Who, When, Why –10 Times the Bible Says Torture is OK

torture - job_story__image_9_sjpg1176When conservative Christians claim that the Bible God condones torture, they’re not making it up. A close look at the good book reveals why so many Christians past and present have adopted an Iron Age attitude toward brutality.

The first half of December 2014 was painful to many moderate American Christians who see their God as a God of love: A Senate inquiry revealed that the CIA tortured men, some innocent, to the point of unconsciousness and even death. As is common, evidence suggested that this torture extracted no lifesaving information. And yet, a majority of Americans responded by giving torture the thumbs up, with the strongest approval coming from Christians, both Catholic and Protestant. Faced with moral outrage, including from within their own ranks, Christian torture apologists took to the airwaves and internet, weaving righteous justifications for the practice of inflicting pain on incapacitated enemies.

torture implementsAs morally repugnant as this may be, anyone familiar with either past survey data or Christian history shouldn’t find it surprising. One of the CIA’s favored leave-no-marks torture techniques, waterboarding, was refined by Inquisition authorities during the interrogation of heathens and heretics.

There’s a reason that devout Christians past and present can turn to torture when it suits their ends and then blithely maintain that they are on the side of God and goodness. The Bible itself—Old Testament and New—endorses torture regularly, through stories, laws, prophesies and sermons; including from the mouth of Jesus himself.

Don’t take it from me. The following passages are a sample of those available, but I encourage you to pick up the Bible yourself, starting at the book of Genesis. Here, so you know what to look for, is Wikipedia’s definition of torture:

The act of deliberately inflicting severe physical or psychological pain and possibly injury on a person (or animal), usually one who is physically restrained or otherwise under the torturer’s control or custody and unable to defend against what is being done to them.

I include in this category the act of deliberately inflicting prolonged and intense suffering in the process of killing a person or animal, when the killer has the option to end the life quickly and painlessly. Merriam-Webster adds that the torturer’s goal is “to punish, coerce, or afford sadistic pleasure.”

Torture as Punishment: Eve’s Curse –Intense and prolonged pain meted out as punishment appears almost immediately in the pages of the Bible, inflicted by God himself, who curses Eve because she has eaten from the Tree of Knowledge. “To the woman He said, ‘I will greatly multiply your pain in childbirth. In pain you shall bring forth children; yet your desire shall be for your husband and he shall rule over you’” (Genesis 2:16).

torture - maternal-deathAs understood by the ancient Hebrews, physical pain would have been just part of Eve’s curse. In generations past, an estimated 1 in 10 women eventually died of childbearing, as they do today in places like rural Afghanistan where modern contraceptives and medicines are unavailable and men “rule over” women. One psychological element of the curse was repeated cycles of fear and uncertainty for a woman who might labor, give birth and then bleed out; or who (in the absence of caesarean section) might labor for days, unable to deliver, until her body gave up and she died. Leading church fathers saw maternal suffering and death as right and proper, because of Eve’s sin and the role God had prescribed for women.

Torture as a Test of Loyalty: Job –In the book of Job, torture isn’t a punishment but rather a test of loyalty. Job, a righteous man becomes the subject of a divine wager between God and Satan, who claims that Job is faithful only because he is blessed with health and wealth. Bets are laid, and over time Job is subjected to first psychological and then physical anguish. His crops fail. A house collapses, crushing all of his children during a family gathering. He is rejected by neighbors and ends up a beggar, covered in painful boils.

After Job passes the test, God restores his health and wealth, and replaces his dead children. Christians to this day frequently perceive inexplicable and unmerited suffering as a “test of faith.”

Torture for Self-Gratification and Gain: The Midianite Virgins—torture - sex slaveIn wars, victors often rape conquered females as a means of further humiliating male enemies. In the story of the Midianite virgins, though, the motivation is more instrumental. God’s command, (“Kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman who has known man intimately. But all the girls who have not known man intimately, spare for yourselves.” Numbers 31: 17-18) The girls are taken as booty of war, tallied along with livestock and gold, and the purpose of their sexual slavery is to provide pleasure and progeny for the men who have slaughtered their families.

While this story may not count as sadist torture in the classic psycho-sexual sense, it does illustrate the Bible God’s approval of inflicting intense and repeated suffering on a helpless victim for the purposes of sexual gratification and/or personal gain.

Torture as a Show of Strength: The Egyptians. The story of Moses leading his people out of Egypt is a cornerstone of Jewish identity, the basis for the Passover holiday. It is also a cat and mouse story, the tale of a supernatural being toying with mortals because he can, inflicting round after round of terror and suffering with the self-admitted goal of displaying his power.

Yahweh speaks to Moses from a burning bush, telling him to go to Pharaoh and demand freedom for Israelite slaves. He promises that the Israelites will be free. But instead of making things easy, Yahweh does the opposite: “I will harden Pharaoh’s heart that I may multiply My signs and My wonders in the land of Egypt” (Exodus 7:3).

torture - dead childHe then methodically terrorizes the Egyptian populace. He turns their drinking water to blood, then fouls the land with a plague of frogs, then sends clouds of gnats to torment man and beast, then fills fields and homes with locusts, then kills their livestock, then infects them with boils and sores, then rains down hail to destroy their remaining crops . . . . The torments go on for pages. After each round, Yahweh again “hardens Pharaoh’s heart.” The awfulness crescendos until we reach the climax—the death of each firstborn male, no matter how young or helpless, including the firstborn of the cattle.

This story endorses not only torture, but vicarious torture. Suffering is inflicted on children and animals to maximize the distress of their adult guardians and owners, producing abject learned helplessness in the face of Yahweh’s overwhelming power.

Torture as Correction: The Law and Proverbs. torture - beatingWhen it comes time for the Israelite people to devise their own government, torture—as punishment and crime deterrence—gets built into legal codes. A man can beat his male or female slave bloody as long as the slave doesn’t die within 2 days of the beating (Exodus 21:20-21). A judge can condemn a criminal to receive a similar beating after forcing him to lie down (Deuteronomy 25:2). Adulterers are to be stoned—a slow painful death that adds the extra humiliation of broad public participation (Deuteronomy 17:2-7).

The same approach is recommended for parenting. Parents are exhorted to beat their children, who otherwise will grow up foolish, and to ignore their crying (Proverbs 13:24; Proverbs 19:18; Proverbs 22:15). If you don’t think these constitute torture, I would suggest that you read some of the accounts of children who have lived for years in terror and pain because earnest Christian parents decided that godly parenting required breaking their will.

Torture as Vengeance: Elisha’s Curse. torture - cruelty to cowSome Bible references to righteous torture appear to simply satisfy the human drive for vengeance. For example, the Law of Moses contains this bizarre prescription: “If an ox gores a man or woman to death, the ox shall surely be stoned” (Exodus 21:28). Consider: The Iron Age Israelites were herdsmen and hunters. They knew how to kill animals swiftly, with minimal pain and tissue damage. In fact, rules for ritual slaughter demanded that they do so. Stoning a large, dumb, horned animal to death, by contrast, was a mob process that might take hours.

In the book of 2 Kings, an equally awful, protracted death befalls 42 youth who taunt God’s prophet, Elisha. He curses them and God sends two bears, who kill the boys by tearing them apart. Remember, if you will, that this is a God who can swiftly and silently strike people dead and sometimes does. Remember too, if you’re willing, the audio recording that the subject of the movie Grizzly Man unwittingly made of his own slow death—the interminable grinding and moaning that followed the bear attack. The moral of the Elisha story isn’t just that those who disrespect God’s messengers will die; it is that they may die gruesome, excruciating deaths.

Threats of Torture as Persuasion: In the New Testament, threats of torture appear regularly as tools of persuasion—the stick half of a carrot and stick approach used by writers who warn repeatedly of torments that will befall those who don’t repent or convert.

The book of Matthew puts these words into the mouth of Jesus: “If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life maimed or crippled than to have two hands or two feet and be thrown into eternal fire. And if your eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into the fire of hell” (Matthew 18:8-9).

Later, Jesus tells the story of an unforgiving servant to illustrate how God will treat unforgiving people:

Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to.  Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed. This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart (Matthew 18:32-33).

Grudge holders and bankers beware.

Torture as Redemption: Jesus. The crucifixion story elevates torment to a whole new level, giving torture-unto-death the power to redeem a broken world.

The notion that sacrificial killings can please or appease gods long predates the Bible, and it evolved over the centuries in which the Bible texts were written: from residual human sacrifice in the early Hebrew religion, to animal sacrifice during the temple era, to (in Christianity) the final sacrifice of the perfect lamb without blemish, Jesus himself.

Without the shedding of blood there can be no remission of sin. It’s an old concept, but in the Jesus story, the Hebrew concept of sacrifice morphs into death-by-torture. Perhaps a three-day death follow by glorious resurrection struck early Christians as cheap grace. Perhaps the followers of one Yeshua ben Yosef needed some way to explain the horrible death of their movement founder at the hands of Rome. Perhaps weary people in need of hope found a template for a suffering messiah in an ancient text. Whatever the reason, mythological or historical, torture became a defining feature of the orthodox Christian salvation narrative.

In this version of the story, Jesus doesn’t merely die for our sins, side slit or heart stopped.torture - Mel-Gibson-Jim-Caviezel He is also tortured for our sins, as centuries of bloody iconography, passion plays, imitative self-flagellation, sermons, alter calls, and now movies like Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ attest.

Modern preachers sometimes wax eloquent on this point, elaborating the tortures in graphic Hollywood detail, but the notion of redemptive suffering goes back to a time before Jesus worship: “Who his own self bore our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live to righteousness: by whose stripes you were healed,” says the author of 1 Peter. His words repurpose a passage from the Hebrew Song of the Suffering Servant: “He was wounded for our transgressions . . . By his stripes we are healed.”

To this day, Catholic ethicists propose that ill people who are suffering unto death, for example because of terminal cancer, should be offered not aid in dying but rather a Christian understanding of the value of redemptive suffering. Mother Teresa exhorted one terminal patient to think of his pain as “the kiss of Jesus.”

Torture as the Shape of Eternity: The torture most taught by modern Evangelicals is neither redemptive nor terminal; it is infinite. Perdition, hades, Gehenna, the lake of fire, outer darkness, eternal torment—hell represents the most intense and most prolonged torture the Iron Age mind could conceive and the Medieval mind could elaborate.

The concept of eternal torture crystalized between the time the Hebrew Bible and New Testament were written, and early Christian writers elaborated this concept in their efforts to woo converts.

In some of these texts, torture is the fate of fallen angels. Have you come to torture us before the appointed time?, demons ask Jesus when he casts them out of men and into a herd of swine. (Matthew 8:28-31)

It is the fate of the wicked and the wealthy:

The rich man also died, and was buried; And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. And he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame. Luke 16:22-24

It is the fate of those who serve the Beast (aka the Roman Empire) when apocalypse arrives:torture - hell

And to them it was given that they should not kill them, but that they should be tormented five months: and their torment was as the torment of a scorpion, when he striketh a man. And in those days shall men seek death, and shall not find it; and shall desire to die, and death shall flee from them. (Revelation 9:5-6)

And lest we think that days or weeks or months or years of torture are excessive, we are assured that God himself disagrees:

The same shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out without mixture into the cup of his indignation; and he shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels, and in the presence of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment ascendeth up for ever and ever. (Revelation 14:10-11)

By some accounts, witnessing the much-deserved torments of the damned will be one of the perks of heaven.

——————

Good is what God does. “Be ye holy for I am holy” God says in the book of Leviticus. The author of 1 Peter echoes him: “Be ye perfect as your father in heaven is perfect.” For many American Christians, as recent polls show, this model of perfection includes torture, as long as it is committed by and for God’s chosen people.

