Gregg Easterbrook is no longer an expert at Brookings.

Via The Editors who has found yet another subject area that Easterbrook gets wrong:

Most importantly, this proves conclusively my theory that what we think of as “the Universe” is really just a rather over-broad comic novel called “Jackass of All Trades”, wherein hilariously inept polymath Gregg Easterbrook – “the DiVinci of incompetence” – rises to the heights of the journalistic and public policy professions, only to be stopped by a deadly asteroid.

Comments

  1. #1 bi -- IJI
    June 14, 2009

    Well, to be fair to Gregg, there’s a difference between the “historical Jesus” and the “Biblical Jesus”…

  2. #2 GaryB, FCD
    June 14, 2009

    What differences are there between the historical and Biblical Jesus? Both are the same fictional character from a 2000 year old pron novel.

  3. #3 Scott M
    June 14, 2009

    “What differences are there between the historical and Biblical Jesus? Both are the same fictional character from a 2000 year old pron novel.”

    If you are going to make utterly stupid and offensive comments, could you at least have the courtesy to spell check them first?

  4. #4 The Editors
    June 14, 2009

    Scott M is not aware of all internet traditions.

  5. #5 Ali
    June 14, 2009

    I thought it was spelled pr0n.

  6. #6 atablarasa
    June 14, 2009

    GaryB, please refrain from calling it a 2000 year old pron novel.

    It is much older than that in places.

    Thank you.

  7. #7 Barton Paul Levenson
    June 15, 2009

    Comments like GaryB’s embarrass me much more as an ex-atheist than as a Christian. I like to think that when I was an atheist I wasn’t that stupidly accepting of anything that seemed to support my side. The idea that Jesus never existed at all is held only by hardcore militant atheists; no historian in his right mind, atheist or not, agrees with it. You can argue about whether Jesus is God or not; obviously an atheist wouldn’t think he is. But saying he never existed is the same type of statement to history, as saying aliens built the pyramids is to archaeology.

  8. #8 Gaz
    June 15, 2009

    *”You can argue about whether Jesus is God or not; obviously an atheist wouldn’t think he is. But saying he never existed is the same type of statement to history, as saying aliens built the pyramids is to archaeology.”*

    Well said, BPL.

  9. #9 Aureola Nominee, FCD
    June 15, 2009

    Maybe no “historian in his right mind” says that no historical Jesus existed; yet, several scholars maintain that we can’t say whether a historical Jesus existed or not.

    For instance, this appears to be the position of Robert M. Price.

    Also, “hardcore militant atheist” is a classic example of poisoning the well; it would be much more honest to explain that “militant”, when coupled with “atheist”, simply means “vocal”.

  10. #10 luminous beauty
    June 15, 2009

    Barton,

    Of course Jesus is God. There is nothing that is not God.

  11. #11 Brian D
    June 15, 2009

    I can think of a handful of people who would not fall under “hardcore militant atheist” who doubt Jesus ever existed. I even know of one deist who makes this claim louder than many atheists do. Skepticism about Jesus’ existence is correlated with atheism, but it isn’t exclusively atheistic.

    The whole lack of a book of Jesus (seriously, he never wrote anything down?) and the difficulty in reconciling any accurate timeline is the lynchpin for me. For instance, Matthew says that King Herod tried to kill Jesus as a newborn, while Luke says that Mary was pregnant with Jesus during the census of governor Quirinius of Syria. Herod died sometime in early 4 BC, and Quirinius’ administration was between 6 AD and 12 AD, meaning either Matthew or Luke got something seriously wrong. Given how Matthew is the only one of the gospels to describe the zombie saints (Matthew 27:52-53 – indeed, the only place in the entire Bible to mention what is arguably the largest miracle performed during that time), I’m going to charitably say he was prone to exaggeration, and look at Luke instead.

    However, Luke also tells us that Jesus began his ministry after John the Baptist was arrested, and that he was tried under Pontius Pilate. The problem with this is that John the Baptist was arrested the same year Pontius Pilate was recalled to Rome. Zero years (charitably, three months, assuming John the Baptist was arrested in January and Jesus was executed around Easter) is a very short time for any ministry to be as wildly successful as Jesus’ is purported to be (what with people travelling far and wide for the sermon on the mount), especially in an era relying on word of mouth communication. (The exact length of Jesus’ ministry is unclear based solely on the Bible, so it hypothetically could have happened, but it does mention three separate passovers.) What this makes clear is that we can’t rely on the Bible alone for our information on this — and yet I’m unaware of any historical account dating from the time Jesus is said to have lived that corroborates any element of his story. (I would love to be proven wrong on this, but the last time I asked for such a source at our university’s theological college, I was politely but firmly asked to leave.)

    None of these observations rely on an a priori decision to believe or disbelieve in God, unless by “God” you mean “the infallability of a particular book” – which I’ve heard described as an “inability to distinguish doctrine from deity”, and potentially even a form of idolatry (putting the book before God, as God). In other words, Barton’s claim appears to place atheism as the opposite of fundamentalism / Biblical literalism, which does a disservice to pretty much everyone except the literalists (including the vast majority of Christians).

    I believe that, like any positive existential claim, with the existence of Jesus, the null hypothesis is skepticism and the burden of proof lies on the claimants. And I guess that makes me a “hardcore militant atheist” in the eyes of Barton.

  12. #12 Barton Paul Levenson
    June 16, 2009

    luminous,

    Sorry, I’m not a pantheist.

    Brian D,

    We’re all familiar with the problems reconciling the various gospels. It doesn’t bother me, any more than reconciling any accounts of an incident remembered 30 years later would bother me. Ask police officers some time about reconciling eyewitness accounts of something that happened three days ago.

    Suetonius claims that lightning obliterated one letter on a monument of Caesar 100 days before his death, changing the word to “AESAR” (Etruscan for a type of God), and of course C = 100 in Roman numeration. A miracle the Senate cited in their decision to deify Caesar. Maybe you don’t believe in miracles. Does that mean Caesar never existed?

    The null hypothesis about a famous historical figure who founded a major religion is not “skepticism.” Occam’s Razor says the man existed. Arguing that he didn’t is the strained alternative hypothesis, one indulged in only by those who want to believe that he didn’t exist. BTW, the Buddha didn’t write anything down, either. Do you think Gautama existed? And there are no contemporary accounts of Socrates, either, another man who never wrote anything down himself. Is the null hypothesis that there was no Socrates? Give me a break.

  13. #13 Aureola Nominee, FCD
    June 16, 2009

    BPL:

    did you really just compare Caius Julius Caesar, about whom (and by whom) we have tons of independently verifiable texts, to Jesus, about whom we have no independently verifiable text at all?

    Because “disingenuous” does not even begin to qualify such sleight of hand.

  14. #14 Jr
    June 16, 2009

    “And there are no contemporary accounts of Socrates, either, ”

    Actually there is a comedy spoofing him written in his lifetime.

    But your larger point is on the whole correct. That Jesus existed is very likely and by far the simplest explanation for the start of Christianity.

    Certainly that is what the vast majority of scholars believe.

  15. #15 Mark
    June 16, 2009

    However, we currently have several people who could be considered historically in 2000 years to have the same story as Jesus.

    Koresh, for example.

    One of the things I think riled up some christians with “The Life Of Brian” was that this was a contemporary of Jesus whose life would also have been written down by observant historians in EXACTLY THE SAME WAY as the scraps of Jesus’s life are written.

    But the movie shows this was just a naughty little boy who fancied a woman in the people’s front of judea. Or was it the popular front???

    So there could have been several hundred of people whose lives could, if written down and as sparsely as the historical record for JC’s life is, come to the same story as Jesus.

    I mean, how many protesters against the Roman Occupation do you think could have been there at the time?

    This doesn’t mean you can’t use the story even if completely fictitious to enlighten you as to how to live your life. It just means you can’t use the scraps of work historically verifiable as proof you have it right whilst all the other religions have it wrong.

  16. #16 Brian D
    June 16, 2009

    Barton,

    We’re all familiar with the problems reconciling the various gospels. It doesn’t bother me, any more than reconciling any accounts of an incident remembered 30 years later would bother me. Ask police officers some time about reconciling eyewitness accounts of something that happened three days ago.

    It seems a contradiction to distrust stories written three days ago (aside: I agree with you here) but accept stories written thousands of years ago as literal gospel, in spite of admitted contradictions that illustrate that the authors aren’t describing the same thing.

    All I ask for is exactly what those police are looking for — additional contemporary sources that corroborate (or, perhaps, dispute) the apparent story. A court of law that went without this step would be rife with injustice.

    Suetonius claims that lightning obliterated one letter on a monument of Caesar 100 days before his death, changing the word to “AESAR” (Etruscan for a type of God), and of course C = 100 in Roman numeration. A miracle the Senate cited in their decision to deify Caesar. Maybe you don’t believe in miracles. Does that mean Caesar never existed?

