Christopher Hitchens on the Ten Commandments

by Luke Muehlhauser on March 8, 2010 in Funny,Video

This is rather entertaining. And informative, for those Christians who don’t know much about their own Ten Commandments.

Hitchens thinks that ‘Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor’ is the most impressive commandment, in particular for its subtlety. For example, it does not say ‘Thou shalt not lie.’ It says you should not lie against your neighbor. So if you’re hiding Jews, this law permits you to lie to inquiring Nazis.

At the end, Hitchens proposes some better commandments:

  1. Do not condemn people on the basis of their ethnicity or their color.
  2. Do not ever even think of using people as private property.
  3. Despise those who use violence or the threat of it in sexual relations.
  4. Hide your face and weep if you dare to harm a child.
  5. Do not condemn people for their inborn nature. (“Why would God create so many homosexuals, only to torture and destroy them?”)
  6. Be aware that you, too, are an animal, and dependent on the web of nature. Try to think and act accordingly.
  7. Do not imagine you can avoid judgment if you rob people [by lying to them] rather than with a knife.
  8. Turn off that fucking cell phone.
  9. Denounce all jihadists and crusaders for what they are: psychopathic criminals with ugly delusions and terrible sexual repression.
  10. Reject any faith if their commandments contradict any of the above.

Of course Hitchens is being funny, but a two of these commandments are particularly interesting.

Hitchens’ Commandment #2 condemns thoughtcrime even though Hitchens hates Hebrew Commandment #10 precisely because it condemns thoughtcrime.

Hitchens’ Commandment #5 entails that we should not condemn clinical psychopaths and pedophiles.

I like Adam Lee’s Ten Commandments better.

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{ 63 comments… read them below or add one }

Bram van Dijk March 8, 2010 at 6:39 am

I’d say that the clinical psychopaths and pedophiles are covered by commandments #2, #3 and #4.

Overall not the best list, though #8 is a gem.

Talking about lists: how about this one?

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foolfodder March 8, 2010 at 7:12 am

I noticed the thought crime aspect of #2. It’s interesting that it doesn’t have the “even think” bit in the text version though: http://www.vanityfair.com/culture/features/2010/04/hitchens-201004?currentPage=3 (last paragraph):

It’s difficult to take oneself with sufficient seriousness to begin any sentence with the words “Thou shalt not.” But who cannot summon the confidence to say: Do not condemn people on the basis of their ethnicity or color. Do not ever use people as private property. Despise those who use violence or the threat of it in sexual relations. Hide your face and weep if you dare to harm a child. Do not condemn people for their inborn nature—why would God create so many homosexuals only in order to torture and destroy them? Be aware that you too are an animal and dependent on the web of nature, and think and act accordingly. Do not imagine that you can escape judgment if you rob people with a false prospectus rather than with a knife. Turn off that fucking cell phone—you have no idea how unimportant your call is to us. Denounce all jihadists and crusaders for what they are: psychopathic criminals with ugly delusions. Be willing to renounce any god or any religion if any holy commandments should contradict any of the above. In short: Do not swallow your moral code in tablet form.

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foolfodder March 8, 2010 at 7:16 am

Hitchens’ Commandment #5 entails that we should not condemn clinical psychopaths and pedophiles.

Should not condemn them for being psychopaths or pedophiles, but presumably could still condemn them for their immoral actions if they make them.

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corn March 8, 2010 at 7:27 am

Come on, Luke, clearly you recognize that #2 is just an expression. As in “Don’t even think of parking here” or “Don’t even think about moving my cheese.”

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Michael March 8, 2010 at 7:57 am

It’s interesting that most of these fit into Christianity, except 9, and kind of 8, since its annoying to have cell phones ringing during a service. But the rest seem very compatible with Christianity if not taught by Christianity.

1. Bible teaches equality of man since they were all made in the image of God.
2. The idea that we should be servants and not the masters.
3. Sexual relations outside of marriage or even against the will in marriage is wrong.
4. Children are precious and can be learned from, though this one is a little off in that most Christians think that spanking and such is alright in the “correct” situations.
5. Totally agreed upon in the Bible. Check out the story of the Good Samaritan, or Jesus talking to the woman at the well, or hanging out with the lepers and other ill people (who were thought to be sinners and receiving their punishment from God). Homosexuals aren’t to be hated or disliked because of their preferences, but still should abstain from sexual relations outside of the man/woman marriage the same way a single person would.
6. Part of the Creation (whether through evolution or not, doesn’t matter).
7. Thoughts and word “actions” are sins too.
8. Yeah…
9. Murdering in the name of anything is wrong, spreading the Word by love…
10. Reject all non-Christian thoughts/rules that are contradictory to what is taught in the Bible.

The fact that these match up like this is telling, at least in my opinion, since all of these ideas stem from Christianity. And Hitchens is the guy who says Christianity and religion is evil! The ancient beliefs apart from Christianity were nearly the opposite of everything he says. There were classes in which certain people were considered less human. Men ruled women. Kill those who you don’t get along with. Very primitive, barbaric ideas that have been erased from most cultures due to Christianity.

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lukeprog March 8, 2010 at 8:13 am

Lol, I’d forgotten about the ‘Ten Commandments’ of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. Those are funny.

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Josh March 8, 2010 at 9:25 am

Jesus Christ Hitchens seems like he is fucking stoned out of his mind here.

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Stufenleiter March 8, 2010 at 10:10 am

I agree with Hitchens on 5. If a pedophile harms a child, I will condemn him for that, but I will not condemn him for sexual desires over which he has very little control short of chemical castration. I have heard of pedophiles who refrain from any sexual activity and never look at actual child porn, only at virtual child porn. My visceral reaction is still ‘ick’, but on reflection there is something quite noble about this. If my sexual desires were geared towards immorality, I honestly do not know if I would be able to control them in this way.

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svenjamin March 8, 2010 at 10:39 am

Michael: 1. Bible teaches equality of man since they were all made in the image of God.

The general OT viewpoint is that women are the property of men, and Hebrew men are better than all other men.

Michael: 2. The idea that we should be servants and not the masters.

This is neither a more specific nor more general version of Hitchens #2, which is explicitly contradicted in both the OT and NT.

Michael: 3. Sexual relations outside of marriage or even against the will in marriage is wrong.

Really? You think all of those captured women who were forcibly taken as wives after their families were slaughtered were willingingly sleeping with their conquerors?

Michael: 4. Children are precious and can be learned from, though this one is a little off in that most Christians think that spanking and such is alright in the “correct” situations.

Well, unless the children happen to belong to rival tribes in the OT. And then there was that business about killing all those Egyptian kids. And then those child sacrifices. But I suppose Jesus being nice to a few children makes up for that.

Michael: 5. Totally agreed upon in the Bible. Check out the story of the Good Samaritan, or Jesus talking to the woman at the well, or hanging out with the lepers and other ill people (who were thought to be sinners and receiving their punishment from God). Homosexuals aren’t to be hated or disliked because of their preferences, but still should abstain from sexual relations outside of the man/woman marriage the same way a single person would.

There are some modern Christians who believe this, and is certainly more to their credit than what the biblical literalists would have to maintain to be consistent. *cough* Leviticus.

Michael: 6. Part of the Creation (whether through evolution or not, doesn’t matter).
7. Thoughts and word “actions” are sins too.
8. Yeah…

Okay. Except maybe the part about men having dominion over creation, and the different interpretations of what that means.

Michael: 9. Murdering in the name of anything is wrong, spreading the Word by love…

Hmmm… Maybe you haven’t actually read the Old Testament.. Or maybe you don’t count killing in God’s name as murder?

Michael: 10. Reject all non-Christian thoughts/rules that are contradictory to what is taught in the Bible.

First, how is someone supposed to be sure of Christianity’s truth if they can’t actually assess objections to it?

Second, note that in the case where the ideas you propose to be Christian do in fact have some Biblical basis (i.e. aren’t the projections of modern moral sentiments into the Bible), there are contradictory details(usually in the OT).

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Aeiluindae March 8, 2010 at 11:58 am

It is impossible not to project modern sentiments onto the Bible. We see things through the lens of our time. No matter what you get out of the Bible, that its the word of God or something disgusting to be traded for porn (I still find that funny), it is largely a result of our own opinions.

That being said, there are some things that may prove interesting. In the OT, it grants the right for a man to divorce his wife. Jesus expressly contradicts that teaching, saying that divorce is inexcusable for any reason other than infidelity. He also says that the law was in place basically because the Israelites wouldn’t have listened if divorce wasn’t permitted. I’d like to think its safe to assume that the captive wife provision is due to similar circumstances.

The letter of the law in the Bible is fairly reasonable toward women, given the time period. They were at least able to own and inherit property, which Western society didn’t manage until the late 1800s and I think Saudi Arabia still hasn’t managed it. I’m not saying things were good for women back then, especially since in practice women were not treated as well as the law might suggest.

