Finding my way back to church -- and getting kicked out: The struggle over what it means to be Christian today

by Robert Jensen

This past year, after decades of steadfastly avoiding churches of all kinds, I returned to church. Ironically, and completely by coincidence, I returned to a Presbyterian church, the denomination in which I was raised and to which I swore -- in both senses of the term -- I would never return. But return I have, prodigally perhaps, depending on one’s position on various doctrinal issues, which we will get to tonight in due time.

I don’t want to be overly dramatic, but my early experience with church had been life-threatening: I was bored, nearly to death. For me, growing up in a middle-of-the-road Protestant church in the Midwest, religion seemed a bland and banal approach to life -- literature, politics, and philosophy seemed far more fruitful paths to explore. As I have confessed to my pastor, in my entire life I have cheated on only one test -- the exam to pass confirmation class so I could fulfill that requirement imposed by my parents and be done with the whole enterprise. For that sin, I have neither sought nor been granted absolution.

So, my friends and family were somewhat startled with I joined -- of my own free will, being of sound mind and body -- St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in Austin, TX. Some friends gravely warned me to be careful getting mixed up with “the God crowd,” as one put it. Well, it turns out that this decision has gotten me in a bit of trouble, though not in the ways my skeptical friends could have predicted.

Because I do not hold conventional views about the nature of the divine, there’s been some debate about whether or not I am a “real” Christian, a controversy I did not expect when I stood before that congregation in December 2005. Whether I will be allowed to remain a member of St. Andrew’s is currently a subject of deliberation by various bodies within the denomination, another controversy that took me by surprise.

Whatever my regrets about the way in which this whole affair has gone forward, I am glad that the issues raised by my membership are being discussed. I think this question of what it means to be Christian is vital not just to the faithful but to the fate of the entire planet. The direction in which Christianity -- the dominant religion of the empire, the contemporary United States -- heads in the coming decade is crucial to the future of everyone. The United States, the most affluent and powerful country in the history of the world, has an unparalleled capacity to destroy the world through advanced weapons and/or its economic policies. About three-quarters of the U.S. public identifies as Christian, and increasingly in the United States people’s religious beliefs are a factor in the political process. Clearly, the struggle over the future of Christianity matters, everywhere and to everyone.

Still, the question remains: Why would a doubter and skeptic like me join a church? There are many reasons, but at the core of my decision is a simple motivation:

I came back to church because I am afraid.

Let me be clear: I’m not afraid of what is going to happen to me when I die. I assume that when my bodily functions cease in this material world, I will start the process of becoming food for other living things as I go back to the soil, one more chunk of matter returning to a more elemental state to play its role in creation. About this, I’m not only at peace but quite happy. I’m glad to do my part. For me, “dust to dust” is a comforting thought. If it turns out that I have a soul that is going to shuffle on from this earthly coil to another realm, that’s okay, too. But, whatever the case, I’m not fretting about it. We should keep in mind the insight from the Buddhist teacher Chögyam Trungpa: “Hope and fear cannot alter the seasons.” My life, like everyone’s, has its seasons, and my hopes and fears will not change “what lies in the great beyond,” as my favorite songwriter puts it. So, I tend to focus on this world, where there’s a fair amount of work to be done this season.

My fear attaches not to theological questions but to very material concerns: I believe the human species is on the verge of making life as we know it impossible. That is, I think we humans are living unsustainably, in ways that may well have dramatic consequences in the not-so-distant future. I fear not the apocalypse as it is imagined by end-time Christians -- a dramatic finish with the saved being lifted up and the damned left with a heap of trouble -- but rather a steady erosion of the conditions that make possible a minimally decent human existence in the context of respect for other forms of life.

I’m also afraid because most of the organic institutions that could help people confront the political, economic, cultural, and ecological crises we face have been destroyed, undermined, or co-opted by a sophisticated system of domination achieved through the unholy alliance of a powerful state and predatory corporate capitalism. The dominant political parties are impediments to progressive change; unions have been gutted and marginalized; and universities serve mostly as comfortable shelters for timid intellectuals working in duck-and-cover mode. The institutions in which people traditionally have come together to learn about the world and organize to change it have mostly checked out -- except for, possibly, the church.

Whatever one thinks about theology, church is a place where people go to think about essential questions: What does it mean to be human? What are our obligations to other people and the non-human world? How do we create meaning in a world that appears to be playing a cosmic joke on us -- a world that gives us consciousness, the capacity for complex thought, and language with which to express those thoughts, but then denies us any obvious answer to the question, “Who am I and how do I fit into the bigger picture?”

I think about those questions a lot. I ponder them in the abstract, and I struggle with the very concrete implications of them in a world saturated in so much suffering. I am always looking for help in that pondering and struggling, which is what led me to a new church in my old denomination. The folks at St. Andrew’s were pondering and struggling in similar fashion, a place where the minister was not only allowing but actually encouraging people not to accept meaning dictated by others but to create it themselves.

In short, I found a community in which I could be part of this crucial struggle over the direction of Christianity.

Am I an atheist?

I joined St. Andrew’s not only because it’s a liberal church in terms of the political leanings of the majority of the congregation, but because its pastor, Jim Rigby, and many members are engaged a fundamental rethinking of theology in the modern age. After a couple of years of being a regular visitor to the church for political events, I decided to ask about joining, though I still rejected traditional conceptions of God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. When I wrote about that decision in an article published in the Houston Chronicle and circulated on the internet, I described myself as “a Christian, sort of. A secular Christian. A Christian atheist, perhaps. But, in a deep sense, I would argue, a real Christian.”

My use of the term “atheist” clearly pushed many people’s buttons and appears to have led to the challenge to my membership and, more generally, to St. Andrew’s theology. So, let’s start with why I chose that term.

After talking to people about what I believe, they quickly realize I’m not a dogmatic atheist, the kind who takes pleasure in ridiculing religion or faith. We’ve all met such folks, whom we might call them fundamentalist atheists. I enjoy their company about as much as I enjoy the company of fundamentalists of other stripes. So, people ask me, why don’t I call myself an agnostic or a seeker or a doubter or something that conveys more openness? Am I really so sure God doesn’t exist in the traditional form? How can I be so sure?

I can’t be sure, of course. It’s impossible to prove the non-existence of God. In that sense, I’m an agnostic, just as I’m an agnostic on the question of whether or not my life is controlled by tiny magic elves who live in my desk drawer at work. I can’t prove that I’m not under the influence of those alleged elves, and hence I can’t really be an atheist on the question. But what really counts is not what I can or can’t prove, but how I live. Do I go about my day as if elves are running the show? Do I sneak a peak into my drawer now and then to try to catch them plotting? Do I ever offer prayers to the elves to which I think they will respond? No, I don’t. In philosophical terms, I’m agnostic on the question. In practical terms, I live like an atheist, on the assumption they don’t exist.

In that sense, most people in this culture, no matter what their stated beliefs about God, live like atheists. Most of us accept the results of the Enlightenment and the application of the scientific method. We assume that actions in the world are governed by laws of physics that scientists have begun to identify, however incompletely. Whatever our views on the power of prayer, most of us also seek medical help when we are sick and trust in some worldly system of healing -- whether Western medicine or alternative traditions -- that is rooted in accumulated experience and/or scientific experimentation.

An important footnote: This atheism-in-practice that guides the lives of most of us shouldn’t be taken as a boast that we really have a clue about how the world works, where we come from, or what happens when we die. About most of these matters, I’m fundamentally ignorant -- just like all of you. It’s healthy to remember that for all that modern science has revealed about the way the world works, we are far more ignorant than we are knowledgeable, a point being made in compelling fashion these days by Wes Jackson, Wendell Berry, and others in the sustainable agriculture and ecological movements. Human beings are very clever, and we tend to mistake cleverness for wisdom and deep understanding. That confusion has given us the ozone hole, global warming, soil erosion, groundwater depletion, toxic waste contamination, the dead zone in the Gulf, and other ecological crises too long to list here. And those are just the ways we’ve messed up the non-human world. Add in war, poverty, rape, racism, and other human crises too long to list here and, well, you get the point. It might be amusing to hear people talk about how smart people are, if it weren’t so distressing.

It seems to me that we all -- secular and religious alike -- need a lot more humility, and the recognition of that simple fact is part of what led me to church. The older I get, the more I’m aware of the scope of what I don’t know, and the more scared I am of the people who claim great confidence in human knowledge, be it about science or religion.

This point is important because many people who have criticized my writing about this subject have accused me of being arrogant and disrespectful, of confronting traditional Christians in a fashion that seems insulting. Nothing could be further from the truth. After spending a lot of my life looking down on religious people as intellectually confused and emotionally weak, in recent years I had to come to terms with my own ignorance and recognize that I could learn and grow from being part of a congregation. When I went before the members of St. Andrew’s to ask to be accepted into the church, I did so acutely aware that I was letting go of some of my own sense of certainty and security, trusting that in this particular community I could ask my questions without pretending I had answers.

The personal is theological

I could stop there, and I suspect many would accept that explanation of my reasons for joining. It’s a nice, neat explanation. I like it. I think it makes me look smart but not cocky, thoughtful and self-confident. Yes, I like this explanation quite a bit. But it’s incomplete, for there was another fear behind my decision to join, one much more personal. It’s tempting to ignore this other motivation, in part because we live in a culture in which we all understand the acronym “TMI” -- too much information. We’ve all been in some situation in which inappropriate personal revelations have made us uncomfortable. But I can’t honestly tell this story without talking a bit more about myself, with what I hope will be “NTMI” -- not too much information. This is the story of another kind of fear I carry.

