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Sunday, July 24, 2022

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Thank you, Bill! Well said and timely.

Bill, thanks for this fine post, which calls to mind Pascal argument on choosing to believe or not to believe in” the existence of God in the Pensées (fragment 397 ) : “... il faut parier ; cela n'est pas volontaire, vous êtes embarqué. . . . Votre raison n'est pas plus blessée, en choisissant l'un que l'autre, puisqu'il faut nécessairement choisir. Voilà un point vidé. Mais votre béatitude ? Pesons le gain et la perte, en prenant croix que Dieu est. Estimons ces deux cas : si vous gagnez, vous gagnez tout; si vous perdez, vous ne perdez rien. Gagez donc qu'il est, sans hésiter”

My translation: “... you have to bet [as in choosingheads or tails in a coin toss, from what precedes this quotation in the fragment]; it is not voluntary, you are embarked. . . .Your reason is not hurt any more by choosing one than the other, since it is necessary to choose. This is an empty point. But your bliss? Weigh the gain and the loss, taking the cross [ancient French coins had a cross or croix on one side and a column or pile on the other] that God is. Let us estimate these two cases: if you win, you win everything; if you lose, you lose nothing. Bet therefore that he is, without hesitation. ”

Although it is not framed in terms of a bet or and is premised on the destiny of “nothing” rather than Paradise for the religious believer after death, your post is, in effect, rather Pascalian, since whatever the ultimate veracity of the believer’s creed, his “faith in God suffices to confer upon this life value, purpose, and moral structure, making it affirmable as good, and worth living.” The great difference, however, is that in your formulation those who choose non-belief may arrive at other sources of meaning and other foundations for their morality; reality is ambiguous, and they are not evidently lost, as are the souls of those who deny God, who ends up existing, in Pascal’s scheme.

Tell me, are there any neanderthals in heaven? In all seriousness, there is a continued failure among classical liberals like Dawkins and Harris to understand the irreparable damage that Darwin's discovery has dealt to the human psyche. After such a revelation, the world could never be the same again. It was no longer *our* world, but simply one which we had been thrown into. While evolution has not revealed to us the ultimate origin of life or solved the hard problem of consciousness, it did reveal to us, for the first time, that our origins were not divine and that man was not created to fulfil any destiny. Darwin single-handedly dispelled the creation myths which had, for better or worse, nourished the human spirit for millennia. The anthropocentric model of the universe which faith requires had been rendered utterly untenable, and we could no longer sustain the illusions necessary to continue life as we had known it. Faith provides comfort to many, but it also perpetuates incalculable suffering by encouraging the creation of new sentient beings in a world that is overwhelmingly hostile to their needs and desires. This is a world not made for us, one which we would never have chosen of our own free will.

Hi Vito,

Thanks for your comment. Perhaps you would like to respond to Mr Spasticus?

That's okay, Bill. I wasn't really addressing my comment to Vito. I was addressing it to you. I feel that a definitive conclusion as to the existence of God has already been provided on both an empirical front and a philosophical front. On the empirical side, as I said, you need an anthropocentric universe in order to seriously entertain the notion of God and/or an afterlife, and we don't live in one. Dinosaurs were here much longer than we were. If the history of our planet were represented in the form of a 24 hour clock, the first signs of organic life would not have appeared until around 8:30 pm. For perspective, humans have existed for the equivalent of a nanosecond. On the philosophical side, the Problem of Non-God Objects is insurmountable. In its simplest form, this boils down to the obvious question “why would a perfect being create an imperfect world?” And the answer is equally obvious: they wouldn't. It astounds me how so many people bought into the idea of a benevolent God for so long, when everything around us suggests he must be a complete Jekyll and Hyde. And even if this was a perfect world, the question would still arise as to why he even created anything at all, though we, in our state of perpetual bliss, would be less inclined to ask such a question. If God had a desire to create, then that means he was lacking something. He was incomplete in some way, and something that is incomplete cannot meet the definition of perfection. Likewise, a perfect creation would have to be self-sustaining and impervious to harm.

None of the atheist's observations ever really present a problem for the true believer, since the injustices of the world, a product either of God's irrationality, mediocrity or malevolence, can be excused for them by the mere fact that he *is* God. The rule maker can do whatever he likes, he answers to nobody, and the insinuation that he be held accountable offends them. They would rather have a malevolent deity than no deity at all, such is the extent of their dependency. They argue from the perspective, and the value system, of one who already believes and has a vested interest in a particular outcome. They try to solve the dilemmas we point out from *within* their theological framework. The Problem of Non-God Objects, while certainly applicable to the Christian god, is not tailor made for him. Adherents of the Abrahamic faiths are incapable of discussing the possible motivations of a propositional god, rather than *the* God who they already happen to believe in. They would have to step outside their insular worldview in order to have that discussion, which would leave them vulnerable to external criticisms of the concept of deities in general, which they are not equipped to deal with. They can only ever respond to these questions from an internal perspective, which is constrained by all manner of esoteric values and nonsensical rules that are particular to the Abrahamic conception of god and do not apply to a general conception. Perhaps this insularity is best illustrated by their cliched response to the problem of evil, that it originates from man's sin rather than god's malice. Ascribing the root of all evil to sin is a prime example of the inability of organised religions to grapple with problems externally, from beyond the internal framework that binds them. People who don't subscribe to the Abrahamic faiths are free to apply unrestrained scrutiny and see that the stories in the Bible, like The Fall and The Flood, are ridiculous, and that no supreme being would behave as irrationally as Jehovah does.

