A handful of Christian arguments & tactics

This is a transcript of the podcast that is available by clicking here.

Hello, you're listening to the ex-Christian Monologues, a podcast from ExChristian.Net for April 30, 2006.

When Christians show up on this site, it is usually to argue. Rather than present positive evidence for their beliefs, they choose instead to throw out what I call side arguments on a variety of topics. These side arguments are not necessarily meant to show that Christianity is true, but they are meant to show that non-belief is an untenable worldview. Instead of presenting any positive evidence for the existence of a God, a Jesus, angels, devils, etc., they'll attack from different angles. The following is not meant as a comprehensive covering of all the possible apologetic directions Christians are in the habit of taking, but just a few of my favorite.

For instance: Hitler was supposedly an atheist.

Well, actually, the evidence shows he was a Catholic.

Hitler makes reference to God over 70 times in his autobiography, Mein Kampf.

Here are a few things he wrote and said:

Hence today I believe that I am acting in accordance with the will of the Almighty Creator: by defending myself against the Jew, I am fighting for the work of the Lord.Mein Kampf, Vol 1, Chap II

Everybody who has the right kind of feeling for his country is solemnly bound, each within his own denomination, to see to it that he is not constantly talking about the Will of God merely from the lips but that in actual fact he fulfills the Will of God and does not allow God's handiwork to be debased. For it was by the Will of God that men were made of a certain bodily shape, were given their natures and their faculties. Whoever destroys His work wages war against God's Creation and God's Will.Mein Kampf, Vol II, Chap X

“My feeling as a Christian points me to my Lord and Savior as a fighter. It points me to the man who once in loneliness, surrounded only by a few followers, recognized these Jews for what they were and summoned men to fight against them and who, God's truth! was greatest not as a sufferer but as a fighter. In boundless love as a Christian and as a man I read through the passage which tells us how the Lord at last rose in His might and seized the scourge to drive out of the Temple the brood of vipers and adders. How terrific was his fight against the Jewish poison. Today, after two thousand years, with deepest emotion I recognize more profoundly than ever before the fact that it was for this that He had to shed his blood upon the Cross. As a Christian I have no duty to allow myself to be cheated, but I have the duty to be a fighter for truth and justice. And as a man I have the duty to see to it that human society does not suffer the same catastrophic collapse as did the civilization of the ancient world some two thousand years ago—a civilization which was driven to its ruin through this same Jewish people.Speech given April 12, 1922

And if there is anything which could demonstrate that we are acting rightly, it is the distress that daily grows. For as a Christian I have also a duty to my own people. And when I look on my people I see them work and work and toil and labor, and at the end of the week they have only for their wages wretchedness and misery. When I go out in the morning and see these men standing in their queues and look into their pinched faces, then I believe I would be no Christian, but a very devil, if I felt no pity for them, if I did not, as did our Lord two thousand years ago, turn against those by whom today this poor people are plundered and exploited.Speech given April 12, 1922

May God Almighty give our work His blessing, strengthen our purpose, and endow us with wisdom and the trust of our people, for we are fighting not for ourselves but for Germany.Speech given Feb 1, 1933

At the head of our [National Socialist] program there stand no secret surmisings but clear-cut perception and straightforward profession of belief. But since we set as the central point of this perception and of this profession of belief the maintenance and hence the security for the future of a being formed by God, we thus serve the maintenance of a divine work and fulfill a divine will—not in the secret twilight of a new house of worship, but openly before the face of the Lord.Speech given Sept 6, 1938

Nazi soldiers had “gottmituns” or “God with us” engraved on their belt buckle. There is a nice selection of Nazi religious photos available at nobeliefs.com.

For more details on Hitler’s religion check out Hitler’s Religion by Anne Nicol Gaylor & On the Trail of Bogus Quotes by Richard Carrier.

Now, was Hitler a "True Christian™?" By his words he appears to consider himself a Christian. Who are we to judge another man's heart? He certainly didn't consider himself an atheist, and that's the point of this little section.

Okay, enough on Hitler. On to Stalin. He was an atheist.

And, he was monster.

Interestingly enough, from 1894 to 1899, he attended the Orthodox Theological Seminary in Tiflis. Apparently his early ethics were partly derived from, or at least influenced by, the Bible.

Now, I'm reminded all the time, by Christians, that just because there are hundreds and hundreds of Christian leaders living today who have been caught stealing, or in adultery, or molesting Children, etc., that doesn't mean that all Christian leaders are despicable criminals. Then, there are the hundreds of thousands of criminal acts, wars, murders, tortures, crusades, heretic and witch burnings, and other cruel travesties against humanity, committed by Christian leaders during the past ten centuries. Supposedly that doesn't prove that Christianity is false either!

Okay, fine. Just because there are uncountable Christian leaders who have done, and are doing, horrible things, I'll admit that that doesn't mean Christianity is false or that all Christian leaders are bad. However, it does seem to indicate that there is no special magic in Christianity—no sanctifying, all-powerful Holy Spirit of God who is powerfully leading His people into holiness and truth.

As an ex-Christian I don't claim to have "the truth." I'm only claiming that I am no longer convinced that there is any truth in Christian claims, especially claims of flying, fiery chariots; or world-wide floods; or talking donkeys; or demons, ghosts and angels; or war in the heavenlies; or an unconditionally loving, undead, flying savior with a fiery sword shooting out his mouth to slay the wayward at the end of the world, and... Well, you get the point.

So, let's be consistent. Stalin was an atheist, and he was a demented mass-murderer. Does that mean that all people who reject Christian beliefs are sick, demented mass-murderers? Because if it does, then 2000 years of Christian horror makes all Christians evil.

Here's my point: since there are good people and there are bad people under every umbrella, it seems likely that no single worldview, or religion, has yet presented the cure for all the world's ills. Christianity has not been supernaturally successful in making bad people into good people. There is no magic pill, or magic holy book. I guess we'll all just have to keep working at making the world a better place, slipping and tripping along the way, instead of sitting around on our laurels waiting for a magical, mystery God to rapture us out of here.

