St. Paul: portrait of a sick genius 26

This essay follows A man named Jesus or something like that (September 23, 2011), The invention of Christianity (October 28, 2011), and Tread on me: the making of Christian morality (December 22, 2011) in our series outlining the early history of the Christian religion.

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What is known or can be discovered about the man known to us as St. Paul, the author of Christianity whose imagination shaped human affairs from his time to our own?

Is it known what he looked like?

In the Epistle of Paul and Thecla, written by no one knows whom in the second century CE, probably within 100 years of Paul’s death, there is a description of him that may have come down from people who actually saw and heard him. According to this document, Paul was of “middle height” but sturdily built, with meeting eyebrows, bald head, bow legs, hollow eyes, and a large crooked nose, and he had a weak voice.

How short was “middle height” in those days? The Emperor Augustus is reckoned to have been just over five foot five inches and was considered average; so Paul was perhaps five foot three or four – short by our standards. A short man then, of somewhat simian appearance. Having a weak voice, he may have found it hard to command attention when he became, as he did, an itinerant preacher, or traveling salesman of his own newly confected religion.

Where did he come from, what sort of person was he, what did he do for a living?

Every piece of personal information he wrote about himself has to be taken with a pinch of salt, for reasons we’ll come to. But apart from what he means to say in his letters [1], they inevitably reveal much about him: his character and mentality, his preoccupations, aims and talents. What they tell us, in sum, is that he was passionate, ambitious, creative, pertinacious, and a highly proficient fund-raiser: or to put it less kindly, fanatical, vain, mendacious, obsessive, and a subtly ruthless extortionist. [2] He was also a genius.

It is said that he came from Tarsus, [3] which was then a Greek-speaking city in the Roman Empire, the capital of Cilicia on the eastern shore of the Mediterranean. He claimed to be a Jew by birth, [4] but there are reasons to doubt this, at least one of them very strong, which we‘ll come to later.

He said his name was Saul. But if he was not born a Jew, he was unlikely to have been named Saul by his parents, in which case it was a name he chose for himself. (Later he chose the name Paul in honor of, or to flatter, a Roman patron.) Saul was the name of a king who had been head of the tribe of Benjamin, and as if to prove that he had an ancestral right to the name, he explained in a letter that that was the tribe he belonged to.[5] In his time, however, there was no distinguishable tribe of Benjamin; a fact that the gentile converts he was writing to could probably be counted on not to know. It is one of innumerable examples of Paul’s elaborating too much on a story, so that some detail, instead of lending it verisimilitude, achieves the opposite – a strong whiff of fabrication.

He had wanted to become a Pharisee, and he boasts that he’d achieved his aim. [6] But this is one of many instances where there’s reason to doubt his word. The Pharisees were learned rabbis who taught scripture and commentary, yet Paul took none of his scriptural quotations directly from the Hebrew sources, never translated any in his own words, but copied them from the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Jewish bible.[7] This could have been because those were the words his Greek audiences might be expected to recognize – or it could have been because he didn’t know Hebrew. He wrote a demotic Greek called koine, which would have been his native tongue as a Cilician; and he must have been fluent in Aramaic, the commonly spoken language of the Judeans, to do the job he is said to have had (which we’re about to come to); but Hebrew was the language of Judaism and there is no proof that he could read or write it. [8]

A stronger reason to doubt that he ever became a Pharisee is that the job he had (if the tendentious Book of Acts is to be believed at all) was a most unlikely one for a Pharisee to seek or get, working as a law-enforcer for the priesthood. [9] The High Priest, in addition to his sacerdotal function, had the responsibilities of a chief secular authority under the Romans. Members of the priestly caste were Sadducees, and they stood in fierce political opposition to the Pharisees because it was in their interest to be obedient to Rome, while the Pharisees were nationalists who yearned for the coming of the Messiah to liberate the nation from Roman rule. There were also strong religious differences between the two sects. The Pharisees, like most Israelites, believed in the bodily resurrection of the dead; the Sadducees did not. So it was not likely that a Pharisee would be employed as an enforcer by the Sadducee administration, and either Paul was lying about his being a Pharisee or the story of his working for the High Priest is untrue.

The Idea that Paul conceived which profoundly affected history concerned, as all the world knows, a certain Jew who had been executed in Jerusalem by the Romans, as the leader of a rebel group, some quarter of a century earlier. We don’t know what the man’s name was, only that Paul brought him to the world’s attention with the Greek name Jesus. Paul had never encountered Jesus, whose pious, nationalist followers believed he had risen bodily from the dead and would soon return to lead the Jewish nation to freedom from Roman rule, so fulfilling the role of Messiah.

