Work in progress (pun intended)
Ongoing social construction…
Work in progress (pun intended)
Ongoing social construction…
This series follows one entitled Demythologizing Religion (DR). Information presented here can be found in standard books or websites. Corrections and comments are welcome, and may be sent to Vaughn Barnett, B.A., J.D. at firstname.lastname@example.org.
– 1 –
Conventional and alternative religions alike have often presented myths as facts with significant implications for our values (per my DR series). Yet, if these facts were true, their evaluation would still be a separate issue. As the following thinkers argued, even assuming the existence of God or gods, or any such being, divine precepts are not the same as moral or normative values:
Plato (c. 427-347 BCE), Euthyphro 10-11:
“Is the holy loved by the gods because it is holy? Or is it holy because it is loved by the gods?… We agree that what is holy is loved by the gods because it is holy, and not holy because it is loved by the gods… But what [the holy or the good] really is, you have not yet said.”
Ralph Cudworth (1617-1688), A Treatise Concerning Eternal and Immutable Morality 1.1.5:
“[Some theologians contend] that there is nothing absolutely, intrinsically, and naturally good and evil, just and unjust, antecedently to any positive command or prohibition of God; but that the arbitrary will and pleasure of God… is the first and only rule and measure thereof. Whence it follows unavoidably that nothing can be imagined so grossly wicked, or so foully unjust or dishonest, but if it were supposed to be commanded by this omnipotent Deity, must needs upon that hypothesis forthwith become holy, just and righteous.”
Immanuel Kant (1724-1804), “Natural Religion,” Lectures on Ethics:
“Religion is the application of the moral laws to the knowledge of God, and not the origin of morals. For let us imagine a religion prior to all morality: then this would imply a relation to God, and would therefore consist in recognizing Him as a mighty lord whom we should have to placate. All religion assumes morality, and morality cannot, therefore, be derived from religion.”
Antony Flew (1923-2010), God and Philosophy 5.20:
“[Plato asks] whether conduct is right because the gods command it or whether the gods command it because it is right. The question is both profound and typically philosophical. Indeed one good test of a person’s aptitude for philosophy is to discover whether he can grasp its force and point. The point is this. If you accept the first alternative then you are in effect defining moral words like right and wrong in terms simply of the will of the gods, or of God [such that] there can be no inherent moral reason why this rather than that ought to be thus commanded [and] the glorification of the righteousness of God [becomes meaningless]. If you accept the second alternative then you are insisting on standards of right and wrong… independent of God’s will.”
James Rachels (1941-2003), “God and Human Attitudes,” Religious Studies 7, 1971, p. 325, 6(2):
“We cannot determine whether some being is God without first checking on whether he is perfectly good [and hence] whether his commands to us are right. Thus our own judgment that some actions are right, and others wrong, is logically prior to our recognition of any being as God. …we cannot justify the suspension of our own judgment on the grounds that we are deferring to God’s command… for if, by our own best judgment, the command is wrong, this gives us good reason to withhold the title ‘God’ from the commander.”
Questions to consider:
Are moral or normative values as divine precepts not instances of mythology? Does the legitimacy of any religion not presuppose an independent basis for evaluating its worth?
– 2 –
While Plato and his successors discredited the conception of moral values as divine precepts (see DV-1), the same tradition introduced the equally mythological notion that moral values are intuitive metaphysical absolutes, akin to eternal truths or immaterial entities occupying a reality beyond the empirical or natural realm. However, thinkers such as the following helped to discredit this notion as well:
G.E. Moore (1873-1958), Principia Ethica 67:
“[It has been argued] that some knowledge of supersensible reality is necessary as a premise for correct conclusions as to what ought to exist… [Such a view] rests upon the failure to perceive that any truth which asserts ‘This is good in itself’ is quite unique in kind – that it cannot be reduced to any assertion about reality… This confusion as to the unique nature of ethical truths is… involved in all those ethical theories which I have called metaphysical.”