    You are smarter than this, Barton – straw men don’t suit you.

    My position never was “single impossible element = whole story is fiction”. Indeed, it’s much more likely that the impossible element was added later to an existing story (which may be truth or fiction itself; you can’t judge that based solely on the story). This seems to be what has happened with Seutonius, as that story appears to have been written after Caesar died.

    Aureola hit the other key point here: We do have independent verification of Caesar’s existence and life story. While much of it speaks to his ability or greatness, any attempt to deify him always comes from a ‘vested interest’ of sorts. It’s more parsimonius here to conclude that Caesar existed as the history texts write, but that he was just a man (however impressive his exploits).

    I merely ask for similar contemporary corroboration of Jesus’ existence.

    The null hypothesis about a famous historical figure who founded a major religion is not “skepticism.” Occam’s Razor says the man existed. Arguing that he didn’t is the strained alternative hypothesis, one indulged in only by those who want to believe that he didn’t exist.

    Only partly true. The null hypothesis of any existence claim is always nonexistence, religious figure or not. For instance, consider a more recent religious founder, like Joseph Smith. The null hypothesis on his existence is nonexistence, but since there is enough evidence for his existence (from multiple sources, especially ones outside his church – i.e. warrants for his arrest for bank fraud), we reject the null hypothesis. This is contingent on the evidence, though, and not based on the existence or size of the religious movement ascribed to him.

    You are correct about Occam’s Razor within that sentence, of course, but the Razor hinges upon multiple equally likely options. Evidence is required to determine that likelyhood. For instance, looking solely at the books, Occam’s Razor concludes that Mark Twain existed as a real person, but diving into contemporary historical information, we find additional information disputing his existence except as Sam Clemins’ pen name. This forces us to re-evaluate the conditions under which we apply the Razor. (See also Will Shakespeare.)

    BTW, the Buddha didn’t write anything down, either. Do you think Gautama existed?

    I have not looked into the history of Buddha at all and do not feel confident answering this. That said, my default position is “no” but as always I am open to changing my mind given evidence. (A cursory overview suggests that I’m wrong and he did exist, but that elements of his story have been exaggerated by followers over time. That said, it was just a cursory overview and insufficient grounds to reject the null as yet. Further research may change this.)

    And there are no contemporary accounts of Socrates, either, another man who never wrote anything down himself. Is the null hypothesis that there was no Socrates? Give me a break.

    You know enough about science to know that the correct answer is YES – the null hypothesis is that there was no Socrates. However, as Jr noted, there are contemporary works written about him — sufficient grounds to reject the null.

    Just because it’s the default assumed position in common parlance doesn’t mean it’s a null hypothesis. Nulls show up in response to specific claims, and they are always skeptical of positive existential claims. I feel very condescending having to say this to you, as on multiple occasions you’ve demonstrated both familiarity and ability with scientific methods.

    Mark has it right: This doesn’t mean you can’t use the story even if completely fictitious to enlighten you as to how to live your life. It just means you can’t use the scraps of work historically verifiable as proof you have it right whilst all the other religions have it wrong. Elements of the story reference independently verifiable historical events, but that isn’t enough to claim authenticity (unless you also want to accept Harry Turtledove’s books as historical). You need something beyond the tales to verify them.

    I’m looking for external contemporary sources to give me reason to reject the null hypothesis that Jesus didn’t exist. That is all.

    (Full disclosure: I was raised Christian, but left the church after they resorted to “mysterious ways” apologetics whenever I questioned anything, which felt to me like a non-answer and an appeal to stop asking questions. (It seems to run in the family: My father was ejected from Catholic schools for asking where Noah got the penguins.) None of this is militant atheism, except where it believes that all claims must be subject to skeptical inquiry and rational discussion. Point to anything I’ve said that suggests I don’t want to believe or that I’m particularly “hardcore”, for instance – you won’t find any, indicating you’ve straw-manned *me* as well as elements of my argument.)

  17. #17 Jeremy C
    June 16, 2009

    Ummmmmm….speaking as one of the few christians here (no I’m not a creationist but I bet 100 bucks I can prove 95% of non christians are….) I’m more interested in Greg Easterbrook getting the push from the Brookings. I take it was a hand held flat between the shoulder blades with the door opened exactly at the same time as the hand did an F=ma or was it a boot against the backside doing F=ma that Easterbrook experienced…. where the door wasn’t properly opened and so is being replaced as we speak.

    I didn’t quite understand the whole thing. Easterbrook was out running a raised shovel was he? Was this becaue he made a stupid error in writing about Christ or was it the culmination of something at the Brookings. Jumped or pushed?

    Sorry if I’m being a little slow.

  18. #18 Barton Paul Levenson
    June 17, 2009

    Aureola, unable to argue and so substituting accusations of dishonesty, writes:

    did you really just compare Caius Julius Caesar, about whom (and by whom) we have tons of independently verifiable texts, to Jesus, about whom we have no independently verifiable text at all?

    Because “disingenuous” does not even begin to qualify such sleight of hand.

    We have plenty of text evidence for Jesus. The entire New Testament, with its half dozen or so different authors. Suetonius. Tacitus. Dio Cassius. Mara bar-Serapion. Josephus. Thallus. Are you familiar with any of the evidence at all?

  19. #19 Barton Paul Levenson
    June 17, 2009

    BTW, as I recall, Suetonius was writing about Augustus, not Julius. Both are “Caesar,” as were about 300 other guys.

  20. #20 Aureola Nominee, FCD
    June 17, 2009

    BPL:

    Your so-called “text evidence” for Jesus is exactly what I was thinking of when I said that there is no independently verifiable text evidence. Suetonius does not mention Jesus. Tacitus does not mention Jesus. Josephus’s one mention is considered by most historians to be a later interpolation by Christian editors.

    Are YOU familiar with the evidence at all?

    If you don’t want to be called disingenuous, please refrain from making such comparisons.

    BTW, and just to clarify, I personally think it more likely than not that a Jewish Pharisee preacher, who may or may not have been called Jesus, proclaimed himself the messiah (in the Jewish, not Pauline, sense), failed to evoke the wrath of YHWH on cue, and was tried, convicted and executed on the cross by the Romans for sedition, like thousands of other Jews (and a handful of other wannabe messiahs) in those same years.

    But I won’t claim that this is in ANY way “proven” by the (at best dubious, at worst spurious) “evidence” you mentioned.

  21. #21 Mark
    June 17, 2009

    BPL the new testament has people getting fed by the thousand from a couple of haddock and a lump of mothers’ pride.

    Do we have proof that horses fly because there really WAS a Troy and therefore the story of Perseus must be right?

    Sheesh.

    It’s a story. A story that can make you look at your life a certain way. That’s all.

    But it is still YOU living YOUR life.

  22. #22 Aureola Nominee, FCD
    June 17, 2009

    Anyway, this is not an appropriate venue for this sort of debates. I suggest we return on topic, and whether or not BPL responds, I won’t.

  23. #23 Brian D
    June 17, 2009

    Aureola: Agreed. As engaging as this was, it’s been said before, and I apologize for the part I had to play on this derailment.

  24. #24 luminous beauty
    June 17, 2009

    Barton,

    luminous,

    Sorry, I’m not a pantheist.

    A panentheist, though, you could be, and still be a Christian.

    Namaste.

  25. #25 Barton Paul Levenson
    June 18, 2009

    luminous posts:

    A panentheist, though, you could be, and still be a Christian.

    Not really. The Christian God is transcendent. He is not part of the Universe and the Universe is not part of him.

  26. #26 Barton Paul Levenson
    June 18, 2009

    Aureola writes, incorrectly:

    Suetonius does not mention Jesus. Tacitus does not mention Jesus. Josephus’s one mention is considered by most historians to be a later interpolation by Christian editors.

    Suetonius mentions Jews kicked out of Rome by Claudius for causing trouble in the name of “Chrestus.” Most historians think it’s a reference to early Christians.

    Tacitus not only mentions Jesus, he does so in a rather extensive passage, including the detail that he was crucified by Pontius Pilate. He then uses it to go off on the Christians for several paragraphs.

    The mention of Jesus in Josephus is thought to have accidentally included a gloss added to the manuscript by a Christian commentator, but the recent consensus is that Josephus did, indeed, mention some details about Jesus in the original ms (which, of course, we don’t have).

  27. #27 luminous beauty
    June 18, 2009

    Barton,

    The Christian God is transcendent. He is not part of the Universe and the Universe is not part of him.

    The Jewish God and the Neo-Platonic Godhead are unapproachably transcendent. Christ Immanuel is God born in the flesh. That’s the Good News.

