Here is a analytic thought exploriment for you: Sit down and juxtapose current events (especially the darker side of the news) with the prophecies in both the Hebrew and Christian scriptures. I suspect that if you weren’t concerned about where civilization is headed before this exercise, you likely will be afterwards.
If you happen to be a Baby Boomer you probably have watched a succession of popular books and films on eschatology themes (“End of Era” events and corresponding prophecies) such as those of Hal Lindsey (Author of the bestselling 1970 book, “The Late Great Planet Earth“) come and go. A look back through these makes it very clear that nailing down the “End Times” is an iffy enterprise. However, today events are unfolding that line up with ancient prophecies in ways that are both starling and difficult to dismiss or gloss over.
And it isn’t believers in the mainstream religions that are blogging and tweeting on “End Times” prophecy. The Web abounds with fearful speculation on the part of people who are more secular in their thinking than religious or spiritual.
According to various polls a great many Americans consider themselves more spiritual than religious, and more than a few are disenchanted with organized religion and do not hold clerics in especially high esteem. If you belong to this fraternity you have landed on the right doorstep. CLICK TO READ MORE
n 1: (psychology) an erroneous belief that is held in the face of evidence to the contrary [syn: psychotic belief] 2: a mistaken or unfounded opinion or idea; “he has delusions of competence”; “his dreams of vast wealth are a hallucination” [syn: hallucination] 3: the act of deluding; deception by creating illusory ideas [syn: illusion, head game]
|Source: WordNet ® 2.0, © 2003 Princeton University|
This pretty much lines up with how psychiatrist Karl Jaspers, MD, defined “delusion” in his seminal book General Psychopathology. Dr. Jaspers gave three main criteria for a belief to be considered delusional:
- Absolute certainty (A belief is held with absolute conviction)
- Incorrigibility (A belief is not changeable by compelling counterargument or proof to the contrary)
- Impossibility or falsity of content (A belief is implausible, bizarre or patently untrue)
Undoubtedly many of you reading this hold fast to specific religious or other beliefs that meet all 3 criteria. To your way of thinking this is a demonstration of faith, a strength that pleases the Almighty. Nothing will sway you from what you hold to be sacred truth. Maybe you fear dire consequences in this life or the next should you deviate from the faith tradition you were inculcated in as a child or embraced later on. You may not even be able to consider the remotest possibility that what you believe about (say) biblical accounts of miracles or specific stories or accounts could be misinformed, misguided, or just plain wrong. As one neo-Pentecostal minister put it, “God said it, I believe it, and that settles it”. This appears to be a timeless species of faith down through the millennia of human history.
Many fundamentalist believers and scholars from the major faith traditions engage in the most incredible feats of mental gymnastics to preserve sacred beliefs. Many Christians, for example, believe that their scriptures are inerrant, while abundant evidence exists that their Bible is chocked full of contradictions and is anything but free of error. For example, the book of Genesis alone contains two separate accounts of the creation saga that contradict one another profoundly http://www.skepticsannotatedbible.com/contra/accounts.html. The same is basically true of the story of Noah and the flood http://www.sullivan-county.com/identity/2cs.htm. But rather than modify their belief system to accommodate logic and fact, they force a fit between religious dogma and contrary evidence (Or just deny the evidence altogether or define or otherwise alter it such that it accord with belief). This imposition of religious dogma or belief on the process and findings of history and science has given the world an incredible array of pseudo-historical and pseudoscientific books, documents, papers and such that, well, help reinforce the delusions of multitudes of “true believers”.
http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/jim_meritt/bible-contradictions.html –Contradictions in the Scriptures
http://www.skepticsannotatedbible.com/contra/by_name.html – Contradictions in the Bible
http://www.nobeliefs.com/DarkBible/darkbible4.htm – Absurdities and troubling entries in the Bible
Mind you, I am not an atheist or an “enemy” of religious beliefs or faith. My family tree is one brimming over with fervent Protestant fundamentalists, southern Baptist deacons, creationists and even charismatic and neo-Pentecostals. My late maternal grandmother, Faye C. Whittle, a rather extraordinary woman who helped aid and encourage my studies in science and medicine, was about as devout a Bible-toting woman as you could hope to meet and fully fundamentalist in her thinking. I did not often challenge her beliefs…..and was especially less inclined to do so as she reached into her eighties and nineties – for reasons I will weave into this essay shortly.
