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#1895 The Origins of Hell

Posted Diogenes of Mayberry on 31 October 2012 - 23:13 PM

Given that this is Halloween and my inaugural post for this site, I feel it is appropriate to post a section from my book, Manifest Insanity, that deals with the complete BS about the Christian doctrine of hell:

   “Moving from Satan’s fictional origins to his subterranean headquarters, the concept of hell is also completely lacking in the Hebrew Bible. Hell does not exist at all in the original canon. Once again, it is only in the extra-biblical writings of the Intertestamental Period that these concepts were created and expanded upon. The idea of hell relates to the earlier topic of the Jewish belief of an afterlife in sheol, as hell was spawned from the concept of Gehenna, the imagined gateway to the underworld. Gehenna was a perpetually burning garbage dump outside the city walls of Jerusalem in the Valley of Hinnom, where child sacrifices used to be held. This tainted location eventually came to be known as the expected destination for sinners.”

“What are you talking about? The ancient Israelites never practiced child sacrifice; that’s preposterous.” Linda protested.

“Hello, anyone home? Ever hear of Abraham trying to barbecue his son, Isaac?”

“Big deal, one reference to an attempted sacrifice that God stopped anyway; that doesn’t prove your point.”

“Well, as I do so love to prove my points by kicking your clueless butt into the next Sabbath, shall we look up a few more biblical references—seeing as you’re unconvinced? Shall we go in order again? We can skip Genesis 22 as we’ve already covered Abraham’s tailgate party. Let’s start with Exodus 22:29. ‘Thou shalt not delay to offer the first of thy ripe fruits, and of thy liquors: the firstborn of thy sons shalt thou give unto me.’ Now to be fair, the editors of the good book thought this might be a bit too much for the faithful to swallow, so they inserted an escape clause at Exodus 34:19-20 that stated: ‘All that openeth the matrix is mine; and every firstling among thy cattle, whether ox or sheep, that is male. But the firstling of an ass thou shalt redeem with a lamb: and if thou redeem him not, then shalt thou break his neck. All the firstborn of thy sons thou shalt redeem. And none shall appear before me empty.’”

“There you go, Jeff, you’re wrong again. There are no sacrifices, as that verse saves the firstborn sons.”

“O, ye of little faith. Hold on sister, I’m only getting warmed up—just like the kiddies on the barbecue spit. Next, let’s move to Judges 11:30-31, ‘And Jephthah vowed a vow unto the Lord, and said, If thou shalt without fail deliver the children of Ammon into mine hands, Then it shall be, that whatsoever cometh forth of the doors of my house to meet me, when I return in peace from the children of Ammon, shall surely be the Lord’s, and I will offer it up for a burnt offering.’ Sadly, the poor, dumb bastard put his foot in his proverbial mouth, as his only daughter came running out the door to greet her daddy on his homecoming. I sense your growing dread and your fears are not misplaced. I’m sure—from the doctrinal whooping I’ve been giving you all day—that you know exactly what’s coming next. Let’s put you and the poor girl out of your collective miseries by picking up at verse thirty-nine. ‘And it came to pass at the end of two months, that she returned unto her father, who did with her according to his vow which he had vowed.’ Alas, this time God didn’t prevent the sacrifice of an innocent child to soothe his galactic-sized inferiority complex by telling dear, old dad to stop at the last moment, now did he?”

Linda failed to acknowledge the uncomfortable truth and simply stared at the top of her desk in defeat. Picking up where he left off, “Thankfully, there were those who spoke out against this barbaric and superstitious practice, like Josiah and the prophet Jeremiah who condemned child sacrifice at the altar of Tophet in Ge Hinnom, or Gehenna. During the reforms implemented by Josiah the shrines to other gods were destroyed and additionally ‘he defiled Tophet, which is in the valley of the children of Hinnom, that no man might make his son or his daughter to pass through the fire to Molech,’ as written in 2 Kings 23:10.

“Continuing on, let’s read from Jeremiah 7:31-32 and see what he had to say on this subject. ‘And they have built the high places of Tophet, which is in the valley of the son of Hinnom, to burn their sons and their daughters in the fire; which I commanded them not, neither came it into my heart. Therefore, behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that it shall no more be called Tophet, nor the valley of the son of Hinnom, but the valley of slaughter: for they shall bury in Tophet, till there be no place.’ Should I go on? I have more examples and I can keep going if you like.”

“No, you can stop now. You’ve made your point,” Linda conceded sadly. “Those examples are horrible and I don’t want to hear anymore,” Linda exclaimed, truly shocked and horrified at the barbarity of the ancients.

“I do get a kick out of using your own book against you. There is something almost poetic about using the Bible against itself. However, to be fair, many other prophets like Jeremiah spoke out against sacrificial practices in general, not just of children, though I am sure this in particular disturbed them a great deal. Allow me to read a few passages to highlight their view on the utterly futile nature of sacrifices, and which matters were truly more important. Starting with Isaiah 1:11-17,

To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices unto me? saith the Lord: I am full of the burnt offerings of rams, and the fat of fed beasts; and I delight not in the blood of bullocks, or of lambs, or of he goats. When ye come to appear before me, who hath required this at your hand, to tread my courts? Bring no more vain oblations; incense is an abomination unto me; the new moons and sabbaths, the calling of assemblies, I cannot away with; it is iniquity, even the solemn meeting. Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hateth: they are a trouble unto me; I am weary to bear them. And when ye spread forth your hands, I will hide mine eyes from you: yea, when ye make many prayers, I will not hear: your hands are full of blood. Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes; cease to do evil; Learn to do well; seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow.

