Is Your Idea of God an Abomination?

Is Your Idea of God an Abomination? February 21, 2018

Bruce Gerencser writes:

What kind of God allows children to be murdered, all because his adult followers aren’t allowed to proselytize public school students? What a vindictive, petty God this is, akin to a man who burns down a house with his ex-wife and children in it, all because his ex wouldn’t let him in the door. Such a God is not worthy of worship. Worse yet, are Evangelicals of a Calvinistic bent who believe school shootings are all part of some sort of perverse cosmic plan. According to Calvinists, these children were murdered because God willed it to be done. It is God who ultimately fires the bullet that kills us all.

Such a God is an abomination, one unworthy of worship, love, and devotion…

For some, these insights lead to atheism. They don’t have to. But they absolutely should lead to revisions in your theology, if you envisage God in these ways.

Perhaps the interesting discussion question is this: which is better/worse in your opinion, atheism, or being a religious believer who adheres to an abominable view of God?

Bruce also shared the latest Atheist Pig comic, which actually served as the jumping off point for the rest of what he wrote.

I discussed a similar point a few years ago in a post about God being banned from schools and t-shirts.

I’ve shared a number of posts on social media recently that offer some of my older thoughts on the topic of guns. Leah Schade kindly quoted a post of mine about “gundamentalism” in a recent post of her’s advocating repeal and replacement of the 2nd Amendment.

One post of mine from a year ago is perhaps also worth highlighting, even though it is basically just a meme, because it focuses in on the hypocritically different views that some people hold regarding refugees and guns. In addition, I have older posts that are relevant to the topic of prayer in schools, including posts about news from the future, God and tragedy in secular public schoolspagan prayer in schoolsMuslim prayers in schools, and an inherent contradiction in the stance that some adopt on this topic.

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  • Phil Ledgerwood

    I remember the whole “God was being a perfect gentleman…” line after the Columbine shooting. What a totally crappy theodicy.

    I think it only works for some people because they are actually the same kind of people who would allow great harm to come to others just to make a point.

    • John MacDonald

      I think the typical apologetic response is that God promises justice in the next life, not in this one. And regarding school shootings, people have free will, after all …

      • Chuck Johnson

        When the logic or the morality of religions is not convincing enough, the apologists step in.
        They will often embarrass themselves with their clumsy repair attempts.

      • enchess

        Free will argument doesn’t apply to those Evangelicals with Calvinist bent. A fairly large number of them think the concept of free will is garbage because anything having free will infringes on God’s sovereignty (source: my Calvinist teachers in school who told me I don’t have free will and God decides all my actions, good and bad)

    • Chuck Johnson

      When politics or other ideas are seen as being more important than human beings, the morality goes downhill rapidly.

  • John MacDonald

    If there was an “omni-present/potent/scient/benevolent” loving, caring, personal God who watched over us and had a plan for our lives, there wouldn’t be three year old children dying from cancer. These things are incompossible. Apologists may claim school shootings could be the result of human free will, but with cancer the blood is clearly on God’s hands. Perhaps there is no God, or perhaps there is a God and He is impotent, Evil, indifferent, or insane.

    • Chuck Johnson

      The evils that you mention are the natural consequences of biological evolution.
      Blaming a person or a superperson just adds confusion, not clarity to the search for answers.

      • John MacDonald

        So you are saying, if there is a God, he couldn’t have created a species that is immune to cancer?

        • Chuck Johnson

          I have seen enough descriptions of God that I have to imagine that there is no limit to what the imaginary gods can do.

          The God that I see as the real one is the God who is a fictional character, a human invention.

          • John MacDonald

            Here is a good quote from Bertrand Russel in his 1953 essay, ‘What Is An Agnostic?’ Russell states:

            “An agnostic thinks it impossible to know the truth in matters such as God and the future life with which Christianity and other religions are concerned. Or, if not impossible, at least impossible at the present time. Are Agnostics Atheists? No. An atheist, like a Christian, holds that we can know whether or not there is a God. The Christian holds that we can know there is a God; the atheist, that we can know there is not. The Agnostic suspends judgment, saying that there are not sufficient grounds either for affirmation or for denial … I think that if I heard a voice from the sky predicting all that was going to happen to me during the next twenty-four hours, including events that would have seemed highly improbable, and if all these events then produced to happen, I might perhaps be convinced at least of the existence of some superhuman intelligence.”

            This reflects my view as well. I’m a Theoretical Agnostic , because I don’t know if the supernatural exists (although I have seen some pretty weird stuff), and a Pragmatic Atheist , because I live my life “as though” the supernatural does not exist.

          • Chuck Johnson

            Thanks for the quote.
            I am a scientist. Science is full of data and theories which should be regarded as being true. Here is an example:

            “Copper is a chemical element and it is represented in the periodic table of elements.”

            This is taken to be true without questioning it.
            This is just a convenience to avoid needless work, worry and soul-searching over the question of what copper is.

            The philosophy of science, however, tells us to not be certain of anything. So we should regard all facts and theories to be more than 0% likely to be true and less than 100% likely to be true.

            We do this to leave the door open to consider new data and new theories.

            But then, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence if they are to turn out to be convincing and true.

  • John MacDonald

    This is an aside, but does anyone know if there is going to be a Biblioblog Carnival for March? I just finished a post I wanted to submit.

  • arcseconds

    The contradictions are largely resolved once you understand this is not about any kind of loving God or love for people, but rather about conformity and control. The only people who count are Real Evangelical Americans, and everyone else has to be forced to conform to their tastes.

    Inward conformity would be the best, but they’ll take outward conformity.

    God, of course, agrees with them.

    So (evangelical!) school prayer is to be enforced. If Muslims or Catholics try it, they’re no doubt to be drummed out and replaced with Real American teachers.

    If the students don’t believe their prayers, then obviously they’re not Real Evangelical Americans, so they don’t deserve any supernatural protection. They should believe their prayers!

    If they don’t get to force people to act the way they want, then of course God’s going to kill a few people to scare them into behaving.

    • Chuck Johnson

      That’s one of the biggest reasons that gods have been invented.
      To give support to the pyramid of authority.

      • arcseconds

        Is there any evidence for this statement?

        • Chuck Johnson

          We could look into anthropology, psychology, sociology, politics, theology etc.

          But your question surprises me.
          Is it true that you don’t see how the God of Christianity has been (for many centuries) at the pinnacle of the pyramid of authority in Western civilization ?

          Or that you don’t see how divine authority works in non-Christian societies ?

          • arcseconds

            That something is used for a purpose does not mean it was created for that purpose.

            This should be obvious to anyone who understands evolution.

            Or has ever jury-rigged anything.

            “One of the main purposes that paperclips were invented was to insert in the ‘factory reset’ orifice of electronic devices”

          • Chuck Johnson

            “One of the main purposes that paperclips were invented was to insert in the ‘factory reset’ orifice of electronic devices”

            No, that purpose came later.
            It is a footnote in the use of paperclips.

          • Chuck Johnson

            “One of the main purposes that paperclips were invented was to insert in the ‘factory reset’ orifice of electronic devices”

            Not true.
            But it is true that paperclips were invented to provide jobs for factory workers and profits for investors in the paperclip company. Also, royalties for the paperclip inventor.

            There is a long long list of benefits from the invention of paperclips and those benefits are also reasons that the paperclip was invented.

          • arcseconds

            Yes, Chuck, I know that, it was an intentionally absurd statement to demonstrate my point.

            How do you know you’re not making the same mistake about gods?

