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Kenneth Nahigian

Author, Board member of AOF

Ken Nahigian

 

How I walked Away

I confess it now, my sin, my crime, the cancer on my soul. I am a backslider.

If you didn't wince, you aren't in the club. A backslider is an ex-Christian, one who accepted his savior and then fell from grace. One who stood on the threshold of his salvation, and walked away. Certain fundamentalist Christians equate backsliding with the Unpardonable Sin, the sin against the Holy Spirit, at which Jesus hinted darkly in Luke 12:10. Not to be outspoken, St. Peter compared it to a dog returning to its own vomit (2 Pet 2:20-22). Even the Old Testament gets in its dig; see Proverbs 14:14, "The backslider in his heart shall be filled with his own ways."

There are other words: stray, lost sheep, prodigal, apostate. None of them are complements.

I'm a backslider. Not that I feel bad about it now, or even proud. Nor is it much an issue, usually, with my religious family and friends. I live with their belief, as they've come to live with my lack of it. And long ago I outgrew the need to convert others just to validate my own convictions.

Yet when an evangelist friend challenged me, months ago, the opportunity was irresistible: a chance to gather up the detritus of musings and memory, old reasonings and conclusions; sort them, dust them, piece them together like chips of broken china; study the mosaic, and with my fingertip trace the singular road I have traveled.

You may not agree with any of it. But if you've read this far, I just ask: Keep reading, and think.

The stale joke goes, "I started out as a child." In my pre-teens I was quite devout, with the brittle, diamond-sharp clarity of a child raised in the family faith. Sundays my parents trotted me to Sunday School and church (an Eastern Orthodox denomination); the rest of the week they rarely mentioned Jesus. Christianity was a patent truth, unquestioned as the sunrise or the sky.

Later in high school I grew curious about other religions, living and dead; explored them as best I could; became confused, conflicted, and ultimately, weakly agnostic.

Unhappy and bookwormish, I had few friends and more than my share of teenage angst and self-loathing. For a while I toyed with spiritualism and the occult. It was mysterious, darkly fun -- never more than that. Of course there was atheism, appealing just for its simplicity, but I was uncomfortable with the word and all its emotional baggage. (To a degree I still am.)

I drifted.

Then in my first year of university, quite suddenly, God beat down the door -- I became deeply, passionately Christian. In fact an encounter with a glib popular creationist/evangelist speaker the year before had nudged me that way already. But new friends from Campus Crusade for Christ helped me make the leap. In retrospect, part of it too was surely a thrashing attempt to escape the sadness that had dogged me through high school. . But I didn't think so.

Christianity blew the lid off everything. It restored the great, bright, morning world of my childhood, where all of life was an adventure played out beneath the blue sky. I felt exalted and encompassed, transfigured and diminished. Under the delirious gravity of my renewed faith, the most humdrum events became new, and luminous - full of music - full of portent.

Drowned in Jesus, I gave Him my life, began praying, and became a feature at the local Campus Crusade meetings.

My emotions were often mixed, of course, but my new friends urged me to put them aside; emotions were not, after all, the true path to God. The Bible contained much I did not understand, but I had faith I'd grow to understand it all later - "in Christ", as they said. I was quite serious about leading a Christian life, and studied earnestly. The Bible, books by C. S. Lewis, and that little yellow booklet of the "Four Spiritual Laws", were my favorite texts.

As I studied and thought, some difficulties became more real, not less. I put these aside also. In fact I soon became quite adept at putting problems aside, compartmentalizing my thoughts. Why did Jesus command us to hate our parents and children (Luke 14:26)? Why did God try to kill Moses immediately after Moses agreed to free the Israelites (Ex 4:24-26)? If abortion is wrong, was it right for the Israelites to murder whole cities of women and children, saving only the virgin girls for use of their warriors (Num 31:17-18)? If false prophecy proves a false prophet, why did Jesus predict that all the Disciples, including Judas, would sit on thrones in Heaven (Matt 19:28)? Didn't Jesus seem tacitly to approve of slavery, even slave-beating (Luke 12:47)?

Details, trivia. None of it mattered. What did matter was Christ and his loving sacrifice.

When doubt gnawed, I studied harder, giving the Bible every benefit of every doubt. A few problems, however, did not go away, and these left hairline fractures in my faith.

Case in point. (And please try to think of this as I thought it; for seasoned believers, it may help to pretend you are a pagan hearing about Christianity for the first time.)

"Orthodox" Christian theologians and writers, the ones approved of by my evangelical friends, made it clear that accepting Jesus was the sole path to salvation. This acceptance must be a conscious, explicit decision. They scoffed at liberal nonsense about unknowingly being "Christian in your heart" while denying it in your mind. God permits no dichotomy between intellect and conscious.

And needless to say, the alternative is damnation. Meaning, an eternity of terrible suffering, of mind-shattering loneliness, isolation and/or pain, with no escape, no redemption ever -- and no exceptions to be made for well-meaning, basically "good" people who naively die in the wrong faith (or with no faith). Because we are all evil in God's eyes. We all deserve hell. Only "Christ's blood" can save us.

Like the pealing of a submerged bell, it rang in my heart as a perfect, terrible truth. For suppose the true ticket to heaven is simply to be "good" (by human standards). What then is the point of Christian evangelism? Christianity might be true, but it would be no more relevant to salvation than the atomic theory of matter or the Baconian theory of Shakespeare's plays. Then evangelists and apologists have wasted two thousand years pushing the wrong message! Instead of trying to convince people of the divinity of Jesus, they should persuade people simply to be good and loving, to lead morally balanced lives. And then Christianity, in its broad strokes, would be no different from Buddhism or Humanism.

To my novice Christian mind, that was unthinkable.

But what this meant, of course, was that many I had always admired were doomed to burn in hell forever, were burning that moment -- people like Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Huxley, Emerson, Luther Burbank, Ghandi, Florence Nightingale, Helen Keller, Einstein - because they had not been Christian. And children too, past a certain age of responsibility, who were simply not taught to love Jesus, and died "not knowing Him," were damned.

If someone like (to select a poignant example) my own little niece had been raised in a Hindu or Moslem or atheist household, then died in an accident, she would go to Hell too. And since I "knew" I was a saved Christian, I realized I would have to watch them all suffer. Forever. Forever.

The image beat at my mind, a soft, purring wind that worried the shutters. Was it "fair" that salvation and damnation should depend on merest chance that way, a fall of dice, the luck of a draw? Born into a Christian household, perhaps be saved; born into a non-Christian household, almost certainly be damned. (Conversions happen of course, but are rare.)

No. And it troubled me. The more I thought, the more it troubled. I had nightmares and sleepless nights. What I couldn't deny was that this was exactly what the Bible, and Jesus, taught (for example, see Luke 10:15 & 12:5; Matt 13:42, 13:49, 18:9 & 25:41; John 5:28-29; Rev 14:10, 20:15, 21:8; etc., etc.). My thoughts often returned to Jesus's parable of the young virgins cast out by the master into the darkness, pounding on the door, pleading "Lord, Lord," but never let in (Matt 25). My new Campus Crusade friends blandly agreed that it was all true. What was my problem?

Of course the "right" Christian writers took their side. Christian fathers, conservative theologians, folk like Josh McDowl, Walter Martin, Gleason Archer and others - grandmaster apologists who certainly knew their Bible pretty well - all fought hard the heresies of universalism and annihilationism, or any sect that rejected a hell of eternal torment.