Religious believers often claim that without a god everything is permissible. I tend to think that the opposite is true. Without gods we are guided, however imperfectly, by empathy, fairness, and truth seeking—impulses that are built into us by our evolution as social information specialists. These impulses are enforced by moral emotions like shame and guilt and by moral reasoning capabilities that emerge during childhood. Humanity’s shared moral core can be glimpsed in every one of our wisdom traditions, religious or secular. It is the reason that our wisdom traditions tend to converge on the Golden Rule. Do unto others doesn’t offer a neat answer in every situation, but it does offer a coherent objective.

By contrast, religious morality, dictated from on high, can be as contradictory or cruel as the god doing the dictation, or the culture that created that god. When god is the supernatural version of an Iron Age warlord, that’s when everything becomes possible—including torture.  And God said, let there be torture.  And there was torture.  And it was good.

———

Valerie Tarico is a psychologist and writer in Seattle, Washington. She is the author of Trusting Doubt: A Former Evangelical Looks at Old Beliefs in a New Light and Deas and Other Imaginings, and the founder of www.WisdomCommons.org.  Her articles about religion, reproductive health, and the role of women in society have been featured at sites including AlterNet, Salon, the Huffington Post, Grist, and Jezebel.  Subscribe at ValerieTarico.com.

About Valerie Tarico

Seattle psychologist and writer. Author - Trusting Doubt and Deas and Other Imaginings. Founder - www.WisdomCommons.org.
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84 Responses to Who, When, Why –10 Times the Bible Says Torture is OK

      • Duos Soud says:

        Hey Valerie waht are you doing to a young in Botswana who has been formatted not to question anything from the Bible, the word of an ALL LOVING YAHWEH..You are hot lady… my struggle with this dark side of God has been overwhelming…but the people who surround me are the ones I’ve been leading in HIS praise and worship. I’m done with HIM but they stick around and I cannot tell them with ease fearing Imight hurt them.

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  1. Daniel Wilcox says:

    Valerie, Would it be okay to repost some of your powerful article to my blog? Or would you prefer I only post a connecting url?

    Thanks for this lucid overview of torture, Scripture, and the Bible. At first as I was reading, I was taken aback, since my own past faith (basically liberal Quakerism for many years) strongly opposes torture. And even some orthodox Christian leaders have struggled with the eternal torture of Hell going all the way back to Origen and before in some of the early Church Fathers.

    However, it’s shocking how many Christian leaders in the last 10-20 who have come out in support of torture, offensive war, etc.

    Your article shows vividly how torture is so embedded within the Christian worldview. Tragic.
    (I do differ with your choice of an alternative world outlook, but that’s for another discussion:-)

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  2. shatara46 says:

    To have condensed all that information in such a short account is a veritable tour de force, MS Tarico

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Reblogged this on Pretentious Ape and commented:
    Here’s an excellent post by Valerie Tarico. It’s really not surprising that many Christians condone torture, considering that the religion is built around a divine threat of torture. How could one categorically condemn something that god does?

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  4. vonleonhardt2 says:

    I find it sad that someone in the light of the last century still points to the inherent kindness of mankind. You’d think “thought reform” and Auschwitz would make people hesitate to even go there.

    The thing about all the examples you gave is the idea acts have consequences. Evil has consequences, folks will die 100 years from now due to our greed and refusal to stop burning fossil fuels. And that in turn will lead to centuries of struggles…

    I don’t personally see hell as eternal, but I think hell and punishment are the only things that let the race keep it’s dignity in the face of the things its capable of.

    And there is Justice to account for too.

    But I don’t see any example of God water boarding anyone… just him not being nice. Since when was his job to be a cosmic force for niceness?

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    • shatara46 says:

      Quote: “I don’t personally see hell as eternal, but I think hell and punishment are the only things that let the race keep it’s dignity in the face of the things its capable of.
      And there is Justice to account for too.
      But I don’t see any example of God water boarding anyone… just him not being nice. Since when was his job to be a cosmic force for niceness?”
      a) Question then: in your paradigm, hell as described in the bible, does actually exist, as in a real place and constitutes the torture by fire torment for all those who refuse to worship Yahweh? If not “eternal” (as in “forever and ever) then how long does it last? (Less than eternal means one must be able to put a time on its duration.)
      b) Justice: from whom, and for whom? Who administers this Justice, and on what legal set of laws is it based?
      c) God claims through his inerrant, divinely inspired by himself, word that he is a God of love, does he not? Then there’s that little quote of Jesus: be perfect therefore, as your heavenly father is perfect. What sort of perfection would we be expecting from God: Perfectly not being nice?
      God is not the cosmic force for niceness, yet he’s the ultimate example/image for man to look up to if man wants to become perfect. Does this mean that the fuddlementalists have it right? If God can be a “not nice cosmic force” doesn’t that automatically give the freedom to his sycophants to not have to be nice to others (or to each other for that matter)? Question follows: how low can one take not being nice to one-another? Torture? Mass slaughter of innocents? Chemical warfare? Genocide? Why not? What’s the problem? God endorses these concepts.
      “Huston? We’ve encountered God and we, uh, have a problem.”
      *But I agree with you on the first half of your comment.

      Liked by 1 person

      • you ask the best questions shatara !

        Liked by 1 person

      • vonleonhardt2 says:

        A. The hell described in the Greek is a place you burn trash, so I guess as long as that takes… Origin thought it was temporary even for the devil.
        B. It’s set on God’s laws, every Kingdom bows to a greater force, so his would be the greatest. It’s spelt out in leveticus. And deuteronomy, which BTW of you read Josuah and the taking of the promised land, you have to realize that the same law and writers are behind jerimiah and the destruction of Israel and Judah so they lens it through their tradigy.
        C. Infallible, inerrant is a modern construct that voids inspiration. Love isn’t unconditional, and no human treats with respect or wants a love that is. No single verse can back up the unconditional argument. And the call is be holy as I am holy not perfect.

        I don’t see how God endorsed these things when from gen 3 he who kills a man will be killed by man to the gospels he who lives by the sword seems pretty universal against it.
        I also don’t see the innocents thing, nations where destroyed yes, but what ethic says kill the soldiers but spare those that arm then if all life is equal.
        There’s a reason why the e early church was pacifist.

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      • Think Always says:

        Nailed it! Especially that since the Bible teaches “God is love” he most certainly should be loving.

        The justice argument for Christianity doesn’t work since the purpose of it is to restrain and discourage evil. An omnipotent God would have no need for justice. In fact, an omnipotent God would be neglecting justice by allowing the injustice we see on the earth. Postmortem punishment has no redeeming quality since by then it is too late to discourage wrongdoing.

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      • shatara46 says:

        [quote] The justice argument for Christianity doesn’t work since the purpose of it is to restrain and discourage evil. An omnipotent God would have no need for justice. In fact, an omnipotent God would be neglecting justice by allowing the injustice we see on the earth. Postmortem punishment has no redeeming quality since by then it is too late to discourage wrongdoing.
        In my opinion, best comment yet.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Gunther says:

    Looks like we have learn nothing from World War II and the Cold War except to adopt the torture methods of the Gestapo, the French torture methods during the Algerian War, and the Communist regimes torture methods and use them during the Vietnam War, and during Central American communist insurgencies. We also modified them to perfection and then write laws to justified using them. Why bother to prosecute the Nazis and Japanese at all when using torture makes a shambles of us being the good guys of World War II?

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    • shatara46 says:

      Perhaps a correction in in order. Central American “insurgencies” were not at all communist led. They were “socialist,” sure, but their main focus was to attempt to rid themselves of utterly corrupt and despotic US supported dictators who made their opponents “disappear” daily; who murdered in plain sight, who tortured children in front of their parents, who tied people to posts, or trees and cut their genitals or breasts and stuffed them in their mouths then left them to die. When I worked for the Central American Friendship Committee, based in my home town, Chilliwack, B.C., Canada, I met with a nurse, (with pictures), who had treated a man who had had his hands and feet tied, pushed down on the street in public, in broad daylight, and driven over time and again with a jeep until almost every bone in his body had been broken. His crime? “They” suspected that a brother of his was a Sandinista (Nicaraguan revolutionary force). The point was to create a reign of terror, instilling so much fear that the people would stop demanding decent wages, justice for those imprisoned for no reason and simple human rights. Oh, and under Reagan/CIA contras, the tortures I briefly glossed over intensified. Entire villages were wiped out, men, women and children beaten, cut up and their bodies left hanging from trees. Most Americans never saw those images, just as they never saw and will never know what really happened in Viet Nam. Some may remember those seven nuns who were raped, tortured to death and their bodies left on a roadside in El Salvador – the work of CIA backed Contras.
      “We’ll know our disinformation program is complete when everything the American public believes is false” (William Casey, CIA Director, 1981)
      “The owners of this country know the truth: its called the American Dream because you have to be asleep to believe it.” ~ George Carlin
      How in hell, I’d ask myself decades ago, did Americans ever get the idea that they were in any way, shape or form, better than anyone else? Simple, I know now: pure, relentless flag-waving propaganda. (I know, off the topic – just hit the “play” button to resume…)

      Liked by 3 people

      • Gunther says:

        It will probably be another 40 to 50 years before we have a book that describes the things that you had mention. Remember the book Kill Anything that moves by Nick Turse? The documents regarding widespread American atrocities that had been given to him were by sheer luck and had been buried for 30 years after the US pulled out of Vietnam War.

        I stand corrected when using the word communist when labeling the insurgencies in Central America, I had use the wrong word. Unfortunately, most Americans think that leftist and communist are one and the same thing. They couldn’t understand the differences between various leftist groups even if you explain it to them in layman’s language.

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    • Present dominant culture puts a lot of value on maintaining facade. Apples are designed to appear “flawless” and taste is less important. Politicians caught in criminal acts offer skillfully coached apologies. Torture is perfected to not mar features so it’s almost too incredible to be believed.
      Oh, and The Christian explanation that God is ALL Good, and whatever is “outside of God” is evil, puts God surrounded in that which is not God or not good….God swimming in a soup of eternal evil?
      not a very helpful analogy.

      Like

  6. Gunther says:

    We did not learn from the Spanish Inquisition either.

    Like

  7. tiffany267 says:

    Reblogged this on Tiffany's Non-Blog and commented:
    Wow. I could have intuitively concluded that Christianity is wrong about torture, but not so factually as is done here.

    Like

  8. jcmmanuel says:

    Hi Valerie,

    We’ve ‘met’ before. And although you certainly make some valid points, I still think you make a lot of mistakes too. So while I appreciate you as a person and writer, you and I, being both atheists (I suppose), are not really agreeing on every point. I see you get very strong confirmation by atheists here, as well as fierce defense by Christians – and neither of these are very relevant as far as I see. Let’s just look at this from a non-religious point of view, I will quickly summarize my personal idea about your list.

    Let me address your first 2 points as a good example. Eve and Job: both are myths (the stories bear all the characteristics of it). Their origin may be pagan, then adapted – we don’t know for sure. Like most pagan myths, they contain elements that weren’t meant to be taken literally. Compare with the myth of Abraham who was about to sacrifice his son Isaac: even there, reasonable people understand the story was very probably written to contrast with child sacrifice at that time – we would not fight that with such a myth today of course, but back then, no one had a concept of human rights yet, and stories were a way to invoke a change of mind. The same thing applies to the Adam and Eve myth, and the telling of Job and his suffering. Honestly, even as an atheist I really don’t see anything in there that justifies jumping to conclusions about ‘turture’.