A.J. Ayer (1910-1989), Language, Truth and Logic, chapters 1, 6:
“In general, the postulation of real non-existent entities results from the superstition… that, to every word or phrase that can be the grammatical subject of a sentence, there must somewhere be a real entity corresponding. …as there is no place in the empirical world for many of these ‘entities,’ a special non-empirical world is invoked to house them…
“In admitting that normative ethical concepts are irreducible to empirical concepts, we seem to be leaving the way clear for the ‘absolutist’ view of ethics – that is, the view that statements of value are not controlled by observation, as ordinary empirical propositions are, but only by a mysterious ‘intellectual intuition.’ A feature of this theory, which is seldom recognized by its advocates, is that it makes statements of value unverifiable. For it is notorious that what seems intuitively certain to one person may seem doubtful, or even false, to another. …the reason why [such claims] are unanalysable is that they are pseudo-concepts.”
J.L. Mackie (1917-1981), Ethics: Inventing Right and Wrong, chapter 1, section 9:
“If there were objective values [in the strong Platonic sense], then they would be entities or qualities or relations of a very strange sort, utterly different from anything else in the universe. Correspondingly, if we were aware of them, it would have to be by some special faculty of moral perception or intuition, utterly different from our ordinary ways of knowing everything else. These points were recognized by Moore when he spoke of non-natural qualities, and by the intuitionists… When we ask the awkward question, how we can be aware of [these entities], none of our ordinary accounts… will provide a satisfactory answer; ‘a special sort of intuition’ is a lame answer, but it is the one to which [this type of] objectivist is compelled to resort.”
R.M. Hare (1919-2002), Moral Thinking 12.5:
“The vice of intuitionism lies in the surreptitious transition from… psychological facts to alleged moral properties which actions are supposed to have, but which are really nothing but the tendency to evoke [certain] feelings. Intuitionism is only a cloak for subjectivism…”
Questions to consider:
Is intuition not a sense of knowing “that” without knowing “why,” thus requiring critical examination for possible prejudice? When intuitionists assert that certain moral absolutes are incapable of proof, might we take this literally to mean that such values are indefensible assumptions? Are not absolute metaphysical or non-natural values (that just “are”) too odd and actually counterintuitive?
– 3 –
Given that supernaturalism is implausible (see DR-18 to DR-20), and also that values cannot be grounded on divine precepts or metaphysical absolutes (see DV-1, DV-2), we may conclude that values must be wholly explainable within a naturalistic framework. As indicated by the following thinkers, however, moralistic appeals to the laws of nature have posed theoretical problems similar to those associated with religious or metaphysical mythology:
J.S. Mill (1806-1873), “Nature,” summary/conclusion:
“The word Nature has two principal meanings: it either denotes the entire system of things, with the aggregate of all their properties, or it denotes things as they would be, apart from human intervention. In the first of these senses, the doctrine that man ought to follow nature is unmeaning; since man has no power to do anything else than follow… some one or many of nature’s physical or mental laws. In the other sense of the term, the doctrine that man ought to follow nature [is] irrational and immoral: irrational, because all human action whatever consists in altering, and all useful action in improving, the spontaneous course of nature; immoral, because the course of natural phenomena [is] replete with everything which when committed by human beings is most worthy of abhorrence…”
Elizabeth Anscombe (1919-2001), “Modern Moral Philosophy,” Philosophy 33, 1958, p. 1:
“To have a law conception of ethics is to [imply] that what is needed for conformity with the virtues… is required by divine law [though] it is not possible to have such a conception unless you believe in God as a law-giver; like Jews, Stoics, and Christians. But if such a conception is dominant for many centuries, and then is given up, it is a natural result that the concepts of ‘obligation,’ of being bound or required as by a law, should remain though they had lost their root; and if the word ‘ought’ has become invested in certain contexts with the sense of ‘obligation’ it too will remain to be spoken with a special emphasis and a special feeling in these contexts.”
Kai Nielsen (b. 1926), “The Myth of Natural Law,” intro & V, God and the Grounding of Morality:
“Natural moral law conceptions, grounded as they traditionally have been on metaphysical or theological principles, are myth-eaten…; aseptic, demythologized conceptions of ‘natural law’… are essentially sound and are fundamental in displaying the moral foundations of legal systems.