My own quest for “religious truth,” which is to say a faith that is concordant with logic, biblical scholarship, historic fact, and the findings of science led me first to Roman Catholicism, then ultimately to Judaism. Yes, there are some commonly held Jewish beliefs that run contrary to this thrust, but at least there is room for reconciling all this within most Jewish traditions.
Some of you gentle readers are probably having an “ah hah” moment as you read all this. Some will surely be thinking, “Well, if I embrace delusional beliefs, so does he. So does everyone”.
No doubt most of us – even those who are ultra-diligent in their efforts to bring every aspect of their lives into accord with logic, fact and sound reasoning – harbor some belief, conviction or idea that is at the very least unfounded or suspect, but which we resist discarding unless and until contrary fact compels us to. Such a belief or idea may not constitute a full-blown delusion or delusional belief, but it in some respects belongs to the “fraternity”. Psychologists have shown that we all possess cognitive filters that bias what we perceive and believe; mechanisms (if you will) that tend to find patterns in things (often where none exists), discard ideas or facts that contradict cherished beliefs or views, and inflate our own self-perception of being objective. This tendency to be self-deluded and to deceive others has survival value. Deception is part and parcel of nature itself, something documented by field ethnologists and primatologists studying the behavior of chimpanzees and monkeys.
While not immune to delusional beliefs, in my own case precious few (if any) of my core religious beliefs meet Dr. Jasper’s 3 criteria. How so? In a word, I am willing to modify or reinterpret them to gel with logic and compelling scientific and historic fact. My belief in the Almighty, for example, is resolutely entrenched (A delusion according to many skeptic friends) – but my views on His nature, interaction with humankind, activities and such is amenable to modification in light of reason, logic and fact. Actually, this willingness to modify or discard one’s beliefs about anything that is redefined or overturned by new evidence lies at the heart of the scientific method. Without this plank, there would be little scientific progress. And while this process can and does generate evidence and reasoning that wrecks havoc with many beliefs long held to be sacred, this is not something to be feared or resisted. If religion and religious beliefs are to genuinely enable us to zero in on truth, it must necessarily be informed by the scientific method, critical thinking and hard logic. If not this, there is only a retreat into blind faith – this being often a wellspring of irrationality and, in the case of fundamentalism, a path to unhealthy extremes and even monstrous intolerance and bloodshed.
Of course, the mere idea that one has birthed, embraced, nurtured or perpetuated delusional beliefs is, for most of us, something we tend to resist or deny. After all, to be delusional or harbor such thoughts is invites the stigma of being weak or intellectually failed or possibly given to a form of pathology (Disease). And I would readily agree that more extreme expressions do indeed reflect a pathological form of aberration or deviance. Especially forms that are divisive, that create or sustain barriers that marginalize others or foster bias, racism or ethnocentrism, or otherwise diminish our individual or collective human potential for caring for others, extending kindness and aid to strangers, and encouraging a peaceful coexistence that denies justice, opportunity and fairness to no person.
But what of delusional beliefs that do not give rise to or involve these negatives? Many would argue that a delusional belief is always antithetical to fullest personal development or best appreciation of reality, and this is a reasonable contention. However, I tend to view “benign” delusional beliefs as an effective coping mechanism; a way of ably dealing with the pain, vicissitudes and ugly moments in life, as well as being a mental tool for handling the contradictions and seemingly irreconcilable aspects of life. In this sense, I see delusional beliefs as not only a tendency, but a normative coping mechanism.