Okay, next argument. Supposedly America was founded as a Christian nation.

No, not really. The words Christian, God, religion, and church do not appear in the Constitution of the United States.

The third Article in the Bill of Rights, which became the First Amendment, says “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…”

Thomas Jefferson, in a letter to Dr. Thomas Cooper, February 10, 1814, stated that “Christianity neither is, nor ever was, a part of the common law.”

Aricle 11 of the Treaty of Tripoli says, "The United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian Religion."

Although some modern Christian apologists have gone to great lengths to throw doubt on this section of the Treaty by referencing the very real confusion that exists between the English the Arabic versions, Joel Barlow's English translation of Article 11, as recorded in the certified copy dated January 4, 1797, clearly contains this entire statement. Article 11 was read before, and passed unanimously by, the United States Senate, was signed by President John Adams and was approved by Secretary of State Timothy Pickering, without a hint of controversy or discord. This document remains perhaps the earliest and most definitive statement as to the "Founding Fathers'" view of the secular nature of the American government.

Perhaps my favorite Christian argument is the one that says: prove to me that god does not exist.

This is the popular Christian fallacy of shifting the burden of proof.

When someone claims something exists, it is up to him or her to prove it. To say, "Prove to me God does not exist" is to already assume that which has yet to be proved. In other words, the person is virtually saying, "God exists—prove that HE doesn't exist—you can't prove He doesn't exist, therefore God exists."

Let me illustrate another way. Prove that George Washington didn't exist. That statement is assuming there is a person called George Washington who exists, and then challenges the other to prove that he doesn't exist. The person is assuming that which he or she hopes to prove, namely, the existence of George Washington. The genuine questioner would phrase the inquiry something like this: "I've heard that there was a person named George Washington. What evidence do we have demonstrating the actual existence of this person?"

When a Christian says, "Prove that God doesn't exist," the Christian is assuming the existence of this god, demanding proof to the contrary, and then intimating that if no disproof can be offered, then that somehow proves that the god exists.

This is clearly circular reasoning.

For additional information on logical fallacies, visit Wikipedia.org.

Next we move on to "The Universe is so complex it must have been designed" argument.

How many times have you heard something along the lines of: "Surely you don't think all this just appeared here by chance?"

This is known as the Argument From Design.

It is a matter of dispute whether there is any element of design in the Universe.

Briefly, the Argument by Design is a belief that the existence of something as incredibly intricate as, for instance, a human being, is so improbable that human life itself is evidence of a deliberate, divine act.

But, if humanity is so improbable, then surely the existence of a being capable of fashioning an entire universe is even more unlikely.

If a creator created the Universe, then what created the creator?

And if the creator just "is" and was never created, then why not apply that same reasoning to the Universe itself?

Stephen Hawking, in his book "A Brief History of Time", explains his theory that the Universe is closed and finite in extent, with no beginning or end. He writes:
The idea that space and time may form a closed surface without boundary also has profound implications for the role of God in the affairs of the Universe. With the success of scientific theories in describing events, most people have come to believe that God allows the Universe to evolve according to a set of laws and does not intervene in the Universe to break these laws. However, the laws do not tell us what the Universe should have looked like when it started—it would still be up to God to wind up the clock and choose how to start it off. So long as the Universe had a beginning, we could suppose it had a creator. But if the Universe is really completely self-contained, having no boundaries or edge, it would have neither beginning nor end: it would simply be. What place, then, for a creator?Stephen Hawking

The Argument From Design is sometimes called the Watchmaker Argument. By analogy, if a watch is found on the beach, it can be assumed that it was created by a watchmaker. So, since the Universe is much more intricate and complex than a watch, then the Universe must have a creator.

The Watchmaker analogy is flawed. Since a watchmaker creates watches from pre-existing materials, and God is claimed to have created the Universe from nothing, these two kinds of creation are fundamentally different. The analogy quickly breaks down.

Also, a watchmaker makes watches, but if further along the beach we find a nuclear reactor, we wouldn't assume that was created by the watchmaker. This argument, rather than suggesting one creator, would suggest quite a few creators, each responsible for a different part of creation, or a different universe, if you allow the possibility that there might be more than one.

Here's the biggest flaw in this argument: We assume the watch was created, or designed, by a watchmaker, because the watch is orderly. The watch stands out in contrast to the natural randomness of the beach. Then the argument takes a flip-flop and says that the Universe is not naturally random, but orderly, and thus it must be designed. So which is it? Does the beach, which represents the Universe in the analogy, show order or randomness? The Watchmaker argument is just plain inconsistent.

Is it unlikely for life to exist? Perhaps. But how unlikely is it for any of us alive today to exist? Knowing how human reproduction works, with the nearly infinite number of possible genetic combinations that reside in our parents, and in their parents, and so on, back generation after generation, to somehow culminate in the birth of you and me, well, let's compute the chances of that actually happening. Yet, with all those odds against us, here we all are. No matter the odds that might be against it, every week we hear of someone winning the lottery.

In conclusion, there's always the insults.

When Christians start to lose an argument they often resort to insults to distract or change the subject. Ignoring the insult is sometimes difficult, but there are a few Bible verses that may help get the discussion back on track. Remind that Christian of these verses:

Proverbs 12:16, "A fool is quick-tempered"

Luke 22:65, “And they threw all sorts of terrible insults at him.”

James 1:26, “If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless.”

You've been listening to the Ex-Christian Monologues, a podcast from exChristian.Net.

My Main Reasons for Leaving the Faith

By Lorena

When I was "saved" they told me that I could not lose my salvation. If I really received Jesus in my heart, then I was as good as in heaven already. However, they said, "faith without works is dead" (book of James); therefore, I had to show changes in my life to prove that I actually believed in Jesus.

So I set on a journey to be a "new creature." Along the way, I often noticed that some devout Christians went back to their sinful lives. I was particularly concerned about the substance-addicted ones. Alcohol and drugs are habits very hard to kick, and many fall away and go back to their sad lives, thinking that they have failed God and that there is no place for them in the church.