    Enjoy your communion.

    What is this pre-existing non-God stuff that the Creator used to fashion His Creation?

  28. #28 Johanus Dagius
    June 18, 2009

    I think we are abusing the notion of ‘null hypothesis’. It is a well-establised concept in statistics (invented by Sir R.A.Fisher), which denotes some assertion about a statistic that we wish to disprove, usually a statistical assertion that is commonly perceived to be true, but it could be any statistical hypothesis. Null hypotheses cannot be proven to be true, only rejected or not rejected.

    Since the historical existence of Jesus is commonly accepted, the null hypothesis (to be rejected or not) could be something like “The historical Jesus (Yeshua bar Josef) lived in Palestine in the 1st century AD”.

    Perhaps you all are conflating this idea with ‘exegesis’, the critical interpretation of the Bible and other historical documents. Given some new text, the rule-of-thumb is to start by assuming the facts asserted within it to be true, i.e. accept at “face value”. Reject by providing arguments or evidence against the assertions etc.

    But this is all customary methodology, not necessarily science. There is nothing engraved in stone that says we must do it this way. The important thing to remember is: science is nothing but a systematic way for falsifying or confirming hypotheses about nature.
    :-)
    Johanus

  29. #29 Mark
    June 19, 2009

    Johannus, the hypothesis would have you come up with someone whose life would read rather like David Koresh: died young after preaching to disciples having made enemies of the invading government (if you talk to a pure old-style “damnyankee” southerner).

    Israel was invaded.

    How many people do you think there were railing against the occupation? Heck, you could make a book and plausibly make Boudicca the daughter of god…

    Nothing against religion (though I would prefer if you got your morality from yourself, rather than someone else’s morality), but what proofs there are that someone existed at that time is poor in the extreme and doesn’t really mean anything other than there were people who didn’t like the Romans in their country and used religion to gain followers.

    A bit like Koresh.

    And in 2000 years, I don’t think we want people believing HE’S the son of god…

    These proofs are nothing to do with the religious texts that are associated with these figures. In any way more significant than the existence of Troy proves that Perseus flew a winged horse.

    But religion? Fine. If it helps you look at the way your life can be lived, gels with what you believe you should be doing and makes you feel better for doing so, then go ahead.

    But remain skeptical of it: religion is a great way to make good people do bad things. So ALWAYS ask yourself “If I’m wrong, what does doing this mean?”. Being kind and considerate? No problem. Burning witches? Oh dear.

    In the end you have to have lived your life so that on your deathbed you have as few regrets as you can get. If you have no regrets, then you’ve already lived in Heaven.

  30. #30 Barton Paul Levenson
    June 19, 2009

    luminous posts:

    What is this pre-existing non-God stuff that the Creator used to fashion His Creation?

    There isn’t any. Creation in Christian theology is ex nihilo, out of nothing.

  31. #31 Barton Paul Levenson
    June 19, 2009

    Mark writes:

    religion is a great way to make good people do bad things.

    So is irreligion. After all, it was officially atheist regimes that killed ~150 million people during the 20th century, which is more than those killed in all of history’s religious wars and persecutions put together.

    So ALWAYS ask yourself “If I’m wrong, what does doing this mean?”. Being kind and considerate? No problem. Burning witches? Oh dear.

    Does Christianity automatically lead to burning witches? So how do you explain that for most of Christian history, theologians didn’t believe witches existed (see, e.g. De Tonitruorum or the laws of King Coloman)? The witch trials were overwhelmingly a feature of the Renaissance, with almost all of them taking place between 1450 and 1650 AD. BTW, the purges in Stalin’s officially atheist USSR were the bloodiest witch trials in history, if you think about it (about 19 million people arrested, according to Antonov-Ovseyenko).

  32. #32 Mark
    June 19, 2009

    “Does Christianity automatically lead to burning witches? ”

    Nope.

    Did I say that? No. You need some more straw, there?

    Now, it DID lead quite a large group of people to burn witches. Because the people thought that they were doing God’s Work. They were convinced by their religion and their interpretation of it that they HAD to.

    And if they did think “what if I’m wrong?” it was still “wrong in my interpretation” not “wrong in my religion”. So they considered themselves damning themselves selflessly to an eternity in hell for their acts if they were wrong.

    LIKE I SAID (before you went all “help! help! I’m being oppressed!” on us) religion is a great way of making good people do bad things.

    A bad person will do bad things by their nature. A good person will do good things by their nature. But to get a good person to do bad things, you have to make them think they MUST do it. And religion is a great way to do that.

    PS Stalin was a Priest. Maybe he was religious too. Or just learned how good it was for control and picked up a few pointers…

  33. #33 Mark
    June 19, 2009

    “There isn’t any. Creation in Christian theology is ex nihilo, out of nothing.”

    So where did god come from? Was he created out of nothing or was the nothing already not nothing because of all the God in it..?

    PS What is all that Genesis book about then?

    Your religion is yours. Enjoy it. But don’t proselytise. And don’t expect it to have any effect on anything apart from you.

  34. #34 luminous beauty
    June 19, 2009

    Mark,

    Barton is BA. The Evangelism is strong in him.

    The Creation is created not just ex nihilio, but created supported and sustained of and by the Logos [word, mind, will, law of God]. Is Creator/Creation not a mutually dependent identity?

  35. #35 Brian D
    June 19, 2009

    I said I’d stay out of it, and I won’t raise any of my earlier points, but this one is just silly.

    So is irreligion. After all, it was officially atheist regimes that killed ~150 million people during the 20th century, which is more than those killed in all of history’s religious wars and persecutions put together.

    Barton, you’re confusing atheism with totalitarianism. These people put the State or their leader in the same position faith places its holy figures – beyond question, beyond reproach, and beyond judgement. By imposing themselves as the sole authority, they maintain a monopoly on power, which is core to dictatorships. (There are theocracies that subvert this by saying the leaders themselves speak for God, but in either case they remove the conflict between their orders and their peoples’ religious beliefs.)

    For you to say that “irreligion” caused these deaths, you have to show how totalitarianism isn’t sufficient cause — and, in fact, it seems that democracy, not religion, is the critical factor in reducing war and slaughter of civilians.

    This sets aside how the first time you could describe any societies as “atheist” was the 20th century, which was also the first time we had technology capable of killing on this scale. (If Richard or Saladin had nukes, you know they would have used them.) It also makes the critical assumption that the Third Reich was atheist, which it was not (“Gott mit uns” was on every Nazi belt buckle for a reason, to say nothing of Hitler’s own background, which is decidedly Christian (and creationist, but that’s beside the point). He repeatedly said that exterminating the Jews was doing the Lord’s work).

    See also here for a more detailed discussion on the “amoral atheist dictatorship” claim. I’d be citing more of it here, but he says it better than I do.

    (Not to mention that the Bible itself puts around 34 million dead by act or order of God, in a world with a much smaller population. But who’s counting?)

  36. #36 Barton Paul Levenson
    June 20, 2009

    Mark writes:

    A bad person will do bad things by their nature. A good person will do good things by their nature. But to get a good person to do bad things, you have to make them think they MUST do it. And religion is a great way to do that.

    Politics is better, as proved by the 20th century.

    PS Stalin was a Priest. Maybe he was religious too. Or just learned how good it was for control and picked up a few pointers…

    Oooh, good reasoning there, Mark. Stalin, who never graduated from seminary and was never ordained as a priest, and who utterly rejected his religious upbringing and ushered in the most militantly anti-religious regime in history, was secretly religious. Religion causes militant atheism.

    “Creation is nihilo, out of nothing.”

    So where did god come from?

    He didn’t come from anything. He was already there.

    Your religion is yours. Enjoy it. But don’t proselytise. And don’t expect it to have any effect on anything apart from you.

    I haven’t proselytized here even once, I have simply defended theism and Christianity from attacks on them. If I were proselytizing I would be saying things like, “Mark, your hateful attitudes are emblematic of a heart in love with sin that will lead you to Hell if you don’t repent and accept Jesus Christ as your lord and savior.” See the difference?

  37. #37 Barton Paul Levenson
    June 20, 2009

    Brian D writes:

    It also makes the critical assumption that the Third Reich was atheist, which it was not (“Gott mit uns” was on every Nazi belt buckle for a reason,

    How does “Officially atheist regimes killed 150 million people” equate to “BPL is assuming the Third Reich was atheist???”

    Stalin’s USSR: 80 million dead.
    Mao’s China: 66 million dead.
    Pol Pot’s Cambodia: 2 million dead.

    Total: 148 million, i.e., about 150 million.