“See, doesn’t that sound reasonable? Forget sacrifices and just do what you can to help the less fortunate with good works. That is a religion I might have been able to support, but look at all of the mythological crap we got instead. It is too bad no one listened to Isaiah, for his radically sane ideas didn’t catch on and the message had to be repeated in Jeremiah 6:20. ‘To what purpose cometh there to me incense from Sheba, and the sweet cane from a far country? Your burnt offerings are not acceptable, nor your sacrifices sweet unto me.’

“Sadly, the superstitious believers didn’t listen to Jeremiah either, because apparently Hosea, Amos and Micah had to keep reminding them. From Hosea 6:6 it reads, ‘For I desired mercy, and not sacrifice; and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings.’ From Amos 5:21-23, ‘I hate, I despise your feast days, and I will not smell in your solemn assemblies. Though ye offer me burnt offerings and your meat offerings, I will not accept them: neither will I regard the peace offerings of your fat beasts. Take thou away from me the noise of thy songs; for I will not hear the melody of thy viols.’ Finally, from Micah 6:6-8, ‘Wherewith shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before the high God? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves of a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, or with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?’

“It also seems the Temple priests self-servingly ignored the prophets of their own Scriptures. I guess the priests simply didn’t care, despite the pleas and sharp criticisms from their respected prophets, that all this spilling of blood was counter-productive to the moral tenets of their religion. A morality that included justice and mercy, which is at odds with the cruel, delusional and selfish thinking that sacrificing animals or children would transfer the stains of their own sins to others in order for them get a clean slate.

“So, Linda, I trust I have shown you enough evidence to convince you that the concept of hell arose from the Jewish legends about a burning garbage dump and former site of child sacrifice. Not only is hell the product of the frenzied nightmares of control freaks with overactive imaginations, but it is totally absent from the Hebrew Bible and it is only mentioned in the New Testament, where it is not even referred to as hell.”

“Yes, it is,” Linda challenged yet again.

“In your English versions, yes, but in the original manuscripts the word used was Gehenna or the Greek equivalent, Hades. Hell is a German word, derived from the name of a Germanic underworld goddess which was used in our English translations. Just a quick detour through history to highlight my point: the first major work to be printed with movable type was the Gutenberg Bible, created on a printing press invented in Germany. So, you do the math why a German word for the underworld entered our collective over-imaginations. Yet, once again, important clues and meanings got lost in translation, since Gehenna would have been instantly recognizable to the early apocalyptic Jewish-Christians as the dumping ground of Jerusalem and all it symbolically implied—the portal to the underworld realm of sheol.”

“So, you’re saying our modern concept of hell is a late invention of Judeo-Christian religious beliefs? Mr. Hobbes inquired.

“That is exactly what I’m saying. And, not only was it an afterthought, but its fire and brimstone attributes were also added as time went on with imagery borrowed from other cultures. As many of the older Canaanite and pagan gods of surrounding cultures would have been viewed as threats to the worship of the one God, these gods and their associated imagery were personified as evil incarnations.

“Neptune’s trident is Satan’s pitchfork. And you remember Set, who killed his brother Osiris in the Egyptian creation story; from him we got the forked tail and red skin. Pan, a Greek deity renowned for his eroticism and lusts, was symbolized as having the horns and legs of a goat which became the basis for images of Satan. Throw in Baal with his horns and you get another demon with satanic imagery, as in Baal Zebub, or Beelzebub. There is also Baal’s archenemy, Mot, who reputedly dwells in an underworld pit like someone else you all imagine and fear. In fact, Satan also shares Mot’s residence with Ahriman, the dark lord of Persian myth; and Hades, the Greek god of the underworld. In all these belief systems the underworld was a place where souls were sent to be judged, a common factor that was key to incorporating the pagan beliefs of others into this Christian insanity.

“It should be evident by now that the hell Christians think they know is a completely fictional, relatively late, synthesized compilation of varying regional beliefs. And, in keeping with the best traditions of religious mythology, the authors of these legends rarely demonstrated any original creativity, but simply ripped off the ideas from others and passed them off as their own. Odd, why does that theme keep recurring?”

“Or maybe, just like the widespread flood stories from all over the world proves there must have been one, all these stories of underworld punishment from different cultures must prove hell is true too,” Linda added with her trademark obtuse thinking.

“Then why doesn’t Paul say anything about hell in his letters, at least not in the seven books scholars undoubtedly attribute to him?”

“I don’t know why not.”

“Of course you don’t, you are just absolutely sure hell is a real place. Okay then, why isn’t hell mentioned in the Gospel of John either?”

“Um . . .”

“Yeah, exactly; and just like you know hell is a real place, you sure as hell know that hell is in the Bible somewhere, you just don’t know where, or who said it, or in what context, or why. Sweetie, if you get any more clueless you may just qualify for a seat on the Texas State Board of Education, selecting what facts to remove from textbooks and what fictions to include. I foresee a long and stable future ahead of you as a mindless, career bureaucrat,” Jeff proclaimed.

“Be nice, Jeff. Why don’t you tell us where the references to hell are in the Bible, instead of insulting your classmates,” Mr. Hobbes chastised him gently.

“Sorry,” Jeff uttered half-heartedly. “The earliest references and the first indications that first-century zealots began to believe in hell as a real place for punishment don’t show up until the Gospels, starting some thirty-plus years after Jesus and another fifteen or twenty after Paul. The only reference to hell in Mark is the passage in 9:43-48, which is echoed in Matthew 5:29-30. You all know that quote popular among fire and brimstone Christians, say it along with me—pluck out your eyes or cut off your hands, lest your whole body should be cast into hell. What lovely imagery. Luke 16 has only a single depiction of the imagined tormenting flames of hell, but a certain devilish someone is conspicuously absent. Come on, I’ll give you three guesses who isn’t there. No takers? Ah, you guys are no fun. Maybe Satan was off on a recruiting trip for souls when Luke wrote about hell and he didn’t see the big, red, bad boy and so he just assumed there was no resident caretaker. However, the only reference in the entirety of the Gospels to Satan residing in hell is Matthew 25:41 which stated, ‘Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels.’ That’s it; no other links between Satan and hell exist in the Gospels.