Some quotes:

"In order that the happiness of the saints will be more delightful . they are permitted perfectly to behold the sufferings of the damned. . The saints will rejoice in the punishment of the damned . which will fill them with joy." -- St. Thomas Aquinas "The happiness of the elect will consist in part of witnessing the torments of the damned in hell, among whom may be their own children, parents, husbands, wives and friends; . but instead of taking the part of their miserable being, they will say 'Amen!', 'Hallelujah!', 'Praise the Lord!'" -- Rev. Nathaniel Emmons (1745 - 1840)

"You are going to see again the child . that was condemned to hell. See! It is a pitiful sight. The little child is in this red hot oven. Hear how it screams to come out. . It beats its head against the roof of the oven. It stamps its little feet on the floor of the oven. . You can see on the face of this little child what you see on the faces of all in hell - despair, desperate and horrible." -- Rev. J. Furniss, in "Tracts for Spiritual Reading", a popular booklet for children (late 19th Century)

Not least was the Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyan, perhaps the third best-selling book in Christendom (after the Bible and The Imitation of Christ). In the very last paragraph of Part 1, I read how a poor hopeful soul, after a long struggle, manages to reach the very gate of heaven. But at the last instant, with sweet salvation in sight, angels grab him and thrust him into a burning Hell forever - because of a slight unorthodoxy of faith. The message was clear as a slap.

Still, the wrong of it clung like cobwebs. Once, discussing it with friends, I asked about Anne Frank, the famous Jewish girl who wrote the diaries and died at Auschwitz. Certainly Anne Frank knew of Christianity, but she never responded to the Gospel, never accepted Jesus as her savior (if we can trust those diaries). Rather she expressed her belief in mankind. One writer called her "a humanist to the bone." Our inescapable conclusion: that the next thing she will know, after the acrid scent of cyanide in the Nazi death camp, will be the proceedings of Judgment Day - and the stern face of a God Who will cast into eternal fire.

Meanwhile, Hitler, Mussolini and Franco of Spain -- who (despite their crimes) did happen to believe Jesus was God and Lord -- will go to heaven. It's the law.

Salvation is through faith, never works.

Such thoughts stabbed ice in my heart. Still, still, each wave of doubt broke on the rock of my faith, carrying away no more than a few grains of sand. God created us, I told myself, so He could do with us as He would. . And part of me whispered that He'd find a way to make it all right in the end, anyway, somehow.

The point is, that first question led to others. It cracked the door to critical thinking, you might say. Earlier I wrote that an encounter with a well-known creationist/evangelist had planted the first seeds of my conversion. This person was Dr. Duane Gish of the Institute for Creation Research (ICR). Dr. Gish was the premier creationist debater of his day, and is still an icon in anti-evolution circles.

I had always loved science. To learn evolution was all wrong, a fraud promulgated by evil secular humanist scientists, shocked me. It turned my world on its head. It recalled the catchphrase of the old Firesign Theater: "Everything you know is wrong." Because evolution is so deeply linked with other aspects of physical science, I had to surrender most of what I thought I knew of geology, of astronomy, of comparative anatomy, of genetics -- even language and linguistic evolution. (For example, if the universe is less than 10,000 years old, how could astronomers see stars millions of light-years away?)

Now doubting, I sought sources and references for many things the creationists had told me. What did I find? Tissues of misquotes, out-of-context quotes, half truths and plain deception. I learned that many well-known creationists claimed to have doctoral degrees from universities that did not exist or which were unaccredited diploma mills. I found cases where a creationist speaker was forced to admit he was wrong on a certain point, then went on to repeat the falsehood in his next lecture.

Slowly it dawned that almost all creation science "research" consisted of combing science books and journals for quotes and factoids that can be pulled of context and used to support the Genesis story. As one critic wrote, "Creationists use data the way a drunk man uses a lamp post - for support, not illumination."

The rest was just bad science.

Here is the caper. When I told my Christian friends about this, they didn't care. Their attitude was, the "creation scientists" are winning souls, doing God's work; so what matter that they were occasionally deceptive on certain points? Salvation was important, not science. I wondered why Christianity must depend on falsehoods and deception to save souls. What kind of truth uses lies as a crutch? For that matter, if some things I had been taught were disinformation, what else was untrue? What else were they not telling me?

This at last lit a candle, began a slow gut-wrenching renaissance. I had been a sincere, dedicated Christian, seriously trying to live a Christian life and understand Christian doctrine. And as a result of doing just what I had been told to do - study and learn Christianity - I had discovered a spiderweb of cracks in the very foundation! In short, my gradual loss of faith was not something I did willfully or maliciously. Indeed, I fought. I kicked and raged over each millimeter.

It was like loosing my heart.

For a long time I wandered that dark forest by myself, feeling isolated and guilt-ridden - a traitor, a . Judas. Only much later did I learn I was not alone. Others had walked there too. Many, in fact; the list might surprise you. Apologists trumpet stories of unbelievers who converted to Christianity (my Campus Crusade friends liked to mention Lew Wallace, the author of "Ben Hur"), but we rarely hear of those who convert the other way.

One striking example is Dr. Charles Templeton. Never heard of him? No surprise. But you have heard of Billy Graham, right? Templeton was Graham's best friend and original preaching partner.

Few now recall that when Graham was just starting in the revivalism circuit, he was half of a team. Chuck Templeton and Billy Graham, fondly called the "Golddust Twins," quickly grew famous for their deep faith and charismatic preaching. But Templeton, unlike Graham, was curious; he wanted to explore the philosophical foundation of Christianity, the historical evidence for it - "to get some buttressing," he said. So he applied for seminarian studies at Princeton. That was in the early 1940's. By 1949, Templeton had become an agnostic and secular humanist.

Likewise, I learned of Joseph McCabe, a Jesuit priest who "broke free" and became an atheist, noted historian, and church critic. And Dr. Robert M. Price (Master of Theological Studies, New Testament, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary), once a fervent fundamentalist Baptist and pastor, now a humanist, a freethinker, and author of Beyond Born Again - a book all believers should read! And the Rev. Farrell Till, a former Church of Christ minister who has become an outspoken religious skeptic. And Rev. Dan Barker, a Baptist preacher for 19 years from the age of 15, a missionary, touring evangelist and successful Christian song writer; now an advisor for the Freedom From Religion Foundation.

And galaxies of others.

Just some names; you can research them if you like. Or not. But I was not singular in my "falling away". Dr. Templeton in particular was known to be every bit as "strong" and "foursquare" in the Gospel as Billy Graham. If someone like him could doubt, why not ask a few questions myself? I did ask, and I found this: For every case of a miracle vision, a Jesus encounter or religious conversion, waiting quietly offstage is a case of a de-conversion, someone who had a moment of crystal insight, a spiritual "aha," which showed the worm in the heart of traditional Christianity.

So ends my epic - so far, at least. My long walk from fundamentalism began twenty-seven years ago. The guilt that haunted me, the suffocating self-doubt, the bolts of bright chill terror in the sleepless night, died slowly, slowly, fading to far sheet-lightning, then flickers, then nothing. Well-worn thoughts and kneejerk responses always take time to throw off. But, after all .

After all, what sane person controls his belief the way he controls how he combs his hair? Belief is not a mere decision - it is something you experience as a result of experiencing, of observing and learning. Belief can be wrong but never feigned. To go on affirming something I did not believe would be like telling myself that 2 + 2 = 5. I could not do it and stay sane.

Looking back, it was inevitable. Often I think I was wiser at twelve than at twenty. Now the fear is a memory. Smiles come more easily. And almost to my astonishment, the sky remains blue, the sun shines, breath is sweet, love still gives me wings - and life is as beautiful and meaningless as a flower.

It is not a bad world. Not so bad at all.

Kenneth E. Nahigian October, 1999

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An Evening with Dr. Hugh Ross

Creationist astrophysicist Dr. Hugh Ross spoke at the Fremont Presbyterian Church in Sacramento, February 16, 1996, on "New Scientific Evidence for God". A smoother speaker I have not heard in years. Jubilant believers nearly filled the large church hall -- mostly affluent-looking couples, but a fair-sized coterie of college students were also present, taking notes and asking intelligent, if uncritical, questions. (Fremont Presbyterian is just outside the front gate of California State University Sacramento.) For an old evolutionist like me, it was humbling.

Dr. Ross is a proponent of Anthropic Design, trimmed heavily with evangelical Christianity. In his view the benevolent design of the universe in general, and Earth in particular, is evidence of the Christian Creator. A progressive creationist, he also promotes the model of an ancient earth (billions of years) but a recent humanity (tens of thousands), with nudgings and fine-tunings by God along the way. He flatly denies a common ancestry for man and ape but seems equivocal about nonsimian species. All this puts him in a fairly liberal camp, by creationist standards.