In the past year I have begun confronting some unresolved issues from my childhood involving abuse. The details are not relevant here, but I will say that it’s not a fun process. Those of you who have struggled with such things know what I mean, and I’m sure others can understand. I’ll stick to my pledge of not too much information, but to leave out this part of the story would be to ignore another important motivation that leads people to church: The need for acceptance and love in community when we are scared and lonely and weak and alone. And, of course, at some point we all are scared and lonely and weak and alone.

When struggling with any difficult problem in our lives, we tend to rely on those closest to us. If we are lucky, as I am, we have a supportive and loving partner. We may have good friends, as I am lucky to have. We may have the resources to hire a competent therapist when a problem goes beyond our friends’ ability to help. But what we need in addition to all that is a community in which we can just be. It need not be a church, but a church is one place where people seek that. In my experience, we humans tend to want to have a place where we know we can go without worrying about whether our hair looks good that day, a place we can find validation and connection without having to prove that we deserve it that moment. Church is not the only place that can happen, and there’s no guarantee it will happen in church; despite Christ’s admonition against self-serving judgment of others, such judgment happens all too often in Christian churches and, no doubt, other churches. But whatever our failures, church is one place we seek out such acceptance.

I didn’t have a conscious understanding of that when I joined St. Andrew’s, but I think I had an intuitive sense that I needed such a place and that St. Andrew’s was such a place for me. In our patriarchal culture, this need can be particularly difficult for us men to acknowledge, out of a fear it will be read as a sign of weakness. But is there anyone who doesn’t feel that need at times? And, if we turn away from this need that we feel, what are the consequences? What part of ourselves do we bury to ignore that need?

So, am I a Christian?

After I joined St. Andrew’s and wrote about my reasons, a complaint was filed with Mission Presbytery in central and south Texas, the first level of the bureaucracy of the Presbyterian Church USA, to which St. Andrew’s belongs. In June 2006, the delegates to the Presbytery heard a report from its Committee on Ministry recommending that St. Andrew’s be instructed on appropriate standards for accepting members and that I be removed from the active membership roll. The Presbytery delegates voted 156-114 to accept that recommendation, but they also allowed me to remain a member while St. Andrew’s appeals the decision in the Synod of the Sun, the next level of bureaucracy.

The meeting at which these matters were debated was, frankly, a bit surreal. After the presentation of the Committee’s report, Rigby cogently defended not only the decision to accept me into the church but the theology of St. Andrew’s. I sat quietly listening to others debate the state of my alleged soul, without a chance to respond. Some delegates were clear that they thought I was no kind of Christian no way, and the sooner I was dispatched the better. Many were conflicted; one person used the image of Christianity as a circle, saying that so long as people could put one toe in the circle -- no matter what doubts they might have -- that was enough for membership. To her, I passed the one-toe test. Another person said that she was convinced that I had already been born again. By the end of it, even I was a bit confused.

Before the meeting, Presbytery officials had told Rigby that I would not be allowed to speak at the meeting. My assumption is that those who wanted to bounce me didn’t want to risk letting the delegates see a real human being talk about his struggles with the complexity of the issue -- better to keep me as a symbol of heresy, on the assumption that delegates would have an easier time voting against heresy in the abstract than voting against an actual heretic who looks like them and may even have some of the same questions as they do. But because so many people had been asking me for more specifics about what I believed, I did write a statement that was made available to delegates. This is what I said in that document:

"On God: I believe God is a name we give to the mystery of the world that is beyond our capacity to understand. I believe that the energy of the universe is ordered by forces I cannot comprehend.
On Jesus: I believe Christ offered a way into that mystery that still has meaning today.
On the Holy Ghost: There are moments in my life when I feel a connection to other people and to Creation that rides a spirit which flows through me yet is beyond me.
I believe that Holy Spirit can only be nurtured in real community, where people make commitments to each other. I have found that community in St. Andrew’s. I have tried to open myself up to our pastor’s teaching, to the members of the congregation, and to the church’s work in the world."

That approach to the notion of God not only contests Biblical literalism but also challenges the conception of God for many Christians who would not see themselves as fundamentalists. For me, the key is whether we say (1) God is a mystery, or (2) God is mystery.

The difference between those two formulations is important. The first, with the indefinite article, implies that God is an entity, force, or being with some shape, but that his/her/its contours are beyond our capacity to fully chart. The thing that God is, is in the end a mystery to us. But God is, something.

The second suggests that God is simply the name we give to that which is beyond our capacity to understand. God is another name for mystery -- for the vast, unexplainable mystery of the world around us and inside us.

I prefer the second, as I suspect do a fair number of theologically moderate and liberal Christians who might not share all my politics but have a similar sense about this question. I also suspect a lot of those folks don’t speak openly about their views, out of concern that it will create tension within a church or family. Part of the reason for the intensity of the reaction to my essay, I think, is simply that I said out loud what a lot of Christians think but rarely discuss.

So, am I a Christian? Am I a real Christian? I give up. But I’m sure someone will figure this out and get back to me.

We are all afraid of something

As I listened to the discussion on the floor of the Presbytery meeting, one question kept coming to my mind: What are these folks afraid of? The question was genuine. I thought it then -- and I ask it now -- not as a taunt or a subtle insult but because I really wanted to know, and I still want to know.

There seemed to me to be two different kinds of fear on the floor that day. One was easy to identify -- the fear of some that this divisive issue would tear apart people of common faith. Many people who spoke wanted to find a resolution that would allow St. Andrew’s to follow its own path -- honoring the denomination’s democratic tradition of local control and the larger Protestant notion of a “priesthood of all believers” -- without endangering the unity and work of the larger church. That’s also easy to understand; people who had given part of their life to an institution that they believe does good work in the world would naturally want to see it continue that work.

The unstated fear that I sensed in the room came from the people who wanted me banished. Here, it was not the explicit words they spoke but the underlying hostility I felt from some of them. They seemed angry with me, as if I had committed a grave offense against them or against Scripture, maybe even against God. I sat there somewhat stunned, struggling with how people committed to a faith tradition that routinely invokes the phrase “God is love” could seem so unloving toward someone (me) for speaking honestly about my spiritual journey, toward a pastor (Rigby) who has given so much of himself to building a vibrant and loving church, and toward a congregation (St. Andrew’s) full of so many socially responsible and theologically engaged members.

I can hypothesize that those who were so angry at me were afraid either that (1) my understanding of God was reasonable and, therefore, a threat to the understanding with which they had grown comfortable, or (2) an open acceptance of church members with a similar theology would undermine their control and power in the denomination. I suspect that for some of the people who were angriest not only with me but with Rigby and St. Andrew’s, those explanations might be sound. But those explanations also seem too easy to me. Because I have a hard time getting those folks to talk to me about these issues, my hypotheses is based more on speculation than evidence.

Not surprisingly, it’s difficult for any of us to talk about our fears. I have spoken about mine because I think it’s only fair to be open if one asks others to do the same. If I really want to know what fears motivate those on the other side of this issue, I have an obligation to look inside myself and, to the best of my ability, report on what I have seen.

I’ve tried to do that in this talk. Because of the theological and political positions I have taken, many Christians are going to see me not as a brother in faith but as a threat to that faith. If in the end those people decide that I don’t even have one toe inside the circle, I can accept that. But it seems to me that such a conclusion can’t be reached until we share our fears in a space we enter not as combatants squaring off in a fight, but rather as people recognizing our mutual need. A place like a church where God -- however we imagine the concept -- is truly love.

For that work, I know that St. Andrew’s doors are open.

Christ said it was hard, and he was right

The statement about my beliefs that I submitted for the Mission Presbytery meeting ended with these words:

"Abe Osheroff, a friend of mine who just turned 90 years old, told me recently that he had come to see that in his life he had no destination, just a direction -- toward ever-greater love and ever-expanding justice.
I believe that when we are truly open to the wonder of Creation, that direction becomes clear. I am trying to walk a path in that direction. I find that it is hard, as Jesus said it would be. In Matthew 7:12-14, he said, 'Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.'
I believe that is true."

The older I get, the less I know and the less certain I am about what I believe. But I’m pretty sure about that one point -- being human is hard sometimes, maybe most of the time, maybe all of the time. We are cursed with the capacity for critical self-reflection and a linguistic ability that allows us to express much -- but never quite enough -- of what we feel. That’s why we need poetry and art and music, to try to close that gap between what we feel and what we can rationally explain. But, in the end, it’s a gap that can never be bridged completely. Maybe that’s why we need religion. I’m not sure. I’m still chewing on that one.

But here’s what I’m reasonably sure about: If the powers that be -- or, perhaps more accurately, the powers that wanna-be powerful -- are to decide that I am insufficiently Christian to be a Presbyterian, and if they remove me from the membership roll of St. Andrew’s, I’m confident I will still be a member of St. Andrew’s in some form, in some fashion. I say that not out of arrogance, not because I believe I have any special value to the pastor and congregation. My confidence about that isn’t based on what I know.

I trust in that out of faith.

The Doxology, redux

Because my theme has been our limits -- recognizing those things that we can’t know and that leave us in a state of perpetual confusion -- I want to end with a simple story about that kind of confusion, about my experience of the singing of the Doxology in the St. Andrew’s service.

I don’t remember much about the rituals of the church I attended as a child, but I do remember the Doxology. The version we sang was different than the one St. Andrew’s uses. Both start with the same line: “Praise God, from whom all blessings flow.” Because St. Andrew’s is committed to not using patriarchal language, a policy I wholeheartedly endorse, in our service it continues:

Praise God, all creatures here below;
God does create, redeem, sustain.
All creatures, praise God’s holy name.