I maintain that if Moses had gone on about voting, the equality of women, or quantum physics, he would have been dead and not their leader no matter how many Red Seas he parted. We came about our current moral ideas through thousands of years of philosophy, trial and error, and general experience. People wouldn’t have been exactly receptive had they been dropped out of the sky. If God spoke the same words into the ears of every person on Earth, we would still argue about what he said.

I must leave many concerns unaddressed, not in the least the genocide issue. However, biblical slavery was not the systematic treatment of an entire race of people as chattel (i.e. what we did to Black people) but for Jews, the rough equivalent of having your home repossessed by the bank, except you got a new home and job out of it to work yourself back to solvency. There were regulations on the practice, as well. Final note, the notion of ceremonial uncleanliness is rather alien to most people today, so please don’t make strange claims about it without having a better understanding of the culture.

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feralboy12 March 8, 2010 at 12:50 pm

Here’s my ten:
1. “Avoid fried meats which angry up the blood.”
2. “If your stomach disputes you, lie down and pacify it with cool thoughts.”
3. “Keep the juices flowing by jangling around gently as you move.”
4. “Go very light on the vices, such as carrying on in society—the social ramble ain’t restful.”
5. “Avoid running at all times.”
6. “And don’t look back—something might be gaining on you.”
7. “Dance like no one is watching.”
8. “Sing like no one is listening.”
9. “Love like you’ve never been hurt.”
10. “Live like it’s heaven on Earth.”

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Naug March 8, 2010 at 2:40 pm

#5 only speaks of condemning people for their nature, not their actions. Being a pedophile or a sociopath is not illegal or even immoral. However -acting- on your pedophilia or sociopathic urges -is-. Quite an important distinction if you ask me, so I think that #5 stands on its own.

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Hermes March 8, 2010 at 3:24 pm

Aeiluindae: It is impossible not to project modern sentiments onto the Bible.

Of course; the Christian, Jewish, and Muslim religious texts are bound in time and circumstance to when and where they were written.

They are not texts for all time. They are not perfect. They are not eternal.

The followers of the Abrahamic religions who promote their texts as eternal and perfect deserve derision, and their texts are open to commentary because of that promotion.

For example slavery. It was not sweetness and light when those books were written. It was brutal. It was ownership of one person of another person who has no freedoms. Not one word in context from any of those books unequivocally condemns the practice outright, and quite a few regulate it as a normal way that people would treat each other.

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Hermes March 8, 2010 at 3:34 pm

Aeiluindae: Final note, the notion of ceremonial uncleanliness is rather alien to most people today, so please don’t make strange claims about it without having a better understanding of the culture.

That and food stipulations, like the stipulations on sex, were control mechanisms for the population or were expressions of the tendencies of those strange birds, shamans, that are just fussy enough to make a big deal about their own strange preferences. The same type of nit picky out of touch requirements show up in other societies, both big and small. It shows that pigeons and people aren’t so far removed from each other; only the pecking order has changed.

[ Come to think of it, this reminds me of a few customers and managers on various big projects I've worked on. I much prefer the reasonable people who could say what they want and why they want it clearly, without sounding like they are a few days off their medication. ]

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Desperately Seeking March 8, 2010 at 5:34 pm

Your taste in commandments is scarcely to be commended.

Lee’s 3– we should love rats and guinea pigs and pigeons?

4–ALL is forgivable? There’s sucker born every minute.

5–joy and wonder a moral imperative? We and th world never turn sour?

6–maybe it’s dressed up a little, but does “learn something new every day” rise above the puerile?

8–honest inquiry is infallible?

Maybe giving half the commands over to the intellectual virtues But if they’re to be commended, please not in so flaccid and bromidic a fashion.

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svenjamin March 8, 2010 at 9:31 pm

Aeiluindae,

Paragraph 1: agreed.

Paragraph 2: I apologize in advance, but I’m going to be uncharacteristically harsh. And I’m cranky because I lost the post I wrote earlier on a browser issue. Anyway:

Condoning inequality on the grounds that “God was making concessions to the culture of the time,” is bad enough, but justifying forcible “marriage” to women after killing their families on these grounds is some extreme moral relativism. It is particularly absurd, as this is supposedly permitted by the Christian God, the source of “objective moral standards.” I see. The same God whoe doesn’t seem to have any compunctions about making his will clear on more conventional matters by massacring say, the boyscout troop for making fun of Elisha’s hair loss. And yet he is willing to compromise on alleged “objective morality” when it comes to raping a woman whose family was just slaughtered? (Okay, so in one verse the poor girl is given a month or two to mourn first. that makes it all better..)

Paragraph 3: mostly addressed in the preceding rant. If OT God had known/said anything about quantum physics, he would have damn well smote anyone who publically disputed it. And then smote them again for complaining about the first smiting. (Numbers 16, definitely one of my favorite Bible stories)

Paragraph 4: Biblical slavery may not have been as bad as American slavery, but that doesn’t make it acceptable. I believe there is a verse permitting beating of slaves, as long as they don’t die within the following 2 days. Oh, okay then. And I think it is also clear that slaves were regarded as more property than human beings.

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Michael March 8, 2010 at 9:49 pm

svenjamin: First, how is someone supposed to be sure of Christianity’s truth if they can’t actually assess objections to it?
Second, note that in the case where the ideas you propose to be Christian do in fact have some Biblical basis (i.e. aren’t the projections of modern moral sentiments into the Bible), there are contradictory details(usually in the OT).  

I agree that the OT seems to be contrary to some of these. But the NT is not at all. You say 2 is contradicted in both OT and NT, although Jesus definitely taught this and so did Paul.

There is a difference between killing and murder. Murder is the unlawful premeditated act of killing someone. To kill someone in war is not murder.

One has to remember that the Jews of the Old Testament were not perfect people. When one speaks of “Christianity,” it must be remembered that it is implied that Jesus is the one who was perfect and should be made an example of. You could point to the Jewiest Jew who ever Jewed and find sin in his/her life, but that would have no effect on Jesus and His example.

I concur that the OT sometimes says things that may be contrary to the NT. Especially Leviticus. But the context is very important. This was a new group of people who needed to relearn how to live due to the slavery in Egypt. Many of the “laws” were cultural, and do not transfer to the NT. For example, the eating of meats. Paul says that eating non-kosher meets is alright for some, but maybe not others. It depends on how it affects one. There are many other laws like this as well. Slavery for example. There are laws about how to treat slaves. Does this mean that the Bible condones slavery? Of course not. These laws were limited to that culture in which there were slaves. It would be like someone discussing the “rules” of football. It’s alright to tackle people in this manner but not that, etc. But does this mean that is how we should treat life outside of football as well? No way. Since life isn’t a football game, those rules don’t apply outside of the context in which they were given for.

Having said this, chances are, most of the “contradictions” are either no longer applicable outside of OT Judaism, or clarified in the NT.

Finally, the point is that many of the “Commandments” given by Hitchens are eerily similar to many Christian beliefs. This has nothing to do with him being an atheist, but merely the impact Christianity has had on society. It has shaped and molded so much of the Law in Western Civ. and even though Europe is quite secular, many of the freedoms that Europe maintains are at least partially due to some influence of Christianity.

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Aeiluindae March 8, 2010 at 10:51 pm

@svenjamin
Point taken. However, I was not saying any of the above were even remotely OK. There’s a reason Christians like to ignore the OT. It brings lovely awkward questions with bad answers. I’ve got a number of theories, as do many actual theologians on how to make sense of that sort of thing. I’m sorry, some of what I said came across wrongly. I did not intend to paint a naive sunshine and roses picture of Israel (as some are wont to do), nor say that what they did was right. God didn’t smite everyone who disagreed with him in the OT. He still did a lot of smiting, though. The dumb answer is that we all deserve to die anyway, so living at all is a mercy, but that has no explanatory power. Explaining quantum physics to a pastoral culture would have been interesting. You know, if pretty much everyone had complained, and he smote them, then bye bye chosen people, kind of defeating the purpose. On a separate note, it had been a while since I’d read Numbers 16. With regard to my comments on slavery, I simply intended to remind people that slavery was different then. I found a short article on Biblical slavery: http://www.bible.gen.nz/amos/themes/slavery.htm. It supports your statements. Congratulations on your accuracy. I don’t have good answers for you off the top of my head, but did feel the need to clarify a couple of things so I don’t appear a complete moron.

@Hermes
A number of the food stipulations make sense because some of the forbidden animals were more likely to cause disease. Pork is the obvious example. There are a number of diseases that, such as trichinosis, that are easy to get from pork, and the omnivorous and generally dirty habits of pigs (which would have been in the home, if they were kept) would cause more disease, as well. Prohibitions against eating shellfish, mice, rats, ravens, reptiles, and most insects have a similar basis. Some of the others prevented communicable diseases passing between people, things like that. Some of the others were clearly intended basically to make them demonstrably different as a society. I’m at as much of a loss as you are for the menstruation and nocturnal emission rules, though. I’d really like to hear an Orthodox Rabbi explain those ones.

