Survey about religion.

May 4, 2010 Leave a comment

So I decided to do some research with respect to religious demographics. Hopefully the research will go well and I will be able to conduct more in depth research and just maybe write a research paper on the subject of my findings. I believe that the internet is the best way to do these sorts of things. In 2010 a majority of Americans have access to the internet and it provides a better statistical analysis than if I were to stand around asking people to take a survey like I did back in college. With that said, please take the survey, answer all the questions honestly and hopefully within a few weeks I will be able to come back with some of the results.

Click Here to take survey

Cheers!

Who is this Jesus guy anyway?

April 1, 2010 5 comments

I am ever confronted with atheists and agnostics who while they disbelieve in the existence of God they totally believe that Jesus was an actual historical person. Could he have been a real person, separate from all the mystical hogwash? Perhaps, but no more than any character in any work of historical fiction might be. However it is something that I have been asking more and more lately. Did he even exist? I honestly can’t think of any reason to believe he even did. Lets examine the evidence, since if he did exist then there certainly should be some.

The logical place to start is the Bible. You would go to a science text for information on science, a history text for history so why not start with the Bible for what is biblical. Seeing as Jesus is a player in the New Testament (NT) we can disregard the Old Testament. This leaves us with half the book to examine. The NT is generally broken down into two parts, the Gospels and the Epistles. Lets start with the Gospels.

As you can see the two passages from the original Koine Greek are fairly identical to one another.

Almost from the start we can eliminate two of the four Gospels for the literary violation of plagiarism, namely Matthew and Luke. Both are a retelling (almost verbatim) of Mark with some of Jesus’ sayings thrown in for good measure. These saying come from the so called Q Document. A document of unknown origin which is said to be a compilation of the sayings of Christ. Now about 55% of Matthew and 42% of Luke come directly from Mark while 25% of Matthew and 23% of Luke are shared with one another (sans any corroboration with Mark). This means that a mere 35% of Luke is original to itself while only 20% of Matthew can claim the same thing. If the authors of Luke and Matthew were first hand witnesses of Jesus then they would certainly not need to plagiarize the work of Mark. Beyond that places where the two diverge tend to contradict one another on things such as the genealogy of Jesus, since both cannot be correct in this matter and because they are definitely not eye witness accounts we can immediate dismiss them.

So what about Mark? Mark is the oldest of the Gospels arising in its completion at around 90 CE (Common Era) but believed to have been circulating as a working core version by about 70 CE. The problem with Mark is that it was certainly not written by a Palestinian. Mark’s understanding of Palestinian culture and geography diverge so heavily from reality that it could not have been written by someone who lived in Roman Palestine. My belief is that the author of Mark was a Greek. The first problem is that Mark obviously knows little about Palestinian geography. When Jesus sails the Sea of Galilee he comes across a man who is beset with demons and casts them out into a herd of pigs who then drown themselves (Mark 5:9). Mark places this story at Gerasenes in the old Greek manuscripts. Problem is that Gerasenes is about 30 miles from the Sea of Galilee. That’s a pretty far run for these pigs and as Bible Atlas dot com puts it, “Here the slopes descend swiftly almost into the sea, and animals, once started on the downward run, could not avoid plunging into the depths.” If we assume that a decline that “swift” is something akin to 45 degrees that would put Gerasenes somewhere in the stratosphere. Matthew knew a little more about geography and placed it somewhere called Gadarene but that is still 5 miles from shore and in a different country. Copyists who transcribed the whole thing into English for the King James Version (KJV) put it at Gergesa, a region now thought to have actually formed part of the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee.

The next thing about Mark is that he knew little about Palestinian traditions, especially marriage and divorce. For example, in Mark 10:12 it says, “And if a woman shall put away her husband, and be married to another, she committeth adultery” (KJV). This is nonsense. Palestinian women at the time were not afforded the right to divorce. This is a gentile ruling put into Christ’s mouth to give it authority after the establishment of a church outside of Palestine. If Jesus had said this it would be like saying “a man who has an abortion has committed murder” well men can’t have an abortion and therefore the point is moot. Mark fumbles again in the 7th chapter when Jesus is debating the Pharisees. He quotes Isaiah 29:13, but his quote is the wording taken from the Greek Septuagint.  The differences? In Hebrew it says, “their fear of me is a commandment of men learned by rote,” but in the Greek version it says “Why the Lord said, For as much as this people draw near me with their mouth, and with their lips do honor me, but have removed their heart far from me, and their fear toward me is taught by the precept of men:” (KJV). No Pharisee in his right mind would take a Greek mistranslation of the Hebrew scripture as a valid point when debating. Mark was obviously not familiar with the Hebrew version or he would not have made this mistake, he was however familiar with the Greek Septuagint which I would say proves he was Greek not Palestinian and his errors show that he had never been to Palestine. With this we can eliminate the oldest Gospel, Mark.