    Hitler’s regime murdered about 12 million people, the number being limited by the fact that the Third Reich only lasted 12 years, compared to several decades each for the USSR and PRC.

    to say nothing of Hitler’s own background, which is decidedly Christian

    His background may have been; his beliefs were decidedly not. He specifically stated on several occasions that he rejected Christianity, as when he compared it to veneral disease or called it “an invention of sick brains.” Here’s more on the subject:

    http://www.geocities.com/bpl1960/Hitler.html

  38. #38 Mark
    June 20, 2009

    BPL, you ask “How does “Officially atheist regimes killed 150 million people” equate to “BPL is assuming the Third Reich was atheist???”"

    It’s because he mistyped. You should have gotten that the third reich was NOT atheist from the rest of his post, if you’d bothered to put a little reading comprehension into your reading.

    And Hitler’s Regime killed by gassing well over 6 million people, including the women, children, elderly and mentally infirm.

    Which is more indicative of evil? Bombing a city factory area knowing that some fraction of your ordnance is going to fall out of the area and hit a civilian population but there’s no other way to hit the factory area? Or is it piling naked, frightened people into a “shower room” where cyanide is released and the bodies shoveled out by other prison inmates (happy that they are going to be last in the chamber)?

    Now BOTH were done by people who believed in God, but the latter one, the most evil one, believed that this was right because God loved *them* and hated Jews.

    Many of those soldiers were decent people.

    But they thought they HAD to do this and that God made it all right.

    Religion made good people do bad things.

  39. #39 Mark
    June 20, 2009

    BPL contradicts himself:

    “I haven’t proselytized here even once, I have simply defended theism and Christianity from attacks on them.”

    But later says of Hitler’s belief in theism:

    ” to say nothing of Hitler’s own background, which is decidedly Christian

    His background may have been; his beliefs were decidedly not. He specifically stated on several occasions that he rejected Christianity”

    But you said you don’t mind non-christians and were defending them against attacks just as you were christian beliefs?

    Also note I said ***religion*** is a great way to make good people do bad things.

    Is the only religion Christianity???

  40. #40 Mark
    June 20, 2009

    >Oooh, good reasoning there, Mark. Stalin, who never graduated from seminary and was never ordained as a priest,

    Well do you think he learned nothing?

    And most people would “become a plumber” or “a train driver”. “A priest” wouldn’t occur to many people unless they were religious. Way to NOT prove your point, BPL.

    Are the only true christians ordained priests? Which then begs the question of the priests in Ireland recently…

  41. #41 MAB
    June 20, 2009

    Mark, Barton,

    Was it Dave Andrews who got you going on this?

  42. #42 Mark
    June 20, 2009

    No, MAB, though I think DA thought he’d get support in his attacks (he was attacking BPL’s faith) because there are people who don’t think that BPL’s faith has that much logical support behind it.

    DA was attacking BPL because he had faith.

    I am attacking the idea that faith is only useful for good.

    I am attacking the idea that one faith has some sort of neutral reality.

    I have no problem with BPL having faith. I would prefer he got his ideas from morality from himself than a book written by committee, but like most people who “have faith” he’s taken those bits of his religion that he thinks are good and applying them and ignoring the ones that he doesn’t like.

    I’m pretty sure BPL wears a polycotton mix, for example. And would not accept beating is slave with a rod OK as long as he doesn’t die that day from it.

    In short: BPL’s faith is not irrational (like DA said) but his defense of it to people who don’t agree with his religion is.

  43. #43 MAB
    June 20, 2009

    Thanks Mark.

    That makes it more interesting.

    I notices BPL’s response @25, The Christian God is transcendent. He is not part of the Universe and the Universe is not part of him.

    That was a curious interpretation. As the only way I experience anything that I might interpret as God is in the universe. BLP, I’d be interested if there some scripts somewhere that clarified where this notion came from.

    I’d feel pretty distant from any concept of God if its not that sense of connection (to all things) when we find clam peace.

    If God’s not to found in the experience of that calm connection to the all things, then I guess I don’t know what God is.

    BLP who does decide what God is?

  44. #44 David B. Benson
    June 20, 2009

    This is a climate blog?

  45. #45 bi -- IJI
    June 20, 2009

    David B. Benson:

    This is the Deltoid blog.

  46. #46 Barton Paul Levenson
    June 21, 2009

    Mark writes:

    But they thought they HAD to do this and that God made it all right.

    Religion made good people do bad things.

    You think the Nazis were motivated by religion??? How about politics? How about pseudoscientific racism? Haven’t you actually studied anything about the period? My God, you see evil religion everywhere.

  47. #47 Mark
    June 21, 2009

    BPL writes:
    “You think the Nazis were motivated by religion??? ”

    Uh, yes.

    They were the Chosen Race. Someone had to do the choosing. And it had to be someone omniescent to know that, and omnipotent to ensure their victory.

    What about politics? Do you have no political position yourself? Yet YOU are motivated by your faith, are you not?

    I don’t see evil religion everywhere, that’s your paranoia (caused by your unthinking faith being attacked: you can’t separate yourself from your faith, so this must be a personal attack in your mind).

    I see religion as being a great enabler of evil deeds in otherwise good people.

    Evil people will commit evil by their nature.

    Good people will commit good by their nature.

    To make good people do bad things requires that they be convinced they MUST do them. And the transcendent authority is the best way to do that. And the most transcendent of all is God. Better yet, unlike a living being, they can’t be asked what their opinion is.

    So stop hallucinating. I haven’t said evil religion is everywhere.

  48. #48 Bernard J.
    June 21, 2009

    “You think the Nazis were motivated by religion??? ”

    Of course they were – it was documented in “Raiders of the Lost Ark”!

    Note to all Denialists – see, this is how to use a ‘primary reference’…

  49. #49 Mark
    June 21, 2009

    Bernard, may just as well ask if BPL is *really* motivated by religion or just saying he is.

    The Nazis thought they were doing God’s work. They said so.

    Mother Theresa thought she was doing God’s work. She said so.

    If you’re going to say that the Nazis were lying because they did bad things, whereas MT did good things, this results in circular logic on BPL’s and your behalf.

  50. #50 luminous beauty
    June 21, 2009

    We are all doing God’s Work.

    At varying degrees of awareness and competence.

  51. #51 Mark
    June 21, 2009

    So, if I’m self-employed, I’m god, luminous?

    Gosh.

    I’m all embarrassed now…
    ;-)

  52. #52 luminous beauty
    June 21, 2009

    Mark,

    Even more if you’re unemployed.

  53. #53 Brian D
    June 21, 2009

    Mark @ 38:

    No, actually, Barton is right: I underestimated Stalin’s body count. That aspect of Barton’s rebuttal is perfectly valid (as no Nazis are needed to reach the number he used).

    However, his reply otherwise dodged my point, by focusing on one off-hand remark about Hitler’s personal spiritual beliefs but ignoring the key argument about the reason for and timing of those deaths. Barton, follow my previous link: It is democracy, not religion, that is the primary factor in preventing such incidents. Furthermore, I maintain that it is technology, not atheism, that enabled the scope of those deaths – and unless you can look me in the eye and say a crusader or jihadist would not use nukes or gas chambers if given the opportunity, you would appear to agree.

  54. #54 Mark
    June 22, 2009

    “No, actually, Barton is right: I underestimated Stalin’s body count. That aspect of Barton’s rebuttal is perfectly valid (as no Nazis are needed to reach the number he used).”

    I don’t remember saying anything about the numbers Stalin killed.

    He did study to be a priest. And you have to have some penchant for religion for that to pop up in the talk to the careers adviser in school…

    The great thing is that if God (whichever one you’ve got, as long as you’re monotheistic) has approved YOUR people, then you are the “real humans” and they are “not real humans”. You can see this most starkly in the Church of Scientology, but that’s a truism of many religious believers.

    And if they aren’t really human, then what you do to them isn’t inhumane.

    Salami tactics works on the moral dimension too.

    Now it may not be the *fault* of your god, though I would say certain since there is no god, just us, just life, but he doesn’t stop the Torquemada’s of this world going from “save their souls” to “take their dosh”. And so the Torqemada’s of this world can wheedle their way into positions of power (because they like power, and it’s available there) and then can use religion to garner more.

    It would be a lot better for the world if people found their own morality, through their compassion and their ability to think of themselves as others.

    From a book? Well someone cleverer than you can explain the book to move you somewhere they want you to go.

  55. #55 Barton Paul Levenson
    June 22, 2009

    Mark says:

    BPL writes: “You think the Nazis were motivated by religion??? “

    Uh, yes.

    Mark, that says far more about you than it does about the Third Reich.

  56. #56 Mark
    June 22, 2009

    > Mark, that says far more about you than it does about the Third Reich.

    That comment shows more in common with Stalinism than with God.

    You and he have quite a bit in common, except he decided not to finish his ordination.

    Now, do you want to explain that point and diverge from Stalin-esque absolutism?