That’s a lovely version. But in the church of my childhood, those lines were:

Praise Him, all creatures here below;
Praise Him above, ye heavenly host;
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.

I like the St. Andrew’s version better; I think gender-neutral language is important in a world where women still are so often denied their full humanity. But I also find that the old version still resonates for me. So, when I’m at St. Andrew’s, I sing along with the first line, and then I silently sing the old version to myself. I find it comforting, for reasons that are not entirely clear to me. I have mostly negative memories of that church, and my politics are in line with the St. Andrew’s version. I don’t understand why I can’t just recalibrate to this new version. But something in me still wants to hear those words from my childhood. I don’t have to sing them out loud -- for now, it works for me just to stand there, in a community where I feel loved, and repeat to myself words that bring me comfort. Maybe someday I’ll find myself singing the new version; maybe those words will find their way into me. But for now, I am praising Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.

I asked my pastor about this, and Rigby said it was okay. That’s what I like about St. Andrew’s -- it’s okay to struggle, to be uncertain, to doubt, to search. In short, St. Andrew’s Presbyterian is a church in which it’s okay to be a human being.

Am I a Christian? I don’t know. But I’m pretty sure I’m a human being.

Robert Jensen is a journalism professor at the University of Texas at Austin and board member of the Third Coast Activist Resource Center He is the author of The Heart of Whiteness: Race, Racism, and White Privilege and Citizens of the Empire: The Struggle to Claim Our Humanity (both from City Lights Books). He can be reached at rjensen AT uts dot cc dot utexas dot edu. This article was posted here with the author's permission.

When Moderation is a Bad Idea

Otherwise rational people who look to ancient manuscripts for moral instruction inevitably do so within the framework of modern ethics. Modern ethical norms grease the wheels for the student of ancient morality, allowing the acceptance of certain doctrines that seem timeless while rejecting others that seem barbaric. Generally speaking, this is a perfectly reasonable approach to the study of ancient moral philosophy. Unfortunately, such an approach becomes unreasonable once an ancient manuscript is believed to be the product of divine authorship, applicable to all people in all ages.

As we will see, it is this belief in divine authorship and universal applicability that undermines the position of religious moderates.

Among the most popular belief systems, it is usually taught that God is omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, and infallible. Perfect in the administration of justice and the source of morality, God does not make mistakes or lie. These characteristics of God are just a few common traditional extrapolations from scripture that are important for this discussion. Also for the sake of this discussion, we'll assume them to be accurate inasmuch as they describe God in comparison to humanity. It seems important to note, however, that the only evidence available for God's character resides in scripture.

The scripture for each of the world's Abrahamic Religions affirms the aforementioned characteristics in numerous ways, and contains explicit, self-affirming language in that each claims divine authorship. Now, if we accept scripture as authoritative because God wrote it, and we accept its description of God as true based on its authority, it follows that the scripture can contain no errors, deceptions, or immoral injunctions. Any claims to the contrary must be summarily dismissed, else the entire structure falls.

Fundamentalists tacitly acknowledge the latter statement as true. To do otherwise is to admit the possibility of error in both scripture and God, thereby endangering faith itself. Evidence has no place, or is grossly twisted to fit within the framework of belief. Every alleged scriptural contradiction is viewed through a prism formed by scripture itself, which does not allow for errors. Thus, instead of contradiction there is 'tension.' However, attentive readers will notice the circular reasoning necessary to come to this conclusion.

Moderates tend to resolve this problem by arguing for progressive revelation or some variant thereof. Acknowledging the involvement of humanity in authoring and transmitting scripture, the inerrancy doctrine is given little credence or cast in a different light that takes the historical and scientific record into account. Morally dubious passages are considered to have been an ancient peoples' understanding of God's revelation to them and aren't meant for us. Unfortunately, this resolution casts doubt on the very existence of God as described in scripture; if scripture is wrong in its claims to inerrancy and/or divine authorship then it cannot be trusted in its accuracy where God is concerned. It becomes, as many non-theists assert, merely a literary work by ancient authors with a decidedly limited understanding of the world, who at best can be credited for having occasional flashes of insight.

This secondary, and more liberal, reading of scripture results from modern acceptance of evidence. There is evidence that the Earth revolves around the sun, that illness is caused by germs rather than demons, that both animals and plants evolve (and are incapable of human speech), and that living things decay after death. There is also evidence that many ancient peoples were barbaric by our standards, and that many of them worshipped a plethora of gods or goddesses, most of whom fell out of vogue before the Roman Empire collapsed. In short, the advance of science has long since rendered scriptural science - such as it exists and can be called 'science' - obsolete. The advance of civilization has performed a similar service for scriptural philosophy and morality, though to some extent is indebted to it.

Of course, there are those who lie on a continuum between these two extremes. However, moderates uwittingly reduce the god of their scripture to a somewhat abstract concept. Names, places, and traditions are retained but the dogma is neutered (pun intended). Another way to put it is that scripture becomes a framework around which faith is structured and practiced while its authority is hobbled. Keeping in mind the explicit claims of scripture, is it not reasonable to conclude there is a contradiction implicit in any faith that relies on scriptural authority while simultaneously rendering it virtually impotent? Is it reasonable to suspend evidentiary requirements for portions of scripture rather than all of it?

To be fair, moderate religion does have the virtue of being mostly open to evidence. In that sense at least it can be considered to be a 'living faith.' And it is also very apparent that I'd much rather live with or near religious moderates as opposed to fundamentalists because the former seem less concerned with being right than simply living. As it is there are no less than a dozen churches within a mile surrounding my house. It is truly nightmarish to think of how life in this town would be if they were all fundamentalist in character. Perhaps religious moderates represent an evolutionary link between religious mysticism and scientific rationality. But I digress.

Personal dispositions and societal integration aside, religious moderates have planted themselves on shaky ground. Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins observed that religious moderates 'betray faith and reason equally.' This seems accurate. As we have seen, the fundamentalist has a legitimate theological axe to grind concerning moderates' more liberal interpretation of scripture. The scriptures themselves contradict the notion of moderate faith. Yet, those who hold to reason and rationality as their modus operandi find an equally vexing problem in religious moderation - enabling fundamentalists.

The religious moderate, simply by existing, validates the faith of the fundamentalist. By failing to deny scriptural validity in the areas of science and modern moral discourse, the moderate tacitly permits the continued beliefs and activities of his fundamentalist counterparts. Moreover, the scriptures themselves describe a time when there will be those who adopt the trappings of faith without any depth of commitment. Taken literally, the moderate's existence seems a fulfillment of prophetic vision. Thus the fundamentalist feels ever more bonded to scripture, and ever more zealous for God. The moderate can denounce the actions of fundamentalists until the sun explodes and it will not prevent one intolerant or violent act. In simpler terms, moderates and fundamentalists are complicit in perpetuating the cycle of intolerance and bloodshed in spite of their differences.

Pluralism is another outgrowth of liberal faith. In common application pluralism is the idea that every religion has an equal claim to be the truth. 'All paths lead to god' is how it is commonly expressed. In this sense it might be called religious relativism. This is not to be confused with ecumenism. While it is true that in its broadest sense ecumenism seeks unity between all world religions, such a definition is superfluous since pluralism has come into common usage. Rather, ecumenism in common parlance is the practice of seeking unity among various sects or denominations within a particular faith.

At any rate, religious pluralism falls flat on its face in light of scripture or scientific fact. Scripture expressly denies the possibility of pluralism and actively discourages discourse with non-believers about matters of faith. It is permitted to proselytize, but not to associate. When considered in light of science the proposition becomes absurd. Faith teaches many concepts that simply do not accurately reflect the world we live in. In some cases faith can be downright detrimental to one's physical well-being. For example, competent medical attention has been shown to be effective in treating illness and injury whereas faith seems to almost always fail.

In Lourdes, France, scientist and atheist Richard Dawkins interviewed Father Liam Griffin as a part of series of shows titled The Root of All Evil. Father Griffin reported that out of 80,000 visitors per year for the last 100 years (about 8 million visitors total), only 66 miraculous healings and 2,000 unexplained cures had been recorded,. Even assuming that the label miracle is applicable to every one of these cases (by no means certain), that's an abyssmal .025% success rate. Dawkins also points out no one has ever miraculously re-grown a limb. I might also add that no one outside scripture has ever risen from the dead.

In summary, it seems abundantly clear that religious dogma in general is a primary cause of divisiveness, and has long since outlived its usefulness. Furthermore, moderates seeking the middle ground between faith and reason actually enable their fundamentalist counterparts and create divisions of their own. It is time to cast off faith in the unseen in favor of a dialogue that requires full accountability and evidence lest we destroy ourselves in the name of God.

Train up a child... the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not soon depart from it. — Solomon

My Debate on the Problem of Evil

by John W. Loftus

As many of you know I've been preparing for my public debate with David Wood of "" on the problem of evil, so I'm not posting much until afterwards. The question is this: "Does the extent of suffering in our world make the existence of God implausible?" The debate is not far away. It takes place on Saturday October 7th at 7 PM, in Norfolk VA, at the Old Dominion University, BAL 104. If you're in the area and can make it please do. The transcript (and video) will be available afterward with comments by Victor Reppert and probably Paul Copan on his side, and Andrea Weisberger and Richard Carrier on my side (plans still in progress).

I don't know of a major public debate that focused specifically on this problem by able defenders of each side for more than a decade (but I could be wrong). It may turn into a book too. A big thanks goes out to those who've made helpful comments on a draft of my opening statement. One person said of my opponent: "He's in trouble." Another said: "I have known for a good while that, among many other things, you are VERY well read on the problem of evil!" Still another: "it seems to cover all the bases." We'll see. I'll keep you posted both here and here.