My attitude toward the Israelites is much like my attitude toward the Greeks. There are many things they did right, but many things they completely did wrong or just don’t make sense today. I have an immense amount of respect for the Bible, and I believe that it reveals something about God, and is at least fairly historically accurate and consistent in message (there’s consistency, maybe you can’t see it, but I can), but I do not believe it to be free of human error or agenda. I also find it rather entertaining.

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svenjamin March 8, 2010 at 10:57 pm

Michael,

I think I was mixing a few different kinds of responses together: that the ten commandments of Hitchens are actually quite incompatible with a literalist reading of the Bible, and that your version was often neither the same as the corresponding Hitchens commandment, nor substantiated by a literalist reading of the Bible.

I simply don’t agree that the freedoms of Europe are the result of specifically Christian influence. Well, not in the way that you would hope. Perhaps via disgust at the bloodbaths resulting from religious wars. But also Enlightenment philosophy and secularism.

I think I expressed my views on the effectiveness of excusing the immorality of OT Israelites above. It’s a pretty extreme form of moral relativism to justify things like rape and slavery, and if God was so willing to deal out swift and brutal flaming death for other transgressions, does it really make any sense to claim that he was “tolerating their ignorance” when it comes to more fundamental moral issues? This also seems entirely inconsistent with Christian claims about God as a source objective morality.

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Aeiluindae March 8, 2010 at 11:00 pm

Michael:
I agree that the OT seems to be contrary to some of these. But the NT is not at all. You say 2 is contradicted in both OT and NT, although Jesus definitely taught this and so did Paul….

Excellent points. You’re much more eloquent than I. I imagine not everyone will accept the football analogy, though, and someone will reference the context video. God had to work within a culture. As I said above, he couldn’t just make them agree by force. That would not have worked for a whole host of reasons.

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lukeprog March 8, 2010 at 11:46 pm

On the one hand, Christians say God ‘had’ to work within a culture. On the other hand, they say he profoundly changed culture by way of Jesus of Nazareth. This is all just a game to justify their prior commitments.

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Jake de Backer March 9, 2010 at 12:07 am

I think we all agree with the claim that “God had to work within a culture.” The difference is, we conclude that such being the case, the obligations, edicts, and laws moral or otherwise are entirely ephemeral and are consequently in-apropos when dealing with contemporary morality. I think the point about Quantum Physics was not specifically inquiring as to how the people who were given such information would handle it, but rather, that the Bible contains no such information which would serve to demonstrate either it’s perennial relevance and universal applicability or it’s divine source. (I may be mistaken as to the purpose of mentioning Q.M., if so I apologize to it’s author.) Essentially, it is simply a book which, as agreed, served as moral compass of sorts for a culture which existed twenty something centuries ago.

As an aside, I do always find it curious that we need apologetics in the first place. I was engaged in a written debate a few months back with a colleague and found one of the paragraphs I wrote to be somewhat germane to my point.

God’s Mouthpiece

Where do you find within yourself the audacity to act as God’s translator of metaphor or allegory? What qualifications could you possibly possess to know so intimately when God (or the scribes he inspired) is composing word for word literal truths, or employing literary tools to convey his message? What kind of God is it that requires the creation to explain the Creator? With what objective tools of reasoning do you approach and ameliorate the audacious claims made about the treatment of women, homosexuals, slaves, and animals (to name but a few)? With each act of Bowdlerism committed in your personal representation of scripture, you show yourself wholly and morally superior to the Book you exalt as your life’s instruction manual. If, through the course of a conversation, you persuade a nonbeliever who after reading the Bible cover to cover, was unable to be convinced by the word of God himself, does that not undermine His dexterity as an author? Could He not, in deed, should He not have said all that was capable of being said so as to suede those who ever stood a chance of believing? Perhaps the Bible should have been edited so as to appear in volumes every few hundred years.

J.

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Michael March 9, 2010 at 5:57 am

I would say that that would be like complaining that the professor didn’t give you the answers for the exam although he was surely capable of it. God may have willed that we learn for ourselves and think for ourselves in many ways, and not just have him spoon feeding us. Paul makes this point when he speaks of having to grow and eat solid foods rather than living on milk one’s entire life.

Second, if He made it too obvious, it would eliminate free will, or at least restrict it severely. try choosing something contrary to what I want if I have a loaded gun to your head. It’s manipulative. Apologetics the way they are now weren’t always needed. When Paul and other disciples were converting people, they would tell them the Gospel story and many would come to believe. It is only in this day and age in which apologetics are necessary, since many of the Christian basics (existence of God, etc.) are rejected for one reason or another. At that time, almost everybody believed in gods, so convincing them that there was one God would not have been near as hard as convincing an atheist is now. Hence, more in-depth apologetics.

@svenjamin
I agree that some of my points may not be supported by a “literalist” view, but I do feel that, if not the same, are somewhat similar to Hitchens points, at least at the core.

I did not mean to say that Christianity is the only reason for Western Civ. being the way it is, but simply that it did have a positive impact. Along those lines, there was really no “slaughters” like the Holocaust or Stalin or Pol Pot or Mao caused by Christianity. There were the crusades, which were wrong if I may admit, and not at all Christ-like, and that’s about it when it comes to killing other than minor things here and there. Nothing that would “shape” or “cleanse” the culture. If anything, Islam did more cleansing as they went on their own “crusade” that was much more effective. The ideas of equality, one man one woman marriage, natural rights, to name a few, are influences of Christianity. This is not to say that nothing else had an effect on these things as well, simply that Christianity did play a positive role in the development of society.

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Michael March 9, 2010 at 6:00 am

You could also throw in education for the common man and many colleges were originally started by Christians (nearly all the ivy league ones especially).

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lukeprog March 9, 2010 at 6:30 am

Michael,

Are you going to credit everything that came from medieval and renaissance Europe to Christianity? Shall we also thank Christianity for imperialism, then?

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Hermes March 9, 2010 at 7:20 am

Michael: the point is that many of the “Commandments” given by Hitchens are eerily similar to many Christian beliefs.

…and many Christian beliefs are eerily similar to pre-Christian beliefs.

Point being: If morality were the providence of any religion or any dogmatic ideal, why do so many get it staggeringly wrong for decades to centuries to millennia, then when a chance arises to make positive changes they ‘do not come to change a bit of the law’ (to summarize Jesus).

If you want to graciously accept by proxy some of the credit for all of the wins, you have to have equal grace to accept all of the losses as well.

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Hermes March 9, 2010 at 7:24 am

Michael: You could also throw in education for the common man and many colleges were originally started by Christians (nearly all the ivy league ones especially).  

Because having knowledge is a religious idea, or one that has been imported into their sphere lest it get out of hand?

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Aeiluindae March 9, 2010 at 7:45 am

lukeprog: Michael,Are you going to credit everything that came from medieval and renaissance Europe to Christianity? Shall we also thank Christianity for imperialism, then?  

It’s difficult to assign credit/blame for various historical acts. I’m not sure that’s where Michael was going, either. I don’t think you can give Christianity credit or blame for imperialism because empires happened at earlier times in history independent from Christianity. However, for example, many things that the government now does (schools, helping the poor) were started because of Christian moral convictions. Whether or not they would have developed independently is hard to know. I’m not sure enough of my history to know whether they were the first on those kind of things.

lukeprog: On the one hand, Christians say God ‘had’ to work within a culture. On the other hand, they say he profoundly changed culture by way of Jesus of Nazareth. This is all just a game to justify their prior commitments.  

I think there’s a profound difference between what happened in the OT and the NT. Christianity did change culture, but over time. There’s a difference between an outsider decreeing a new culture (which is the way it would have been in the OT if God had dropped modern culture) and a member of the culture saying that this is all wrong (which is the way Jesus worked). The first is what a lot of idiot missionaries did to various indigenous people. The second is what the abolitionist movement did.

To all the people asking about QM, it’s an example I use to get back at Biblical literalists who think the Bible should be a science textbook and to demonstrate that lots of things from today would not translate well to back then without all the events that brought the knowledge about. Parachuting morality back in time would be roughly equivalent. All the events that made people realize certain moral principles are what cause them to make sense. Having the principles that we gained from experience without the experiences we have collectively as a society makes the principles meaningless.

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svenjamin March 9, 2010 at 8:30 am

Don’t have time to respond to a lot of what I would like to, but I really should clarify that when I said God would have simply smote people he had wanted to promote “Quantum Mechanics” and they didn’t accept it, I meant it as a place-holder for everything else (equality, voting, etc) that was actually relevant. My fault for being a smart-ass.