As a speaker, Dr. Ross is warm, affable, soft-spoken, good- humored, entertaining. He defused angry questions from a few young- earthers in the audience, taking wind from their sails with careful Biblical exegesis and no hint of impatience or sarcasm, and, most importantly, making no enemies. (To this extent some evolutionist debaters could well take a leaf from his book.)

He spoke quickly, in a lively montage style, often outracing my note-taking skills. Much of his science seemed passably accurate, even cutting edge. Some points were oddly slanted or false; these ranged from the merely quirky (!) to the occasional howler (!!!).

Here are highlights, drawn from memory and scribbled notes. (I apologize in advance for inevitable errors, but I'm confident I caught the gist.) Comments follow in brackets.

(!) Definitions: Science is the interpretation of nature; Theology is the interpretation of the Bible.

[Right at the start, Dr. Ross defined Moslem or Hindu theology out of existence. Much of Judaic theology too, since he would probably consider the Old Testament incomplete.]

Science and theology are not independent disciplines; they overlap, since the Bible speaks about nature.

(!) True science must thus conform to true theological findings.

[Why not put it the other way, I wonder?]

(!!!) Even Einstein, as a result of his findings, came to believe in a personal God that directly influences the world.

[Certainly not! Einstein, 1954: "It was of course a lie what you read about my religious convictions, a lie which is being systematically repeated. I do not believe in a personal God and I have never denied this but have expressed it clearly." -- from ALBERT EINSTEIN: THE HUMAN SIDE, Helen Dukas & Banesh Hoffman, Princeton University Press.

[And: "The idea of a personal God is an anthropological concept which I cannot take seriously." -- from ALBERT EINSTEIN: CREATOR AND REBEL, Banesh Hoffman, New York, Viking Press.

[For what it's worth, Einstein was on the board of advisors of Charles Francis Potter's First (secular) Humanist Society of New York.]

(!!) The Bible is unique, in that it alone teaches that God created time and space.

(!!) Only the Bible teaches that God is uncreated.

[That dull roar in the background is the sound of Brahmaists and Moslems, howling.]

(!!) String and Inflation Theory tell us that the universe had ten dimensions at creation. A "trillionth of a trillionth of a trillionth" of a second later, it split into two worlds of four and six dimensions.

[This somewhat misrepresents String Theory, wherein the universe did start with from ten to twelve dimensions, and still has them; the extra dimensions are now "rolled up" or compressed into loops tinier than a proton. Inflation Theory does suggest a sort of splitting, but into many "bubble universes" each with same dimensionality as the original.]

(!!) The Bible teaches that God moves in six dimensions.

[My curiosity is killing me. Where?

[But of course no theologian or Bible scholar said such a thing until String Theory came along. It would have astonished Aquinas! And if String Theory had postulated fifteen dimensions, I suspect somehow Dr. Ross would have found verses proving God moves in eleven.

[Theological retrofitting, it's called.]

Life would be flatly impossible if the fine structure constants (gravitation, electromagnetism, speed of light, etc.) were even slightly altered. The universe is designed for life!

[Score a half point for Ross. If I were an evangelical theist, this is where I'd bet the farm.

[Consider lowly carbon. Only carbon (and just possibly boron, but boron is rare) can form the long peptide and phosophoribose chains needed for life. (Silicon was a contender once, but recent research has ruled it out.) And if electromagnetism or the strong nuclear force were re-tuned, even slightly, carbon would lose its special resonance and fecundity. It would not exist, or would be rare, or would not bond easily with other elements.

[But this argument conceals some shifty assumptions. If we slip those constants, wouldn't the properties of other elements slip also? Then perhaps silicon would form long chains, and ...

[Most of Dr. Ross's examples were like that. When evaluating how things "might" have been, he'd adjust one property and assume all else remains the same. And of course things aren't so simple. Changing just one physical law, as Larry Niven observed, is like trying to eat one peanut.

[Close the door on one possibility, and others fly open.

[Dr. Ross also downplayed the ferocious tenacity of life. We don't have to readjust any fine structure constants to find some pretty alien environments right in this world. And we've already discovered life in places such as the thermal vents 2550 meters deep along the Galapagos Rift, creatures that thrive in 350-degree Centigrade water kept liquid by 265 atmospheres of pressure. Such examples show how life is highly adaptable, not nearly so fragile as he might think. [Finally, all of Dr. Ross's alternative-world scenarios seemed geared toward showing the utter incompatibility of those worlds with Life-as- We-Know-It. But of _course_ Life As We Know It is pretty well attuned to this world, since it evolved here!

[As Dr. Ross cheerfully piled hundreds of 0's after a 1 to impress on us the unlikelihood of our universe turning out _exactly this way_ by _blind chance_, I recalled Robert L. Forward's splendid book, DRAGON'S EGG, which postulates life on the surface of a collapsed star, working out its neutronic "bio-chemistry" in considerable detail. And I remembered an essay, the author and title forgotten, which proposed a hypothetical universe of magnetic monopoles and electrons whirling in linked chains, forming highly exotic "atoms" -- and perhaps, life.

[What if our own world had developed along those lines? Fantastically alien lifeforms might now be sitting in a hall somewhere, or in something like a hall, congratulating themselves that the Laws of Physics were made just for them, and no one else.

[Beware of backward reasoning.]

Earth's moon is unusually large for its host, which represents an astonishing astronomical coincidence.

[Hard to generalize from such a limited sample.]

Without it, Earth would have an atmosphere much like Venus, and life would be impossible.

[An amateur astronomer friend tells me the CO2 levels have something to do with it.]

The extreme chemical distinction between the Earth and Moon shows that the moon probably resulted from a rare collision with a Mars-sized object.

[Another half point for Dr. Ross. But "Mars-sized" and "collision" seem like slight exaggerations.

["Our moon, once thought to have been a part of earth that broke away owing to centrifugal effects, is now thought almost certainly to have formed as a result of the fusion of a planetoid or, considering its size, protoplanetary material." -- from THE NATURAL HISTORY OF THE UNIVERSE, Colin A. Ronan, MacMillian Books.

["Planetesimals ... would have been plentiful in the early solar system; on passing very close to the Earth these would have been disrupted, their lighter surface materials being captured and their heavier materials conuing in solar orbit. This captured material in orbit around the Earth would eventually coalesce to form the Moon." -- from THE ILLUSTRATED ENCYCLOPEDIA OF ASTRONOMY AND SPACE, p. 136, Ian Ridpath, Thomas Y. Crowell publishers.]

(!!!) Advanced life appeared about 5 million years ago, meteoric bombardment being too intense until then.

[I had to readjust my jaw here. 5M years ago, all major groups were already thriving, and _Australopithecus afarenis_ was well-established in South and East Africa. I thought perhaps Ross had confused millions with billions, but 5 billion years ago, the Earth was still forming!]

(!!) Hubert P. Yockey, an atheist scientist, has admitted that odds are astronomical against chance formation of even "simple" proteins. Intelligent design is needed.

[As Biochemist Russell F. Doolittle pointed out in 1983, Yockey started with the goal of filling one specific biochemical protein "nitch", that of the ubiquitous _cytochrome c_ enzyme, then assumed, in effect, that only one polypeptide sequence could perform the function. This is like calculating the odds against a golf ball landing on a specific blade of grass, then concluding: Golf is impossible.

[It's absurdly easy to play that game, looking back at an event that has already transpired and computing outrageous odds against it happening exactly as it did. What are the odds against you, just as you are now, with your exact genetic blueprint and those clothes and your hair combed just so?

[Life is chock full of such post-facto surprises. Everybody knows _someone_ will win the lottery; yet to the winner it seems a miracle.