Finally we come to John, the most supernatural of the Gospels and also the youngest. It arose in about 110 CE making the author, had he been born at the same time as the crucifixion about 80 years old at the time of its writing. Fairly unlikely considering the average life expectancy for a Palestinian at that time was about 45. John starts of with a mystical beginning stating, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (KJV). No swaddling clothes, no manger, no pregnant virgins, just God and the word. Beyond the blatant time difference between the writing and the events we need only look at John 21:24 which states “This is the disciple which testifieth of these things, and wrote these things: and we know that his testimony is true.” Not a problem, except that the original versions of John end at 20:31, the 21st chapter were added much later. So much for the Gospels.

St. Paul is healed by Ananias after being blinded.

The next biblical source are the Epistles these are some of the oldest texts in the NT having been established by the middle of the first century CE. Most of the letters were supposedly written by Paul. Background on this Paul character goes as such; Paul was a man who was originally named Saul of Tarsus, and though he was  Hebrew he was a Roman citizen. He was a Pharisee who violently persecuted Christians before his conversion, even approving of the death of St. Stephen (Acts 8:1) showing that he was possibly of the Sanhedrin. On the road to Damascus he had a vision of the resurrected Jesus which blinded him and he began to proselytize in the name of Christ. Now remember that by his own admission he never met Jesus in person (Gal. 1:11-12), but lets get back to the Epistles. He is traditionally thought to have been the author of 13 of the Epistles accordingly named the Pauline Epistles. However, scholars having examined the writings deem that only four of them were written by the same person, these are the first four: Romans, 1 & 2 Corinthians, and Galatians.

G.A. Wells, in his book The Historical Evidence for Jesus [22-23], sums things up so succinctly:

The…Pauline letters…are so completely silent concerning the events that were later recorded in the gospels as to suggest that these events were not known to Paul, who, however, could not have been ignorant of them if they had really occurred.These letters have no allusion to the parents of Jesus, let alone to the virgin birth. They never refer to a place of birth (for example, by calling him ‘of Nazareth’). They give no indication of the time or place of his earthly existence. They do not refer to his trial before a Roman official, nor to Jerusalem as the place of execution. They mention neither John the Baptist, nor Judas, nor Peter’s denial of his master. (They do, of course, mention Peter, but do not imply that he, any more than Paul himself, had known Jesus while he had been alive.)

These letters also fail to mention any miracles Jesus is supposed to have worked, a particularly striking omission, since, according to the gospels, he worked so many…

Another striking feature of Paul’s letters is that one could never gather from them that Jesus had been an ethical teacher… on only one occasion does he appeal to the authority of Jesus to support an ethical teaching which the gospels also represent Jesus as having delivered.

These factors should not be ignored and with this we can dismiss the Epistles as first hand historical evidence of Jesus. That eliminates the Bible as a historical source, so what is left? Well there are a few historical instances of Jesus being mentioned. Namely they are by the historians Josephus and Tacitus. Josephus was a Jew and more than that a Pharisee. He is often quoted as having said in his anthology Antiquities of the Jews as thus:

About this time, there lived Jesus, a wise man, if indeed one ought to call him a man. For he was one who wrought surprising feats and was a teacher of such people as accept the truth gladly. He won over many Jews and many of the Greeks. He was the Messiah. When Pilate, upon hearing him accused by men of the highest standing amongst us, had condemned him to be crucified, those who had in the first place come to love him did not give up their affection for him. On the third day he appeared to them restored to life, for the prophets of God had prophesied these and countless other marvelous things about him. And the tribe of the Christians, so called after him, has still to this day not disappeared.

Now if we bear in mind that Josephus is a Jewish Pharisee and not a Christian he would never call Jesus the Messiah. Beyond that admitting to the resurrection and still not being a Christian is even more unbelievable. Reason for that is simple, this is a forgery. It was added to the book by later hands; one need only check the paragraphs before and after to see how disjointed this point is. Immediately before this part about Jesus he says, “About the same time also another sad calamity put the Jews into disorder…” Josephus had previously been talking about awful things Pilate had done to the Jews in general, this is a horrible break in the literary seam. Couple this with the fact that Josephus was born in 37 CE, more than half a decade after the crucifixion and you can eliminate this theory.

The next historian is Tacitus, a Roman Senator and lifelong pagan as well as historian.