What I was trying to say is that I simply don’t accept the claims about concessions to culture. God was clearly willing to enforce more ‘contextual’ morals,’ so why not the so-called objective morality? And even if they wouldn’t have followed it perfectly, how come there is still not even a MENTION that it is wrong to rape or have slaves? The answer that makes the most sense to me is that OT morals are those of a tribal patriarchy whose pre-dominant interests were land and women. And I think most of the morally objectionable things about the OT are a result of justifying the conception of women and as property, and the urges to conquer and acquire land by reference to the will of God. (call it an argument to a best explanation, if you will, not an “affirming the consequent” fallacy. Though they look the same to me.)

One of my favorite interpretations of the Bible is the particularly, um, “creative” book “Answer to Job” by Karl Jung. I’m not a Jungian, but I appreciate the aesthetic value of his view. It goes something like this: OT God is an all-powerful evil tyrant. Then the Job scenario occurs. This culminates in God’s pronouncement that it is not for men to question his ways. But witnessing Job’s suffering, patience, and reasoning plants a seed of doubt in God. This culminates in God deciding to become human to experience life as we do, and recognizing things from our perspective, ushering in the transformed NT God. Kind of cool, huh? It has been over six years since I quick read the book in one sitting, but I think that was the gist of it. It seems to be a more consistent interpretation of the Bible, at least. Unfortunately, such a few permits God to actually grow as a person, which isn’t exactly orthodoxy.

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Michael March 9, 2010 at 10:42 am

Hermes: …and many Christian beliefs are eerily similar to pre-Christian beliefs.
Point being: If morality were the providence of any religion or any dogmatic ideal, why do so many get it staggeringly wrong for decades to centuries to millennia, then when a chance arises to make positive changes they ‘do not come to change a bit of the law’ (to summarize Jesus).
If you want to graciously accept by proxy some of the credit for all of the wins, you have to have equal grace to accept all of the losses as well.  

I would agree in part to this. I accept the losses, but there isn’t really much “pre-Judeo-Christian” thought present in Biblical Christianity. It’s very unique in this factor. One could also argue that those that are manifest throughout all of human history are the Law of God written on their hearts. Which brings it right back to Judeo-Christian thought.

lukeprog: Are you going to credit everything that came from medieval and renaissance Europe to Christianity? Shall we also thank Christianity for imperialism, then

Nope, just the good things, haha. Just kidding. I wouldn’t go that far. Just that it did have an impact on may areas, not all, and not major in some aspects, and more influential in others. The point being that it has had an overall good impact, and not negative. It would be a very, very long post to go through everything it impacted and everything that didn’t. I’m not claiming that it is the only cause, or even a main cause, but simply that it had an impact on many aspects of society,

@svenjamin
Rape was sex outside of marriage and hence wrong. There are plenty of references to when sex should not occur, which is anytime outside of the marriage bond between man and woman. Paul clarifies this by saying what is legal, beneficial, pleasurable…

To Jung, eh, interesting but questionable. I would say that God knew what would happen before it happens, He would not question himself or doubt himself. This is not at all an area of any expertise for me, but I would guess the story would be waiting for right time, wants people to realize they are sinners, gives them many changes so that no one could see they didn’t a chance, and then comes down and shows what it was supposed to be like all along but that everybody had messed up. I think Job had it more right than others.

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Hermes March 9, 2010 at 11:11 am

Aeiluindae: However, for example, many things that the government now does (schools, helping the poor) were started because of Christian moral convictions.

Are you claiming that nobody before the Christians had schools, helped the poor, and that socialism can be a good idea?

Aeiluindae: Having the principles that we gained from experience without the experiences we have collectively as a society makes the principles meaningless.

That’s why morality can’t flow from a pre-determined religious text. It’s difficult, and it’s a human endeavor, not a claimed perfect one-time-from-on-high pronouncement. This is true no matter how earnest and thoughtful the writer of the religious text was at the time. Even Communism seemed like a potentially good idea at first to many people, though fatally flawed to others. Meanwhile, with that experiment exhausted with many corpses to show on the large scale, even the small scale idealized communist systems based on a kibbutz structure are shrinking, vanishing, or getting a more free market overhaul.

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svenjamin March 9, 2010 at 11:16 am

Michael: @svenjamin
Rape was sex outside of marriage and hence wrong. There are plenty of references to when sex should not occur, which is anytime outside of the marriage bond between man and woman. Paul clarifies this by saying what is legal, beneficial, pleasurable…
To Jung, eh, interesting but questionable. I would say that God knew what would happen before it happens, He would not question himself or doubt himself. This is not at all an area of any expertise for me, but I would guess the story would be waiting for right time, wants people to realize they are sinners, gives them many changes so that no one could see they didn’t a chance, and then comes down and shows what it was supposed to be like all along but that everybody had messed up. I think Job had it more right than others.

I don’t put any weight whatsoever in Jung, I just like his version “as a nice story.”

I realize you think sex outside of marriage is wrong, and that rape is therefore wrong, but this really doesn’t do anything to get around the issues I am getting at: that God does not say “rape is wrong” in the OT. I think a careful evaluation of the verses in which rape is discussed in the OT leads to the conclusion that rape is wrong because it ruins another man’s property. If a man raped an un-betrothed woman, he had to marry her and pay her father Why? Because the father has lost the ability to collect a dowry for her by marrying her to someone else. On the other hand, raping a woman who is engaged is grounds for death. Why should these be treated differently? I suggest that the difference is in the status of the woman as the property of another man. I should point out that these rules are in the OT, but the interpretation is mine, based on general patterns in tribal pastoral societies identified in anthropology.

To undermine the claim that rape is in-and of-itself wrong in the OT, I can simply point out that rape isn’t necessarily sex outside of marriage, and that indeed, rape within marriage is condoned. I mean, you could claim that it’s possible that virgins taken as wives after the rest of their tribe was killed were willing. And you could claim that the girl forced to marry someone who raped her changed her mind after marriage. But that’s pretty farfetched. And the alternative is that they didn’t have any sex at all, or that the men were permitted to rape their wives. Here are some reference verses: Deuteronomy 22:28-29, Numbers 31:14-18, Deuteronomy 21:10-14, Deuteronomy 22:23-24

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drj March 9, 2010 at 11:36 am

Aeiluindae: A number of the food stipulations make sense because some of the forbidden animals were more likely to cause disease. Pork is the obvious example. There are a number of diseases that, such as trichinosis, that are easy to get from pork, and the omnivorous and generally dirty habits of pigs (which would have been in the home, if they were kept) would cause more disease, as well. Prohibitions against eating shellfish, mice, rats, ravens, reptiles, and most insects have a similar basis. Some of the others prevented communicable diseases passing between people, things like that. Some of the others were clearly intended basically to make them demonstrably different as a society. I’m at as much of a loss as you are for the menstruation and nocturnal emission rules, though. I’d really like to hear an Orthodox Rabbi explain those ones.

When you consider all the health information God could have passed along, but didn’t, this explanation always seems rather ad hoc.

Strangely enough, the “medical secrets” God shared would have been well within the reach of desert nomads to discover. If one didn’t know better, it’d be tempting to say He wasn’t there at all ;)

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Hermes March 9, 2010 at 11:40 am

Michael: I would agree in part to this. I accept the losses, but there isn’t really much “pre-Judeo-Christian” thought present in Biblical Christianity. It’s very unique in this factor. One could also argue that those that are manifest throughout all of human history are the Law of God written on their hearts. Which brings it right back to Judeo-Christian thought.

Great. A claim that can be checked against reality. Show me up to 3 examples. Choose the best, most unambiguous ones. Ones that Christians and non-Christians alike would agree on.

* * *

As for the last part, anyone who utters it in earnestness lacks both empathy and insight. It is, of course, self-serving clap trap.

I encourage you to tell your fellow Christians to cut it out as it only makes them look intolerant and dogmatic if not just bigoted and dim.

At best, I am embarrassed for those Christians that have the lack of care to claim such things. I suspect that most do it in an attempt to drench those around them with their own overbearing smugness. On that attempt, I will grant that from my perspective they often succeed in quickly laying down a tar-like coating, and to stifle further conversations.

It really is an astounding claim, made in staggeringly bad taste.

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svenjamin March 9, 2010 at 2:33 pm

Michael: there isn’t really much “pre-Judeo-Christian” thought present in Biblical Christianity. It’s very unique in this factor. One could also argue that those that are manifest throughout all of human history are the Law of God written on their hearts. Which brings it right back to Judeo-Christian thought.

Biblical Christianity..hmm.. That is almost building your conclusion in there. If you had just said “Christianity” I would have pointed to the immense influence on Christian thought by Augustine and Aquinas, who are referred to as “The Christian Plato and Aristotle” for their ‘baptism’ of ancient Greek philosophy. The Docrine of Original sin has its intellectual roots in Plato. Christians now read this into the Bible.