    Also, I notice the terminology problem here. This word ‘torture’, from a latin root, is being redefined in retrospect when you apply it to a time more than 2000 years ago. And in your third case (the Egyptians) you say that Yahweh “terrorizes the Egyptian populace”. A word like terrorizing inevitably has a context of modern day terrorism – which has its roots no less in Western imperialism, Western support of the dictatorships of Arab countries and so on. So again this is big leap if you think of it. And again, this is a myth. God did these things in the same way as the Olympic gods did the weirdest things – but these are stories and therefore they are all sorts of things, and to the Hebrews it was certainly catharsis. All peoples had such stories, especially when they were taken captive. There is nothing here very different from what we see in other non-Biblical stories. The problem is not that some bad things are being depicted here. The problem is that you select biblical stories and present those as if they are at odds with the rest of the planet. Or, you don’t put these things in the context of its proper time frame (using modern day terminology to identify the actions, etc).

    I won’t address all the stories. Maybe just ab out the crucifixion: this story has different meanings depending on which theology one chooses – and even non-religious philosophers may agree that “giving your life for someone else” can be seen as a great principle if applied to the right situation. Yet, no doubt there is a need for a critical eye, because none of these stories are (from my point of view) sacred or divine. But, even while 2000+ years ago people didn’t have our insights in human rights and things like that, they had wisdom, and sometimes the wisdom of the past still amazes us today. We all know this – and we have to be careful when we address the past.

    You see, I really understand the need for a rebuttal of modern day christian fundamentalism. Christians who hate gays and love guns, hate prostitutes and love killers of abortion doctors, love pretending to know gods will but hate to act more like Jesus etc. – such people should be facing fierce resistance from all over the world as far as I’m concerned. But let this resistance be fair, not a ‘bending’ of the bible stories towards the lowest possible point of dehumanization, because it is VERY unlikely that this is really what all these stories were about.

    It is not wrong to leave more room for interpretation, when there is no evidence to the contrary. I think in the long run, the way you approached it here will be counterproductive. As I’ve said before, people in the past – including believers – had 30 billion brain cells too. They weren’t as foolish and ‘evil’ as we sometimes seem to believe. Your intent may be entirely positive but I highly doubt that your approach was fair and adequate, and I doubt its good effect in the long run.

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    • shatara46 says:

      Well made point to Valerie’s post, jcmmanuel, but you may have missed the target. Valerie’s point (which is also mine as a layperson who has in depth knowledge of [working] Christianity in both its Catholic and evangelical aspects) is that Christians use these violent biblical attributes of their god to justify their own evil ways. It doesn’t matter in the least whether the bible is historical or mythical: believers cannot, by definition, make that distinction and in any case, no matter how much they are shown that they are standing on air, it only solidifies their faith. Again, quoting this church billboard: “If your faith is strong enough, facts don’t matter.” Faith is a deep and abiding addiction based on an accepted set of hermeneutics (which I would call the circular study of biblical propaganda). Quoting Hebrews: “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” Something has to happen within the mind-heart of an individual to break that belief system. Something that causes compassion to break through from which the faith addiction unravels bit by bit in light of that new freedom. Until that happens they remain impervious to any barbs of reason.

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      • jcmmanuel says:

        I’m not so sure that I “missed the point”, Shatara46. My point is not to say that a thief shouldn’t be punished for stealing even if he happens to defend his acts on the basis of, let’s say, Hannah Tinti’s book “The Good Thief”. In fact, my point is not even just the fact that “The Good Thief” is not a bad book just because someone is using it in defense of unacceptable behavior. My point is that treating books that way is not a good idea if we want people to reject nonsense without also turning them into people who can’t tell a good book from a bad book anymore. Because in the long term, we’re not doing ourselves a great favor that way.

        You make the mistake yourself when you say “It doesn’t matter in the least whether the bible is historical or mythical”. My point is exactly the opposite: it matters a hell of a lot, whether an atheist understands and appreciates myth properly or not – and this would be true even if all Christians would be bible literalists (which is not the case). Because it is always important that our arguments are right, well positioned within the context of the subject we are talking about. From the fact that a Christian is, let’s say, ignorant about the myth-factor (let’s just say they have never heard of the Jesus Seminar or never heard the names of the better theologians and text critics and historians out there) it doesn’t follow that the best way to deal with this flaw is to give them answers “from the ignorant point of view” if I may say so. That’s how Dawkins and his ‘new atheists’ approached religion – and it never worked out well, we just have a lot more ‘radical atheists’ now who love shitting on the heads of believers on one side, and pissed Christians and Muslims who think all atheists are just serial negativists who just want to have a fight and have zero respect for those 5+ billion believers out there. It never worked and it can never work. A good reaction will always require an opponent who knows what he or she is really talking about – c.q. religious books have a lot of myths in them, those myths can be recognized according to certain rules and most myths convey some important, positive message. THAT is – in my humble opinion – how a truly reasonable atheist would approach it.

        Of course this is still my own opinion on the matter – everyone is free to reject it. But if you want to debate this, you need a good argument not to treat these things this way. What the “church billboard” says has no significance with regard to the question how to approach the subject properly. Moreover, there are bad church billboards and there are good ones – again: let’s not generalize too much.

        Also, your position that “Faith is a deep and abiding addiction based on an accepted set of hermeneutics” is only targeting a particular view on faith. Faith is also a human (or humanistic, if you like) property of all human beings – the ability to anticipate certain possibilities – and by that I don’t mean wild guesses but more like informed guesses. Such faith can be informed by human intuition, hope, or a sudden insight (perhaps with serendipity involved), there is no reason to “let believers run away with faith” as you seem to be inclined to do. I won’t believers let run away with that. I would rather steal it back from those who adhere to “false” forms of faith, and cooperate with believers who believe in good things (biblical or not).

        No hard feelings, but I find your approach much too binary. This is not how I see the world and its religions.

        Have a good day.

        Liked by 1 person

      • shatara46 says:

        I don’t see jcmmanuel comment here, just on my email. {quoting:} “Faith is also a human (or humanistic, if you like) property of all human beings – the ability to anticipate certain possibilities – and by that I don’t mean wild guesses but more like informed guesses” In my opinion, that’s taking the meaning of faith out of the normally understood and accepted context. Faith is a religious thing, and that is how I was obviously using the term. Any other definition has other names for it, from wishful thinking to extrapolation – but that is not the TECHNICAL definition of faith. Faith is to believe in some divinity, and to act from that belief. I have had such faith, and acted upon it and that is why I call it an addiction, because that is exactly what I experienced. Faith is a mind-altering “drug.” Ever been to a Pentecostal meeting when people start “speaking in tongues”? Do you know how dangerous that is when they believe that only a certain person in the group can interpret the mumbo-jumbo being spewed out? That “Spirit filled” individual chosen to interpret can say anything he likes, no one can contradict. If he interprets the “tongue” as saying, “Kill homosexuals!” then that is how the congregation has to accept it – no choice in the matter.
        Whether you like it or not, or accept it or not, as far as the rank and file is concerned, “faith” is a religious term, not a secular concept. I’m not trying to be difficult either, just trying to explain from the point of view of the rank and file (myself and whole lot of other folks who have no college/university education, not high-end erudite types with degrees. And by “binary” can I assume you mean I see the world in black and white? I do.

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      • jcmmanuel says:

        To shatara46: I don’t know why you don’t see my former comment – I do see your response. We will have to disagree. The issue with faith is pretty simple: many words in religions deserve a definition which preserves its original context but takes it out of the realm of the pure divine. The result of that is often a definition that makes full sense and also often identifies something that we are missing in our secular vocabulary. Perhaps reading more Alain de Botton could be helpful in this regard – he’s an Atheist philosopher who does that a lot too, and who learned a lot from religion apparently. Whatever you think a “out of the normally” meaning of faith is – if it’s a good thing then why would I be interested in being scared to use the good thing in a finer tuned definition which is not religious anymore, yet preserves the good thing as such. Having faith in something we intuitively think could be true is what made people like Einstein go on for years, and string theorists today do the same, and so on – for years, without being sure if the end result will be correct. But they know they are on to something. This is simply a matter of not underestimating the human genius. And calling if Faith is meaningful because that’s exactly what this kind of perseverance is – and nothing of it has to be some wild or idiotic guess, because it is, as I said, an informed guess.

        There is absolutely no requirement for you to use a terminology that you don’t like – but for others like me, who find in such words something very important that other words don’t express – I will happily “steal” this word from religion, without scruples and without the dreaded feeling that some have only because they think they should absolutely “get rid of” anything that reminds of religion. I don’t know that kind of fear and I don’t want to know it. When it is useful, I will reuse it. I see no reason to eliminate historically interesting words from our human vocabulary. We have “faith” in science too because some axioms are just that: axioms, we take them for granted. But why do we believe them? Because they seem to work. Therefore we come to believe, after a while, that if they are so often working, they will be true. That is essentially good faith. It is a feature of realism, to faithfully accept something that SEEMS to be right – even while we realize we may have to revise the current idea later on.

        I have indeed no stomach for seeing the world in black and white. The human world certainly isn’t. And the human world is what has my interest more than anything else – especially as an atheist.

        Liked by 1 person

      • shatara46 says:

        Discussion kind of slipping away from the original post, but just a quick point, and [quote] ” Whatever you think a “out of the normally” meaning of faith is – if it’s a good thing then why would I be interested in being scared to use the good thing in a finer tuned definition which is not religious anymore, yet preserves the good thing as such.”
        The problem I see with that is one of connotation. If you’re only addressing a small private group of like-minded people who understand “how” you use the handy word, it’s fine, but if you’re out in the public, particularly a public that already has a definition for that word, it won’t matter how you define its meaning: prior usage and majority rules. I prefer to coin my own words such as “Earthians” for example to refer to the people of earth. No religious or political connotation – basically a neutral word, better than “Earthlings” which implies condescension. If the word is already “taken” it’s wiser to leave it to those using it. The word “faith” has a very specific meaning to religious people. It really is their word. It belongs to them by common acceptance. I’m no believer, neither am I an agnostic or atheist, choosing to believe all things and to believe in none, but I think that atheists should be smart enough to coin their own word the replace “faith” especially since being an atheist automatically excludes faith. To repeat, faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. Faith doesn’t have to work, that’s not the test at all. Faith is to believe IN something that cannot be tested by physical or rational means. Any “science” that depends on faith (psychiatry, for example) is not science, it’s gobbledygook. Best I can do to explain where I’m coming from.

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      • jcmmanuel says:

        Shatara46 wrote: “If you’re only addressing a small private group of like-minded people who understand “how” you use the handy word, it’s fine, but if you’re out in the public, particularly a public that already has a definition for that word, it won’t matter how you define its meaning” — But I was neither addressing the public space nor a small private group. I was addressing religious groups like Christians (2.4 billion) and Muslims (1.6 billion). All their communities have a notion of faith that can be tuned towards well known, more philosophical definitions of faith like the one I proposed, and from which we derive expressions like “science is done in good faith” and so on. There is nothing against bending theological definitions towards better philosophical ones as far as I’m aware of. In the public space (where people of all kinds meet for a face to face conversation) I wouldn’t use the word this way without explaining it properly (although there too it might be worthwhile doing so – when the occasion is right).

        When you suggest you don’t believe in anything you’re saying something that can’t be proven. Everyone believes in certain things that cannot be proven – including atheists, no matter what they claim. Without the possibility to believe in something we can’t function as human beings. The problem is not in believing things. The problem is when beliefs become claims in area’s where evidence is necessary, and missing. Beyond that, most denial of faith (or anticipating trust) is useless.