“…even if there are natural laws of the kind the Thomist and classical natural law theorist talks about, it still does not follow that they have provided us with an adequate foundation for a rational ethic. …it cannot be the case that we can discover what we ought to do simply from apprehending what is… for in making an ascription of purpose [to nature] we have already made a moral judgment in which we have of necessity brought into play our own [preconceived values]. We cannot discover or apprehend what we ought to do [simply] from observing the behavior of men, from observing what the universe is like, or from hearing what God commands.”
Questions to consider:
Does this concept of natural laws not rely on a misleading analogy between laws in the sense of physical regularities and laws in the sense of commands by a ruler, as well as between these essentially factual claims and laws in the evaluative sense of binding norms? Is it not obvious that these are very distinct types of propositions, and more particularly that the first two cannot dictate the third? Should it make any theoretical difference whether the supposed laws, considered only as facts, are held to be natural, metaphysical, or supernatural, insofar as they would still be mere facts, incapable as such of dictating normative principles?
– 4 –
Once we realize that our values must be wholly explainable within a demythologized, naturalistic framework (see DV-1 to DV-3), we also find, like the following thinkers, that all of our values must originate with those we just happen to have “naturally,” as subjective feelings and interests:
David Hume (1711-1776), An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals, appendix I, section V:
“It is impossible… that one thing can always be a reason why another is desired. Something must be desirable on its own account, and because of its immediate accord or agreement with human sentiment and affection. Now as virtue is an end, and is desirable on its own account, without fee and reward, merely for the immediate satisfaction which it conveys, it is requisite that there should be some sentiment which it touches… Reason, being cool and disengaged, is no motive to action, and directs only the impulse received from appetite or inclination, by showing us the means of attaining happiness or avoiding misery.”
William James (1842-1910), “The Moral Philosopher and the Moral Life,” II:
“[Evaluative] words can have no application or relevancy in a world in which no sentient life exists. Imagine an absolutely material world, containing only physical and chemical facts… without a God, without even an interested spectator… Surely there is no status for good and evil… in a purely insentient world… Betterness is not a physical relation. In its mere material capacity, a thing can no more be good or bad than it can be pleasant or painful. …the first step in ethical philosophy is to see that no merely inorganic ‘nature of things’ can realize [values]. Their only habitat can be a mind which feels them… The moment one sentient being, however, is made a part of the universe, there is a chance for goods and evils really to exist… So far as he feels anything to be good, he makes it good. It is good, for him.”
Bertrand Russell (1872-1970), What I Believe I:
“The philosophy of nature is one thing, the philosophy of value is quite another… Undoubtedly we are part of nature, which has produced our desires… In the world of values, Nature in itself is neutral, neither good nor bad… It is we who create value and our desires which confer value… It is for us to determine the good life, not for Nature – not even for Nature personified as God.”
J.L. Mackie (1917-1981), Ethics: Inventing Right and Wrong, chapter 1, section 10:
“…both the adjective ‘good’ and the noun ‘goods’ are used in non-moral contexts of things because they are such as to satisfy desires. We get the notion of something’s being objectively good, or having intrinsic value, by reversing the direction of dependence here, by making the desire depend upon the goodness, instead of the goodness on the desire. And this is aided by the fact that the desired thing will indeed have features that make it desired… It is fairly easy to confuse the way in which a thing’s desirability is indeed objective with its having in our sense objective value. The fact that the word ‘good’ serves as one of our main moral terms is a trace of this pattern of objectification.”
Questions to consider:
Whatever happens to be the status of objective values, is it not a given that we at least have desires and the like? Are not subjective experiences then, by default, the source of all our values insofar as no other source can be found? Can there be any other possible source of values for us except reason and external facts? Yet, can these have any relevance to our values except to the extent that they are also relevant to the feelings and interests which we or others might have?
– 5 –
Because subjective feelings and interests are the source of all values (see DV-1 to DV-4), thinkers such as the following have helped to demythologize normative “ought” or “should” values by limiting them to what have become known philosophically as hypothetical imperatives, defined as instrumental norms which say, in effect, that we ought to do A if we desire or seek B:
David Hume (1711-1776), A Treatise of Human Nature, book III, part I, section I:
“In every system of morality… the author proceeds for some time in the ordinary way of reasoning, and establishes the being of a God, or makes observations concerning human affairs; when of a sudden… instead of the usual… propositions is and is not, I meet with [a] proposition… connected with an ought or an ought not. This change is imperceptible, but is, however, of the last consequence. For as this ought or ought not expresses some new relation or affirmation, it is necessary that… a reason should be given for… how this new relation can be a deduction from others which are entirely different from it. …this small attention would… let us see that the distinction of vice and virtue is not founded merely on the relations of objects, nor is perceived by reason [apart from feelings and interests].”