I could also argue that mainstream Christian thought has incorporated a lot of extra-biblical material. As Luke has probably discovered in his exchanges with Vox Day, modern Christian thought has been enormously shaped by C.S. Lewis.

But to completely address your claim, I need to provide examples of pre-Judeo-Christian thought that is evident in the Bible itself. How about these:

-I don’t think it could be much more obvious that the book of Hebrews is heavily influence by Platonic thought. Any familiarity with Plato should make this clear.

-The New Testament vision of the afterlife is Greco-Roman, not Hebrew. See Alice K. Turner’s “A History of Hell.”

-Textual support for the doctrine of the trinity has been inserted into the NT. Look up the Comma Johanneum, I think that is what it’s called.

You could make the claim about everything good in human history is the product of the law of God written in peoples hearts..But that would completely abort the possibility of productive discourse.

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Hermes March 9, 2010 at 2:45 pm

svenjamin: You could make the claim about everything good in human history is the product of the law of God written in peoples hearts..But that would completely abort the possibility of productive discourse.

Exactly. Very well said.

* * *

Michael, for what it’s worth I have no doubt that Svenjamin could easily add to the list he provided as I can think of a few issues right off the top of my head myself.

I await your comments in support of the uniqueness you claim Biblical Christianity supposedly has. In narrow cases, I am sure you can find a few examples, but then again so can similar unique claims be made by advocates of other religious texts.

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ildi March 9, 2010 at 3:26 pm

Michael: I would say that that would be like complaining that the professor didn’t give you the answers for the exam although he was surely capable of it. God may have willed that we learn for ourselves and think for ourselves in many ways, and not just have him spoon feeding us. Paul makes this point when he speaks of having to grow and eat solid foods rather than living on milk one’s entire life.

Second, if He made it too obvious, it would eliminate free will, or at least restrict it severely. try choosing something contrary to what I want if I have a loaded gun to your head. It’s manipulative. Apologetics the way they are now weren’t always needed. When Paul and other disciples were converting people, they would tell them the Gospel story and many would come to believe. It is only in this day and age in which apologetics are necessary, since many of the Christian basics (existence of God, etc.) are rejected for one reason or another.

No, it’s complaining that the professor NEVER gives you the answers, and telling you that a horrible fate will befall you if you don’t get it right. The students in the classroom come up with all sorts of variants and start beating the crap out of each other over the differences…

Your second paragraph makes no sense to me. How would making it too obvious eliminate free will? Everything is obvious in heaven, right? So, heaven is full of god-puppets? How is making things obvious manipulative? Don’t you think it’s pretty manipulative to say ‘worship me or suffer eternal damnation’? Hell seems much more like a loaded gun to the head to get what you want.

Apologetics is ‘needed’ in this day and age because of this little thing called science.

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Jake de Backer March 9, 2010 at 10:13 pm

Michael,

I see you responded to my last paragraph which I identified as only moderately relevant to this post and yet left unmolested the first paragraph which was entirely on-topic. I would like to see an argument delineating why we should commit ourselves to biblical morality (and not an expurgated, cherry-picked edition where you point to the 20% which isn’t appalling as being representative of the bible’s moral edicts as a whole) in contemporary cases, or else admit that on the hole, biblical morality is, to understate it; An antiquated, barbaric, detestable, deplorable, despicable, incorrigible, pernicious, malignant, execrable, abhorrent, opprobrious, socially deleterious, morally bankrupt, intellectually vacuous, embarrassment to our species. So to speak.

J.

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Aeiluindae March 9, 2010 at 11:17 pm

Jake de Backer,
Here’s an article that defends that sort of cherry-picking http://www.bigissueground.com/atheistground/cauthen-bibleinterpret.shtml. What do you think? Here’s an excerpt. It’s not entirely relevant, but it illustrates the author’s attitude to Biblical exegesis.

Do we know what various biblical writers or communities would have said about faithful, monogamous relationships among persons of the same sex? The more important point, however, is that any theological method that will allow particular moral issues like this to be settled by biblical exegesis alone is faulty. No question can be raised as to whether particular passages in the Bible advocate killing disobedient children (Deut. 21:18-21), or take slavery for granted, or forbid women to be teachers of men or to have authority over them (I Tim. 2:11-12). Do we regard these passages as authoritative for us? No, of course not. Then why should the morality of homosexual love be settled by reference to specific verses rather than by appeal to the highest ethical norms we know, having learned them from Scripture?

He doesn’t address why the objectionable passages are in there in the first place, but he does provide a logic for ignoring them. I find that he assumes a couple of things, particularly about morality, but its interesting.

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Hermes March 10, 2010 at 4:02 am

Aeiluindae, the quote you used started out with “Do we know what various biblical writers or communities would have said about faithful, monogamous relationships among persons of the same sex?” Then, it goes off and doesn’t bother answering it’s own question. The author should have added (if they did not cover it elsewhere) that monogamy was not emphasized in the Bible at all. Polygamy and concubines as well as other group sexual relationships were mentioned without criticism in many parts, and even as a statement of power with the tacit agreement or encouragement of your deity. The death of a spouse, even in the case of monogamy, seems like a property issue only as can be seen in Job.

As such, the Bible can not be used to address the validity of not having or even encouraging those relationships even if they were somehow not correct. Repeat for slavery and a variety of other ills.

Is the author’s only comment is the current societal judgment on the issues he(?) does rais; “Do we regard these passages as authoritative for us? No, of course not.” How he got to that point is not discussed. Thus, he has no logic for ignoring them.

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Aeiluindae March 10, 2010 at 7:50 am

Did you follow the link? It was hard to grab a good quote because of the organization. I picked a bad one, I guess.

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Hermes March 10, 2010 at 9:55 am

[ [[ looks ]] Strange. It’s on a site promoting atheism. ]

His conclusion is absolutely gushing. Can you give a section that you think is a bit more hard nosed?

I’ll skip to the section titled “Contemporary Illustrations of the Thesis” as that seems to have some hope of being what I’m looking for.

[ reads ]

He addresses slavery, but only to admit the obvious. That’s a switch.

I don’t see any logic, though. Just a big tent-style statements along the lines that ‘everyone is right — and wrong — at the same time’.

At that point, why not just skip the Bible entirely and read the business section of the phone book to gain inspiration?^^

[ ^^. I would have said 'read a dictionary to gain inspiration' instead, but I personally find a good dictionary inspiring. ]

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Aeiluindae March 10, 2010 at 6:59 pm

The author of that article raises some attractive ideas, but he does little to support them, unfortunately. I’d like it better if he had a solid logical basis. I was surprised to find the article where it was, as well.

I recently found a couple of articles regarding the takeover of Canaan and the destruction of the Amalekites. I’m not sure what to think of them or how much of them everyone’s heard before. I’m not qualified to check his facts with regard to history, either. But he does seem to grab hold of this idea that the Canaanites had plenty of time to leave.

Much of his argument is to the effect that because they supposedly knew far in advance that the Israelites were coming, that the innocents would have mostly left. He argues that the Canaanites who remained deserved to die because they were complicit in the child sacrifice and other bad aspects of their culture.

For the slaughtering to the Amalekite women and children, he argues that the Israelites would not have been able to support that many dependent people, and they would have died of starvation in the desert, so a quick death was a mercy. He points out that the Israelites went after the Amalekites because of repeated raiding and attacks over the span of a couple hundred years. Here are the urls if anyone wants to take a look.

http://www.christian-thinktank.com/qamorite.html
http://www.christian-thinktank.com/rbutcher1.html

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Hermes March 10, 2010 at 10:57 pm

First off, yes, I am aware of these types of justifications and I don’t find them persuasive. To fully say why I don’t, I’ll show two completely different angles on this topic.

The first starts fairly typically. It is brutally simple and only shows modest insights later, so be patient before attempting to guess the plot.

The second is quite a bit more complex. It has a wide scope and references many ideas and details without offering explanations or references for them. It is heavy on details and opinions.

As it’s late, I’m going to leave it at that for now. Hopefully someone will find parts of this entertaining if not enlightening. Maybe some of it will spark some curiosity, independent to what we’re discussing now?

* * *

Let’s step back from what Christian apologetics texts give as an answer for a moment.

If I said to you that in a few years I was going to come and take your house, would you feel I was fully justified to plow your walls down in the middle of the night five or ten years later?

What if, after the deed, I had a smear campaign about your character, and told stories about how bad you were?

What recourse would you have — to seek justice or correct the record — if in the process of plowing down your house, you and everyone in your family died?

Would my description of what happened and why I did it, since it was the only story available, be accepted by everyone as completely realistic?

Would normal people say “Well, if Hermes said it — and nobody is around to dispute it — then I guess I’ll just take his word.”?

What if I said that Bob told me to take your house because each and every person in your family is 100% evil? Since Bob — to me — is unquestionably perfect, I ignore all criticisms of my actions.