        Your word “Earthians”, I have no problem with it. In Europe we would call this a intellectual or moral Esperanto – a term coined by one of ‘our’ atheist writers, Paul Cliteur. But this language is only needed in the public space (or the political space as a political philosopher would call it).

        Your claim “Any “science” that depends on faith (psychiatry, for example) is not science” I have to reject. Psychiatry belongs to the field of the social sciences and while there is always more discussion there about exact status of things, we are not to dismiss certain fields of science just because aspects of it are often debated – the many peer-reviewed articles on psychology, psychiatry and all related fields cannot be dismissed, neither can the scientists be dismissed just because the field is not “hard defined” so to speak (as in the hard sciences where hard delineations are in some ways easier – although in other ways not, ref. the whole debate between quantum theorists and string theorists). Being too quick to dismiss parts of science like this is also at odds with the fact that in the end, we are all just human, and we all live our lives subjectively. There is no easy way to “dismiss” studies that target aspects of our humanity without cutting of the branch we are sitting on.

        You probably use such arguments because they seem to be useful against religions? I don’t know – but if so, then I would say this is again fighting with the wrong weapons. We should not dismiss scientific research just because we “feel” there is more risk that religions could “misuse” that part of science. Remember how the Big Bang was dismissed because it was thought that the whole idea could possibly be used in support of Genesis 1. But this fear was unjustified. In fact it was irrational.

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      • shatara46 says:

        Why do I feel like you’re talking to me from the upper deck of the Titanic and I’m in a kayak beside the ship about to be flipped over by its giant wake? The Titanic “is” a fine ship, certainly, but the kayak will flip back up and when it encounters the iceberg, will gently slide off of it, no harm done. You weren’t “listening” when I wrote “I believe all things, believe IN nothing.” To believe IN something means to allow it to have full mastery over me. One serves whatever one believes IN. That requires faith. Once caught in that trap it’s not easy to extricate oneself from it. On the other hand I don’t get emotionally knotted up over what others believe. I can believe anything, including the existence of pink elephants who fly in the night sky as long as someone doesn’t come along and tell me I must believe IN the pink elephants (to be saved, or whatever). One of man’s most serious failures is not allowing others the freedom to believe whatever they wish. That goes for “both” sides of the duality principle called life. As for the term “faith,” well, you believe it means one thing, I another. Mine is a strictly religious term, and from what you write, I think that what you really mean instead of faith regarding science is something like probability factor or degree of probability. Faith does not countenance any degree of probability, it’s an absolute… or it’s worthless. Ask any believer. And so, for the record I don’t believe in science anymore than in religion. Dangerous toys people play with and use to fight each other.
        Here’s a “faith” quote from a well-known smart guy: “Christians hold that their faith does good, but other faiths do harm. At any rate, they hold this about the communist faith. What I wish to maintain is that all faiths do harm. We may define “faith” as a firm belief in something for which there is no evidence. Where there is evidence, no one speaks of “faith.” We do not speak of faith that two and two are four or that the earth is round. We only speak of faith when we wish to substitute emotion for evidence. The substitution of emotion for evidence is apt to lead to strife, since different groups substitute different emotions. Christians have faith in the Resurrection; communists have faith in Marx’s Theory of Value. Neither faith can be defended rationally, and each therefore is defended by propaganda and, if necessary, by war.” (Bertrand Russell— Will Religious Faith Cure Our Troubles?
        Thanks for the challenge, enjoying it.

        Liked by 1 person

      • jcmmanuel says:

        I don’t really debate ‘feelings’. I’m just short and trying to address the issues (an arrogant attitude is an assessment you make, I’ll leave that uncommented). The remark about believing “IN” (something or nothing) seems obvious enough – I didn’t address it for that reason. The whole thing about “believing… in pink elephants” is a language I always tried to avoid, because it gives the wrong impression to (serious) believers that their way of believing is totally misunderstood. To me, a belief is also a way of coping and interpreting. I’m probably ‘hardcore’ atheist – I know 300 percent certain that there is no such thing like a god or a universal spirit. But I know this for myself alone – I think rational thinking always leads to non-belief in god but the reason why rational believers resist it is because they feel (like I do) the temptation to see the world as too harsh without the hope of such a god. And I respect those feelings in others.

        Your interpretation of faith (“in strictly religious terms”) may be interesting enough, but to me faith is too human to be defined strictly. We humans believe in many things in a wide variety of degrees, including rational (informed) beliefs and less rational ‘hopes’. (Pink elephants are never among these beliefs though – I’m just saying). Often the only thing that will deliver a good definition (or description) is asking people what they really mean. The same thing is true for what people mean by ‘religion’. We can be bookish about that and offer people some multiple choice question but in reality that doesn’t work. Those things cover too much to attempt subjecting it to rigid definitions. My own reflex may be to want to simplify it – but then I learned (for myself) that this is only working for me. And what’s important in this world is not that some definition works for me – it has to work for the other who is explaining his experience to me.

        Likewise I don’t reject Russell’s definition of faith per se. I reject a rigid application of Russell’s idea of faith upon others, that’s all. Russell may have believed that “all faiths do harm” – they certainly did, the kind of faiths he had in mind, that is. But Russell didn’t have the whole world in his head. I’m pretty sure he too knew people whose faith did do harm to nobody. In other words he made a general statement about the bad kinds of faith we often see in religious followers of certain ideas – this is justified. But it is far from the complete picture (all the more while Russell wrote half a decade ago).

        There is no god, there was no resurrection. No virgin birth. Jesus wasn’t the figure described in the Gospels – only some part of it describes probably accurately a person like Jesus minus the mythology – IF Jesus existed at all. Saying that and arguing it may matter when we face false beliefs – I suppose we can agree on that. Yet none of these words matter when I talk to a reasonable, loving Christian who knows these things too, but holds on to the story because the story IS the vehicle that conveys a rich message from the past, written down by (arguably) mostly wise people – even if they were simple fishermen. A philosopher like Paul did probably a lot worse than the gospel writers – although as a Philosopher of Will he had some interesting thoughts too about how human beings err and struggle (e.g. Romans 6-8).

        And yes, this is or was an interesting exchange of thoughts.

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  9. stephen says:

    What is written here seems like a variation on Ivan’s position in the “Rebellion” and “Grand Inquisitor” chapters of Dostoyevsky’s “The Brothers Karamazov.” In fact, I wonder if Ivan wasn’t an inspiration here since you end your piece with a rejection of Ivan’s conclusion that, without God, “everything is permissible.” Dostoyevsky, as an Eastern Orthodox Christian, doesn’t have the same understanding of things because, quite frankly, the theology of what became Roman Catholicism and Protestantism goes astray in different ways, particularly in reference to the Divine Energies of the Trinity and the energy of Love. The West simply has no idea or well articulated doctrine of the Divine Energies, as is evident in the disagreement between St. Gregory Palamas and Barlaam. But I digress. In the “Brothers Karamazov,” the existence of evil is considered alongside of the mystery of freedom: no freedom, no evil. Why? Again, because love can only be genuine when it is freely given, freely accepted, and freely returned. In this way, Elder Zosima (modeled on Elder Ambrose of Optina Monastery) offers an Orthodox understanding of how we all contribute to evil and are all responsible for the sins and atrocities committed by others. But how is this possible?

    The only way one can approach this is through the idea of the psycho-sphere or the noosphere, ideas that are not, admittedly, part of Orthodox teaching; even so, these ideas provide a glimpse into how we can all be guilty of evil and yes, the torture that happens around us. Consider this: suppose you have a bad day at the office because your boss is hounding you. You need to meet projected numbers or else. After a miserable long day, you stop to get gas at the corner gas station. In your foul mood, you’re short with the attendant, a single mother struggling with getting child support from her no good ex. Of course you don’t know this but you don’t care — you’re lost in your own troubles and take it out on her. Your behavior worsens her’s and puts and leads her dark frustration and despair. She goes home, loses control, and kills her two kids. Are you responsible? Let’s suppose even further that your boss treated you so poorly because he or she was pressured by the division Manager. We can go further up the line until we get to the Wall Street Analysts who met with your CEO and demanded that certain numbers be met. But you live in this culture, you provide your Lockean tacit or implied consent to its principles, its values, its logic by being a participant in it. Your actions and thoughts are broadcast like so many radio signals up into the psycho-sphere or noosphere (I realize this is not exactly Chardin’s use of the idea, but a variation of it) only to have them rain back down on you in the form of the culture you live in. So, who is guilty of killing those kids? The evil we enable and perpetuate is often invisible to us. But so is the good — consider George Bailey in, “It’s a Wonderful Life.” He can only come to see his presence in the world when he sees his absence: presence is known through absence and absence through presence. How, then, can we judge others and be so quick to point out the evil around us when we contribute to the “signals” we broadcast up into the psycho-sphere / noosphere?

    One can respond to this post offering alternative interpretations of history — Karen Armstrong’s recent book, “Fields of Blood,” does that; or, you can quibble about how to read events in the Bible: for instance, the plagues of Egypt are each directed at an Egyptian god, representing one of the passions or vices. You can also look at it philosophically, a problem that pits Nietzsche’s idea of the Will to Power and creative destruction against Kierkegaard’s idea of despair and defiance of God as the demonic. If one rejects God and chooses the path of Nietzsche / Ivan Karamazov, can you really move “beyond good and evil?” What would that mean? Perhaps one might think that some sort of liberal democracy, agnostic with regards to metaphysical questions of good and evil, won’t devolve into the kind of nihilism we see today.

    One last note in regard to Hell. For Elder Zosima, Hell is a spiritual condition — the inability to love. So, how could a God of love punish someone in Hell? Suppose a father has two sons. The first son learns to love his father despite being chastised and upbraided by him. He comes to see that his father’s actions are intended to promote his well-being. As a result, his love for his father grows. The second son sees his father’s actions as domineering, patronizing, and mean-spirited. He hates his father and sees his actions as an attempt to usurp his autonomy. Now, the father loves both sons. When he goes to embrace them both at the same time, the first son experiences his love as joy — a communion and affirmation. The second son, however, experiences his father’s embrace as painful and hateful. Mystically, this is what burns those in Hell: the Divine Energy of love is present to those in Heaven and those in Hell but experienced quite differently by the latter. If the second son has rejected his father and defined himself in opposition to him, he can’t experience his love and embrace in any other way than as “Hell.”

    Liked by 1 person

    • shatara46 says:

      A great argument. All being points I have considered throughout a perplexing time: one physical incarnation. When it comes to this “me” in the ocean of thoughts and ideas relating to man’s confusion of purpose, I imagine myself putting my hands, arms, down into this plethora of thoughts and gently pushing them aside to leave a blank space in the middle. On this blank canvas, surrounded by a ceaselessly stormy ocean of conflicting ideas, I rest my own mind and allow myself the luxury of child-like wonder. This little piece of canvas is mine to put down my own thought, before I remove my hand and arm barrier and the ocean sweeps back in. That thought that I put down is “compassion.” Not love, the ocean is full of every kind of love, but compassion expressed strictly in one individual, single-minded purpose. I freely admit this is a form of solipsism and that’s good. Now I am responsible for everything and there is nowhere to place blame for the things I don’t like – I just need to accept them until I can change them. When acting from compassion there is no longer any need to wonder about doing wrong: it is no longer possible. In contemplating a solution to man’s problems, I need something simple and tangible, something I can put in my pocket or purse and carry with me everywhere that won’t anger or frighten others. I need a jar of the balm of Gilead. That means I cannot carry any belief system – those are weapons. I cannot believe “in” anything. Compassion can only work where there is complete freedom for everyone I touch. That is how I deal with evil and attendant guilt. In this way I can read and absorb what you wrote above, Stephen, without getting confused in the relationship of the course of hypothetical, but only too real, events you describe. Thank you.