And in this vein, truly benign delusions can play a useful role when it comes to the genesis or maintenance of our individual and shared (societal) weltanshaung or worldview; the mental constructs of reality we fashion and refine all the days of our lives. They also can have beneficial physiological effects. People who, for example, believe that ultra-diluted homeopathic medicines effect or foster healing despite overwhelming scientific evidence that they do not produce statistically significant results in well designed and executed clinical trials, nonetheless can and sometimes do perceive good things “going on” that in and of itself is encouraging; that may spawn some corresponding benefits such as one would expect when a person stops being anxious and fearful, and adopts a positive frame of mind. There are studies that link this species of faith or belief with reductions in resting blood pressure.
Delusions can also give life purpose or special meaning in some instances or settings. Consider those who vest tremendous money, time and energy in pursuit of beliefs, events or practices that are contradicted by a confluence of historic and/or scientific fact, logic and well honed scholarship. Some actually border on the irrational, while some truly are. However, when such beliefs, pursuits or devotions cause no harm to self or others, do not generate intolerance or violence or other negative behaviors, do not wind up sanctioned by the state, and basically function to endow the lives of believers with a sense of purpose or meaning, then they have arguable utilitarian merit.
Of course some species of delusional thinking can obviously set the stage for doing great harm to others. One need look no further then Nazi Germany to see this. In this tragic example from history’s darkest page, delusional beliefs and the pseudo-history and pseudo-science they sprang from and reinforced became ideology, then law, and finally a national religion of sorts. The Nazis elevated malignant delusions to sacred status and then took them to their logical conclusion: Repression, brutality, murder and finally genocide.
Given this, it logically follows that people need to be vigilant in terms of identifying, openly exposing, countering and even legally penalizing all forms of delusional thinking that clearly leads to the deprivation, denial or erosion of basic human rights to any group, creed, religion or what-have-you. Humankind can ill afford a Fourth Reich.
But what of countering benign delusional beliefs that offer solace and comfort? This brings me full circle to my maternal grandmother: She believed that her New Testament was inerrant and, as such, was a reliable and sure guide to all that’s needed to assure a place in God’s realm (following death). Yes, there were many occasions – many kitchen table chats on religion (especially during her more vigorous 60s and 70s) — in which I placed before her facts and reason that clearly demonstrated the errancy of scriptures. This she resisted solely on the basis of her faith, not reason or logic or fact. And while this belief influenced her life and actions to a degree, she did not seek to have this view become the law of the land or promulgated in public schools as fact or paraded as science in the classroom. At first I diplomatically and gingerly challenged her stance, but ceased doing so as she grew older and frailty began to take its toll on her physical and mental faculties. Who would be so callous as to deprive her of a delusion (inerrancy) which was a vital component of her worldview (Especially given its benign, tempered expression, as well as its utility in terms of dealing with her own mortality)? Not me.
“No man is happy without a delusion of some kind. Delusions are as necessary to our happiness as realities.”
-Christian Nestell Bovee
The cup of delusions runneth over:http://www.crank.net/
A critical look at homeopathy:http://skepdic.com/homeo.html
What is Pseudoscience?http://www.chem1.com/acad/sci/pseudosci.html
THE DARK BIBLE
http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/donald_morgan/precepts.html – Questionable Guidelines
http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/jim_meritt/bible-contradictions.html – List of biblical contradictions
http://www.angelfire.com/pa/greywlf/biblegod.html – BIBLEGOD – A God of Love or a God of Atrocities and Murder?
NOTES ON BIBLE PROBLEMS Compiled by Richard Packham
© 2009 by Dr. Anthony G Payne. All rights reserved.
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In one especially poignant scene in the movie “Shadowlands”,* famed English writer and Oxford University professor, C. S. Lewis (played by Sir Anthony Hopkins) has gone to a pub with his brother, Wally (Major Lewis). Having just lost his wife, Joy Gresham Lewis, to cancer, Mr. Lewis is met with expressions of sympathy offered up by friends and colleagues who are attempting to console him. An interesting exchange ensues between an Anglican vicar and Mr. Lewis:
Vicar: Only God knows why these things have to happen, Jack.
C. S. Lewis: God knows, but does He really care?
Vicar: Of course. We see so little here. We’re not the Creator.
C. S. Lewis: No, no. We’re the creatures, aren’t we? We’re the rats in the cosmic laboratory. I have no doubt that the experiment is for our own good, but that still makes God the vivisectionist, doesn’t it?