Amazing Grace

You'll never be able to hear this song the same way again.

Religion and relationships is next. And this is Sarah Silverman.

Dear Mom

An ex-Christian writes a letter to his Christian mom.

A critical analysis of Kent Hovind's "Age of the Earth"

Kent E. Hovind (born January 15, 1953) is an American evangelist and prominent "Young Earth" creationist who is currently offering US$250,000 to anyone who can prove evolution "is the only possible way" that the universe and life arose, although his numerous critics consider the challenge to be spurious because evolutionary theory has nothing to say about how the universe came about or how life began. The self-styled "Dr. Dino" (whose Ph.D, from an unaccredited university, is in Christian education) established the Creation Science Evangelism Ministry in 1989. Hovind now speaks frequently in schools, churches, university debates and on radio and television broadcasts, and is the subject of controversy and public scrutiny. He is currently charged with 58 federal crimes, including separate counts of making threats against federal officials, filing false complaints and tax evasion.

This video is a critical analysis of the first of Kent Hovind's lecture series on evolution. This video exposes some of the half-truths, misconceptions, and outright lies propagated by Kent Hovind as proof against the Theory of Evolution. However, little in this first lecture has anything to do with the Theory of Evolution, running to tangents that have nothing to do with science whatsoever. Many of these tangents, as well as Hovind's distasteful jokes, have been removed. All of his pseudo-scientific arguments remain intact.

The video is approximately 25 minutes long.

Colbert Report on Evolution vs Creationism

Colbert interviews science educator Ken Miller regarding the "debate" (or lack thereof) between evolution and the junk science know as "Intelligent Design."

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

by Tyrone Williams (aka Checkmate)

The Bible is a book of vile trash. From cover to cover, Old Testament and New, from the mouths of Moses, Jesus or Paul, the “word of God” is an “inspired” mish-mash of instructions and commandments that promote MURDER, GENOCIDE, RAPE, ABORTION, INFANTICIDE, SLAVERY, HATRED, MISOGYNY, MANIFEST DESTINY, CONQUEST, INTOLERANCE, RACISM, BIGOTRY, CLASSISM, IGNORANCE, GULLIBILITY, SELF-MUTILATION, THE BELIEF IN MAGIC and just about every IMMORAL and HEINOUS DEPRAVITY a sick mind can imagine. And there is not one HONEST person, who has read the Bible, who can deny this fact.

However, I am being told by the Liberal Christian (Liberal, in this case, meaning any Christian who ISN’T a Fundamentalist.) that I need to ignore all these “bad” things, and simply focus on the “good”. Yes, the Liberal agrees, the Bible is guilty of having a few “blemishes,” but why not simply throw out these “aberrations” and focus instead on the “good moral teachings/lessons” we can learn from the Bible?

“Don’t throw out the baby with the bath water,” the Deluded Liberal will advise us. That sounds SO magnanimous and wise, doesn’t it? What a lovely compromise. Keep the good and get rid of the bad.

Well, I have a few problems with applying this specious “logic” and this trite cliché to something so influential as the Bible.

First off, this Holy Bible is SUPPOSED to be the “word of God.” An “inspired” tome from the mind and office of the Supreme Being. And you would think that something from “God” would be “good”. In other words, there shouldn’t BE anything “bad” to “throw out.” Admitting that there IS something “bad” to be avoided and discarded is an admission that this Bible is NOT inspired. It has not been vetted and proofread by the office of the Supreme Being. It is wholly a book of narrow-minded and ignorant goat herders who didn’t know their anus from a hole in the ground. Why should I labor to sift through their mess in the hopes of finding a “pearl” or two?

Secondly, who decides what is “good” and what is “bad”? Evil men, looking to validate their behavior, will view as “good” all commandments to murder the enemies of “God”, enslave races, steal property, subjugate women and discriminate against “God’s enemies” (gays, atheists, pagans, etc.). Everything becomes relative and excusable. We are once again left with individuals determining “morality” and “ethics” for themselves, while placing the blame for their behavior on “God”. It is precisely this “Buffet Style”, pick-and-choose methodology that has given rise to persecution, bloodshed and the 40,000 distinct Christian denominations world-wide. All of whom claiming to be the ONLY ones holding to the “truth of God’s Word.”

Third, the Deluded Liberal Christian is assuming facts NOT in evidence. That being the unproven assumption that there IS something “good” (the “baby”) in the Bible (the filthy bath water). Aside from the inherent flaw of determining what is in fact “good”, I grow weary of people trying to convince me that this “Jesus” was a great moral teacher and that his words and ways are to be emulated and revered as noble.

Such teachings as...

Telling people to love their enemies, while telling them to hate their families? Is that “good”? Telling people to accept abuse and a beating from evil people, thus short-circuiting your “GOD”-given survival instinct? Is that “good”? Telling people to go into poverty, abandon their familial responsibilities and follow “Jesus” the cult leader into a life of sacrifice and death? Is that “good”? Telling people to mutilate themselves for having “lustful” (and again “God”-given) thoughts? Is that “good”? TERRORIZING people by telling them they must follow and believe in him, even though he speaks in riddles thus making it impossible to believe in him, or else his “Father” (who is also “Jesus”?) will cast you into the Lake of Fire for an eternal torment? Is that “good”?

Of course not. THESE are clearly examples of “bad bath water” to be thrown out. Which only brings me back to my first two complaints. If this “Jesus” is supposed to be this brilliant, moral paragon of virtue, then WHY do we find him spouting such INSANE drivel that any rational person would cast aside? One moment he has flashes of brilliance (Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. A “Golden Rule” common to MOST cultures BEFORE “Jesus” came along, by the way.) and the next moment this “Jesus” devolves into madness by telling people to gouge out their eyes and cut off their hands as punishment for lewd thoughts. WTF?

According to the Gospel accounts, even the "Virgin Mary", Jesus' siblings and John the Baptist had their doubts about his veracity and sanity. It seems to me that even the “Baby Jesus” needs to be chucked out, too!

This cliché about babies and bath water is not applicable. It assumes that there is something inherently “good” to be preserved, when no such thing has been proven. A more accurate analogy is that of a man rooting around in pig crap in the hopes of finding some food to eat. And personally, I wouldn’t be the one to EAT that food, even if you did manage to find it.

Allow me to take a page from the Christian’s Play Book, and use one of their own fables that they tell around the pulpit. It’s the story of the “Poo-Poo Brownies.” This hackneyed saw is used by Christians to demonstrate that even a LITTLE bit of sin should NEVER be tolerated.

The story goes: One day, in a loving Christian home, the children ask their mother if they could watch a certain TV show. The mother is against the idea, since the show is laced with violence, profanity and nudity. Not very “Christian”. But the children beg their mother, saying that there wasn’t THAT much violence, profanity and nudity. Just a little bit. Surely not enough to harm them and their walk with “Jesus”. The mother thought a bit about this and then said, “Alright, you can watch that show. And I’ll even make you some Special Brownies to eat while you watch.” The children were overjoyed.

Later, just before the show was to air, the mother had finished baking the Special Brownies. When she offered them to her children, they asked her what made these brownies so “special”? The mother then told them that she added a unique ingredient to the mix — a tablespoon of dog poop! Immediately the children recoiled from the brownies in disgust, refusing to eat them.

When the mother asked them why they refused to eat the Poo-Poo Brownies, they answered, “They have dog poo in them! That’s disgusting!”

“Well,” mom answered, “it’s only a LITTLE dog poop. Not a lot. You probably won't even taste it. And it's surely not enough to hurt you or make you sick.”

“How do you know that, Mom?! We think even a little bit of dog poop is bad!”

The Mother smiled. “Exactly right. Just as even a LITTLE bit of SIN from that TV show is bad.” And the light dawned in their little minds, as they saw the wisdom of the mother and her Poo-Poo Brownies. After that they decided not to watch the TV show after all.

Christians simply LOVE that story. I do, too, but for my own “sinister” purposes. Let’s change the object of the story from a naughty TV show, to the vile and objectionable Bible. Look at the feculent ingredients that went into making it.

Do you REALLY think it’s wise to “eat” this “word of God” with all this feces smeared upon it’s pages? Look how sick it has made the human race thus far. The moral of the “Poo-Poo Brownies” is that even a LITTLE bit of crap shouldn’t be acceptable. I say the same rule should be applied to the Bible. Why should our minds be less protected than our stomachs? Why is it considered wisdom to protect ourselves from "bad" TV, while simultaneously exposing ourselves to this horrid, horror story from "God"? Why is the "PG-13" rated "Harry Potter" counted as "evil", while the "R" rated snuff film "The Passion of the Christ" and the holy book that inspired it are considered "family entertainment"?

Our government has forced the tobacco companies to place warning labels on their product, telling people that they could die from smoking. The FDA and EPA enforce health and safety regulations making the producers of consumables warn their consumers of any and all potential health risks associated with their products. The Bible should be equipped with similar warning signs.

“Danger! Literal belief in this book is dangerous to your health! Contents may conflict with reality, decency and common sense. Parental Advisory: Contains scenes of violence, sex and immorality, not suitable for children. For entertainment purposes ONLY. Rated NC-17.”

I wonder how many people would buy a “Holy Bible” then? Would it still be the world’s number one seller? Would parents feel comfortable allowing their children access to such a thing if they knew what was in it? Probably so. People are stupid that way. After all, I don’t see much of a drop in sales for cigarettes, alcohol and cocaine.

Females, Gays, and Other Samaritans

This post is excerpted from The Dark Side: How Evangelical Teachings Corrupt Love and Truth. (

There is nothing respecting which a man may be so long unconscious of as
the extent and strength of his prejudices.
—Francis Jeffrey1

Several of the writers of the Bible didn't care much for females. More than one thought homosexuals were vile. Some considered foreigners to be slightly less human than God’s Chosen People.