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      • stephen says:

        And all the best to you in your ongoing quest and project. I’m too prideful and flawed to have discovered any of these thoughts on my own. I have to credit reading the lives of men like Elder Paisios and Elder Joseph of Mt. Athos — they, if anyone in recent years, have reached a state of love and compassion.

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      • shatara46 says:

        One who so readily admits his “faults” as you do is already a long way up that straight and narrow road. Happy new year!

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    • those who have even reluctantly embraced Heaven and Hell must come up with some scenario where it can appear like “the right thing”. This I did also for years. We create scenarios as yours or Dantes ,where a place of eternal suffering “makes sense”. But let me ask you Stephen, if one of your own children were to be eternally “tortured by Gods loving embrace”, and there was just nothing you or God could do, and you had to leave her there to go upstairs to where the eternal new years party was happening…would you simply forget your daughter? or would you have reached a state where you are so happy in heaven that her suffering would no longer bother you, or you would be so enlightened by Gods presence and new knowledge you would even agree with God and know she was in the place she was meant to be… will you enjoy heaven knowing your daughters in hell? These are not questions to pin you in, they are just the kinds of thoughts I deal with, and good answers are more scarce than fur on a fish, from Christians. No one has been able to answer this question above yet…maybe because such an image of eternity is ghastly.

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  10. Pingback: Vridar » Morality: Why and What Is It? (And more blog serendipity)

  11. stephen says:

    The question you ask is a fair one and one that has been mulled over for centuries. However, in my opinion — and this is a matter for each person to struggle with — it betrays a kind of legalism that one finds in Western Christianity more so than in Eastern Orthodoxy. Hell is, in my understanding of Orthodox theology, closed and locked from the inside. We put ourselves in Hell. Of course, how God judges each person will depend on what they’ve been given and what they’ve done with it. There is a story — I can’t remember its origins, perhaps St. John of the Ladder — where twin daughters are orphaned at a young age: one is adopted by a stable pious family with means and the other by a shady person who is a member of some sort of traveling troupe, like a circus member. In any case, it’s absurd to think that God will judge both girls according to the same standard. We have to be careful in assuming that we can know or plumb the depths of the Divine psychology of God. As one monk told me recently, many of us are likely to be surprised on judgement day to find who is saved and who isn’t: people we thought were destined for Hell may end up in Heaven while others we thought were saved will find themselves in Hell.

    Assuming for the moment that in the next life we will maintain the same sort of relations that we do in this world, at some level, what can we do about those that are damned? In a way, I don’t see the question as any different from what you would do in this life regarding a child that has decided to fall into a life of drugs, addiction, or crime. Speaking with regards from my own experience regarding a sibling, there was only so much any of us could do to keep them from taking the path they did. Again, we’re ultimately talking about freedom. A friend in high school had a sister who was artistic, creative, and highly intelligent. But, she was also depressive and prone to think about suicide. Her parents, in their concern, ultimately decided to have her undergo shock therapy. In a matter of months, the young woman in question wasn’t suicidal anymore; but, the person she was was gone. In an effort to curb the risky consequences of her freewill, they essentially removed it through shock therapy. So, what would you have God do? Remove freewill? Could you even have an “I-Thou” relationship at that point? Would you even be a person?

    I can’t say what my reaction would be if I saw a loved one in Hell (assuming I don’t end up there myself). But, what would it mean to blame God for their being there if they put themselves there in the first place? My sibling, who preferred a life of drugs and addiction, despite having multiple opportunities to turn around, wanted to be where they ultimately ended up. We fashion who and what we are with each choice we make — like a sculptor, chipping away at a block of marble to fashion the emerging figure created by our strokes over time. Think of Wilde’s “The Picture of Dorian Gray.” The fact that Hell is so terrible is what led St. Isaac the Syrian to pray for the demons there and ask God to have mercy on them. Perhaps that is what I would do if I were to make it to Heaven. Beyond that, I can’t really say.

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    • shatara46 says:

      Happy new year, Stephen. Now you’ve taken Valerie’s point to a whole different level, not questioning “why” a God of unconditional love would invent/create/maintain the most horrible means of torture imaginable, but what to do since “hell” is a given in your paradigm. Well, I’ll tell you: if God just absolutely (God, being absolute can only act in absolutes or he’s not God) had to have a hell for those who won’t bow down to him, then as God he should be the one residing there. Based on what the bible has to say about him, he’s there already, and in all likelihood he’ll be the only one residing there in eternity. Any alternative is simply not possible. It required half a lifetime for me to finally break free of God and associated power systems of organized religions. I had to do that to discover the horror of it. Now I can address concepts of compassion and empathy without having to be a complete hypocrite. The problem with God is when you put your faith in that, it’s a package deal. You don’t get to choose what you like, what you don’t. This is way worse than belonging to the SS or the KKK. Those misguided Christians who think they can soft-pedal hell, or “hope” it does not really exist are deluding themselves. [Of course this argument assumes “God” in the biblical sense, exists. I don’t care since it has no hold on me, but I can argue “as if” in order to have reasonable discussions with people of faith, keeping in mind that for believers, “faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”] Question for you: do you think there are only two options open to man – the religious path which means an eternity in a heaven or a hell under the oppressive dictatorial ever-presence of a violence-loving God, or the atheist conviction that life terminates upon physical death? Is there not a third option – or for that matter an endless number of options for the intelligent, sentient, self-aware being? Since both classic options basically make a mockery of one’s life on earth, surely our intelligence must seek for a better answer?

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  12. stephen says:

    I can understand why people think of God in the way you describe. Again, I think this is a result of a kind of legalism that is, perhaps, due to the West following Augustine in his understanding of The Fall and what came to be known as “original sin.” If you believe the Fall caused a complete rupture between God and creation and a totally depravity in Man, then you eventually end up with the view of humankind as an unworthy worm, barely tolerated by an angry God who resembles an Old Man with a beard, keeping track of every thought and action ever done or contemplated. This is diseased and a product of a morbid, legalistic way of thinking that sees sin in a juridical way instead of as an ontological mode of being. In other words, sin isn’t “breaking the Landlord’s rules,” but a reconfiguration in one’s heart, a structuring of the inner person in his or her mode of being. As such, Hell wasn’t invented first and then the rest of creation came after. God did not create the “penalty box” and then the game of hockey. To play hockey means there will be a penalty box. Applied to God, if it’s possible to love God, it’s possible to reject Him as well. If you reject Him, what should He do?

    Imagine you’re a billionaire with a wayward son. He’s fallen in with the wrong crowd and developed a penchant for heroin. He’s addicted and he can’t break free. You could set up a trust fund, hire a qualified doctor, and set up means for him to have a steady supply of his drug under the supervision of a qualified doctor for as long as he has his addiction. Is this something you’d really want for him? As parents, we often say, “I want the best for you,” or “I want you to be happy,” but these aren’t the same thing. What makes our sons or daughters happy may not be what is best for them — consider the hypothetical above. Now, should God create a sort of matrix for those that reject Him and let people live in any way they want? Well, in a way, that’s what Hell is — it’s some kind of state or place (or both) for those that don’t want God. It’s not a jail house for those that have broken the law; it’s a place for those who’s mode of being is structured or informed by their rejection of God (and, so I would have to think, of love). In this way, Hell is not for those that will not bow down to God. God respects freedom. Hell if for those that prefer, like the addicted son above, to live with their addictions. Here, it seems to me, it’s a matter of what is in the deepest recesses of the heart. If you know people with addictions, you might say that they are aware of them and don’t want to be ruled by them. In some cases, the alcoholic or the gambler is able to kick the habit. Then, there are others that like where they are and don’t have any interest in changing. There seems to be a difference here (at least to my way of thinking) and it has to do with their respective “modes of being”: the former want to change but, for whatever reason, can’t; the latter don’t see any reason to change and embrace their addictions. The former do not see their personhood or identity as comprised by their addiction; the latter, in some sense, define their selves and being in terms of their addiction — it is “who” they are. Hell, then, is for those whose mode of being is molded or determined by their “addiction” to a rejection of God. The wealthy father who painfully and against his will provides heroin for his unrepentant son cannot free his son from the Hell the son has created for himself through his addiction to heroin. The father cannot force his son to leave that Hell if the son won’t make an attempt to “reconfigure his mode of being.”

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    • The loving father and prodigal son analogy works great for human beings, but doesn’t apply to an omniscient, omnipotent deity who designed the whole entire system the father and son lives in, in the first place. Few have problems with natural suffering that achieves something beneficial. The argument “Hell is a wonderful idea” (If God designed it , it would be wonderful, right?) ” using the argument of “free-will” fails in a number of ways. (Laying aside the current debate in psychology whether or not we really are as free as we think we are) freewill as it exists becomes a scenario which embraces not simple natural suffering but insidious evil , and the allowance of a stronger persons freewill to impose on a weaker persons freewill. What freewill does a raped child have when she cries out in agony to a deity that won’t (or can’t?) interfere with her rapists freewill? The very freewill this deity custom designed allows for the most insidious evil one could ever imagine just so the said deity could enjoy the few “tested’ friends to worship him forever in eternity. Is that Grace? What kind of deity would declare that ALL the billions of children brutalized raped and murdered on earth was somehow worth it all, worth the blood and agony of these earth children…that he “loved.”..and anyway, once in heaven we’ll forget them and will never hear their screams in hell( yeah, some likely blamed this deity for not loving them enough to rescue them)….but in heaven we’ll be enlightened ignorant and in bliss…I have a problem with this.

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      • shatara46 says:

        Problem with this? Yes, and me as well. Well presented argument.

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      • stephen says:

        Current debates in freewill are split between determinism (which is not fatalism) and some form of compatibilism. The problem with these debates is they’re often offshoots of debates in the philosophy of mind and the status of mental states: if every mental state is subserved by a brain state then there most only be physical states and we can say goodbye to some form of Cartesian dualism. At least in recent years, the idea of what is referred to as “eliminative materialism” — that there are only physical / brain states — has been rejected to make room for some idea of the mental that falls outside our current understanding of “the physical.” So, the old classical idea of determinism where causes and effects are related like billiard balls knocking into each other has been soundly rejected. In it’s place is the idea that actions are determined by physical states of being but free in the sense that we don’t have law-like generalizations within which we can predict or understand mental causation. One can reject these ideas but it’s not a foregone conclusion that freewill doesn’t exist.

        Your example of the raping of a child is, to my way of thinking, Ivan Karamazov’s argument in “The Brothers Karamazov.” It assumes that if God created a world — any world — He is responsible for whatever happens in it since, if He didn’t create it, the events in it wouldn’t exist either. Applied to our own situation, you as a parent are then responsible for whatever actions your children and your children’s children and your children’s children’s children, etc, do. After all, if you didn’t have children the terrible things they do would have never happened. This only makes sense if you assume some form of determinism or assume that whatever is created is of necessity the responsibility of the creator “all the way down”: even if your kids have freewill, nonetheless, you chose to have them so their actions are on you.