Brand Blanshard (1892-1987), Reason and Goodness, chapter XII, sections 14-16:
“[We are] so made as to desire [certain things], and fulfilling and satisfying such desires is what ‘good’ means… Now this gives the meaning of ‘ought.’ To say that I ought to do something is ultimately to say that if a set of ends is to be achieved… then I must act in a certain way… But to make dutifulness itself a good… independently of other goods [is] hardly intelligible… it is derivative from the good that such regard for duty brings about. …by itself it is a vacuous good.”
Philippa Foot (1920-2010), “Morality as a System of Hypothetical Imperatives,” conclusion & note 8, Virtues and Vices:
“…those who think they can close the matter [of duty] by an emphatic use of ‘ought’… are relying on an illusion, as if trying to give the moral ‘ought’ a magic force… Either it is possible to create reasons for acting simply by putting together any silly rules and introducing a non-hypothetical ‘should,’ or else the non-hypothetical ‘should’ does not [as such] imply reasons for acting.”
A.C. MacIntyre (b. 1929), “Hume on ‘Is’ and ‘Ought’,” Philosophical Review, 68, 1959, p. 451, V:
“[Hume] is asserting that the question of how the factual basis of morality is related to morality is a crucial logical issue [and that] we can connect the facts of the situation with what we ought to do only by means of one of those concepts which Hume treats under the heading of the passions and which I have indicated by examples such as wanting, needing, and the like.”
Richard Joyce (b. 1966), The Myth of Morality 2.5 – 2.6:
“Moral obligations exist… only if reasons for action exist… This wider non-moral notion… comes from practical rationality… Practical rationality… yields only hypothetical imperatives, and therefore cannot be appealed to as a way of vindicating ‘moral inescapability’.”
Questions to consider:
To establish normative “ought” values without begging the question, do we not have to begin with purely factual “is” premises? Yet when we begin with facts other than those about what is desired or needed, can we ever reason from “is” to “ought”? Is the hypothetical imperative not the only type of norm that can avoid Hume’s fallacy of deriving a new relation from others “entirely different from it”?
– 6 –
Since all normative values are means for pursuing subjective ends (see DV-1 to DV-5), moral values can only be means for pursuing the subjective ends of others as one’s own. Hence, the ground of our morality, divested of mythical authority, is nothing more than our natural human capacity for empathy or sympathy, as the following thinkers explained:
David Hume (1711-1776), A Treatise of Human Nature, book III, part III, section I:
“To discover the true origins of morals… we must take the matter pretty deep… We may begin with considering anew the nature and force of sympathy… Now, as the means to an end can only be agreeable where the end is agreeable, and as the good of society, where our own interest is not concerned, or that of our friends, pleases only by sympathy, it follows that sympathy is the source of the esteem which we pay to [conventional] virtues… From thence we may presume that it also gives rise to many of the other virtues, and that qualities acquire our approbation because of their tendency to the good of mankind. This presumption must become a certainty, when we find that most of those qualities which we naturally approve of have actually that tendency… For having found that such tendencies have force enough to produce the strongest sentiment of morals, we can never reasonably, in these cases, look for any other cause of approbation or blame; it being an inviolable maxim in philosophy that where any particular cause is sufficient for an effect, we ought to rest satisfied with it, and ought not to multiply causes without necessity.”