If the Bible is the record of imperfect humans, each limited by his own historical and cultural context, struggling to comprehend the divine, then we can approach its contents as those who carry forward this legacy. We can marvel at what our forebears achieved in their attempts to see Goodness "through a glass, darkly”2 and to model their societies and their individual lives on what they saw. We can look with humility on their failings, knowing that, if we are willing, they can teach us about our own.

If, on the other hand, the Bible is the perfect revelation of an unchanging God to humankind, then he feels the same as those early writers about females, homosexuals, and foreigners, and a host of social issues like privileged blood lines, vengeance, and slavery. People who commit
themselves to biblical literalism should know what this means. Recently, I read an essay in which an ex-believer told the story of his journey into and out of the faith. He said something like this: “Finally I found a church that was warm, loving, and accepting. Same sex couples were welcome, women were involved in the ministries, and members came from many different cultures. I didn’t know at the time how much of the Bible they had to ignore to create that kind of worship community.” How much did his church have to ignore? Let’s take a look.

What the Bible Teaches About Gender Equality

For starters, the God of the Bible is irrefutably male. The pronouns used for God are one indicator, and they are consistent throughout the Old and New Testaments. When God appears in human form, both in the Old Testament and in the incarnation of Jesus, he takes the form of a male human. Now, presumably, this male-ness isn’t sexual. It doesn’t mean that God has a penis. At the very least it doesn’t mean only that God has a penis. It means that in those core character traits that make the average woman different from the average man, God is more like the average man.

Here are some things we can say with confidence about the ways male humans on the average differ from females: more physical strength, higher aggression, more focus on uniqueness and difference rather than similarities and shared themes, more mathematical ability, less verbal ability, more self-focus, more independence, and lower empathy.3 Together these qualities lead men, generally, to be dominant, to innovate more, and to nurture less. Exactly which combination of these qualities, or other differences yet unknown, cause the Judeo-Christian God to be described as a male, we don’t know. What we do know, if we take the Bible literally,
is that overall males are more God-like than females. The rest follows.

According to the second chapter of Genesis, the first woman, Eve, is made from the rib of Adam to be a companion to him after God finds that Adam is lonely. God brings all the animals to Adam, one by one, and he names them. But none is found to be a suitable companion, so God
makes Eve.* From that beginning, it is clear that power and authority are in the hands of men.** The genealogies of the Old Testament list fathers and sons. When God blesses sterile women with babies, they are male. Righteous men offer up their daughters and concubines to marauding rapists, rather than offering up their male houseguests or themselves, and they remain righteous. When the Law is given, menstrual women are designated as spiritually unclean, as are women who have recently given birth. A woman is unclean longer after giving birth to a girl than after giving birth to a boy, twice as long, in fact (66 days vs. 33 days; Lev. 12). If a female is killed accidentally, the fine is less than for the accidental killing of a male.

The Patriarchs are patriarchs, not matriarchs. They have sex with their female slaves and concubines, but their wives have no parallel privilege. Priests are male, the greatest prophets of God are male, and when the civil authority of the Hebrews transitions from tribal chiefs to a monarchy, the Hebrews get kings, the wisest of whom has seven hundred wives. Women are veiled and are forbidden to wear men’s costumes. They worship in separate compartments from men, as do Orthodox Jewish women today. The writer of Proverbs complains that a nagging wife is like the relentless dripping of rain. He says that it is better to live in a corner of the housetop, or even in the wilderness, than in a big home with a contentious woman (Prov. 21, 25, 27). The Bible contains no analogous complaints about obnoxious husbands because there are no female writers.

Does the New Testament get better? “The head of every man is Christ,” says Paul in 1 Corinthians, “and the head of the woman is the man…” (1 Cor. 11:3). If a woman prays or prophesies with her head uncovered, she dishonors herself and should be shorn or shaven. If she doesn’t want her head shaved, she should keep it covered! (1 Cor. 13:5, 6). “[A man] is the
image and glory of God: but the woman is the glory of the man. For the man is not of the woman; but the woman of the man. Neither was the man created for the woman; but the woman for the man” (1 Cor. 13:7–11). Women are forbidden to speak in church, even to ask questions. “If they will learn anything, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a
shame for women to speak in the church” (1 Cor. 14:34). The book of 1 Timothy elaborates. “Let the women learn in silence with all subjection. But I suffer not a woman to teach nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence. For Adam was first formed, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression. Notwithstanding,
she shall be saved in childbearing” (1 Tim. 2:11–15).

Modern literalists often say that it isn’t that women are inferior, it’s just that men and women have different roles. And besides, men are taught to be loving and respectful toward their wives and to take good care of them. But those fundamentalists who boldly assert the inferiority
of women are more aligned with the actual words of scripture and the attitudes of biblical figures from the patriarchs to the apostles than are their egalitarian brethren.

What the Bible Teaches About Homosexuality

I admit it. In contrast to what I’ve written about women, I’m on shaky ground accusing the Bible authors of a distaste for homosexuals. Scholars arguably have demonstrated that most Bible verses which appear to condemn homosexuality are mistranslations, deliberate substitutions of clearly anti-homosexual words for ambiguous Greek or Hebrew words,
or scripture taken out of context.4

Even the term sodomite meant something different to the writers of the New Testament and the early church fathers than it does today. In the centuries before and immediately after the death of Christ, the core sin of Sodom and Gomorrah was not seen as sexual.5 “Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed, and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy. They were haughty and did detestable things before me. Therefore I did away with them as you have seen” (Ezek. 16:49–50).

For much of Christianity’s first fourteen hundred years, homosexual behavior was seen as a minor sin like gluttony or greed.6 Even so, I don’t believe that verses like the following can be adequately explained, except in the context of the tribal, patriarchal desert society they were written in:

If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall be put to death: their blood is upon them (Lev. 20:13).

God gave them up to degrading passions. Their women exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural, and in the same way also the men, giving up natural intercourse with women, were consumed with passion for one another. Men committed shameless acts with men and received in their own persons the due penalty for their error (Rom. 1:26–27).

The word that is translated abomination in Leviticus is the Hebrew to’ebah. This word has a specific use: to condemn pagan religious cult practices. Thus, it is likely that Leviticus refers to homosexual acts in the context of pagan worship. Furthermore, this verse is part of the Hebrew
Holiness Code, which also condemned cutting beards, wearing cotton mixed with wool, and eating seafood, rabbits, or rare meat. So the prohibition against man-to-man sex must be considered in its context. Nevertheless, the behavior in question is condemned strongly, more so than most other code violations. It is condemned as strongly as premarital sex, which also carries the death penalty, though for females only (Deut. 22:20–21), and extramarital sex, which carries the death penalty for both participants (v. 22).

The verse from Paul’s letter to the Romans seems more clear. It expresses the view that homosexual acts violate God’s intentions. Again, this must be taken in context. Paul describes marriage between a man and a woman as a concession to prevent the temptation of promiscuous desires. Ideally, believers should be abstinent. (Paul’s writings inspired
the celibacy of the priesthood in Catholicism and the exhortation for universal abstinence by Shakers.) So to some extent, sex itself is seen as a violation of God’s intentions. However, this perspective is interwoven with the idea that the union of a man with a woman is holy and provides an earthly model for Christ’s mystical union with his bride, the Church.7 No such beautiful words about homosexual unions are evident anywhere in Paul’s letters.

If we accept these direct incriminations of homosexual acts, then other, more ambiguous passages of the Bible appear consistent with this view (e.g. Jude 1:7). Several places in the New Testament, male prostitutes and [a word that may possibly mean gays] are barred from the kingdom of heaven, along with thieves, drunkards, and adulterers, which includes
anyone who is divorced and remarried (1 Cor. 6:9–10; Matt. 5:32, Matt. 19:9). And gays (possibly) are listed among men who are lawless and rebellious along with murderers, people who kill their parents, slave traders, perjurers, and liars (1 Tim. 1:9–10). Biblical passages regarding homosexuality are open to interpretation, but most likely they reflect actual negative attitudes that existed in the culture surrounding the writers. It is not unusual for patriarchal cultures to look negatively on non-procreative sexual behavior or any kind of behavior that might blur loyalty, lineage, or a man’s claim to his wife(s) and offspring. Since the fifteenth century, the position of orthodox Christianity has been profoundly unambiguous, labeling homosexuality as contrary to reason and to natural law, and condemning homosexuals to
ostracism and eternal punishment.*

If we take the Bible literally, female believers have at least a shot at righteousness, if not equality. “Women will be saved through childbearing —if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety” (1 Tim. 2:15). By contrast, homosexual believers, unless they are abstinent and avoid committing sodomy in their hearts, are doomed to live in the shadow of God’s disapproval along with remarried couples and liars.

What the Bible Teaches About the Brotherhood of Mankind

In the land of Palestine at the time of Jesus, there lived a tribe of people called Samaritans. Genetically and culturally related to the Jews, they were nevertheless distinct, having split from the rest of the Hebrews hundreds of years before. The Jews thought them lesser, unclean, and
had no dealings with them. They were not the Chosen race. And racial purity mattered.

The patriarch, Abraham, from whom all Jews are said to be descended, married his half-sister to make sure he got the bloodline right. He later sent a servant back to his ancestral home to fetch a wife for his son, Isaac. “Put your hand under my thigh. I want you to swear by the LORD, the God of heaven and the God of earth, that you will not get a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, among whom I am living, but will go to my country and my own relatives and get a wife for my son Isaac” (Gen. 24:2–4). But for his son, Ishmael, born of a slave, he had no such concern. God had already declined to make Ishmael the favored lineage. The message of Genesis is clear. God may appreciate good behavior, but his chosen ones are his Chosen ones, and being chosen is about ancestry.