          • Chuck Johnson

            “How do you know you’re not making the same mistake about gods?”

            Because I have a good idea of the kind of things that are important to human societies and what things are trivial (an anthropological footnote).

          • arcseconds

            Something may be found to be very important for something it wasn’t invented for. This may even become its main use. This happens quite frequently. Logic is very important for computers and control circuits, but it wasn’t invented for computers and control circuits, to give just one example.

            How do you know this didn’t happen with god?

            That gods are useful for justifying hierarchy in large-scale societies may well be in a sense a historical footnote, as large-scale hierarchical societies have only been around for few thousand years.

          • Chuck Johnson

            I don’t consider Abrahamic gods to be an historical footnote.

            Just because hunter-gatherer societies had belief in supernatural beings does not mean that we should believe that their supernatural beings are the same ones that human civilizations have worshiped for thousands of years.

            My legs and your legs are actually the flippers of ancient fish.
            But that does not mean that we should call ourselves fish or our legs flippers except metaphorically within certain pedagogical contexts.

            Being clear, analytical and specific with our language is important to understand meanings and to communicate those meanings to others.

          • arcseconds

            Who is saying that they are worshipping the same gods?

            I am wanting you to offer some proof of your contention that gods are invented to justify authority.

            So far I haven’t seen any.

            You’ve :
            — listed a bunch of subjects
            —assured me you know what’s important anthropologically
            —offered me compositional advice about how to talk about logic
            —quibbled about what is and isn’t a footnote
            — pronounced on the importance of clear language.

            Not only is none of this proof, most of it is completely irrelevant to the question.

            That justifying authority is an important function of gods is relevant, but this fact alone doesn’t prove your claim. That function may have been acquired later.

            Today, gods have an important narrative function in movies, but it would be absurd to claim that gods were invented to feature in movies.

          • Chuck Johnson

            You like to use rhetorical tricks (including equivocation) to obfuscate.

            In this way, you can “win” arguments.
            Those arguments are fabricated by you.

          • arcseconds

            What rhetorical tricks? Where have I equivocated?

          • I really do think that, instead of making these accusations while once again failing to provide evidence, you showed you understood the point that is being made, it would help the interaction be more fruitful…

          • Chuck Johnson

            I wondered why arcseconds was so into trolling on you blog.
            It turns out that you encourage his trolling.
            That’s the explanation.

          • I wonder whether you are joking, trolling, or delusional. Arcseconds has been commenting here for years in a polite, intelligent, and substantive manner, while you have showed up relatively recently, have a habit of posting lots of short comments in rapid succession that offer insults and accusations supported by little or no evidence, and you accuse anyone who points out flaws in your logic, or who asks for evidence to support your claims, of trolling. Perhaps you think “trolling” means “doing anything to expose the superficiality of my stance”? If so, I would encourage you to look up the term…it doesn’t mean what you think it means…

          • Chuck Johnson

            “I wonder whether you are joking, trolling, or delusional.”

            Actually, I am sadly disappointed in both you and arcseconds.

          • arcseconds

            What would not be disappointing to you?

            All I have done is asked you for evidence for your statement, and pointed out that showing something has a benefit is not the same thing as showing that thing was designed for that benefit.

            It seems that you’re just going to interpret anything other than immediate agreement as disappointing trolling.

          • Chuck Johnson

            “What would not be disappointing to you?”
            If you would quit trolling, I would not be disappointed with that.

          • arcseconds

            I don’t think I’m trolling, nor does McGrath.

            Unless you can come up with an example, and explain why you think it is trolling, then I have no other option than to conclude that you just don’t like being disagreed with, and the only hope of not having a disappointed Chuck Johnson is simply to agree with everything he says.

          • Chuck Johnson

            I will keep my answer to you brief because it’s not a good idea to feed the trolls.

          • arcseconds

            I’m sorry that you can’t distinguish between disagreement and trolling.

            I’m serious, that actually is quite tragic.

          • Chuck Johnson

            “Logic is very important for computers and control circuits, but it
            wasn’t invented for computers and control circuits, to give just one

            If you ever get into a conversation where the word “logic” (as you have used it here) becomes confusing or a point of contention, then this is what I recommend:

            Add enough additional words and explanations to make your meanings clear. “computer logic” or “AI logic” could be used as well as “the logic of the ancient philosophers”.

          • arcseconds

            Sure, I know how to clarify things to people.

            Fortunately, there doesn’t seem to be any contention or confusion here, though. Because if there were, presumably you would ask me questions or express disagreement.

            So your advice seems quite unnecessary. Plus being concise is also a compositional virtue, so I don’t want to clutter my posts and waste everyone’s time with unnecessary detail.

            I have more of a tendency towards being unnecessarily prolix than cryptically concise, so it seems more important for me to focus on concision.

          • Chuck Johnson

            “Sure, I know how to clarify things to people.”

            You obfuscate in order to create arguments that you can “win”.

          • arcseconds

            No, I haven’t obfuscated anything.

            Perhaps you don’t understand something I have said.

            But then you should ask questions about it, not just accuse me of doing it deliberately to somehow “win”.

            Just because you don’t understand something, doesn’t mean it’s a nefarious plot on behalf of someone else.

          • Chuck Johnson

            “That something is used for a purpose does not mean it was created for that purpose.”

            Benefits from the creation of God stories include origin stories about the Earth, animals and plants, humans, etc.

            Also entertainment.
            Also social cohesion.
            Also retaining cultural ideas from ancestors.
            Also social conduct and morality.
            Also obedience to authority.
            A detailed list would be very long.

      • John MacDonald

        Hi Chuck. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I think there is imagery in the New Testament to suggest that perhaps the resurrected Jesus was envisioned as something like a kind of spiritual emperor to his followers, not simply a political emperor like the Caesars. And so, while the Caesars were to still be given their due as the political leaders, Jesus was to be revered and worshiped as even greater than the Caesars (in a spiritual sense). If you’re interested, Chuck, I just finished a blog post about this topic here: . I’m just an amateur when it comes to New Testament studies, but I think I make some good points in the Blog Post and so I’m proud of it. 🙂 I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on what I wrote …

        • Chuck Johnson

          Thanks, John. I will look into it.

          I picture the rise of Western civilization as being guided by two governments, the Christian governments (which had considerable power and authority) and the political governments (kings, queens, princes, emperors etc.)

          Due to the divine right of kings, both the religious and non-religious were both guided by God and Christianity.

          I do not consider this to be a redundant or useless system.
          I see it as a beneficial system of checks and balances.

          But sometimes, the contention got quite dysfunctional.

          • John MacDonald

            This is just speculation, but I imagine that way back then some in power witnessed how devout the Christians were even in the face of persecution, and decided that this kind of crutch would be a wonderful thing for the general population to have.

          • John MacDonald

            Chuck said:

            “Thanks, John. I will look into it.”

            Thanks Chuck. I’m getting positive feedback. Even though my post assumes an historical Jesus, and not mythicism, Richard Carrier still posted on his Twitter account about my post that:

            “This is a well researched case for the Noble Lie Theory of Christian Origins. I mentioned the theory in On the Historicity of Jesus (in my section on the hallucination theory of origins), but only in passing as a possibility & not anything we could prove or assume. Now see John MacDonald’s post at

        • Chuck Johnson

          “Truth” doesn’t just mean honesty and correctness, but also “exemplary,”
          like when we call someone a “true friend”.

          The ways that people can be honest or dishonest, sincere or insincere, truthful and genuine or fraudulent are many.
          Tricks and techniques for enhancing the clarity and honesty of your speech are available within the English language.
          Tricks and techniques for obfuscation and deceit are also available.