[Yockey (and Ross) also ignored the effects of cumulative natural selection in protein development. In fact nature does not form a complex protein all at once, but starts with simpler forms and then refines them. The ancestor of _cyctochrome c_ was probably only 20 to 30 amino acids long; its catalytic power was surely pathetically low, but it did the job. Once it existed, nature could duplicate and modify it. This tips the odds. [How long do you think it would take a monkey to type the first 13 letters of Hamlet's soliloquy by "pure chance"? It would require 26^13 trials (about 2.5 million trillion). But if correct letters are preserved, and incorrect eliminated, it goes faster. How much faster? A programmer named Richard Hardison ran a program which used probabilities to "select for" and "against" certain letters, and it took only 335 trials to produce "TOBEORNOTTOBE". The computer did it in less than 90 seconds. The entire play takes about 4.5 days.]

(!!!) We have never observed the emergence of a new species.

[What about corn from maize from teosinte, British eel grass, triticale, a new North American goatsbeard wildflower, new species of tobacco, canine parrovirus emerging from feline parrovirus in the 1970's, bacteria that eat only nylon byproducts, a new species of native Hawaiian wallabies (appearing several years after an Aussie pair escaped an Oahu zoo in 1916), five new species of Hedylepta moths (also in Hawaii), HIV ...

[Oh never mind.]

The Mormon Church teaches that Earth had humanoid visitors from the center of the Galaxy -- obviously an impossibility, since the galactic core is a thermal and radioactive hellhole. Thus, science not only confirms the Bible, but refutes LDS doctrine.

[I confess I'm not up on Mormon theology. Is this accurate? The comment of a Mormon friend was, "Sounds wacky to me."]

(!!!) The number of known human fossils would barely fill an average-sized coffin.

[A simple falsehood with thermonuclear force. Creationist Michael J. Ord, in his book review of BONES OF CONTENTION: A CREATIONIST ASSESSMENT OF HUMAN FOSSILS (_Creation Research Society Quarterly_, Vol. 30, March 1994, p. 222), had this admission: "I was surprised to find that instead of enough fossils barely to fit into a coffin [as an evolutionist had stated long ago], there were over 4000 hominid fossils as of 1976. Over 200 specimens have been classified as Neandertal and about one hundred as _Homo erectus_. More of these fossils have been found since 1976."

[And Marvin L. Lubenow, the author of BONES OF CONTENTION, said this to the editor of the same creationist journal (Vol 31, Sep 1994, p. 70): "The current figures are even more impressive: over 220 _Homo erectus_ fossil individuals to date, and well over 300 Neandertal fossil individuals discovered to date."

[I'd have been happier if Dr. Ross had taken the track of these more honest creationists, criticizing the integrity of the fossil finds and their interpretation, rather than hauling out the weary urban fable about a lack of them.]

God, being outside of (our) time line, is not subject to laws of casualty, therefore does not require an origin.

[This is a respectable theological view, first advanced by St. Augustine. One could argue likewise that the time-symmetry of certain basic physical laws put them outside of time -- they are _about_ time, but not _in_ it. Therefore these are also exempt from requirements of causality. And origins.]

(!) Evidence from Mitochrodrian DNA points to a common female human ancestor, the Mitochrondrian Eve, between ten and twenty thousand years ago. Likewise, stretches of nearly homogeneous DNA found in y-chromosomes the world over point to a common male ancestor, a sort of yDNA Adam.

[The Mitochrondrian Eve theory is highly speculative and hotly contested, but even proponents place her no less than 150 thousand years ago. (We do have a pretty good idea of how fast mitochrondrian DNA mutates, so Dr. Ross's estimate was right out.)

[The business about an yDNA Adam was new to me. Richard Dawkins, in THE RIVER OUT OF EDEN, p. 48, writes that the y-chromosome contains too little information for establishing common ancestry.]

Dr. Ross concluded his lecture with a lengthy question-and- answer. On the good side, he eschewed most of the fetishistic slogans of creationism; he offered no homilies about the evils of evolution, and did not once raise thermodynamics as a problem for it. When audience members inquired about UFO sightings and the putative Face on Mars, Ross debunked these with clarity and polish. (He added, knowingly, that almost all UFO reports are from folk with an "open door to the occult" -- something hard to dispute.)

But the occasional descents into wackiness, and the whopper- telling, discouraged me, made me wary of his other claims.

His response to every mystery or alleged mystery was to invoke a miracle. Scientifically, of course, this is no explanation at all; as if someone "explained" how a television works by telling you there are magic elves inside. But of course his talk was never meant as a scientific lecture, despite the title, and the audience of believers swallow it all with good cheer.

Theologically the implications are rather worse. I wondered if he had thought them through. By continually appealing to gaps and alleged failure of naturalistic science, Dr. Ross made God into a "God of the Gaps", a God that hides beyond the limits of current knowledge. Such a God must ever retreat as science advances. History has shown, many times, how orthodox theology has shipwrecked itself on such thinking.

Again on the good side, he outlined key weaknesses in our knowledge of abiogenesis (the origin of life), underscoring the existence of legitimate, indeed fundamental questions which science has yet to answer.

As we are well aware (or should be), there is no dearth of these.

When and how did the "three-letter" code for translating nucleotide sequences into amino acid chains develop? How were nucleotides formed and assembled into long strings under prebiotic conditions? Did RNA predate DNA? How did the first protocells develop phosphatide membranes? Why did "left-handed" amino acids win out over right handed?

I don't know.

But as Richard P. Feynman said, I'd rather have no answer than the wrong one.

Kenneth E. Nahigian
27 Feb 1996

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Dr. Hugh Ross has a Ph.D. in astronomy from the University of Toronto, and is the president and director of Reasons to Believe. For further information on him, and a more sympathetic presentation of his views, write to the American Religion Information Center, P.O. Box 41874, Sacramento, CA 95841.

(NOTE You may also contact ARIL via the Internet:

Charles Henderson, Executive Director
The Association for Religion and Intellectual Life
Telephone: 914-235-1439 Fax: 914-235-1584
and ARIL/ CrossCurrents Online at www.aril.org

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Do Women and Animals Have Souls

The episcopal synod at Macon met in C.E. 585 to decide various issues, among which the question, Do women have souls? (This was later than I'd thought.) After bitter argument they decided, on a voice vote, with a majority of one, that women did; but that female souls were inferior, sort of halfway between animals and men. The idea that women have grade-b souls persisted for many centuries, and in the 13th century Thomas Aquinas wrote matter of factly that "A woman is only an occasional and incomplete being, a kind of imperfect man."

Incidently, the synod at Macon was significant because it was one of the first church councils which doubled as a state parlament, making secular law as well as ecclesiastical. This showed the church had gained a real hold in Europe, and was ready to let its hair down. (A darn good argument for church/state separation, in my book.)

Also it was St. Clement of Alexandria, late 2nd century, who wrote that "Every woman ought to be filled with shame at the thought that she is a woman." St. John Chrysostom (correct spelling) said women are "an inescapable punishment, a necessary evil, a natural temptation, a domestic peril, a deadly fascination, a painted ill." I always get those two guys confused.

Why all this misogyny? In defence of the Xian fathers, let me suggest they were simply a product of their zeitgeist. Most of the late pre-Christian societies viewed women harshly, the Greeks and Romans as well as the rabbis. The attitude in India was not much better: The kamasutra suggested rape as a means to force marriage, and sanctioned _sati_, in which a widow must throw herself on her husband's pyre.

And as Birrell aptly points out, the Xian attitude was not monolithic -- in fact I was just reading how in the early eastern churches, women had considerable status and could even serve as deaconesses (though they still could not teach nor pray aloud in church, nor perform ceremonies, nor even approach the alter).

It goes to show we should never paint with a broad brush.

-- Ken (:{>

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Christian Nation?