From Genesis on, God promises the land of Canaan not to those who worship him in spirit, but to the children of Abraham. As the descendants of Abraham claim this land, Canaanite children are cursed and killed for the sins of their fathers. Families are annihilated, not for individual wickedness, but because they belong to the wrong city and tribe. Always, massacres are justified because the people killed are heathens, enemies of the one true God. But the lines are drawn almost exclusively along tribal boundaries. And the deaths of foreign innocents warrant
nary a mention.

Jump ahead to the New Testament. In Matthew, a Canaanite woman, a non-Jew, calls out, begging Jesus to heal her daughter, who is possessed by demons. “Lord, Son of David,” she calls him. But he ignores her. Finally, his disciples get sick of her following them and shouting, and they ask him to send her away. Finally, Jesus tells her he was sent only to the lost children of Israel. She keeps begging. In the end he heals her daughter, but listen to their conversation as depicted by the gospel writer:

The woman came and knelt before him. “Lord, help me!” she said.
He replied, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss
it to their dogs.”
“Yes, Lord,” she said, “but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall
from their masters’ table.”
Then Jesus answered, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request
is granted” (Matt. 15:25–28).

If the image doesn’t bother you, try to imagine an American slave or a South African Black having to do and say the same things to get health care for her child. “Please, sir, even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.”

Jesus himself preached to the Samaritans, and his disciples took the message of salvation to the Gentiles—to the far corners of the world, they claimed. Paul, the Apostle, declared that in Christ there was neither Gentile nor Jew. But does that mean there were no longer Samaritans?
I’m afraid not. Salvation was open to all, but as we will see later, God’s chosen people continued to behave much as the chosen people have behaved since the beginning of Genesis, four to six thousand years ago. Women aren’t the only ones who have been obliged to worship in separate
compartments in the last 200 years.

Logically, one could argue that just because the Bible teaches that women are inferior, homosexuality is evil, and some races are Chosen while others are “dogs,” this does not mean that the Bible is wrong. Maybe women are inferior in some critical way. Maybe unrepentant gays are going to hell. And maybe God does prefer some bloodlines over others. But other explanations are possible.

We know factually that male humans are, on the average, more aggressive, more status oriented, and physically stronger than females. (So are male chimpanzees.) We also know that throughout the natural world, this combination results in dominance, the dominance of males over females in some species, females over males in others, and certain individuals over others within species, independent of gender. This has nothing to do with morality or with any of the virtues we cherish and attribute to God. Aggression is power. Strength is power. And, status
orientation provides a strong motivation to use both in the service of dominance. In other words, we know that independent of any God-given mandate, male humans would pursue the top role and would largely succeed in obtaining it by virtue of biology. We also know that humans use rules and religious doctrines to maintain dominance once it is established. Consider, for example, the Hindu caste system, which maintains the status of the Brahmins, or the European feudal system that once protected hereditary nobility.
So, which is more likely:

? That the God who created the universe, the laws of physics,
and sexual reproduction commands that one gender be subservient
to the other.
? Or that males, being more aggressive, status oriented, and
physically stronger than females set up the rules that way?

We also know that humans, like every other life form that depends on sexual reproduction, are, on average, preferentially attracted to members of their own species who have the potential to produce and rear viable offspring. Any species that wasn’t, would be at quite a disadvantage. The physical attributes that human males typically find attractive in human females are linked to fertility: large eyes, small waists, developed breasts, curves, smooth skin, and thick hair. Together these are suggestive of premenopausal sexual maturity and health, in other words, what scientists call reproductive fitness. We also know that these preferences are not cognitive but rather instinctive. Male humans, on average, are programmed to be turned off by characteristics which suggest that a potential sexual partner is post-menopausal, pre-pubescent, or male. The “yuck factor” kicks in.
So, which is more likely:

? That the God of mercy, justice, and love, (who, by the way, made a variety of animal species that engage in homosexual behavior) finds homoerotic behavior and same-gender love relationships to be morally abhorrent in humans.
? Or that humans (who must be attracted to the opposite gender for the sake of species survival and who, in consequence, typically have a built-in aversion to “misplaced” sexual attraction)
mistake their own instinctive distastes for morality?*

We also have mountains of evidence that humans show a universal tendency to see the world in tribal groupings: in-groups and out-groups. Children form cliques, team loyalties, and school rivalries. Nationalism is easy to arouse in adults, and even within geographic boundaries, a
Milosevic or Hitler has no trouble splitting a nation into opposing factions based on race, language, or religion.

All humans have different norms for how we treat insiders and outsiders. Sometimes these are very explicit, like rules prohibiting interracial or inter-sectarian marriage. Sometimes these are subtle, like differences in altruism or empathy. We perceive outsiders as slightly less human than our own group, are less horrified by violence committed towards one of them, and are less likely to help them at our own risk. Our natural tendency is to value our countrymen and co-religionists more than others, and we expect God’s loyalties to reflect our own. How many times have you seen a sign that says, “God Bless America?” How many times have you seen one that says, “God Bless the World?”
So think about it. Which is more likely:

? That the God of the universe has a favorite bloodline of humans and intervenes in tribal territorial disputes in their favor.
? Or that members of each tribal group and culture including the descendants of Abraham, think of themselves as the most important and assume that their god shares their bias?

These are grave questions, because the biblical attitudes described in this chapter promote division and oppression. They place the interests of one group above those of another. They justify behavior that contradicts other moral values including, ironically, those most emphasized in the gospels: peacemaking, caretaking, healing, and love. And they do so
in the name of God.

It is convenient to believe that God sanctions our instincts to dominate certain others, to reject them, or to see their needs and suffering as lesser than our own. God’s stamp of approval removes the need for us to wrestle with ourselves. But are these instincts righteous or base? And does the existence of these attitudes in the Bible add credibility to the attitudes themselves or raise questions about the Bible as the timeless and inerrant word of God?

To Consider

In absolute terms, the Bible codifies sexism, anti-homosexual attitudes, and racism. Literalists have little choice but to embrace these three attitudes, thus arguing that inequality is God’s will, or to deny that inequality is inequality, typically by using the same kind of “separate but equal”
arguments that were once used to justify segregation. The one stance pits them against morality and the other against reality. Biblical literalism has a long history of pitting believers against morality and reality. Most of the harm done by Christians through the ages has been because of the tendency of church leaders or individual believers to take biblical texts literally and out of context, to develop doctrines based on this approach, and then to use these doctrines, or the texts themselves, to rationalize bigotry, violence, insularity, or self-interest.

In the past, many believers had no better way to understand the Holy Book. Mysticism seemed incomprehensible to most, and the tools of textual analysis had not yet been invented. Today, these tools are available to anyone who cares to understand the roots and essence of the ancient documents that make up the Bible. And yet many churches continue to ignore or deny the complicated history and ugly parts of scripture. In this way, they bind themselves to some teachings that are simply distracting and others that promote evils, both great and small.

A different approach looks at biblical mandates not in absolute terms, but in relative terms. It asks: how can we understand the Bible in the context in which it was written? How did Mosaic Law, the attitudes of Old Testament writers, the living example of Jesus or the teachings of
Paul compare to what came before? Seen in this light, in their cultural context, many Judeo-Christian teachings can be seen to promote progress toward more egalitarian gender relations or a more inclusive understanding of humankind.* This allows a different set of questions. Instead of looking at a Bible passage in absolute terms and asking: does this passage teach racism or sexism, and does that racism or sexism constitute goodness?, one may look at the same set of verses in relative terms and ask: does this passage reflect progress, a trend, and does that trend constitute goodness?

*What God would have had in mind for reproduction before that is an interesting question. Whether Adam had genitalia before that; whether God then reconfigured the other animal species to add genitalia and females and sexual reproduction, these also are interesting questions to ponder.

**Christians who assert the equality of women emphasize Genesis 1, in which male and female humans are created simultaneously and two sexes share the image of their creator, or possibly creators.

*The “love the sinner, hate the sin” attitude frequently encouraged by Evangelical churches toward homosexuals is thin. It is one thing to say “love the sinner, hate the sin” when a person has stolen a candy bar or a car or engaged in some other behavior that is transitory or intermittent and contradicts that person’s own sense of identity. It is another thing altogether to promote this attitude when being gay (being attracted to/falling in love with/bonding intimately with people of the same gender) is core to someone’s sense of self. One cannot reject the sentiments and behaviors in question without rejecting the person.

*I mean misplaced only from the standpoint of evolutionary biology with the assumption that sexual attraction is fine-tuned to serve the purpose of reproduction. In actuality, humans create loving sexual bonds for all kinds of reasons, social and emotional, and these may have little or nothing to do with reproduction. It is noteworthy that people often have the same reaction to a relationship between a young man and a much older woman that they have to homosexual relationships—yuck. It is also noteworthy that heterosexual couples who choose not to have children or who remain sexual after childbearing have been condemned during some epochs of Christian history.

*This is the stance of modern Judaism. Judaism values inquiry, “wrestling withGod.” Consequently, in the 2500 years since the last manuscripts of the HebrewBible were written, Jewish scholars have produced a broad body of sacred interpretiveliterature. This provides a nuanced understanding of early religious textsand practices. Like Christianity, Judaism includes Orthodox members of thefaith who believe they adhere to literal interpretations of ancient rules. However,the strong tradition of inquiry means that these orthodox believers are asmall portion of those who call themselves Jewish.