        Additionally, at what point do human beings start taking responsibility for what happens around them? In “The Brothers Karamazov” Elder Zosima says we are all guilty before each other for everything. This, to my way of thinking, suggests something like a psycho-sphere or noosphere — a collective conscious that we all contribute to in our own way through what we do. In this way, it is we who help shape a culture. But we don’t want to say when we read about the rape of a child, “I contributed to that” because we can’t see how our actions have rippled throughout our life-world to add or subtract to the universal balance of evil. It’s tempting to want God to intervene but do parents do this with their own children? Do we force the bottle of whiskey from our adult son’s hand when he’s drinking too much? Do we force our adult daughter to leave the husband that’s no good for her? There is no evil without freedom — I suspect that is what really bothers people.

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      • shatara46 says:

        [quote from Stephen’s post: “He is responsible for whatever happens in it since, if He didn’t create it, the events in it wouldn’t exist either.”] “God” realized that very thing in Genesis 6: “The LORD was grieved that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was filled with pain. So the LORD said, ‘I will wipe mankind, whom I have created, from the face of the earth — men and animals, and creatures that move along the ground, and birds of the air — for I am grieved that I have made them.’”
        But he couldn’t bring himself to do it. It must be assumed that any creator does not create on a whim, he/it does it to give himself/itself purpose, i.e., to give itself life, reality. The “LORD God” could only exist in space/time through his creation. In our sad case (in keeping with the creator God theme) we are the result of a morally bankrupt creator who’s obviously left the scene of carnage resulting from his twisted attempts. So now we basically make it up as we go along without a clue as to where it’s all going. Hence why the religious types desperately hang on to their mythologies: while they’re swimming they want to see a shoreline on their horizon. Atheistic evolutionists do exactly the same in their unquestioning trust in scientific achievements and undying faith that in time it will answer all questions. I call that the Linus blanket syndrome (ref. is to Charlie Brown cartoons). Both God and science are creators that demand worship so as to remove man’s need to accept responsibility for himself. And both have plunged, and will continue to plunge, this world into horror while their sycophants continue to believe they are completely trustworthy and benevolent. Neither God nor science will ever take responsibility for the results of their evil acts – from Sodom and Gomorrah to Hiroshima and Nagasaki; from the Draconian Law of Moses to DDT, Napalm, GMO’s and Roundup. Only the bits of “good” they do are we allowed to remember and talk about in relation to these gods. (And if I don’t think about this comment to deeply, I can convince myself that it still relates to Valerie’s original point… {smiling!} )

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  13. Stephen, you’ve made some powerful points, but your analogies don’t work. While it may be true that we wouldn’t force one of our adult children to stop drinking.
    BUT we would forcibly stop the same individual if we knew he was going to “rape a child.”
    What kind of morally sick parent wouldn’t stop that?

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    • stephen says:

      The larger point that Dostoyevsky is after is, I take it, that if we have freedom there will be evil. In other words, if God prevented every evil from happening we would not be free. If we were not free, we could not respond to His love — we could not enter into a relationship of communion. Suppose it’s your son that is the rapist of children. The docs tell you the only way to cure him is to conduct a frontal lobotomy but it will have other serious side effects as well. You could lobotomize him but the person your son is — admittedly a very troubled one — would no longer exist. Could you have an authentic relationship with him? Without freedom, and yes, the freedom to do terrible things, there could be no authentic relationship to God.

      As far as Shatara’s points, the picture of God as a morally bankrupt creator is, in one form or another, not unlike the Demiurge of the Gnostics. Does this mean, then, that the morality of the God of the Bible is to be rejected in favor of something else? What would that be? Here, I think we circle back again to Ivan Karamazov. If God doesn’t exist, or He is to be rejected, then, contrary to what Ms. Tarico said above, it’s hard not to conclude that “everything is permissible.” If there is no God, then there is no metaphysical essence to evil and we’re in a world of Nietzschean “will to power” where the values of good and evil are simply perspectives or psychological projections. No one that I’ve read as ever adequately addressed this problem. The only person more recently that seems to have struggled with it in a philosophically sophisticated way is Richard Rorty. In short, Rorty seems to think we can all agree that cruelty is bad, counter-productive to the community. We can then build communities based on a pragmatic consensus of what promotes human flourishing (read Aristotle) and develop some sort of liberal democracy that is agnostic with regard to metaphysical principles of right and wrong — except for a rejection of cruelty. There’s more to the view than this but this seems to be the idea in a nutshell. So, what’s wrong with that?

      Well, what we consider cruel can change. Consider the Aztecs. Human sacrifice and cannibalism were part of the political, religious, and cultural structure of Aztec society. If there is no God, who’s to say the Aztecs are wrong? Close to home, what if in two hundred years time and various cultural and social transformations, it’s decided that it’s okay to eat aborted babies? What if in two hundred years time the age of consent is lowered to 5 years old? They’d look back on us and think, “Those poor people that went to jail in the 20th and 21st century for statutory rape — what unenlightened times.” In our own day, is electric shock therapy cruel? So, if you reject God, what moral language do you then speak to condemn anything as morally wrong?

      As far as Genesis, you raise good questions. My understanding is that God created out of an overabundance of love. When a man and a woman fall in love, their desire for greater intimacy at the deepest levels of their being results in the sexual act which can result in the creation of a new life — a child. Their love overflows the boundaries of the self and a child results. There is an overabundance of love between the Persons of the Trinity and it overflows in creation. Now, would you have parents not have children? Again, I don’t see God as demanding anything. Certainly the Gnostics believed the Christian God did but I don’t see the Gnostics as offering anything better. They themselves ritualized sex, engaged in magica sexualis that, if Danieliou is to be believed, resembled tantric practices and Kundalini. Where does that lead? Well, if one rejects all of this too, as an atheist, how are you going to morally condemn any practice? If there is no God, there’s no God to blame for child rape. So, we’re here in a nihilistic void of nothingness that has no meaning and no purpose. That, however, leads to the madness of Ivan Karamazov and the kind of cruelty we all want to wipe out.

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      • (Stephen says:”Without freedom, and yes, the freedom to do terrible things, there could be no authentic relationship to God.”) There are a lot of faith-based assumptions built into your theology and even embedded in this sentence. But what I hear you saying over all is “Thank GOD for evil, if it hadn’t been for evil I wouldn’t be in a love relationship with my God, Evil was one of the best things that ever happened to the human race.”……I have a problem with this.

        Anyone who praises Evil as the only ticket to true freedom and love, and the necessary path to the divine, needs to look a lot closer at their theological assumptions. It is not only contradictory , it’s even potentially dangerous because so much evil has been justified by rationalizations as these.

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      • Think Always says:

        Hi Stephen. With all due respect, I believe the ‘Free will cannot exist without evil, therefore God is good because He created free will’ argument is deeply flawed. When factoring in an omnipotent and omniscient creator one cannot include an outside factor that influences His actions. The entire premise is built on the hypothesis that evil is necessary for free will to exist, and that God is limited by this fact. This would mean that God is not omnipotent, since the assumption is that He could not have created free will without evil being a necessary side effect. But an omnipotent God most certainly could have created free will without evil, unless you are willing to deem Him subservient to a hypothetical external law.

        The only way to rationalize the existence of evil is to conclude that God wanted evil to exist. Anything less would make Him an impotent divine consequentialist. This is why I could never call God ‘good’, since He must have wanted rape, murder and torture to exist for the sake of rape, murder, and torture. A omnipotent God cannot claim that it was the ‘lesser evil’ when He sets the rules to begin with. The usual dodge is that God did create a place like that called Heaven, but that does not forgo the fact that God still wanted this type of suffering to exist, even temporarily. Add to that the concept of Hell on top of that, and you’ve got a God with a serious sadistic streak. What good father would knowingly subject their kids to rape and torture, then afterward, throw them in fire where they would burn forever?

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  14. stephen says:

    I suppose we’ll have to agree to disagree. While you see in my understanding an acceptance of evil as a price for freedom I see in yours an unspoken dualism. I don’t “thank God for evil”; rather, I see evil as a consequence of the freedom to choose to respond to the love of God. In this way, I don’t see evil as a substance but rather an absence or negation of God and His love. Is the donut hole real? Well, in a way it is because without it, you wouldn’t have the donut. On the other hand, it’s the result of the form of the dough itself when its fashioned in the way donuts are. Evil — is it real — like a donut hole? It’s real insofar as its being is parasitic on what the good is — in the same way a donut hole is parasitic or the result of the form of dough; but, it’s not a substantial thing in and of itself (you can’t buy a bag of donut holes — unless you want to buy a bag of air), of equal reality as the being of the good — that’s dualism and I can assume you don’t want to argue for that. In this case, how do you even speak of evil (or good, for that matter)? Is it just our preferences at any given time? Were the Aztecs right? If you do believe in some sort of spiritual reality or being, it must be free or separate from the determinations of good and evil of the Christian God. What, then, does this scale of good and evil look like? Does it condemn the Aztecs? The problem with saying I’ve built faith-based assumptions into my position is that you’ve done the same thing: you can’t claim your position doesn’t have metaphysical commitments of its own that are not part and parcel of what you understand to be good and evil — or God, or freedom and determinism, for that matter. Here, if we reject freedom as necessary we then risk embracing the kind of nihilism one finds in Beckett’s “Endgame” where nothing means anything. This kind of nihilism is what made the 20th century the bloodiest the world has seen.

    On a separate note, thank you for the discussion — both you and Shatara. I always learn something new from frank, courteous discussions. All the best to you and yours, Richard —

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    • Richard, I appreciate the careful explanations you have given us about how evil can arise for humans if we are to have choice (if there’s going to be a climb up a cliff, there is tragically also the possibility of choosing to jump to one’s death).

      However, this doesn’t explain the many millions of years of suffering and pain and waste of animal evolution even before humans evolved onto the scene.

      Nor does it, in my opinion, explain the necessity of the Black Plague and other horrendous diseases or millions of infants born deformed, even missing their brains:-(

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      • Daniel, I think you are addressing Stephen and not myself on this one… and Stephen I do eventually want to address some of your questions…because I think they are important ones.

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      • shatara46 says:

        Agreed, Daniel. The problem is in the act “love of God.” Despite all evidence to the contrary, religious (God) people remain convinced that their God is a God of love. So pervasive is this and so blatantly wrong that even before I left religion I had given up on love. Love is Evil. There, I’ve said it and I mean it. Now it’s possible for an evil God to be love. It’s possible to love an evil God and most important of all, it’s possible to enter into the most horrible acts of rape, enslavement, murder and genocide in the name of God who is love without the least qualms. In this belief system, there is no conflict of morality. The antidote, and I’ve found only one, is to force oneself to become a compassionate being through strict self-empowerment. This necessitates detachment and self-sacrifice. It’s the only way I have found to break completely free of the “God” (or other Powers’) conditioning. Choosing compassion as a way of life takes one to “the edge of human” and ultimately one becomes fully human.

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    • Stephen, I appreciate the careful explanations you have given us about how evil can arise for humans if we are to have choice (if there’s going to be a climb up a cliff, there is tragically also the possibility of choosing to jump to one’s death). (Sorry for the earlier misnaming.)

      However, this doesn’t explain the many millions of years of suffering and pain and waste of animal evolution even before humans evolved onto the scene.

      Nor does it, in my opinion, explain the necessity of the Black Plague and other horrendous diseases or millions of infants born deformed, even missing their brains:-(

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      • stephen says:

        When discussing the issue of theodicy, I’ve always found disease a difficult issue to address — or, I should say, the kinds of disease there are. When one looks at the numerous terrible diseases, it’s hard not to wonder why some or all of them could not have been removed from the equation of creation. My understanding — which may not satisfy others — is related to what happened during the Fall (I’ll offer my thoughts on evolution a bit later). The account of the Fall is, to my way of thinking, at one level literal and, at another level, allegorical. Humankind was intended to grow ever more in the likeness of God. In this mode of being, Mankind had immediate noetic access to God — God was present to and in our thoughts. I can only approach an understanding of this by likening it to a parent’s relationship to his or her children: in the early years, the parent is shadowing the infant and toddler, providing a foundation for the full moral development of the child while taking steps to prevent being burned, shocked, bit by the dog, or falling of the porch, etc. As the child grows, the parent has to step back and let the child walk on his or her own. This “stepping back” will continue until full maturity.

