Trying to reason with an anti-theist can be a real ordeal

I reacted to a rather recent blog post written by a former Christian fundamentalist turned into an anti-theist.

Anti-theism: religion is not an incredibly diverse phenomenon but an UNIFIED loathsome entity which ought to be obliterated as soon as possible.

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According to The Bible, God (Not Satan) Is Both Evil And a Moral Failure

By Harry H. McCall at 5/16/2015

Damn, these facts are in the Bible!

(Disclaimer: Let me say from the start, I’m an atheist . . . I consider the Bible a literary fraud and that the characters discussed below never existed.)

Based on a general reading of the Bible, especially the section labeled the Old Testament, the Hebrew god Yahweh (given the Christian title God from the LXX) is portraited as a debauched immoral character, often lacking any ethical conscious while theologically (not Biblically), the figure of Satan unjustly condemned.

To illustrate my point, I’ll breakdown the Bible’s own characterizations God and Satan so the reader can see for him or herself who is really morally debauched  (I have left out the Book of Revelation due to the fact that the narratives in this Biblical Book have not taken place, being projected to some apocalyptic future which is theological speculation). Below, is a short list, though any student of the Bible who has a concordance or Bible dictionary will be able to find many more.

  1. Murders men, women, children, babies and the unborn indiscriminately (The Flood of Noah: Genesis 7)   God:  Yes   Satan:   No
  2. Commands the Israelites to rape, slaughter, steal / pillage and enslave men, women and children.  (The attack on the Midianites in Numbers 31)  God:  Yes   Satan: No
  3. Demands sexual mutilation as a sign of an agreement (Exodus 4:24 – 26 = Genesis 17: 11 -14)
    God:  Yes   Satan: No
  4. Demands rape of female children and babies. (Numbers 31: 18  But all the young (טף) girls ( נשים) who have not known man by lying with him keep alive for yourselves.” God:  Yes   Satan:  No
  5. Loves precious metals over the lives of humanity.  (Joshua 7: 15 & Joshua 7: 25) God:  Yes    Satan:  No
  6. Attacks and curses a talking snake for telling the truth then lies to Adam and Eve.  (Genesis 3)  God:  Yes      Satan: No
  7. Demands individual human sacrifice.  (The AkedahGenesis 22:1-2;  The murder (sacrifice ?) of Jesus;  See Gospels)  God:  Yes    Satan: No 
  8. Demands the burning of entire cities (שָׂרַף בָּאֵשׁ” or “to burn with fire”) so he can enjoy smelling the smoke of human flesh.  (Thus Joshua  6: 21 makes it a point to tell the Jewish reader of this epic that death was to be by “the edge of the sword” before the ritual  / sacrificial burning in Joshua 6: 24 could take place.)   God: Yes   Satan: No
  9. Is never presented in the Bible as a murderer. (Despite Jesus’ assertion in John 8: 44. In Job, (in Job 1: 6 ) tells  us that fire fell from God and destroyed Jobs animals. In verse 19, wind causes the house to fall  on Job’s young people and, just like the fire from Heaven, God controls all these acts of nature.  While Job clearly states in 42: 11 thatit was God who did all the harm to Job, his wealth and his family: “Then  came there to him all his brothers, and all his sisters, and all they that had been of his acquaintance  before, and did eat bread with him in his house: and they bemoaned him, and comforted him over all  the evil that the LORD had brought on him.”  This is again backed up by Job’s statement in 1: 21: Job  said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, And naked I shall return there.The LORD gave and the  LORD has taken away. Blessed be the name of the LORD.”)  God: No   Satan: Yes
  10. Has a divine son who lies as bad as the father.  (See my post: The Biblical Lies of God and Jesus)  God:  Yes   Satan: No 
  11. Commands a following spirits (be they Angels or Demons) to carry out the mass murders in a nation. (The PassoverExodus 12:29)  God:  Yes   Satan: No
  12. Will torture people forever in the name of love.  (Mark 9: 44, 46, & 48)  God: Yes   Satan: No

    M. Lies to his own believers in order to kill  off anyone stupid enough to to trust him. (The longer ending of the Gospel of Mark 16: 9 – 20).  God:  Yes   Satan: No 

    N. Presented generally in the Bible as a known lair and murderer.  God:  Yes   Satan: No 

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I think that in order to show that a Biblical passage is immoral, you’ve got to engage in a thorough exegesis (interpretation) of the text revealing that all likely meanings are morally problematic.