If you found this chapter thought-provoking, the book is available at Previous chapters and other musings by this writer can be found at

“Would Jesus Wear a Rolex™?”

By Tyrone Williams

I love comedians and I love parody songs. I love them because with biting sarcasm and cunning insight they are capable of exposing the ugly truth of things even the most stubborn person can’t ignore nor deny. And they're just plain funny!

Take for example one of my all-time favorite comedic instigators, Ray Stevens. Long before Weird Al Yankovic came along, Ray Stevens pioneered the field of comedy songs with such classics as “The Streak”, “Ahab, the Arab”, “It’s Me Again, Margaret” and “Would Jesus Wear a Rolex™?” It’s the latter song to which I call your attention. It begins like this:

“Woke up this morning, turned on my TV set
There in living color, was something I can’t forget
This man was preaching at me, laying on the charm
Asking me for twenty, with ten thousand on his arm

“He wore designer clothing, and a big smile on his face
Selling me salvation, while they sang Amazing Grace
Asking me for money, when he had all the signs of wealth
Almost wrote a check out, but then I asked myself…

“Would He wear a pinky ring? Would He drive a fancy car?
Would his wife wear furs and diamonds? Would His dressing room have a star?
If He came back tomorrow, there’s something I’d like to know…
Would Jesus wear a Rolex™ on His Television Show?”

Now, setting aside for the moment whether or not you believe there ever was a “Jesus”, (I don’t.) I believe that Ray Stevens poses a damn good question that the Christian church MUST answer.

Instead of “What would Jesus do?” let’s ask them, “Would Jesus Wear A Rolex™?”

Considering all the injunctions in the bible to be POOR -- how the love of money is the root of all evil, and how difficult it is for a RICH man to enter the kingdom of heaven, and blessed are the poor (in spirit?) for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven –- one must question the sincerity of today’s filthy rich church.

“Jesus” was so poor that he had no place to lay his head. He lived off the land and the charity of his followers. He owned no lands, no home, and no donkey. Yet today’s Christian in contrast owns MUCH. Diamond mines, TV and Radio stations, huge tracts of land, airplanes and Mega Church facilities are but the tip of the wealthy iceberg of the church. The wealth of the Roman Catholic Church exceeds that of many countries. AND they own and utilize this wealth TAX FREE!

Didn’t “Jesus” say something about paying taxes? Something like “render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s”? I seem to recall reading that somewhere when the Pharisees were testing Jesus. Maybe MY bible has a misprint, or I’m using the “wrong” translation. That could happen. (Rofl)

Yet, it appears to MY untrained, and unbiblical eye, that the church is in DIRECT violation of the Word of God. Why is this?

Would “Jesus” wear a Rolex™, or a diamond pinky ring? Would he own a tax sheltered diamond mine in Africa, TV and radio stations, and vast tracts of land for his private use while simultaneously begging for money from his duped TV audience?

And, before anyone chimes in about all the OTHER “poor” churches around the nation/world, let’s not overlook the fact that these churches SEEK wealth and success and power, even though they haven’t yet attained them. They are desperately trying to clamor aboard the Health and Wealth/Name-it-Claim-it Gospel Train as they seek to be “blessed of the Lord” like everyone else. This LUST for money makes them just as guilty in the eyes of “Jesus”. It is a carnal desire. It is a “sin”.

So, what say you “Christians”? Care to defend your money grubbing ways? Can you truly defend the money marketing methods of the church? If this money being collected is “for the poor”, (snicker!) then why don’t “the poor” have it? Why do I see the churches and church leaders decked out in purple raiment and gold, living like royalty? Why are even the simple pew sitters, dissatisfied with being poverty-stricken servants of the Most High God, striving to obtain riches and job promotions and Olympic-size swimming pools? If this "carnal" world belongs to the devil and his children, then why are Christians so hungry for the devil’s playthings?

The early church (first 200 years of Christianity) believed that poverty was a virtue. Any presbyter who was living too well was censured and believed to be a criminal. The shepherd of the flock lived off of alms, just as did the widows and orphans. None of this “big house” and “big easy” living nonsense. They followed in the footsteps of their Lord and savior.

What happened? Why is the church so money-hungry now? Why do Christians DESPISE poverty? Why is being “poor” perceived as weakness and a lack of Great Faith? Why is being “rich” perceived as a mark of success and being blessed of God? Why are the words of “Jesus” concerning poverty considered optional, or “dispensational”? Is he no longer “Lord”?

Or maybe…this “Jesus” never existed after all? Could “Jesus” simply be a “pious fraud”, the mythical figurehead of a flakey religion? Is THIS why no one obeys his instructions?

Silly me. Of course THAT is the answer! A money-hungry Christian is PROOF that this “Jesus” is pure MYTH! If he were real, sitting up in “heaven”, watching over his flock, would anyone DARE disregard his teachings, or change his words? Not hardly. I know if I believed in “God”, I wouldn’t do anything to anger him. Yet, these “Christians” do so with impunity. They act as if “Jesus”/God and His Words don’t even matter. To be cast aside on a whim whenever it suits the Christian’s greed/appetites.

Humph! There is no “Jesus” and there is no “God”. Of course, "Jesus" wouldn't wear a Rolex™, because he isn't real. Well that explains it. I’m certainly glad we got that settled. Thanks for clearing that up for us, “Christians.”

The Greatest Story Ever Told and Ignored

by Tyrone D. Williams

Without question my favorite movie of all time is The Wizard of Oz. From the black and white beginning in Kansas, to the colorful world of Oz. From the mundane antics of the farm hands and the natural threat of Miss Elmira Gulch, to the comic buffoonery of Dorothy’s new friends and the supernatural threat of the Wicked Witch of the West, I find The Wizard of Oz a marvelous tale of timeless delight for both young and old. I never get tired of watching that flick.

To me, The Wizard of Oz is the Greatest Story Ever Told. “There’s no place like home” dammit.

I especially love the ending, when Toto unceremoniously yanks back the curtain to reveal the scam of the carnival huckster. Apparently Toto was fed up with all the whining and cowering of his companions, so he blew the whistle on the deal.

“Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!,” the big-headed apparition bellows, but it is much too late. Dorothy and friends have already seen too much. The “Wizard” is nothing but an old man. A “humbug”, the Scarecrow calls him. They are disgusted and disappointed, and rightly so. All that bowing, scraping and serving – all of that WORSHIP – and it was all for nothing. A lousy trick.

Sound familiar? It should. How can a working, rational mind fail to see the corollary between this scene of revelation and how religion works in our world? How can you NOT see “the man behind the curtain”? What will you do now? Close your eyes and pretend you didn’t see him? Would that be very wise?

Ironically, however, The Wizard of Oz is not the first fable to use this story telling mechanism to expose a religious scam.

Some of you might be familiar with a forbidden book called the Apocrypha. (So named by St. Jerome. It means lost books. But they aren’t lost, just hidden from view. And with good reason, as I shall demonstrate.) Within the pages of this volume of Jewish lore is a book of Daniel titled Bel and the Dragon. Here is an on-line copy for your enjoyment at "".

In short the story goes like this:

Daniel (Yes, THAT Daniel.) is at it once again in the nation of Persia. Cyrus is King now, and as usual there is god/idol worship afoot and Daniel isn’t happy about it.

The priests of Bel claim that their statue is The Living God and they can prove it, because THEIR god eats! Daniel vehemently disagrees and of course is called out for blasphemy. King Cyrus is ready to kill SOMEBODY, so someone had better prove their case quickly.

So Daniel, ever the clever lad, cooks up a scheme. He has King Cyrus lay out all the food before the statue of Bel, as is his norm. Everyone is ushered out of the temple, leaving just the King and Daniel. Daniel then has ashes strewn all about the temple floor in the presence of the King. They then back out of the temple and all of the doors are sealed with the signet of the King.

During the night, as is their devious habit, the priests and their families enter the temple through some secret passage and they consume all the food left for Bel.

In the morning, the King and Daniel arrive. They find the seals unbroken. The doors are opened and the King marvels that the food has been consumed by Bel. But Daniel simply laughs and directs King Cyrus’ gaze down to the temple floor where the multitude of human foot prints of men, women and children have been trekked through the ashes.

King Cyrus is livid and as is always the case in these “holy” fables, Cyrus has the priests and their families executed and the statue of Bel destroyed.

(There is more to the story concerning the Dragon, but this should suffice for my purposes.)

This is an excellent story of how deceitful is the priesthood. Convincing everyone that god is real and living, when in fact it’s nothing but a trick of greedy, manipulative men and women. So…why has this story been placed on the Do Not Read list?

I should think it would be obvious. If Bel isn’t real…if “he” is a scam…then isn’t Jehovah also a scam? I mean, what’s the difference between a stone idol and an idol of the mind?

Not a damn bit of difference. The Jews rightly fear and dread this story because anyone with a lick of common sense would swiftly put two and two together and realize that it’s ALL bullshit! There is no “god”, just priests standing behind the curtain manipulating the evidence to deceive the gullible populace. This story scares the hell out of any self-preserving con artiste. (Notice that the church avoids it, too!)

Much better to claim that this story is NOT inspired, and then forbid it’s reading, and hope all copies are burned. Sorry! Found one! And I’m telling the story as often as I can, right along with The Wizard of Oz.

The problem, however, is that reality NEVER agrees with fantasy.

In both The Wizard of Oz and Bel and the Dragon, once the scam is revealed, both Dorothy, her companions and King Cyrus become indignant. They demand justice! They make sure that the scam is perpetrated no more.