“Rats in the cosmic laboratory.” An apt analogy if the universe is an experiment in process. But is this the case? If God were running an experiment or cluster of experiments (some embedded in others), it would indicate that something is being tested — an hypothesis or many hypotheses — whose outcome is unknown. While some religious traditions might accept a God who is not all knowing, and hence might need to perform such experiments, this is conjecture. (Actually, God is conjecture, insofar as His/Her/It’s existence lies beyond the purview of science; which is to say, belief in God is not based on provable fact, but on faith) Bearing this in mind, what follows is pontification built on conjecture, albeit hopefully both informed and thought-provoking.
What we do know of the cosmic cauldron and the processes that gave rise to us can be succinctly summed up thusly: The universe we can measure and probe appears to be the expression of physical laws in operation. The Big Bang happened, stars and galaxies formed, planets formed, and on at least one world, this one, life arose and evolved to that state which we call “consciousness.”
For we who believe in God, the laws that set all this in motion and govern it are the handiwork or signature of the divine. This is not something scientifically provable, but like the concept of Providence, is based on faith.
And while some people might still cling to the idea that humankind is the center of the universe, the scale and grandeur of our universe would suggest otherwise. We are rather insignificant, at least in terms of our impact on the cosmos. We are, at best, perhaps big fish in a very, very small pond. And least we get puffed up about this exalted position, the dinosaurs held a similar role for about 170 million years before going belly up. Mass extinction, in fact, has occurred no less than five times during geologic history. We are but a massive comet or asteroid strike, nuclear war, or the like away from joining the dinosaurs. (A compelling enough reason to take out some “species insurance”, as in set up a human presence elsewhere in our solar system. Mars seems a likely prospect.)
We are the tentative king of a very, very small hill. And what natural processes produced and govern, God seeks to relate to. At least this is the basic message of most extant (as well as extinct) religious traditions. And within the constraints posed by our individual limitations, i.e., our genetic-based propensities as amplified by environmental and other situational factors, the ancient brain wiring or paleocircuits in our brains, etc., we go through life making choices and exercising that which we know as “free will”.
Is the universe thus an experiment and we it’s aim? While the universe may well an experiment, it seems doubtful that it designed specifically to produce conscious life forms like us. Which is to say, life forms capable to distinguishing “I” from “other”, and of contemplating its own mortality (It is unlikely that God can relate to a life form lacking these 2 cognitive features. Only a self-conscious creature that knows it will someday die would be capable of responding to anything God shared concerning an existence beyond the grave). Even if we accept the Weak Anthropic Principle, which asserts that the laws that govern our world would tend to give rise to life and something like us, it still seems unlikely that the “local phase” of the grand cosmic experiment was designed to produce us. Indeed, as the late paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould was fond of pointing out, if we were to go back and rerun the history of life, it is doubtful anything like us would emerge at all.
The experiment,..the universe,…did obviously tool us into existence. And God, it would seem, set about to interact with and relate to our bipedal twig on the primate branch of the evolutionary bush. Assuming that what we know and identify as “free will” is more real than illusion, the question naturally arises, “If God knows everything and is absolutely sovereign, how can humankind truly have and exercise free will?” And if God does not know in advance precisely what we will do or say, then He is less than omniscient and sovereign. If omniscient and absolutely sovereign, then while the universe may be a grand experiment in progress, we have been removed from it by God’s exercise of sovereignty. But if God is not omniscient and/or sovereign, or somehow attenuates or submerges either or both, then the give-and-take twixt God and humankind, the tests posed and our responses and God’s, do constitute a social experiment (of sorts) in progress. Logic and an abundance of scriptural support tend to argue for a divinity who works within and in response to contingency; who experiments and then blends our responses into the fabric of His grand designs . And this, I argue, makes God a scientist.