It is worth noting that Harry did nothing of the sort: he rather assumed that his interpretations portraying God as deeply evil are the correct ones without explaining us how he got there.

I do not believe that the Bible is free of errors and agree that the texts I emphasised in green are indeed very morally problematic..

Deuteronomy 20: mighty Isrealite riders are ready for genocidal assaults.
Atrocities in Deuteronomy 20.

I find his other examples (which I left in black) much more questionable.

For instance, I don’t believe that male circumcision is necessarily harmful. There are many ways of interpreting Genesis 3 and I see no reason to believe that the silliest meaning (involving a speaking snake being cursed) is the correct one.

Depending on how one understands the nature of Jesus (i.e. the incarnation) and what his sacrifice means, the concerned passages are not necessarily immoral.

I believe that hell ultimately means ceasing to be rather than being eternally tortured.

__________

I did not, however, chose to go into an endless dispute over the meaning of the passages I do not view as immoral.

Instead, I decided to point out the main flaw in Harry’s logics, namely his fundamentalist assumption that the Bible must be judged as an inerrant self-consistent Scripture rather than as a set of religious books written under various historical, cultural and theological contexts.

As I explained elsewhere, this is something that anti-theists and religious fundies share in common.

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Lotharson (me)

Harry, is the “Biblical” portrait of God’s moral character internally consistent? Or do the Biblical authors speak with conflicting voices?

You seem to be convinced that the first option holds.

Given the results of historical-critical scholarship, this seems to be an extraordinary claim which requires extraordinary evidence .

Apparently you’re still rejecting them as a good fundamentalist.

Here’s a great book you should read: the human faceS of God

What Scripture Reveals When It Gets God Wrong (And Why Inerrancy Tries To Hide It)
The human faces of God:
the Bible is a culturally conditioned book arguing with itself.

I really think you’re giving atheism a bad name.
Of course, ancient writers had much more wrong conceptions concerning science, morality and reasoning than we have now.

Yet, that’s hardly a reason to mock their writings or consider them as deeply wicked people.

If we were born under the same circumstances, we’d certainly have thought and behaved like them.

I did mock some beliefs of ancient Greeks as I was an immature teenager. But since then I’ve fortunately grown up.

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Harry

I find your response very odd.

First off, there is no proof that the Biblical history from Genesis to Solomon is pure fiction. William Propp’s commentaries on Exodus, along with the works of John Van Seters and TL Thompson on the Patriarchs with the fate of King David and Solomon sealed by the Tell Dan Inscription (reading it correctly using the supplied word dividers proves it does not mention “House of David”) has re-enforce the fact that (unlike an ancient Greek texts), the Hebrew alphabetic Semitic script is late; thus there is no trace of one Old Testament verse prior to 250 BCE.

Tom Stark is little more than a liberal Christian as both his writings and lectures reveal (after all, he still teaches at Emanuel School of Religion . . . ). If Stark comes down too hard on the Hebrew Bible, he’ll find that a secular job will be his only finical salvation. His Seminary clearly states: “Emmanuel Christian Seminary is affiliated with the Christian Churches and Churches of Christ. These churches are known for their continued commitment to biblical preaching and teaching.

Though Stark’s book was published in 2011, he fails (more likely, refuses) to cite Propp’s Anchor Bible Commentary on Exodus (final volume published, 2006) or any of TL Thompson’s or John Van Seter’s works from the 1970’s and 80’s. More importantly, while his book deals with human sacrifice in chapter 5, he seems to be totally unaware of Francesca Stavrakopoulou’s major 2002 Oxford dissertation: King Manasseh and Child Sacrifice: Biblical Distortions of Historical Realities, Walter de Grutyer, Berlin, 2004. I could go on, but I’ll let these books expose his real methodology . . . how to keep his God (with egg / evil on his face) looking good. Stark is a good P.R . man, but not good enough!