The point I want to raise isn’t that the Israelites were 100% evil or immoral, or that the Christian Bible is 100% factual or 100% in error, nor do I want to give a clean pass to anyone around the Israelites who may have goaded them on.

The point is very simple: There are no justifications for genocide. Those who attempt to do that dance — to justify the wholesale destruction of others — have abandoned any pretense of being civilized.

What’s the idiom? Those who live by the sword? Time, and Yahweh it seems, has not been good to the Jews.

Yet, strike that last sentence. It’s entirely wrong. It’s wrong to the Jews and it is also wrong to those the ancient peoples who were slaughtered according to the Christian Bible. Any wholesale death of an entire human population is not justified; they are victims of some other group’s attempts at genocide and the perpetrators even in death deserve condemnation not support.

Importantly, though, they are also human members of a specific culture, locked in time and victims of human controlled circumstances. They were and are no more alien in physiology than “Generation X” is to “Generation Y”. They are not a timeless narrow caste or subspecies of human beast that exists like a Platonic form in abstraction.

So, NO is the only acceptable answer required on a morality quiz if the question is “Is it OK to commit genocide?”

* * *

A different approach…

The Israelites that ‘showed up’ in Canaan, as far as I can discern, were most likely the Canaanites that were already there. Why? Israelites ‘show up’ in Canaan at about 1,500 BCE. Yet, there is evidence of Jewish culture in Canaan going back to around 3,000 BCE — but none as a unified slave ethnic group in Egypt. Did some Egyptians keep Jews as slaves? Yes. Yet, Jews also kept Egyptians as slaves, and some Jews even worked for the ancient Egyptian government as free people when Egypt controlled areas that Jews happened to also live in.

So, if the Jews were in Canaan for about 1,500 years before Israel was supposed to be founded, then there’s no reason to invade Canaan as an outside force.

There’s also the issue of Yahweh and his Asherah (part of the Canaanite pantheon as well as other surrounding regions; gods and goddesses do get around even if under different aliases at times), and that Hebrew is in the Canaanite family of languages. Where’s the clear separation?

Yet, what better way to unify a group of people when religion was largely regional yet ubiquitous; just bundle up the extra bits that are no longer kosher and ascribe them to your distant black sheep cousins. You know, the ones that deserved to be executed in the chair for all the horrible things they did? (Just think of the children!) The cousins didn’t even have to exist once upon a time to make this work, but if they did then that’s even better regardless of what actually happened to them or by them (if anything noteworthy at all).

Could I be wrong on any part of this? Sure.

Yet, for both good and bad, I don’t take the Christian Bible at it’s word even if my ideas are 100% wrong as it is stunningly inconsistent.

Maybe there were genocides in Canaan — on the other hand, maybe much of it was internal strife and the numbers of dead were not as large as reported and largely confined to narrow incidences?

The Christian Bible text describing genocides in Canaan sounds very much like a story intended to express the mythic truth — that large parts of Canaanite culture were wiped out — through a fictionalized drama of Canaanites themselves actually being wiped out. Them dying is almost a sacrificial act like many other sweeping stories of mass death told (or retold) in the Christian Bible.

The mundane change of the Jews/Canaanites over time from polytheistic to monotheistic isn’t as dramatic or as definitive even if it did include a few brutal crackdowns and an occasional battle along the way. It is much more troublesome to emphasize a mythic truth without a good story to wrap it in.

And that’s the point of this second half; While there are cultural truths in the Christian Bible, they were expressed through stories that had less to do with history and more to do with how people thought of themselves at the time the stories were written.

As such, it is irresponsible to look at any cultural truth and decide that it applies to anyone outside of the culture that expressed it, or even that they got it right for what they were doing at the time.

That is why it is obvious to me that the Christian religious texts are on the same level as other mythic texts from other cultures that I’m not a member of. Your wishy-washy guy from the last example was right to a point, he just didn’t go far enough. In the end he clings to the good, the bad, and the nonsensical from a culture that hasn’t been around for well over a thousand years. Even he’s not following it, and I’d wager neither are the literalists that claim Biblical inerrancy (often enough ironically with the KJV as their touchstone).

Keep in mind that if you check anthropology as well as history it is clear that these religions — Judaism and Christianity and Islam — were proceeded by other religions and borrowed heavily from them and many other cultural artifacts. We don’t follow Hammurabi’s code anymore for a reason. Why do the same unquestioningly with other ancient texts?

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Michael March 11, 2010 at 10:24 am

No other religions make the claim that God Himself became human and dwelt among us. Buddhism has the Buddha, Islam has Mohammed, Mormonism has Joseph Smith, but none of these claimed to be God Himself. That’s the biggest difference. I would suggest reading “The Universe Next Door,” it’s a short book that gives an overview of the major worldviews and the differences between them. I will post some more when I have some more time, but exams are next week.

svenjamin: Biblical Christianity..hmm.. That is almost building your conclusion in there. If you had just said “Christianity” I would have pointed to the immense influence on Christian thought by Augustine and Aquinas, who are referred to as “The Christian Plato and Aristotle” for their ‘baptism’ of ancient Greek philosophy. The Docrine of Original sin has its intellectual roots in Plato. Christians now read this into the Bible.

Biblical was the wrong word to use. How about something more along the lines of conservative? But not really. My goal was to mean the thoughts that were Biblically based and not too liberal (Jesus existed as a good man but nor the Son of God, etc.) but not super fundamental (YEC). So Aquinas, Augustine, Anselm, etc. could be considered in “Christianity’s” influence. I definitely agree that some aspects of Christianity are somewhat Greco-ish, Hebrews especially. But based on philosophy, truth is truth and if something is true, then it is rational to believe it no matter what religion or background you come from. So I will concede the point that some matters were adopted into Christianity. But what about morality? Who flipped the scale and made it good to help the needy and sick? Christians, or more specifically, Jesus. The ancient world usually considered the needy to be getting what they deserved and therefore didn’t think it was good to help them in any way. Now, philanthropy and altruism are generally considered great things, and one can be criticized if they don’t help others or donate to charity. Humans being equal beings is a mostly Christian idea based on imago dei, where as many cultures viewed certain groups and races as less human.

Jake De Baker,
Interesting post on biblical morality. Yes, it seems weird to see some of the things that happen in the OT that seem contrary to what is taught. There are many explanations, some more plausible than others, though I’m not an expert on any of them. However, Christian morality (or at least what is “taught” as “Christian” morality, whether based on the OT or NT or both or not) is what most legal systems and ethics are based on. the natural rights of man were based on a Christian idea. This was my point in my first posts that Hitchens commandments are surprisingly similar to Christian idea. So I will concede that it is possible that the basis for Christian morality in the Bible is off base and not at all representative of it. But that does not mean that what is considered “Christian” has been taken by society as a whole, repackaged, and remarketed as their own ideas.

svenjamin: I think a careful evaluation of the verses in which rape is discussed in the OT leads to the conclusion that rape is wrong because it ruins another man’s property.

Or a man’s relationship with the woman? This would match up more so with NT thought, though. Thoughts?

Hermes: Great. A claim that can be checked against reality. Show me up to 3 examples. Choose the best, most unambiguous ones. Ones that Christians and non-Christians alike would agree on.

1. God created ex Nihilo (unique to monotheism)
2. Man made imago dei.
3. Salvation is based on grace and not works.
4. God Himself became human and dwelt among us. Buddhism has the Buddha, Islam has Mohammed, Mormonism has Joseph Smith, but none of these claimed to be God Himself. That’s the biggest difference. I would suggest reading “The Universe Next Door,” it’s a short book that gives an overview of the major worldviews and the differences between them.

More to come on all topics. Exams coming up.

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Aeiluindae March 11, 2010 at 12:26 pm

Hermes:
Good points all. I’m not sure where the archaeological evidence stands right now, so can’t respond to you, there. A lot of what people find in the archaeological evidence seems to depend on what people believe, as well. Interesting about the dates and such, though. Had not heard that before. I was summarizing the guy’s points, hoping for a response like this. Thanks for the critique.

I like what you said about mythic truth. Sometimes things are better expressed in narrative form. Regardless of the historical accuracy, I find lots of good, interesting stuff in there. The Bible is very much reflective of culture at the time. There is certainly stuff that makes no sense in modern society, and there may be historical inaccuracies, but in my opinion, there’s lots of relevant stuff, which is why I like it. I hope I didn’t misinterpret what you said.

The idea that we should take the Bible literally and aren’t allowed to reinterpret it in light of modern culture is something introduced by fundamentalist Christians. The Catholic church is different because they interpreted things and then said that their interpretations were the Word of God. They recognize that different time periods call for different ideas. They happen to move at a glacial pace, but they do move. Much Jewish thought (with exceptions) allowed for rethinking of beliefs when they didn’t make sense anymore, as well. The idea of a yearly pilgrimage to the temple is one obvious example.