“But, have no fear. Just because Satan isn’t present in Luke’s hell doesn’t mean the fun is over. In the most self-righteous and sadistic aspect of Luke’s description of hell, he paints a picture that Thomas Aquinas would repeat over a thousand years later with his own plentiful brand of monotonous and sanctimonious rubbish. In Luke and Tommy’s warped minds, saintly souls would get to spend an eternity in heaven floating around on puffy clouds, delighting in the torment of the non-faithful as they looked down their angelic noses on those stupid bastards roasting their naughty bits in hell, stick out their tongues and say, ha-ha, I told you so.

“That revenge fantasy alone screams volumes about the fragile, wounded psyches of the holier-than-thou crowd. It’s too bad psychoanalysis didn’t exist way back then as these fantasies, provoked by impotent rage, are all very Freudian. Think of all the hundreds of millions of souls in the Western world over the past two millennia that could have been saved from the self-inflicted mental cruelty this kind of thinking breeds, if only Luke and Tommy hadn’t thought up this nonsense in the first place. Maybe those two didn’t play well with others as children. Instead, they projected their resentment at being outcasts onto everyone around them, concocting mental fantasies of hellish retribution, rather than having a healthy outlet for their issues—like getting laid.”

#573 USA... Separation of Church & State???

Posted zomberina on 15 July 2012 - 02:40 AM

Goddess said:

I'd like to hear thoughts on the question of Separation between Church and State in the USA.

I understand that the first ammendment to the constitution of the USA forms such a separation, but, is it real? Does it happen?

The text of the first ammendment to the Constitution of the United States reads:
Later law suits ratified this and stated: "no religious test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States."

Constitutional scholars have gone back to Thomas Jefferson's original work and notes and found that he had, in fact, intended a full separation, and James Madison (who wrote the first ammendmend) said it should be a "Great Barrier".

The biggest problem is that the USA seems to be going "backwards" from the point of view of an atheist...  

The first amendment was ratified in 1789, adopted in 1791. At that time the banknotes did NOT have the "in God we trust" motto on them.

This is an older banknote, from 1935...
Posted Image

This one, however is from 2003, Clearly showing the phrase.

Posted Image

The phrase has been on US coins since 1864, and on the paper currency since 1957.

In the late 1700's there was no intention of this phrase, in fact the first ammendment (which, as you probalby know, is the underlying tenet of the US Bill of Rights (the first 10 ammendments to the constitution)). It was put on the coins some 65 years later, then onto the paper currency 150 years later.

What happened in the meantime?

What's with the big furore about whether Barack Obama is a Christian or not?  (I really don't want to discuss whether he knows which hand to put over his heart during the national anthem, or his politics, i'm talking about his religion here). People have claimed he's a Muslim (which I believe has been completely disproven), but, so what if he is?  Who cares? I mean, I'd prefer if he was an atheist, but, if he has to believe in a religion, does it matter which one?

There has been some discussion lately about ammending the US constitution AGAIN to include a national religion and repeal that section of the first ammendment. (good luck trying that one, but, it's a bit scary that it's made it onto the Aussie news...  Must be quite a push...).

Anyway, this is a very interesting thing, to me, I'm fascinated by the US constitution and it's implications, so please, tell me what you think.


Since the Red Scare era, lines between church and state have not been very clear. I think it is generational. We have boomers retiring, and they make up a ridiculous amount of governmental and societal influence. My younger generation is literally a victim of the Cold War propaganda brainwashing the boomers grew up in. We are seeing religious influened propaganda and agendas at their peak, but they will fade back to the more secular way of life before too many more generations past. I can't wait to see what the history books have to say.... Oh wait! I won't know! I'll be long dead by then probably.

I have my vid opinion about it all here===>

In regards to your asking about the "birther" issue that the Right keeps bringing up, there is something I learned in American History class in 8th grade that I never forgot. Qualifications for presidency are as follows: WASP. White, Ango-Saxon, Protestant. Now, granted, this isn't in the law books ANYWHERE, it's just a given. In fact, you will find this attitude across ALL governmental positions. Granted, I think the Protestant part should be made to just Christian, and that is namely due to Kennedy. He took the oogie-boogie out of being a Catholic, much like Romney is doing about Mormonism.

In fact, while our Constitution guarantees that none should be put to religious test for ANY office, there are laws on the books in states like Tennessee and I believe Alabama that say you can't hold office if you're an atheist. SERIOUSLY!

And again, I think a lot of this falls back to the Red Scare of the 50's. You weren't a good American if you weren't a Christian. If you weren't Christian, you were a godless Soviet Communist. That was the attitude, and the boomers who were born, raised and educated during those times had this literally programmed in to their minds. They in turn continued the same programming. Now they are using the Muslims instead of the Soviets. But over generations, things get watered down.

As far as what will be done about the problem with the states denying abortion priveleges, gay marriage (whole nother article I have on that one), and arguing that it isn't fair that Creationism isn't taught along Evolutionary Theory?  I think it will take time and patience. Our country is young and a bit behind on how the world works. 236 years isn't very long to have a system figured out.

As far as making a national religion? Won't ever happen. They will try and fail over and over. Honestly, 50 years ago, they might have pulled it off, but not now. You hear all this garbage about how America was founded on Christianity. Last I checked, it was founded by MEN. Some were religious. Some were not. But, they all agreed that our nation should be secular. They would NOT like how things are run today. I know they most certainly wouldn't agree on the abortion debate at all. It wasn't horrible to get an abortion in those days. Fact in matter, it was necessary at times.