You stated, “I really think you’re giving atheism a bad name.” How would you know? From your comments on other blogs, and, like Thom Stark, you seem to be a liberal Christian. The last minister I talked to who was a member of Stark’s Churches of Christ was dogmatic in telling me that his church is the only true church founded by Jesus himself! Since Thom Stark links himself with this church on his book’s website ( http://humanfacesofgod.com/ ), he and Father Tom of the Greek Orthodox Church should fight it out for a cash first.

If you have a problem with my post, then, using the Biblical text, I would challenge you to point out where it’s wrong; after all, I simply based it on the Bible.

Finally, this blog is called Debunking Christianity for a reason. I rest my case.

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Lotharson (me)

Hey, thanks for your answer.

Sorry if I sounded rude.

My main problem with your writing is that you keep talking about THE God of the Bible which entails that the Biblical authors never contradict each other about the moral character of God.

For example, I consider it very far-fetched to pretend that vindictive psalms where the authors pray for the violent demise of the children of their foes are compatible with the command to love our enemies in the New Testament.

Jesus: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you. Jewish woman: certainly he doesn't mean the Romans? Jewish man: I hope not.
Jesus preaching love towards our enemies. Has there been any progress during the last two thousand years in that respect?

To the best of my knowledge, Christian fundamentalists and anti-theists are the only ones who make that claim.

Finally, I consider it very problematic to judge ancient people according to our modern criteria. As theologian Randal Rauser put it:

“I’m willing to concede that there are vestiges of tradition in the
ancient Hebrew scriptures that take an affirmative position toward human
sacrifice. Does it follow, as Loftus (a militant atheist leading the blog DebunkingChristianity) claims, that we can learn nothing from the cumulative Hebrew tradition as recorded in Scripture? Of course
not. Indeed, the claim is completely ridiculous.

To see why, switch your focus from the ancient Hebrews to the ancient
Greeks. Let’s take one Greek, the great Aristotle, as our example, and
let’s just consider a couple of his beliefs from science, politics and
ethics. To begin with, Aristotle believed that the human brain
functioned to cool the blood, venting heat like the radiator in a car.
Today we would consider this belief wildly false, even laughable. Second
example, Aristotle also defended the use of slaves, describing them in
his Politics as useful in the manner of domestic animals. This
is a shockingly crude and immoral position. Does it follow that we
should conclude we can learn nothing from Aristotle? Of course not. The
very notion is absurd. What we do, instead, is judiciously read
Aristotle, appropriating the wheat and sweeping away the chaff.

Sadly, it is common to find atheists like Loftus crudely dismissing
the Hebrew tradition, even as they selectively read and appropriate the
Hellenistic tradition. This is completely inconsistent and shows a deep
bias against the Judeo-Christian tradition.”

Do Aristotle’s wrong beliefs about slavery mean he didn’t have deep moral insights in other respects?

https://i0.wp.com/www.returnofkings.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/aristotle.jpg

I think not.

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Thanks for your reply.

For me, the difference between Aristotle and Jesus is that, Aristotle existed, while Jesus didn’t. See my post: We Know From Hard Evidence Dinosaurs Existed 66 Million Years Ago Yet We Have No Objective Evidence Jesus Existed Just 2 Thousands Years Ago

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If you feel frustrated after having read our exchange, you’re not alone.

https://i2.wp.com/shoprto.com/wp-content/mediafiles/2013/02/frustrated.jpg

Good scholarly debates advancing our knowledge break down the cause of the disagreement into smaller problems which can then be specifically analysed.

Rhetoric and propaganda involve picking and choosing whatever serves your purpose while switching the topic whenever you no longer feel advantaged.

There are certainly respectful and kind atheistic philosophers out there who criticise religious beliefs in a scholarly manner. They should be considered very seriously.

Anti-theists engage in propaganda and emotional bullying with the hope of deconverting as many religious believers as they can. But if you manage to separate their real arguments from the hateful rhetoric enveloping them, they often prove to be incredibly weak.

Persecuted anti-theists?