          Much of what we speak and much of what we hear and perceive is only partially understood by us.
          Some of what we speak or hear is unknown to us, a closed book.

          “Truth” vs “exemplary” is a possible basis for a big misunderstanding.

          • John MacDonald

            The ancient intellectuals knew very well the difference between what they believed, and what was better for society to believe. Gill says,

            “When Phaedrus points out that Socrates has made up the ‘Egyptian’ legend he tells, Socrates replies, tartly, that what matters is not the source of such a story, but the truth or falsity of the idea it conveys (275 b-c). This is, in effect, to concede the falsity of the story as historical narrative, a point also signalled at the start of the story (Gill, “Plato On Falsehood – Not Fiction 58)”.

            The Odyssey conveys quite a pessimistic view of the afterlife. Status, distinction, and honor disappear after death, and all individuals are reduced to lifeless forms inhabiting Erebus, the personification of darkness. In Erebus, it matters not whether one has achieved glory in war or simply lived a quiet, unremarkable life. Death is the great equalizer. Small wonder, therefore, that the Homeric heroes place great stock in achieving a great name for themselves, for only in this figurative sense can they hope for any sort of “life after death.”

            It makes sense, then, that Plato presents a very different model of death, one that would be much better for the populous to believe. Socrates, in the early dialogues, goes somewhat in this direction when he presents death as either a simple nothingness, or rather something more desirable. On the other hand, Plato presents an elaborate structure of death that we find in the later Platonic “Republic (“Myth of Er”)” where in death there is:

            (1) The presence of a conception of “punishment” and “reward” (in other words, punishment for an evil life, and, conversely, reward for living a meritorious life, meted out by a panel of judges in the underworld);
            (2) The possibility of rebirth or reincarnation; and
            (3) An underworld with clearly marked out “good places” and “bad places.”

            Plato’s version would clearly be more effective in creating a happy, just society than Homer’s version.

          • Chuck Johnson

            John, your comment on Socrates still does not explain whether he was trying to deceive anyone.

            Modern people are used to having their stories labeled a s fiction or non-fiction. Probably, in ancient times, such a distinction was not as clear.

            Modern languages (especially English) have larger vocabularies which often leads to clearer understandings of the concepts being presented.

          • John MacDonald

            Hi Chuck

            The ancient Greek intellectuals thought it was okay to lie if they thought such lies would bring about good results.

            For instance, Parmenides lied that he had received his didactic poem “from the Goddess,” because he thought it would lend authority to his teaching.

            In Euripides’ “Bacchae,” Cadmus says “Even if this man (Dionysus) be no God, as you think, still say that he is. Be guilty of a splendid fraud, declaring him to be the son of Semele, for this will make it seem she is the mother of a God, and will confer honor on all our race.”

            The Stanford Encyclopedia Of Philosophy provides a helpful brief explanation of the Noble Lie in Plato’s Republic. We read:

            “For Plato we should live according to what reason is able to deduce from what we regard as reliable evidence. This is what real philosophers, like Socrates, do. But the non-philosophers are reluctant to ground their lives on logic and arguments. They have to be persuaded. One means of persuasion is myth. Myth inculcates beliefs. It is efficient in making the less philosophically inclined, as well as children (cf. Republic 377a ff.), believe noble things. In the Republic the Noble Lie is supposed to make the citizens of Callipolis care more for their city. Schofield (2009) argues that, for instance, the guards, having to do philosophy from their youth, may eventually find philosophizing ‘more attractive than doing their patriotic duty’ (115). Philosophy, claims Schofield, provides the guards with knowledge, not with love and devotion for their city. The Noble Lie is supposed to engender in them devotion for their city and instill in them the belief that they should ‘invest their best energies into promoting what they judge to be the city’s best interests’ (113). The preambles to a number of laws in the Laws that are meant to be taken as exhortations to the laws in question and that contain elements of traditional mythology (see 790c3, 812a2, 841c6) may also be taken as ‘noble lies’.”

            Regarding Socrates, he wanted to die a martyr’s death of the the innocent, righteous man for the effect this would have on his society (similar to the impaled, righteous man in Plato’s Republic, Plat. Rep. 2.362a). Socrates last words are “Crito, Let us give a rooster to Aesclepius” for the poision.

            We also find justified lying in the Judeo Christian tradition. We read:

            1. God rewarded the Egyptian midwives for lying to the Pharaoh. (Exodus 1:18-20)
            2. Rahab was “justified” when she lied about Joshua’s spies. (Joshua 2:4-6); (James 2:25)
            3. David lied to Ahimelech when he said he was on the king’s business. (He was King Saul’s enemy at the time.) We know that God approved of this lie, since 1 Kings 15:5 says that God approved of everything David did, with the single exception of the matter of Uriah. (1 Samuel 21:2)
            4. Elisha told King Benhadad that he would recover, even though God told Elisha that the king would die. ( 2 Kings 8:8-10)
            5. In the Deuterocanonical book of Tobit, the angel Raphael lied to Tobias, saying “I am Azarias.” (Tobit 5:16-18)
            6. Jesus lied when he told his family that he wasn’t going to the feast, but later went “in secret.” (John 7:8-10)
            7. Even God lies by putting lying spirits in the mouths of his prophets. (1 Kings 22:21-22)

          • Chuck Johnson

            “The ancient Greek intellectuals thought it was okay to lie if they thought such lies would bring about good results.”

            Of course they did.
            Modern people do that all the time.
            People lie because they think that it will bring about good results, that’s the reason that ancient and modern people lie.

          • Chuck Johnson

            “For instance, Parmenides lied that he had received his didactic poem
            “from the Goddess,” because he thought it would lend authority to his

            You told me that he lied, but you didn’t show me that he lied.

            Religious people today tell us what God has told them.
            Not all of these people will be lying.
            Some believe the supernatural stories because they have been indoctrinated.

          • John MacDonald

            The Greeks would often invoke the muses to lend authority to their works. In the proem of Parmenides’ poem, Parmenides describes the journey of the poet, escorted by maidens (“the daughters of the Sun made haste to escort me, having left the halls of Night for the light”), from the ordinary daytime world to a strange destination, outside our human paths. Carried in a whirling chariot, and attended by the daughters of Helios the Sun, the man reaches a temple sacred to an unnamed goddess (variously identified by the commentators as Nature, Wisdom, Necessity or Themis), by whom the rest of the poem is spoken. The goddess resides in a well-known mythological space: where Night and Day have their meeting place. Its essential character is that here all opposites are undivided, or one. He must learn all things, she tells him – both truth, which is certain, and human opinions, which are uncertain – for though one cannot rely on human opinions, they represent an aspect of the whole truth.

          • Chuck Johnson

            “The Greeks would often invoke the muses to lend authority to their works.”

            You still have not shown me that Parmenides lied.
            In that whole reply to me, you did not show me that he lied.

            What do you mean when you tell me that he lied ?
            We can’t get into a time machine and ask him in person what he had in mind when he spoke about a Goddess or a Muse.

          • John MacDonald

            Parmenides lied about the source of his poem being the goddess to lend authority to his teaching. This is just something the Greek writers did. For instance, classicist E. L. Bowie points out, regarding the hexameter didactic epic form of ancient Greece, that the Muses who met Hesiod on Helicon, (in a meeting that Hesiod’s contemporaries hardly would have regarded as the narrative of an historical event), notoriously claimed to be purveyors of both truth and falsehoods (pseudea) that are ‘like what is real’ (etumoisin homoia) – just the phrase used by Homer of Odysseus’ lies to Penelope at ‘Odyssey 19.203’ :

          • Chuck Johnson

            What, are you explaining that the lying was famous and well understood by people who are acquainted with the ancient writing traditions ?