Still, yes, it is indeed a sad state of affairs over here.

#305 Demystifying Superstition

Posted MikeB on 17 February 2012 - 08:31 AM


This is a feature I'd like to do semi-regularly. Many of the issues facing rationalists, secularists and atheists are grounded in the present or the future, but we come from a long lineage of superstition, myth and legend. I firmly believe that by dissecting our superstitions, and not just our big theologies, but our oracles, vampires, ghosts, and other such ephemera, we can learn valuable lessons from our past that inform our present and our future.

The first feature is in honour of our forum's ranking conventions, and so addresses some figures from classical Rome.

Part 1: Touched by the Gods - the Madness of Emperors

In times past, it was the prerogative of the titled and powerful to commune directly with the Gods. The wise and the effective rulers were touched by the more noble of the Gods, while the dangerous, brutal or insane were clearly touched by the most evil of the Gods. In talking about the illness of Emperors and the divine qualities attributed to them, I would like to discuss three Roman Emperors - Julius Caesar, Nero and Caligula.

Gaius Julius Caesar

Gaius Julius Caesar was prone to something referred to as 'the falling sickness'. Many modern scholars believe this may have been what we now call epilepsy. While there are divergent theories - including hypoglycaemia, malaria and migraine, the theory of epilepsy is a strong one, not only because he is thought to also have suffered absence seizures, but another divergent theory is that he suffered temporal lobe epilepsy, which is simply another form of epilepsy.

Epilepsy has a frightening history. It has been known as a symptom of communication from spirits, both benign and malignant. It has been labelled as 'the Sacred Disease', 'the falling sickness', as possession and shamanic experience. It holds a special fascination for me as, I too, am epileptic. Epilepsy does strange things to you. The grand mal seizure wracks your body. Every muscle tightens at once. Your brain has an electro-chemical 'short-circuit'. You bite your tongue. You froth, spittle mixed with blood from a bitten tongue. You black out. Spots of amnesia occur for days afterward. You can also have absence seizures, where your eyes flick up or away and you're just 'not there' for a split second.

There is no doubt that Julius Caesar was a capable and strong leader. It is probably due to his charisma and force of personality that his epilepsy was not viewed as malignant, but rather a province of communication from the Gods.

In many ways, epilepsy is one of the oldest, least understood and most heavily mythologised illnesses known to man. Even today, in certain parts of the world having a seizure will label you as possessed by evil spirits. It is a patent hypocrisy of the mythological view of the illness, that if you are great and good, the illness is a communication from benevolent spirits, but if you are just some random nobody, you are possessed by evil.

Caesar's epilepsy teaches us that lionising or demonising illness is arbitrary. Epilepsy sufferers are neither noble paragons of virtue stricken by debilitating illness, nor twisted evil scum receiving a much-deserved punishment. Today, we still lionise and demonise illness, based on arbitrary perception. Look in any online health article on depression - see how many commenters label people as malingerers, fakers, frauds. If we are to be rational about illness, we must realise it strikes the good and bad alike. We must realise that our only goal is to understand and treat the illness. Whether it's AIDS or cancer or depression, or any other ailment that strikes the human species, let's throw the stigma away, and just get on with treating it.

Gaius Julius Caesar Augustus Germanicus, aka 'Caligula'

Cailgula is infamous. Maybe you've seen the Bob Guccione may-as-well-be-porn film of the same name, or was a fan of the old BBC series 'I, Claudius'. If you've heard of Caligula, you've heard of his madness, brutality and sexual perversion.

We're a curious species, humanity. For some reason, stories seem to resonate with us more than fact. Where facts are scarce and hard to find, fantasy fills the void eagerly. Caligula is a good specimen of this. Little in the way of any contemporary sources describing him survive. He was known as insane, a sexual deviant, a tyrannical Emperor and possessed an unsettling, unblinking 'stare'.

Caligula grew up on campaign with his father Germanicus, a very competent and much-liked general. Young Gaius was outfitted with a kid-sized soldier's uniform, which earned him his nickname 'Caligula' or 'little boot'.

If you've seen either the above-mentioned film or Tv series, you know many of the scandals attributed to Caligula - incest, murder, torture - basically the whole contents of the average tyrant's toybox.

Like Julius Caesar, Caligula displayed many health irregularities. He could not swim, despite swimming being taught to every member of the Imperial household. This may have something to do with a prohibition on swimming for epileptics. Being part of the Julio-Claudian dynasty, it's possible he had inherited epilepsy. Some scholars have attributed his notorious irritability and unsettling stare to hyperthyroidism.

Perhaps of greatest note is that the frequent charge of insanity levelled, not just at Caligula, but many unpopular Roman leaders, was more of a cultural slur, than a literally descriptive one. Romans would often tar unpopular leaders with the brush of sexual perversity and insanity. Given Caligula scored both, he must have been wildly unpopular. This is odd, because many historical sources describe him as a mostly popular leader for the first two years of his reign, before he turned cruel.

Perhaps the 'madness' of Caligula is attributable to especially violent thyroid conditions. Caligula and his sister both narrowly survived a high-fever illness. Perhaps they were both genetically susceptible to rare and dangerous thyroid conditions? In any event, the image we have of Caligula as a mad, perverse tyrant who may have thought he was Zeus is almost certainly exaggeration. If anything he was a sick, spoiled rich boy, who probably just got bored and irritated.

It does not do us credit to blow these stories up out of proportion. While the stories are grand and fascinating and make for good drama, they only further confuse the history of figures we already know only too little. Who knows how much we may have learned of hereditary illness among the Julio-Claudian dynasty, if we weren't so hung up on the mythology?

Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus, aka Nero Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus, aka Nero

Nero is possibly one of the most well- known of the Roman Emperors. We have all heard the story of him fiddling while Rome burns. Some may have also heard the story that attributes the kabbalist numbering of '666' to him - the so-called 'number of the beast'. Nero thus becomes a mad figure of sublime evil - a callous, careless lunatics who warms himself beside pyres made of the burning figures of devout believers.

If this was true, it would make a fantastic fiction. The reality is somewhat more pedestrian. Nero grew up with his mother Agrippina in exile. She had been sent into exile by Caligula. Nero grew up like any other privileged child of Roman aristocracy - spoiled, pampered, filled with ambition. He is thought to have murdered poor and homeless Romans with a gang of like-minded thugs when he was a teenager. While horrible, this is sadly a mundane factor of Rome's ruling class. Stuffed full of barely-deserved self-worth, he eventually became Emperor.

Nero was, for the most part, a good Emperor. He expanded and stabilised the Empire, and built a rich cultural life for Roman citizens. The famed fiddling while Rome burned is a story that got blown out of proportion. It is true that he arranged for a large area of Rome to be burned to the ground. This was not out of madness, but ruthless expediency. He wanted the land to build a palace on. Simple as that. He wasn't even present when the arson occurred, he had conspired to be away from Rome to further conjure the image that it was an accident.

While sources such as Suetonius describe Nero setting captured Christians alight to light his gardens at night, we must also remember that few sources describing Nero survive and most are hostile. We must also remember that Romans would slander unpopular leaders as insane or perverted. This is not to say he didn't do this, just that we should not necessarily accept it as factual. Indeed, to most ordinary citizens (including the type of citizens he likely murdered for kicks as a youth) he was a much-admired leader.

His persecution of Jews and Christians is usually taken as a given. Indeed, the association of Nero to the 'number of the beast' is common folklore. Unfortunately to render 'Nero' in Kabbalistic numerology, you have to cheat. To get '666' - the number of evil sandwiched neatly between '555' the number of man and '777' the number of God - you have to fudge Nero's name to 'Neron'. Think of that when you watch 'The Omen' and they find that number birthmark on young Damian's head. Oh No! Damian Thorne is actually a long-dead Roman Emperor!

One thing we can learn from Nero once we strip away the bullshit, is that you don't need to exaggerate evil. He was likely a vain and spoiled man. He was ruthless and scheming, and yes, he probably did have Christians and Jews executed. Jews have endured a vast amount of persecution throughout history, Nero was simply one abuser in a long history of abusers. Christians may have been viewed as subversives at the time, and so for a figure who was almost certainly as opportunistic as Nero was, executing Christians was likely little more than the modern equivalent of George Bush, Sr invading Iraq. Yes, Nero was likely a complete prick of a man. But he wasn't the antichrist, he wasn't remarkable in his evil - just another spoiled scion of the later Julio-Claudian line, a lineage that once produced great Emperors, generals and orators, but degraded into producing halfwits, thugs and crooks. There is little about Nero, that if translated to a modern idiom, would be out of place in the modern US Republican party.


Rome carries a weight of mythology. Visually rich architecture, costume and ceremony, figures that seem larger than life. But once we strip away the fancy and superstition, we see figures not too dissimilar to leaders and politicians of our own era. Is the epileptic handicap of Julius Caesar too distant from FDR in a wheelchair? Is the perversion and insanity levelled against Caligula any different to the hysterical nonsense the Murdoch press throws against some political figures today? Is the opportunistic Nero any different to certain opportunists in our current Federal Parliament who demonise an enemy to aggrandise themselves?

Let's throw away the mythology. It causes figures from history to tower over us, when they should stand beside us. Noble or callow, we can still learn from them. They can teach us about illness, about cultural prejudices, about the injustices of autocratic power. These lessons are infinitely more valuable, and are definitely worth learning.

#2164 Would You Worship a God if There Really Was One?

Posted Vetr on 06 December 2012 - 18:24 PM

This one crops up regularly on religion forums. The problem of why bad things happen in a world supposedly controlled by an all-powerful, all-loving god is one of the most challenging problems in monotheistic philosophy, and it’s exercised religious thinkers for millennia.

I believe it’s safe to say that for everyone arguing that a particular act of God - or apparent omission of action - is ‘evil’, there’s someone else attempting to explain why it wasn’t, isn’t, or why it’s not inconsistent with the idea of a loving, moral God. These questions being so well-established in theology, it’s unlikely that - with the possible exception of the really rigid and insecure fundamentalists - anyone’s going to react with any great surprise or upset at the idea that the Bible shows God doing immoral things, or that evil exists in the world despite God.

I can’t answer a question that’s foxed far more intelligent people for all that time; and as a non-Christian it’s debatable whether it’s my place to do so anyway (yes, cowardly get-out). But when the supposed evil of God is being used as an argument against religion, I look at it this way:

If God is evil, then it follows that His followers must either be ignorant of His evil or they must be aware of it. It would be difficult to claim that they could be ignorant of it, since - even putting aside their own concentration on their holy text - they’ve had generations of atheists pointing it out to them. However intransigent they might be, some of that must have percolated through.

So they’re clearly aware of these examples, and yet they continue to follow that god. That means they must have no objection to His clear acts of evil. That means that they must - every wo/man jack of them - be immoral in themselves. You can’t knowingly countenance evil unless you carry a measure of evil yourself, surely?

So what yardstick do we have but the behaviour of God’s own followers?