On the other hand, many who came from good homes had no problem following the rules and regulations. They became the pastors and the leaders. They were the examples for everyone to follow.

Now a Canadian, I grew up in Latin America and in a dysfunctional home. I wasn’t taught manners, neither North American nor any other type. In Canadian churches, I felt awkward. Always making mistakes, saying things I shouldn’t say, doing inocent things that, in the eyes of the pious Christians, were signs that I was a hidden in need of serious fixing.

In reality, I was a poor soul needing psychological help for the many emotional issues produced by my sad childhood. But in the eyes of the church goers, I wasn’t producing any fruit. The inadequacy I felt made me realize that I was no different from the homeless or the substance addicted. There was no place in the church for me either.

Several things started to become obvious to me at the time:

1) If only people that have been raised well can produce fruit, what kind of God would limit heaven to those who were lucky enough to be born in a stable home with good parents?

2) Didn’t Jesus favor people exactly like me? Wasn't Jesus on the side of the downtrodden? Why does an institution created in his name favor the well-adjusted only? (The mal-adjusted are just feel-good charity projects.)

3) The proper, well-dressed, poster Christians started to look, to me, like the Pharisees of Jesus' time, know-it alls with the power to run the religion. How do they dare to speak in Jesus name? According to the book, people like them had Jesus crucified. And if he were to come back, the religious would kill him again--of that I am sure.

4) Jesus, according to what's been written, spoke against religion. And people went ahead and created a religion about him. How strange…very odd.

Jesus may be a myth, or not. But regardless, the religion created in his name is just another ploy of the establishment to keep the masses under control and to give more power to the privileged—not worth following, that’s for sure.

Besides, if Jesus can't save people from serious addictions and emotional pain, what good is he anyway?

Christianity's relationship with witchcraft

This article is a transcript of the podcast available by clicking here.

Hello, you’re listening to the Ex-Christian Monologues, a podcast from ExChristian.Net. I’m Dave, and today’s date is April 24, 2006.

Today I want to talk a little bit about Christianity’s historic relationship with witchcraft. This is part one of a three-part podcast. Part One draws heavily on the History of the Christian Church by Philip Schaff and the New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge. Schaff’s classic work is in the public domain and freely available on the Internet.

Most primitive cultures attributed witches with the power to supernaturally injure crops, animals, health, and possessions. Many ancient cultures created laws to punish the offense. As in other cultures, the ancient Hebrews condemned witchcraft, as expressed in the Mosaic Law (Deut 18:10 & Exodus 22:18). Following in Judaism's footsteps, the early Christian Church believed in and condemned witchcraft Acts 19:19, Acts 8:9. (Click here for Moree examples).

Belief in witchcraft never disappeared, but it wasn’t always severely persecuted. The Synod of Reisbach in 799, for example, formally mandated penance as a punishment for women convicted of witchcraft, but prohibited any capital punishment. For a time the official rhetoric of the Church even tried to tone down belief in magic or witchcraft, labeling it as either false superstition or delusion.

For centuries Christianity had taught that God was in HIS heaven, far removed from human society. The Church encouraged people to be content with their miserable, medieval lot in life. Poverty and sickness were considered gifts of God that helped people remain holy by focusing their minds away from this world and on to the next. Physical pleasures should be shunned — this life was to be endured, but not necessarily enjoyed. Common people weren't easily convinced to meekly adopt this philosophy — many hung on tenaciously to a belief in magic. They thought magic could empower them to deal with the some harsh realities of their lives. Belief in magic, instead of subsiding, actually grew.

Some so-called heretical groups, and some well meaning churchmen, doubted that witchcraft was anything more than illusions of the Devil. Most were convinced that witchcraft was a real power, fueled by the denizens of hell.

Witches were reportedly transporting people through the air and holding meetings, or sabbats, where they indulged in lust-filled orgies with demons. Mention is given to these activities in the The Bishop’s Canon, which appeared first in the 10th century and was later incorporated by Franciscus Gratianus, a lawyer from Bologna, in his collection of canon law in 1150. Women confessed to flying through the air, but Gratianus considered the women delusional. English author, diplomat and bishop of Chartres John of Salisbury, felt the stories illusions propagated by the Devil. But, his contemporaries, such as Englishman Walter Map, reported that the wild orgies were real, with the Devil appearing on the scene in the form of a tom-cat.

According to Philip Schaff, the daughter of a count was carried through the air every night, one night even escaping the arms a Franciscan monk who tried to hold her back. In 1275, a woman of Toulouse, under torture, confessed she had indulged in sexual intercourse with a demon for many years and had given birth to a part wolf, part serpent, monster. She added that she sustained the creature by feeding murdered children to it.

Pope after pope called upon the Inquisition to root out and punish witches alongside the heretics they were already persecuting. Pope Gregory IX issued a bull in 1231 invoking the use of civil punishment against witchcraft. Dominican theologians spread the belief that incubi and succubi were mating with people—a belief that was rooted in Augustine’s “City of God,” xv23., as well as in the Genesis account of angels mating with humans.

In 1233, Pope Gregory IX asserted that the Devil was making appearances in the forms of a toad, a pallid ghost and a black cat. His papal bull, the “Vox Rama,” shockingly and graphically detailed what was taking place during witch's satanic, sexual orgies, and with the stroke of his pen launched an official, large-scale persecution of witches.

In 1274, Thomas Aquinas supported the claims that humans were cohabitation with demons, and even declared that old women could inject an evil essence into young people with just a glance. I suppose that's where the evil eye myth was born.

Jean Gerson, the leading theologian of his age, said it was heresy and impious to doubt the practice of witchcraft, and Pope Eugenius IV spoke in detail about those who made pacts with demons and sacrificed to them.