          • John MacDonald

            I’m not sure what you are asking? The point was that the Greeks were known for citing the gods as the sources for their ideas to lend credibility to those ideas. This is well known, so I’m not sure what you are disagreeing with?

          • Chuck Johnson

            You said that the ancient Greeks were lying.
            Did the ancient Greeks think that they were lying, or did they think that the gods that they appealed to were a legitimate and true source of knowledge and wisdom ?

            That might not be “lying” that might be “gullible”, or primitive or superstitious.

          • You do realize that this is much the same question that arcseconds has been asking you, right? How you claim to know why people developed religious ideas, given that we do not have a time machine, and in that case only encounter the religious ideas in texts subsequent to their point of origin…

          • Chuck Johnson

            When we study the details of what the ancient religious ideas consisted of, and in addition, we study anthropology, paleontology, history, etc. then we can match up the ancient religious and non-religious stories to the needs for such stories.

            Knowing people’s needs explains a lot.
            People need and want power, money and authority.
            Match that up with what the Catholic church has been up to for centuries.

            On the other hand, John MacDonald is telling me specifically about the lies that Parmenides has told.
            I am still waiting for him to show me that that lies are the way to explain references to a muse or a Goddess.

          • arcseconds

            You only think it’s sufficient to note a benefit in the case of gods. If we can see that there’s a benefit, then that is enough to say “they were invented to achieve this benefit”. Further proof is not necessary, it seems.

            Parmenides gets the benefit of having his ideas be thought to be divine in origin. Why do we need any further proof here?

          • Chuck Johnson

            You are using the “strawman” technique.

          • arcseconds

            That is my understanding of your view.

            If it is not your view, please explain where it differs

        • Chuck Johnson

          As I have noted, the modern English language is very sophisticated and it has an enormous dictionary.

          The questions of truth and falsehood, fact and fiction, sincerity and fraud can be dealt with precisely using English.

          Ancient languages and ancient thinking would not be as competent as modern English in exploring this question with precision.

        • Chuck Johnson

          I have not seen any Star Wars movies except the original one. I saw it in a theater in Philadelphia when it was first released.
          So I had to look some things up to understand the content of your blogspot.

          Here is what I understand about good vs evil, lying vs sincerity, knowledge vs ignorance and other similar concepts:

          The first thing to understand is that such thoughts and concepts can and do exist on a sliding scale of reality and relevance.

          People can (A) very intentionally tell a lie in order to deceive.
          People can (B) very intentionally tell the truth in order to sincerely inform others in a detailed and honest way.

          Also, there are innumerable states of partial honesty in between (A) and (B).

          Also, the dichotomy of sincerity vs lie is joined by other similar and relevant dichotomies. One of these is knowledge vs ignorance.

          There are innumerable states of partial knowledge.
          I am a scientist. I am aware that (scientifically speaking) it is inappropriate to consider any fact or theory to be absolutely true or absolutely false.

          All things should be considered to be more than 0% true and less than 100% true. This is to allow for the reconsideration of data and theories whenever new evidence is presented.

          But of course, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.

  • Perhaps the interesting discussion question is this: which is better/worse in your opinion, atheism, or being a religious believer who adheres to an abominable view of God?

    The latter is worse, IMO.

  • Chuck Johnson

    My idea of God is of a fictional character, a human invention.
    Such a God is abominable, flawless, loving or hating in the various ways that humans will portray him.
    With the imaginations of billions of people contributing to what the picture of God is, there’s no wonder that God is very mysterious to many people.

  • Chuck Johnson

    The God of Christianity is a Rube Goldberg contraption.
    He no longer provides good explanations about our universe or good explanations as to what good morality might be.

    • enchess

      Haha I seriously need to steal that ‘Rube Goldberg contraption’ bit. I’ve had all these people explain ”God’s plan” and have it grow as things directly contradict their earlier interpretation.

      “Oh, God gave me this great job….so that I could hate it and quit, um, well because that experience helped me find a new job…where my house gets destroyed by a natural disasters forcing me to move… isn’t it amazing how God did all that to get me to my current house?” <- (this isn't a made up example, someone told me this chain when praising God because their new house was nice)

      • Chuck Johnson

        I have told people that Christianity is a Rube Goldberg contraption, and here in the 21st century, it is also a house of cards.

        • The Rube Goldberg contraption analogy, however, suggests that you still aren’t getting arcseconds’ point above. Rube Goldberg devices mirror the products of biological evolution, an elaborate kluge that uses this and that to accomplish new things. And so the question remains: how do you know that this elaborate contraption of religion that has evolved in ways that lend authority to the powerful originated with that purpose in mind?

          • Chuck Johnson

            And so the question remains: how do you know that this elaborate contraption of religion that has evolved in ways that lend authority to the powerful originated with that purpose in mind?-James

            I have the impression that the spirits and the gods of hunter-gatherer societies were far less authoritarian and that the gods of burgeoning civilizations became far more authoritarian.

            Different spirits and gods evolved to suit different cultural purposes.

          • arcseconds

            Most gods and spirits are personifications, anthropomorphizations, or posited causes of natural phenomena, or sometimes places, or psychological affects.

            The head gods in various pantheons are no exceptions to this. Zeus is a sky god; Enlil, a storm god; Ra, a sun god — sky gods, storm gods, and sun gods are common.

            So it seems to me that there are few, if any, gods that were simply invented to justify authority. I can’t think of a single god who is simply there as a king, say. Perhaps there are some, but they must be a minority.

            Moreover, as far as we can tell from the societies we have records dating back to ancient times, the most important gods seem to be very ancient. So they probably date back to prior to large-scale societies that had strong authoritarian structures, and you agree that these societies are less authoritarian and have less authoritarian gods.

            Consequently I think that you are simply wrong: authority is not a common reason for inventing gods at all. Rather it is a function that typically acrues to them later.

            No doubt you will continue to interpet my reasoning as trolling, but I also have no doubt that the only person you will fool by this is yourself.

          • Chuck Johnson

            Your trolling technique here is called “strawmanning”.

          • arcseconds

            No, it isn’t.

            You have clearly stated that you think gods are invented to justify authority.

            Yet when we look at gods, even the ones that most embody authority, we find that is a later function.

            That is a cogent argument against your stated position.

            I could be wrong, of course. But that would require some evidence to demonstrate.

          • Chuck Johnson

            Still, with the logical fallacies.
            Now you are including the “false dichotomy” logical fallacy.

          • arcseconds

            I don’t think I’ve committed any fallacies.

            If only you would actually discuss these fallacies you think I’ve committed with me, then maybe I’d agree, or at least see where you’re coming from.

            As it is, it’s all a bit pointless, isn’t it?

            You maintain I’ve committed fallacies, I maintain I haven’t, you won’t discuss it further, so what’s the point of even telling me?

          • Chuck Johnson

            “As it is, it’s all a bit pointless, isn’t it?”

            I hope you don’t behave like this in real life.

          • arcseconds

            What, you mean ask people for evidence for their views, and point out when they don’t have a good argument? Or, in your case, any argument.

            Yes, I do that.

            Do you consistently fail to give evidence for your position, and accuse people of things, which you also fail to give evidence for, or discuss sensibly, in real life?

          • Chuck Johnson

            All this is not really about evidence, facts, etc.