Before considering the alleged witness of Pagan authors, it is worth noting some of the things that we should find recorded in their histories if the biblical stories are in fact true. One passage from Matthew should suffice to point out the significance of the silence of secular writers:

Matt. 27:45 Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land unto the ninth hour. [46] And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is to say, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? [47] Some of them that stood there, when they heard that, said, This man calleth for Elias. [48] And straightway one of them ran, and took a spunge, and filled it with vinegar, and put it on a reed, and gave him to drink. [49] The rest said, Let be, let us see whether Elias will come to save him. [50] Jesus, when he had cried again with a loud voice, yielded up the ghost. [51] And, behold, the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom; and the earth did quake, and the rocks rent; [52] And the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose, [53] And came out of the graves after his resurrection, and went into the holy city, and appeared unto many.

The Romans recorded everything, wouldn’t they have noticed and recorded a solar eclipse? Wouldn’t someone have remembered and recorded the name of at least one of those “saints” who climbed out of the grave and went wandering through town? Well, they didn’t. More so, Tacitus was born in 55 CE, a quarter century after the crucifixion. He couldn’t have been a historical witness to Jesus. Tacitus’ single allusion to Jesus being crucified under Pilate (whom he names a Procurator, an incorrect title at the time since that title was not used until the second century CE, Pilate’s correct title was Prefect) is something that came to him secondhand at best.

That leaves us with no credible evidence for the existence of Jesus in any historical sense. No historical evidence in the Bible, and the only two credible historians to mention him in any respect are at best second hand accounts based on Christian retellings or at worst complete forgeries. Does that mean that Jesus was made up? Probably, considering the similarities to other Mediterranean gods floating around at about that time it isn’t unlikely. I promise to examine those aspects in later posts as this is already fairly long.

I’ll see your Pascal’s Wager and raise you one Greek pantheon.

March 31, 2010 2 comments

As an atheist I am constantly bombarded with the same question raised by my friends who are indeed among the faithful. It is an old question dating to Blaise Pascal. It is, what’s the harm in believing in God? If I am wrong in believing, then no harm no foul. If I am an atheist and there is a God, then I am fucked. At first glance this is indeed a marvelous argument in which hedging my bets would pay off.

Here is my argument. If I believe in Yahweh the God of Abraham and the basis of the Judeo-Christian tradition then I am betting against all other religions. What happens if I die and appear in front of Ra or Vishnu or Zeus? I’m shit out of luck. One has to accept that the God in the Bible is the only god in order for Pascal’s Wager to be at all pragmatic. Frankly, with the number of deities that have been fashioned over the years who is to say that Marduk is any less likely to exist than Thor or Cernunnos. If anything it is more pragmatic to be a deist or at least a pantheist than a monotheist.

This however brings me to my more important point. If there was a supreme being, to whom I was presented upon my death, I would hope that he or she would be more influenced to pass judgment on me based on my actions. Seeing that my disbelief was sincere and based on reason as opposed to a belief based on simply playing the odds or fear of retribution. However, if it came to that and I was damned at least I would have all of eternity to write more blog posts condemning the uselessness of God.

Categories: Uncategorized

Why I don’t believe in God…

March 31, 2010 Leave a comment

The reasons are innumerable. I could write for days on ignorance of believing that bronze age pastoralists knew more about the birth of the cosmos than modern particle physicists. I would need a much larger venue than this to list the reasons that science, because it is a questioning discipline, is more reliable than religion which claims it already has all the answers. And of course, I could simply regurgitate the same arguments again and again how moral systems stem from places that have never known religion and therefore the church does not, as it likes to think, have a monopoly on morality. Instead I will begin with myself and where I lost my faith and how as someone who considers himself an Epicurean like many of the great polymaths before me can debunk the existence of God with a single argument about the dialectical nature of free will and omnipotence.

I lost my faith when I was a mere 10 years old. When I was an infant I was baptized into the Episcopalian church and attended that almost exclusively until I was about 9. At home the tensions of religion showed me their true divisive nature as my father was a French Catholic and my mother an Episcopalian. As far as I knew Christianity was the only religion but it was different when my father practiced than when my mother practiced and it was a point of contention with my grand-parents, devout French Catholics who had a statue of Mary in the back yard and demanded that I know the rosary and the saints and catechism.

Very young Ken

My mother and I circa 1984. Little did she know I would grow up to be a godless heathen.

As I got older I was exceptionally bright, excelling in science and mathematics. By the time I entered school I could do arithmetic and basic algebra and read books well beyond those of my peers. As with all children born and raised in the eighties I was interested in dinosaurs and science and nature and thus began to question the book of Genesis at an early age. Where were the brontosauruses? How did Noah get the Tyrannosaurus Rex onto his Ark? When I would ask about them in Sunday School my questions would be dodged or I would be ignored completely. For some reason I felt that perhaps these people didn’t have the answers and I began to seriously question.