The fishy story has it that Paul was going, on his own conscientious initiative but in the line of duty as a police officer for the High Priest, to arrest followers of this Jesus in Damascus (although their belief was in no way a transgression of the Law, and although the High Priest’s writ did not run in a foreign country), when the Idea came to him out of a mystical audio-communication he received from Jesus himself.[10]

The Idea was complicated and wildly illogical: Jesus was a divine being, the Son of the one God of the Jews, so the one God was two gods while yet remaining only one. He was indeed the prophesied Messiah – “Christ” in Greek – but an immortal divinity. His mission was nothing so piffling as to save the Jews from political oppression; it was to save all mankind from sin by sacrificing himself as a blood-offering. When he returned to the world in the near future it would be to judge the living and the dead. He would raise some to dwell with him and his Father, condemn the rest to eternal separation from them, and so put an end to history. The story of the human race would then be over.

Even without being a learned Pharisee, Paul knew that his Idea that Jesus was a divine being would be shocking, if also ludicrous, to Jews; to all Jews – as much to those who believed Jesus was the Messiah and had risen from the dead, as to the those who didn’t. To all of them the notion, taken seriously, would be the worst possible blasphemy.

And this is the strongest reason for doubting that Paul was born and raised a Jew (though it doesn’t exclude the possibility that he was a convert): the extreme unlikelihood of a Jew thinking – being able to think – that God had been incarnate for a while as a man, died a mortal’s death, and lives on eternally as Lord of the universe. If, however, Paul had not been raised as a Jew, it would not have seemed outrageous or ridiculous to him that a man could be a god or a god could be a man. There were many Greek and Roman human figures both in legend and history who were thought of as divine or were “made into gods”, and many divinities were said to have appeared as men and women. (The religious beliefs alien to Judaism that could have contributed to Paul’s idea will be the subject of another essay.)

The tremendous audacity of the Idea must have been at once thrilling and frightening. Excited though he probably was by it, urgently as he surely felt the desire to tell it – even longing perhaps (human nature being what it is) to fling it in the faces of those who would be most outraged by it – he restrained himself, took time to lay his plans for spreading his news as widely as he could, knowing he must proceed with caution. But his ambition soared. He meant to win the acceptance of the Idea by not just one nation among the many, the one which had long prophesied the coming of a Messiah and into which his executed man-god had been born, but by the whole world. After all, the Jews believed that their God was the God of all creation. He reigned over the whole human race, and Paul’s message was that with him reigned his Son, the risen Christ. All mankind must know it, and he, Paul – a man who was not honored among the Pharisees, not powerful among the Sadducees – would be the messenger, the apostle of the new revelation that had come to him and him only. He would be as great as Abraham, through whom had come the knowledge of the One God; as great as Moses, through whom had come the Law; greater than them, because through him came knowledge of the redemption of all mankind.

What did Paul mean by “redemption”? Redemption from what? The answer is, from sin. He felt himself to be appallingly stained with sin.

Yet almost in the same breath with which he confesses it, he protests that it wasn’t his fault that he had sinned. No, it was the sin’s fault. [11] It had worked in him. That’s the trouble with the flesh, with the body; it’s bad; “nothing good dwells in it”.[12] In any case, he argues, the Law made him guilty. It was when he learnt the commandment not to sin that he did, or knew that he did – which sounds very much like the statement of a convert to the religion of the Law.[13] It also raises the question whether he had really been on a mission for the High Priest when he was traveling to Damascus, or was escaping from him and his justice.

Paul’s sin was sexual. “Sin wrought in me all manner of concupiscence”, he wrote. [14] What, according to the Law, was sexual sin? Not mere copulation: unmarried men and women were not forbidden to copulate. The prohibited sexual acts were: adultery [15]; incest[16]; homosexuality[17]; rape if committed in the country, but not in town [18]; masturbation [19]; bestiality[20].

Which of these was Paul’s offense? One, some, all?

Adultery? Although in his letters he shows scant regard for women (he thought they should be dominated by their husbands and silent in church), he still may have lusted after them, he could have committed adultery or rape. Incest? He had (according to Acts) a sister in Jerusalem with a son who might have been his child (though that’s nowhere hinted at)[21]. Homosexuality? Although, or because, he preaches emphatically against it and calls it shameful [22], it could have been the very thing he was ashamed of.

The punishment prescribed by the Law for adultery, incest, homosexuality, and bestiality was death. Unless Paul had been very lucky in not being found out, his living on to write about his concupiscence suggests he hadn’t succumbed to any of those allurements – or not often, anyway. If, however, he had merely raped, nothing much would have happened to him; and if he’d done it only in the countryside, he’d have gotten away with it. But is this something a man with an urge could make a habit of? Lingering about in the wilderness on the offchance of encountering a rape-able victim is surely too chancy, demanding too much patience from a hot-blooded lecher. But perhaps he took her along with him for a nice brisk hike, and perhaps he did it only a time or two. But that would not amount to “all manner of concupiscence.”