            It’s about your narcissistic behavior.
            You can find good books on Amazon, or free of charge you can see Youtube videos describing narcissistic behavior.
            Trolling behavior is closely related to narcissistic behavior.

            I hope you don’t behave like this in real life.

          • arcseconds

            Chuck, you’re not doing yourself any favours by making progressively more ludicrous claims about me, without the slightest evidence for any of them.

            I’ve tried to focus on the evidence, but you simply refuse to provide any, and prefer to discuss me, instead. You made the conversation about me.

            If anyone is obsessed with me, it’s not me: it’s you.

            You can make this conversation about the evidence by stopping discussing me, and starting to discuss the evidence. It’s entirely up to you.

          • Chuck Johnson

            There is plenty of evidence that your behavior is trolling and that your behavior is narcissistic.

            But don’t expect me to offer evidence of that.
            If you understood narcissism, you would understand why offering evidence would be a waste of time.

          • arcseconds

            I understand narcissism just fine.

            I am actually wondering whether maybe I’m talking to a narcissist right now, because that would explain why you engage in personal attacks rather than discuss evidence when asked to. Perhaps it’s a form of narcissistic rage?

            And your accusation of narcissm – a form of projection, maybe?

            Remember, I’m the one who wants to talk about evidence for gods being invented to justify authority. You’re the one who doesn’t want to discuss that, but rather accuse me of things.

          • Chuck Johnson

            “Remember, I’m the one who wants to talk about evidence for gods being invented to justify authority.”

            I wanted to talk about that at first.
            But your narcissistic comments have eclipsed that topic.

          • arcseconds

            I’m glad to hear that you want to talk about that. How about we stop talking about my alleged narcissim?


            OK, so, where we were at, was you pointed out that religion and therefore gods are in fact used to justify authority.

            And I pointed out that just because something is used for a purpose, doesn’t mean it was developed for that purpose.

            And I also pointed out that the origins of the gods we know about doesn’t seem to have been to justify authority, but to personify natural phenomena — and other things, but for the ones that most instantiate authority it tends to be natural phenomena.

            What is your reply?

          • Chuck Johnson

            You are lying again.

          • arcseconds

            Well, isn’t this interesting!

            I try to get us back on topic, and you choose to talk about me, instead!

            And once again, it’s a baseless accusation, which I deny.

            Let me know when you want to have a serious discussion, based on evidence, where you will undertake to be intellectually honest and examine your own claims.

            I would prefer to talk about your claims about gods. If you continue to prefer to talk about me, then we can talk about me for little bit (although to be honest I must be a pretty strange narcissist because I find the topic of me quite boring), and my alleged fallacies, lies, and personality flaws, but it’ll have to be an actual discussion, not just you intoning your baseless and entirely inaccurate accusations.

          • John MacDonald

            Serapis is a good illustration of what you are talking about. Serapis (Σέραπις, Attic/Ionian Greek) or Sarapis (Σάραπις, Doric Greek), was cleverly instituted as a Graeco-Egyptian god. The Cult of Serapis was strategically introduced during the 3rd century BC on the orders of Ptolemy I of Egypt as a means to unify the Greeks and Egyptians in his realm. But, Serapis was not created for this purpose. Ptolemy simply chose an already existing God that he felt would be effective for this purpose. Analogously, the historian Edward Gibbon explains the Roman understanding of religion and its usefulness at that time in the Roman context: “The various modes of worship which prevailed in the Roman world were all considered by the people as equally true; by the philosopher as equally false; and by the magistrate as equally useful. — Edward Gibbon, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Vol. I, Ch. II.” But this doesn’t mean the magistrates created the gods for administrative purposes.

          • arcseconds

            Thanks. I knew about Serapis, but I was wondering what the origins of the god was.

            I’m not sure one should put too much weight on Gibbon on this matter. He had his own biases, including being kind of anti-religion. Here is Drake on this matter:

            With such deft strokes, Gibbon enters into a conspiracy with his readers: unlike the credulous masses, he and we are cosmopolitans who know the uses of religion as an instrument of social control. So doing, Gibbon skirts a serious problem: for three centuries prior to Constantine, the tolerant pagans who people the Decline and Fall were the authors of several major persecutions, in which Christians were the victims. …Gibbon covered this embarrassing hole in his argument with an elegant demur. Rather than deny the obvious, he adroitly masked the question by transforming his Roman magistrates into models of Enlightenment rulers—reluctant persecutors, too sophisticated to be themselves religious zealots.

            However, I don’t think it can be denied that rulers certainly did engage in what appears to be cynical manipulation of religion. But if you think you are practically a god yourself, maybe this makes perfect sense to you?

          • John MacDonald

            You don’t think the persecution of the Christians would have served an administrative purpose for the magistrates?

          • arcseconds

            Oh, probably, I’m not saying I agree with Drake completely, but from what I can see educated Romans also simply found Christianity kind of offensive, in part because they wouldn’t toe the line.

          • arcseconds

            But in part because they found the claims religiously offensive. What, our god are false? You won’t worship our deific Emperor?

            It serves Trump’s purposes to vilify Mexicans and Muslims. But I nevertheless think he actually believes the rot he says.

          • John MacDonald

            It would certainly be an administrative plus for the populous to worship the emperor as a god, but in any case, regarding the Christian persecution:

            From Wikipedia:

            Part of the Roman disdain for Christianity, then, arose in large part from the sense that it was bad for society. In the 3rd century, the Neoplatonist philosopher Porphyry wrote:

            How can people not be in every way impious and atheistic who have apostatized from the customs of our ancestors through which every nation and city is sustained? … What else are they than fighters against God?

            Once distinguished from Judaism, Christianity was no longer seen as simply a bizarre sect of an old and venerable religion; it was a superstitio.: Superstition had for the Romans a much more powerful and dangerous connotation than it does for much of the Western world today: to them, this term meant a set of religious practices that were not only different, but corrosive to society, “disturbing a man’s mind in such a way that he is really going insane” and causing him to lose humanitas (humanity). The persecution of “superstitious” sects was hardly unheard-of in Roman history: an unnamed foreign cult was persecuted during a drought in 428 BCE, some initiates of the Bacchic cult were executed when deemed out-of-hand in 186 BCE, and measures were taken against the Druids during the early Principate.

            Even so, the level of persecution experienced by any given community of Christians still depended upon how threatening the local official deemed this new superstitio to be. Christians’ beliefs would not have endeared them to many government officials: they worshipped a convicted criminal, refused to swear by the emperor’s genius, harshly criticized Rome in their holy books, and suspiciously conducted their rites in private. In the early third century one magistrate told Christians “I cannot bring myself so much as to listen to people who speak ill of the Roman way of religion.”

          • arcseconds

            Right, so that magistrate sounds like he actually cares about them speaking ill of Roman religion.

            Sure it might be a cynical act, but I think we have to take seriously the idea that high-ranking Romans actually did find Christianity offensive, rather than just something they could use in their political calculations, because they act and write consistently as though they did.

            Their religious sensibilities may not be really distinguishable from patriotism, but then again this is not exactly unknown in contemporary times, either…

          • John MacDonald

            Maybe that magistrate was a fan of the things that made Rome run like a well oiled machine (or at least helped hold it together – think Plato and the Noble Lie), and felt Christianity could be a threat on those terms. Who knows, lol. Anyway, I’m moving on from blogging about religion to my next intellectual hobby: a study of the collected works of the philosopher Gilles Deleuze (he may be even more difficult to read than Heidegger!). Thanks to James for running this blog, and to everyone on here for the stimulating conversation. In coming here, I wanted to try debating in a subject area that I had no educational background in, and so I found the ideas exchanged here fun and interesting. Take care everyone, John Andrew MacDonald.