  57. #57 luminous beauty
    June 22, 2009

    It strikes me as perversely miraculous how Stalin managed to kill off 80 million of an initial population of 140 million and the Soviet Union, nonetheless, had a population of about 200 million when Uncle Joe kicked the bucket.

  58. #58 Mark
    June 22, 2009

    He was a vigorous man, luminous. and practised the rhythm method. To “the flight of the bumblebee”

    And he had a ‘tash.

    Women love the ‘tash…
    ;-)

  59. #59 Brian D
    June 22, 2009

    Mark: My initial claim was that Barton needed to count the Third Reich to reach the number he mentioned. This was incorrect, as I underestimated Stalin’s body count. Barton pointed this out (correctly), and you contested this element of it by assuming I’d left out a “not”. Hope that clears things up.

    Barton: Still waiting on your reply to the tangible elements of my point instead of one-off aside remarks. Here it is, rephrased without those frilly side comments, for you to address the core.

    ====
    You’re confusing atheism with totalitarianism. These people put the State or their leader in the same position faith places its holy figures – beyond question, beyond reproach, and beyond judgement. By imposing themselves as the sole authority, they maintain a monopoly on power, which is core to dictatorships. (There are theocracies that subvert this by saying the leaders themselves speak for God, but in either case they remove the conflict between their orders and their peoples’ religious beliefs.)

    For you to say that “irreligion” caused these deaths, you have to show how totalitarianism isn’t sufficient cause — and, in fact, it seems that democracy, not religion, is the critical factor in reducing war and slaughter of civilians. That is, these atrocities can be ascribed to the lack of democracy, not the lack of religious belief, in those totalitarian regimes.

    This sets aside how the first time you could describe any societies as “atheist” was the 20th century, which was also the first time we had technology capable of killing on this scale. If Richard or Saladin had modern large-scale weapons, you know they would have used them. Likewise, there’s a reason the US seems terrified of the thought of al-Qaeda with nukes – which I would argue is a combination of the massive destructive power of modern technology combined with the single-minded religious conviction that they are doing God’s work.

    See also Lessons of Atheist Dictatorships, which addresses the broader point you’re using (loosely, “atheist dictatorships = all atheists are immoral = atheism is immoral”).

    If you’d rather a more philosophical point, I would recommend speaking to Dan Barker, who was a vocal Evangelical all his life and became a full preacher for nearly 20 years, before, over time and by his own reasoning (without any life-changing events), determining that he was an atheist. I’ve met him, and he’s a wonderful speaker with a clarity of message that is so seldom heard on philosophical matters – a favored speaking topic of his is morality, atheism, and religion. His book, Godless, has (in part) several clearly-written essays on the subject. Given his background, he may have a better chance communicating this point to you than I do.
    ===

    Still waiting.

  60. #60 Mark
    June 22, 2009

    OK Brian (#59) it looked like you were telling me that I’d got it wrong.

    Didn’t think I’d written that..!

    And BPL is fine to have his religion. If it aids him in his life, gives him direction, helps create a structure for him to measure his life and works against, it’s good. For him. Not for me, not for many. But if it helps him, go for it.

    But the worst excesses have been when people have BELIEVED and not considered their faith wrong.

    So ALWAYS question. Always ask “If I’m wrong, do I consider this still to be right?”.

    Science does it too, but it’s easier there: you’re just saying another human being is wrong.

    But consider that the book(s) of your faith are written by men too. Interpreted by the means of the mind that beholds the truth he wishes to write, interpreted by the man who reads it.

    And multiplied each time by the translation.

    Use it as a guide, not a rulebook. And accept any part of it could be wrong, and approach its truth in that light. After all, a god who punishes for doing good for a reason not in His book is, in my book, no god to follow. Even gods must earn respect.

    It can still be a good way to get an idea for how you CAN live your life. And that’s true if it’s a fairy tale or an unprovable cosmic truth.

    Am I getting too heavy now?

  61. #61 Mark
    June 22, 2009

    Mind you, going back there to see what I *did* say gave this in #36

    > Politics is better, as proved by the 20th century.

    It is???

    Uh, Tony Blair: God botherer. Lent on is Christian Credentials quite a lot to keep Middle England happy with him. Said of the Iraq War “If I have done wrong, then God will judge me”. I don’t remember God standing in line in the voting booth…

    GW Bush Junior: God botherer. Even said that non-christians could not be citizens of the united states. Smattered all his statements over a few sentences with “God” and “Christian” and similar mid-west/southern US state happy smilies.

    Even Obama backed down SERIOUSLY when the Christian Right started raging against him for his stance on abortion. Put a lot of repeats of “God” in his inauguration speech too.

    Suicide Bombers. To political ends. Nuff said.

    Taliban. Nuff said.

    WW2: Japan. Nuff said.

    McCarthy: Communism is godlessness. You aren’t a godless communist are you? I SMITE THEE!!!! Well, I don’t think that was ever used verbatim, but lots of god/godless/christian/unchristian used.

    Odd how the politicians use Religion to help them control. But it’s as likely (more likely?) that they are doing so BECAUSE of their religious beliefs not that they are lying about them.

    Poor choice.

  62. #62 Barton Paul Levenson
    June 23, 2009

    Mark writes:

    That comment shows more in common with Stalinism than with God.

    You and he have quite a bit in common, except he decided not to finish his ordination.

    Listen, you son of a bitch, I have–had!–relatives who died in the fucking GULAG. Don’t you EVER compare me to Stalin.

  63. #63 Mark
    June 23, 2009

    Why BPL? You ARE acting like him. Anyone against your position is WRONG.

    PS you compared me to Hitler.

    I think I win on “who was dissed most”.

    You cocksucker. (well, when in Rome…)

  64. #64 Barton Paul Levenson
    June 23, 2009

    luminous writes:

    It strikes me as perversely miraculous how Stalin managed to kill off 80 million of an initial population of 140 million and the Soviet Union, nonetheless, had a population of about 200 million when Uncle Joe kicked the bucket.

    You have to remember that populations aren’t static; that there is a turnover of births and deaths every year. Stalin had 1922-1954 to operate, and of course state murders occurred before and after him, though not on the same scale. The purges and the famine in the Ukraine were enough to actually reduce the total population in the ’30s; the census-takers who honestly reported that in 1937 were accused of “violations of the most elementary laws of statistics” and shot. The next group of census-takers gave Stalin the results he wanted.

  65. #65 Barton Paul Levenson
    June 23, 2009

    Mark writes:

    But the worst excesses have been when people have BELIEVED and not considered their faith wrong.

    No, the worst excesses have been when people have NOT BELIEVED and not considered their lack of faith wrong.

  66. #66 Barton Paul Levenson
    June 23, 2009

    Mark,

    I’ve had enough of your insults and your hatred. You are a despicable person and I will not put up with you any longer. Either apologize or I challenge you to pistols at dawn–stand back to back, walk twenty paces, turn and fire. Pick a time and a place. Give me a couple of weeks to obtain revolvers and ammunition and buy plane tickets.

    P.S. This is no joke.

  67. #67 Mark
    June 23, 2009

    > Give me a couple of weeks to obtain revolvers and ammunition and buy plane tickets.
    >
    > P.S. This is no joke.

    Ah, so just like Stalin, anyone who doesn’t obey you will be Shot.

    Got a gulag to put me in?

    PS You called my mum a bitch too. Do you think that is going to make me say nice things about you?

    PPS you could try NOT being an egomaniacal murdering psychopath and, you know, show how you’re NOT like Stalin. Just a thought.

  68. #68 Mark
    June 23, 2009

    > No, the worst excesses have been when people have NOT BELIEVED and not considered their lack of faith wrong.
    >
    > Posted by: Barton Paul Levenson

    This isn’t religion, this is real life, BPL. Wishes and belief do not make reality. It Is.

    There are 6+ million Jews who would disagree with you. There are people lost from the Inca’s who would disagree with you. There are city states that have been dust filled with the ghost who would disagree with you.

    Religion makes you right, despite any proofs since religion CANNOT be based on proofs. It’s based on what “feels right”.

    It separates “you” from “them” and “them” are not *proper* humans.

    It even gives you license to do wrong. Ask for forgiveness.

    It gives you an excuse for doing wrong. Man is Corrupt, It Is His Nature.

  69. #69 luminous beauty
    June 23, 2009

    Barton,

    Modern research, since the fall of the USSR, puts excess deaths attributable to Stalin’s misrule at 6 – 11 million; state executions, official and otherwise, political and criminal, under two million; war crimes in the high hundreds of thousands, perhaps. Meanwhile, Hitler’s competing messianic and apocalyptic eschatology was rubbing out 20-30 million Soviets. Hard times.