God as scientist: Support from ancient writings
Support for this view can be readily found in the Tanakh (Hebrew scriptures), which contains numerous stories and accounts that suggest that God is posing a test or permitting same, watching for the results, and responding accordingly. Consider the account of Abraham and his son, Isaac. In chapter 22 of Genesis, God has instructed Abraham to take his son to the land of Moriah and “offer him as a burnt offering on one of the heights that I will point out to you” (verse 2). Abraham, a man who trusts God implicitly, is facing perhaps the severest test of faith imaginable. But for whose benefit is this test for? Abraham, Isaac, or God? Maybe all three? In verse 12 we see that for sure God has benefited by way of gained insight: “And he said, ‘Do not raise your hand against the boy, or do anything to him. For now I know that you fear God, since you have not with held your son, your favored one, from me’ “(Gen. 22:12). “..now I know…”. Now. Before the test? The clear implication is that prior to the test,…this particular experiment,…..God did not absolutely know the outcome (albeit He probably had a good idea extrapolating from Abraham’s past acts of faith and obedience).
In the book of Ezekiel, we again see God conducting a test. In this instance, He goes looking for someone to divert judgment being executed:
“The people have practiced fraud and committed robbery; they have wronged the poor and needy, have defrauded the stranger without redress. And I sought for a man among them to repair the wall or to stand in the breach before me in behalf of this land, that I might not destroy it; but I found none. I have therefore poured out my indignation upon them;…(22: 29-31)
See also Exodus 15:25
If the future were closed, known and thus settled from God’s vantage point, He would learn nothing from these tests. But we are told repeatedly that God uncovers something unknown; that free will is being exercised and as such outcomes cannot be known until the person making a decision has made it.
The contingency element in human affairs is underscored by numerous biblical entries that imply conditionals such as “if/then”. One example is to be found in the account of God’s declaration to King Zedikiah in Jeremiah chapter 38 (Part of which is quoted herein):
“If you surrender to the officers of the king of Babylon, your life will be spared and this city will not be burned down. You and your household will live. But if you do not surrender to the officers of the king of Babylon, this city will be delivered into the hands of the Chaldeans, who will burn it down and you will not escape from them.” (verses 17-18. Emphasis mine)
We can also find supporting evidence of the (at least partial) tentativeness of history in the various accounts of God having changed his mind:
In the 32nd chapter of Exodus, God has told Moses of his intent to destroy Israel. Moses prays and we read “And the Lord renounced the punishment He had planned to bring upon His people.” (verse 14).
Among contemporary Christian theologians, the religious and philosophic notion that human-divine interaction is unfolding and not predetermined, is treated and perhaps best characterized in the writings of proponents of “open theism”. One very highly acclaimed introduction to this is a book by Dr. Gregory A. Boyd titled “God of the Possible: A Biblical Introduction to the Open View of God” (ISBN: 080106290X) Content description of this book, as well as many others that delve into various aspects of Open Theism, along with pro & con articles and posted point/counterpoint exchanges can be found on the “Open Theism Information Site” (www.opentheism.org/) . It is well worth the proverbial ‘look, see’.
Within Judaism, an “open view” type of perspective can be found among many rabbis and scholars. Many aspects of this line of thinking can no doubt be traced back to the Pharisees. According to the Jewish historian, Josephus, the Pharisees, mindful of the fact that predestination precludes free will, essentially concluded that humankind is predestined to a certain station in terms of the material aspects of life, but has absolute free will in areas that impact spiritual life.
The Islamic faith also boasts a school of thought that leans towards contingency, and free will as a supreme player in human affairs and in God’s dealings with humankind. This perspective is supported by many passages in the Qu’ran, such as “Surely the Almighty changes not the condition of a people unless they change that which is in themselves.” (13:11), and “Whoever goes aright, for his own soul he goes aright; and whoever goes astray, to his own detriment he goes astray.” (39:41)
God as scientist: Methodology
The actual nature and extend of the experimental work God engages in is, of course, unknown. Judging from accounts recorded by ancient biblical writers such as that of Abraham and Isaac (above), many tests seem geared to gauge such human qualities and attributes as faith/trust, capacity for obedience, the mechanics of decision making, and various aspects of judgment and reasoning. Some appear to involve only a within subject, single variable design. Others reflect a between subjects design, some being single variable experiments and others multiple variable.