All Christians get different things out of the Bible and everybody thinks they’ve got the right idea. Who holds an opinion that they think is wrong? It’s just that some of them claim that they’ve got the One True Interpretation for all time or argue that they aren’t doing any interpreting.

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Hermes March 11, 2010 at 2:30 pm

svenjamin

Michael: 1. God created ex Nihilo (unique to monotheism)
2. Man made imago dei.
3. Salvation is based on grace and not works.
4. God Himself became human and dwelt among us. Buddhism has the Buddha, Islam has Mohammed, Mormonism has Joseph Smith, but none of these claimed to be God Himself. That’s the biggest difference. I would suggest reading “The Universe Next Door,” it’s a short book that gives an overview of the major worldviews and the differences between them.

1, 2, and 4, are common and not unique to Christianity.

For example, (#1) just enter the search string creation myths “ex nihilo” in Google, and you’ll get a dozen valid examples in a few minutes from large and small cultures. (That said, ex nihilo creation is a violation of the 1st law of thermodynamics. A problem in claims about reality, but not for deus ex machina type story telling.)

Gods are commonly claimed to have made humans, and are usually human shaped and have human-like motivations, so even if it’s not explicit that they intended the similarities, that still covers #2. Gods frequently take the place of humans or even animals or ‘forces of nature’, so that’s also not unique. That’s #4. #3 is contentious depending on the sect of Christianity.

I’ve studied anthropology, world religions, and world myths.

My current focus is on myths and the histories of the ancient Mediterranean civilizations from modern and roughly contemporaneous sources. While inaccurate in parts (we know more now), I recently read James Frazer’s The Golden Bough and enjoyed it quite a bit. I also liked Thomas Bulfinch’s Mythology: The Age of Fable (though it’s even older than Golden Bough).

I’m currently listening to a more general book Don’t Know Much About Mythology by Kenneth Davis just to make sure that I don’t have any serious gaps in my knowledge of the subject area. I highly recommend it as a survey because it has both humor and wit as well as many many facts. That said, I do agree with the criticisms of it that some Amazon reviewers have voiced; the author dances around touchy subjects and should have been explicit when referring to different cultures that he was talking apples to apples and not apples to apple pie.

As for the word “worldview”, I detest it. It is a red flag that the person using that word is most likely a Christian apologist. (Sure enough, that’s what the author of the book you recommended is.) We’re all in the same reality. What’s wrong with the word perspective?

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Hermes March 11, 2010 at 2:41 pm

Aeiluindae: I hope I didn’t misinterpret what you said.

Sounds about right. I would only say from my perspective that the Christian Bible is as you say but at the same time it is the most overrated book people (in general) never read. They hear it’s wonderful, though. As an example, I’ve had a few different people reference Dante’s Inferno as if it were part of the Christian canon.

As for the rest, that’s about how I see it, though I speak as an outsider looking at what the myriad of Christians say and do.

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Hermes March 11, 2010 at 3:36 pm

[ A clarification: When people 'reference Dante's Inferno' I mean that they have either given rough quotes from it or described imagery from it that doesn't appear in the Christian Bible but they do not attribute it to Dante's work. A few even have prefaced their comments with phrases like 'as it is said in the Bible'. ]

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Hermes March 11, 2010 at 6:18 pm

Michael: I would suggest reading “The Universe Next Door,” it’s a short book that gives an overview of the major worldviews and the differences between them.

Wow. I’ve just thumbed through Amazon reviews of that book and they aren’t too flattering at all. Even someone from Regent University (student) pans the book as having an ‘immature feel’ and “Several worldviews are not really worldviews at all, but a combination of a ton of different worldviews lumped together.”. They didn’t say what edition they read, though if the book has a few editions already these types of errors (?) should have been corrected or at a minimum justified if they are questionable.

From my own review, the TOC seems spartan (for a book on what other people think, this seems very odd) and the chapter titles are strangely worded as well.

Could you give me an example of what impressed you the most about that book?

A half dozen sentences would be good, a paragraph or two better, or an excerpt of a chapter from the web would be ideal.

FWIW, I skimmed Chapter 1 (excerpted from a publisher’s web site) as it was reviewed as being OK and not an issue like later chapters. It seems like he quotes from Christian scripture and references it quite a bit, but that’s fine for an introductory chapter since he isn’t claiming a neutral stance.

Why would you think this would be a good book to read? I’m trying to see the value of it and want to give it a fair shake.

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Jake de Backer March 11, 2010 at 8:48 pm

Aeiluindae: Jake de Backer,
Here’s an article that defends that sort of cherry-picking http://www.bigissueground.com/atheistground/cauthen-biblei
nterpret.shtml. What do you think? Here’s an excerpt. It’s not entirely relevant, but it illustrates the author’s attitude to Biblical exegesis.
He doesn’t address why the objectionable passages are in there in the first place, but he does provide a logic for ignoring them. I find that he assumes a couple of things, particularly about morality, but its interesting.  

I should start this rejoinder by mentioning a certain appreciation I have for Christians, liberals in general, who are happily as far from the fundamentalist/inerrantist camp as most atheist’s are. Ostensibly, they appear more intellectually honest and are generally an easier bunch to open a stimulating dialectic with.

My critique stems from my understanding of the “Modernist’s” motivation which, essentially, is:
We have discovered, to some dismay, that there exists no objective evaluative metric by which we can discern a singular universally applicable Gospel truth in the Bible. Therefore, we are initiating a movement where our new interpretation of the “truth” will be a malleable, often-changing perspective which we breathe into scripture and declare it apposite for our times culturally, socially, morally and so on.

The intellectual commitment is unilateral and easily discerned; “We wish to remain Christian and for the bible to appear relevant, therefore, to save face, we must find a way to incorporate some aspect of scripture, however little it may be, into modern times.”

What I mean by unilateral, in this specific context is that you move from a commitment (the bible) to a moral system, not the other way around. This, to me, is a demonstration of emotional and intellectual immaturity. One of our greatest success’ in the past few hundred years is our ability to withhold our commitment to any doctrine, dogma, theory, whatever until we can accurately measure the evidence which corroborates it. You, and your kind, unequivocally are not on board. In other words, you’re moving in the wrong direction. You’re left to make ad-hoc rationalizations to explicate your futile loyalty to a book which, apart from it’s sales figures, is quite underwhelming. If I may quote from Robert Wright’s latest effort, The Evolution Of God:

The priests who wrote the Bible stood upon their tippy-toes and reaching just as high as they could reach, they drove their spike. That spike is the Bible. It represents their best knowledge, their best morals, their most advanced understanding and world view. It was as high as they could think! And they thought it was as high as anyone would ever be able to think. So they drove the spike of their knowledge just as high as they could reach and they called it “The word of God.” That spike, that was as high as those old priests could reach, is less than knee high to modern man. Humanity has advanced during the thousands of years since the Bible was written and our modern knowledge and higher moral understanding tells us that the spike, the Bible, is not “the word of God.”

Today we desperately need a new God—a God that is not an insult to our intelligence—a God that is as great as the endless cosmos. We need a just God that does not have chosen galaxies and a preferred life form—a life form that is told to slaughter other life forms. We desperately need a God that commands that we think, instead of believe and worship. We need a God to civilize us, not one that makes us savages.
(End quote)

I can’t claim to be persuaded of his need for a new God, even though he’s clearly speaking metaphorically but I certainly agree with the sentiment which, if I may paraphrase: We’ve outgrown that fucking book and it’s purported Author.

J.

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Hermes March 11, 2010 at 9:33 pm

Jake de Backer: [Robert Wright - The Evolution Of God] The priests who wrote the Bible stood upon their tippy-toes and reaching just as high as they could reach, they drove their spike. … That spike, that was as high as those old priests could reach, is less than knee high to modern man. … Humanity has advanced during the thousands of years since the Bible was written and our modern knowledge and higher moral understanding tells us that the spike, the Bible, is not “the word of God.”

That whole analogy is quite good. Wish I thought of it. I’m with you Jake; I’m not on board for the paragraph that follows that talks about the need for a new deity. I think we’ve outgrown them entirely and can (if any gaps remain) fill them with something much more amazing.

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Michael March 11, 2010 at 10:09 pm

Hermes: Why would you think this would be a good book to read?

It briefly lays out 7 “or so” world perspectives, views, concepts, etc in a systematic way. He poses 7 questions that each must answer:
1. What is there? (Prime reality)
2. What is the nature of the external reality? (created or not, chaotic or orderly, matter/spirit, etc.)
3. What is a human being? machine, god, person, person made imago dei, animal…
4. What happens after/at death?
5.Why is it possible to know anything at all?
6. How do we know right vs. wrong?
7. What is the meaning of human history? What is our purpose? (If anything)
So Sire goes through and tries to answer each question, among others, for each major perspective one might hold. It’s not the most detailed, it’s simply a quick overview. There are scores of books dedicated to each perspective he talks about, so unless it was to be a couple thousand page book, he had to condense the material. I actually own only the third edition, and I know there is at least a fourth available as well now.