    Stalin was truly a bad motherfucker. Exaggerating how bad he was doesn’t make him any worse. Jean Cauvin was just as evil a motherfucker on a retail level. Both were absolutely and utterly sincere in believing the grotesque and all too humanly inhuman brutality of their actions were justified by a concrete faith in an abstract idealism, the better part of such and said idealism shared in the general and abstract, despite being, from either side, murderously opposed in the particular and concrete.

    Much of history is like this, if such is not indeed the ideal form upon which its motifs are patterned. It is not at all completely nor perfectly rational. It is grossly absurd. Thousand of years of the accumulated over-confident fuck-ups over generations, swept under various rugs, festering below the horizon of official cognition and flushed down the memory hole to eventually erupt in unexplainable violence. Our institutional explanations for which are determined with minimal (quite necessarily) and perfunctory recourse to disciplined introversion and reflection; those forms of which, generally considered to be socially valid and permissible, are always (quite necessarily) bound and neutralized by ethnocentric convention, dogma, taboo and ritual. Freedom of thought is a potential of human existence we mostly celebrate by restraint.

    I see no purpose or profit defending Christianity’s historical shortfalls, particularly spun as metaphorical yarn from metaphysical wool. Two thousand years of human fuck-ups shouldn’t have to be born forever on the shoulders of our Hero. Confession and forgiveness are the keys. Remember?

    Religious and political institutions both can learn from their mistakes, just as can we poor miserable sinners.

    God willing.

  70. #70 Brian D
    June 23, 2009

    Mark, I’ve made it clear I share your views on religion and that I think BPL is distorting information, but you’re being a dick (esp. #63). Don’t be a dick.

    Barton: Threats don’t help your case against Mark. Show him why he’s wrong. (Aside: Are you sure that ‘pistols at dawn’ is an answer to “WWJD?”.)

    Addendum to Barton: Still waiting for your comment on my rebuttal (#59). You’re still spreading the pre-rebuttal comment (as in #65) as if it were uncontested. You *can* defend your statement without simply re-asserting it, can’t you?

  71. #71 Mark
    June 23, 2009

    Brian, true.

    However, to keep this in the spirit to which it’s descended: He started it.

    The adult reason for it is that why treat someone a LOT better than they treat others?

    I haven’t said him having faith is wrong absolutely, though he’s taken it as such. Rather like a loaded gun, it needs treating CAREFULLY because although it’s a useful tool in a dangerous world, it’s dangerous too.

  72. #72 Mark
    June 23, 2009

    > Religious and political institutions both can learn from their mistakes, just as can we poor miserable sinners.

    We aren’t sinners, though. If we do wrong things, we’ve done wrong things. There’s no sin, there’s the actions we took and we know if they’re wrong. Unless we are misanthropes, of course.

    It probably annoys the Protestants, mind. I mean, how can you tell people what to do if you can’t tell them they’ve done wrong (right from the word go: Original Sin).

    But we aren’t sinners. And for more reason than “we don’t have a God, so how can you sin?” way, and those reasons being far more profound on our status as human beings.

  73. #73 luminous beauty
    June 23, 2009

    Mark,

    Regardless the complexities of metaphysical nuance that have grown up around its usage, the etymology of the term ‘sin’ derives from the lexicon of archery, meaning to ‘miss the target’. Coming short of perfection. It’s not so much our actions are evil but that we also miss the concomitant realization that we have so much room for improvement.

  74. #74 Mark
    June 23, 2009

    luminous, that version of “sin” isn’t used.

    May as well talk about luminiferous aether.

  75. #75 luminous beauty
    June 23, 2009

    Mark,

    It’s a matter of nuance.

  76. #76 Mark
    June 23, 2009

    And the luminiferouls aether is about spirits limned in fire.

    Wha? I mean, talk about non-sequitor here, where did #74 come from?

    You can call me a sinner if you like. But then EVERYONE is a sinner.

    Even Jesus (he asked to be given a by for the being killed bit, rather than just going ahead with the destiny). And God too (making the apple).

    Bhudda got lots wrong on his journey to enlightenment. And even says that his road may not be the real one, and you have to find your own.

    Greek gods? Like a daytime soap opera.

    Ancient African gods? Local gods and many tribal stories are how someone fooled a god and got rewarded.

    I mean, if you’re going to say ***perfect*** then everyone’s a sinner and you can’t stop it either. JUST ONE MISTAKE and you’ve no longer been perfect and can no longer BE perfect.

    Which makes it a bit silly, really. It’s a bit like in the Incredibles: “When everyone is special, then nobody is”.

    Except there’s no upside.

    So I’d prefer to use the more normal version of sinner, if that’s OK.

  77. #77 Barton Paul Levenson
    June 24, 2009

    luminous writes:

    Modern research, since the fall of the USSR, puts excess deaths attributable to Stalin’s misrule at 6 – 11 million; state executions, official and otherwise, political and criminal, under two million; war crimes in the high hundreds of thousands, perhaps.

    The correct figure is close to 80 million. Antonov-Ovseyenko (1982) had access to the records of the Central Statistical Administration of the USSR. They recorded 18.84 million arrests in the purges, and “nearly all of them died.” Add to this the 7 million in the Ukraine famine, 9 million from repressive operations during the war (e.g. the forced relocation of whole ethnic groups, mostly using cattle cars), etc., etc. I’m not exaggerating a damn thing. Antonov-Ovseyenko’s estimate was 100 million, but he was counting deficit births, which I think shouldn’t count. My own demographic model came up with the 80 million figure.

  78. #78 Barton Paul Levenson
    June 24, 2009

    Brian D writes:

    Barton: Threats don’t help your case against Mark. Show him why he’s wrong. (Aside: Are you sure that ‘pistols at dawn’ is an answer to “WWJD?”.)

    It’s a bit of irony, really–Mark accuses me of seeing everything in terms of 100% absolutist black and white, but can’t see a moral problem in shades of gray right in front of his nose.

    Take the case of a Christian (converted atheist) who lost relatives to both Hitler’s extermination camps and Stalin’s GULAG, and who has been a committed anti-Communist since about 1982. Someone who is clearly ignorant of the history of totalitarianism in Eurasia accuses theism of causing it all, and becomes increasingly insulting, culminating in equating the said Christian with Stalin. He gives every sign of intending to continue the harassment and abuse.

    The Christian has, let’s say, three major options:

    1. Turn the other cheek.
    2. Challenge the abuser to a duel.
    3. Do nothing, let the situation escalate, and allow the abuse and resentment and growing hatred on both sides to grow.

    Now let’s say the Christian, being rather a weak soul, can’t achieve the detachment needed for #1. Clearly that would be a better course of action than #2. But I would argue that option #2 is better than option #3. Not the best option, but perhaps the best under the circumstances.

    As to your point in #59 and earlier, I apologize for not responding earlier. I wouldn’t say the cause is lack of democracy. There have been many autocracies that were not genocidal, and for that matter, there have been democracies (19th century UK, 5th century BC Athens) that practiced repression of other ethnic groups to extremes.

    The way I would put it is that rulers wanting to justify atrocities among the public will always use the public’s ideology as cover. Thus religious reasons in religious societies (Germany 1600s), political reasons in political societies (Germany 1933-1945, USSR 1917-1991). I don’t think that Bethlen Gabor was really motivated by his Protestantism (how much could he have been if he asked the Ottoman Empire for support?) or that Stalin gave a damn about Marxist economics and the welfare of the working class.

  79. #79 Mark
    June 24, 2009

    BPL, like to tell me where options 2 and 3 are coded up?

    I mean #2 sounds rather Alistair Crowley to me: “Do what thou will is the whole of the law”.

    > The way I would put it is that rulers wanting to justify atrocities among the public will always use the public’s ideology as cover.

    But then you have the perfect circular logic: if someone uses religion to make people do bad things, it’s not religion because the person is just USING it.

    Would I get away with “I didn’t kill that man, the bullet did. So arrest it.”

    ?

    No.

    > It’s a bit of irony, really–Mark accuses me of seeing everything in terms of 100% absolutist black and white

    And again an assertion of what he thinks is without why he thinks it.

    You see everything bad as “not religion”. ANYTHING bad happens isn’t religion. It’s people just saying it’s religion.

    What’s the difference?

    There’s some dude who says that God told him this and he wrote it down. There’s some other dude who says he talked to the son of god and wrote it down. There’s a dude who says that this book what is written is what really happened.

    It’s all “some dude told you”.

    It’s also some dude told you that they are doing god’s work when they are doing evil.

    The only difference is what?

  80. #80 Mark
    June 24, 2009

    > Take the case of a Christian (converted atheist) who lost relatives to both Hitler’s extermination camps and Stalin’s GULAG, and who has been a committed anti-Communist since about 1982.

    Well this DOES explain why you aren’t willing to think about this clearly.

    It’s understandable.