While we cannot ascertain the exact mechanics of the divine research program, it would seem from the glimmers of methodology we see reflected in the ancient record that God would use approaches that are not entirely removed from those we ourselves have found reliable in terms of generating meaningful approximations of reality. One logical possibility is Bayesian inference, a powerful method of analysis that involves comparing hypotheses. The Bayes theorem, worked out by Rev. Thomas Bayes (1702-1761), assigns probabilities to all the possible outcomes of an experiment, combines this with relevant knowledge obtained or known prior to performing the actual experiment, and then calculates the probability of each hypothesis being true given the actual observation. In a nutshell, the Bayesian approach readily facilitates the modification of existing beliefs or views in the light of new evidence.
According to the Bible, on more than one occasion God expected Israel to change course (repent), but they did not do so (Isa. 5:2; Jer. 3:6-7, 19-20). God apparently modified certain aspects of the divine agenda accordingly, though undoubtedly without compromising crucial long-term objectives. This process could reflect His use of Bayesian reasoning.
To learn more: A very concise lay level introduction to Bayesian inference is “In praise of Bayes”, The Economist, Sept. 30th, 2000 http://www.cs.berkeley.edu/~murphyk/Bayes/economist.html
The many tests and conditional promissory statements found in ancient accounts of God-human interaction support the notion of free will as ascendant over predestination, and bespeak a future that is at least partially undetermined. They speak eloquently of God being an experimentalist who, after obtaining a result, weaves the new thread into the immense fabric that is His grand design.
It has been said that Albert Einstein had a plaque on his mantle that read, “God is a scientist, not a magician.”Whether or not this in any way reflected the great scientist’s sentiments, one can’t but marvel at how appropriate it was — and is.
“The most important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing. One cannot help but be in awe when he contemplates the mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvelous structure of reality.”
© 1993 Savoy Pictures, Inc. (distributed by HBO Home Video)
Scripture quotations from the Tanakh, 1985, Jewish Publication Society.
“Rats in the Cosmic Laboratory: Is God A Scienst?” Original © 2002 by Dr. Anthony G. Payne. This Revised version © 2007 All rights reserved.
Rabbis and Christian theologians down through the centuries have wrestled with biblical accounts of the Almighty in which He imposed punishments or sanctions, as well as direct military and civil action that flies in the face of what is deemed fair, just or decent in most cultures, past and present: http://www.angelfire.com/pa/greywlf/biblegod.html
Of course, contemporary religious experts tend to agree that a great many of these stories are fables or myths borrowed from ancient societies that predate the authors of the various books of the Bible. They also recognize the anthropocentric and ethnocentric biases and cultural filters of the writers and scribes who committed these biblical tales to parchment (as it were). But even with all these allowances and concessions, there remains a disturbing pattern of supposedly divinely ordered brutality towards and outright wholesale slaughter of foreign tribes and entire nations. These biblical “cleansing actions” and fiats have underlying premises and logic that appear to have informed some of the darker chapters of history, including the ideology and policies of the penultimate incarnation of evil, Adolf Hitler.
One writer who very adroitly goes into how Hitler’s beliefs and actions parallel and mirror Biblical morality and standards is Jim Walker whose writings are found on a website bearing the moniker “Hitler compared to God/Jesus/Christians” http://nobeliefs.com/hitlerchristian.htm. Here are but a few of Walker’s insightful notations (Excerpts pieced together):
|Now go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have,
and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling,
ox and sheep, camel and ass.
-I Samuel 15:3
Hitler attempted to utterly destroy the Jews and all that they had and had millions of men, women, and infants executed. As for animals, Hitler had far more compassion than the Biblical God; he felt kindness for animals.
(Note: In no sense do I mean that Hitler fulfilled any prophesy, mind you, but rather that Hitler’s actions remained consistent with the actions of the alleged God described in the Bible.)
|I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things.
Hitler created peace when it suited him and created death and destruction when it fit his needs, which by Christian standards means “evil.” Hitler did all these things in similar God-like actions reported in the Bible.