Among all the papal and other documents on witchcraft, perhaps the place of pre-eminence is held by the papal bull, Summis desiderantes issued by Innocent VIII in 1484. The pontiff wrote, “…by their incantations, charms, and conjurings… they cause to perish the offspring of women, the foal of animals, the products of the earth, the grapes of vines, and the fruits of trees, as well as men and women, cattle and flocks and herds and animals of every kind, vineyards also and orchards, meadows, pastures, harvests, grains and other fruits of the earth… and hinder men from begetting and women from conceiving, and prevent all consummation of marriage; that, moreover, they deny with sacrilegious lips the faith… at the risk of their own souls, to the insult of the divine majesty and to the pernicious example and scandal of multitudes.”

Witchcraft was now classified a heretical cult. Not only that, but it was considered heretical to not believe in the power of the Devil. The punishments against witchcraft were carefully laid out, as well as the methods for detecting and trying witches. The hitherto sporadic cases of witchcraft were now to be viewed as a cohesive group that had been marshaled together by Satan to attack and destroy Christianity.

In view of this calamitous assault on Christ, the pope commissioned Henrich Kramer and Jacob Sprenger, educated Dominicans who occupied high positions at the University of Cologne, to systematically bring witches to trial and punishment. They carried out their assignment with a vengeance. ref

Pope Innocent’s immediate successors followed his lead and anyone who opposed the repressive measures could be considered in league with the witches. In the case of Venice, the entire state was threatened by Leo X if it did not obey the Inquisition in apprehending witches. Venice bowed to the Pope's threat, and within a year Venice had sentenced 70 witches to the flames.

The Witches Hammer, the Malleus maleficarum, is the most important and nefarious legacy the world has on witchcraft. Published in 1486, it was written by Heinrich Kramer and Jacob Sprenger. Their book is divided into three parts: the first proves the existence of witchcraft; the second sets forth the forms in which it manifested itself; the third describes the rules for its detection and prosecution. It states that the world in the last quarter of the 15th century was more given over to the devil than in any preceding age. It appeals to the Scriptures, the teachings of the Church and especially to Augustine and Thomas Aquinas for support. Witches and sorcerers are described as meeting at weekly sabbats and do the devil homage by kissing his ass. Satan appears among them as a tom-cat, goat, dog, bull or black man while demons of both sexes swarm at the meetings. During these sabbats, baptism and the Eucharist are ridiculed and the cross trampled upon. After an abundant feast the lights are extinguished and at the devil’s command of "Mix, mix," the participants celebrate with a lewd orgy. The devil, however, is a strict disciplinarian and applies the whip to errant members. Further, the book states that witches are supposedly transported through the air, they kill unbaptized children, and later they eat them. There is a very frequent mention of sexual intercourse. To quote: "…it is common to all of them to practice carnal copulation with devils.” Interestingly, there are two full chapters devoted to this topic alone.

For evidence of the reality of their charges, the authors cite their own extensive experience and declare that, in 48 cases of witches brought before them and burnt, all the victims confessed to having practiced abominable whoredoms for between 10 to 30 years.

Among the precautions which the book prescribed against being bewitched, are the Lord’s Prayer, the cross, holy water and salt, and the Church formulas of exorcism. It also adds that inner grace is a preservative.

The directions for the prosecution of witches, given in the third part of the treatise, are set forth in great detail. Public rumor was a sufficient cause for an indictment. The accused were to be subjected to the indignity of having the hair shaved off from their bodies, especially the more secret parts, lest perchance some imp or charm might be hidden there. Careful rules were given to the inquisitors for preserving themselves against being bewitched. If someone too zealously defended the witch, then that was taken as evidence that he was himself under the same influence. One of the devices for exposing guilt was a sheet of paper the length of Christ’s body inscribed with the seven words of the cross. This was to be bound on the witch’s body at the time of the mass, and then the ordeal of torture was applied. This measure almost invariably brought forth a confession of guilt. The ordeal of the red-hot iron was also recommended, but it was to be used with caution, as it was the trick of demons to cover the hands of witches with a salve made from a vegetable essence which kept them from being burnt. Such a case supposedly happened in Constance, the woman being able to carry the glowing iron six paces and thus going free.

The Witches Hammer was printed in many editions. It was issued 13 times before 1520 and 16 more times from 1574–1669.

That concludes part one of a three part series on Christianity’s fascination with witchcraft. You’ve been listening to the Ex-Christian Monologues, a podcast from ExChristian.Net.

Ref: Shaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge | History of the Christian Church | The Malleus Maleficarum

Is God the author of evil?

by UberGeek

I’ve been having a rather interesting discussion via email with one of the Christians who began posting here not too long ago. In my latest response, I began addressing the issue of good and evil and what is God’s relationship to these things, along with further arguments about free will and the Garden of Eden. What follows is an introductory essay that begins to address the first proposition, is God good or evil?

At first, the argument could be proposed that since God created everything, including Satan, the embodiment of evil, then God is the author of evil. The Christian could easily respond to this first proposition by simply replying that Satan was created good, but chose evil. You could say that all of God’s sentient creations have the capability for good or evil, and the free will to choose either. Therefore, God did not create evil. We’ll discuss free will later.

The Christian could further respond that God did not “create” evil in the sense that evil is not a thing, per se. In a similar manner, it might be said that God did not “create” love, hate, fear, truth, or anything else that doesn’t consist of matter or energy but yet exists. So, in the literal sense the Christian could say evil wasn’t “created” by God.

In addition, a Christian might cite several biblical verses that quite explicitly state that God is not the author of evil. He/she might choose some or all of the following verses (you can find all these verses in your own Bible or online at http://www.biblegateway.com):

1. “God is not a man, that he should lie; neither the son of man, that he should repent: hath he said, and shall he not do it? or hath he spoken, and shall he not make it good?” Numbers 23:19

2. “He is the Rock, his work is perfect: for all his ways are judgment: a God of truth and without iniquity, just and right is he.” Deuteronomy 32:4

3. “Wherefore now let the fear of the LORD be upon you; take heed and do it: for there is no iniquity with the LORD our God, nor respect of persons, nor taking of gifts.” 2 Chronicles 19:7

4. “Therefore hearken unto me ye men of understanding: far be it from God, that he should do wickedness; and from the Almighty, that he should commit iniquity.” Job 34:10

5. “For thou art not a God that hath pleasure in wickedness: neither shall evil dwell with thee.” Psalms 5:4

6. “To shew that the LORD is upright: he is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in him.” Psalms 92:15

7. “For he doth not afflict willingly nor grieve the children of men. To crush under his feet all the prisoners of the earth. To turn aside the right of a man before the face of the most High, To subvert a man in his cause, the LORD approveth not.” Lamentations 3:33-36

8. “Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man:” James 1:13

There may be others the Christian might choose as well, but this should suffice for the moment to continue.

