Rimmer

          Yes, its all psychology.

          I’m not a fan of most dual process theories. Inevitably I have my own which broadly posits subconscious evolution of notions where ideas are tested by simple heuristics, acquired in Bayesian fashion and via cultural exposure. No formal logic is here but some near equivalents like simple recurring coincidence. Automatic actions use this mode alone, but sometimes they feed deliberative actions.

          After these cultivated notions pass a sufficient salience heuristics test they may be presented in the cartesian theatre of conscious thought. Apart from this new experiential character (emotion and value enhancing) this domain is fitting experience for potential memorability (it happens nowhere else) but particularly it rolls out a “visible” application of cultural thinking tools like, language, logic, maths, accepted semantic/historical knowledge compatibility etc. Its tests are potentially as strict as we can get

          This high cost (and most recently evolved activity) will give feedback to subsequently evolved subconscious notions creating value tagged memories of the almost inevitable failure as starting material. Subsequent subconscious notions proffered usually work rather better, not failing the conscious cultural tool test so often. We believe we are consciously driving our refining thinking continually. In fact we subconsciously evolve, crudely test, eliminating the weakest, consciously test to failure the improved notions with our high cost tools, rinse and repeat. Solutions pop into our head and we test them…

          Understanding and mastery exist in this same latter, consciousness-including process. Understanding’s failure mode is related rather to Wittgenstein’s point about the slippery nature of words and the lack of ostensive definitions (definition by pointing) of new minted metaphysical items. There is simply nothing as we go deeper into science we can point to and say that, that is what I mean.

        • abb3w

          Yes, its all psychology.

          Eh; some of science may be argued as a bit more abstract than the human-particular instantiation. However, once it’s clearly conveyed that the focus is on the process as immanentized in human psychology and anthropologically observable practices, I don’t see major problems with the thesis.

          I’m not a fan of most dual process theories.

          I’m not a wild fan of any of them in particular. (Freudian “conscious” versus “subconscious” especially seems dated.) However, data on Wason Selection Task failures don’t seem explicable without at least dual subprocesses.

        • Phil Rimmer

          It seems to me that such test failures/successes are either intelligence-indicating if of social significance or indifference-indicating when not. As Damasio has it you need to value outcomes emotionally to have the effort applied. The brain is vicious in its pursuit of energy saving.

          Engaged in science suggests valuing.

        • abb3w

          As Damasio has it you need to value outcomes emotionally to have the effort applied.

          More or less. However, this seems alternately phrasable as having a reflexive-system emotional trigger required to activate the more effortful reflective subsystems.

          The brain is vicious in its pursuit of energy saving.

          The X/C dual model posits that the C systems carry a higher metabolic load — although I’m too lazy to check the literature for how much empirical support there is for that.

          Engaged in science suggests valuing.

          Though perhaps as means rather than intrinsic end.

        • Phil Rimmer

          Conscious deliberation, employing the five layer inferential stack of the PFC lifts brain energy drain from 12 to 20 Watts. 8 hours costs an apple. Trivial to us but a real life or death adder in calorie scarce earlier times or during illness when gathering even was not possible. Evolved detectors of salience are critical for safely allocating resources. The evolution of energy efficient heuristics essential, likewise. The fact that formal cultural thinking tools always appear to be used consciously also maps to this high power consumption state. Maybe consciousness, not only correlated with semantic memorability (as opposed to subconscious skill acquisition) but was also a way for us to not to overdo it?

          Latest psychology correlates feelings of scarcity with a 14 point drop in IQ, perhaps answering the question, why do do the poor make such bad decisions?

          (There is a parallel argument concerning a possible restriction of autoimmune capacity. Unless the brain detects the possibility of being fed/cared for, autoimmune response is dialled back, the hypothesis goes. Raising temperature topically or bodily costs a lot extra calories. This may be why placebos work. Feeling being “cared for” in some way dials the auto immune back up to 100% and in these days of cheap calories, with little adverse consequence.)

        • abb3w

          five layer inferential stack of the PFC

          Any good references to suggest documenting the existence of such a five layer stack?

          Latest psychology correlates feelings of scarcity with a 14 point drop in IQ

          Also sound like a paper that would be interesting, but I’m not turning it up with a quick poke at Google Scholar.

        • Phil Rimmer

          Here’s a starter on our layer cake.

          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cerebral_cortex

          Layers two and three are often analysed as one.

          The paper on the IQ inverse correlation with feelings of scarcity, was from a paper measuring the IQ of the same sugar cane farmers in India just after their harvest when they gain 60% of their annual income in one go. Their IQ jumps up from its lower state, when poor. I have a link somewhere. I’ll try and find it

    • Cynthia

      A while ago, I read Reality is Not What It Seems: The journey to Quantum Gravity. Now, I’m not a physicist, so some of the details were above my full understanding. What was clear to me, though, was that math and science are ultimately about models and metaphors – simplified ways for humans to relate to a complex reality and try to make sense of it. At some points, because those models aren’t actually the full picture of reality, we bump up against the limitations of the models and need to re-think fundamental assumptions about everything.

      Reading it reminded me of some religious arguments and debates.

      • abb3w

        A while ago, I read Reality is Not What It Seems: The journey to Quantum Gravity. Now, I’m not a physicist, so some of the details were above my full understanding.