Certainly, in a "sense," our gov't and society represented a "serious break" from Christian tradition. By this I mean, the U.S. was not founded as explicitly Christian, in the way the British government is Anglican, or Iran is Muslim. Some clues:

  1. The Constitution did something revolutionary, unheard of, in those days: It made no appeal to God or Jesus. Rather, it predicated its authority on "we, the people". (Even the original presidential oath in Article II, Sect. I, did not say "So help me God"; that was added by tradition much later.)
  2. Its only two references to religion were negative: a prohibition of religious test for public office (Article VI) and a clause against a federal "establishment", favoring by law, "of religion" (First Amendment). (Note the clause said "religion" not "a religion", meaning no favortism re religion in general, not just no national church! In fact, earlier versions of the First Amendment simply prohibited an official state church, and the framers rejected these for being too weak.)
  3. Some framers requested more religious language in the nascent Constitution, in particular a Maryland delegate named Luther Martin, who walked out in a snit when the majority voted the idea down.
  4. The absence of religious language disturbed many clergy. At least three times, in 1786, 1861 and 1863, major church groups petitioned Congress to amend the Constitution to declare the United States a Christian nation. Congress always declined.
  5. The Declaration of Independence went right against I Peter 2:13-17 and Romans 13:1-7, admonitions that Christians should never resist civil authority or the King (see also Titus 3:1, I Peter 2:13-14). It infuriated many Anglican and Congregational leaders. The Declaration may have been a theistic document, but they did not regard it as a Christian one.
  6. Likewise the Bill of Rights seemed to trample the Ten Commandments on some points. Compare the first two Commandments, for example, to the First Amendment. In response, Pope Gregory VI issued an angry encyclical condemning "the worst plague of all, namely ... liberty of opinion and free speech."
  7. For that matter, the Bible says nothing about representitive democracy, separation of powers, freedom of speech and of assembly, the right to bear arms, freedom from self-incrimination or double jepordy or cruel punishment -- all fundamental notions to our gov't.
  8. The Treaty of Tripoli, our first international treaty (1797), began its eleventh article with "The United States of America being in no sense founded upon the Christian religion, ...". George Washington probably composed it, John Adams signed it, and Congress ratified it. Unanimously. (According to Article VI of the U.S. Constitution, this made it the law of the land, binding on judges in every state.)
  9. According to records kept by Madison, at the Constitutional Congress, in 1787, Ben Franklin proposed openning proceedings with prayer. The motion failed. Interestingly, it was John Jay, one of the most Christian of the delegates, who rose to oppose the motion.
  10. Formal church membership of the day was indeed rather low, around 17% according to one historian (Washington Post article, 11/26/95). Of course this speaks nothing about actual religious belief. But outright unbelievers, Thomas Paine and Ethan Allen for instance, were not disenfranchised, just considered a bit odd. The climate was one of general tolerance. (Contrast it to today's attitude, epitomized in George Bush's declaration that atheists "are not real citizens"!)
  11. Jefferson and Madison, chief authors of the Bill of Rights, wrote of the "seperation of church and state" without raising many eyebrows. (Again, constrast this to the attitude today!) In fact, Jefferson coined the "wall of seperation" metaphore in a formal address to the Danbury Baptist Association (1802). Also in a letter to his attorney general, Levi Lincoln, he wrote that the First Amendment, which he essentially authored, was intended to prevent "any alliance of Church & State".
  12. The first six presidents all refused invitations for church membership while in office. Washington even refused communion. (Many of them did join churches later.)
  13. The first congressional chaplains were local ministers with congregations in New York City (the capital in those days), hired to provide services not to congressmen, but to official visitors away from home. Even so, James Madison objected strongly to the chaplains; he thought they were a bad precident.
-- Ken (:{>

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The Meadows Mountain Meadows Massacre

In 1857, Brigham Young apparently tried to consolidate his control of Utah, and ordered a henchman, Bishop John D. Lee, to lead a band of Mormons and Paiute Indians against a wagon train passing through to California. About 150 men, women and children died, and 20 years later Lee was caught and executed for the crime. (He even wrote a book about it, THE CONFESSION OF JOHN D. LEE.) You'll hear a lot about the Meadows massacre from evangelicals out to bash Mormons, folk like Ed Decker and Richard Baer of the "Ex-Mormon Alliance". Unfortunately it seems the incident, or something like it, really did happen; testimonies from Lee's lieutenants and others also implicated Young (who died the year Lee was convicted).

But let's be fair. Bad as it was, the Meadows massacre was nothing, a mere peccadillo, compared to bloody skeletons in the church closets of those same evangelicals.

Historians estimate (conservatively I think) that 68 _million_ people have died in various "orthodox" Christian wars, crusades and pogroms! The horrible murder of Hypatia in 415 A.D. (living flesh carved from her bones by Christian zealots, on orders from Archbishop Cyril of Alexandria -- now honored as St. Cyril) was a mere appetizer. How about the great Bartholomew's Day Massacre (1572), when good Catholics lured the Protestant Huguenots to Paris under guise of a wedding, then slaughtered them? 10,000 dead _at least_, and afterward Pope Gregory XIII wrote to Charles IX of France, "We rejoice with you that with the help of God you have relieved the world of these wretched heretics."

Or how about the Catholic holocaust of Orthodox Serbs in Croatia, from 1941 to 1945, which occurred with the full knowledge and support of Archbishop Aloysius Stepinac? Body count: 1.7 million. That's right, _million_. (Meanwhile, Pius XII signed concordants with Mussolini, Franco and Hitler while Jewish families were being rounded up within view of the Vatican.)

When the Crusaders marched into Jerusalem in 1099, killing Muslims, Jews and Coptic Christians alike, the chronicler Raymond of Aquilers rejoiced at how "the horses waded in blood up to their knees, nay, up to the bridle. It was a just and marvelous judgment of God...". And when Cromwell's Puritan forces landed in Ireland in 1649, his 17,000 men could hardly wait to slaughter the Catholic Irish. They marched into battle with psalm signing and Bible reading. After his first campaign, in which Irish men, women and children were exterminated like insects, Cromwell sent a dispatch back to the House of Commons: "It has pleased God to bless our endeavor at Drogheda ... I wish that all honest hearts may give the glory of this to God alone..."

Then there was the Thirty Years War, famous for its nauseating atrocities. Sparked in 1618 by a religious squabble between German Protestants and the Catholic Hapsburgs, it destroyed almost one third the population of Europe. (In some regions you can still see the scars.)

But pah. These are mere trickles compared to the worst Christian bloodbath of all time, one almost unknown in the West. It was the Taiping Rebellion, which killed 20 million from 1851 to 1864. Hung Hsiu-ch'uan, a convert, proclaimed that God had commissioned him to make China a Christian state. The army he raised loosed a holocaust.

No; next to other denominations, the Latter Day Saints are, well, saints. Remember this next time a clown like me tries to toss up the Meadows Massacre.

Moving on ...

You also asked about forgeries in the _BoM_. I meant those bits that were obviously lifted, in whole or part, from the King James Version of the Bible. You were interested, so I'll list them, but please understand that I am not trying to de-convert you. In fact bear with me, and I'll venture just why I think such petty-change plagiarism is _not_ a serious problem for the LDS.

The most obvious cases are:

Moroni 10 taken from I Cor 12:1-11
II Nephi 14 taken from Isaiah 4
II Nephi 12 taken from Isaiah 2
Mosiah 14 taken from Isaiah 53
II Nephi 13:1-18 taken from Matthew 6:1-23

According to LDS theology (if I understand rightly), God or Jesus was here simply using similar language to convey similar ideas to the Nephites (Amerindians). Problem is, even the wording and punctuation follows the King James English almost exactly -- and remember, the prophet Mormon composed those golden plates, supposedly, about 1000 years before the KJV of 1611. Worse, among the "lifted" passages are some known translating glitches and errors found _only_ in the KJV. (Of course Joseph Smith knew only the King James Bible, and had no idea what a sloppy version it is.)

For instance, I John 5:7 (KJV), the bit about the Father, Son and Holy Ghost bearing record, is echoed in III Nephi 11:27 & 36; but we know that the passage is not found in the earliest manuscripts of John -- it was a late addition by a rambunctious scribe. (The Bible actually contains no direct reference to a Trinity, and nobody in Christendom believed in one until about 325 A.D.) Likewise, Mark 16:16 (KJV), another scribal interpolation, is echoed in III Nephi 11:33-34. Isaiah 4:5, a mistranslation in the KJV, appears with the error intact in II Nephi 14:5. (Isaiah 4:5 in the KJV is "For upon all the glory shall be a defence", but should be, "For over all the glory there will be a canopy", as it appears in the better editions.) And another mistranslation, Isaiah 5:25, is repeated word for word in II Nephi 15:25. (In the KJV is: "And their carcasses were torn in the midst of the streets"; should be: "And their corpses were as refuse in the midst of the streets.")