Admittedly, the verses in the Bible that directly connect “evil” with God seem to indicate something along the lines of physical disaster or calamity, rather than moral evil or sin. That’s fine. Many Christians have no problem with the idea of God visiting His judgment on the guilty. This is a running theme in the Bible as well. However, God’s character is revealed in many verses that don’t directly reference moral evil but quite clearly illustrate what we would likely agree as being immoral acts by God. First, the verses that state God is the author of evil:

1. “I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things.” Isaiah 45:7

2. “Shall a trumpet be blown in the city, and the people not be afraid? shall there be evil in a city, and the LORD hath not done it?” Amos 3:6

3. “Out of the mouth of the most High proceedeth not evil and good?” Lamentations 3:38

And, of course we have no right to complain if God visits calamity on us:

1. “Wherefore doth a living man complain, a man for the punishment of his sins?” Lamentations 3:39

The Hebrew word for evil used in the above verses is ra` (Strong’s Number H7451, if you want to reference your concordance). It is used roughly 620+ times in the OT, sometimes to indicate moral evil, sin, or wickedness, and other times to indicate calamity, disaster, and adversity. You’ll notice in the definition (copied from Strong’s Hebrew Lexicon at http://bible.crosswalk.com/Lexicons/Hebrew/ if you don’t have a concordance handy) that the overwhelming meaning of the word is “evil”:



1. bad, evil

a. bad, disagreeable, malignant

b. bad, unpleasant, evil (giving pain, unhappiness, misery)

c. evil, displeasing

d. bad (of its kind - land, water, etc)

e. bad (of value)

f. worse than, worst (comparison)

g. sad, unhappy

h. evil (hurtful)

i. bad, unkind (vicious in disposition)

j. bad, evil, wicked (ethically)

1. in general, of persons, of thoughts

2. deeds, actions n m

2. evil, distress, misery, injury, calamity

a. evil, distress, adversity

b. evil, injury, wrong

c. evil (ethical) n f

3. evil, misery, distress, injury

a. evil, misery, distress

b. evil, injury, wrong

c. evil (ethical)

As noted above, taken in context these verses do not by themselves indicate God’s character as being evil or morally corrupt. For that we have to look to other verses in which God carries out an action or issues a command that we might view as morally questionable or worse. However, I could stop here and simply say that based on this definition, God is the author of evil, at least in the calamitous sense. But I feel that would be cheap, and wouldn’t address the concept of God’s morality.

There are far too many possibilities that I could nit-pick about to bring into the discussion, so I’m going to limit this somewhat.

First, the Great Flood:

1. “And the LORD said, I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth; both man, and beast, and the creeping thing, and the fowls of the air; for it repenteth me that I have made them.” Genesis 6:7

Note that according to this English translation God seems to be saying he wishes he never made any of these things he thought was so good. Even the Hebrew word, nacham (Strong’s number H5162) seems to indicate that God was sorry or regretful. However, since this deals with a different topic (omniscience) than we’re dealing with here, I’ll leave this for now. The Great Flood continues:

2. “And all flesh died that moved upon the earth, both of fowl, and of cattle, and of beast, and of every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth, and every man: All in whose nostrils was the breath of life, of all that was in the dry land, died. And every living substance was destroyed which was upon the face of the ground, both man, and cattle, and the creeping things, and the fowl of the heaven; and they were destroyed from the earth: and Noah only remained alive, and they that were with him in the ark.” Genesis 7:21-23

Now, the most obvious justification for God’s actions might be that everyone was so wicked they were beyond redemption. However, this fails to take into account the many young children and babies that must’ve died. Can it be argued that they were not really innocent? Can it really be assumed that only Noah was without sin? Ok, the Christian might say that God, being omniscient, knew the children would turn out no good, and that Noah was indeed the only righteous man on the planet. What about the animals? I would ask, could something that is incapable of making informed moral decisions be anything but innocent?

I don’t really object to the notion of animals being slaughtered, since I do enjoy a good cheeseburger and don’t give the cow it came from a second thought. However, since the Great Flood is described as being intended as a punitive action for the iniquity of the inhabitants of the earth, it is reasonable to ask what crimes could be committed by creatures lacking the capacity to judge good vs. evil? I submit that punishing any creature for crimes it cannot be held responsible for is the purview of tyrants.

Next, we have Moses, the Jews, and the Egyptians.

The interesting part about this is that God takes actions to ensure the Egyptians (and not just a few, but all of them) suffer. This is a long story, so first we’ll take God’s hardening of Pharaoh’s heart, as this is the key element. In fairness, it should be noted that Pharaoh is described as hardening his own heart several times as well.