Not only did Hitler’s atrocities remain consistent with God and Jesus’ actions in the Bible, but his intransigent attitude parallels many of the fanatical beliefs of Right-wing conservatives of today. Hitler even used his faith in the same way as many mainstream American Christians. It appears clear from the history of Christianity that Hitler brought nothing new to Christianity, albeit he brought its violent nature to new heights.”
This is not to say Hitler didn’t distort and infuse such standards with perverse beliefs of his own, but this alone does not permit one to dismiss logical contradictions, conundrums and catch twenty-two’s between Nazi philosophy and the murderous campaign against “impurity” (Jews, gypsies, homosexuals, political dissenters, etc.) it gave rise to—- nor ancient Israelite beliefs and their wholesale slaughter of peoples that were designated as “defilers” of their culture & community. Slaughter attributed to HaShem.
If you look closely and resist facing what history and scriptures plainly disclose and declare, you will come to see more clearly than ever before the vast array of incredibly discomforting parallels between the reasoning of the ancients and the Nazis (and all other perpetrators of genocide). And while abundant apologetics exist that try to distance Biblical accounts and actions from the moral malignancy of the Nazis, the arguments given can be recast easily & readily to support the Nazis (And they were – by the Nazis — creating a movement with all the trappings of messianic fervor and religiosity).
http://www.infidels.org/library/magazines/tsr/2000/4/004anti.html http://www.nobeliefs.com/DarkBible/darkbible3.htm, http://freethoughtfirefighters.org/a_wager_on_old_testament_atrocit.htm, http://www.ebonmusings.org/atheism/atrocities.html, http://www.geocities.com/paulntobin/godbible.html, http://www.biblicalnonsense.com/chapter10.html
So moral reasoning and logic alone cannot (to my way of thinking) explain, defend or justify the many dark episodes and pronouncements in the Hebrew Scriptures.
Scriptures, of course, reflect the human element — ideas, interpretations, contradictions http://home.freeuk.net/jesusmyth/page5.htm etc. – they serve human needs (Social coherence and personal wholeness, according to religion scholar Prof. Loyal Rue in his thought-provoking book, “Religion is Not About God”) – and reflect more about human nature than that of the Divine. It is said all scripture is Misnah – commentary – and not so much history and especially not science. I agree wholeheartedly with this. And, of course, regional values, myths and views intruded everywhere and suffused and informed what the various scribes and religionists believed and recorded. But be that as it may, there is a recurrent theme of almost cold-blooded malevolence in the Hebrew scriptures: God appears to invoke the very arguments for cleansing conquered lands and peoples, as well as punishing those who deviate from keeping the Law (Oral & written) that were used by pagan religions, kings and later genocidal dictators like Adolf Hitler to reinforce and perpetuate their ideologies (And some of these ideologies, like Nazism, had some aspects of their belief system and practices Biblical beliefs, laws and such).
Of course, according to scriptures the Almighty’s agenda is one that will redeem and reconcile humankind (in whole or part depending on whose spin you agree with) while evil men tend to enact laws and take actions that lead to a life that is at odds with the program and objectives He sanctioned (And by so doing estrange people from Him). Yet while the ends are presumably different, the means to them seem disturbingly similar and in many instances are virtually identical. Indeed, the methods, language and some elements of reasoning attributed to the Divine and that voiced by various evil personalities such as Hitler differ little in kind or degree.
We must, of course, allow for the limitations imposed by human language itself, culture, as well as our neurobiology. We must also do our best to wrestle underlying truths and subtle messages from hyperbole, corrupted text, myth and legend in the scriptures.
That the scriptures are filled with borrowed, fallible, contradictory, and corrupted myths, legends and fables should not disturb us. Consider what the Almighty had to work with, as it were: A tribal people who were steeped in regional myths and superstitions. Some in the fundamentalist or Orthodox camp actually believe God dictated scripture pretty much like a boss might to a secretary or executive administrative assistance; at least with respect to the Torah (Pentateuch). This is nonsense, for had this been the case He would have given humanity a document or set of documents immune from flaws, and by so doing handed down proof of his own existence. In short, no faith would be needed to believe in the Almighty or his stated agenda. A set of flawless, infallible scriptures impregnated with scientific and historical truths centuries ahead of those He was inspiring or speaking to would remove all doubt as to origins and make it impossible for doubt to exist about the reality of the Divine. Indeed, “No faith needed” would have been axiomatic and there would be no legitimate grounds for agnosticism or atheism.