    I lost relatives to the Nazis and one great uncle was tortured (but survived) in a Japanese POW camp.

    But just because it’s understandable doesn’t mean it’s right.

    And worse, it shows why you are biased toward hate for Stalin and why you MUST insist for your own sake (not for the sake of reality, which didn’t care about your pain when you lost relatives in the war) that Stalin isn’t a christian or even religious.

    Because that would create some sort of link between you.

    To quote Sting: “Russians love their children too”.

    Hate is NOT healthy. And being blind to it is worse.

  81. #81 luminous beauty
    June 24, 2009

    I mean, if you’re going to say perfect then everyone’s a sinner and you can’t stop it either. JUST ONE MISTAKE and you’ve no longer been perfect and can no longer BE perfect.

    Which makes it a bit silly, really. It’s a bit like in the Incredibles: “When everyone is special, then nobody is”.

    Except there’s no upside.

    So I’d prefer to use the more normal version of sinner, if that’s OK.

    I’m not making any truth statements, just trying to understand why people believe what they believe, in all its variety. Just because religious beliefs aren’t scientifically rational doesn’t make them meaningless. We can use MRI to identify neurological changes associated with mental states, but we only know about those mental states from subjective reporting. This is an area of ongoing research which hopefully will lead to a rigorously quantitative definition of consciousness, someday. Outside of the laboratory, we rely on the timing of those fleeting subjective mental states to aid us in crossing the street and so on. That is faith.

    Perfection is a normative value, not an objective one. Objectively, everything is perfectly what it is. Relative to human needs and desires, we’re all bozos on this bus.

    The upside is that there is room for improvement.

  82. #82 Mark
    June 24, 2009

    > Just because religious beliefs aren’t scientifically rational doesn’t make them meaningless.

    Actually I don’t think religious beliefs are irrational. Unless you think the stories they tell are genuine factual accounts.

    Well, generally. There are exceptions. E.g. the CoS’s use of a process to release the Thetan from a body: shoot it with a Remmington 45 cal.

    THAT is pretty irrational.

    Then again CoS is cult not religion and that could be one reason why.

    I suppose it’s what your religion makes you DO that *can* be irrational. E.g. not allowing your deathbed son a life saving operation because he’ll be cut open and his soul will die (or whatever the reason is). But the belief that cutting someone open is a drastic thing? No problem with that: “Rules are meant to make you think before you break them”.

  83. #83 Brian D
    June 24, 2009

    Barton:

    Thank you for replying. I can’t relate at all to your position on your challenge with Mark, and without that empathy I doubt anything I say on that can be considered constructive. So I will move on.

    The way I would put it is that rulers wanting to justify atrocities among the public will always use the public’s ideology as cover. Thus religious reasons in religious societies (Germany 1600s), political reasons in political societies (Germany 1933-1945, USSR 1917-1991). I don’t think that Bethlen Gabor was really motivated by his Protestantism (how much could he have been if he asked the Ottoman Empire for support?) or that Stalin gave a damn about Marxist economics and the welfare of the working class.

    It seems you stopped your list one early. Rulers justifying atrocities use the public’s ideology as cover: Religious reasons in religious societies, political reasons in political societies, and atheistic reasons in atheistic societies. (I argued above that dictators would have either assimilated or annihilated the clergy in their regime in order to maintain a monopoly on power. With democracies it changes a bit, working in line with or subverting populist spiritual opinion (i.e. exhibit A), but the motivation is the same.)

    The only common thread here is a regime’s atrocities are being justified — nothing about their cause being irreligious in nature (if anything, the “cause” is the same thing that catapulted the individual dictator into power, which can be anything from discontented revolution to psychopathic charisma). This seems to defeat your original claim that irreligion is the cause of such atrocities.

    I highly suggest you read Godless, which I linked above. Barker (as I mentioned, a former Evangelical preacher for 19 years) is a better philosopher of ethics than I am, and can properly explain this subject better than I can.

  84. #84 Mark
    June 24, 2009

    > (how much could he have been if he asked the Ottoman Empire for support?)

    The history is replete with religious figures “cutting a deal”. Most of the popes and the history of the schisms in the church give ample evidence.

    Unless you KNOW they’re thinking that would be a “deal with the devil”, the deal is no indication that they aren’t religiously motivated.

  85. #85 Mark
    June 24, 2009

    > I highly suggest you read Godless, which I linked above.

    I wouldn’t hold out much hope that is done, Brian.

    I’ve read a lot of stuff (even the books some sects give out on the streets, I pay the few quid if it seems to be something new), including the Christian bible, Quran, most of the easily available Bhuddist stuf, some of the Amerindian myths and a few of the creation myths of the Aboriginies and African tribes (though I’d like to find more).

    As a group, Christians (the ones who will loan you reading material anyway) are good at giving you stuff to read.

    They are *terrible* at reading anything you send them.

    Tried Good Omens (T Pratchett and N Gaiman). Nothing. Not a word read. I figured maybe the books back cover was too much (though the bible has plenty of satan in it too) and tried T Pratchett’s “Small Gods”.

    Nope.

    Not in a month.

    Not a page.

  86. #86 Barton Paul Levenson
    June 24, 2009

    Brian D. writes:

    This seems to defeat your original claim that irreligion is the cause of such atrocities.

    I didn’t claim that. Go back and read it again. What I claimed is that the most state murders have been by regimes that were dedicated to atheism, among other things, thereby refuting Mark’s absurd claim that religion is the only thing, or the worst thing, or whatever the hell he’s saying, that can motivate people to do bad things.

    Since Mark is the kind of modernist with no sense of personal honor, I’m obviously not going to get him to either agree to a duel or agree to stop harassing me (and any theist on the board). So I’ll give option #1 a try and just try not to respond to anything he says. If I had that filtering software people talk about I’d use that, but I don’t.

    I expect him to post maybe half a dozen more posts filled with stupid lies about how Hitler and Stalin were Christians. They’re not worth refuting; anyone with the sense to study primary sources will realize he’s full of it. Incidentally, I can’t recommend John Toland’s 1974 biography of Hitler highly enough. Best I’ve seen, and it doesn’t make up stuff where information isn’t available. In general Toland’s work on the Axis was very meticulous.

  87. #87 Mark
    June 24, 2009

    > What I claimed is that the most state murders have been by regimes that were dedicated to

    you may have claimed, but it doesn’t work that way.

    City-state Ur.

    100% dead.

    Constantinople? Razed.

    12 million killed WW2 for the purity of the race (as God told them) and to remove the stain of jewry (as God told them)

    20 million killed by Stalin were killed the the execution of WW2. This isn’t Stalin killing them. This is war killing them.

  88. #88 Brian D
    June 24, 2009

    Barton:

    Here’s the exchange in question.
    ===
    Mark: …religion is a great way to make good people do bad things.
    Barton:So is irreligion.
    ===
    Mark claims religion can cause good people to do bad things. You claim irreligion can cause good people to do bad things. You cite “atheist regimes” as your evidence. I supplied evidence showing that it was not their atheism that was the cause of their “doing bad things”. You then said rulers wanting to justify atrocities among the public will always use the public’s ideology as cover – in other words, dismissing both religion and irrelgion as cause for the atrocities (which is logically compatible with my claim that the defining mark is freedom in the populace).

    It is therefore logically sound to say that you dismissed your original point, that irreligion is a cause of good people doing bad (which you brought up as a counterpoint to Mark’s claim). I know you are more than capable of following this chain of reasoning. Perhaps dealing with Mark has led to a blindness in dealing with this point?

    (I notice you say you don’t use Killfile. It’s pretty easy to obtain: Search for the Firefox add-on “Greasemonkey” and then import this script (use the Install link on that page). In the interests of avoiding further hostility, it may be worth using.)

    As one who has, in the past, used the Hitler-Christian link (admittedly in disputing the “Darwin leads to Hitler” line, with quotes from Mein Kampf that dismiss evolution as fraud, rather than in arguments about morality), I will read Toland’s biography of him — on one condition: That you (as one disputing the morality of atheism) read Godless. I am willing to read new information and revise my arguments accordingly, and I ask the same of you.

  89. #89 MAB
    June 24, 2009

    Brian D,

    @59 you make an interesting point about “confusing atheism with totalitarianism.

    Couldn’t many of the point you follow this with, be equally applied to a confusion between religion and totalitarianism?

    I.e. different forms of atheism some conflated with totalitariansim. And different forms of religion, some conflated with totalitarianism?

  90. #90 Brian D
    June 25, 2009

    MAB: You will note that I never claimed the problem was religion. I was refuting Barton, falsely saying the problem was irreligion. I claimed the solution was freedom. Infer from that what you will, but please do not put words in my mouth if you do.