I recently came across a well-argued post calling out American Christians to stop viewing atheists as immoral fools.

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Why Christians Should Stand Up for Atheists

Freedom3I have just spent several hours talking with atheists on one of the blogs here at Patheos. This wasn’t my first time talking with atheists, but this conversation was particularly illuminating and, for the most part, respectful. Several members of this community welcomed me, despite the fact that they disagree profoundly with me. I am grateful for this. This community shared experiences and raised some very thought-provoking questions.

I came away from this conversation challenged that I need to do more to stand up for the rights of atheists (and those of other religions) here in the United States. Not because I agree with them on God and theology, but because they are human beings who deserve respect. Because when we stand up for someone else’s rights, we are appropriately loving our neighbor and treating them as we would want to be treated.

One thing that atheists (and those of other religions) rightly criticize in America is that there is a profound Christian religious privilege that is present here. If you are a Christian, this might not seem like a problem. Or you may be so steeped in religious privilege that you think the predominant mood of America toward Christians is one of persecution. You may even view attempts to level the playing field as being such persecution.

I don’t mind that there are a lot of Christians here in America. If they act like Christians, I think it’s great! In fact, I wish everybody was a Christian. But what I do object to is the wielding of power and dominance over others. I object to the confusion of the two kingdoms–the kingdoms of God’s left and right hand. I object to the idea that we can force everybody out there to conform to our beliefs.

I have argued previously that the Christian worldview as taught by the New Testament is not built on power, but on servanthood. While Christians are free to seek political power in order to serve their neighbor, they are not to seek it to benefit and serve themselves. Not only are attempts to wield power and dominance over others fundamentally unlike the Christ we serve, but they are also a terrible stumbling block to those who are not Christians. Do we want to witness to the saving power of Christ who is strong in our weakness? Then why have we bought into a model that claims earthly power a la James and John (Mark 10)? Why have we begun to believe the lie that our struggle is against flesh and blood, after all (see Ephesians 6)?

And why do we make atheists and those of other religions actually afraid for their lives when they ask for the same freedoms we want for ourselves and our families? I am told that the joke in the atheist community when they challenge our bastions of Christian political power and privilege is, “Cue the death threats.” Now, I understand that most Christians would not make death threats against atheists, but do we enable those who do by failing to call them out? Do we contribute to a hostile, snide, unloving atmosphere of discourse in our country when we tell them their issues with us are merely their perception of Christians rather than acknowledging that we have some serious problems in our community? Do we value those loud, obnoxious voices who are more interested in “sticking it to” somebody they disagree with than treating them with love and respect (I’m looking at you, Matt Walsh, Sarah Palin, Ann Coulter)? Are we willing to listen and learn?

I feel blessed to have met these atheists. I don’t agree with them on faith, but I agree with them on the need to treat each other with respect. I agree with them that we need to make room for people who believe differently. Those differences in belief are crucial and important. I’m not about to give up my wish (and even prayer) that everybody come to faith in Jesus. But I am totally willing to give up my “right” to force everybody to be or act like a Christian.

So, how can we stand up for our atheist friends?

We can defend the child who is serious enough about his beliefs that he won’t “fake it” and stand up for the part of the Pledge of Allegiance that says “one nation under God.” We can stand against any instance when the government tries to establish some form of state religion. We can decry death threats against those who are speaking their beliefs, loving them enough to defend them even if we disagree profoundly with them. We can do this by considering that certain governmental expressions of religious faith may not be the greatest idea.

For example, why is it necessary that children in a secular school pledge allegiance to “one nation, under God”? Why is it necessary that schoolchildren have a time of prayer led by the teacher? If we would be willing to listen to the concerns of non-theists and those of other religions about such matters, perhaps we would find that such practices are not necessary after all and that they hinder freedom of religion for everyone–ourselves included. Perhaps we would have to acknowledge that atheists are actually persecuted in this country.

And perhaps we would discover that Christian witness is not best served by a dead, forced recitation, but by allowing freedom to flourish. Perhaps we would discover that authentic Christianity thrives when its focus is not on dominance but on service to neighbor. Maybe, every once in a while, someone who believes differently than we do would actually stop to listen to our perspective because we were willing to listen to theirs.