Because of the religious tension in our house where my father would not attend Episcopalian service nor could my mother attend Catholic service, eventually our family would attend neither church but instead a third denomination, Southern Baptists. Looking back now this seems so incredulous. Certainly Episcopalians and Catholics have more in common with each other than either does with any of the Lutheran formed Protestants. Service was much different. Rather than a beautiful old stone cathedral with gorgeous woodwork and iconography (while I despise religion I can appreciate the art) we attended a modern building with wood paneling and lots of songs that I had never heard of. These Baptists were nothing like the Christians I knew from growing up. Many of them were just so “fake.” I couldn’t stand it, they always had these reptilian grins on, nothing but sugar coated niceties came out of their mouths, it was unnerving.

When I was 10 years old tragedy struck my house and my baby sister, Irene, passed away from a congenital heart defect. For the first time I began to question the nature of the concept of God and omnipotence. Something wasn’t right. Conflicting messages about how “God has a plan” and “be righteous before the Lord” began to churn in my mind. At 10 years old I lost my faith.

A loss of faith is a hard thing to reconcile. At first I thought that perhaps I just didn’t understand well enough. At the age of 11 I read the bible in its entirety. Upon completing this task I was certain that I was only more confused than when I had started. I was always told that God was a loving and caring God but I got no further than Leviticus and Deuteronomy when I decided he most certainly was not. I would have to have said I agreed when Richard Dawkins said;

The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.

If this was the God of Christ then I was most certainly not a Christian. I sought answers outside of the religion I had lived in my whole life. At first I studied various paganisms. This lasted from age 12 through 17. I was fascinated with Greek and Roman myths growing up so I studied Celtic, Norse, and Egyptian paganisms trying to find an answer. Alas, with a disbelief in one God I certainly wasn’t going to find solace in multiple.

At 17 I discovered Buddhism. Perfection, a spiritual belief that eschewed the concept of a deity. No gods to rule, only the self and the not-self. I considered myself a Rinzai Zen Buddhist until I was in my mid-twenties. But even though I had found what I thought was my path I kept searching. By the time I was 25 I had read at least a majority of the Bible, Torah, Talmud, Koran, Bhagavad Gita, Upanishads, Dhammapada, Tao Te Ching, and dozens of Buddhist and Hindu Sutras. I had honed my understanding of religion by constantly engaging in debate with those who thought differently from myself, which growing up in a small town will afford you plenty as an agnostic.

I enjoyed Zen Buddhism because it not only rejected the idea of gods but most of the supernatural mumbo jumbo of the Theravada or Vajrayana traditions. It was simple, don’t be an asshole and you will be fine. However, my reading continued. I read Marx and Kropotkin; I read Camus and Sartre; I read Aristotle and Jefferson. I began to develop the feelings about religion that I had internalized at a young age. Religion was like an old toy, left over from childhood that I simply had to part with if I was to progress to adulthood. I became an atheist.

I came to realize that free will and omnipotence simply cannot coexist. I took Epicurus’s old saying about God and evil;

Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil? Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?

Instead of discussing God and evil I began to ponder the concept of being all-knowing. Please allow me to illustrate my point. If God is an all-knowing, omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent being as he is represented in the Judeo-Christian tradition then we humans have no free will; these two concepts are antithetical to one another. At first this is an easily dismissible claim, so what? But it is not the concept of fate that bothers me, it is the concept that God is so willing to punish for what he knows we are bound to do. For because if God is all knowing then we can have no power to do otherwise. Ever action we make is already known along with each outcome. Thus there is no free will. A sinner has no option but to fulfill his destiny as it is seen in the eyes of the omnipotent. For God your crimes are already committed, and judgment already awaits before you are even born, he is a tyrannical bully hell bent on punishing those who are no more than cogs in a piece of clockwork. Now it follows that if we do in fact have free will, then God simply cannot be the God as described in the holy books of the major religions. If he is none of those things listed, then why call him God?

Could God exist? Not in any manner as he has been made out in any contemporary religion. Thus I reject his existence, because if he is not what the Bible, Koran or Torah claim him to be on such an important case as his omnipotence then why should I waffle over the smaller details which are just as likely to be dead wrong. By rejecting the existence of a Supreme Being who knows all and sees all I liberate myself and all others to embrace our collective free will. In the words of Albert Camus, “Je rebelle, donc nous existons,” I rebel, therefore we exist.

What brave new world…

March 31, 2010 Leave a comment

What a better day to create this blog than the same day we humans have created in a laboratory a minuscule recreation of what happened 14 billion years ago at the centre of our universe. Today we collided two protons deep beneath the French Swiss border unleashing particles that have remained unseen since the dawn of time.

Large Hadron Collider

Associated Press

The information that will come from this collision will drag us kicking and screaming into this century and inevitably rewrite our understanding of particle physics and what happened just moments after the creation of the universe. It is my hope that people will be able to leave their petty bronze age beliefs behind when the undeniable evidence that science produces shows that it was not a grand schemer in the sky that created the world in 6 days but a wondrous chain of events spanning 14 billion years. Here’s to science.