Masturbation? With that he could rock, so to speak. It was forbidden, but it was not punished. It was considered impure, disgusting, very shameful, and those who stooped so low as to go in for it were ordered to keep away from the Temple for a week, and then, after some ritual washing, to bring a couple of birds to be killed and burnt by a priest.

So perhaps that was Paul’s most frequent libidinous indulgence. It hardly fits the description of “all manner of concupiscence”. But add a rape or two at a picnic, some memorable moments with a bored housewife – for example – and the guilt could have built up.

Or was Paul lying about being concupiscent? No; it’s believable that he really was a libertine who became a celibate puritan because he confesses it, and a confession is generally easier to believe than a boast. But the very important reason to believe it is that it plausibly explains his Idea as a solution to his own desperate need. His “Son of God” brought him the relief from shame that he craved.

Let’s conjecture along lines that fit with the thoughts expressed in his letters. He needed forgiveness, but the Law would not forgive him. The Law taught him that he was a sinner by teaching him what sin was. The Law could punish him, but not cleanse him, not save him. Nothing he did or could ever do would wash the sin away. The God of the Jews was just; he required atonement and punishment. But Paul, sick with guilt and shame, felt that no matter how many spotless beasts and birds he  might bring to the altar to be sacrificed, he would not be forgiven. The Law gave only what was deserved, what was earned; and as he himself said, “the wages of sin is death”.[23] He believed that death meant eternal separation from God – to him the most terrible of all possible punishments. He would have to be saved from so dreadful a fate without deserving to be saved. Divine mercy would have to overrule divine justice. There was no sacrifice he could make to elicit such forgiveness, but if God’s own son had made a blood sacrifice of himself for mankind, then he, Paul, was saved.

In other words, Christ the Redeemer came into existence because Paul personally felt a need to be freed from sin, a hunger for forgiveness and cleansing, a longing to be saved from the wrath of God; and for that purpose Paul invented a new forgiving God who would take his sin upon himself and atone for it by self-sacrifice.

He did not banish the old, sternly just God. He did not even dethrone him. He just had him take a son into partnership with him, to whom all future enquiries should preferably be addressed.

Paul wanted his new religion to supersede Judaism. For this to happen the Jews would have to accept that the Law was now redundant. It had done well enough to teach mankind how to be righteous until the sacrifice of Christ on the cross. More than likely he tried to persuade some Jews of the truth of his vision and failed – a failure of which he himself , not surprisingly, made no (known) deliberate record. The obvious place for him to start was with the surviving followers of Jesus. But he needed their goodwill, couldn’t risk alienating them – and preaching blasphemy to them would have done that for sure. The recorded stories of his encounters with “the saints in Jerusalem”, as he calls them, are transparently spun to present a picture of amity. But try as they might, neither Paul himself nor his shill, the author of Acts, managed to conceal the disagreement, opposition, indignation, accusation, rivalry, and finally violent anger that arose between Paul and the Jews who were for Jesus in Jerusalem. [24] The Jewish followers of Jesus – called the “first Christians” by Christians – went on believing in one God only and that the Law of Moses was for ever. [25]

Paul must have despaired quite early on of converting Jews in large numbers (though he did convert some who lived outside Judea). He concentrated his efforts on gentiles. He found ready convert-material in the small crowds of Greeks who associated themselves with the synagogues in the eastern Empire. Called “God-fearers” by the Jews, and given a set of only seven laws easy to obey [26], they were attracted to Judaism, but hesitant or unwilling to take the prescribed steps to become Jews – perhaps because, for men, the process of conversion involved circumcision. [27] Paul told them they need not be circumcised (initiation would be by water), need not refrain from eating foods they liked which the Jews called unclean, and need not obey the Law, but only have faith in Christ.

He succeeded in winning some tens or hundreds or even perhaps thousands of gentiles – how many is not known – but they often lapsed from the new faith. Paul’s letters show his anger and disappointment when he learned that after he’d moved on from an apparently convinced congregation to conquer more hearts and minds, some other missionary (or “apostle”) had arrived among his converts or at their synagogue and preached something different about Jesus: perhaps a “saint” from Jerusalem who denied that Jesus was the Son of God, but was the Messiah who would overthrow Roman rule, and that to be ready for that day the congregants must scrupulously obey the Law.

No, no!, only have faith in Christ, Paul repeated in his letters to them.

But why should gentiles want to be saved from sin if they were not subject to the Jewish Law, disobedience to which was the very definition of sin? Those who did not know the Law could not know that they sinned, Paul says in his confession.

This problem of his own making Paul overcame with a stroke of pure genius. He decreed that all human beings are sinful, not because of anything each of them has done or failed to do, but by moral inheritance. He invented “original sin”. Because the first man and first woman had sinned by disobeying God (in the myth of Eden and the temptation), all their descendants, Paul decided, were guilty of sin and every one of them had to suffer the punishment, which was death.

But then, after many an age, Christ had come, the Son of God born as a man, to save mankind from his terrible fate by his own suffering and death. “Since by man came death, by man also came the resurrection of the dead.” [28] And, with Paul’s typical illogicality: “Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned. For until the law sin was in the world: but sin is not imputed when there is no law. Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses [who gave the Law] … For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous.” [29]

Thus the gentiles learnt from Paul that they all needed to be saved from sin by the Christ Jesus. Being saved from sin meant being saved from death, and an eternal afterlife of bliss was on offer as a free gift to those whom Christ chooses to save. Those whom Christ does not choose to save will be dead forever. [30]

That uncertain hope of eternal bliss, and Original Sin, and a theology of one God who is two gods, and a rite of symbolically devouring God, and a prescription for a life of austerity and toil are what this randy, bandy, burly, cunning little man with an ape-like brow and a reedy voice gave the world as “Christianity”. And the world caught it like a terrible disease from which it has not yet fully recovered.

 

Jillian Becker   January 7, 2012

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[1] the 7 letters scholars believe to have been written by Paul out of the 13 attributed to him in the NT are: Romans, 1&2 Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, 1 Thessalonians, Philemon

[2] for Paul’s fund-raising see 2 Cor 8:1-7 & 9:5-13, 1 Cor 16:1-3

[3] in the Book of Acts, putatively written by a companion of Paul, a doctor named Luke. Not all the information given there about Paul accords with what Paul says of himself in his letters (some of it. such as how many years he waited before confronting the followers of Jesus in Jerusalem, actually contradicting him), though Luke’s information must have come mostly from Paul himself. Presumably Paul told Luke that he came from Tarsus. It’s hard to see why he or Luke might want to make this up, so it’s more than likely true.

[4] Gal 2:15

[5] Rom 11:12

[6] Phili 3:5

[7] Hyam Maccoby, The Myth Maker, London 1986, page 71

[8] in the Book of Acts (26:14) Jesus is said to have spoken to Paul, in his vision “on the road to Damascus”, in Hebrew. Why does the author state this? The living Jesus would certainly have known enough Hebrew to read scripture, but his everyday speech would have been Aramaic. If Jesus was God, as Paul concluded he was after his visionary conversation with him, he could have “spoken” to Paul in any language, so why Hebrew? It would seem to be one of those touches that a story-teller puts in to make his tale seem more believable. Luke, the gentile author of Acts, assumed that the God of the Jews would normally speak the language of Judaism.

[9] Acts 9: 1-2

[10] Acts 3-5

[11] Rom 7:17

[12] Rom 7:18, 7:20

[13] Rom 7:9, 7:23

[14] Rom 7:8 KJV

[15] forbidden by the seventh commandment

[16] defined in Lev 8

[17] forbidden by Lev 18:22 and 20:13, Genesis 19:5-8 and the whole story of Sodom, and the similar, weirder, gruesome story in Judges 19:22-29

[18] rape according to Deut 22:25 was against the Law if committed in the country because it is too sparsely populated for a victim’s cries for help to be heard: but if committed in town it’s her fault for not crying for help.

[19] the sin of Onan, Gen 38:9-10

[20] Lev 8:23

[21] Acts 23:16

[22] Rom 1:26-27

[23] Rom 6:23

[24] Acts 21: 17-36

[25] The Jewish followers of Jesus were known as the Nazarenes, possibly because Jesus came from Nazareth. (To this day the Arabic word for “Christian” is “Nazarene”.) They were also known as the Ebionites, meaning “the poor”. Their refusal to accept the divinity of Paul’s “Jesus Christ” seriously hampered his efforts to spread his new religion, and might have utterly defeated the movement he started, had not civil war and war with the Romans ended in the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE – a total Roman victory – after which the Jews were dispersed from Jerusalem.

[26] the 7 Noahide laws: 6 prohibitions, against idolatry, blasphemy, bloodshed, sexual sins, theft, eating a live animal; and 1 injunction, establish a legal system (to enforce the prohibitions).

[27] Edward Gibbon, in the famous chapter 15 of The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, expresses the view that one of the reasons for the spread of Christianity (other, he says with skeptical irony, than “the convincing evidence of the doctrine itself”) was baptism by water replacing baptism by blood. “The painful and even dangerous rite of circumcision was alone capable of repelling a willing proselyte from the door of the synagogue,” he writes.

[28] 1 Cor 15:21

[29] Rom 5:12- 19 KJV where Paul tries but fails to resolve a contradiction of his own making: that the Law created sin, and between Adam and Moses the Law had not existed, yet everyone who lived in that long age was tainted by sin. It’s a clumsy, fumbling, bad piece of writing because it’s a clumsy, fumbling, bad piece of thinking, as illogical as his theology.

[30] Paul did not preach Hell. Converts to Paul’s Christianity, the gospel writers, added the doctrines of Hell, the Triune Godhead, and the Virgin Birth.

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  • jamie

    Written by the walking dead, for the walking dead. I have no intention of implying that atheists are bereft of love, I am simply reflecting this article to prove it. They are the living dead. The most pathetic, the most unenlightened, the most primitive existences of all are the homo-sapiens amongst us who only masquerade as human-beings – atheists – mere animals. The living dead who taunt the Christians for daring to face the reason why we are alive – spirituality itself. If it isn’t in a scientific manual, it doesn’t exist? I listened very carefully indeed – and with a truly genuine attitude of longing to discover the beliefs of Richard Dawkins. Words cannot describe. I truly wanted to know and to understand what he was saying. The planet will probably never witness again as great a fool as Richard. He and his followers are the true and final fools of all history.

    • Jillian Becker

      Please, jamie, will you tell us what is “the reason why we are alive”.

    • liz

      As an ex-Christian myself, I can testify to the fact that it is not courage or “daring” that causes us to believe that the reason we are alive is “spirituality”.
      It is, in fact, fear – fear of the unknown, fear of death – that causes us to cling to our ancestor’s primitive fantasies of the supernatural.
      What takes courage is growing up out of that comfort zone, giving up your security blanket, and becoming fully rational by accepting the truth of scientifically proven fact.
      As for Dawkins, his only foolishness is that he continues to believe in the bankrupt political fantasies of the left.

    • Don L

      “…Christians…daring to face the reason why we are alive – spirituality itself.”

      You’re kidding, right? So, according to you we exist and are purposed solely to be concerned with those who talk to the dead? Spirits…you live for this stuff…do ya?

      Well, I’m an atheist so I’m the living dead…do I then qualify as a spirit? Can you define spirituality and it’s components? Oh…crap…is this taunting? Jesus I’m sorry! Say, he’s a spirit isn’t he?

      Does school spirit count? When I was a kid in HS, there was a cute little cheer leader that had school spirit and I think I had spirituality about her!

      Oh…is it you live for god and anyone who doesn’t isn’t alive…doesn’t matter…can’t be human? Say, the taliban and their friends have that same sorta outlook about christians.

      Well, keep on being brave facing the spiritual world. I’ll keep you in my prayers…yeah right…LOL! That does bring up the question, maybe you can face this one, god answers the prayers of running backs and tight ends on every sunday but sees fit to ignore coptic christians’ prayers in egypt. Is this one of those funny and mysterious spiritual ways he works?

      Hey, wait a minute…how do you know spirituality is the reason we are alive? Who told you this? Did you get it directly from god? Were you awake? Or, did a spirit come to you in the night? Too bad you can’t hear my Casper the ghost sound effects!

  • IndependentSpirit1972

    Ah, Julian. My favorite Atheist. Such a sophisticated, yet belittling air of ridiculous condescension. It is absolutely irresistible to respond.

    Have you checked out Stephen Colbert lately? The way he takes down Richard Dawkins and makes him look the fool is most bemusing. Here is a link to the transcript: http://www.fred-hsu.com/stories/dawkins/RD_vs_Colbert_English_Transcript.html.

    Oh, I know, I know. My comments nor opinions on this video do not comport with reason; and reason is our god (big or little “g”?) after all, isn’t it?

    So, where shall we begin? Oh, yes, your “Jesus, or something like that column.” Wow. How you so took down the “simian” Patriarch Paul in your very erudite promulgation of unnecessary verbiage to logically reinforce your ad nauseum sophistry (oops, what barbaric Latin grammar).

    Let’s see: “Paul was ugly, therefore he was wrong.” What logic! Does that sum up the strength of your argument? Profound! About as convincing as the classy videos shared by your followers whose clips include dog excrement. What a statement on the credulity of your argument and the intellectual caliber of your followers. Kudos!

    And I take it that your support and advocacy of your followers’ comments and videos (of C.S. Lewis and dog excrement for example) do not exactly subscribe to Washington’s Rules of Civility and Decent Behavior? And wasn’t Washington an advocate of reason and a product of the enlightenment? Hmmmmm. Maybe a question for another time.

    But let’s take God out of the equation–I am taking a shot in the dark that you wouldn’t mind–and just focus on the concept of practical reason. Specifically, what is your view of the concept? To start, I would suggest that your willingness to degrade towards insult is evidence that you have cut yourself off from the tree of practical reason from which all of your conservative values of order come. Your thoughts?

    Adam

    • Jillian Becker

      First, who is Julian? You make me feel really jealous of him. I want to be our readers’ favorite atheist, or fellow-atheist.

      Second, please would you describe to me exactly what you think of when you think of “God”?

      • Adam

        What I think of God? The more pertinent point is that God thought of me. And it was His joy that each of us then came into existence.

  • Liz

    Good point about Pauls twisted, illogical invention of original sin as an attempt to cover up his own self-contradiction in claiming that the Law produced sin, and at the same time to claim that even those who lived before the law were sinful.  He tended to twist himself into a pretzel alot trying to make his theology fit together.  And his attempts to cover up his not-so-great relations with the other “apostles” are quite humorously transparent.
    Ironic that, while Christians hail him as a great Apostle, his real legacy is all those sexually repressed “celibate” priests whom we now find to have been keeping the REAL Pauline tradition alive for centuries (with the available altar-boys). True to Christian form – they are the ultimate hypocrites.

  • http://themoonshinesbrighter.wordpress.com/ Andrew M

    Thank you for this excellent series of posts!

    I’d gander that unlike many of the commenters here, I never grew up with any sort of religious or theological upbringing whatsoever. Both of my parents were some type of Christian before leaving their respective churches as young adults, so I never experienced the mental handicap of a jealous God when I was a child. As such, I find this series of posts highly informative and deeply explanatory of the duplicitous minds of Christians, even modern ones.

    Metaphysics is a trainwreck: anything goes, but my belief is better than yours. Every preacher knows this well. The only criteria which allow one preacher to convince a herd better than another is the quality of his theatrics and – ironically – his scientific prowess. We can witness this among many ancient civilizations who had strong astronomy departments. The priesthood of the Chavín, a predecessor of the Inca, used their celestial measurements to time when peasants should plant and harvest their crops. Because they were Right, they maintained their power by filling those same minds with the necessary amount of Wrong to prevent rebellion.

    In this regard, Christian belief differs by the strnge quality of predicting nothing, but offering everything – and still gaining hordes of followers. This is because they have tapped on the alternative strategy of making believers – literally, through sex. Their puritanical yet all-too-often hypocritical attitude towards this ancient and beautiful practice should come as no surprise, but only when it concerns the sexual practices of the Other (cue ignorance of Catholic priests molesting children or anti-gay Ted Haggard going gay for crystal meth).

  • Ralph

    No God every issued a law or moral statement. All laws and morality were created by the mind’s of humans.

  • George

    As a child and in my early teens , I was raised in the St. Paul Lutheran Church  ( Missouri Synod ) .  I attended sunday school ,  sunday church services, vacation bible school (camp ) , sang in the church choir and was also the altar boy at my church. I lit the candles and extinguished them and I was also  a member of the Boy Scout troop there attaining the rank of Life Scout and was to be promoted to Eagle when the  Scoutmaster closed our troop down for lack of attendance by the members. I never received my Eagle badge. I admit I loved Boyscout camp , hiking and  outings and I had a number of Merit Badges on my sash but I’m really ticked at the Boy Scouts with their bigoted attitudes toward atheists .  As a result   , I  always support the Girl Scouts and buy their cookies since the Girl Scouts ( in my opinion ) do not have the bigotry of the male group.  Just my personal opinion and feelings and I’m really disappointed . If that wasn’t the case I  would probably be a Scout Master now. Go figure !

  • George

    World civilization is not civil , moral, and advanced because of RELIGION.    World civilization is civil , moral and advanced in spite of it.

  • Liz

    Religion is like ‘wisdom’ teeth – a useless by-product of evolution that may have once served a purpose, but now it can kill you if you don’t get it surgically removed.  It produced and was perpetuated by people like Paul, the Jimmy Swaggart of his time.

  • wmarkw

    Christianity was a good idea for its time, and its metaphorical interpretation still isn’t a bad one today.  Original Sin means that being human, none of us are perfect; we all do things that are wrong sometimes, so we all need forgiveness and have to forgive others.  That’s different from believing there are 613 laws the upholding of which renders you functionally perfect.

    The Greco-Roman pagans at the time were looking for an ethics-based spirituality to replace the gods of Mount Olympus, whose mythology was well-understood to be just that, by educated people.  They also didn’t provide any real guide to ethics in life.  The Jews rejected him because they didn’t need a NEW ethics-based spirituality; the Greco-Romans did, because the minituae of Jewish law (like circumcision) wasn’t appealing to an ethnic outsider.

    • Jillian Becker

      wmarkw-

      It is true that Judaism was the only moral religion, and that it wasn’t easily spreadable. Most of the 613 laws could no longer be obeyed even by pious Jews after the fall of the Temple.

      It’s also true that the popular religion of the Greeks and Romans lacked moral content, but it would be a great mistake to believe that the Greco-Roman culture lacked concern with moral values. Greek philosophy was much concerned with ethics – the Stoics in particular wrote profoundly about morality. Classical drama is full of good and evil. The value of freedom was of great importance. Ethical considerations were reflected in law. Science and mathematics flourished in Greece because the importance of critical examination of all ideas was rooted in the culture. And that is not only a great intellectual principle but also an ethical one. 

      Paul’s moral philosophy – or if you like the moral philosophy attributed to Jesus – is in my opinion far inferior. It is sentimental, hypocritical, and cruel. The history of the Church demonstrates Christian morality in practice, and it is a blood-soaked history.     

      The “pagans” were not looking for “an ethics-based spirituality”. Only a few of them were. When Christianity – for historical not theological reasons –  became the state religion of Rome in the 4th century, only about 10% of the people in the Empire were Christians. 

      The bright light of classical culture was extinguished by Christianity, which brought a thousand years of darkness down on Europe. 

      There is a big difference between accepting that we’re all capable of doing bad things and the doctrine of original sin. Children should not be raised to believe  they’re  born guilty and must believe in a supernatural savior, carrying out  absurd rituals to propitiate him and so save themselves from an eternity in Hell. 

            

      • John Bott

        Interesting comment. But I have read Christians argue that once Rome was overrun by the Germanic tribes these tribes still wanted to continue Classical Civilization, and largely did. It was the waves of Muslim invaders during the 7th and 8th centuries that brought about the end of Classical civilization. When the Muslims conquered North Africa and Spain they effectively captured the Med and thus disrupted all shipping and commodity production in Southern Europe. The Dark Ages was no doubt brought on by Christian philosophy taking hold of the culture. But I wonder if it isn’t also true that Muslim invasion hastened the fall of the remnants of the Classical world.

        Great blog by the way. Although I wonder why you call yourselves “atheistConservatives”? True 19th century Conservatives were not individualists and this blog is definitely individualist oriented. I would think a better name would be “atheist Classical Liberal”. That seems to fit you better. I’m more a Classical Liberal than a Conservative myself.

        • Jillian Becker

          Thank you, John Bott, for your interesting comment. The Muslims certainly made the dark ages darker.

          We agree with your insight that we are more “atheist Classical Liberal” than Conservative. Trouble is, the word “Liberal” has come to mean Leftist, collectivist – the opposite of its real meaning. “Classical” should signal that it means what it once did and always should, but we guess that’s not universally known. “Atheist Conservative” has a certain surprise value, wouldn’t you agree? 

        • George

          Hi John  , I agree with  your post , especially regarding how the Muslims conquered North Africa and the Christians vanquished the continentent to practically total devastation. Your historical comments are right on the mark .  Many , many , many thousands of years ago , Africa did indeed have great civilizations and SOME other cultures did in fact claim SOME African knowledge  , science and educational values as their own  –having thus left the entire continent in ruins and sent the indigenous people back to the stone age and they never recovered having been robbed of the knowledge of themselves, their history, and their culture. If you ever get a chance sir please read the book— ” The Ages of Gold and Silver ” by John Jackson and the book — ” We Are All Africans” by Obeng.  I met Mr. Obeng  ( an African scholar, historian, and author ) at a freethought conference in Atlanta , Georgia  years ago.  He now resides in  California  and is a legal immigrant here from Africa now living in the USA  and yes , he is an ATHEIST . Human civilization started there, and  now it and it’s people have been  cast back to the stone age.  Even today archeologists , history researchers  and other excavators ( European and Euro-American at that ) are uncovering artifacts, and buried archives and records that support the truth of this.    When books were written thereafter presenting these findings , the racist apologists claimed that it was all revisionist propaganda when what  was being taught in mainstream academia for generations was in itself re-written history.  There is indeed propaganda on both sides of the fence and one must study a vast variety of historical and reliable sources to discern fact from revisionist propaganda rhetoric.
                                The destruction of what was once a great continent was the result of RELIGION ( basically Islam and Christianity ) and now the emerged tribal religious cults have taken over and much of Africa is caught in a battle between Christianity and Islam.  
                             There is slavery of blacks going on right now in sub-Saharan Africa  / Sudan and a few other specific regions , nad yet these new age poverty pimps like Al Sharpton and Jessie Jackson are essentially silent. Where is Louis  Farrakhan to speak out on these things publicly in the mainstream media ? Just a question I would like answered .   How strange that  the popular self-righteous , self-appointed, phony so-called  “black leaders ” are members of the clergy and quite a number  ( not all ) are reverse-racist bigots.

    • George

      Christianity was NEVER a good idea at any time for true civilization or for true  civil rights and respect.     True , Christianity was only a  “good idea” for those who benefitted from it at the subjugation, enslavement, oppression , exploitation , control , and deceitful brainwashing of the masses.

    • wmarkw

      Christianity was a good idea for its time (contrast Roman orgies and the Colosseum), but its implementation via rigid church hierarchies was never a good idea for any time.  Jesus’ preaching was that even if the Jews didn’t control their own nation or soon have a temple anymore, they can still practice their faith’s guidelines as individuals.  Turning Jesus’ teaching into the Catholic and Orthodox churches, kind of ruined the idea.

      America finally implemented this idea 1750 years later.

      • Jillian Becker

        wmarkw - 

        I hoped you would come back. Good discussion. But contrast Roman orgies and the Colosseum (remembering that  lions-eating-Christians entertainments have been much exaggerated) with the festivals of auto-da-fe by the Spanish Inquisition! Admittedly those came much later. But murderous quarrels between Christian factions started quite early on. 

        We do not know what Jesus’s preaching was. The gospels were novels, pure fiction, made up after Paul invented Christ, in order to make the fictitious Jesus (not the actual person) fit the prophesies, and Jesus’s “prophesy” of the fall of the Temple fit what had  already happened by the time that story was written.  

        But I take your point about the Jews being able to follow their faith’s guidelines as individuals after the fall of the Temple and the dispersion. Most of them did. And it’s probable that some bits and pieces of what the person whom Paul named Jesus – the pious rebel leader whom the Romans crucified – actually said were scooped up from word-of-mouth accounts and incorporated in the tall tales. 

      • George

        As I had posted previously , Christianity was NEVER a good idea in general. It was considered “good” for those who used it’s tennants to control the masses. When European explorers ventured to North America , many were escaping the King of England and religious tyranny. Most of those regarded as “Founding Fathers ” were deists.  There is no such thing as a “good idea” teaching people that some invisible supernatural ghost lives in outer space and he has these ten rules you had better obey or he is going to make you suffer and be tormented forever, and ever and ever and ever til the end of time ( with no chance of parole ) —-but HE LOVES US ( as comedian George  Carlin put it ).  The idea that a virgin woman gave birth to a child without the sperm of a man, or a stick turned into a serpent, a burning bush talked to a man, a man built a gigantic boat all by himself and walked and swam around the wolr gathering thousands of species of animal and insect life and he single-handed wrestled lions, tigers, crocodiles, gorillas, elephants onto the mega-boat, a man waved a magic wand and the  Red Sea parted, and when we die ( if we were good ) we are going to be living on clouds in some invisible spirit world or if we were bad we are going to be cast down below the earh in caverns of fire and brimstone where some rad man with a long tail, horns and a pitchfork is gonna make us burn forever , after we are judged at the “pearly gates that are considered “pearly ” which is a color althoiugh we are told we would be existing in a transparent /invisible world which is contradictory —yada yada yada yada and all that BS.  
                               Anyone thinking that teaching and indoctrinating people with this bullcrap is good for society is in my opinion definately a candidate for a psychiatrist couch, a padded room and a straight jacket .   No offense to you but there is absolutely  NOTHING good for society to brainwash people with this utter rubbish.      Absolutely NOTHING !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

      • Liz

        America did implement the idea of freedom of conscience and the principle of separation of church and state, but it was really in spite of the Christians, not because of them. 
        Unfortunately many Christians at the time, and ever since that time until the present, don’t understand that principle, and seek to obscure it with the idea that we are a “Christian Nation”, which boils down to the state giving Christianity preference and dominance, and if people don’t like it thats just too bad because they need to get saved anyway, whether they know it or not – they just don’t know whats good for them!
        They don’t realize the fact that this would not even be a good state of affairs for Christians, because there would always be one denomination gaining more dominance over the others, trampling on their rights and freedoms as well.
        I think every religion, from its beginning, has had the idea that they are the only ones who know the truth, and have sought to impose it on everyone else, because a myth can’t sustain itself by its own power, like facts and reality do.

        • George

          Amen Liz.  A big HIGH FIVE on that one.  Right on target !

      • wmarkw

        I wrote my last reply too quickly before dashing to work.  Sorry.  (And for some reason, my employer blocks this site.)

        The part I left out was that MERGING Christian hierarchy WITH GOVERNMENT
        was a very bad idea.   Jesus’ teaching, at least as they’ve come to us represented in the Gospels, is an inherently non-governmental faith, to be practiced by people who can’t make the laws of their land and don’t have a centrally-sanctioned temple to use.  

        On a couple of other points:
        The Colosseum was an arena for the spectacle of death.  We no longer kill people for public amusement.

        The people of 2-3000 years ago, could hardly have envisioned the purely scientific principles behind weather, disease, fertility and disasters, and so assumed there must be a consciousness similar to ours causing them.  I credit the Jews with associating this consciousness with MORALS as well as POWER, and the Christians for advancing this to morals even when lacking power.

        • Liz

          Yes, your right, Mark – that the teachings of the New Testament are inherently non-governmental.  They also include teaching that Christians are supposed to submit meekly to whoever happens to be in power, since the powers that be are ordained by God.  So, if Christians had really been obedient to the Word of God, we would still be under the rule of an English Monarch. 
          Fortunately for us, they allowed reason and common sense to get the better of them, and figured out a way to believe and proclaim one thing while doing another thing entirely, like rebel against authority, create a Republic, and practice self-government. 
          As always, hypocrisy is an indispensable tool of the American Christian, enabling him to profess obedience to God and get involved in politics at the same time!