          • arcseconds

            Hopefully you will at least drop in from time to time?

          • John MacDonald

            Probably. I’m way too opinionated and idiosyncratic to stay away for good.

          • Gary

            Where’s the fun in blogging about a philosopher that no one has ever heard of? Everyone has an opinion about religion. No one has an opinion about Gilles Deleuze. Hopefully you’ll stick around to stir the pot. Without that, the pot becomes very boring.

          • John MacDonald

            I’m sure I’ll pop in from time to time, like ‘Q’ says at the end of the Star Trek: The Next Generation series:

            [Q’s last line of the series]

            Q: In any case, I’ll be watching. And if you’re very lucky, I’ll drop by to say hello from time to time. See you… out there!

            N.B. By the way, Gary, I was very proud when I finished writing (which you read) the third edition (expanded and revised) of my Noble Lie Theory of Christian Origins blog post : . Now, my annoying cousin (who has all my passwords), is saying that, as a prank, he might post online pretending to be me and saying that I lied about my sources. I researched all my references thoroughly, so if he does this just ignore it (he said he was going to do something similar before, but never did). Any way, happy blogging!

          • Gary

            Since I’m reading The Exodus, the noble lie may extend 1000 years earlier. Levites were perhaps the only ones in Egypt, and (Freud derivation), Akhenaten may have influenced Moses’ monotheism. With a side trip to Midian, stories are morphed into what is Politically Correct at the time (acceptable to 10 tribes’ sensibilities). Anyway, Q says take it easy on the blogs, and don’t take any wooden nickels.

          • John MacDonald

            I’m fascinated by the possibility that the apostles may have died promoting the noble lie that they had visions of the risen Jesus. Carrier writes:

            “Of course, a case can be made for the apostles dying even for a hoax: all they needed was to believe that the teachings attached to their fabricated claim would make the world a better place, and that making the world a better place was worth dying for. Even godless Marxists voluntarily died by the millions for such a motive. So the notion that no one would, is simply false.”

            Nietzsche comments that:

            “Paul simply shifted the centre of gravity of that whole life to a place behind this existence in the LIE of the ‘risen’ Jesus (Nietzsche, Anti Christ, Chapter 42).”

            Finally, Bob Seidensticker comments that:

            Now consider the other way a story could be a lie. Can someone die for something that they know is false? Sure—consider captured soldiers or spies who maintain a false story to their deaths…Robert Price gives the example of the second-century philosopher Proteus Peregrinus, “a charlatan prophet, [who] immolated himself because he could not resist such a grandstanding opportunity.” … The 19th-century Millerites, while not faced with loss of life, were faced with their own difficult challenge. They were a Christian sect that expected the end of the world on a particular day in 1844. Many made themselves right with God by selling all their possessions. When Jesus didn’t show up as expected, this event became known as the Great Disappointment… So the thousands of members of this sect who had very clearly backed the wrong horse walked away poorer but wiser, right? Of course not—some couldn’t admit the lie to themselves and doubled down on prophetic religion, and the Seventh-Day Adventist church was one result. Though no one died for a lie, they drastically rearranged their lives for what they had been given ample evidence was a lie…[And there’s] Joseph Smith and Mormonism…The most significant example of someone who died for a lie might be Joseph Smith. Not surprisingly, I don’t accept the Mormon claim that the angel Moroni showed Smith a set of golden plates that he translated from “reformed Egyptian” into English using a seer stone. Rather, I think he was a treasure hunter and con man who either took advantage of or was caught up in the Second Great Awakening and created a new religion…Mormonism was the invention of one man, and that man died for it. Of course, it’s possible that Joseph Smith gradually came to believe his own PR. But either way, he died for what he should’ve known was a lie, exactly what Christians deny is possible….Compare Joseph Smith with the supposedly martyred apostles. Modern apologists would have us believe that the apostles (1) saw the earliest days of the Christian church and so were in a position to know whether the gospel story was correct or not, (2) were killed because of their faith, and (3) never recanted…Bingo—that’s Joseph Smith. He (1) knew all details of the founding of the Mormon religion, (2) was killed in the middle of religious controversies brought on by his faith, and (3) never recanted.”

            See Bob’s post, including the scant evidence we have for the apostles dying for their beliefs, at

            Part 1:
            Part 2:

          • Gary

            As always, there is so much information in your comment, that it is hard to answer in a short comment. But a few thoughts –
            “Of course, it’s possible that Joseph Smith gradually came to believe his own PR. But either way, he died for what he should’ve known was a lie”…
            He was killed by a mob. He wasn’t given the chance to deny his lie about religion. (Remember that he had a rather dubious history to the average Midwesterner in those days – polygamist, General of his own (Mormon) Army, ran for president and lost, destroyed (via his thugs) a newspaper that he thought was spreading lies about him (actually truths)).
            “(3) never recanted”…Never given the option of recanting. He had an empire…followers, women, money, power, and was under arrest for burning down a newspaper publisher.

            I think the Exodist lie, was more a revisionist history, which was written about many centuries later, after the fact, after oral stories of it established a pseudo-tradition. So that probably is very different than Paul’s potential noble lie, since the time frame was condensed. Also, Paul had no motive like Joseph Smith – no money, no power, no women, no nothing. So I don’t really buy into Paul’s “noble lie” – for the betterment of society. I think that is a bunch of fantasy. Nice fantasy, but not realistic. Something else must have motivated him.

          • Gary

            Just perhaps – Paul’s motivation was the current climate of Nero, end times for Jews in Jerusalem and its Temple, as he knew it. He saw the handwriting on the wall – he knew about Razis, one of the elders of Jerusalem, who was called father of the Jews (2 Macc 14:37). He knew “shit” was going to happen, soon. So Paul saw in Jesus, Razis –
            “With his blood now completely drained from him, he tore out his entrails, took them in both hands and hurled them at the crowd, calling upon the Lord of life and spirit to give them back to him again. This was the manner of his death (2 Macc 14:46).”
            “Lord of life and spirit” provides the resurrection of Jesus, Paul, and his entire Jewish way of life in the New Jerusalem. Now that’s motivation. Not some “do-gooder”, I’m going to die because I’ll improve the lives of my fellow saps. That’s a crock.

          • John MacDonald

            Paul’s great hope was to create a more loving world. see

          • Gary

            You think, Catholics might be a little biased? Paul was the great executioner before his vision. Quite a change, from persecutor to all-around nice guy! Just because he wanted…what? Wanted a more loving world?

          • John MacDonald

            Paul’s letters reveal one of his highest aspirations is that he wanted people to be more loving to one another. You can deny that if you want, but the message of Love is what we find in Paul’s letters.

          • Gary

            “but the message of Love is what we find in Paul’s letters…”
            Maybe so. However, there is another side, that convoluted the ideas of “love” into “martyrdom” of both yourself and family in the name of loyalty to your god, as something great, and noble itself. Which sent many families to the arena to be killed. I think, as I remember, Elaine Pagel addresses this in one of her books. But it’s been a long time. Perhaps – the story of Paul and Thecla might be closer to the truth! But it’s not worth arguing about. If you are happy with the conclusion, then, “let it be so!”

            But, I know Joseph Smith was a different cat. He was never challenged to recant, or die for his religion or noble lie. He was in jail for committing real crimes, and then unfortunately shot by a mob. I’d say Paul and Joseph were polar opposites. Kind of weasely too. Sleeping with his 15 year old housemaid, and creating a revelation from God telling his wife that “All is Well” – to quote an often used Mormon hymn.