1. “And the LORD said unto Moses, When thou goest to return into Egypt, see that thou do all those wonders before Pharaoh, which I have put in thine hand: but I will harden his heart, that he shall not let the people go.” Exodus 4:21

2. “And I will harden Pharaoh's heart, and multiply my signs and my wonders in the land of Egypt.” Exodus 7:3

3. “And he hardened Pharaoh's heart, that he hearkened not unto them; as the LORD had said.” Exodus 7:13

4. “And the LORD hardened the heart of Pharaoh, and he hearkened not unto them; as the LORD had spoken unto Moses.” Exodus 9:12

5. “And the LORD said unto Moses, Go in unto Pharaoh: for I have hardened his heart, and the heart of his servants, that I might shew these my signs before him:” Exodus 10:1

6. “But the LORD hardened Pharaoh's heart, so that he would not let the children of Israel go.” Exodus 10:20

7. “But the LORD hardened Pharaoh's heart, and he would not let them go.” Exodus 10:27

8. “And Moses and Aaron did all these wonders before Pharaoh: and the LORD hardened Pharaoh's heart, so that he would not let the children of Israel go out of his land.” Exodus 11:10

9. “And I will harden Pharaoh's heart, that he shall follow after them; and I will be honoured upon Pharaoh, and upon all his host; that the Egyptians may know that I am the LORD.” Exodus 14:4

10. “And the LORD hardened the heart of Pharaoh king of Egypt, and he pursued after the children of Israel…” Exodus 14:8

11. “I will harden the hearts of the Egyptians, and they shall follow them: and I will get me honour upon Pharaoh, and upon all his host, and upon his chariots, and upon his horsemen.” Exodus 14:17

It’s a given that Pharaoh was a pretty bad guy. He dealt unfairly and harshly with the people of Israel and certainly is presented as deserving of his measure of punishment. Nevertheless, the Bible relates that God did not give him an opportunity to change his ways. Even if Pharaoh had been predisposed to obey after each display of God’s power, God went about ensuring that Pharaoh’s heart would again be hardened, guaranteeing that God’s ultimate plan to glorify Himself would come to pass. Now we’ll cover the plagues. Don’t worry. I’m not going to lay the text of each down here. Feel free to look them up at your leisure.

The first plague (water to blood) in Exodus 7:17-25, lasts for seven days, during which the Egyptians can’t find any water to drink. The Bible doesn’t say whether anyone (besides the fish) died as a result. Given that human beings can only survive 3 to 5 days without water in the best conditions, there are four possibilities: a) that they drank the blood; b) they drank their own urine; c) God kept them alive, but extremely thirsty; d) some died while others took options A and/or B. The first three aren’t particularly pleasant ideas, but at least they’d be alive, right? What about the animals?

The second, third, and fourth plagues all deal with pests (frogs, lice, and flies, respectively), and to me constitute mere annoyances, albeit pretty nasty ones. Of course, I’m not an ancient Egyptian, so maybe there was more to it than meets the eye (perhaps insect borne disease, or contagion from the rotting frog carcasses).

With the fifth plague (divine cattle genocide) in Exodus 9:3-6, God demonstrates his power by killing all the cattle in Egypt. In the verse, you’ll notice that not only the cattle were cursed with “murrain” (any disease afflicting domestic animals), but so were the camels, horses, sheep, oxen, and donkeys (asses). All the same, it appears that only the cattle died. Again, one has to wonder what happened to all the carcasses. Presumably, they were butchered. Of course, given the food preservation techniques available at the time, the meat probably didn’t last very long. Salmonella, anyone?

The sixth plague (boils) in Exodus 9:9-11 is another annoyance, albeit a painful one.

The seventh plague (hail) in Exodus 9:18-34 is described as being deadly, but the Bible does not say anyone actually died as a result. It does say that the trees and plants in Egypt were crushed, though. Interestingly, during the storm Moses is in the city with Pharaoh instead of in Goshen, which was spared and where all the Jews were. While this deadly hailstorm continued, Moses left the city for the country to ask God to stop the storm. Somehow, this storm that promised to kill “both man and beast” if they remained outside, didn’t hurt Moses. This begs the question, why did the Jews go to Goshen if the hailstorm wouldn’t have affected them anyway? But I digress.

The eighth plague (locusts) in Exodus 10:4-15 also appears at first glance to be another particularly nasty annoyance. However, given that they ate every plant in Egypt that was left after the hailstorm, and all the cattle are already dead it occurs to me that the stocks of food in Egypt were getting mighty low, which of course could mean death by starvation in the long run.

The ninth plague (darkness) in Exodus 10:21-23 is strange. It is described as “even darkness which may be felt.” Smoke, perhaps? The Bible doesn’t say. Of course, only the Egyptians are affected, and can’t see anything at all for three days.

The tenth and final plague (all the Egyptian firstborn die), is also called the Passover by the Jews and is particularly egregious. In Exodus 11:4-6, God premeditates the murder:

1. “And Moses said, Thus saith the LORD, About midnight will I go out into the midst of Egypt: And all the firstborn in the land of Egypt shall die, from the first born of Pharaoh that sitteth upon his throne, even unto the firstborn of the maidservant that is behind the mill; and all the firstborn of beasts. And there shall be a great cry throughout all the land of Egypt, such as there was none like it, nor shall be like it any more.” Ex. 11:4-6

In Exodus 12:29-30, God finishes the act:

2. “And it came to pass, that at midnight the LORD smote all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh that sat on his throne unto the firstborn of the captive that was in the dungeon; and all the firstborn of cattle. And Pharaoh rose up in the night, he, and all his servants, and all the Egyptians; and there was a great cry in Egypt; for there was not a house where there was not one dead.” Ex. 12:29-30

The pursuit of the Jews out of Egypt following this is due to further hardening of Pharaoh’s heart by God, and so the Egyptian army could’ve been spared (and the people of Israel saved without incident) but for God’s seemingly unrepentant desire for bloodshed in this particular story. All the same, I’m a bit surprised that the entire nation of Egypt wasn’t on the Jews’ tail after all their firstborns died.

Why did God do any of this? Well, according to the Bible it’s so that the Egyptians know that He is the LORD, that there is none like Him in all the earth, and in order to “get his honour” upon the Pharaoh and his hosts (Ex. 7:5, 17; 9:14, and 14:17 among others). Basically, it’s for his own glory and amusement.

Now, I admit that I can’t have any real sympathy for the Egyptians because this happened about 3500 years ago or so, and obviously Egypt is still around so apparently this didn’t result in its destruction. However, it is worth asking if a righteous God would visit His judgment on an entire people for the sin/iniquity of one man? Of course, we could blame the victim by arguing that it wasn’t just Pharaoh’s fault and that the people in general approved of the mistreatment of the Jews and deserved what they got. The Bible, however, is pretty much silent. We could infer that Pharaoh wasn’t the only one since others actually carried out his orders, of course. Still, does an entire population share culpability with its ruling party? Great question with lots of implications for today’s world! Maybe we should arrest every single Iraqi and put them on trial with Saddam.