A fallible set of scriptures is not so disturbing really. It makes us dig and work and argue to arrive at what God meant and how we should respond. What is disturbing is not the flawed image of the Almighty nor the presence of various distorted or mythic things attributed to Him, all having been rendered by flawed men and women, but the seeming reliance of God on violence, cruelty and outright “ethnic cleansing” to forge and maintain His hold on the hearts and minds of the Jewish people of antiquity.
Was He so seemingly bloodthirsty and quick to punish because fallible, almost primitive men and women left Him little to work with in an ancient setting but this? Or was this just how these ancient people’s interpreted things and acted accordingly? Or could it be that the Almighty was both learning and growing with His people, and had His hands tied in terms of available means to preserve the Jewish people from corruption and conquest? (Limited in that He would not override human free will and also utilized human nature and social mechanisms rather then supercede them?)
To invoke a crude analogy: Picture a group of trainee mechanics standing before a car – hood up – a limited set of tools sitting before him – parts scattered everywhere — their goal is to create a harmoniously running engine. There are two instructors present – “good mechanic” and an “evil mechanic” — standing on either side of the trainees. The good instructor wants to help the students create a smoothly functioning automobile. The evil mechanic wants to thwart the good instructor by influencing as many of the trainees as he can to mess things up by doing things like putting useless or ill fitted parts into the engine. The evil instructor’s machinations quite naturally force the good mechanic to get those trainees who follow his lead to take and use some of the tools in the same fashion as the evil mechanic, doing violence as it were to extricate ill-fitting or even dangerous parts from the engine so that they can get the right and proper ones installed. This tug-of-war goes back and forth seemingly endlessly.
Scriptures depict God’s ultimate goal as being one of harmonizing and reconciling as many people to Himself and His sanctioned ways as possible. But in order to pull this off, He must rely on a limited set of tools and options,….as limited as we are. It is, in a very real sense of the word, a pitched struggle that is part of an experiment in-progress; an experiment with a goal, of course.
Indeed, the Cosmos and humankind in particular are, in my opinion, expressions of a divinely initiated experiment (Rats in the Cosmic Laboratory) whose ultimate goal is harmonization with HaShem and his being (“Holiness”) for as many as will “walk the walk”. As such, those impulses and elements and actions that lead to good or conversely evil ends would seem to represent the variables in the ongoing experiment — the “drugs” if you will — that by act-of-will (choice) leads to genuine harmonization between subject & experimenter (HaShem) — while the other appears to do so, but degenerates into greater disharmony and the ultimate chaos unleased by unbridled selfishness (Estrangement from HaShem and what this entails in this world and the next). This aspect of the Divine experiment constitutes a sorting mechanism of sorts; the one referred to by various biblical writers as “sorting the wheat from the chaff”. It tests both men and women, revealing to us individually and collectively our inner nature and the consequences of our choices along the way.
Because the tools, methods and sometimes even the reasoning employed by good and evil people are virtually identical, discretion becomes paramount. This is where many religious and political systems fail utterly — trading that which reconciles people to each other and the Almighty for that which winds up accomplishing the opposite.
In the end, scriptures indicate the experiment will run its course and produce a final result: Harmony twixt humankind and HaShem for many. Many who die in sin/error/missteps get redeemed and participate in this harmonious world (material and incorporeal), while an unrepentantly evil, unredeemable few are separated from this redeemed plane of existence — presumably for eternity. Or until obliterated, which some Jewish sages considered their ultimate fate. This is certainly more merciful than what many Christian denominations fancy for the unredeemed/unredeemable — Hitler, Stalin, Caligula, etc. A mercy more characteristic of the Almighty that sages like Hillel knew and championed by virtue of their faith, teachings and deeds.
Pulvis et umbra sumus
by Jim Walker