Some theists have responded with indignation that we dare to expect perfection from god. They have said that god is not a servant here to dote on us, and have invoked the analogy of a parent and a demanding child. This analogy, as predictable as it is absurd, fails miserably. The child does not owe the parent anything, but the parent is morally obligated to care for the child, as the child did not ask to be created. They were created by the parent, for gratuitous and ultimately self-serving reasons, and so the parent cannot claim the moral high ground, nor can they accuse the child of not fulfilling their expectations. The child's failings are those of the parent's. The parent does not have carte blanche to emotionally or physically abuse the child simply because they begat the child. The burden of responsibility always lies with the parent. These points apply to the relationship between the creator and the created, whether we be talking about parent and child or god and mankind. The theist is ultimately arguing that god has a divine right to be a sadist, much as the slave owner has the legal right to abuse his property.

Theists also like to argue that logic and reason are forms of faith. This is a very desperate tu quoque to pull out of the hat, but it is to be expected. Rational inference is our default faculty, at least for those of us who aren't insane, and as any sane man would, I always set the highest standard. This world is decidedly *not* the best world conceivable, as it is only too easy to imagine a better world, in innumerable ways and to innumerable degrees, though still bound within the conceptual limitations of the mind. The theist highlights these limitations and argues that god and his motivations lie beyond them. To illustrate how absurd this is, consider Schieber's fridge analogy. If we go to the fridge and it is empty, and someone repeatedly tells us that we aren't looking hard enough, and we take the entire fridge apart, down to the last screw, and still find no food, then we can safely conclude that there is no food to be found. If that person still insists we are not looking hard enough, that we don't have the requisite senses or level of knowledge to find the food, then we have every right to dismiss them as a lunatic. This analogy is not alluding to the location of god, but to the exhaustion of all possible explanations as to why a supreme being would create a world that contained even a single minute imperfection, let alone the staggering degree of imperfection and injustice we perceive. It would not be tolerated in any other arena of debate to appeal to the unfalsifiable “beyond mortal comprehension” excuse that the theist inevitably falls back on.

The theist thinks we have no right to expect perfection from god, even though it is a logical expectation to have of a supreme being who is not constrained by any logistical or external factors. If you were god, assuming you were inclined to create anything, would you create anything less than perfect? I know that I certainly would not. But for the theist, moonstruck at the majesty of his infallible god's creation, the mere fact that we exist at all is proof of a higher power. I am not so easily impressed. I am an uncompromising and unrepentant perfectionist, and I would expect a supreme being to share the same standards as those I hold. I won't be satisfied with the pathetic spectacle we see on display all around us, which oscillates between mediocrity at best and evil at worst. I really don't ask much of god. If I can imagine better, then he's out of a job, and I certainly can imagine better. It's also very hypocritical for the theist to criticise my idyllic world on the grounds that “you would get bored of it.” Boredom, as a phenomenon, simply wouldn't exist in a perfect world, so you would never get bored of endless pleasure. In any case, the theist believes in heaven, which is perfect, yet I don't ever hear believers saying “you would get bored of heaven.” No, because they only want to disparage my fantasy, never their own.

The theist objects that my idyllic world is incompatible with free will, but I disagree. We could simply posit that in the idyllic world, much like Tolkien's angelic elves, committing evil acts simply wouldn't be in man's nature, a nature which is ultimately attributable to a benevolent god's flawless design. In this sense, man's inability to do evil would be as natural and non-negotiable to him as monochromatic vision is to a dog, rather than the result of any divine intrusion upon free will. While I posit that there would be no childbirth in the idyllic world, men and women would still exist, and the most intimate expression of love would still exist for the purpose of bonding. However, since our bodies in such an idyllic world would not function as organic machines, instead of the crude act of penetration and the fleeting pleasure of orgasm, a much more intense and enduring experience of ecstasy would be felt by embracing, kissing, or merely looking at one's lover. The spectrum of possible scenarios we can imagine, while not infinite, is still vast and unexplored. Just because things *are* a certain way in our world, this is by no means the way any god would have *had* to make them, especially if it is within our humble ability to imagine preferable scenarios.

The theist further objects that my idyllic world, being in many respects static, is incompatible with the law of cause and effect, but again, I disagree. If everything had been optimally designed in the first place, there would be no need for change. Any kind of incremental improvement, where there are imperfect intermediary stages, is inexcusable. A perfect world would, by definition, be flawless from its inception and require no maintenance, so god would not be obliged to micromanage everything. It is ludicrous to think that such a world would be impossible for god to create. Believers appear to presume that god is bound by the very laws that he himself created, which is ludicrous. However, if he is not the author of these laws, then the theist would be admitting that there are forces at work which precede god, and to suggest that anything exists outside of god's jurisdiction creates a considerable challenge to his status as alpha and omega. The old conundrum of whether god could create an object so heavy he couldn't lift it is a prime example of the bind that the theist finds himself in, since he is going to end up conceding god's limitations either way he answers.

I shall describe three possible scenarios for existence. In scenario one, the world exists in a state of inviolable perfection; no component can be degraded in any way, nor can it be improved, as all of the attributes of this creation are intrinsically positive and are calibrated to their maximum possible degree. In scenario two, the world is built on the opposing forces of negativity and positivity, which are locked in an eternal struggle. The balance of power is constantly in flux; sometimes things may be very bad and then improve, while other times they may be very good but inevitably fall victim to entropy. This power struggle continues indefinitely. In scenario three, existence begins at the worst possible level in every respect. Arbitrary suffering is the norm, but gradually, over an infinite amount of time, the state of affairs becomes less bad until eventually the duality of scenario two is reached, but it keeps going until eventually reaching a state wherein the positive outweighs the negative. Now, which of these scenarios would you say is the best, by which I mean the least wasteful and the least painful? Obviously it's the first proposed scenario, in which there are no intermediary negative states, which were never necessary in the first place. A problem solved is a problem caused, as solutions invariably create new dilemmas. What is better than a problem overcome? The problem never having existed in the first place, of course. Therefore, if a god were to create a world, I would argue that he would be logically and ethically obliged to generate scenario number one. I think it's obvious that the world in which we are currently living is a hybrid of scenarios two and three. Ergo, god does not exist and the world is both imperfect and incapable of being perfected.

In light of such elementary deductions, why does belief in god persist? Because the alternative is terrifying, and because it seems implausible to them that such a universe, seemingly fine tuned for life, could have originated from nothingness. It seems improbable to me too, but a perfect being creating an imperfect world seems even less plausible. Evolution is an absolutely horrific system, a merciless process of elimination that thrives on cruelty and parasitism, and the notion of a benevolent god acting through a process as wicked and inefficient as evolution is absurd. If the universe is fine tuned for life, the quality of those lifeforms and the lives they lead allows us to judge this experiment. I for one find it woefully devoid of merit, and for the work of an omnipotent being, it is absolutely abysmal. Unless god creates a world that is equal to himself in all its aspects, he is degrading the state of affairs, which in turn would imply that he cannot be a maximally great being. The theist says that we analyse, critique and attempt to improve the world from a limited mortal perspective and this is why we fail, but I imagine I would achieve flawless results if I had god's powers, and that is the position from which I'm speaking. If any of us were in god's position at the beginning, when the slate was completely clean, what possible motivation could we have for creating the world as it currently exists rather than the idyllic world I have described? This is the point where the theist once again invokes the limitations of mortal comprehension and appeals to epistemic humility, and I in turn direct them back to Schieber's fridge analogy. Because of the theist's obstinate refusal to concede defeat and part with his illusion, this circularity will continue indefinitely.

It is often said that one cannot prove with 100% certainty that god doesn't exist, but I think this is disingenuous. I don't require 100% proof for anything, because you can never get 100% proof for anything. Postmodernists are always demanding 100% proof, precisely because they know nobody can ever attain it. It has gotten to the point that one can scarcely make a casual observation regarding the sky's hue without being interrogated for evidence. We can attach a probability to things, though, and for god I feel that the probability that he doesn't exist is in the 99th percentile, which is good enough for me.

Incidentally, it never ceases to amaze and disgust me how many people use the “life is a test” excuse to justify adversity. God is omniscient, so he doesn't need to test us. Why would he create souls that he knows will fail the test? The afterlife is paradise, so what good would the “knowledge” gained from suffering and torment do us there? What does a child dying of cancer “learn” that would be valuable in heaven? It's desperate, contrived nonsense. What use does an immortal soul have for a mortal body, in which it is susceptible to all manner of indignity and degradation? None at all. As I say, all imperfect intermediary states are gratuitous and cruel. The suffering that living organisms endure, on a scale that defies comprehension, is not justifiable under any circumstances. God inflicting suffering would always be gratuitous and malicious, as it is not necessitated. As mortals we are forced to make allowances for evil, out of necessity, but this is not true of a supreme being, for whom the existence of evil could never be necessitated. The reassurance that evil will be defeated in the fullness of time implies that evil's existence was permissible on the condition that it would ultimately be destroyed. But because evil leaves a permanent stain on everything it touches, and because the mere knowledge of its existence is itself a harm to us, the fact that evil ever existed at all, even if only for a finite amount of time, is what is objectionable. As such, the only way to make amends would be the complete and total reversal of all evil, but apparently this isn't possible. It remains true, though, that there is no reason god had to create a world with suffering in it, since the slate was clean before creation and nothing was at stake. God fails my test, the test of making any sense.

In conclusion, everything that is wrong with the world can ultimately be blamed on god, because he has ontological primacy over all things. If intimidation and threats are the best tools god has for encouraging us to believe in him, that tells us a lot about his character. Quite frankly, an eternity of paradise would not atone for my mortal years of misery. A paradise awaiting us after we die would only prove that our mortal life had been utterly gratuitous. While I acknowledge the possibility that god exists, he would be a malevolent god and would therefore be no use to me. For all intents and purposes, a malevolent creator is interchangeable with a non-existent creator. What use is an evil god? About as much use as a fictional one. Neither are worthy of my attention, let alone worship. God may have my tortured soul, but he will never have my love, my respect, or my forgiveness. If he does exist, I look forward to confronting him on his own turf. I am resolute in my conviction that my will is stronger than his. Bring it on.

I know you weren't responding to Vito. But he is a smart guy,will probably have something to sdy,and I am pressed for time.

Dear Bill,

Almost more than any other kind of post, I delight in your very insightful posts on existential faith and philosophical theology. This one is powerful, thank you for articulating it. I agree completely. It very much does come down to having a studied and sincere lived faith. A faith that slides into the extremes you mentioned can very easily lead to a complacent or atrophied consciousness.

Dear Spasticus,

Your points are well made and not unreasonable. I'd love to discuss over email or phone, as I'm also pressed for time. If Bill allows this comment and you come back to check the comments, I look forward to your email!

(throwaway599000@gmail.com)

Best,
Andrew

To Autisticus S.: I've never understood this notion that somehow Darwin "dealt irreparable damage … to the human psych." At most, he dispelled the notion of fixed & immutable types or classes of living organisms in favor of mutating and evolving species. But what does this have to do with Christian faith?

It feels like to me that those that take this line - Darwin has refuted for all time the Christian God and the entire foundation of Christian belief! - are no different than the fundamentalist believers who hold to a shallow, strictly literal reading of the Bible. They read, like the fundamentalists, that Genesis was an actual report of the creation of the world and man. But this is not how Genesis was read by many, many Christians and Christian churches for millennia. Augustine himself, to go to one source, delivered off and on a heavily allegorical reading of Genesis, and the church I grew up in, the Episcopal Church, taught that the importance of Genesis was not as a historical account but as a meaningful story of the relationship between God and man.

So, Darwin not only dispelled the Christian God, but also the efficacy of allegories and literary meaning? Quite a feat.

Tom,

Thanks for engaging A. S.

Dear Andrew,

Thank you for your kind response. I'm glad we agree.

And thanks for engaging Spasticus. I am always happy to broker phil. conversations.

Tom,

As I said, the discovery of prehistoric life, most notably the dinosaurs, rendered the anthropocentric model of the universe - which the Abrahamic faiths require - completely untenable. With regard to the more specific teachings of Christianity, I think it has been unmasked by a number of authors for the proverbial Trojan horse that it has always been. In his multi-volume Christianity's Criminal History, Karlheinz Deschner painstakingly uncovers how the new religion plunged classical philosophy into centuries of near-oblivion, clashing with the established and ancient European wisdom regarding the inequality of men. Spreading first among the slaves and lowest classes of the Roman Empire, the Christian faith came to teach that all men were equal in the eyes of a universal creator, an idea that was totally alien to traditional European thought, which had recognized a hierarchy of competence among men and even among the gods. Opposing the traditions of classical philosophy and scientific enquiry, Christianity introduced the concept of a single, omnipotent “God of History” who controlled all phenomena in the universe, with mankind being the pinnacle of his creation. Since all human beings were “the children of god”, all were equal before their Divine Maker. Faith in the church's interpretation of supposedly prophetic revelations became more important than scientific or philosophical enquiry, and to question the church's view of reality was a grave sin, one that could easily spell death for the blasphemer.

Nietzsche saw that the successful promotion of Christianity relied on a pretence of reciprocal hostility between Christians and Jews. It required making the Levantine cult, when peddled to gentiles, seem non-Jewish and even anti-Jewish. “Was it not a necessary feature of a truly brilliant politics of vengeance, a far-sighted, subterranean, slowly and carefully planned vengeance, that Israel had to deny its true instrument publicly and nail him to the cross like a mortal enemy, so that the whole world (meaning all the enemies of the Jews) might naively swallow the bait?” It would, and indeed did in Deschner's case, take many volumes to chronicle the nefarious history of Christianity, from its known beginnings around the middle of the second century to the triumph of a particularly shrewd and aggressive sect in the fifth century. There were hundreds of sects, each with its own bundle of gospels, peculiar doctrines and adroit theologians, all of whom took seriously the purported antagonism of the Jews to the new religion.

In addition to Deschner's work, I recommend The Darkening Age by Catherine Nixey and On the Historicity of Jesus by Richard Carrier.

Thanks Bill for this post. I'm uneasy with it but unfortunately my response to it leaves me a little uneasy as well, so I'll just put it out anyway to see where it may lead.

It seems to me that the faith enjoined to us by Christ and the Apostles can never be anything but dogmatic because it can only be revealed by God, not by any reasoned investigations of our own. The faith I'm speaking of here is that which is expressed in the creeds, not simply faith in God in some more general, abstract sense. The sort of "reasoned faith" you describe seems to have little in common with this creedal faith. That said, I think it is also true that faith in God is not possible without the believer having some intuition (or at least the possibility of an intuition) of God's existence. Could this "intuition" be something suggested by reason? Perhaps, but reason can just as easily lead to Mr. Spasticus's conclusions. In fact, in accordance with the assumptions about the world common to our time, I'd say reason would far more justifiably lead to Mr. Spasticus's conclusions. But Spasticus's description of our hellish world differs little from the biblical description of the same. That an atheist should see the world and it's condition so similarly to the biblical depiction of the fallen world is no surprise really, since the biblical picture, particularly in the Old Testament, is the portrayal of a world that consistently rejects God. And of course this picture painted without even the possibility of God makes the New Testament revelations about Christ and his call to faith seem even more unreasonable to the atheist.

I don't see any good side to living a life of faith if that faith is in vain. It's true that we can't know by any of our usual methods whether faith in Christ will bear its promised fruit, and if it doesn't then we won't know anyway since we're dead. But if it doesn't, then our faith would be a lie (or an illusion at best, which is possibly just a lie of a special sort). Who would choose to live such a lie, especially if it constrained them from action that might help them prevail in a godless world?

Where do lies fit into biblical and secular morality? Can a lie ever bear good fruit? I would say almost certainly not in the biblical scheme of things, which concerns itself with our relations to God. The entire fallen world is predicated on a primordial lie, and even the tiniest most well-intentioned white lie shares this lineage in that it attempts to rob its target of knowledge of some aspect of their true condition, no matter how seemingly trivial or kindly intended. Although Christian morality as taught in the churches, particularly the Roman Catholic church, has often taken on the appearance of an exhaustive code of behavior, Christ's commandments to his followers were very brief: first love God, then love your neighbor. And this love in each case is unconditional. Your neighbor includes your enemy, in which case love is demonstrated by not striking back. Does loving your neighbor include lying to them if your purpose is to spare their feelings and make a difficult circumstance more palatable? I'd say no. A lie is always an attempt to affect the subjective world of another so that their thinking and behavior will follow your intentions. In this case your intention is to make them more comfortable by hiding or misconveying a truth that is painful. But you are attempting to act as God. You have no real control over their feelings anyway since you can't know them beyond certain signs and words (which may themselves be lies) and your assumptions of what they mean (which may be wrong). You have even less control over the long term effects of your lie once let loose in the world. You can't even evaluate its necessity since you can't know what might have transpired without it. So even if your deception seems successful initially, it may well ensure a future reckoning that's far more damaging than initially choosing honesty over the lie. Magnify this effect over an entire life lived on the basis of a faith that is a lie. More than this, since it's a lie that promotes unconditional love and truth telling come what may, it goes against all the logic of the world, and is almost guaranteed to bring you trouble in the face of power and leave you defenseless as well. Many over time have risked this in favor of their faith in God, but who'd risk it for a lie? Even risking it for God would be a tough pill for all but the most faithful believers. I would wager (without having looked into it thoroughly) that most Christian morality outside of the gospels themselves has the effect of reshaping Christ's radical ethic to make it more compatible with secular power, even to the extent of allowing power to make use of it in its own interests, and this includes power wielded by the church itself when it competes with secular power.

In the secular world insofar as God is regarded entirely as a fiction, this is all quite different. What is the basis for any judgment of good and evil beyond conditional ethics of one sort or another, in which there can be no absolutes among competing interests? Here everything is a tradeoff and nothing is absolute. In this world ethics are at the service of politics and must conform to the political culture of the state in which they arise. As I understand it this is the classic Aristotelian formulation as well. Here faith would seem to have tactical value insofar as it conformed to political culture, but not immanent value in the sense you seem to mean, which would make it transcend any given political culture. Certainly this is the reason that the gospels, which are apolitical and even anarchistic with respect to the secular world, have been hated by rulers who immediately seek to co-opt Christian faith to serve the ends of state, and largely succeed.

Anyway, enough! I hope this doesn't wander too far afield of your intent. I always enjoy your posts and the opportunity they afford to think things through a little more deeply.

Reading Mr. Spasticus’ most recent missive, I am reminded of the Italian adage, “L'ignoranza è la madre dell'impudenza.” That he takes dross such as Deschene’s Christianity’s Criminal History, which no reputable academic historian or informed student of history would regard as a serious work of scholarship, is evidence enough for its aptness. But if more is required, one only has to turn to his gleeful approval of Richard Carrier’s On the Historicity of Jesus, a work that denies the historical existence of Jesus, a view rejected by ALL respected scholars in the field of biblical history and exegesis, from orthodox Christians to those professing religious agnosticism, such as Erhman. Finally, Nixey’s book, full of errors and distortions, is more a ideological tract against Christianity than a thoughtful consideration of the complex and fluid relationship between pagans and Christians in the late Roman world (See, for example, the blistering review of the notable scholar Prof. Dr. Roland Kany in Frankfurter Allgemeine, “So lest doch nur, wie bös sie waren! (October 10, 2019), which exposes her shoddy scholarship and which can be read in translation. This response may seem harsh, but books such as these, which reflect the terrible cultural decadenza of the present moment easily lead the ill-informed and gullible astray, as evidenced in the cocky pronouncements of Mr. Spasticus.

Ed Farrell and Vito Caiati,

Thanks you for your astute comments, gentlemen. I hope to respond tomorrow. Enjoy your weekend.

Vito,

I think Deschner and Nixey are disparaged in much the same way that race realists and biological determinists in general are marginalised by the woke institutions that have become the sole arbiter for what does and does not qualify as “respectable” discourse. If the peer-review system has taught us anything, the majority of so-called experts in the field will defer to the status quo and enforce the ideological consensus, either because they don't want to risk harming their careers by rocking the boat, or because they themselves are true believers.

Was there a Jesus? Of course there was a Jesus - many, in fact. The archetypal Jewish hero was Joshua, otherwise known as Yeshua bin Nun (“Jesus of the Fish”). Since the name Jesus (Yeshua or Yeshu in Hebrew, Iesous in Greek) originally was a title meaning “saviour” (derived from “Yahweh Saves”), probably every band in the Jewish resistance had its own hero figure sporting this moniker.

Josephus, the first century Jewish historian, mentions no fewer than 19 different Yeshuas/Jesii, about half of them contemporaries of the supposed Christ. In his Antiquities, of the 28 high priests who held office from the reign of Herod the Great to the fall of the Temple, no fewer than four bore the name Jesus. There was Jesus ben Phiabi, Jesus ben Sec, Jesus ben Damneus, and Jesus ben Gamaliel. Saint Paul even makes reference to a rival magician, preaching “another Jesus” (2 Corinthians 11:4). Among the surfeit of early Jesuses were:

Jesus ben Sirach, who was reputedly the author of the Book of Sirach (AKA Ecclesiasticus, or “Wisdom of Jesus, Son of Sirach”), part of Old Testament apocrypha. Writing in Greek in about 180 BC, Sirach brought together Jewish “wisdom” and Homeric-style heroes.

Jesus ben Pandira was a wonder-worker during the reign of Alexander Jannaeus (106-79 BC), one of the most ruthless of the Maccabean kings. Imprudently, this Jesus launched into a career of end-time prophecy and agitation which upset the king. He met his own premature end-time by being hung from a tree on the eve of Passover. It has been speculated that this Jesus founded the Essene sect.

Jesus ben Ananias had caused disruption in Jerusalem with his non-stop doom-laden mantra of “Woe to the City”, which began in 62 AD. He prophesied rather vaguely:

“A voice from the east, a voice from the west, a voice from the four winds, a voice against Jerusalem and the holy house, a voice against the bridegrooms and the brides, and a voice against the whole people.” - Josephus, Wars 6.3.

Arrested and flogged by the Romans, he was released as nothing more dangerous than a raving lunatic. He died during the siege of Jerusalem, crushed by a rock hurled from a Roman catapult.

Jesus ben Saphat wrought havoc in Galilee during the insurrection in 68 AD, having led the rebels in Tiberias (“the leader of a seditious tumult of mariners and poor people” - Josephus, Life 12.66). When the city was about to fall to Vespasian's legionaries, he fled north to Tarichea on the Sea of Galilee.

Jesus ben Gamala was a leader of the “peace party” in the civil war wrecking Judaea during 68/69 AD. From the walls of Jerusalem he had remonstrated with the besieging Idumeans, led by “James and John, sons of Susa”). It did him no good. He was executed by the Idumeans after they breached the walls, and his body was thrown to the dogs and carrion birds.

Jesus ben Thebuth was a priest who saved his own skin by surrendering the treasures of the Temple during the final capitulation of the upper city in 69 AD, which included two holy candlesticks, goblets of pure gold, sacred curtains, and robes of the high priests. This treasure figured prominently in the Triumph held for Vespasian and his son Titus.

According to the Biblical account, Pilate offered the Jews the release of just one prisoner, and they chose Barabbas rather than gentle Jesus. But in the original text studied by Origen (and in some more recent ones), the chosen criminal was Jesus Barabbas - and Bar Abba translates as “Son of the Father” in Aramaic. Are we to believe that Pilate had a Jesus, Son of God and a Jesus, Son of the Father in his prison at the same time? Perhaps the truth is that a single executed criminal helped flesh out the whole fantastic fable. Scrambling the details, Gospel writers used the Aramaic Barabbas, knowing that few Latin or Greek speakers would know its meaning.

But was there a crucified Jesus? Certainly. Jesus ben Stada was a Judean agitator who gave the Romans a headache in the early years of the second century. He met his end in the town of Lydda, 25 miles from Jerusalem, at the hands of a Roman crucifixion crew. Given the scale that Roman retribution could reach - at the height of the siege of Jerusalem the Romans were crucifying upwards of five hundred captives a day before the city walls - dead heroes called Jesus would quite literally have been thick on the ground.

But amongst so many Jesuses, could there not have been a Jesus of Nazareth? The problem with this notion is that absolutely nothing at all corroborates the sacred biography, yet this “greatest story” is peppered with numerous anachronisms, contradictions and absurdities. For example, at the time that Joseph and the pregnant Mary are said to have gone off to Bethlehem for a supposed Roman census, Galilee (unlike Judaea) was not a Roman province, so Mary and Joseph would have had no reason to make such a journey. Even if Galilee had been imperial territory, history knows of no “universal census” ordered by Augustus, nor any other emperor. In any case, Roman taxes were based on property ownership, not on a head count. Then again, we know now that Nazareth did not exist before the second century.

No mention is made in the Old Testament, nor by Josephus, who waged war across the length and breadth of Galilee, which was a territory about the size of Greater London. Josephus records the names of dozens of towns, but Nazareth is not among them. In fact, most of the events pertaining to Jesus take place in towns of equally doubtful provenance, in hamlets so small that only partisan Christians know of their existence. In contrast, well attested pagan cities, with extant ruins, failed to make the Jesus itinerary.

What should alert us to wholesale fakery here is that practically all the events of Jesus's supposed life appear in the lives of mythical figures of far more ancient origin. Whether we speak of miraculous birth, prodigious youth or miracle healings, all such events had been ascribed to other gods, centuries before any Jewish holy man strolled about. Jesus's supposed utterances and and statements of wisdom are equally commonplace, being variously drawn from Jewish scripture, neo-Platonic philosophy, and commentaries made by Stoic and Cynic sages.

The name Jesus is actually a 16th century creation, having its origins in יהושוע (Yehoshua/Joshua), in which the first part “yeho” refers to God. The name means “YHWH helps”, but was to be used with care. To prevent accidental voicing of the name of God, Yehoshua was truncated to ישוע (Y'shua), or to Yeshu in the Galilee. Transliterated into Greek, Yeshu became Ἰησοῦς (Iesous), and in Latin it became Iesus. A late development was the letter J, which was then substituted for the initial capital I, thus becoming Jesus.

“Jesus of Nazareth” supposedly lived in what is the most well-documented period of antiquity, the first century of the Christian era, yet not a single non-Christian source mentions the miracle worker from on high. All references, including the notorious insertions in Josephus, stem from partisan Christian sources. Josephus himself, in a point of great contention, was not even born until after the supposed crucifixion. The awful truth is that Jesus Christ was manufactured from plundered sources, re-purposed for the needs of the early Church.

It is not with a human being that the Jesus myth begins. Christ is not a deified man but a humanised god who happened to be given the name Yeshu. Those real Jesuses, those that lived and died within normal human parameters, may have left stories and legends behind which were later cannibalised by Christian scribes as source material for their own hero, but it is not with any flesh-and-blood rebel, rabbi or miracle-man that the story begins. Rather, its genesis is in theology itself.

Ed writes,

>>It seems to me that the faith enjoined to us by Christ and the Apostles can never be anything but dogmatic because it can only be revealed by God, not by any reasoned investigations of our own.<<

But I didn't say that the truths of revelation can be known by us by the use of our unaided reason. Obviously, if there are revealed truths, then they cannot be known in that way. And obviously, if God exists and reveals truths to man, then those truths have the highest epistemic warrant they could possibly have. But how do you know that God exists, reveals truths to man, and that among the several competing putative revelations, the Christian revelation is the true and genuine revelation? Here is where reason comes into the picture.

You speak of creeds. But there are many. How do you know that your creed is the true creed? Perhaps you should tell us what your creed is.

>>I don't see any good side to living a life of faith if that faith is in vain. It's true that we can't know by any of our usual methods whether faith in Christ will bear its promised fruit, and if it doesn't then we won't know anyway since we're dead. But if it doesn't, then our faith would be a lie (or an illusion at best, which is possibly just a lie of a special sort). Who would choose to live such a lie, especially if it constrained them from action that might help them prevail in a godless world?<<

You are misusing the word 'lie.' To lie, one must know the truth so as to intentionally hide it from one's audience. If our faith is a lie, who is telling the lie? You are using 'lie'and 'iilusion'the way politicians, journalists, and polemicists do, without the requisite precision for a serious discussion such as this. An illusion is not a kind of lie. Necessary for a lie is the intention to deceive. And if there is an intention to deceive there has to someone whose intention it is. If when I die, there is nothing, who is deceiving me? When I lived my faith, did I deceive myself?

Suppose you are living your faith in Christ now: you are living it, not just spouting certain formulae, or giving mere intellectual assent to certain propositions, but behaving in accordance with the doctrine. Are you deceiving yourself now, refusing to face 'reality' and dreaming about pie in the sky? You will say No and I will agree with you. But for all you KNOW, death might just obliterate you. How could that fact, if it should turn out to be a fact, retroactively make of your lived faith a matter of self-deception?

>>Who would choose to live such a lie, especially if it constrained them from action that might help them prevail in a godless world?<<

Ed, you obviously don't understand my argument at all. You seem to be confusing two different points of view. There is the pre-mortem POV and the post-mortem POV. Obviously no sincere believer is choosing to live a lie. Biden and Pelosi maybe, but they are frauds. You are not a fraud. You are not yet dead. So the only POV available to you is the pre-mortem POV. You cannot now take the view from the Other Side. And so you cannot now justifiably view your present life as a lie should it end in utter annihilation.

Mr. Spasticus, I think that it would be best to terminate this exchange at this point in time, since I cannot take seriously what you have written in your last comment. When someone tells me he is Napoleon or some equivalent foolishness, my policy is to take my leave.

Bill, thanks for your comments. I think I do understand your post but I am pushing on it, poorly it's true---reading my response back I do see the polemics and too-loose use of the word "lie" which I should have taken more time to parse out or at least discuss more clearly. I also see that I did not clearly address the part of your post I'm pushing back on. For instance, you say:

Ed, you obviously don't understand my argument at all. You seem to be confusing two different points of view. There is the pre-mortem POV and the post-mortem POV. Obviously no sincere believer is choosing to live a lie. Biden and Pelosi maybe, but they are frauds. You are not a fraud. You are not yet dead. So the only POV available to you is the pre-mortem POV. You cannot now take the view from the Other Side. And so you cannot now justifiably view your present life as a lie should it end in utter annihilation.

I do understand the part of the argument you're referring to; it was very clear from your post and beyond this it agrees with common sense. I also understand that my complaint that "a faith in vain is a lie" cannot legitimately be the complaint of a dead man. Hopefully I can make myself a little clearer. After looking over your post again, my root issue seems to be with this (quoted from your original post):

[...] a sincere lived (existentially appropriated and practically manifested) faith in God suffices to confer upon this life value, purpose, and moral structure, making it affirmable as good, and worth living.

In other words, manifesting faith in God will bring you certain benefits whether God exists or not. How does that work? Does "faith," regardless of whether its object exists, produce or pass on an identifiable constellation of attitudes and behaviors that serve to create values, moral structure, and sense of purpose that can be affirmed as good in the here and now? Affirmed by what standard? Because the notion seems to carry a tacit assumption that there is some common standard of the good independent of the divine, with an attendant moral structure and hierarchy of values, that would allow us to evaluate whether a person's life were well lived or not, either individually or with respect to some human collective. What is this common standard and where does it come from? Is it a derivation from the moral and social shell of traditional Christianity cut loose from its dead God? Is it something implicit in secular society, a list of commonly held liberal or conservative ideals? Or is there no standard beyond the subjective affirmation of the individual who feels his life was worth living in a way he attributes to his faith? I have no answers to any of this of course, and this is at least partly why I'm not at all certain that what you say is true. Rather the situation seems to be as I described in the last paragraph of my previous post.

"A faith in vain is a lie." This can't be affirmed by dead men for obvious reasons, and so can only be evaluated by the living, who can only "know" the fruitions of faith by faith. So yes, consideration of this is excluded by the constraints built into your argument, plus the fact that we can never know whether God even exists of not within the constraints of our mortal lives. I was venting outrage. Sorry. But a little on my use of the word "lie" in this context. If I could somehow see beyond my death and determined thereby that my faith in God was in vain, could I also justifiably conclude that my faith was a lie? I think yes and no. Faith, Christian faith at least, by definition has as its object something we can visualize well enough to desire, but CANNOT know since there can be no available evidence to make it more certain. Of course there are various nuanced definitions of faith, but the ones I have in mind were developed in Josef Pieper's "Faith, Hope, and Love" and seem comprehensive enough to rest on (Pieper is an Aquinas scholar though I am a Protestant). Since evidence that would lead to the sort of knowledge we can have of the physical world is absent, faith is initiated by some form of trusted testimony, which for Christians is the writings of Christ's apostles contained in the New Testament and passed on as dogma. This dogma is not simply that God exists, which is a notion that can be subject to the sort of reasoned faith you mention. This is why I bring in the creeds, which are abbreviated statements of Christian faith that include the historical groundings of the faith as well as the beliefs. The apostle's creed is a representative example of this though, as you say, there are others that amplify various aspects of it:

I believe in God, the Father almighty,
creator of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit
and born of the virgin Mary.
He suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried;
he descended to hell.
The third day he rose again from the dead.
He ascended to heaven
and is seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty.
From there he will come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. Amen.

What's stated in this creed is obviously not available through any amount of ex post facto reasoning. So if we could somehow determine beyond all shadow of doubt that God doesn't exist, is the creed therefore a lie? At the very least it's a false statement. But if people who passed it on believed it, they can't be said to have lied. But going back to the very beginning, if didn't come from God, where did it come from? Someone made it up, or somehow concocted it from bits and pieces of previous myths and stories. Maybe they also believed that faith confers benefits even if its object is a fiction. There are many useful human fictions that confer benefits. But even if their intentions were good, they created and passed on something they knew to be false, and that's a lie. That's what I was getting at.

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