The main questions about this seem to be a) is it moral or ethical to punish someone for a crime someone else committed, and b) can a god who does this be considered good, evil, neither, or both?

Alright, we’ve only covered two well-known stories from the Bible that illustrate God’s questionable judgment, assuming the account is accurate and that God exists as described therein. As you can probably imagine, this could go on for days and days.

We could discuss the ethics of God asking Abraham to sacrifice his son, or the cities and peoples God either destroyed himself or ordered annihilated (every man, woman, and child), or the mauling of a group of 42 youths by a bear after they made fun of Elishah’s bald head (one of my personal favorites, 2 Kings 2:23). We could discuss the commandments of God from the end of Exodus through Leviticus, which quite often demand the death penalty for individuals perpetrating what we now call “victimless” crimes (homosexuality, Sabbath breaking, cursing your parents, adultery, and so on).

Of course, the Christian could object that none of this is applicable today, and that the Law was fulfilled in Christ and now we are saved by faith. Ok, but this isn’t about becoming saved and does not change God’s basic character. Furthermore, since the Bible also describes God as unchanging (apparent conflicts over this characteristic notwithstanding), that means today He is has the same character as He did when he was orchestrating, commanding, or otherwise committing acts that many of us would agree are morally questionable at best.

The whole point is simply that God’s character, as described in the Bible, can be interpreted as either good or evil depending on the book, author, time, and mood. So, when the Christian points to the beauty of the world, while certainly compelling, he/she does not take the whole story into account. God, if we take the Bible description as accurate, is capable of both great good, and great evil.

This is actually not that far from my personal view that if an all-powerful creator God exists; it would have to be neutral, accepting all. In other words, this god would have to be above the greatest of human frailties, all of which the biblical God seems to possess in spades.

So, based on what we’ve discussed so far, is God the author of evil? Yes? Maybe? No? Why or why not?

Hallelujah! Here's an Easter miracle from an unholy source


It is only fitting that in the week celebrating Christianity's most important festival, the Court of Appeal should order a retrial for an exorcist.

Korean pastor Yong Bum Lee, otherwise known as Luke, strangled one of his parishioners to death. He was seeking to rid Joanna Lee (no relation) of her demons, but instead took the direct route. He sent Joanna to heaven rather than dally with temporal deliverance.

As a consequence, Luke was found guilty of manslaughter, imprisoned, paroled, then repatriated to South Korea. Only after all these events did our Appeal Court offer him a retrial. And on the strangest of grounds.

Apparently the original trial judge denied Luke the defence of consent - that Joanna had consented to grievous harm as part of her exorcism ritual. Which rather proved she was possessed -letting Luke climb on her chest and throttle her would hardly be the actions of an expunged entity.

This madness was not some private sadomasochistic ritual between a consenting couple. A good number of Joanna's fellow parishioners were a part of the exorcism attempt and even hung around for six days awaiting her resurrection.

That she did not rise from the dead came as rather a shock. So too, presumably, did the onset of putrefaction. But our learned appeal judges were not to be dissuaded. Joanna consented ipso facto, Luke had a reasonable defence that he was otherwise denied.

Now I know what you're thinking. Who had their drinks spiked the night they wrote this particular decision? And that would be a reasonable question.

Because our Appeal Court judges have performed an Easter miracle. They have given exorcism the sanction of the law - even when it goes horribly wrong. And they have given every teen Goth the perfect excuse to maim their fellow travellers. Forget Guy Fawkes mayhem, Halloween is going to be a doozy this year.

And yet maybe Luke is right. What ails our world is not human imperfection, mistake nor greed. It is the Devil. Beelzebub and his mates stalking our psyches just awaiting that weak moment when they might steal within.

It would explain a lot. Global warming. Elder sex. Richie McCaw at the breakdown.

And it would give the churches a meaning that they are too often denied in these secular times. At the moment the collective church is but a bag of bones rattling around looking for corporeality and flesh. It can't quite decide if it's here to prepare us for eternity or rescue us from it. Whether it's to enshrine political correctness (a la Anglican) or end it (a la Brian Tamaki).

Yeah, but whatever the theology, exorcisms are sexy. Reality TV diva Julie Christie would be in her element - watching celebs battle their personal demons would be a surefire ratings winner. Who knows what beast lurks within Lana, or which succubus shadows Shadbolt? It would be fun to find out.

And praise be that we learned of the whole Luke affair without suppression orders blacking every second word.

Last week, another retrial was ordered, but virtually all the details were suppressed, despite most of them previously being in the public arena. All I can tell you is ... umm ... 1989 ... 20-year-old complainant ... four men. Justice made invisible, it appears.

Although not as invisible as God. This is, after all, Easter Sunday. A day for kids to hog chocolate eggs, garden centres to defy the law and us to have a real lie-in, knowing that there is no work tomorrow either. Oh, hallelujah.

Yes, but proof of God's existence does abound this special day.

An afternoon game of footy - so much of a rarity that people should flock to Carisbrook just to witness this natural wonder. That it features everyone's favourite teams - the Hurricanes and the Highlanders - is a double blessing.

Sadly, this is likely to be the last time we will see these teams in direct sunlight. Professionalism has introduced a proto-vampirism to rugby - the best is observed only at night. It is all down to an unholy alliance between Sanzar and its broadcasters that decrees money, not tradition, sets viewing times.

As a result we are about to be introduced to Monday Night Football - a commercial killing learned from our gridiron cousins in the United States. Super14 rugby on the telly for four nights of the week - God works in mysterious ways after all.

Yes, but that's our innate selfishness surfacing - another reason for men to eschew domestic service or the local PTA.

Pope Benedict warned us against the NZ Rugby Union and Sky TV in his Palm Sunday sermon last week.

The Roman prelate noted that humankind's worst enemy was self-regard. And sloth - the twin tempters that lead us to the couch.