        At some point, one’s son or daughter begins to be a more fully developed moral being. Now, for any parent out there, you know that, while you continue to love your children, they can hurt you by doing things you don’t agree with, even if those things aren’t intended to rebel or reject you. I suppose during the early teen years, the relationship between parent and child may be permanently damaged if the child begins to grow apart from the parent and loses a level of love or respect for his or her parent. Assuming you look out for the well-being of your child, this “rupture” exposes your child to influences and other things that can harm them physically, spiritually, or psychologically. Again, I come back to the issue of freedom — unless you’re prepared to force your will on them in some way, you can only grieve for your son or daughter in whatever unfortunate circumstances they’ve allowed themselves to fall into. This is how I understand the Fall: it did not change God’s love for us but it created an ontological rupture — think psychological rupture if you like — on our side that exposed us to the consequences of falling out of communion with Him: even though your child has fallen into something terrible, you still love them, though their life of addiction or crime will only expose them to disease, sickness, maybe even death. So, when the Fall happened, it created a breach that could not be repaired from “our” side of the divide. Just like an addict or criminal caught up in a life of crime will often only spiral down, down, down ever further, we too spiral when cut off from God.

        It’s interesting that the first murderer, Cain, is considered the founder of cities while Egypt and other cities are identified with tyranny, sorcery, passions, and idolatry. There is, in the Bible, a constant dance or relationship between the inner and the outer, between what the story of the ancient Israelites endure in the physical world and what it symbolizes or images in the heart. In this way, time and space collapse in the Bible as historical event and symbol resonate with the trajectory each of us must undergo. This isn’t intended to sound like Campbell’s “Hero with a thousand faces,” or Jung, but there is an element of a common narrative shapes and structures because we all share the human condition in common.

        Evolution is an interesting and big question since we’d have to first establish that evolution is a testable, verifiable theory. When I read Darwin and studied biology in school, there were no confirmed instances of speciation as required by Darwin. Today, however, what people mean by “Darwinian evolution” sounds alot like Lamarkianism — something Darwin rejected — and, absent a few alleged instances of speciation among plants, nothing close to speciation has been established. Since the Leakys were publishing, there’s been an unending debate about what the fossil record shows. In the 80s and 90s, Stephen Gould’s punctuated equilibrium was a way to try and get around this. But, let’s set all that aside. I don’t read the Bible as a scientific theory nor, necessarily, as history in the sense of “history” that we think of today. Rather, it details Man’s relationship to God and provides a story that leads directly to the Mother of God and the Incarnation. I don’t doubt the existence of dinosaurs or Neanderthals but I don’t believe their existence falsifies the Bible either. We don’t know what part prehistory played — or plays — in the eschaton. So, even granting the assumption of evolution, it doesn’t falsify the Bible anymore than the existence of galaxies or the space-time continuum does — there is, after all, A LOT of wasted space and matter floating around out there.

        I’m typing fast so please forgive any mistakes or misspellings — the eyes aren’t what they used to be —

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    • on the topic of free will and the necessity of evil. i was listening to a great lecture today by Prof. Teofilo F. Ruiz on early Christian Mystics and he mentioned something VERY interesting but maybe its so obvious it never registered. He was referring to a comment of Saint Bernard who stated something like this: “We are taught that we are born with free will but actually we really didn’t have a choice in the matter.” I think this is actually quite illuminating even though Bernard took this insight and went off on a different direction.

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  15. shatara46 says:

    I see no “edit” function to comments, so meant to add, …fully human, meaning one gains the power to take responsibility of “all of it” without the need for God (organized Religion), or other Power (divinities) such as the State (politics) or Money (finance). It is these Powers that are eating this world up and their power comes from Earthians conditioned to believe they cannot live without them. So they worship, serve and die in ignorance.

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    • stephen says:

      I’m sorry I didn’t comment on your thoughts earlier — I had to take care of a few things. I can understand how someone could feel the way you do — I’ve discussed the issues you mention with others I know and have heard very similar things. I guess my take on things is a bit different because I attended Orthodox churches composed 98% of Russians for a number of years. I met elderly people who were born in pre-revolutionary Russia who saw the Bolsheviks murder their family members. One woman lost her grandmother when she went out to look for food during Stalin’s famine. Another woman had her father, who was a priest, murdered by the Bolsheviks only to watch communist sympathizers spit on his casket as it was carried to the cemetery. Our church warden was orphaned during Stalin’s purges when his parents were murdered by the NKVD / Cheka. Those that were not fortunate enough to leave with the White Russians to Harbin, China had to survive Stalin, then the Nazis, then Stalin again. Some were lucky enough to find their way to the West only to have the allies deport some of their relatives back to the Soviet Union under Operation Keehaul — yes, American and British forces sent Russian civilians back to Stalin and his Gulags at the end of the war. These people saw rape, genocide, murder, and war at the hands of an atheistic, secular government. Churches were dynamited, monasteries closed or destroyed, and hundred of thousands of priests and monastics murdered — all by a secular, atheistic government.

      If you’re interested in the topic of religion and violence / evil, you might want to give Karen Armstrong’s new book, “Fields of Blood” a read — it casts an interesting light on the issues you mention.

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      • shatara46 says:

        Yes, I know quite a bit about the Russian revolution and Stalin’s purges, I have Jewish and Mennonite acquaintances whose families were destroyed in the various purges, caught between the Nazis and the Red Army. It would do you good to refresh your history on the massive oppression and murders perpetrated by the Czar in collusion with the Russian Orthodox church which WWI finally sent over the edge. The communist revolution was deliberately forged between the hammer of Czarist oppression and the anvil of the Orthodox Church. For me this piece of European history isn’t just academic. My father was in the French army, then the underground (WWII). He was captured and sent to forced labour and then the camps where he saw and suffered the horror first hand. He survived and throughout his life, on the rare occasions he talked about it he said it was a miracle that saved him. A compassionate German doctor falsified documents and had him sent home to Brittany. But do you realize that from your own “one sided” point of view you validate my point: that all these things, these forces, are powers that people worship and kill for? Stalin was the State – Power #2. Today the displacements and genocides perpetrated against the poor of resource-rich countries are done by Money, Power #3. Next, Power #1, organized Religion will return to rule with a vengeance. You won’t see this until it’s too late, or you will accept it as a good thing. It’s the never-ending cycle until people choose otherwise, as self-empowered, compassionate individuals.

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  16. Stephen, thanks for sharing more of your perspective.
    Where we disagree:
    #2 first. You said “Evolution is an interesting and big question since we’d have to first establish that evolution is a testable, verifiable theory.”
    Actually, evolution has been tested by genetics and found to be true, indeed “fact. According to Christian geneticist Francis Collins, (and other Christian biologists such as cell biologist Ken R. Miller of Brown University),
    “The evidence is overwhelming. And it is becoming more and more robust down to the details almost by the day, especially because we have this ability now to use the study of DNA as a digital record of the way Darwin’s theory has played out over the course of long periods of time… I would say we are as solid in claiming the truth of evolution as we are in claiming the truth of the germ theory. It is so profoundly well-documented in multiple different perspectives, all of which give you a consistent view with enormous explanatory power that make it the central core of biology. Trying to do biology without evolution would be like trying to do physics without mathematics… Evolution is not a theory that is going to be discarded next week or next year or a hundred or a thousand years from now. It is true.”

    Collins is the former head of the Human Genome Project and now head of the NIH. The explanations in his pro-evolution book and other articles such as at Biologos.com and the evolution book by Christian cell biologist Ken R. Miller finally convinced me, too, that the evidence for Darwinian evolution is “overwhelming.”
    I opposed Darwinian evolution for over 45 years, but finally realized I was in serious error.
    #1 I understand your explanation of “free will” and the Fall. In fact I used to give a similar kind of explanation to atheists and others for many years. The dark side of human beings is powerfully obvious. Even the atheist psychologist Eric Berne spoke of how every human has a “little fascist” within that needs to be opposed.
    Where I don’t think the Fall account works is in explaining why there is horrific disease and natural disasters which often, almost always indeed hurts and kills the innocent, especially the young. Disease and natural disasters have existed for millions of years, human beings, at least homo sapiens only about 1 million.
    #3 Even in the case of the view that God doesn’t intervene every time a human sins because he has given each of us free will (though of course many Catholics leaders from Augustine to the present, and almost all Reformed/Lutheran leaders, etc. deny we have any free will; most of them even think infants are “in essence, evil”)
    As I started to say, even in the free will case, according to Scripture, God does intervene at times to protect humans from grievous evil. Many examples can be given from the Old Testament and the New Testament. And Roman Catholic legends of the saints claim many such interventions too.
    So it would seem there would be no necessity for God to refrain from stopping horrific slaughter as in the 30 Years War when almost a third of all Germany died, or in the Holocaust when 6 million Jewish persons, and 4 million others were executed in the concentration camps or in the case of Stalin’s purges (or for that matter the slaughter by the various Russian Czars, the slaughter of almost a half million innocent civilians by the U.S. and its allies by intentional bombing, etc.
    Nor does it seem that it’s necessary that God allow millions upon millions of infants to be born only to die in early childhood because of various curable diseases.
    The Fall (however it literally happened between humans and God) can’t explain so much evil, though I do agree it does explain the strange cases of how “normal” citizens can choose destructive courses in life such as pornography, drug abuse, domestic abuse, etc.
    What’s weirder is how redeemed, supposedly freed from overt sin, Christians can so avidly support horrific evils such as slavery, torture, the slaughter of civilians, intolerance, persecution, racism, etc.
    In my life experience, the most ethical individuals I’ve ever met were not Christiansvav in the creedal sense of the word. Rather strange. I still don’t understand why Christians so often support evil, while non-Christians often oppose evil.

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    • shatara46 says:

      {quote} “I still don’t understand why Christians so often support evil, while non-Christians often oppose evil.” Putting my paddle in, maybe where it’s not wanted, but I have done quite a bit of thinking and research on that. It comes down to the simplistic notion of eternal life, heaven and hell. By virtue of grace, Christians are guaranteed heaven. If they “sin” they ask forgiveness and their insurance clause cuts in. If they do anything in God’s name (service) by definition that can never be sin. Some years back a stripper gave her life to Jesus. When asked why she did not change her profession afterwards she simply stated that now she was stripping for Jesus. Remember the Papal legate’s words at the sack of Beziers when he was asked what to do with the people who now claimed to be Catholics. “Kill them all, God will know those who are his.” was his reply. That’s the mindset of religious people. It’s the same with the Moslem fanatic’s belief in the 70 virgins. Also seen in the movie, ‘The Gladiator’ where he could see his wife and son in some Roman “heaven” of sorts. It’s Religion mind programming. I wouldn’t say non-Christians, but rather *non-religious types* have to exercise a bit more caution as they don’t have guaranteed eternal life ahead of them and must make the most of this one. A bit more incentive to live and let live maybe.