We’re regularly told by those opposed to religion about all the evil done by religious people. Some go so far as to provide evidence of particular evil acts done in the name of religion, and then extend these out to encompass all believers of any kind, and confuse the notion of something being done in the name of religion with the idea that religion demanded it.

If we want to, we can make those evils our benchmark; but that means ignoring the far greater number of individuals around the world who profess a belief but do not commit significantly greater acts of evil than anyone else. For all the popularity of the argument, there’s never been a satisfactory conclusion to the question of whether religious people are generally more or less evil than atheists, which inclines me to believe that most people, whatever their beliefs, are still just people. These people, obviously, have some reason to suppose that God is not evil, leading me to believe that it’s probably not as clear-cut an issue as we might like to think.

As for the actual point - would I worship God if I thought it existed - I suppose my answer would have to be simply that I can't possibly know how I'd feel if my worldview was so critically, fundamentally different from what it is now.

#2098 Republican right wing now blames God for their defeat!

Posted Vetr on 26 November 2012 - 21:45 PM

If their attitude is that God has abandoned or betrayed them, or that God was wrong, then it's a good illustration of how religious they actually aren't.  If that's what they're saying. But from what I can see, Pat Robertson - who's being widely quoted in many a derisive article - was saying that he thought he'd heard from God and, as it turns out, he obviously hadn't.

To my mind that constitutes quite an impressive admission coming from one of these people.  It's not enough to let him off the hook, of course: I've no doubt before long he'll be back claiming to have a direct hotline to the Almighty.  You don't earn forgiveness for wrongdoing while you refuse to stop doing it.  And don't mistake this for support: I'm no fan of anyone who professes belief in a single, all-powerful, all-seeing, all-knowing entity and then claims to be able to speak for it.  To me, the very idea that a mere human could do that is utterly ludicrous.

But I thought the News Corpse article did make one very interesting point:

News Corpse said:

What the right missed was that all of the left-leaning agenda of the Democratic Party had far more in common with God’s agenda than the rank selfishness and greed of the GOP. Democrats advocated for health care (healing the sick), immigration (brotherhood), financial assistance (caring for the least among us), income equality and separation of church and state (giving Caesar his due), and deescalation of hostilities in Iraq and Afghanistan (blessed be the peacemakers). What’s surprising is that Republicans could oppose all of these things and still think they were doing God’s work.

This was interesting because it implies that these are good things (I'd agree that they are) and that they're consistent with the teachings of Jesus (I'd agree with that, too).

#2057 Book of the Week - The Authentic Gospel of Jesus

Posted Diogenes of Mayberry on 19 November 2012 - 09:18 AM

Book of the Week: The Authentic Gospel of Jesus

The next few books will move out of the realm of the general and easier-to-read category, into a more scholarly examination of Christian doctrines. First on the list is Professor Vermes’ skewering of the “words” of Jesus.

In The Authentic Gospel of Jesus Oxford professor Geza Vermes critically deconstructs the Gospels in a passage-by-passage examination of the supposedly core teachings of Jesus. Vermes gives his biblical scholarly expert opinion on whether or not the associated ideologies would legitimately belong to a first-century apocalyptic Jew, or if they were the later invention of scribes who retroactively put these words into his mouth to further the church’s evolving theology.

I quoted this book several times to support some of the points I made in my book, including Vermes’ take that Jesus was an apocalyptic, “the sky is falling” end-times preacher and that he was a racist anti-Gentile, in that his message was exclusively for Jews and Jews alone:
[Matt 7:6] “Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine.” (Non-Jews being the dogs and swine.)
[Matt 15:24] “But he answered and said, I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”

But, it was this quote, paraphrased on Vermes’ Wikipedia page and quoted here in full, which made me eager to get my hands on this book:
“Yet on reading the original message, thinking and honest members of the various Christian faiths may (should?) feel the need for a thorough reexamination of the fundamentals of their belief, ethics and piety, a reconsideration which may demand a complete doctrinal restructuring, a new ‘reformation.’”

This book is for the serious reader with a desire to go to a deeper level of textual criticism.

#1935 Spirituality as an Atheist

Posted Pastafaris on 02 November 2012 - 23:16 PM


Thanks, that helped quite a bit.  It's confusing when my xtian friends use the term to describe their relationship with the invisible sky-being.  The google definitions also helped, though I would have included #13!  :)

#1920 USA... Separation of Church & State???

Posted Vetr on 02 November 2012 - 20:01 PM

Goddess said:

“There has been some discussion lately about ammending the US constitution AGAIN to include a national religion and repeal that section of the first ammendment. (good luck trying that one, but, it's a bit scary that it's made it onto the Aussie news... Must be quite a push...).”

It doesn’t seem to have made it to the UK news. I can find an article in ‘Crisis Magazine’ (http://www.crisismag...first-amendment) from February declaring that Obama has repealed the First Amendment -- but on reading the article it’s basically a Catholic author writing a hysterically biased article about employers being “(required) to provide contraception, abortion-inducing drugs and sterilization”.

I can’t see anything (though I admit I’ve only made a cursory search) that seems to be suggesting that a repeal is on the cards or even being seriously discussed.


“I'm absolutely positive, although I've seen no data, that the world, particularly the USA, became more religious after that.”

But you’ve seen no data. Isn’t it possible that it was your perception of the world’s state of religiousness that changed? That you associated 9/11 with Islam -- as the perpetrators intended you should do -- and that this increased your sense that religion is a threat (especially if, for whatever reason, you already held that generalised view)? And that this in turn led you to be even more conscious of that threat and therefore more aware of the extent of religious belief?