        I’m not one either, but I know enough to generally follow along about until it’s time to grind through vector algebra in complex Hilbert spaces. I found a pirate copy of the book and skimmed it; it seems a relatively solid and accessible overview of various historical models through a (roughly) contemporary covariant quantum field model, further noting a couple areas of ongoing interest/research.

        What was clear to me, though, was that math and science are ultimately about models and metaphors – simplified ways for humans to relate to a complex reality and try to make sense of it.

        Metaphors less than models; and the degree of “simplified” varies.

        At some points, because those models aren’t actually the full picture of reality, we bump up against the limitations of the models and need to re-think fundamental assumptions about everything.

        Changing both instances of “models” in this to “currently preferred models” would seem more accurate. The limitations encountered generally aren’t categorically and qualitatively inherent to mathematics or science; the effective question is not whether to use mathematics to model, but of which mathematics provides the “best” model.

        Similarly, the most fundamental limit on the “full” picture of reality is not so much inherent to mathematics, but rather from having a finite set of data to infer the “full” reality from.

  • evodevo

    I assume the water symbolism in Christianity was inherited from its Jewish forebears…the mikveh washes away uncleanliness acquired under various scenarios (birth, touching a dead person, menstruation, etc. etc.). The water in a mikveh must be “living water” in order to accomplish its task…Living water comes from a spring or well…or must be from a source that never dries up and flows constantly…

  • Jesse H

    I would argue that the symbolism actually points to the reality of archtypes and the transcendental in the first place. Symbolism is only understood in a conscious engagement of thinking about existence, an enterprise which cannot explain itself.

  • Jesse H

    So would one be more inclined to believe the Bible if it were only history
    and dictates from God? I’d warrant that what you’d then do is decry the
    Bible for its lack of imagination, passion and art. So the fact that the
    Bible has both history and story, art and facts, logos and pathos, is
    actually an argument for the text, not against it.

    • Give me an example. What book claims to be factual and yet has symbolism as part of its fundamental story (not just a fun tangent)?

      • Phil Rimmer

        What serious, rationalist atheist post making your point against symbolism has a title like yours? Did you not shoot yourself in the foot with it?

        I think the problem here, also, is the misunderstanding of how reason evolved.

        “The Enigma of Reason” Dan Mercier and H Sperber.

        Reason emerged and shaped our brains, culture and thinking habits as a means of coercion and co-option. We give reasons as to why someone should do a thing, join us in the fields or in battle or whatever. Cold rigour has nothing to do with it. Logic, and a formal language, has only just begun its journey in a handful of remote heads at this time.

        • Jesse H

          Reason (cold) and passion (hot) both have perspectives on truth. Thus narrative and symbol are both perspectives on truth.

        • Phil Rimmer

          Reasons and reasoning can be passionate,

          It is logical rigour that never can be.

          My point is entirely that logical rigour had hardly begun in philosophy at the time of writing much of the bible.

        • Jesse H

          You don’t think that ancient people understood the law of noncontradiction? I’d say we’re still reaping fruit from the logical and theological premises found in the Bible.

        • Phil Rimmer

          Unlike Greek philosophy which was starting to see metaphysical laws as pertaining, the bible was far more traditionally “fire-side narrative” in its presentation of and expectation for its lessons. You have to wait a thousand years before Aristotle is retro-grafted onto scripture by Aquinas to try to nail the jelly down. But what can you expect? Its appropriate for its time and place.

          In more developed places axial age philosophers had much of the new moral philosophy clearly expressed and some putting claims to moral authority under the critical spotlight.

      • Jesse H

        I’m not sure how you are defining the term symbolism. I would argue that any number of historical narratives are factual yet appeal to a fundamental story of symbolism. Take the Marxist view of history as oppression/oppressor, or the Hegelian view as thesis-antithesis-synthesis. Or Skinner’s Behaviorism or a number of psychological approaches. Archtypes, myths, legends, “when in doubt, print the legend.”

        Are you saying that fact and symbolism are opposites? I think you are failing to account for reality as both truth and perception. Reality is both the truth of the real and the multiperspective perceptions of the real.

  • Cynthia

    From my non-Christian perspective, I’m not really sure how this is a silver bullet argument against Christianity.

    It’s pretty obvious that there are symbols in the Bible. What I don’t see is how the rest of the argument lines up.

    You can argue that treating the Bible as a history book or a science book, and to treat every word literally as opposed to recognizing that much of it is symbolic, is the wrong approach. That makes sense. But is that a silver bullet argument against Christianity as a whole? Does every branch of Christianity require that people read the Bible on a strictly literal level as a history and science book?

    People use symbolism all the time. It’s part of how humans communicate, and especially part of how we express abstract ideas.

  • Cynthia

    Just happened to see this article, on the idea of symbolism and metaphor when discussing Something Out There. https://www.reconstructingjudaism.org/article/god-metaphor-guide-perplexed

    It isn’t a Christian source, but I thought it was an interesting take.

  • Cynthia

    We already know from some Biblical texts that they were not intended to be straight historical records, because they refer to other documents that presumably were.

    In 1 Kings and 2 Kings, there are frequent passages that basically say, for more info, look at the Chronicles if the Kings of Judea. The Biblical text was not straight history, it was a religious commentary of the history.

    Other places in the text use stories or parables explicitly to make a moral point. Look at Nathan rebuking David about killing Batsheba’s husband, or stuff in Ezekiel, or the plant that died in the Book of Jonah, or the New Testament parables.

    Much of the stuff with numbers and word play might have been a memory device, revealing an oral history.