          • John MacDonald

            I completely agree with you that it is very suspicious that Paul went from being a vicious persecutor of the early church, to being an apostle whose central message was love. Paul says that:

            [S]erve one another in love. 14The entire Law is fulfilled in a single decree: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Galatians 5:13-14)

            I think that Paul was probably impressed by how devout the Christians remained even in the face of terrible persecutions, and figured that this crutch would be a beneficial belief for the general population to have. Perhaps the catalyst for this is that Paul was persecuting one of the inner circle of the Christian movement and discovered that the Christian creed statement of faith in the risen Jesus was actually just based on a noble lie that the first Christians figured it would be beneficial for the people to believe (it’s amazing how honest someone can be at the wrong end of a whip, lol).

            Paul’s conversion is suspicious in any case. It seems to be modeled on showing Paul’s conversion as superior to 2 Maccabees 3’s story of Heliodorus (it is even modeled on this in Acts, as the great Tübingen critics saw). And, as Dr. Barrie Wilson points out, If a simple vision was enough to qualify Paul as an apostle, why did Jesus seem to think a 3 year mentoring process was necessary? And why were others (like the 500) who were said to have seen the risen Jesus not apostles?

          • Gary

            I read some (pretty long) of your new post about examining Easter. I don’t know…
            “Paul’s conversion is suspicious in any case. It seems to be modeled on showing Paul’s conversion as superior to 2 Maccabees 3’s story of Heliodorus”. I must be missing something, since I don’t really see much similarity between Heliodorus and Paul. Paul being blinded by scales on his eyes seems to be low tech compared to a charging horse, and rider with golden weapons, and being flogged by two beautiful young men (I will avoid comparison to kinky sex). Even the motivation is different. Paul persecuting Christians, Heliodorus withdrawing questionable funds from the Temple upsetting the high priest. I guess I just don’t get it. But that’s OK. I’ll let it go. We’re on a different wavelength regarding Paul. Don’t know anything about Tübingen. I’d comment on your site, but no anonymous comments are allowed.

          • John MacDonald

            Well, the Tübingen critics said the story of Paul’s visionary encounter with the risen Jesus not only has no real basis in the Pauline epistles but has been derived by Luke more or less directly from 2 Maccabees 3’s story of Heliodorus. In it one Benjaminite named Simon (3:4) tells Apollonius of Tarsus, governor of Coele-Syria and Phoenicia (3:5), that the Jerusalem Temple houses unimaginable wealth that the Seleucid king might want to appropriate for himself. Once the king learns of this, he sends his agent Heliodorus to confiscate the loot. The prospect of such a violation of the Temple causes universal wailing and praying among the Jews. But Heliodorus is miraculously turned back when a shining warrior angel appears on horseback. The stallion’s hooves knock Heliodorus to the ground, where two more angels lash him with whips (25-26). He is blinded and is unable to help himself, carried to safety on a stretcher. Pious Jews pray for his recovery, lest the people be held responsible for his condition. The angels reappear to Heliodorus, in answer to these prayers, and they announce God’s grace to him: Heliodorus will live and must henceforth proclaim the majesty of the true God. Heliodorus offers sacrifice to his Saviour (3:35) and departs again for Syria, where he reports all this to the king. In Acts the plunder of the Temple has become the persecution of the church by Saul (also called Paulus, an abbreviated form of Apollonius), a Benjaminite from Tarsus. Heliodorus’ appointed journey to Jerusalem from Syria has become Saul’s journey from Jerusalem to Syria. Saul is stopped in his tracks by a heavenly visitant, goes blind and must be taken into the city, where the prayers of his former enemies avail to raise him up. Just as Heliodorus offers sacrifice, Saul undergoes baptism. Then he is told henceforth to proclaim the risen Christ, which he does.

          • Gary

            Sorry. Pretty far fetched, in my opinion.

          • John MacDonald

            Mimesis (Imitatio in Latin) was a pretty standard practice in the ancient world, showing the imitation was superior to the model. Ehrman argues Matthew does this, for instance, as portraying Jesus as the New and Greater Moses (who provides the authoritative interpretation of the Law of God to the people who choose to follow him). Another example Ehrman gives of this is Luke 7:11-17 which imitates 1 Kings 17:17-24. Staying with the example of Paul’s conversion account in Acts, Luke is probably also borrowing material from Euripides’ Bacchae:

            In The Bacchae, in a sequence Luke has elsewhere rewritten into the story of Paul in Philippi (Portefaix, pp. 170), Dionysus has appeared in Thebes as an apparently mortal missionary for his own sect. He runs afoul of his cousin, King Pentheus who wants the licentious cult (as he views it) to be driven out of the country. He arrests and threatens Dionysus, only to find him freed from prison by an earthquake. Dionysus determines revenge against the proud and foolish king by magically compelling Pentheus to undergo conversion to faith in him (“Though hostile formerly, he now declares a truce and goes with us. You see what you could not when you were blind,” 922-924) and sending Pentheus, in woman’s guise, to spy upon the Maenads, his female revelers. He does so, is discovered, and is torn limb from limb by the women, led by his own mother. As the hapless Pentheus leaves, unwittingly, to meet his doom, Dionysus comments, “Punish this man. But first distract his wits; bewilder him with madness… After those threats with which he was so fierce, I want him made the laughingstock of Thebes” (850-851, 854-855). “He shall come to know Dionysus, son of Zeus, consummate god, most terrible, and yet most gentle, to mankind” (859-861). Pentheus must be made an example, as must poor Saul, despite himself. His conversion is a punishment, meting out to the persecutor his own medicine. Do we not detect a hint of ironic malice in Christ’s words to Ananias about Saul? “I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name” (Acts 9:16).

          • Gary

            You are mixing Ehrman with Price. I don’t consider Price a mover and shaker. Not in the same league as Ehrman.
            Price – “Paul’s Conversion (9:1-21)
            As the great Tübingen critics already saw, the story of Paul’s visionary encounter”…
            Great Tubingen critics? I do not want to offend you, but you should prioritize the esteem of your sources. But as I said, I don’t want to offend you. You’re a great discussion partner. But at some point, I have to say, “balderdash!”

          • John MacDonald

            I am mixing Ehrman with Price because both plausibly argue there are imitations going on in the New Testament. There is no question, for instance, that Matthew recapitulates the story of Moses in presenting Jesus’ narrative. But, as you say, we have to be selective. For instance, Crossan argues the empty tomb scenario is invented out of previous literary types. In response to this, Dr. McGrath points out that tombs and the rolling of stones in front of them were commonplace in that period, so there is no reason to suppose the source for that story was literary imitation.

          • Gary

            There are middle of the road, and there are extremes. Price is extreme, Ehrman is middle of the road. If you find a reference to Ehrman supporting the story of Heliodorus as the basis for the story of Paul’s conversion, I would be interested interested in reading it.

          • John MacDonald

            Well, Dr. McGrath is mainstream. Let’s ask him if the story of Paul’s conversion in Acts is shaped according to 2 Maccabees 3’s story of Heliodorus.

          • Gary

            2:08:50…Heliodorus conversion, Paul didn’t become a Christian, he grew up a Christian, he didn’t write Galatians?

            Price, “Since my views are laughable insane, there is no sense in going on.”
            Perhaps, the most intelligent thing Price said!