But enough. Here's the counter-argument.

The Bible itself does the same thing. Just compare II Kings 18:17 - 20:11 to Isaiah 36:2 - 38:8 (KJV), two "separate" accounts of the same battle and its outcome. Parallels are obvious, and II Kings 19 and Isaiah 37 are identical. Word for word. Even the punctuation is virtually the same -- a patent piece of plagiarism by some overly- enthusiastic scribe or translator.

Likewise, even a cursory reading shows that I Chron 10 thru II Chron 36 steals much material from the Books of Samuel and Kings; in many places the text is exactly the same, often right down to those minutea of wording and punctuation. Just compare:

I Chron 10:1-11 to I Samuel 31
I Chron 11:1-3 to II Samuel 5:1-3
I Chron 17:1 - 18:14 to II Samuel 7:1 - 8:15
II Chron 4:11 - 9:24 to I Kings 7:40 - 10:25
etc., etc. And likewise, Psalm 14 and 53 are largely identical, Psalm 70 simply paraphrases Psalm 40:13-17, Psalm 108 is a combination of Psalm 57:7-11 with 60:5-12. The story of the wicked Gibeahites (Judges 19:16-20) is a rather transparent rework of the story of Lot's visitors (Gen 19:1-11).

And these plagiarisms include occasional mistranslations, just like the _BoM_.

Nor is the NT much better. One of the best-kept non-secrets of Christendom, acknowledged openly by scholars, is that the Books of Matthew and Luke crib baldly from Mark, the earliest Gospel. Perhaps you've noticed how Matthew and Luke tend to agree (even use similar language) when they recount incidents contained in Mark; in fact, of the 661 verses in Mark, 600 appear in Matthew and 300 in Luke either word for word or with minor changes. But, whenever Matthew or Luke "pad" the story with details of their own, they diverge wildly, even contradict.

It's clear that the anonymous authors of Matthew and Luke had a copy of Mark in front of them when they composed their own books. (Mark was written circa 64-70 A.D., Matt around 74 A.D., and Luke in 80 A.D., BTW.)

And of course, the Bible and the early Church often reworked material from earlier Pagan sources: The Ten Commandments from the much earlier Babylonian Code of Hammurabi, details of the Flood myth from the Epic of Gilgamesh and Epic of Izdubar, the Creation myth from an old Chaldean story, and, well ....

... Ever hear of this fellow? Born on December 25; born of a virgin. First worshipped by shepherds. Had 12 disciples. Was crucified, after a last supper of bread and wine. Rose and ascended to heaven. Ascension celebrated on the Spring Equinox (Easter).

Right! The Persian Mithra -- his story recorded over 600 years before Christ.

I could go on and on. But you get my point. My point being, sure, old Joseph Smith lifted material, either consciously or unconsciously, from the KJ Bible. He had precedents for doing so. It was a pretty fair way to get the point across. As old Joseph Campbell said, religion is a vehicle, a vessel; it is metaphor before fact, poetry before prose. Its truth is not the truth of history, or the truth of science -- but the truth of art, of music.

Some say that the story that Book of Mormon was translated from plates of gold hidden for millennia in the hills of Ohio should be taken as allegory or metaphor, because so much of what it has to say is inspiring, offers hope & guidance or just plain makes sense.

Many (most) thinking Christians see the Bible this way also, as a product of its era, to be mined for meaning on many levels. Like a sea of boiling dark clouds that open occasionally to give flashes of light, glimpses of blue sky.

Another point (I'm giving you a lot of ordinance here, I hope you can use it!). Bashers of the LDS church have made much of the supposed false prophecies of Joseph Smith. They gloat, for example, over how Smith prophecized that certain friends who bore witness to the gold plates of Moroni would reign with him in Heaven, yet three of these witnesses (Oliver Cowdery, David Whitmer and Martin Harris) later apostatized, recanted their testimony -- and were excommunicated.

Well, pufi. Turning to the Bible, you'll find Jesus in much the same pickle. In Matt 19:28, speaking to the disciples, Jesus gave his solemn prophecy that the twelve of them -- _Judas included_ -- would sit on twelve thrones in heaven and judge the twelve tribes of Israel. Unless you happen to believe that Judas was indeed saved (an idea that would horrify most "orthodox" Xians, I don't know the Mormon view) this is just as big a problem.

I admit that in some predominantly Mormon areas, in Utah especially, the LDS church has occasionally overstepped, crossed the line between church and state. It disturbs me. But I understand it, seeing how Mormons are treated in other areas. Action/reaction.

My point was (and this is my last point, thanks for your patience!), in areas where the LDS church is active, but not in the majority, it has a good track record for keeping "orthodox" fundamentalists at bay. After all, no Pentecostal demagogue is going to lobby for a public school commencement prayer if he thinks it might be a Mormon prayer. P.S. When I was in D.C., I visited the great Mormon temple there. Beautiful! A castle of coral-pink minarets. Like something right out of Oz. -- Ken (:{>

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Following is a piece on Biblical morality posted to a local computer bulletin board in July, 1994, as part of an ongoing dialog with another user.
Some true believers have found these points compelling. A few have converted.
-- kn

In a recent post, Jedidiah demanded to know exactly how the Bible condones rape, slavery, human sacrifice, murder, killing children, and intolerance of gays.

Good question.

Rape and murder are chestnuts. For one instance, God commanded murder in Num 25:4-5. Also, in Ex 32:27-28, at God's command, Moses had the Levites murder their brothers and friends over religious differences; three thousand die. For more mass murder, read Numbers 31:17-18 -- in this case note how the virgin girls were saved for the "use" of the Israelite warriors. Then, in Num 15:32-36, at God's command, a poor man is stoned to death for gathering a few sticks of firewood on the Sabbath. More?

At God's command, Joshua slaughtered all the inhabitants of the city of Ai, including women and children (Joshua 8:2, 24-25), and went on to obliterate Makkedah, Libnah, Lachish, Gezer, Eglon, Hebron, and all who lived in "the country of the hills, and of the south, and of the vale, and of the springs" (Joshua 10:28-37, 40). He killed everything, even suckling babies. The Bible devotes barely a phrase to each massacre, as if to say, Of course he killed them all, big deal, what'd you expect?

Saul, of course, butchered all the Amalekite citizens on God's order, including women, innocent infants and babes in arms (I Sam 15:3, 8). And why? Apparently because some Amalekite ancestors had dissed the Israelites about 450 years earlier (I Sam 15:2).

For general commandments condoning murder, look at Deut 13:6-10, where a man must slay his own daughter, wife, son or friend over a religious squabble; or read Deut 13:12-16, which commanded the Israelites to decimate whole cities for the same reason. If a city did not enslave itself immediately to the Israelites, God commanded them to kill all males and take the women and children as slaves (Deut 20:12-17). (But some cities must be destroyed utterly, children, babies, pregnant women, even animals!) Note also: Female prisoners of war are subject to the sexual whims of their captors, and have only a month of mourning for slain families (Deut 21:11-14). And according to Deut 22:20-21, if a woman turns out not to be virgin on her wedding night, she must die. By stoning.

Then there was David, who lived by robbery and unprovoked murder of men and women (I Sam 27:8-9), ordered murders (II Sam 5:20, 25), told his troops to kill ("smite") the blind and lame of the city of Zion (II Sam 5:8), tortured and killed prisoners of war (II Sam 12:31, I Chron 20:3), and in general carried on nasty. With his last breath, he betrayed an oath and advocated murder (I Kings 2:8-9). Yet, according to I Kings 11:6, 15:3-5 and Acts 13:22, King David followed the Lord completely; all his deed were morally right, except perhaps for those regarding his friend Uriah (one small bit of adultery and murder, see II Sam 11). David was a man "after God's heart", "had a perfect heart", kept God's commandments, did only what was right in God's eyes (I Sam 13:14, I Kings 3:14), and so on and so on and so on. How much more "condoning" do we need?