He's right, of course. And he's also correct on the solution. Moral rearmament - a commitment to make ourselves more active and compassionate.

Except when the Blues are playing - watching the Auckland franchise get the snot beaten out of it is surely one of the Seven Virtues.

And this is the age of instant gratification, so moral rearmament sounds long, difficult and tedious. I want the fast solution. Send me an exorcist.

link Related stories: link | link | link

Highly Sensitive People and the Church

By Lorena Rodriguez

I believe that my years of christianity severely damaged me emotionally. The religion points to Jesus as a solution to each and every problem a person may have. When one expresses pain, disappointment, fear, or anger, the verses are thrown on one’s face: "Don’t let the sun go down on your anger," "Rejoice in the Lord always," "I will fear no evil for you are with me."

The idea is to suppress one's feelings and "take every thought captive to the Lord." What are the psychological consequences of suppressing one’s emotions year after year in "The name of the Lord?"

Are we all to experience the world in the same manner and apply the bible verses to our lives indistinctly?

Are we to erase our individuality to feel the way the bible says we should feel?

According to Dr. Elaine N. Aron, writer of The Highly Sensitive Person (HSP), one of five humans (20%) experience the world in a unique way. HSPs, she maintains, have a brain that processes physical and emotional stimuli as much as 10 times more intensely than that of non-HSPs. And as a result of such sensitivity, HSPs feel overwhelmed by noises, work demands, hectic schedules, or just contact with other people. Situations that for others are completely normal make an HSP want to cry, run away, or hide in a dark room.

Being an HSP, writes Dr. Aron, is both a blessing and a course. Because HSP's experience the world more intensely, they are able to pick on details and circumstances that others can't perceive. Thus HSP's are usually talented individuals with much to offer. They, however, find themselves wanting to contribute their skills while, at the same time, being hindered by the emotional heaviness of a world that seems unbearable.

HSPs like herself, affirms Dr. Aron, can learn to manage their sensitivity and use it to their advantage in leading happy lives.

Her theories come from many clinical studies and from analyzing the writings of other psychologists such as Carl Jung, whom she cites speaking of the origins of neurosis:

"He believed that when highly sensitive patients had experienced a trauma, sexual or otherwise, they had been usually affected and so developed a neurosis. Note that Jung was saying that sensitive people not traumatized in childhood are not inherently neurotic" (p. 36).

She adds that HSPs can be damaged, not only in childhood, but later in life by being in long-term situations that deny them the right to manage their sensitivity.

Church, I maintain, is such a damaging place. HSP church goers, such as I was for far too many years, see themselves continually beaten over the head to adapt to a cookie-cutter model of behaving and feeling that overwhelms them.

HSPs, who due to their sensitivity are more likely to experience guilt than others, take the Bible teachings seriously, too seriously, demanding of themselves complete adherence to the rules, and fearing God 10 times more than non-HSPs.

The whole church experience for the HSP is a traumatic event likely to cause neurosis. And to me, that explains why some can go to church Sunday after Sunday and do not feel pressed to comply with every single commandment that is preached from the pulpit. Many, like my husband, have the ability to decide which teachings to adhere to and which to let go. Others, like me, feel compelled to obey everything that is said and follow it to the letter. During my last visits to church, I used to feel like covering my ears when holiness, money, or witnessing was demanded of me. Even though, by all accounts, I was as holy as they get.

By now, if you are a Christian, you are thinking that I am just mentally ill or demon possessed—I should be on medication, right? Dr. Elaine Aron and others who write on the issue don't think so. They think I am a brilliant individual who needs to create an environment in which I can thrive.

Fundamentalist christian churches are certainly not the place where I can thrive. And I believe that if God exists he is smiling at me in agreement—After all he created me, didn’t he?

Gospel of Judas

Yesterday, the public learned about the discovery of a document dating from the early days of Jesus worship, the Gospel of Judas. This manuscript raises a host of fascinating questions for those who care about the origins of the Christian faith. Almost all Americans, about ninety percent, either were raised in or currently practice some form of Christianity that is rooted in Catholic orthodoxy. (Protestants draw their core doctrines from the orthodox Catholic tradition.) Steeped in these teachings, it is easy to see the Judas manuscript as a curious outsider and to ask how it compares to the true histories recorded in the more familiar gospels named after Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

This question misunderstands history, and so it is a false question. During the first centuries of Christianity, the cult or worship of Jesus took many forms. Some groups taught that Jesus only appeared to be human, others that he was one of many divine intermediaries between God and humanity. Some incorporated Jesus into their worship without insisting that he was God. Some taught that God has three forms (now known as the Trinity) and others saw this as polytheism. Some saw Jesus as a perfect human sacrifice for human sin; others saw this notion as vile and pagan. Some Jewish Jesus worshipers insisted that Jesus must be honored within the structures of the Jewish ritual and law. Others rejected these rites and rules.

Each of these groups competed to establish itself as the true bearer of Divine Truth. It was not until the fourth century that a single group, shaped primarily by the teachings of Paul of Tarsus, won out. A council of bishops, with input from the Roman authorities, decided on a specific set of doctrines and created a list of officially sanctioned texts that today make up the Bible. Christian orthodoxy was established, and competing sects of Jesus worshipers became heretics. In the following centuries, they were suppressed and texts like the Gospel of Judas were destroyed when possible. In other words, although the Judas text became a renegade, it did not start life that way. In the beginning, it was simply one among hundreds of competing interpretations of the Jesus story which included those gospels that made it into the Bible.

Treating the Gospel of Judas (or any gospel) as a history, also misunderstands the texts themselves. Gospels were not written as literal histories but as devotional documents, designed to illustrate and underscore key points of worship and faith. The authors did not intend to create a historical record for the people of the future, but rather to capture the essence of God and goodness, as they perceived both. To truly appreciate these ancient manuscripts, it is crucial that we not distort them through the lens of modernity. We must avoid projecting modern scholarly intent onto the writers and orthodox Christian teachings onto the texts themselves. Only then can we get a glimpse into the vision of the writers and into our own history.

Pageviews this week: