To be religious, to believe in a creator god or divine being of any description, is not intellectually respectable.
Far from deserving respect, religions deserve scorn. And worse. The histories of most of them warrant intense abhorrence.
What prompts us now to utter such blunt, unqualified, hard assertions on this “sensitive” subject? This report, which tells how Muslims are trying to make the whole world a reason-free zone.
We quote from the website of Jonathan Turley:
The effort by Muslim countries to curtail free speech in the name of their religion continues. While the Obama Administration has sought to appease these countries in developing an international blasphemy standard, this case shows how even the more modern Islamic countries (as well as Western countries) are finding blasphemy to be a useful vehicle to control speech and silence critics.
The latest attack comes from Qatar which has proposed a ban that would allow for the prosecution of people in other countries. That’s right, our allies are creating laws to allow them to prosecute people for insulting religion outside their own countries.
The use of the term “defamation” is a new twist to satisfy Western sensibilities and make it sound like this is a recognized form of legal action. However, it is the old blasphemy law in a new and more menacing form. The law would actually be broader than blasphemy which already exists on the books of many Muslim countries. This law would allow for the prosecution of people for all forms of defamation. Derision or denigration of religions and prophets will be considered crimes.
The selling point of the new law was explained by Ebrahim Mousa Al Hitmi, the Qatari justice ministry assistant undersecretary for legal affairs,“The main feature of the draft is that it gives every state the right to put on trial those who abuse and hold in contempt religions even if they are outside the country.”
However this “legal expert” assured people that there is no danger at all to free speech because insulting religion is not protected speech:
The law does not interfere in any way with the freedom of opinion and expression which is well protected and guaranteed. All penal laws in Arab countries criminalize defamation of religions but there are no specific sanctions when an abuser is outside the country. Therefore, the main goal of this law is to deter all forms of defamation of religions and give each country that ratifies it the right to file lawsuits against those who offend religions, even if they are not residents.
See how simple it is? You first declare denigrating religion as outside of the scope of permitted speech and then when you prosecute people for writing or speaking about religion it is by definition not a question of free speech.
These laws reflect an inherent insecurity among religious extremists running these countries that free speech represents a serious threat to orthodoxy. It is not enough that they prosecute and even execute people for apostasy. They are determined to cut off alternative views being spoken about religion on the Internet or in other countries. …
There can be no compromise between free speech and blasphemy. These nations stand against the most basic right of all men and women to speak freely and worship (or not worship) as their values dictate.
Of course the Muslims mean that only their own religion must not be criticized. They will continue to “defame” all other religions – and atheism – and obey their own doctrinal commandment to convert, subdue, or kill non-Muslims whenever they can.
And it may be impractical for them to enforce this decision outside their own areas of jurisdiction. But Europe is already complying with it. The Obama administration is sympathetic to it. And some US judges have already decided cases in accordance with sharia law, and a supreme court judge has argued in favor of doing so.
Those who hold the conviction that all ideas – including and especially religious ideas – should be continually and forever examined in the the light of reason, beware!
And stand your ground.
(Hat-tip for the report, our reader Frank)
Yesterday we discussed the dying out of the indigenous European peoples as their numbers halve with each generation. We asked why they are letting this happen, why fewer and fewer children are being born. We argued that it is hard to make a case that Socialism as an economic system is responsible for the death of Europe, or that materialism is responsible for it, or that the lost influence of the old-time religions account for it. But today we argue that Socialism as an ideology may have a lot to do with it.
As far as we can discover, the idea that a person should care less for himself than for anybody and everybody else, was introduced into history by the author of Christianity, St Paul.* It is not an injunction of Judaism, which does require its followers to “love [respect?] your neighbor as yourself” but not more than yourself. It has no precedent in Greek philosophy, nor in any of the Far Eastern religions which are intensely concerned with personal benefit. None of them are moral religions. True, Buddhism teaches tolerance, but in order to do yourself good, to help you personally on your way to bliss.
Christianity might seem to do that when it promises heaven to those who do good works. But “redemption” by good works was not St Paul’s idea. It was introduced into the Catholic faith later. St Paul taught that only the grace of Christ Jesus could save you. (And that was Luther’s and Calvin’s doctrine too.) So you must do good works, put others before and above yourself without expecting any reward on earth or in heaven. You must accept that your life is to be hard, and that your afterlife may be even worse. But at least for the afterlife there is hope. Heaven is the aim. If you attain it, whether by grace or good works, there – only there – you as an individual being will find joy. This life is not to be valued.
It is a ruinous idea. It can mean, if taken to heart, that you should not strive for happiness, or even survival. It can mean that every time you supply a want of your own, however basic and essential – food, clothing, protection, information, healing – you will feel self-reproach. As total selflessness is impossible, it’s a recipe for failure and consequent shame, guilt, self-contempt, even self- hatred. It is against not just human but animal nature, since if you do not eat and protect yourself you will not survive. If human beings were not innately selfish the race would have died out long ago. Indeed, it would never have arisen.
Christians might say that it’s okay, of course, to see to your own survival needs. Some might even grant you the moral right to supply them amply – just so long as you are also attentive to the needs of others. You only have to consider them more than yourself – liberal Christians might tell you – when that choice inescapably presents itself.
No doubt, in the everyday life of Christians, the injunction to care more for others than for yourself is honored more in the breach than the observance. But the principle remains. It is the essence of Christian morality.
Over some centuries it became the ideal of multitudes and persisted for generations. What follows logically from it? Nobody is judged according to his individual merits. Everyone is more important than you are not because of what he is or does, but simply because he is part of the mass.
To think like that is to think sociologically. And from the notion that the individual is of less account than the mass arises another: that the individual is of no account at all, and only the mass, the “community”, matters.
But the mass, the community, has no identity. It has no personhood. It has no aspirations. Where only the many matter, nobody matters.
The spread of Christianity had a lot to do with the fall of the Christianized Roman Empire. Just how much is voluminously debated. At the very least, the Christian doctrines of universal love and not resisting evil mitigated against vigorous defense when enemies struck. And for a thousand years, from the time Rome fell in the late fifth century, Christianity with its impossible injunctions and its terrors of Hell lay heavy on the peoples of Europe.
As the dominant ideology, Christianity faded with the fading power of the Church. The Renaissance and then the Enlightenment shifted the center of human concern from heaven back to earth. Once again, as in pre-Christian times, the proper business of men was with men. This life mattered again. The individual mattered again.
But the Idea – that terrible, misery-making, destructive idea that you must sacrifice yourself for the rest - did not completely fade away. It changed its host. It became the central idea of Socialism.
Socialism is the child of Christianity. Yes: the secular religion of Socialism, though it has no God, no heaven, is – in its DNA so to speak – Christian. As an ideology it received its central Idea from Christianity: the Idea that only the mass, the many, the community matters, not the individual and his personal life.
Christians may deny it – do deny it – but the Christian Idea is the Socialist Idea. We frequently read Christian apologetics claiming that Christianity created “the individual”, and by doing so made Europe great. Europe’s greatness, however, only began – for the second time since the fall of the Roman Empire – with the dispersal of the darkness that Christianity had spread over it. But then Socialism was born, and came into its inheritance. In its turn it became the dominant ideology of Europe.
Because the mass has no identity, no personhood, no aims or aspirations, Socialism is as anti-human as its mother. While its goal is not beyond and above the earth, it is in the equally abstract, equally unknown, equally phantasmagorical Future.
Now the Europeans are dying out. Multitudes of them care nothing for their national culture and history. Some positively hate all that, and are happy to let Muslims take over their countries and govern them under a different, ancient, cruel law.
Can their death as a mass, as communities, be the end result of Christianity-Socialism? If they are no longer deceived that paradise awaits them either on or above this earth, for what should they live? Are the nations dying out simply because people can see no reason why they should go on existing?
* For the many substantiating quotations from the letters of St Paul, and the source references, see our post Tread on me: the making of Christian morality, December 22, 2011.
This essay continues our series on obscure and lost religions, Gnostic cults in particular. It follows on these: Thus, more or less, spake Zarathustra, May 26, 2009 (on Zoroastrianism); How a rich shipowner affected Christianity, January 2, 2010 (on Marcion); Erotic religion, January 24, 2010 (on Carpocrates and Epiphanes); The father of all heresy, February 23, 2010 (on Simon Magus, and Menander); Yezidis and Mandeans, April 4, 2010; Mani and Manicheism, May 9, 2010; Hot in the land of Hum, October 14, 2010 (on the Bugomils); Valentinus, February 14, 2011; The heretics of Languedoc, May 1, 2011 (on the Cathars); Gnosticism: what is it?, March 3, 2013; Holy snakes, March 24, 2013 (on the Ophites).
Chronologically and ideologically, Basilides and his son Isadorus followed Simon Magus – whom the Catholic Church Fathers called “the father of all heresy” – and Simon’s disciple and successor Menander. Our short account of Menander and his sect was added recently to the post titled “The father of all heresy”.
Basilides and Isadorus
Simon Magus, his disciple Menander, and their respective sects came to their ends. But the Gnosis of Simon Magus survived and developed as the 2nd century CE wore on. Menander was succeeded by his disciple Basilides, who, in his turn, improved the mystic vision of his master into something richer and stranger, and with it won a large and enthusiastic following in North Africa, Spain, and even – it has been contended – in Britain. It is probable that he was the first thinker to propound a theory of the Big Bang – though he did not call it that. He might also have been the first to propound a theory of the causes of what nowadays is called “anti-Semitism”. And, uniquely, he proposed that Jesus sinned.
Basilides was born in Antioch (Syria) and began teaching in 117 CE. Jewish by birth, he was won over by the Gnosis of Menander. When he was ready to lead a following of his own, he went abroad – perhaps because it is always hard to be a prophet in one’s own land. He established his name as a Gnostic leader in Alexandria.
There are many and various scandalous stories about the beliefs and practices of Basilides recorded by the Church Fathers – Origen and Clement of Alexandria among others – and for the most part they are not consistent with each other. They broadly agree, however, on the Gnostic type of the Basilidean teachings, and they are all startling, elaborate, fantastic (in the true meaning of the word), and preposterous. We cannot know which of them is accurately attributed, for not one of Basilides’s own books has survived. There were many of them, including 24 volumes of commentaries on the four canonical gospels – although in public he deplored book-learning, and preached the value of being without it. Practicing in secret what he outspokenly preached against, he wrote under a number of pseudonyms, among them Cham, Barcabbas, Barcoph and Parchor. A certain treatise was attributed to him titled On the Additional Soul. Christian critics who read it before they had it destroyed, say that it expounded the idea that men have, in addition to a First Soul that is the gift of the supreme Father, another with which they have been cursed by a lower power. The second soul is manifest in the passions which drag men down into sin.
By some accounts, Basilides was himself a man of high moral principle, and it was his followers who turned, against his teaching, to libertinism. Some stated that libertinism was permitted or even enjoined by Basilides for those who attained perfection, because a Perfect (or Pneumatic) cannot sin no matter what he does. They say his sect was not exclusive. All men and women were welcome to join it, even those who came from the cloddish majority called the Hylics. An initiate had to prove his seriousness of intent by not uttering a word for five years (a practice derived perhaps from the school of Pythagoras). A successful candidate might then, by striving to find and strengthen the spark of gnosis within him, particularly by participating in the sacramental rites, or orgies, for which uninhibited sexual self-indulgence was prescribed, rise to join the Psychics, in whom the light of Gnosis was kindled if yet but dimly; and a Psychic, with luck and spiritual labour, conscientious ritual defiance of all common sexual taboos, and presumably some manifest conviction that the Gnosis was strong within him, rise to be accepted among the Pneumatics, who alone were the true Gnostics. Basilides spoke of the “faith” of the Psychics, the “gnosis” of the Pneumatics. He also used the word Noesis – derived from Nous – to explain what the Gnosis was: an intuitive certainty of understanding. All who did not achieve or were not gifted with the experience of Gnosis were tied to the earth by their passions, literally their “attachments”, and each was destined to be reborn again and again (an idea which might have come, by many a winding path, from India), until in some eventual incarnation the true light of Gnosis broke within him.
Others say Basilides was himself a libertine and charlatan in the style of Simon Magus: that he practised the magic arts, used drugs to assist his promiscuous seductions, and prescribed sexual licentiousness. He was adept at Numerology – finding magical significance in words and names according to numbers held to be the equivalent of letters. Far from welcoming all who would join him, he was an extreme elitist, regarding only those gifted with the Gnosis as “true human beings”; the rest of humankind as “of no more worth than pigs or dogs”. This version of his nature is improbable, if he really did acquire the vast following that many historians grant him.
By all accounts Basilides propounded an elaborate and voluminous theogony, but there are differing accounts of it. Broadly speaking, it was along these lines: At the top was the First Principle, the Source, who was God the Father and the Ultimate Truth. He had another, secret name, imparted only to the Pneumatics, who alone were enlightened enough by the inner spark of Gnosis to recognise the truth and endure the implication of so terrible a revelation: for this secret name of God was – Nothing.
Something comes out of nothing: the most insubstantial of things, but something. A thought, the archetype of a thought, Thought itself. It emanated from Nothing. Nothing was a thought-emanator by its nature, though it was a negative, a not-nature. So Nous was the First Emanation – or (according to other early researchers) the Logos. Volumes have been written about the meaning of Nous and Logos in Greek philosophy. In the New Testament, the Logos is translated as “the Word”. Nous or Logos, either will do for our outline if they’re both taken to mean “the Intellectual Principle”.
Then comes the Second Emanation. Not from Nothing, but from the First Emanation. Thus, Nous or Logos emanated Phronesis (Prudence). And Phronesis emanated two beings, Sophia (Wisdom) and Dynamis (Power). Sophia was the feminine, passive, conceiving principle; Dynamis the masculine, active, effecting principle. Sophia and Dynamis generated lesser Powers, Principalities, and Angels – the hosts of heaven collectively called the Aeons – who themselves made the First Heaven and generated more Aeons, who made the Second Heaven and generated yet more Aeons, who made the Third Heaven … and so on through 365 heavens, and then a last generation of Aeons made this world and created mankind.
By some accounts, not only Sophia and Dynamis, but every Aeon had its anti-type, as male and female are anti-types. As in many other Gnostic theogonies, Aeon and anti-Aeon descend from their begetters in pairs which are called szyzygies.
To the mystics who described such visions of the beginning of things, there was an important difference between emanating – explained by the analogy of the sun giving out its light, which light was not the same thing as the sun though inseparable from it – and generating, by which immaterial offspring were spiritually begotten as separate beings. Creating was different again, it being the means by which the first human pair were made. The lowest Aeons could create material things, including human bodies, but the human spirit had to come from much higher in the hierarchy of spiritual beings. In the Basilidean scheme – some say – it came directly from God the Father himself. Others assert that Basilides abhorred the idea that God emanated anything, preferring rather to say “God spoke and it was”.
An alternative account of the Basilidean creation myth starts the same way but introduces a new idea. Before time began there was Nothing, which was absolutely nothing, nothing whatsoever. Even to call it nothing is to assert something about it that is too positive. It was an absence. It was God Non-Existent. It was God Non-Existent, without thought, without impulse, without desire. Yet because we must tell with words what words are inadequate to tell, we must say that this Nothing had or ‘spoke’ a thought without willing to do so, and the thought was to make a world. What was made in that first instant was a world-seed (analogous to the infinitesimally small, infinitely dense something which, in the “Big Bang” theory, expanded to become the universe). Thus the Non-Existent God made a Not-Yet-Existing-World from non-existence, by bringing into being a single seed which contained all of which the universe consists: not only this material World and everything in it, but also the heavens and the Divine.
The implication of this account is that matter, having the same origin as the Divine, is not evil in the theory of Basilides as it is in most other Gnostic theories. Basilides and his son Isadorus were both reputed to “love nature”, unlike the Gnostic teachers in whose schemata nature is the creation of an evil god. And as Basilides had a son, and as he did not consider all things material including human flesh to be evil, it would be reasonable to suppose that he was not ideologically against marriage, reproductive copulation, and the begetting of children as were other Gnostics.
Evil does exist in the Basilidean schema, however, in the lower heavens. Among the Aeons there are two Lesser Rulers of the spheres of the fixed stars and the 7 planets, but neither of them made or rules this world (which came into existence when the world-seed expanded). The Higher Ruler (not to be identified with the highest god Nothing) abides in an upper heaven, the Ogdoad (meaning “the eightfold”); the Lower Ruler beneath him in the Hebdomad (“the sevenfold”). The Lower Ruler is a Bad Angel. He has the power to inflict suffering on mankind, and this he does.
In time this World became peopled, and the peoples divided into nations. Then each of the lowest Aeons chose a nation for his own. The chief Aeon among them, the Lower Ruler, Lord of the Hebdoad, chose the Jews, and wished to subject all other nations to them, but the other Aeons opposed him, so all nations are opposed to his nation: all are opposed to the Jews.
International strife was only one of the afflictions visited on mankind by this Lord. It was he who sent the Law to the Jews through Moses. All the prophets before the Christ believed – mistakenly, as did Moses himself – that the Law came from God the Father. The Law was a heavy burden on suffering mankind (the whole of which at this point becomes oddly identified with the Jews, the bad nation who alone were subject to the Law of Moses). After long ages the true God took pity on the human race, and to salve the sufferings of all mankind sent down the First Aeon, Nous, or the Logos, or the Christ, who for a certain time was united with the person of a man, Jesus of Nazareth. The Christ did not suffer crucifixion in the person of Jesus. Some say this was because the Christ parted from Jesus before the crucifixion; others because the man Jesus himself was not crucified. The latter taught that Simon of Cyrene, who carried the cross for him, died on it in his stead, and Jesus with the Christ still in him took the form of this Simon and laughed at the Christians for believing that it was he who had died on the Cross. For this reason Basilides taught that the Crucified must not be worshipped, nor the Cross held holy.
Whether from the body of Jesus or the body of Simon of Cyrene, the Christ rose again to the highest heaven. Yet it seems that he returned home without having fulfilled his mission on earth. Mankind was not saved by the Christ from the misfortunes visited upon it by the Lord of the Lower Heavens. Now only the Gnosis can save them.
A wonderful variation of this story propounds that when the Divine issued from the world-seed, it released a threefold ‘Sonship’, a Sonship of light which reaches God the Father immediately; a less pure Sonship which needs the aid of the Holy Spirit to reach the Father, and a coarse Sonship. The first two Sons are the Lords of the Highest and Middle Heavens, the third, Lord of the Lower Heavens. Also from the Divine issued the Gospel, not at once to be bestowed upon earth, but whole and ready in the highest sphere. Each of the two higher Lords has a son who “surpasses his father in wisdom and beauty”. These glorious sons “catch” the Gospel “as naphta catches fire from a great distance”, and they declare it to their fathers. It fills the High Lords (all of them, even the highest) with terror and they “repent” – though of what is not disclosed, or the disclosure is lost.
The Lord of the Lower Heavens knew nothing of the Gospel until the coming of the Christ to earth. Then in our world it enlightened Jesus the son of Mary (so the Gospel came before Jesus was of an age to be enlightened), and (yet) everything happened as is related in the (canonical) gospels. According to Clement of Alexandria, the Basilideans taught that when Jesus died (whether on the cross or later in the body of Simon of Cyrene) he was the first man to “have his parts saved in three ways according to the three Sonships, the impure, the coarse, and the fine-pure”. He was Hylic, Psychic, and Pneumatic all in one. “His sufferings befell his impure bodily parts, his mind returned to the (psychic) Sphere of the Seven, a coarse sphere only in comparison to the highest sphere, to which his soul departed and was saved”. Clement infers from this complicated doctrine that Basilides said that Jesus had sinned, since he needed refining and saving.
Basilides’s son Isadorus wrote a number of volumes, among them one titled On the Grown Soul. It argued against his father’s thesis of the two souls. It is a dangerous idea, he pointed out, to propose that the soul is not one; that by another force, the attachments or passions, it is tempted to do evil things, because it gives the evil man an excuse for doing evil, allowing him to claim that it is “not I, my own soul, that sinned”, but that “I was forced against my will to do it” by another power within me that was not sent by God.
This gives substance to reports that Isadorus upheld the virtues of responsibility, self-control and sexual continence. He seems also to have been gifted with some wisdom, recommending that his followers “pray not that you may do right, but that you may do no wrong”. A high ethical tenor was attributed to his books. This might suggest that the view of his father, Basilides, as an estimable man of upright character had some truth in it, since presumably the father was the teacher of the son. Indeed, old commentaries assert that Isadorus’s beliefs were similar to those of his father, including the sinning Jesus and the laughing Christ. So we must assume that there was this other, less admirable, matter in Isadorus’s books, for otherwise the good Church Fathers would surely have allowed them to survive – wouldn’t they?
Jillian Becker April 7, 2013
Theodore Shoebat has an article at Front Page making an important point: that Islam and Environmentalism are both collectivist ideologies, both of them anti-humanist and both of them deplorable. With most of what he says I agree.
Where I disagree with him is in his conclusion: that it is therefore better to be Christian.
Christianity has been a collectivist, totalitarian movement, and (I suspect) would be again if it could. While it is less oppressive than other ideologies in our time, its doctrines are no more true. And its morality, if not inhumane, is inhuman; if not anti-humanist, anti-human. Who can love everyone else? Does everyone deserve to be loved? Is forgiveness just? Was it perhaps the setting of unrealistic ethical goals that made the churches, both Catholic and Protestant, so cruel in their powerful past?
I expressed my opinions and quite a few disagreed with me, some so strongly that they condemned me to Hell.
The argument can be found in the Comments on the Shoebat article here.
Perhaps some of our readers may feel moved to join in – preferably on our own Comments page, but if under the Shoebat article, please let us know and give us the link.
Jillian Becker January 20, 2013
We cannot let Dennis Prager’s column at Townhall today go unanswered.
Last week the New York Times published an opinion piece that offered atheism’s response to the evil/tragedy in which 20 children and six adults were murdered at the Sandy Hook elementary school in Connecticut.
What prompted Susan Jacoby to write her piece was a colleague telling her that atheism “has nothing to offer when people are suffering.”
She wrote the piece, “The Blessings of Atheism” (“It is Here and It is Now!” screams the subhead) to prove her colleague wrong by offering a consoling atheist alternative to religion’s consoling belief in an afterlife. Atheists cannot believe that there is any existence other than this life. But, Jacoby insists, atheists can still offer consolation to people who lose loved ones, such as the parents whose children were murdered at Sandy Hook.
It is meant as no disrespect to this well regarded writer that her piece provides one of the finest illustrations of the intellectual and emotional emptiness at the heart of atheism. Jacoby’s piece actually confirms her colleague’s assessment.
Jacoby offers a quote from Robert Green Ingersoll, who died in 1899. He “was one of the most famous orators of his generation, [and] personified this combination of passion and rationality. Called ‘The Great Agnostic ‘… he also frequently delivered secular eulogies at funerals and offered consolation that he clearly considered an important part of his mission. In 1882, at the graveside of a friend’s child, he declared: “They who stand with breaking hearts around this little grave, need have no fear. The larger and the nobler faith in all that is, and is to be, tells us that death, even at its worst, is only perfect rest … The dead do not suffer.”
I read this quote at least a half dozen times, convinced that I had somehow missed its consoling message. But, alas, there was no consoling message.
“The dead do not suffer” is atheism’s consolation to the parents of murdered children? This sentiment can provide some consolation — though still nothing comparable to the affirmation of an afterlife — to those who lose a loved one who had been suffering from a debilitating disease. But it not only offers the parents of Sandy Hook no consolation, it actually (unintentionally) insults them: Were these children suffering before their lives were taken? Would they have suffered if they had lived on?
At this point we start our exegesis.
Yes, those children were suffering. Not greatly perhaps, not constantly, but yes they were suffering. Every living person from the start of life to its end, suffers – and inflicts suffering. To live is to suffer. The longer we live the more we suffer, and the more we inflict suffering. Robert Ingersoll’s declaration is the consolation, the only consolation of our mortality – that suffering ceases when we die. Everything ceases when we die. As Ayn Rand said, “when I die the world ends”. True, happiness ends too. That is why we need consolation. Most of us would say we would rather have a long life, with all the suffering it contains, than a short one. And certainly for our children we wish long life, for their sakes and for our own. There can be consolation for ourselves in the painlessness of oblivion, but that thought will not console us for the loss of those we love, especially children. For the parents of the murdered children there is no consolation.
Dennis Prager goes on:
Moreover, it is the parents who are suffering, so the fact that their child isn’t suffering while decomposing in the grave is of no relevance. And, most germane to our subject, this atheist message offers no consolation at all when compared to the religious message that we humans are not just matter but possess eternal souls.
Though I am intellectually convinced that only an Intelligence (i.e., God) could have created intelligence, I understand atheism. Anyone observing the terrible amount of unjust human suffering understands the atheist. But even atheists — indeed, especially atheists, since they claim that, unlike believers, they are guided solely by reason and intellect — have to be intellectually honest. They would have to acknowledge that, in terms of consolation, there is no comparison between “The dead do not suffer” and “Your child lives on, and you will be reunited with her.”
No comparison between the truth and a lie? The parents of dead children will never be “reunited” with their children. To say that the murdered child is “in heaven’ and “looking down at you” and “you will be together again ” in “an afterlife” is a tale you can tell a child, but what sane adult can really believe such utter nonsense?
What we have here is an intellectual unwillingness or a psychological inability on the part of Susan Jacoby and just about all atheist activists (including the New York Times, which featured, not just published, her column) to confront the consequences of their atheism.
If they did, they would have to say something like this to the parents of the murdered children of Sandy Hook:
“As atheists, we truly feel awful for you. And we promise to work for more gun control. …
We atheists promise no such thing. Government control of gun-ownership will do nothing to stop evil people killing other people.
… But the truth is we don’t have a single consoling thing to say to you because we atheists recognize that the human being is nothing more than matter, no different from all other matter in the universe except for having self-consciousness.
Having self-consciousness is the huge difference. We are matter plus intelligence. And intelligence evolved, occurring at this end of evolution, not before it all started.
Therefore, when we die, that’s it. Moreover, within a tiny speck of time in terms of the universe’s history, nearly every one of us, including your child, will be completely forgotten, as if we never even existed. Life is a random crapshoot. Our birth and existence are flukes. And you will never see your child again.”
That is what must be accepted by grieving parents – not said to them.
An atheist with the courage of her convictions would have written that. But the New York Times would not have published it.
We are seldom on the same side as the New York Times, but we approve its publication of Susan Jacoby’s piece.
All this column did for me was reconfirm this insight of the Bible: “Wisdom begins with reverence for God.”
No God, no wisdom … And certainly no consolation.
Wisdom begins with believing the unbelievable?
It is manifestly absurd to believe in a “life after death”. A thing is alive if it can die. Life and death define each other. Only the non-living cannot die. Which is why we call ourselves mortals.
It is strengthening to face the truth. How can mystic fantasies and vague notions of souls finding each other in some unknown and indescribable life-after-life console any sane, rational adult? If some find consolation in bluffing themselves that something of them will survive death, it can only be by abandonment of reason and sanity.
There is no consolation for the loss of those we love. There is no consolation for our mortality but the knowledge, as Ingersoll said, that death ends suffering. For each one of us it ends everything.
The horrible piercing is real, but the Muslims doing it are Sufi Dervishes, not Shias.
(Hat tip to our reader and commenter Steve M Cardon)
Our post today – Easter Sunday, 2012 – is the next in our series of essays on the invention and early history of Christianity, following A man named Jesus or something like that (September 23, 2011); The invention of Christianity (October 28, 2011); Tread on me: the making of Christian morality (December 22, 2011); St.Paul: portrait of a sick genius (January 7, 2012); Pauline Christianity: a mystical salad (February 26, 2012).
This essay is about the gospels. Christians often say that atheists don’t know much about Christianity and don’t read the bible. In our case they are wrong.
The gospel stories of Jesus’s life – almost everything they tell about the man whom St. Paul deified except the manner of his death – are fictions of laughable transparency.
All religions need their myths, usually set in a distant past. The gospel-writers had to invent historical facts of their own era. In other words, to spin tendentious lies, addressed to gullibility and ignorance, around events within living memory.
Their stories had to achieve three main ends: to prove that Jesus was the prophesied Messiah; to establish that he was the divine Son of God; and to shift the blame for his execution from the Romans to the Jews.
Paul converted dozens, or hundreds, perhaps even a few thousand to his new religion, Christianity. The Romans classed them as a Jewish sect. After 70 CE when the uprising in Judea was crushed and the Temple destroyed by Titus, the Christians felt an urgent need to put not just distance but implacable enmity between themselves and the Jews. Titus’s triumphal parade through Rome, with his loot from the Temple and his Jewish captives, was probably the event that prompted “Mark”, a man or group of Christians living in Rome, to set about composing, in haste and fear, an account of Jesus’s life and teaching that would dissociate Christianity from Judaism and distinguish the Christians from the Jews.
Mark’s was the first gospel, started some twenty years after Paul had begun to preach. Matthew’s and then Luke’s followed, about ten and fifteen years later, taking much of their material from Mark.  Over the next hundred years they were all subjected to revision and interpolation. They are supremely malicious documents, grounding the myths of the new religion in the false inculpation of the race to which the man had belonged whom the authors worshiped as their god. That the Christians felt this to be an existential necessity may explain, but hardly excuse, the immorality of their ploy: making a ransom bid for their own security at the expense of the Jews. Nothing more thoroughly exposes the shallowness of the Christian commitment to love, than this demonizing of the people out of whose religion theirs was born. When it came to ferocious denunciation, the acolytes of the new God of Love were a match for the prophets of the old God of Vengeance. The hatred would be sustained throughout the history of Christianity.
St. Paul wanted the Church to repudiate the Jewish scriptures, insisting that the Law had been superseded by the redemptive sacrifice of Jesus Christ. But the Church fathers found it impossible to relinquish them as the pre-history of Christianity. They found they could not, after all, do without the old moral law. And they needed the prophecies in order to claim the title of Messiah for their Christ.
The life they made up for Jesus fulfilled all relevant prophecies. An example of how they worked this is the story of the Birth. Although one of the few things known about the crucified man is that he had lived in Nazareth in the Galilee, Matthew and Luke assert that he was born in Bethlehem, and Luke spins a tale to explain how it happened, so as to fulfill a prophesy in the Book of Micah . He explains that Augustus Caesar ordered a census to be taken throughout the empire, and the rules of the census required every head of a household to return to the place of his birth for the period being surveyed.  This is patent nonsense. The whole point of a census is for the ruling authority to know where its subjects are and what is their standing at a particular moment. Re-arranging everything, having families travel hither and thither, scurrying about all over an empire before they provide information, would defeat the purpose. But Luke alleges such a rule, has the husband of Jesus’s mother be a native of Bethlehem, and so has him return there with his pregnant wife. On the night they arrive Jesus is born. Prophecy fulfilled.
To shift the blame for the crucifixion from the Romans who did the deed to the Jews who did not, the story tellers have the High Priest find Jesus guilty of blasphemy for not denying that he called himself the king of the Jews (though if he had called himself that it would not have been blasphemous) and hand him over to the Roman procurator, Pontius Pilate, to be executed for it.  The procurator is made extremely reluctant to condemn him to death, but “the Jews” insist that he must be crucified. Matthew even has a crowd of Jews – speaking for all Jews, it is implied – vow to bear the guilt of his execution forever: “his blood be upon us and our children”.  (There lies the root of the Holocaust.)
In particular, those Jews who had been the companions of the executed man had to be discredited. They were still annoyingly hanging about after his death, holding on to their belief that he was the Messiah (but not divine), and that he would return to complete his political mission. They formed a sect among many sects within Judaism.  Nothing they believed was considered blasphemous – which a belief in the divinity of Jesus would have been. Although they were dispersed after the fall of the Temple, ceased to proselytize (as the Jews did generally), and so became less of a living threat to Christian credibility, explanation was still needed for the Christian record as to why they had not recognized Jesus as God in his lifetime. So the writers of the gospels show them to have been too stupid to understand what Jesus revealed to them – without apparently considering why Jesus chose disciples who were such dunces, setting himself up to be frustrated and let down time after time by their incomprehension, cowardice and treachery. 
It is in John’s gospel that Jesus most insistently declares that he is the Son of God, and he is made to be in constant bitter conflict with “the Jews”. This gospel was written at the earliest near the end of the first century and more probably in the second century. It is a mystical disquisition consisting largely of tales of miracles, denigration of the Jews, and tendentious discourses bearing on controversy within the Church. John’s Jesus is a long-winded bore, repetitively explaining that he could only perform his miracles because God the Father gave him the power; an indication that Christian theologians must have been arguing about whether Jesus, being God, was omnipotent while he was on earth. It is one of the many questions that the extra-absurd theology of Christianity inevitably gave rise to and cannot be answered.
The gospels were written to solve problems, not to record facts. As difficulties were perceived they were dealt with. The popular cult of John the Baptist was a stumbling block to the followers of Jesus, so a story was devised in which John baptizes Jesus and recognizes him as one who is far above him. This is so important to Mark that he begins his story with it.  The wide appeal of Zoroastrianism in the eastern Roman Empire had to be similarly appeased, so three Zoroastrian priests, or Magi, travel from the East to pay homage to the newborn Jesus.  To prove that Jesus had divine powers – whether his own or worked through him by “the Father” – he had to perform miracles: so in the stories he calms tumultuous seas, heals the sick, cures blindness and deafness, raises the dead, casts out evil spirits, works success with getting food, feeds multitudes – the usual sort of miracles found in the legends of numerous magicians. 
The gospels had to say what the fictitious Jesus taught. The writers cannot be blamed for creating a God-man who said nothing original or profound, since they themselves were not specially gifted men. They were not highly educated: they wrote in demotic Greek. The transparency of their contrivances suggests that they were not even very intelligent. To invent a great thinker one has to be a great thinker, and none of them was.
They lifted some of his wisdom from the rabbinical stock: gnomic wise-saws and injunctions against showing off your virtue and piety.  Much was adapted or freshly composed to promote the Pauline Christian values of self-abnegation, meekness, other-worldliness, poverty, continence, the glorification of suffering. Revisions presented in the form “You have heard it said … but I say unto you…”, were to establish that the new religion of Jesus Christ was doctrinally different from the old, superseded it, and was morally superiority to it.
New was the creation of Hell. Again one notices the hypocrisy of a religion that preaches forgiveness, love, and mercy, yet invents an eternal punishment of unremitting agony for those whom Christ rejects.
But rejects on what grounds? The gospels have Jesus teach tolerance of evil; not only must you appease evil by passively enduring persecution and practicing forgiveness, you must permit it by abandoning moral judgment and putting up no resistance to it. Forgive, judge not, and “Resist not evil.” 
Among Jesus’s messages, there are sayings that go against the drift and purposes of the gospel-writers. These may well have been words spoken by the real man, remembered and repeated by word of mouth, and well enough known to the converts that their omission could have roused doubt over the authenticity of everything the writers claimed to be recording about Jesus. They include a firm statement that the Law will never be superseded: “Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled”  And he orders his followers not to preach to the Gentiles but only to “the lost sheep of Israel”.  Yet that is the very thing Paul did: preach to the Gentiles. And what he preached was that the Law was obsolete.
And there is this: “Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword.”  It is one of the few hints in the gospels that all was not peaceful in Judea in Jesus’s lifetime. Another sign is the presence of at least one dagger-wielding Zealot among Jesus Christ’s own followers.  It is notable that this rebel, Judas Iscariot (Judah the dagger-man), is the same character who is made to betray Jesus to the Romans, so that his evil violence contrasts with Jesus’s implied peacefulness. Judas Iscariot may well have been one of the real Jesus’s band. Behind the fictional teacher, preacher, healer, miracle worker and God, a shadowy figure of no use to Christianity can be glimpsed: a man who claimed his mission was not to send peace but a sword.
This shadowy figure had a cause to fight for. It could only have been the liberation of his people from Roman rule, which was the task of the Messiah. He came to believe that that was who he was, that he would free Judea and be crowned king. The defeat of the Romans would happen by means of a miracle, worked by his God through him. He had only to pray, take certain ritual actions, and the Romans would go. How? Sicken and die, or convert en masse to Judaism, or sail away, or vanish into the air perhaps? This was no common religious fanaticism. It was insane delusion.
What sort of man can believe such a thing? A madman.
In the Christian story, Jesus tells his disciples to arm themselves; if necessary, to sell a garment and use the money to buy a sword.  Only two of them do it. They all go with him to the foot of the Mount of Olives. He prays fervently.  What next?
Taking as a starting point the fairly certain fact that Jesus was executed as a rebel leader, and reasoning plausibly as to what might have led up to that event, this was the probable sequence of events: Jesus sends one of his band to raise alarm – by reporting a disturbance, perhaps – and bring a contingent of the enemy to the chosen place. He and the rest of the band wait, convinced that when the Romans come they will need only the two swords they have , a blow or two will be struck, and God will do the rest. 
The Roman guards approach. Those of the Jesus band who have swords strike at random, and that’s enough of the rough stuff. The moment has arrived. The miracle must happen now!
But no miracle happens. Jesus is disappointed, but is sure it will yet happen, because he is insane. And he goes on expecting it until he is nailed to a cross as a rebel leader.  Only when he is nearly dead he despairs and asks his God why he has forsaken him – quoting Psalm 22, being a Pharisee well versed in the Jewish scriptures. 
His disciples must also have been insane to believe he would bring off the miraculous liberation. Irrationally if not insanely, they went on believing he would yet make it happen even after he had been executed. If they had not, Paul would probably not have heard of him, and the history of the last 2,000 years would have been entirely different.
Jillian Becker April 8, 2012
 Many (mostly German) scholars say that the information in Mark (the first gospel), and so in Matthew and Luke, derived from a lost source they label “Q”. It stands for “Quelle”, the German for “source”. There is no evidence that “Q” existed, and whether it did or not makes no difference to what is known: that, following Paul’s preaching about a Savior-God who lived for a while on earth as a man, a number of people wrote stories about his life.
 Micah 5:2.
 Luke 2:1-6. A census was ordered in 6 CE, when Quirinius, the governor of Syria mentioned by Luke, was appointed. It was in preparation for imposing new taxes, and marked the beginning of the Zealots’ rebellion in Judea against direct Roman rule. It did not require people to give their information from the place where they were born.
 Matth 26:59-66
 Matth 27: 11-25
 Jesus’s brother James – according to both St. Paul and Josephus – was the leader of this Jewish sect after Jesus’s crucifixion. He believed what Jesus had believed, and far from being accused of blasphemy, he was held in high esteem and prayed often in the Temple. The sect, known as the Nazarenes or Ebionites, was still in existence in the fourth century.
 Luke 20:2-8, 22:45, 24:13-27; Matth 26:40-50; Mark 14: 66-72; John 8:27-28, 12:37-40
 Mark 1:4-11
 Matth 2:1-2
 See for instance The Myth of the Magus by E.M Butler Cambridge Univ. Press 1948, which traces the repeated pattern of the Magician figure – among whom he includes Christ – from ancient to modern times. Among the most frequently related magical or “miraculous” deeds of the hero/sage/god/magus are: calming tumultuous seas; healing disease and curing blindness/deafness; raising the dead; casting out evil spirits; success with hunting and fishing; feeding multitudes.
 Most of the teaching of the biblical Jesus summed up in this essay is to be found in Matth 5,6,7
 Matth 5:39. Yet according to a parable in Matth 22, a man is rightly cast into outer darkness for not being properly dressed when he has been rounded up in a random crowd and made to attend a wedding. And in Matth 5:22 Jesus says that if you call your brother a fool you will be in danger of hell fire.
 Matth 5:18
 Matth 10:5-6
 Matth 10:34
 See note 3. According to Hyam Maccoby in Revolution in Judea, Ocean Books London 1973 page 159, no fewer than five of Jesus’s closest followers named in the gospels were probably real men and Zealots: Simon the Zealot, Judas Iscariot, James and John known as Boanerges (“sons of thunder”), and Simon known as Barjonah [“outlaw” or “rebel”]. The last is the Simon whom Matthew (16:18) has Jesus rename Peter, meaning “rock”, because he says he is the rock on whom he will build his church.
 Luke 22:36
 Luke 22:44 “He prayed more earnestly: and his sweat was as it were drops of blood falling to the ground.”
 Luke 22.23
 Hyam Maccoby, in Revolution in Judea, also theorizes that the real Jesus expected God to work a miracle through him that night to liberate the Jews from Roman rule, but does not believe that he was mad. He believes he was accepted by many Jews as their king, that a coronation was enacted, he was ceremonially anointed, and was hailed as king by a vast crowd when he rode into Jerusalem. But if that had happened, Josephus would surely have written about it, as he wrote about other leaders who were believed by large numbers of people to be the Messiah, each in his turn.
 Matth 27:35-37. The inscription on the cross “King of the Jews’’ was an explanation of why he was executed: for attempting to overthrow the Roman government of Judea, for which crucifixion was the prescribed penalty.
 Matth 27:46
Continuing our series on the beginnings and early development of Christianity, we look in this essay for possible and plausible sources of the Idea that launched the new religion.
The first four essays are: A man named Jesus or something like that (September 23, 2011); The invention of Christianity (October 28, 2011); Tread on me: the making of Christian morality (December 22, 2011); St.Paul: portrait of a sick genius, (January 7, 2012).
Our contention is that the whole vast, towering, ornate, gorgeous, powerful, many-winged edifice of Christianity was started on the flimsiest of foundations: the fantasies of an obscure, wandering, sex-obsessed liar and genius whose real name nobody knows.
The seed that grew into the Christian religion was the Idea that a certain crucified Judean rebel leader , whom a sect of Jews claimed was the prophesied Messiah (Christ in Greek), was a divine redeemer, Son of the One God worshipped by the Jews.
By “redeemer” was meant one who had died for the benefit of mankind, but rose again bodily and reigns forever with his Father in heaven, thus composing a deity consisting of two gods in One.
The earliest known documents that tell us where the Idea came from are the letters of St. Paul, so it may be assumed that he thought of it himself. Of course he might have picked it up from someone else, but it was he who posted about the Roman Empire trying to convince as many people as he could that the Idea was true. And he claimed it as his own, that it had come to him as a revelation from the resurrected divine redeemer himself .
But, granted it was his confection, from what sources might its elements really have derived?
His birthplace, Tarsus , the capital of Cilicia, was a splendid pagan city where Persian emperors had built a magnificent palace . It had a school of philosophy that “surpassed those of Athens and Alexandria”. . It was also an important center of trade and religion. Unless Paul had left it when he was a mere infant, he would inevitably have witnessed pagan rites that were publicly and grandly celebrated there.
The city was named for Baal-Taraz, a god who annually died and rose again. Iconic representations of the Baal of Tarsus show that “there was a pair of deities, a divine Father and a divine Son“. 
Also in Tarsus, in the first century, the death and resurrection of the god Attis was ritually enacted every year. Attis – the son of a virgin mother – “died” in a ceremony of pain and blood. He was hung in effigy on a pine tree at Eastertide, the spring equinox, and priests sacrificed to him by castrating themselves. After three days his return to life was joyously celebrated. Both Baal-Taraz and Attis were fertility gods whose death and resurrection were believed to be for the good of humanity in that they ensured the rebirth of nature. In this sense they could be said to have suffered and died for mankind.
Nowhere in his known letters , or in the putatively biographical Book of Acts, is it recorded that Paul himself actively participated in these rites. (He claimed to have been born a Jew, but was more probably a convert to Judaism. ) But the religious belief that a god – Attis – came to earth in the form of a man, suffered execution by being hung on a tree for the good of humanity, and rose again, must have been familiar to him; and it is highly likely that it influenced his thinking about the crucified man he called “Jesus”, and whom a sect of Jews believed had risen bodily from the dead.  The Father and Son pair of deities worshipped in Tarsus may also have been in Paul’s thoughts when he called him “the Son of God”. (But when, later on, Christians endowed Jesus with a virgin mother, Paul had nothing to do with it. He never mentions Jesus’s birth. If the birth-myth of Attis influenced Christian thinking at all, it was almost certainly not through Paul.)
Ever since Alexander the Great conquered (between 334 and 323 BCE) most of the world known to the Greeks, goods of all sorts including ideas had moved freely about the lands of his empire. Greek culture continued to flourish after the Romans conquered Greece in the second century BCE. Religions and philosophies from Persia, North Africa, Asia Minor, Greece itself, even from as far away as India into which Alexander had briefly penetrated, were by that time gloriously intermingled in what one might call a salad of ideas. (The French word for a salad, macédoine, derives from the name of Alexander’s home state, Macedon, perhaps because his empire was a colorful mixture of cultures.)
Paul was literate and to an extent educated, and would have been aware of, if not well-informed about, many of those ideas. Philosophies and religions, both the popular and the esoteric, borrowed myths, rites, and beliefs from one another. So while the Attis cult may have been most vivid in his memory, and Judaism was the faith he was instructed in, other religions from near and far could have contributed to Paul’s invention. Some certainly did. They have left their traces in his writing.
There can be no doubt that Gnostic ideas were in his head. Most of the known Gnostic cults arose after Paul, and though deriving their elaborate cosmogonies in the first place from Greek philosophy, were also strongly affected by Christian theology; but one Gnostic cult at least was contemporaneous with him, the one that the Church Fathers believed to have been the first: that of Simon Magus, whom they called “the father of all heresies”. The Gnostic elements in St. Paul’s mysticism may have come from Simon, though it is possible there was a common source which both Paul and Simon knew but is entirely lost.
What are these Gnostic elements in St. Paul’s writings? Paul lamented that to live in this world was to be condemned to exist in spiritual darkness, and to be oppressed by “principalities and powers” (10]; and he spoke of a multiplicity of heavens , and “the god of this world”  – all of which chimes with Gnostic doctrine.
Gnostics held that a lesser god, a “demiurge” who was just but not merciful, had created, and continued to rule over, the material universe and mankind. St. Paul does not assert this, nor does he echo the Gnostic belief that the great true God, the Primal Father who was all good, was too far off in his highest heaven to be known to mortals, except by a small minority gifted with intuitive knowledge (“the gnosis”). However, in Simon Magus’s system, a divine redeemer descended to earth from the highest heaven on a mission of salvation. Paul might well have heard Simon Magus preach that he, Simon himself, was the divine redeemer through whom alone mankind could hope for spiritual salvation.
Simon claimed that his own divine origin was the Godhead, the Source of all things. His lady consort too, he taught, derived from there. She was Ennoia, the First Thought of the Source, incarnate on earth as Helen of Troy. As Helen she had been suffering for long ages, but now that Simon had descended to redeem all mankind from this evil world, she would be restored to her place in the highest heaven. All this Simon spun from Greek philosophy, which had long before him conceived of a Godhead consisting of three beings, or “hypostases’, variously named; for instance, an unknowable source of all things called the Depth, Bythos in Greek; his First Thought, the Nous or Ennoia; and his Word, the Logos.
Was this the origin of “the Trinity”, the three-in-one god of Christianity? Probably – but not through St. Paul. It is found in the gospel of “Matthew”, probably as a late addition to the original text.  And the writer of the first verse of the gospel of “John” declares that “the Logos” – the Word – was the beginning of creation.  It is a direct borrowing from Greek philosophy, and inseparable from the philosophical idea of a triune Godhead. It was written some forty to sixty years after St. Paul’s letters, and cannot be traced back to him. Nothing in the letters, or in anecdotes in the Book of Acts, distinctly shows Paul to have conceived a Trinitarian God. As he did not explicitly formulate the idea of a Christian three-person Godhead, he cannot be either credited with or accused of the invention of “the Trinity”. 
Paul’s Idea was One God, Two Persons, and though it makes no rational sense, it was the idea that began Christianity. By the time the Christian God came to be described as a three-person deity, two-in-one had already been swallowed, and it could not have been much harder for the same people to accept three-in-one, however illogical and even downright insane it strikes non-believers. (But the idea of the “Holy Trinity”, did in fact remain a difficult one for believers to grapple with, giving rise to tortuous intellectual puzzles that have pestered Christian theologians right up to the present day.)
Numerous notions from pagan and heretical sources accumulated in the mythology and doctrines of the Christian Church after St. Paul’s time.  But a centrally important doctrine and ritual that began with him was the eucharist (meaning the “thanksgiving”), a rite in which “Christ’s flesh” is devoured and “his blood” is drunk. From where (other than by revelation from Christ as he claimed ) did Paul derive it? Did he invent it in the hope of winning over worshippers of Dionysus? If the savage Dionysian rite of intoxicated acolytes eating raw flesh and drinking blood in order to get the incarnated god inside them  was still being practiced in Paul’s time, it was surely not by such large numbers that he felt compelled to find a way to draw them into his faith. Yet to do so would have been consistent with his proselytizing method: to integrate ideas already sacred to his audiences and adapt them to his evolving doctrine.
What is certain is that Greek religion and philosophy were brought to bear, in the first instance through the mind of one man, on events of the Jewish rebellion, and on Jewish beliefs and Jewish prophecy, to bring a new, initially passive, ominously sentimental religion into the world. Christianity was fathered by a vulgarized Hellenism upon a demoralized Judaism.
Despite his awareness of how his Roman-Greek contemporaries thought and felt, Paul offered them a religion that fitted poorly with the virile values of the age, and its appeal was chiefly to women and slaves. It might have faded away quite soon had not a volcanically disruptive historical event helped to sustain it: the fall of the Temple in 70 CE, a climax of the war the Judeans had been fighting against the Romans. The probability is that no one remained in Jerusalem after that who could actually remember the executed rebel leader and what he taught; no one who could credibly contradict Paul’s and the gospel-writers’ fictions. Paul could allege anything he liked about Jesus’s chosen disciples “Peter” and “John” and “James”; that they encouraged him to be Jesus’s “apostle to the gentiles”; that “Peter” allowed the dietary laws to be considered outdated; that converts need not be circumcised. He was rid of the bothersome need to deceive and conciliate the old men who constituted the Jewish connection with the man he called “Jesus” (though Jewish sects – Nazarenes and/or Ebionites – that believed he was the Messiah and would return to complete his earthly mission, continued to exist in lands bordering the eastern Mediterranean for some centuries).
Within a hundred years after the destruction of the Temple, the greater part of the Jewish nation was scattered through the world. Bound together only by their religion, they held to an adjusted orthodoxy, it being impossible any longer to obey all the 613 laws of their Temple-centered faith. Jewish proselytizing ceased, while Christian proselytizing intensified. So the historic catastrophe of the Jews allowed Pauline Christianity to outlive its inventor; and as it rolled on it gathered myths and legends, doctrines and rituals, institutions of administration, and eventually power.
By the beginning of the 4th century, about 10% of the people under Roman rule had been drawn into the new religion. By then Christians were no longer thought of by the Roman rulers as a sub-sect of the Jews. When the Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity in 312 as a result of a superstitious bargain , strong-minded men began to look hard at the religion and find formidable intellectual difficulties in what it claimed for its truths. They felt a yearning for orthodoxy; a need to straighten it all out, clarify the muddles it was born with, lay down a correct dogma. But that was to prove an endless, arduous, emotionally charged, utterly impossible task. It was to extend combatively through centuries, darkening them with ignorance, fear, and intense suffering, while uncountable numbers of lives were destroyed in Christian wars, massacres, martyrdoms, and persecutions.
Jillian Becker February 26, 2012
 It is a curious fact that scholarship cannot discover the parent-given names of either the inventor of Christianity who became “St. Paul”, or his Jewish “Christ” whom he called by the Greek name “Jesus”.
 Acts 9:3-5
 St. Paul claimed to come from Tarsus, and there is no obvious way in which his lying about this would have served any purpose.
 The city and palace are described appreciatively in Xenophon’s Anabasis.
 &  J.G.Frazer, The Golden Bough: Adonis, Attis, Osiris Volume 1
 Most scholars now believe that only 7 of the 13 letters attributed in the New Testament to the authorship of St. Paul were written (at least for the most part) by him: Romans, 1&2 Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, 1 Thessalonians, Philemon.
 Apart from persuasive evidence deducible from his letters and the Book of Acts that he was not born a Jew, there is an apparent confession that he only pretended to be one in 1 Cor 9:20, “And unto the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews.”
 As on other subjects in Paul’s writings, there is an ambiguity to be found in what he says about bodily resurrection. He certainly believed that “Christ” had “risen”, and that the “redeemed” would “live” with God, but whether in the body or the spirit he was not clear. Attempting explanation, he confounds confusion (1 Cor 15).
 Rom 8:38
 2 Cor 12:2
 2 Cor 4:4
 Matth 28:19
 John 1:1
 St. Paul spoke of the Holy Spirit as something that a human being could be filled with or accompanied by: a spirit of holiness, eg. “Do you not know that that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God …?” (1 Cor 6:19); “the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with all of you” [ 2 Cor 3:14]. And when he says, “They that are in the flesh cannot please God, but ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you” (Rom 8:9 ), the “Spirit” has more in common with the inner spark of holiness which is cognate with “the gnosis” in the Gnostic systems, the spark by which a mortal might be saved from his entombment in the flesh, than with the Greek philosophical idea of a divine hypostasis.
 Among such alleged influences is the cult of Mithraism, centered in Rome and popular with the Roman army in Paul’s lifetime. Although it took the name of its god Mithras from the Persian god Mithra, it developed its own arcane rites. Little is known about its doctrines or practice. Some theologians, mythologists, and historians of religion assert that Mithra/Mithras had a virgin mother (though others say that icons prove he was born out of a rock); that three Magi (Zoroastrian grandees or priests) brought gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh for the new-born god; that Mithras celebrated a “last supper” with twelve disciples; that he was crucified, laid in a rock tomb, and rose again at the spring equinox. It is not known when these stories were attached to Mithraism, but it is most probable that they were taken over from Christian beliefs, rather than that the borrowing happened the other way about. It is possible that the choice of Sunday as the Christian Sabbath was taken from Mithraism. The only certain borrowing was the choice of December 25th as the birthday of Christ on earth. The date was deliberately chosen by the Catholic Church towards the end of the second century, because it was already being celebrated as the birthday of Mithras. In any case, of the alleged similarities in the two mythologies only a “last supper” (1 Cor 11:23-26), crucifixion and resurrection were included in Paul’s teaching; the rest came into Christianity years later.
 1 Cor 11:23-25
 From Wikipedia: “Cultic rites associated with worship of the Greek god of wine, Dionysus (or Bacchus in Roman mythology), were allegedly characterized by maniacal dancing to the sound of loud music and crashing cymbals, in which the revellers screamed, became drunk and incited one another to greater and greater ecstasy [a state of being outside oneself]. The goal was to achieve a state of enthusiasm [the god being inside one] in which the celebrants’ souls were temporarily freed from their earthly bodies and were able to commune with Bacchus/Dionysus and gain a glimpse of and a preparation for what they would someday experience in eternity. The rite climaxed in a performance of frenzied feats of strength and madness, such as uprooting trees, tearing a bull (the symbol of Dionysus) apart with their bare hands, an act called sparagmos, and eating its flesh raw, an act called omophagia. This latter rite was a sacrament akin to communion in which the participants assumed the strength and character of the god by symbolically eating the raw flesh and drinking the blood of his symbolic incarnation. Having symbolically eaten his body and drunk his blood, the celebrants became possessed by Dionysus.”
 Just before a clash of arms known as the Battle of Milvian Bridge in a war with his co-emperor Maxentius, Constantine saw a light in the sky in the form of a cross. He swore that if he won the battle he would convert to Christianity. Tragically, he won.
A few samples of the sublime silliness of Islam:
It has been mentioned that the person who masturbates shall be resurrected on the Day of Judgment with a pregnant hand. – Shaikh ul Arab wal Ajam Hazrat Maulana Shah Hakeem Muhammad Akhtar Saheb
Abu Huraira reported Allah’s Messenger (may peace be upon him) as saying: None of you should drink while standing; and if anyone forgets, he must vomit. – Sahih Muslim 23:5022
Whoso is wont to think (through envy) that Allah will not give him (Muhammad) victory in the world and the Hereafter (and is enraged at the thought of his victory), let him stretch a rope up to the roof (of his dwelling), and let him hang himself. Then let him see whether his strategy dispelleth that whereat he rageth!. – Qur’an 22:15
Buraida reported on the authority of his father that Allah’s Apostle (may peace be upon him) said: He who played chess is like one who dyed his hand with the flesh and blood of swine. – Sahih Muslim 28:5612
Narrated Ibn ‘Abbas: Once the Prophet, while passing through one of the grave-yards of Medina or Mecca heard the voices of two persons who were being tortured in their graves. The Prophet said, “These two persons are being tortured not for a major sin (to avoid).” The Prophet then added, “Yes! (they are being tortured for a major sin). Indeed, one of them never saved himself from being soiled with his urine while the other used to go about with calumnies (to make enmity between friends). The Prophet then asked for a green leaf of a date-palm tree, broke it into two pieces and put one on each grave. On being asked why he had done so, he replied, “I hope that their torture might be lessened, till these get dried.” – Sahih Buhhari 1:4:15
Abu Dharr reported: The Messenger of ‘Allah (may peace be upon him) said: When any one of you stands for prayer and there is a thing before him equal to the back of the saddle that covers him and in case there is not before him (a thing) equal to the back of the saddle, his prayer would be cut off by (passing of an) ass, woman, and black Dog. I said: O Abu Dharr, what feature is there in a black dog which distinguish it from the red dog and the yellow dog? He said: O, son of my brother, I asked the Messenger of Allah (may peace be upon him) as you are asking me, and he said: The black dog is a devil. – Sahih Muslim 4:1032
Abu Umama narrated: “The Messenger of God said, ‘Everyone that God admits into paradise will be married to 72 wives; two of them are houris and seventy of his inheritance of the [female] dwellers of hell. All of them will have libidinous sex organs and he will have an ever-erect penis.’ ” – Sunan Ibn Maja, Zuhd (Book of Abstinence) 39
“Each time we sleep with a Houri we find her virgin. Besides, the penis of the Elected never softens. The erection is eternal; the sensation that you feel each time you make love is utterly delicious and out of this world and were you to experience it in this world you would faint. Each chosen one [i.e. Muslim] will marry seventy [sic] houris, besides the women he married on earth, and all will have appetizing vaginas.” – Al-Itqan fi Ulum al-Qur’an, p. 351
Abu Huraira reported: The Apostle of Allah (may peace be upon him) said. When any one of you awakes up from sleep and performs ablution, he must clean his nose three times, for the devil spends the night in the interior of his nose. – Sahih Muslim 2:462
And Allah taught Adam all the names as follows: He taught him the name of everything, down to fart and little fart. – Tabari I 267
Narrated Ibn ‘Abbas: The Prophet said, ‘When you eat, do not wipe your hands till you have licked it, or had it licked by somebody else.” – Sahih Bukhari 7:65:366
Narrated Abu Said: A man came to the prophet and said, ‘My brother has got loose motions. The Prophet said, Let him drink honey.” The man again (came) and said, ‘I made him drink (honey) but that made him worse.’ The Prophet said, ‘Allah has said the Truth, and the abdomen of your brother has told a lie.” – Sahih Bukhari 7:71:614
Narrated Jabir bin ‘Abdullah: The Prophet used to stand by a tree or a date-palm on Friday. Then an Ansari woman or man said. “O Allah’s Apostle! Shall we make a pulpit for you?” He replied, “If you wish.” So they made a pulpit for him and when it was Friday, he proceeded towards the pulpit (for delivering the sermon). The date-palm cried like a child! The Prophet descended (the pulpit) and embraced it while it continued moaning like a child being quieted. The Prophet said, “It was crying for (missing) what it used to hear of religious knowledge given near to it.” – Sahih Bukhari 4:56:784
There are many more with those came from.