Fortunately the New Testament is a bit less murderous. But in Luke 19:27, Jesus tells the apostles to murder his enemies, or seems to. The words come at the end of a parable, and may just be part of it, but some scholars think it stands out as Jesus's direct command. See the INTERPRETERS BIBLE, Vol. 8, p. 327; or the JEROME BIBLE COMMENTARY, Vol. 2, p. 152.

(At this point, we need not wonder at the words of writer/philosopher Robert Anton Wilson. "The Bible tells us to imitate God," he wrote, "then page after page describes God as a mass murderer. This might be the key to the development of Western Civilization.")

Focusing now on the killing of children, where do I begin? God helped Moses to be a child murderer (Deut 3:3, 6). God punished a man by killing his innocent child (II Sam 12:14-18). Jehu, one of God's favorites, beheaded 70 innocent children and stacked their heads in two piles; this atrocity and others pleased God, who promised that Jehu's descendants would rule Israel (II Kings 10:6-8, 30). God accepted the slaughter of innocent children for a father's minor crime (Jos 7:20-26). And when 42 children teased Elisha about his bald head, God sent she-bears to rend them limb from limb (II Kings 2:23-24).

If that's not enough, read Lev 26:29, Jer 19:9 and Deut 28:53, where as punishment, God threatens or commands the cannibalism of children. Because Samaria rebelled against God, God ordained that its pregnant women be ripped open, and innocent children dashed to the ground (Hosea 13:16). Don't forget Psalm 137:9, which blesses those who dash Babylonian children against rocks.

For general commandments on child murder, please read how we must kill a child (by stoning) if, in a moment of anger, the child reviles either parent for any reason (Ex 21:17, Lev 20:9). Who hasn't? This is a normal part of growing up. The Bible also commands death for disobeying parents (Deut 21:18-21).

By now it is hardly shocking that the Bible also advocates child abuse. Some charming highlights: Do not withhold the stick (Prov 23:13-14, 13:24); "Blue wounds" cleanse away evil, beatings purge the soul (Prov 20:30); A good beating will drive folly from a child (Prov 22:15); Beating a child imparts wisdom (Prov 29:15). For a NT commandment to beat children, see Hebrews 12:6-8. Perhaps these verses are allegorical, but right-wing groups quote them even today to justify brutality toward children.

Slavery, now. God authorized it in Lev 25:44-46, for the "children of strangers" at least; and in Exodus 21:7 God even tells fathers how to sell their daughters into slavery or indentured servitude. Note: Read Ex 21:20-21. The master could beat the slave even to death, as long as the slave "lingers" a few days before dying. The reason: "For the slave is his property (money)." Obviously the Hebrew master had virtual power of life and death; to all intents, this was real slavery. In any case, true slavery was common enough in Roman Palestine, and NT verses such as I Tim 6:1-2, Titus 2:9, and Eph 6:5 certainly condone it. (See also I Peter 2:18-21, Colossians 3:22. Slaves must serve their masters in all respects, never rebel.) In fact, the Greek word rendered "servant" in the KJV is "slave" in all the more honest translations (REB, NAB, NIV, etc.).

In spite of ample opportunity, Jesus never denounced slavery. Once this baffled me. Eventually I found Luke 12:47, a verse where Jesus remarks almost off-handedly that rebellious slaves should be beaten. Obviously he had little problem with the institution.

Am I taking these verses out of context? Unlikely. At the first Southern Baptist Convention, in May of 1845, church leaders resolved unanimously that the Bible ordained slavery, and quoted the very same verses as proof-texts. More recently the Reformed Church in South Africa has used them to defend apartheid.

As for homosexuals, the verses condemning them are rather loudly broadcast by the Religious Right, so it should be easy to find a few. Try Lev 18:22 or Lev 20:13 (note it calls for the death penalty). For NT examples, see: I Cor 6:9-10; Rom 1:26-27, 32; I Timothy 1:9-10. (Oddly enough, the Bible directly condemns only male homosexuality, "man laying with man". Only one verse, Rom 1:26, migh be critical of lesbianism, and this is far from clear.)

Some scholars, on the other hand, have suggestted that David & Jonathan were lovers (I Sam 18:3-4, I Sam 20:41, II Sam 1:26). Also, I believe old King James, who authorized the King James Bible, was gay. Then there's Jim Bakker.... But I digress.

Finally, human sacrifice. A bit of speculation here. You might check out Lev 27:28-30, which says that human beings "devoted" or "made sacred" to Jehovah must be put to death, and Ex 22:28-29, where God commands the Israelites to "give" him their firstborn. Then read Ezekiel 20:26, where God admits that the Israelites once immolated their firstborn children. Another little clue is Num 31:40, where "the Lord's share" of captured pubescent females was 32. We can only guess what that means.

But the case of Jepathah is clear enough. God accepted a human sacrifice, and in return, delivered Jepathah's enemies into his hands (Judges 11:30-32, 34, 39). In II Sam 15:3-8, God accepted the sacrifice, by dismemberment, of seven innocent men, and removed a famine.

Not least, there is Abraham. Read Gen 22. Yes, the angel stopped the knife; but obviously Abraham was at least willing to sacrifice his firstborn, and this willingness pleased the Lord. (If God simply wanted to test Abraham's faith, He could have devised a better test -- such as asking Abraham to give all his goods to the poor, or to cut off his own hand, perhaps.) The story may not shock you because you were conditioned to it from childhood. But just suppose you met a Hindu who casually mentioned that he would gladly slit his own son's throat for Vishnu. How warm and cozy would you feel about him?

Many scholars see such episodes as traces of an early Jewish and Canaanite tradition of human sacrifice. (I admit this is open to debate.)

Needless to say, other Bible verses do directly condemn murder and human sacrifice. And it is not difficult to find verses which may be construed to condemn child abuse, bigotry or slavery. The Bible is like that. During the Civil War, ministers of the North and South gleefully quoted the Bible at each other; and even today, in the rural South, in religious segregationist strongholds such as Bob Jones University, the debate is very much alive.

What does it prove? Only that the "monolithic Bible" is a myth. The real Bible is a complex, polymorphic book, or rather, collection of books; a cluster and bundling of many moral threads, mythical traditions and cultural outlooks, rather like a literary Rorschach ink-blot. In a work so wonderfully rich and multifaerous, so full of imagery and metaphor, so clouded with obscure language, one can find fragments to support almost anything. Is it any wonder that Christians who use the Bible as a moral guide have come down on both sides of every issue, from gay rights to the death penalty? Or any wonder that over 20,800 Christian denominations and sects exist today (according to the World Christian Encyclopedia), disputing one another on the most basic issues?

Older readers may recall how Adolph Hitler coasted into office on a platform of Biblical values mixed with anti-semitism, and how outspoken fundamentalist ministers in the United States (the Revs. William Bell Riley and Gerald Winrod, to name two) cheered him. At every step, they "proved" his case Biblically.

Likewise, rather few Christians regarded early-term abortion as murder until Pope Pius IX, in 1869, decided it must be viewed as such. (Prior to that the Church considered it a crime of conception only, not murder.) Suddenly anti-abortion crusaders found Bible verse after Bible verse "proving" the fetus is a person from conception.

Prohibition is another case in point. Temperance leaders managed to read the Bible as a "dry" book in spite of clear verses praising wine (Gen 27:28, Psalm 104:5, Prov 31:6-7, Jer 13:12, Judges 9:13, Ecc 7:29, Matt 11:19, Matt 26:29). (God even once commanded men to become drunk, see Jer 25:27.) And about a century ago, fiery fundamentalist John Hampten converted thousands to the "clear and unmistakable flat-earth teaching of the Bible" (using many the same tactics as creationists today).

Obviously the Bible is a pretty flexible book. The truth is, nothing in it directly condemns drinking or abortion. The Bible does not even have a direct injunction against rape, except perhaps for Deut 22:25-29, which requires the rapist of an unbetrothed virgin to pay a fine and marry her. (For raping a betrothed virgin the punishment is worse -- not surprising for a book that generally treats women as chattel.) Nor is there anything unequivocally condemning euthanasia, suicide, racial or religious bigotry, and other things which many now considered wicked.