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      • stephen says:

        Perhaps our reading or understanding of Russian history will take us in different directions — or perspectives, if you prefer. In English language sources, Russia is often portrayed as a tyrannical European backwater where peasants didn’t have any say or rights. Given the way peasant communes were set up, they actually had quite a bit of say in matters that were of concern and interest to them. We could argue the point but I’m guessing we’d end up disagreeing about just how despotic Tsarist Russia was. I will say that Tsarist Russia is often compared to the Liberalism theory of a Locke or Mill rather than the reality of life in the Liberal Capitalist West. In short, I don’t think there is any shortage of injustice and persecution to go around. My father’s side of the family is Cherokee Indian and we were kicked off of our lands by Andrew Jackson. We ended up in Oklahoma after the Trail of Tears. Were things noticeably worse of Russians in the 1830s? During this time, America, founded on the Enlightenment principles of Locke, Montesquieu, Rousseau, Kant, etc, enslaved Blacks and were kicking the Indians off their lands. Additionally, you’ll have to point me to sources that detail how the Orthodox Church planned or participated in some form of genocide or ethnic cleansing. I know Jews were removed to the Pale of Settlement by Catherine the Great. Alexander II issued land reforms that were intended to put an end to the awful conditions in the Pale but revolutionary politics and assassinations made it difficult accomplish much. Is this what you’re referring to? If not, if there are books you can recommend I’d like to read them for my own knowledge. Even so, what do you make of the communists? They were often secular Jews, atheists by confession, who murdered millions. Are you suggesting that the Tsar and Church got what they had coming to them?

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      • shatara46 says:

        Since this is Valerie Tarico’s space and this is completely off her topic, I don’t think it’s proper to continue this discussion here. I don’t know if there’s any restriction on posting one’s email address here, so I won’t at this point, but it would be better if we communicated privately. I just started a group at Yahoo called ‘The 13th Step’ which you may want to use for this if it’s important. There’s only me on there now, so good vehicle. Just apply to join, I’m the moderator.
        the-13th-step@yahoogroups.ca

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      • shatara46, thanks for sharing your perspective and giving several excellent real-life examples. Very powerful ones!

        However, I don’t think all religious people are necessarily caught in “Religion mind programming.” In my case, and many others, we dropped into this world surrounded with the culture, customs, and worldviews that our parents’ and their society (whether dominant or minority) had. In my case I grew up in a Midwest moderate fundamentalist Baptist family. Then we grew, experienced, learned, etc. As we did we modified, changed, reimagined, altered all the givens that we could affect. Why I mostly left my birth worldview while others hunkered down in it is hard to say. There are so many factors including alternative choice, temperament (I seem to have been born, not as a whiner or believer but a “why-er”:-), education, experience, etc.

        And “nonreligious types” don’t escape this ideological world they got dropped into either. They just came to different conclusions because of different experiences, different perspectives, different choices.

        Both groups can be, at times, deluded, irrational, biased…or insightful, thoughtful, objective…

        I do think Valerie has keen insight though as to how fundamentalistic religion destroys and justifies all manner of evil (done in the name of goodness).

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    • stephen says:

      Admittedly, my knowledge of biology is 25 years old. The mechanism by which it is accomplished, when I was in school, was thought to be crossing over in genes. My point, however, was more philosophical. If evolution isn’t Lamarkian and proceeds by mutation (crossing over), then how are adaptations preserved? Darwin argues from the example of artificial selection on the farm to natural selection in nature. I can see how Mendelian genetics applies to artificial selection. But natural selection? I’m not surprised that the scientists you mention above are proponents of evolution AND Christians — there are many that are. Still, I’ve not come across an explanation yet for how mutations are preserved in the case of natural selection. If a longer, narrower beak confers an advantage on a bird and makes it more “fit,” then how does that bird pass along its adaptation? Is there any guarantee that the mutation that resulted in a longer narrower beak will be passed on to offspring? And their offspring? If it’s a matter of DNA coding, how does that work? Phenotypic changes are, as I remember, the result of genotypic changes. The problem, however, is that any tweak in genes will rebound with potentially any number of changes in the chromosomes. In other words, whatever DNA change led to the genotypic variation that resulted in longer, narrower beak is likely to be accompanied by other changes as well. Do these changes make the “new adaptation” more robust or vulnerable? Darwin’s answer seems to be — stronger, if it lives and passes its adaptation on to its offspring. This seems to beg the very question it was meant to answer. I suppose that was my point. Of course, these ideas (or crazy thoughts if you like) are not original to me — there are other Christian and non-Christian skeptics out there — biologists and other kinds of scientists — that have voiced them more eloquently than me. Of course, none of this answers an essential question that Darwin in the “Origin” admitted he could not: why is there something rather than nothing? Even if Darwinian evolution — or something like it — is true, that doesn’t explain how all of this came about. From what I’ve read by Hawking or other popularized accounts of theoretical physics, current theories don’t really start from nothing — I mean, the actual non-existence of anything. Rather, they start with some sort of quantum state or string theory or something. This question hasn’t been answered philosophically either — though it’s an ancient one.

      As far as why God does what He does, I can’t say. Imagine what our actions would look like to an ant colony. You might attempt to encourage ants building an ant hill to move it over a few feet so you can plant your tomatoes. However, every time you do something to remove their hill out of they way, they tear it down and go back to the original place they began. You see things that ants can’t fathom. You have a degree of rationality and self-understanding that isn’t available or comprehensible to the ants. I suppose it’s similar for us — we can’t fathom the depths of the Divine psychology. I’m sure that isn’t a satisfactory answer for some but I don’t see that there is anything about it that makes it necessarily wrong. Evil, then, is still a matter of freewill. We still have to look to ourselves before blaming God. Again, should we blame parents for the misdeeds of the children and their grandchildren and their great grandchildren? Or, is JD Salinger responsible for the murders committed by those who claim inspiration from his novel, “Catcher in the Rye?”

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      • shatara46 says:

        Stephen, I let that one sit on the backburner for a while, and re-read it a few times. Not being a scientist, it was a bit of mind-trip to follow the first part, and frankly in really don’t care whether “life” as we know it is a mystical sort of happenchance swaddled in creational or hard core evolution. The point, as I’ve made over the years is, we’re pioneers, so the road back there is no longer our concern. We’re here, there’s no turning back, now what do we do with the wilderness we’re faced with? And a wilderness it is. We haven’t conquered it, we’ve just spread like maggots through it and sampled what was the easiest to grab. As to not blaming God for our problems, there’s a problem with that too, Stephen. The problem is biblical: God’s own words, in cursing us and our world to ensure we would never, ever find comfort or peace in it, no matter what we did, not until He, in his inimitable wisdom (!) decided it was time for a final ethnic/religious cleansing and ushered in his “new heaven and new earth.” I can’t remember my parents doing that to me. They did the opposite, as far as they knew how. Yes, God is most certainly to blame, in spades!
        Having said that, let me reiterate that I don’t believe “IN” God. I know such powerful entities exist, having encountered some of them, but I don’t exercise faith in their benevolence. As below, so above. If we want to know what’s out there, we need only focus on what’s in and around us, the micro of the macro. For those who believe they issued from some God, then let them consider that their forebear, God, is exactly as they are, and has the same mind. So, we torture those we are supposed to love because our God first tortured those He is supposed to love – unconditionally.

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  17. loveyourdna says:

    Religion and its ancient texts are a sort of test for modern times and whether or not we will accept the ideals of the “God” of choice. I see our actions as failing miserably. What God would have his creation act so destructively as we have in the past and present? There is hope. The future…

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  18. Pingback: Psicóloga afirma que a Bíblia é a favor da tortura, e que o próprio Deus é um torturador | Beréia News

  19. Laura George says:

    Val: I especially enjoyed this one – which I just reposted. I LOVE when you list the examples of horror in the Bible – it is so instructive (and easy to read) for the people down here … Rev. Laura M. George, J.D. The Oracle Institute A 501(c)(3) educational charity An Advocate for Peace and a Vanguard for Conscious Evolution http://www.TheOracleInstitute.org http://www.Facebook.com/OracleInstitute Home of the Peace Pentagon 1990 Battlefield Drive Independence, VA 24348 (276)773-3308

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  20. Pingback: Psicóloga afirma que a Bíblia é a favor da tortura, e que o próprio Deus é um torturador | Tube Gospel

  21. Pingback: Kill in the name of religion - ZoneAsia-PkZoneAsia-Pk

  22. Kit Holz says:

    The Bible was changed 100 of times and every ruler added what was convenient for him.

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    • Cordelia says:

      I do not see your evidence if you are indeed referring to kings of Israel and Judah (in the Old Testament). The Jews took great stock in truth; much of the material written on kings was negative and outlined in detail the “evil they did in the eyes of the Lord”. I wouldn’t be rushing to say it was changed very often to fit their individual fancies.

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  25. Pingback: A Brutal Christianity: We’ll See More Cruel Laws like Indiana’s Until the Christian Right Is Defeated | MasterAdrian's Weblog

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  28. Flarierdirt says:

    I am convinced that full body eczema is an expression of God’s wrath. I’ve been battling eczema. Its improved, but I still get severe itching in my tummy, hips, groins and privates every time I lay or sit down. I am convinced this is an Act of God to stop me from getting the rest and sleep I need so that I die sooner.

    Why is God so angry with me?

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    • uhhh…lets see….it could be you don’t have enough faith to believe you could be cured(remember you need faith AT LEAST the size of a mustard seed)…OR… You aren’t praying correctly. Remember to end every prayer “in the name of Jesus”. He won’t answer if you don’t put that in …OR… It could be there is nothing god can do about it because someones free will would be violated if he interfered. …OR… it could be god hurts for you weeping and crying wringing his hands to see you suffer and just wishes the world end date would get here soon so he could kick some ……OR…He allows you your suffering so you can eventually be a better person…OR…there’s a god but frankly my dear he doesn’t give a damn and he has more pressing issues in a galaxy far far away…OR…. I’m sure others here will be able to add some i’ve missed…

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  29. lespassant says:

    One more question nobody wants to answer.. why is it ok to ‘impale on a stake’ fallen enemies (e.g. like in Prophets, Joshua)?
    Assuming wiping out the whole cities was ok. I mean men are clear – they lead, they answer, women – also clear, why not escape and die in a desert provided it’s better than constant abuse and bestiality. But children? Well, one can imagine genetically transferred ADHD genes of vile parents. Or even some gross influence after bestiality acts.
    But then again vile acts are only mentioned for some cities, not all of them, which considering jaw-dropping brutality might have been specified clearly, I would not even mind repeating the same text just to be sure they were not just wiped out because ‘it’s a promised land’ to another tribe.

    And after all that, the king (hailed by all people, chosen by almighty) impales fallen opponents on stakes to be there for a day (in one case after death, so more ‘humane’). However evil and crazy they were, impalement is not for dead but for alive. To instil fear, dogmatic obedience and will lead to backdoor in psyche ‘sh*t! I can do this.. And I can also be on his place’. So that picture will be recorded on subconscious level and transferred at least as some neurotic behaviour..
    And to that question there is no answer.. apparently it’s ok to tear apart human body to teach a lesson for some men..

    And these people condemn violent video games? It is not a guide to understand anything, it is an ideology which is needed to provide false inner security. But in this case, it’s better to be insecure sociopath.. than justify torture and make it look fun and empowering.

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  30. Pingback: Bristol, You Uneducated Tart! Since When Are An Expert on Morality? | Malia Litman's Blog

  31. Pingback: 12 Worst Ideas Religion Has Unleashed on the World : Waking Times

  32. https://valerietarico.com/2014/12/30/who-when-why-10-times-the-bible-says-torture-is-ok/ says:

    Just because the Bible said that Torture was OK, doesn’t mean anything!! It was written a long long time ago!! Things are a lot different then they were back then!!

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