  91. #91 MAB
    June 25, 2009

    Fear not, I have no wish to put words in your mouth.
    ;)

    And reading the generous and fair minding way you have engaged in this debate, I wonder if you might cut Barton some slack on the line you cite:

    Mark: …religion is a great way to make good people do bad things.

    Barton: So is irreligion.

    I am open to the posibility that Barton’s retort was off the cuff and and not totally communicative of his thinking. For example, Barton may have meant that non-religious manipulaton can be “ a great way to make good people do bad things“?

    That said, I have no knowlege of the scale of harm cause by either atheistic-non-freedom nor theistic-non-freedom.

  92. #92 Mark
    June 25, 2009

    re 91, the problem with using “irreligion” is that this is a very small set of possible explanations.

    It was used by the Nazis to show that there was some “factual” basis behind their religious teaching that the Aryans were the master race, the only REAL humans and the natural leaders of the world.

    A bit like BPL’s use of some historical accounts to prove that HIS religion has some “factual” basis (which is where this all started off, really).

    Problem with all this irreligious stuff is that you generally have to think about it, be educated and see complex issues.

    Religion teaches you not to ask questions, it’s taught to you from a very young age. It lends itself to simple answers. “God made it so”.

    And not thinking is a much better way of doing bad than thinking about it.

    If there hadn’t been the religious meme that the Aryan race were just plain best, the genetic issues thing would have had many people wondering what they heck these boffins were going on about. Those who could follow, many would be asking, “so where’s the proof?”. Others would be asking “Uh, are you just picking up what YOU think is indicative” and others “so is there anyone more perfect than us?”.

    Because irreligion is mostly about asking questions.

    Unless BPL can make up some irreligious meme complexes that had an effect on their own, without religious dogma being part of it.

  93. #93 MAB
    June 25, 2009

    Mark,

    I take your point, having grown up in a Church that required continual mutual-self-reinforcement of beleivs.

    However, I’m guessing that you agree that the statements irreligion is mostly about asking questions and Religion teaches you not to ask questions are generaliastion that do not describe all religion and irreligion?

    I’m a bit religious and I ask questions about “taboo” topics. And Barton (and Orwell) make that case that some athesist-non-freedoms disuade questioning.

  94. #94 Barton Paul Levenson
    June 25, 2009

    Brian,

    If you want to send me a copy of the book, I’ll read it and even review it for you. In return, please read a copy of C.S. Lewis’s “Mere Christianity.” I’ll send you a copy if you don’t have one.

  95. #95 Mark
    June 25, 2009

    > However, I’m guessing that you agree that the statements irreligion is mostly about asking questions and Religion teaches you not to ask questions are generaliastion that do not describe all religion and irreligion?

    Yup. There’s no way you can go into this sort of thing WITHOUT them.

    However, I would say that often the differences is about the person rather than the topic.

    PS another good example is actually Mother Theresa. She wanted the poor to be better off and to suffer less. So she worked hard and under great difficulties to succour the poor and needy in Calcutta.

    However, the BEST SINGLE way of reducing the poverty amongst the poor would be contraception. A ready workforce isn’t needed when you have no farm to till, merely another mouth to feed.

    But that was against Mother Theresa’s religion.

    And which did she pick? Her religious forbidding on contraception or the aim of her work, the ease of the plight of the Calcutta Slum poor?

    Religion got it.

  96. #96 Brian D
    June 25, 2009

    Barton: I’ve actually read Mere Christianity already. (I’ve also read some Josh McDowell and am reasonably interested in giving Lee Stroebel a chance as well, since he’s the apologist that both our local Big Jesus On Campus student groups prefer and pass out at events.) It, and a large number of other religious tracts (both scripture an apologist, from many different religions in multiple translations) are available from the resource library in the university atheists/agnostics club I volunteer with or available from the local Center for Inquiry chapter, and when my energy/environment/science reading list dries out I often dig through those shelves.

    I’d rather not clog this space with a lengthy review of Mere Christianity, and I will admit it has been some time since I read it, but two major points I remember that I want to share are that he doesn’t really substantiate his claim that a moral reference point is required (this is actually a very basic mistake that even rudimentary reading of moral philosophy can overturn; as my friend Ian put it, if morality is derived from reason, then it requires no more reference than intelligence does), and most of his arguments merely argue for a religion (or indeed, deism), rather than for Christianity, but he interprets them as Christian. This is reminiscent of Kent Hovind trying to prove young-earth creationism by disproving evolution; even if he’s right, it could be the Hindu creation myths that were true, a possibility that simply doesn’t occur to him. (As I recall, the only arguments exclusive to Christianity used in Mere Christianity are the Liar/Lord/Lunatic (a false trichotomy) and the assertion of Biblical authority (an appeal to authority), neither of which are convincing except to one predisposed to belief. I doubt you’d except the Qur’an as authoritative on its word alone, for instance.) It’s better apologetics than some of the modern crowd muster (especially the YECs…), but as moral philosophy it’s almost juvenile.

    That said, I’ll reread it in good faith: If you give Barker a chance, then Lewis deserves a second chance from me. (There are better moral philosophers than Barker out there, of course, but Barker’s speaking in exactly the context of this exchange.)

    As to sending you Godless, I’m generally opposed to doing anything that would give away my mailing address or asking another person theirs (it’s a security and privacy thing), which would include mailing you a copy of the book, but perhaps we can work something out. Is there an alternative arrangement you would accept?

    MAB: My initial response to Barton’s was as knee-jerk as you suspect his was, but I maintain it was justified. You may notice, for instance, that my auxiliary point that technology is partly responsible for the scale of the atrocities was dodged (the example I used was nukes in the Crusades, although I suppose bioweapons would be a better choice since I doubt either side would want to nuke Jerusalem). I can understand my snide off-the-cuff remark about God’s Biblical body count (which includes the entire population of the Earth minus one chosen family if you take the Flood literally) being discounted as irrelevant (it is), but the tech factor seems a strange one to ignore. (Population is another one: Not to discount the value of a human life, but in a world of billions, it’s comparatively easier to rack up a large body count than in a world of millions. Compare the population of Hiroshima and Nagasaki to the estimated population of Sodam and Gomorrah and you see what I mean: Assuming the Biblical story is accurate, both incidents were the rapid destruction of two entire cities by outside force, but by looking at absolute body count, you bias the “atrocity factor” to the modern era.)

  97. #97 Mark
    June 25, 2009

    There’s also the problem, Brian, that someone would buy plane tickets to “see” you and “discuss” your queries …

  98. #98 luminous beauty
    June 25, 2009

    I’d recommend “Saving Jesus” by Robin R. Meyers. For everybody.

    As far as reciprocation, I’ve read the Bible. Most of it more than once. And way too much of conservative theologians.

  99. #99 Fran Barlow
    August 24, 2009

    This development of this topic leaves me rather stunned. Until this day I’d regarded BPL as a softly spoken, reasoning fellow. Just the other day I feel sure I recall him admonishing those of us who accept the science on climate change to be a little more politce and civil to towards those who appear not to.

    And yet in this topic he has engaged not merely in rancour but bizarre fantasies involving the violent death of one of our number here. And why?

    Because his religious convictions were offended.

    If there is a more stunning real time proof of the proposition Mark advanced @29 religion is a great way to make good people do bad things I’m sure I haven’t seen it.

    It is most distressing to see BPL in this condition.

    Full Disclosure: Catholic until 14, agnostic for the next 3 years atheist for the next 34; disgusted at the persistent attribution of the crimes of totalitarian government to atheism.

    Mark is quite right — Stalin learned his intimidation and the value of orthodoxy at the knee of Georgian Orthodox priests at Tiflis. He learned his method there, if not the details. Whether he was a sociopath and a paranoid psychopath before he went there and refined his techniques, or was formed into one by the experience is something one will never know.

  100. #100 Paul Murray
    October 26, 2011

    “We have plenty of text evidence for Jesus. The entire New Testament, with its half dozen or so different authors. Suetonius. Tacitus. Dio Cassius. Mara bar-Serapion. Josephus. Thallus. Are you familiar with any of the evidence at all?”

    Outside the gospels and epistles written much later, we have evidence that they believed in a mythic “Jesus Christ”, but not much evidence for a dud from gallilee who rode in a boat, had a mother named Mary, performed miracles in Jerusalem and drove the moneychangersout of the temple.

    Aside from the Josephus forgery, these other references – at best – mention that the Christians believe in a Jesus. Not quite the same thing.

    Permit me to recommend “The Homeric Epics and the Gospel of Mark”, Dennis R MacDonald, as well as Earl Doherty’s “The Jesus Puzzle”, with which I imagine a few people here are familiar.

    Needless to say, you can “historical Jesus” until the cows come home, but if he didn’t rise from the dead on the third day, then Christianity is all in vain. The Bible says so.