But even if they don’t, I ask you, which model better serves our humble Lord who emptied Himself for us (Philippians 2): political dominance or service? And isn’t faithfulness to Him more important than “results” or seeing our “agenda” achieved?

American Christianity is at a crossroads these days. We can either continue with our pursuit of power at all cost, or we can release the idolatry of control, surrender ourselves into the hands of God, and humbly serve our neighbor. Doing so will certainly mean that we share our faith with our neighbor (yes, even in words!), but it will not mean that we force them into submission. Such tactics are as far from New Testament Christianity as East is from West.

EDIT on 11/8/14: Several commenters have brought up the point that it sounded like I was describing atheism as a “religion.” I addressed this a few times in the comments, but I understand not everyone has time to wade through the comments. I think a better term would be “belief system,” although I do understand that the basic belief is non-belief in the sense of “I do not believe there is evidence for the existence of God.” The intent of my statement was not to call atheism a religion, but to recognize that Christians in general sometimes have a hard time recognizing the rights of other belief or non-belief groups.

Hopefully, that is helpful.

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Here is my response.

Dear Rebecca Florence, thank you so much for this marvelous post.

As a Continental European, it’s really hard for me to imagine how it must feel for someone to live along the Christian Right.
I’m really glad that most Christians and atheists discussing with each other on the Old Continent tend to be pretty respectful and can develop a friendly relationship despite some fundamental differences in their most basic beliefs.

I do believe one always ought to be respectful towards a respectful opponent ,no matter how repugnant one might find his or her ideas.

I think that we must constantly remain wary of deeply entrenched psychological mechanisms which lead all too easily to tribalism, an “us against them”-mentality and dehumanizing our adversaries.

I think that my main problem with your article consists of the fact you unwittingly tend to present “atheists” as a homogeneous group.

Of course, it’s really not the case. There are many different types of Christians, Protestants, Catholics, Muslims, pantheists, deists and atheist out there.
A SMALL subpart of atheists are anti-theists, i.e. people who believe that all religions ought to disappear.

Having spent countless hours interacting with these folks and their writings, I can truly say they’re no better than nasty religious fundamentalists. (Interestingly enough, in an American context anti-theists often tend to be former fundies ).
They see the Bible in a perfectly binary manner like fundamentalists, and for some of them the presence of atrocities in one text justifies burning the whole book , i.e. also the writings of many completely unrelated authors.

The New Atheists (I use this phrase interchangeably with anti-theists) explicitely advocate the use of emotional bullying, ridicule and mockery against religious persons.

http://alwaysquestionauthority.files.wordpress.com/2013/12/1477717_562936830449947_173279735_n.png

They sometimes even have a cult-like thinking and keep falling prey to binary thinking.

A great number of people present on their forums and blogs are driven by the same kind of hatred which motivates European far right people.

Let me be clear about this. I do believe there are great and respectful atheists out there. ( Here is a good example).

I hate hearing Conservative Christians asserting that atheists (in general) are immoral fools and I if I have the opportunity, I step in against this kind of vicious and groundless attacks .

I do affirm that many atheists are good people, and I believe that many of them dying as unbelievers will accept God’s invitation on the other side of the grave.
I am yearning for a society full of compassionate and humble persons who manage to remain courteous and polite while not denying their convictions.
I congratulate you for being an excellent rule model in that respect.

But we cannot say,in general, that Christians in America are the oppressors whereas atheist are the victims.
No, this country of yours is going through a terrible culture war where one can find assholes and individuals of good will in the different camps.

I see a vicious circle of hatred going on which is very similar to racial tensions in modern France .
It’s vital for everyone to recognize that all atheists and theists are not the same, and that our just anger should be reserved for self-righteous bigots who are the powder keeping alive the fire of the culture war.

I do speak up for the right of anyone to loudly proclaim their metaphysical convictions without having to fear any kind of discrimination.
But I will never encourage groups of people who are driven by hatred and the self-righteous desire to feel superior to all the rest of us.

Lovely greetings in Christ.

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