I actually picked this book because of the reviews it has been given. He never really gives reasons to be a Christian or anything else in it. At times he points out some flaws that I do think are a little exaggerated (claiming that naturalism should lead to nihilism. I think that need not be the case, though it is a possibility). But he really leaves it up to the reader to examine more into the one he finds more interesting or intelligible and make their own decision. The reviews I saw, both on Amazon and other places, were about 85-90% positive, and most of the negatives were that it wasn’t in depth enough, though I don’t think the point was for one to learn everything to know about each point.

As for a favorite part, I don’t really have one. It is only about 200 pages long and and spends right around 20-25 pages on each subject. If I had to pick, it would be p. 195-198, where he talks about what would make an adequate worldview. In my addition, he throws in a few unnecessary points about “naturalism” being inconsistent, (“clarifies” naturalism as it is normally formulated) though I felt this to be a bit of a stretch given that it really doesn’t seem to be a problem even to me. But overall, I find it interesting, and a good overview of possible perspectives one could choose. I do wish it was a bit more objective, in that he could have refrained from some of the criticisms of certain views, and simply say that there are objections posed to each view but a more detailed account would be the place to present them properly.

Hermes: Gods are commonly claimed to have made humans, and are usually human shaped and have human-like motivations, so even if it’s not explicit that they intended the similarities, that still covers #2. Gods frequently take the place of humans or even animals or ‘forces of nature’, so that’s also not unique. That’s #4. #3 is contentious depending on the sect of Christianity.

I think you misunderstood #2. Many religions anthropomorphize gods to be like humans, like the Greeks and Romans and such. Many pantheisms are like this. But Christianity says God is very different, but that we were made in His image, not the other way around, and that we only “participate” in part of His qualities (Kind of Platonic here in that God has infinite attributes while we have finite ones, though this idea was present in Judaism before Plato). One example would be God’s omniscience and our ability to know anything at all. #4 is that God became man, not was a “man”. In pantheism, gods were basically deified people, or at least were physical beings (in thought/myth), and not the monotheistic bodiless mind God. In monisms, god is not a person to become a man, but rather all is god. So on non-monotheism, this is nearly impossible to do in the way the Christian claims. #3 is what the Jesus and Paul and the early Church seemed to have taught, and is considered by most as one of the main doctrines of Christianity, which is why the resurrection is so important.

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Hermes March 12, 2010 at 7:28 am

Michael, thanks for your long commentary on James Sire’s book. It is appreciated.

FWIW: I was looking for an excerpt or (better) a chapter that impressed you so that I could judge for myself as well. As I don’t have the book, and as I mentioned I found very few excerpts on the net, I’m unable to make any proper judgments. Do I take your opinion as most likely, or the student from Regent University (started by Pat Robertson), or do I consider that since it’s from an apologist and an apologist press that it’s unlikely to handle the subject it is said to cover fairly so I should ignore it entirely? At this point, I have to go with the latter because I have very little to go on otherwise. If you do find an excerpt of the actual book (except chapter 1 or the preface that I’ve already seen), please point me to it. Ideally, a sample chapter. Something that I could do in a few minutes if a hard copy of the book were in front of me at a book store (Amazon’s on line preview is cripplingly limited).

Michael: But Christianity says God is very different, but that we were made in His image, not the other way around, and that we only “participate” in part of His qualities (Kind of Platonic here in that God has infinite attributes while we have finite ones, though this idea was present in Judaism before Plato).

What do you think the other creator gods did?

Did they first make people, then decide to make themselves based on the ‘qualities’ of people?

As you can see, this line of reasoning quickly devolves into either rampant absurdities or someone making an assertion without offering support for why those assertions are more likely true than not.

Point being: There is no special exception for Yahweh and his creation that can’t also be ascribed to some other creator deity and their creation.

If you think there is something special about the deity Yahweh, you have to show me (a non-Christian) how your deity deserves preferential treatment and also how a reasonable set of the others are denied it. You have to demonstrate that is real and not just an assertion based on your sect’s understanding of your religion.

You can finesse a phrase pulled from someone else’s apologetics playbook if you want, but don’t expect anyone who isn’t in your sect to agree with you. The meaning of the words haven’t changed, only the inflection. If we do that dance, then there’s a catchy tune that seems appropriate, a line of it goes something like this; ‘I say toh-mah-toh, you say toh-may-toh.’

As for Plato, he got the nature of reality wrong. His forms analogy is a useful abstraction, but is not accurate. His abstract idea is useful when applied to complex topics such as Biology. For example, genetics at a high level is easily handled by ignoring the details and attributing parts of the genetic code to functional structures that the genetic code applies to. Yet, once you know the details of how organisms use genetic information things aren’t as philosophically tidy. Other structures and interactions come into play, and genetics itself can be complex and messy in ways that manufactured parts and software code just isn’t. These details aren’t obvious and as such get very little attention outside of the filed of Biology.

As for infinite/finite, didn’t W.L. Craig make a big deal about infinite not being possible? Making a one-time exception for your deity to plug that hole seems unjustified except by assertion. At that point, we’re not communicating we’re talking at each other.

Michael: One example would be God’s omniscience and our ability to know anything at all.

Is this a new claim? That seems to assert that solipsism is the default position. Please don’t drag in such conversation stoppers as I could say the same thing using almost anything or any deity in place of Yahweh and we’re back at talking at each other instead of with each other.

#4; see Mr. Armstrong again. I could put the self-sacrifice of Prometheus up as something that is unique as well.

#3; Till Christians agree on this, there’s not much to comment on.

I was expecting you to admit a few of your items were either in error or simply did not have sufficient support for non-Christians, while you spent some time clarifying and putting support behind some better ideas.

Do you have better examples?

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Hermes March 15, 2010 at 8:09 am

Michael, I take your silence to be either disinterest or puzzlement at attempting to address my latest comments. As such, here’s how I see things in summary from your original list;

Michael: 1. God created ex Nihilo (unique to monotheism)
2. Man made imago dei.
3. Salvation is based on grace and not works.
4. God Himself became human and dwelt among us.

#1 – Addressed; not unique to Yahweh.

#2 – Addressed; not unique to Yahweh.

#3 – Christians disagree. Has to be resolved before non-Christians are obliged to comment on this.

#4 – Could be unique to Christianity, but only on a very narrow redefinition of the claim as is currently worded. Without those changes, it is not unique and has been addressed.

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Hermes March 15, 2010 at 9:23 am

Additional comments for consideration;

I realize that the following isn’t consistent across all Christianities, but FWIW; ‘demon that degrades’ and ‘hero deity that will crush demon at some future time’. See also Zoroastrianism (monotheistic; roughly concurrent with Judaism, predates Christianity, quite a bit of geographic and chronological overlap with Judaism).

Excerpt;

God: Ahura Mazda
The supreme being is called Ahura Mazda (Phl. Ohrmazd), meaning “Wise Lord.” Ahura Mazda is all good, and created the world and all good things, including people. He is opposed by Anghra Mainyu (Phl. Ahriman), meaning “Destructive Spirit,” the embodiment of evil and creator of all evil things. The cosmic battle between good and evil will ultimately lead to the destruction of all evil.

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Michael March 15, 2010 at 5:48 pm

Sorry for the silence. This is exam week so I don’t have a lot of time to say what I want to say. I have slowly been working on a response and will get back to you as soon as I can.

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Hermes March 15, 2010 at 7:05 pm

Take your time.

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Matt March 19, 2010 at 8:47 pm

I think there may have been some misunderstanding about #5. The good news is it’s simply cultural/linguistic.

The definition of “nature” used in the context of the statement is supposed to be taken as “sexuality.” It’s the more common English (British) understanding of the term. When the refer to homosexuality/heterosexuality they call it a person’s “nature.”

I think it’s just a misunderstanding of the word’s use. :)

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Hermes March 19, 2010 at 9:11 pm

*ping*

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lukeprog March 19, 2010 at 9:23 pm

*ping* yourself.

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Hermes March 20, 2010 at 8:29 am

Michael, I do not expect a reply and respect your need to study.

As such, I am dropping this thread from any further review.

When you have time, I recommend that if you have access to someone with a theology degree that is willing to discuss strictly academic issues (not tending you as a member of their flock), please contact them with your list (or your new updated list) and ask them if they agree with you on each item and how they agree/disagree.

Once you do that, consider contacting a few other non-Christian theists with graduate school training and see what they say about your list (new or old).

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Joy January 9, 2012 at 11:09 pm

Uptill 7th Hitchens is Serious at disposition
On 8th he takes a peg and puts up a point suggesting something happening near the writer.
At 10th, takes stand what religious commandment does, not to have faith in others.

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