When I’m driving, I have this thing about BMWs and Audis. They seem to be exclusively driven by arrogant, aggressive bullies with no concern for anyone but themselves. Every time I get cut up, tailgated, or otherwise hassled on the roads, it’s a BMW or an Audi. Of course it’s not every time: it’s just that whenever I see one of these makes of car being driven like this, it reinforces the existing prejudice. If it’s another make of car I probably just don’t really notice. I have no actual data to say that BMW and Audi drivers are statistically more aggressive than the norm. It’s very easy to fall into this kind of thinking, and it takes conscious reasoning to pull yourself out of it.


Although I absolutely don't believe it, I have heard some conspiracy theorists say that the whole WTC thing was not really Al Quaeda, it was the US government who orchestrated it, firstly for an excuse to take on the middle east, and, secondly as a recall to religion which was lapsing.

The ‘9/11 as an inside job’ conspiracy theory is still very popular with people of, shall we say, a 'certain mindset'. I’ve heard it explained as a false-flag operation executed by the government to justify military action in the Middle East; I've never heard anyone say it was to revive a failing religion, though. The ‘inside job’ theories are all utter bunk, and none of the evidence presented for them stands up even to casual examination.

Neurotraveller said:

It's amazing how people would become MORE religious after an assault that had a religious mindset.

It’s still arguable whether it did, in fact, have a religious mindset, or whether -- as is generally the case in conflict and atrocity -- it was an act of power-mongering political violence rationalised by reference to religion. We all take it as read that Al Qa’eda are ‘Islamic extremists’ -- but I’m sure they wouldn’t be too unhappy, if the world suddenly decided to bow down to them, to have the world bowing down to them. Such people can talk about trying to turn the world to the 'true faith', or whatever -- but it always seems quite clear they imagine themselves in charge.  You could argue (and I’ve known many atheists that have) that that’s what religious people do: but if you truly believe that you’re the humble creation of an omniscient, omnipotent God -- in other words, if you’re a genuinely religious monotheistic believer -- would it really be a consistent thing to do?

Pastafaris said:

the concept that the fundamentalists in this country want to turn the Middle East into a nuclear nightmare so they can bring Armageddon and the return of Christ. That truly scares me.

It would probably scare me too, if I thought it was a real issue.  But I’ve seen nothing that would convince me that 9/11 was planned, or even deliberately allowed, by the US Government. There may well be elements within the US administration that welcome conflict in the Middle East, but I’d be far more concerned about the influence of those who want to profit from weapons sales and lucrative rebuilding contracts than I would be about those seeking to bring about some nebulous prophecy about Armageddon.


As RGD51 says, one heck of a good reason to be an atheist!

Perhaps. Or perhaps it would be sufficient not to be a violent, xenophobic fundamentalist or an exploitative, amoral profiteer.

#1913 Why do we bother with creationists?

Posted Pastafaris on 02 November 2012 - 12:10 PM

Americans knew how to deal with Santorum; they ignored him (plus made his name a quite humorous bodily secretion).  I've discovered the hard way that it is impossible to debate a creationist (or for the more modern types, Intelligent Design), simply because they won't acknowledge the remote possibility that there are other options out there.  But I stil do it anyway just to get them angry and to lighten my day.  However, I get upset when these idiots get into positions of power, such as the Kansas or Texas state school boards and try to impose their xtian beliefs onto biology texts.  The USA was once a major leader in the advancement of science and technology, but when public schools produce graduates who don't even understand evolution, how can we compete with other countries?  The more the fundamentalists exert their influence upon America, the more it becomes an insignificant country in terms of the advancement of human acheivement.  And the more that the fundies can control the US, the closer the world comes to Armageddon since it is their goal to bring about the second coming.

#1908 Does atheism lead to a lack of community and is it a religion?

Posted Pastafaris on 02 November 2012 - 10:04 AM

I don't see atheists as having a "community" like a church.  Our primary (sole?) commonality is that we don't believe in any gods.  It's not that we believe in socialism, fascism, capitalism, the Big Bang, Calvin and Hobbes, or the Force.  Members of a religious community have in addition to that one bond, tend to also have other similar bonds.  They usually live in the same geographic area so they tend to be interested in things affecting that area (taxes, cable access, a new community center, a ball field, etc.).  Most atheists that I know don't live anywhere near me, heck, I know some that live down under!  So it's more difficult to engender that sense of community, though now that I have a job again I intend to get active in the local DC area atheist/humanist organizations.

As for selfish behavior, baloney!  Until I filed for bankruptcy a few years ago, I actually tithed to charitable organiztions, i.e., I set aside 10% of my net income to charitable purposes.  But instead of a religious place, it was to medical research, environmental concerns, improvements in education opportunities, Make-a-Wish, etc.  Now that I'm working again, I'll rejoin many of those organizations.  But that's just me.  I can't swear that all atheists would want to contribute to charitable organizations, though those that label themselves as humanists probably would do so.

Due to my age, my next home may very well be in a retirement village.  Then I'll have a sense of community as I play shuffleboard and bridge, participate in water aerobics, and dine with the many people I hope to meet.  But I'll skip the church services.  A community is what you make it.  A friend of mine (also an atheist) is very heavily involved in his local aquarium community.  Another atheist friend (in England) is active in local photography.  But these are commonalities of things that they enjoy doing together, not the commonality (overuse of word, 5 demerits) of NOT believing in something.  Until I attend my first DC area atheist group meeting, I'm not sure what type of community that I'll find.

#1797 New Secular State

Posted TwistedByKnaves on 23 October 2012 - 03:51 AM

Ooh, just noticed: I've been promoted ! :cool:

#1698 How to define god?

Posted TwistedByKnaves on 16 October 2012 - 05:40 AM

You know, I'm not at all sure that personifying the universe is quite as stupid as it sounds. After all, we personify ourselves with equally flimsy evidence.

#1665 UK newbie here

Posted Himinow on 14 October 2012 - 11:44 AM

No need to be sorry! It's always nice to get to know people right from to go!