Yes, you might invoke verses such as Deut 5:15, Matt 19:18 or Rom 13:9 against suicide or abortion. But first you must assume abortion or suicide is murder, which rather begs the question, don't you think? As in the case of slavery, it's easy to find general verses to condemn the bad thing indirectly, if you have already decided the thing is wrong. But you just won't find an unequivocal "Thou Shalt Not ..."

The Bible simply evades these basic (to us) moral issues, or buries them in vagaries and generalities. Yet it devotes page after page to picayune crimes and infractions, such as: Do not trim your sideburns (Lev 19:27); Tattoos are a sin (Lev 19:28); No woman may teach a man (I Tim 2:11-12); Never cook a young goat in its mother's milk (Ex 34:26); A widow must marry her brother-in-law (Deut 25:5); etc., etc.

Odd, isn't it? Odd, at least, if we insist that the Bible comes right from the hand an infinite, moral, omniscient God, a God Who foreknew the moral hotbuttons of our day, Who provided us the Bible as a moral guide, Who plenarily inspired it down to every jot and tittle. Would it have been so difficult to leave out the nonsense about sideburns, and add something like "Thou shalt not enslave thy brother," "Thou shalt not commit suicide," "Abortion is right out," or "Men, don't jack the sisters"?

Don't misunderstand. I respect the Bible; it is grand literature. But as a moral guide it stinks. Of course once we have reasoned out an ethical standard, it's easy to select and interpret, post facto, verses to fit it. Such "moral retrofitting" is useful to some extent, a poetic way to underscore our convictions. But too often have we turned it all around -- cast aside sweet reason, used the Bible as a moral roadmap with no rational court of appeal -- and historically, with what result?

Mountains of corpses; rivers of blood.

Taking a cue from the Reconstructionists, maybe those who demand a return to "strict Biblical values" should be sentenced to a history course on what has happened when societies tried to implement just such thinking. From the murder of Hypatia to the burning of the Alexandrian libraries, to the street massacres of Constantinople, the Crusades, the "Gallieo" incident, the Thirty Years War, the witch-hunts of Salem, the pogroms of Czarist Russia, the great Taiping civil war of China, and the current horror in Bosnia, the record will chill you. How easily we forget the dungeons of the Inquisition, the bones broken, skin flayed, flesh sawed and roasted, old men and women turned into bloody writhing puppets ... But such horror is part of the fabric of history, the bloody basalt on which the Church built its power. We must not forget. It happened. It can happen again.

But thoughtful Christians, of the mainline sort, will remember and agree. After all, the idea of a literal, perfect, plenarily inspired Bible is not a pillar of Christendom; it is not even Biblical. It is an aberration, an outgrowth of Mid-19th century revivalism. Most of the Christian fathers (who had some hand in editing and assembling the Bible) denounced the idea of Biblical inerrancy. In 248 A.D., Origenus Adamantus (Origen to his pals) wrote to deplore what he called the fanatical literal exegesis of the Bible. In the 4th century, St. Gregory and old St. Augustine also rejected the idea of a literal Bible. They taught that the first chapters of Genesis were allegorical; Augustine even suggested that some animals had developed from simpler forms!

Modern mainline denominations, such as the Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican, Episcopal, American Baptist and United Presbyterian, have all accepted an ancient earth and biological evolution. Great apologists such as C.S. Lewis and G.K. Chesterson ridiculed the Literalists. In March, 1994, the Vatican released a document on "The Interpretation of the Bible", prepared by the Pontifical Bible Commission. It stated flatly that Biblical literalism is a form of "intellectual suicide", that God's word is "expressed in human language, ... by human authors possessed of limited human resources."

Perhaps the Bishop John Shelby Spong said it best. "I could not believe that anyone who had read this book would be so foolish as to proclaim that the Bible in every literal word was the divinely inspired, inerrant word of God. Have these people simply not read the text? Are they hopelessly misinformed? Is there a different Bible? Are they blinded by a combination of ego needs and naivete?"

In short, Literalism and Inerrancy are simply not issues in the learned halls of Rome, Canterbury or even Salt Lake City. But in the backwaters of Arkansas, in right-wing lobbies, among evangelical groups like Campus Crusade, and on this net, they are issues.

Strange.

Let me close if I may with one final quote, the words of writer William Mizner, a wise man.

"I respect faith," he said, "but doubt is what gets you an education. Men become civilized not in proportion to their willingness to believe, but their readiness to doubt. Where it is a duty to worship the sun, you can be sure it will be a crime to examine the laws of heat."

Back to Top of Page Kenneth E. Nahigian July, 1994

My Favorite Websites

Skeptical Sites:

James Randi's parlor, doorstep to skeptical debunking.
Creation "Science" debunked.
Creation "Science" debunked some more.
The Darwin Day website, sponsored by The Tennessee Darwin Coalition, w/ essays and other info about old Chuck D. (Evolutionism right in the heart of the Bible Belt!)
An international Darwin Day site, uniting Darwin Days the world over.
The Quest for the Historical Jesus. Seek & ye shall find ... something.
The Skeptic Tank. More & likewise.
The mom of all skeptic pages. Not necessarily the best, just the mom.
Skeptical index to Skeptical Inquirer.
The Skeptic Society. Rather like CSICOP, wider focus.
The Skeptic Webring. You just know the Rosicrucians are behind this.
The best source of info on alternative medicine.
Exposé of dangerous cults.

Grinding-my-political-ax section -- websites slamming the Religious Right:

The World Union of Deists. Deism, America's Forgotten Religion.
The Event Horizon Reader. Many thoughtful writings.
Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance. Promoting tolerance, diversity, fairness.
Mainstream Option.
A support site for Christians just starting to doubt.
Our real Christian heritage. The dark side of Xian history, the stuff "They" don't want you to know.
The Truth Seeker, oldest freethought magazine in the West.
Gene Garman defends separation of Church & State.
A general page of links,but the ones in the "Heresies" section are worth a click or two.
The (religious) Skeptic's Corner.
The Council for Secular Humanism.
The Campus Freethought Alliance.
Judith Hayes, the Happy Heretic.
The Right Rev. Jim Huber, also Heretic.
The Infidel Guy. Try his audio show!
The Atheist Alliance.
Positive Atheism.
News of atheism;questions answers; issued mulled.
Alan Dechert's Go-to-Zero page.
Adrian Barnett's Wasteland of Wonders. Much nifty freethought material here and many links, plus entertainment, general brouhaha and fol-der-rol.
The real scuttlebutt on the Bible. Not a pretty sight.
The freethought supply house, for all your argumentative needs.
For Jehovah Witness alumni. Funny, and somewhat bitter.
Reason Works, a commercial site with incisive writings.
Formerly for stories and nightmares of fundamentalist academia. Now, mixed with miscellaneous ribaldry. Still good freethought content, though.
The Post-Fundamentalist Press.
The Isaac Bonewits neopagan homepage. Quirky, but he does get in his digs.
Truth Be Known One archeologist & historian dissects the Christ myth.
Celebrity Atheists & Agnostics, a list.
Famous non-theists of history, a bigger list.
Ask Sister Rosetta (humor site).

Cranks, Kooks and Conspiracies:

a web site devoted to crank theories about the universe. You can check out the "Crank o' the Day"
Donna Kossy's Grand Museum of Kooks. Freeze-dried cranks, the weirdos we know & love.
The NutNet. Tall tales and strange epiphanies.
Conspire Cheerful crank literature; all the conspiracy theories you can eat. They do have a sense of humor.

You must see it to believe:

Virtual Hell, a warm and cozy place.
God Hates Fags Belly of the Beast: The infamous "Rev" Fred Phelps, gay basher.
Kingdom Identity movement. Very weird, scary.
jesus-is-lord.com Over-the-top fundamentalism, but at least honest about its agenda.
Church of Satan - orgFloor's hot, wear shoes.
Antichrist.com About time he started his own website!


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