          • Gary
          • Gary

            Since we’re dealing with crazy ideas, could you explain how the two beautiful young men flogging Heliodorus fits into the Paul conversion story? Or the horse with golden weapons blinding Heliodorus has anything to do with Paul – with the exception of “blinding”. Or do any “blinding” events in history happen to be based upon Heliodorus? I think not! I think that you will find that Price based most of his mythicism on the Gnostics being before Christianity, and using their mythological theology as a basis of Jesus not really existing – which really has absolutely nothing to do with the historic Jesus. Or the converted Paul, for that matter.

          • Gary

            Checked out “Tübingen critics”…
            I don’t know. I don’t think I’ll place them up on the BART Ehrman Richter Scale as a group of high powered movers and shakers!

          • John MacDonald

            I don’t agree with the Catholic website that Ephesians and Colossians are authentic letters of Paul, but the citations from Corinthians and Galatians clearly demonstrate the centrality of Paul’s philosophy of love.

          • Gary

            Catholic source :

            “Paul’s first gesture in the capital city of the Empire and also his last words, documented in the Acts of the Apostles, were aimed at launching – once more – an appeal to the Jews. He did so in the same manner as in his earlier Letter to the Romans: “For I am not ashamed of the Gospel. It is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: for Jew first, and then Greek” (Rom. 1:16).”

            He could have said “please join me in the Gospel, and get your head cut off!” “Noble” is one thing. “Stupid” is another, considering the times of Nero.

          • John MacDonald

            Telling religious lies to help promote the common good is just something that happened in antiquity. Consider the noble lie of Plato or Euripides, or Ptolemy instituting the cult of Serapis to unify his realm.

            And Regarding Numa Pompilius, Livy wrote

            “And fearing lest relief from anxiety on the score of foreign perils might lead men who had hitherto been held back by fear of their enemies and by military discipline into extravagance and idleness, he (Numa) thought the very first thing to do, as being the most efficacious with a populace which was ignorant and, in those early days, uncivilized, was to imbue them with the fear of Heaven. As he could not instil this into their hearts without inventing some marvellous story, he pretended to have nocturnal meetings with the goddess Egeria, and that hers was the advice which guided him in the establishment of rites most approved by the gods, and in the appointment of special priests for the service of each.” (Livy 1 19) … Plutarch also suggests that Numa played on superstition to give himself an aura of awe and divine allure, in order to cultivate more gentle behaviours among the warlike early Romans, such as honoring the gods, abiding by law, behaving humanely to enemies, and living proper, respectable lives. The reference to Plutarch is Plutarch, “The parallel lives, Numa Pompilius, §VIII.” Was Paul any different with his philosophy of Love?

            Also, we read: “The sense of history revealed by fakes is sometimes remarkable. As John Taylor notes, the ancient Egyptian forgers of the Shabaka Stone, which located the creation of the world in their home town of Memphis, not only claimed that they were copying an ancient, worm eaten document, but also actually reproduced the layout of just such a document, and introduced archaic spelling and grammatical forms to give it credibility. There could be no better demonstration of the existence of a sophisticated sense of anachronism among the educated elite of Pharaonic Egypt… Each society, each generation, fakes the things it covets most. For the priests of ancient Memphis this was, as we have seen, the promotion of their cult and their city.” (“Fake?: The Art of Deception,” pp 12-13, ed. Mark Jones, Paul T. Craddock, Nicolas Barker)

          • I second that expression of hope. I remember that you left once before but found your way back, and so when you miss us, we’ll still be here!

          • John MacDonald

            Yes, perhaps our paths will cross again some day! Deleuze’s work has been calling to me for some time, so that is my next task for thinking ( Was heißt Denken? lol) . I loved studying religion with you and the other bloggers here because we took the ancients seriously. I always feel very close to the Greeks. When it comes to religion and the ancients, I always come back to the words of Protagoras:

            Reportedly, in his lost work, On the Gods, Protagoras wrote: “Concerning the gods, I have no means of knowing whether they exist or not, nor of what sort they may be …”

            Take care James, and Thank you.

          • Gary

            “The rot he says”…
            Seems as though “rot” applies to ALL politicians.
            My incompetent Senator, Pelosi, refers to the GOP Tax Bill Scam, “crumbs”.

            Fact: At least for me, withholding pretty much mirrors my actual tax bill. My withholding in February results in well over $1,000 per year in lower taxes. The “crumbs” I get from Trump are more than anything I got from Obama or Pelosi. If that is a “Tax Scam”, I would like to receive more scams like that. And I am not rich.

          • Gary

            And yeah, Pelosi is a Rep, not a Senator. She just thinks she is.

          • If Chuck Johnson keeps this behavior up, he will be banned soon. He has made reasonable comments on other matters and so this behavior in this thread has surprised me. But I will not continue to put up with someone refusing to provide evidence for their views when challenged, only to claim that it is the other person who is “trolling.” If this continues, it will diminish the high level of discourse I work hard to promote and maintain here, but I still hope it won’t come to that.

          • arcseconds

            I will stop interacting with him now.

          • arcseconds

            The kind of interaction he wants appears to be: he says something he thinks is profound, and then he wants everyone to accept his wisdom. If he actually has said something intelligent that no-one wants to challenge, this can work out fine.

            But if you challenge him, he does not respond well. This always results in him accusing his interlocutor of an ever increasing magnitude of failings – starting with poor writing, and ending up with personality disorders, apparently. I’ve seen him start down this path multiple times, and this is the second time he’s got to ‘you’re a troll’ with me.

          • Chuck Johnson

            It’s not a problem about the topics.
            It’s a problem about you.

          • arcseconds

            McGrath doesn’t want this discussion to continue any more, so I’m not going to reply to you any further.

            Which is probably to your advantage, because it seems that you’d be banned, due to your inability to provide evidence for your views, and your insistence that someone who challenges you to do so is ‘trolling’.

          • John MacDonald

            I’m trying to understand your position? Do you perhaps have in mind Marx: “Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.”

          • Chuck Johnson


          • John MacDonald

            So, then, why don’t you share with us what your arguments are … lol

          • Chuck Johnson

            What topic are you referring to ?

          • John MacDonald

            I don’t think it’s fair to make blanket statements to say all religions did, or did not, originate with power issues in mind. Some did: Aside from the presence of the Noble Lie or Pious Fraud in Plato and Euripides,the historian Edward Gibbon explains the Roman understanding of religion and its usefulness at that time in the Roman context:

            “The various modes of worship which prevailed in the Roman world were all considered by the people as equally true; by the philosopher as equally false; and by the magistrate as equally useful. — Edward Gibbon, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Vol. I, Ch. II.”

            Analogously, Serapis (Σέραπις, Attic/Ionian Greek) or Sarapis (Σάραπις, Doric Greek), was cleverly instituted as a Graeco-Egyptian god. The Cult of Serapis was strategically introduced during the 3rd century BC on the orders of Ptolemy I of Egypt as a means to unify the Greeks and Egyptians in his realm.

            On the other hand, at least for Paul, Romans 13 seems to suggest that he didn’t want his Christians to try to usurp political authority for their own ends (perhaps because he didn’t want those authorities to stamp out his fledgling churches).

  • RustbeltRick

    This isn’t God’s fault. It’s the fault of our NRA-poisoned political system and the NRA-infected Republican Party. And, let’s face it, the Founding Fathers did us no favors by crafting a very confusingly worded Second Amendment.

    • Lark62

      There is a recent investigation into whether Russia used/is using the NRA to funnel money to Trump and republicans.

  • I honestly cannot figure out why Chuck Johnson is not grasping this point that at least 3 different commenters have made to him…