(Hat-tip to our reader and commenter Andrew M)
God is dead.
He died last April.
He had been incarnated as a man known as Sai Baba. He performed miracles. And he never accepted gifts, but simply couldn’t help becoming very rich on donations for his good works.
From the Telegraph:
A lifetime of claiming to be the incarnation of God had brought him a £5.5 billion fortune and a worldwide following of 50 million people. …
The big draw of Sai Baba was the darshan – a glimpse of the God made incarnate – that came twice a day as the little man with the big hair walked among the faithful, sharing a few words with the lucky ones, before taking his place on the long stage beneath which he is now buried. …
As many as 10,000 people could pack into the gaudy main hall, with its golden lions, pink, blue and white colour scheme and glittering chandeliers dangling overhead, to listen to his message of love and compassion. ..
In his prime, the diminutive holy man with the bright orange robes and huge afro haircut could count kings and presidents among his friends, and the likes of Sarah Ferguson …
There’s glory for you!
… among the admirers of his home-spun, “love all, serve all” philosophy.
And “con all” practice.
The film actress Goldie Hawn has visited his religious centre or ashram at least three times and donated tens of thousands of dollars to his projects … while the cricketer Sachin Tendulkar, who gave £40,000 for a statue of the guru, and a myriad of Indian politicians and Bollywood stars claimed inspiration from his message of putting service above self.
Sai Baba’s … non-denominational ashram in the town of Puttaparthi in the southern state of Andhra Pradesh was a beacon for Indians and westerners seeking spiritual enlightenment, no matter what their original religion – which the guru said they could maintain.
Now that he’s dead, the spiritually enlightened are finding out that even a God can have his faults.
After a decent interval, the stone was rolled back from the mouth of his tomb and … No, wait! That was another story. The discovery in Puttaparthi was this:
Members of the Sathya Sai Central Trust, which runs the ashram, a religious centre, decided that speculation about what might be inside the guru’s private chambers was getting out of hand. The rooms had lain apparently untouched since the 84-year-old spiritual leader was taken ill in March.
The Trust decided to open the rooms, but with caution: the police were kept at a distance and the media were locked out. A select group assembled, including the controversial figure of Satyajit, Sai Baba’s carer, apparently the only person who could penetrate the chambers’ elaborate security. They took the lift to the first floor, opened the door and stepped inside.
What they found made even the wildest rumours seem tame: stacked around the room were piles of gold, diamonds and cash. Cashiers with counting machines were summoned …
A procession of cashiers bearing counting machines, hurrying to the treasuries! A movie scene that.
… and reported that the haul included £1.6 million in rupees, 98 kg of gold and 307 kg of silver. (No figure was provided for the diamonds.)
The Trust denied any previous knowledge of the hoard, said it had immediately paid tax on its value, and denied any impropriety.
Well, we don’t see anything too bad there. Why shouldn’t God be rich when he comes to earth?
Thing is, they’re accusing him of deception, of getting money under false pretenses, of being wily and worldly and not sufficiently God-like. What a shock!
Rumors spread “of more treasure hidden away around the sprawling building, of false ceilings and further underground hoards”. …
One source within the ashram said: “The police have definite intelligence of the existence of secret vaults, and concealed storage in false ceilings and behind false walls in Sai Baba’s personal living quarters. They strongly believe that the wealth hidden there could be much more than what was actually found, perhaps on a staggering scale.”
Suspicion began to grow that vast sums had already been smuggled out. Three days later, police stopped a car carrying Trust members near the border with a neighbouring state – and found the equivalent of £50,000 in cash inside.
What, those honest Trust members, so quick to pay taxes, stole money and tried to smuggle it out of the country? (But why such a paltry sum once they were doing it?)
The Trust first denied any connection with the money, then claimed it had been donated by devotees to pay for a memorial.
The revelations have tested the faith of even the staunchest devotees, said a former member of Sai Baba’s security and intelligence wing. “News is constantly trickling in from Puttaparthi that Sai Baba devotees have been shaken by the huge haul of wealth as well as big cash seizures in the following days,” he said. “Many Sai Baba devotees I know, real hard-core devotees that is, are not even attempting to defend or deny the gold, cash hauls, and are in a complete state of confusion.
Some blame trust members, while a few are asking, “Why did Swami have to keep so much gold and cash? Didn’t Swami always say he never accepted gifts? Who to believe or what to believe?”
Why indeed? And who and what to believe? The eternal questions.
God’s death is turning out to be bad for business in the area:
The implications have not been lost on the people of Puttaparthi, whose livelihoods depend on a constant stream of pilgrims. It was a tiny village when Sai Baba was born there; as he grew in stature it became a thriving town, but business has slumped since his death.
Mind you, miracle-worker though he was, he’d lost control of his own limbs well before the end came:
In later years a stroke obliged Sai Baba to make his way through the vast hall in a specially converted car before taking his place on the stage in his removable white leather car seat, trimmed with gold painted plastic. Still the faithful came. …
But death is a real bummer. Gods should not let it to happen to them.
India is not short of gurus and the fear in Puttaparthi is that those seeking enlightenment will now turn their attentions to other, more vital, sages.
The commercial empire God acquired remains:
There is still a £5.5 billion empire up for grabs, including 1,200 centres in more than 100 countries and a string of hospitals and schools around the world – and there is no shortage of contenders to take control.
The front-runners include 39-year-old R.J. Ratnakar, the guru’s nephew, who owns a petrol station and a cable television network, and Satyajit, 33, Sai Baba’s closest companion for the last nine years.
But they face a spirited challenge from Isaac Tigrett, the Hard Rock Cafe founder, one of the guru’s earliest and staunchest supporters – so much so that he borrowed Sai Baba’s “love all, serve all” slogan for his restaurant chain to help publicise the guru’s message. Mr Tigrett, who donated £4 million to build a hospital at the ashram and has spent much of the last few years at the compound, claims to be the guru’s “living will”. Sai Baba had, he said, confided in him along his plans for the future of the organisation – and he would reveal all later this year.
That cut no ice with the board members of the Trust, however, who dismissed his claims.
“Even a couple of months ago, what has now happened was still unimaginable,” said Robert Priddy, the Sai Baba organisation’s former Norwegian leader.
Norway is a nation with an exceptional appetite for BS. Norwegians award Peace Prizes to terrorists and community organizers who’ve never achieved a damn thing. So we’re not surprised to learn of a Norwegian branch of the Sai Baba cult. Though Mr Priddy seems to have been given pause before the posthumous revelations broke:
Mr Priddy was once a believer but lost his faith as the allegations of sexual abuse which dogged Sai Baba’s final decades began to mount – though not before himself donating a total of £13,500.
Allegations of sexual abuse? God was lubricious as well as avaricious?
For former devotees like Robert Priddy, all this is simply proof that they were right to walk away when they did. “I feel satisfied that his death 10 years before his own prediction and under such inauspicious circumstances further vindicated my views on the falsity of his claims of omnipotence and divinity,” he said.
Into the most faithful heart a little doubt may creep. But there’s a good chance that the disappointed Mr Priddy, and the kings and presidents, and Sarah Ferguson and Goldie Hawn, and Isaac Tigrett of the Hard Rock Cafe chain, and Sachin Tendulkar, and the politicians and the Bollywood stars will find someone else’s claim to omnipotence, divinity, and complete lack of any care for base material things such as filthy lucre, more lastingly believable. Any day now.