But here in the Real World, when the curtain is pulled back and the ashes have human foot prints in them, the people simply shrug their shoulders and return to their worship service as if NOTHING has changed. The obvious proof is not enough to shake their “faith” in their god.

“Well, just because ONE priest/church/religion is bad, that doesn’t make them ALL bad,” they’ll rationalize.

This blind compartmentalization is enough to make a peaceful man pull out a shotgun and shoot such idiots. Better to put them out of their misery and spare the human gene pool of such contaminants.

How do you reason with and help people who REFUSE to see the truth right before their eyes? What more can you do? Sure, everyone has the RIGHT to believe what they choose, but god damn! How stupid must we allow people to be? Isn’t there a time when responsible, thinking people need to step in and take control over brains that malfunction THIS badly? We do it with the mentally retarded, criminals, children and the elderly. Why not with those deluded by religion? What makes THEM so special and exempt from the rules?

It’s just Common Sense. But it must not be TOO common, because it is surely in short supply in this world. May Thomas Paine rest in peace and stop spinning like a turbine generator in his grave.

The Logical Paradox of Creation Myths with Wendy Doniger

Burke lecture: UC San Diego

Why Don't Christians Argue This Way Much Anymore?

By John W. Loftus

People in Biblical times defended God against the problem of evil by blaming themselves and their own sins for the natural disasters that God sent on them. They believed God controls all natural happenings (Ex. 12:23,29,30; 32:35; Num. 11:33; 16:46-50; 25:18; 2 Sam. 24:15-16). Why don’t very many Christians today use this same response to exonerate God for natural disasters? In ancient times, disasters were usually explained in only one way: God was upset with people because of their sins. And that’s the explanation we find most often in the Bible, although there are a few notable exceptions (Job; Luke 13; John 9). But even here we see a God who could do anything with the world of nature that he wanted to do without regard for the ordered world and laws of nature.

In Job for instance, we see the Biblical answer for the problem of evil in the first two chapters. The answer was that God is testing us with disasters and he allows Satan to do us harm so that he might be glorified from our actions. That is a sick answer to the problem of evil, and here’s why: Medical ethics will not allow us to experiment on human beings with life threatening procedures, nor with procedures that might cause other serious complications. And they certainly don’t allow us to experiment on anyone involuntarily. But this is what we find God doing to Job, presumably because he’s God.

In Luke 13:1-5 we find Jesus commenting on why a couple of disasters took place. Were these people worse sinners than those who escaped the particular disasters? Jesus’ answer is an emphatic, “No!” His point says nothing at all against the culturally accepted view that our sins cause disasters. He only says that these people were no more guilty than those who didn’t suffer these disasters. So apparently everyone deserves the disasters that occur, it’s just that some do not experience what their sins deserve.

In John 9 Jesus’ disciples asked him who sinned that a particular man was born blind. His answer was that neither he nor his parents sinned. But even so, his being born blind still had a purpose, “that the work of God might be displayed in him,” and then it says Jesus healed him. So his “purpose” in being born blind was for him to later be healed by Jesus.

Many Christians would agree with Rabbi Daniel Lapin who tried to explain God’s goodness in light the Indonesian tsunami that killed a quarter of a million people. In the process of arguing his case he said: “God runs this world with as little supernatural interference as possible.” Now how does he know that? Such a belief was not shared by most all ancient people before the rise of the repeatable results of modern science. So why don’t they argue the way Biblical writers would argue? Let me suggest that it’s because they are modern people after all! And let me also suggest that early Christians would have condemned modern Christians who simply say, “bad things just happen.” For them, even the very dice cast from a man’s hand is controlled by God. (Pr. 16:33).

But surely, the punishment for sin by God cannot account for everyone who ever died from a tornado, a hurricane, a fire, a flood, an epidemic, or a famine. Many innocent people have died. The distribution of disease and pain is not related to the virtue of those punished. Besides, I simply cannot understand that even if many people today are sexually immoral, for instance, that such sins deserve such punishments. Can you hear God saying this: “Oh, you had an affair, so your punishment is to lose your children as a result of Katrina.” What did these children do wrong? “Or, you are a homosexual, so I will make you a paraplegic the rest of your life, and later cast you into hell.” And so on. The so-called punishments simply do not fit the “crimes.” Just look at our own “selfish” system of punishments, and compare that with the kind, caring father/God’s punishments. Our punishments are kinder and gentler. They’re civil. The punishments of God in the Bible are barbaric.

Death to the Infidel!

"If God be for us, who can be against us?" Rom. 8:31

It is well-known that the spread of religious ideas has often been facilitated by the threat of force. Economic, social, political, or physical force (violence) has been exercised by and upon nearly every religion in history. In the name of God, our ancestors exterminated entire communities and even cultures, using scripture and traditional doctrine as justification.

To be fair, the forceful propagation of religion carried with it certain economic, strategic, or political incentives. The church has classically endorsed or encouraged actions that strengthen its position in the world. The same could be said of certain political ideologies (Communism or Socialism, for example) that hold secular philosophy in high regard. However, it is not these additional considerations that concern me. What concerns me is that each of the three largest religions today have scripture that not only permits this, but encourages it.

It is truly appalling that these attitudes prevail to this day. Muslim, Jewish, and even Christian extremists routinely call for, attempt, or rejoice in the extermination of those who do not subscribe to their preferred dogma. While Muslim extremists have the dubious distinction of having carried out the most recent and egregious acts of religious terrorism, the scripture for each of the aforementioned faiths contain similar exhortations to cast out, cut off, and even kill non-believers.

Christians are quick to argue that their faith does not sanction this type of behavior. Yet in reality this is due to the influence of increasingly rational thought and liberal philosophy, not scripture. The OT does in fact contain a call to kill unbelievers that is nearly identical to the Qur'an.

The Qur'an advocates or implies the killing and/or punishment of unbelievers in several places. However, for the sake of simplicity (many of the verses are more spread out) and contextual comparison we'll look at just one.

In verse 89 of Chapter 4: AN-NISA(WOMEN), the text reads (using the Shakir translation):

"They desire that you should disbelieve as they have disbelieved, so that you might be (all) alike; therefore take not from among them friends until they fly (their homes) in Allah's way; but if they turn back, then seize them and kill them wherever you find them, and take not from among them a friend or a helper."

In comparison, here's a look at Deut. 13:5-16:

"5 And that prophet, or that dreamer of dreams, shall be put to death; because he hath spoken to turn you away from the LORD your God, which brought you out of the land of Egypt, and redeemed you out of the house of bondage, to thrust thee out of the way which the LORD thy God commanded thee to walk in. So shalt thou put the evil away from the midst of thee. 6 If thy brother, the son of thy mother, or thy son, or thy daughter, or the wife of thy bosom, or thy friend, which is as thine own soul, entice thee secretly, saying, Let us go and serve other gods, which thou hast not known, thou, nor thy fathers; 7 Namely, of the gods of the people which are round about you, nigh unto thee, or far off from thee, from the one end of the earth even unto the other end of the earth; 8 Thou shalt not consent unto him, nor hearken unto him; neither shall thine eye pity him, neither shalt thou spare, neither shalt thou conceal him: 9 But thou shalt surely kill him; thine hand shall be first upon him to put him to death, and afterwards the hand of all the people. 10 And thou shalt stone him with stones, that he die; because he hath sought to thrust thee away from the LORD thy God, which brought thee out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage. 11 And all Israel shall hear, and fear, and shall do no more any such wickedness as this is among you. 12 If thou shalt hear say in one of thy cities, which the LORD thy God hath given thee to dwell there, saying, 13 Certain men, the children of Belial, are gone out from among you, and have withdrawn the inhabitants of their city, saying, Let us go and serve other gods, which ye have not known; 14 Then shalt thou enquire, and make search, and ask diligently; and, behold, if it be truth, and the thing certain, that such abomination is wrought among you; 15 Thou shalt surely smite the inhabitants of that city with the edge of the sword, destroying it utterly, and all that is therein, and the cattle thereof, with the edge of the sword. 16 And thou shalt gather all the spoil of it into the midst of the street thereof, and shalt burn with fire the city, and all the spoil thereof every whit, for the LORD thy God: and it shall be an heap for ever; it shall not be built again."

As the reader can plainly see the Bible does order the killing of unbelievers in much the same way as the Qur'an. The former text is simply more to the point (i.e., shorter). In addition, the Bible advocates the destruction of an entire city because of the presence of 'certain men' (those of a competing faith, but also applies to non-believers).

One interesting note is that the Qur'an seemingly gives the unbeliever a chance. If the unbeliever decides to "fly in Allah's way" (follow the faith or become a believer), he/she can avoid death. Of course, this does not mean that this passage is to be embraced, but it is notable in that no such chance is given to the unbelievers in the biblical text.

A Christian might easily retort that Jesus nullified this and all other OT Laws through the atonement. Verses such as Matt 5:38-48 and Luke 6:27-36 do seem to indicate that Jesus held a different view. However, in light of Jesus' less charitable sayings such as Luke 12:49-53, Luke 14:26-27, and Matt 10:21-22, 34-39, combined with Jesus' famous affirmation of OT Law in Matt 5:18, is this at all certain?

Of course, this topic also hints at the contradiction between the prohibition against murder (Ex 20:13) and the legislation of death for transgressors and non-believers to be found in Leviticus and Deuteronomy. Then again, in the days in which the Bible was written perhaps such things weren't considered murder, but that's a topic for another time.

In any case, while we are fortunate that rational thought and the application of liberal theology has resulted in a more palatable version of Christianity than might have been, no Christian can claim his/her faith is any more based on tolerance or peace than Islam. The violent intolerance displayed in the OT is something Christians do well do discard, but cannot deny is indeed commanded by God in scripture.

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