I guess it depends on what your personal definition of atheism is. Some people (on both 'sides') tend to equate it with anti-theism, but personally - I see it as simply lacking an active belief in a God. I actively consider the possibilities and love to chat with anyone open minded enough to consider them.

You may be interested in this term: http://en.wikipedia..../Possibilianism

I've been on a lot of forums that degenerate into theist/atheist bashing - they don't achieve anything for anyone. If you want someone to actually listen, you've got to be nice! I'm glad we're attracting the type of people who'd like this forum to be the exception! We'll still always call out immorality when we see it, but shouldn't everyone?

Looking forward to chatting with you!

#1640 UK newbie here

Posted Vetr on 12 October 2012 - 16:44 PM

Hello. My name is Vetr, and I’m a pagan (of a sort). I could also reasonably describe myself as a polytheist, a pantheist, and probably a number of other labels for a ‘religion’ -- no, drat it, a religion -- that shifts and evolves as life goes on (and occasionally depending on what mood I’m in).

I’m in my thirties and live in the UK. I was raised in a Christian household, and went to a Church of England school. In the real world, where the subject of religion comes up, I’ve never yet met a Christian who’s shown me any hostility or contempt because of my religious position; nor have I met an atheist who’s been anything less than tolerant and accepting. And I hope I’ve never given anyone I’ve met any reason to say otherwise of me. At least in religious terms.

On the Internet, though... :eek:

I will freely admit that I come to this forum a sceptic. I love the idea of atheist and theist sharing a forum and discussing their different perspectives on the world. I edited that sentence from its original “discussing their differences”, because really, I don’t think that’s the point. I think the point is discovering the extent of our similarities despite the different aesthetic sense we might have.

I’ve been called wishy-washy (and everything south of that on the politeness scale) more than once, by religious and non-religious people alike. And I’ve even been told that I’m not religious at all, because I don’t have a firm idea of ‘God’ in my mind, and a firm idea of what He wants me to do. Even this site, in its opening sticky posts for newbies, suggests that if I’m questioning what ‘God’ is, then I’m an atheist.

I’m not an atheist. But I don’t know it all, and I don’t know how you see the world. So there’s no point me saying, “you should believe in this god or that god, and act in such a way”, because in the end, you’re in the same boat as me. You have to find your way the same as I do. As my wife -- who holds different religious beliefs from mine -- always put it: “We’re all climbing the same mountain. We just choose what route to take.”

Boat/mountain metaphor mixture there. Sorry. No ark references intended. ;)

So I’m only really sceptical because of the attempts I’ve seen to create such a forum before. I’ve seen what they’ve degenerated into. For all the forum rules and play-nice advice, in the end it always comes down to the same problems. Religious people stalking around the place declaring hellfire and damnation against atheists (not to mention people of even slightly different beliefs); and atheists strutting about telling everyone who’ll listen how much better they are because they’re ‘rational’ and how religious people are stupid, mentally ill child abusers.

In the end, all you’ve got left is just another endless slanging match going round and round and round the same claims and counter-claims.

I’m probably being a bit heavy here. I’ve seen little evidence of that here, but it’s only fair to let you know that I have an existing expectation. I’ll try not to make it self-fulfilling.

Speaking personally, I’m perfectly happy to discuss my beliefs and practices with anyone who’s interested in them, and will answer any honest question honestly. I have no reason to preach, because how am I helping you by trying to pull you off the mountain path you've decided is the best for you?

I’m also thoroughly intrigued by philosophical issues and (albeit as the layest of laypeople), in science as well. I particularly love astronomy, dabble awestruck in the shallows of cosmology (but I’m a seat-of-the-pants amateur cosmologist: don’t ask me to do any maths, please); and enjoy few things more than spending time wondering about the nature of reality, the meaning of life, consciousness, and all those magnificent questions that the cosmos presents us with every day.

Sorry for the long post. :)

#1610 Spirituality as an Atheist

Posted Adrian on 11 October 2012 - 19:42 PM

I realise this post is from last year, but it appeared on the athience home page just now, and I couldn't resist reading.

I think there are a great amount of people who have a lot in common with the video (including myself), but just aren't sure how to comprehend, or explain what they're feeling. As you mentioned, it's a great example of expressing it!

Thanks for posting this!

#1583 No, you’re not entitled to your opinion

Posted Himinow on 09 October 2012 - 15:37 PM

Finally a coherent way to explain what I've been thinking! =D

#1532 Hybrid Gender?

Posted Himinow on 05 October 2012 - 17:43 PM

Thanks for posting this Goddess!

Probably might as well mention that I don't identify with my male body. I've been through stages where I have identified as totally female, and stages where I identify as androgynous (somewhere in-between) but even as a kid; I never felt male. I'm currently in talks with my psychologist about being referred to a gender clinic to receive hormone treatment, but I think I'd be similar to Christina in so far as that should be enough for me.

If anyone else is going through a similar experience and needs someone to chat to, I'll be around. Feel free to PM me if you prefer :-)

#1505 Greetings, Earthlings!

Posted muppie on 04 October 2012 - 14:47 PM

I'm wishing that I'm from Vulcan but currently in standard orbit above Gold Coast, Australia.

#1487 Athience:Penn Jillette An Atheist's Guide to the 2012 Election

Posted McPsych on 04 October 2012 - 06:31 AM

i think it malignes batshit- dung has its uses

#1485 New Secular State

Posted McPsych on 04 October 2012 - 06:22 AM

ok- anyone got Bill Gates' number
I reckon we start as if it were a mining expedition- ship with dredge and plastics plant
perhaps we should declare the gyre a state first eh- all you sailors out there- we need your ships