R.B. Perry (1876-1957), Realms of Value, chapter VI, section 5:
“[Morality] depends on benevolence, that is, one person’s positive interest in another person’s interest. To be benevolent here means not that I treat you well so far as it happens to suit my existing interests to do so; my concern for your interests is an independent interest [via empathy]. Taking your desires and aversions, your hopes and fears, your pleasures and pains, in short, the interests by which you are actually moved, I act as though these interests were my own… When you are at the same time benevolently disposed to my interests, we then have the same problem of reconciling the same interests, except that my original interests form the content of your benevolence and your original interests the content of mine… No will [or norm] is here introduced over and above the wills of the two persons, but since the two wills now represent the same interests, they will have achieved a community of end and a cooperative relation of means. In each person the new socialized purpose will have become dominant over his original interests.”
Annette Baier (b. 1929), “Hume, the Women’s Moral Theorist?” in Women and Moral Theory, # 2:
“Self-interest, and the capacity to sympathize with the self-interested reactions of others, plus the rational, imaginative, and inventive ability to think about… likely human consequences… rather than an acquaintance with a higher law, are what a Humean appeals to… Morality, on Hume’s account, is the outcome of a search for ways of eliminating contradictions in the ‘passions’ of sympathetic persons who are aware both of their own and their fellows’ desires and needs, including emotional needs. …what corrects [one sentiment] will be contrary sentiments [and the] drive to minimize conflict both between and within persons.”
Questions to consider:
Can it be just a coincidence that, despite religious and secular disagreement about what grounds morality, there is a consensus that morality at least involves putting oneself in the place of others? Is it possible that the disagreement reflects the lack of any further ground of morality?
– 7 –
Our natural human capacity for empathy or sympathy is the only non-mythical ground of our moral values (see DV-1 to DV-6). Normative morality is thus relative or contextual in the sense that its requirements are entirely dependent on what those in any given situation would find acceptable after identifying with each other’s desires and needs, but it is also objective or universal in the sense that such intersubjective harmonization implies a consistent standard in the form of a mutual Golden Rule. This concept of relativized objectivity in ethics has been suggested by thinkers such as the following:
R.B. Perry (1876-1957), Realms of Value, chapter VII, section 6, & chapter VIII, section 8:
“…there is no [final moral] court of appeal short of the reflective social agreement in which all persons acting as representatives of their interests, and expanding their interests to embrace the interests of others, arrive at a unanimous decision. This is the principle, never fully applied, which serves as a guide to the creation of a society that shall be as just as possible… Among precepts the ‘Golden Rule’ holds a unique place. Its wide acceptance in both ancient and modern times, in paganism and in Christianity, and among [many diverse] moralists… is not a coincidence. For it is of the essence of morality that each moral agent should accept the interests of others as he accepts his own; that he should put himself in the other’s place, and the other in his place, and so recognize an interest as an interest in its own terms no matter to whom it belongs…
“[This intersubjective standard] satisfies the requirement of cognitive universality and objectivity… It places itself in all points of view, and fits them together. …since it is interest as such which generates good, and a harmonious relation of interests which constitutes moral good, [this principle] is applicable to all interests and persons… Hence the norm of harmonious happiness is doubly universal. It is universal in the theoretical sense: its nature and its implications are objective, and the judgments in which it is employed are equally true for all judges; and being abstracted from particular interests, it is applicable to all human situations. It is also universal in the social sense: its promised benefits accrue to all…”
Peter Singer (b. 1946), How Are We to Live?, chapter 11:
“…I am just one being among others, [with] a personal perspective on the world… But [I can] see that others have similarly subjective perspectives, and that from ‘the point of view of the universe’ my perspective is no more privileged than theirs… Consistently… the major ethical traditions all accept… a version of the Golden Rule that encourages equal consideration of interests [and promotes] a universal ethic… Yet I am not defending the objectivity of ethics in the traditional sense. Ethical truths are not written into the fabric of the universe: to that extent the subjectivist is correct. If there were no beings with desires or preferences… nothing would be of value and ethics would lack all content [but] once there are beings with desires, there are values that are not only the subjective values of [an] individual being… When my ability to reason shows me that the suffering of another being… matters just as much to that other being as my own suffering matters to me, then my reason is showing me something that is undeniably true. I can still choose to ignore it, but then I can no longer deny that my perspective is a narrower and more limited one than it could be… [This outlook] is as close to an objective basis for ethics as there is to find.”
Questions to consider:
Is the Golden Rule, considered apart from religious or metaphysical claims, not a principle of objectivity understood in terms of intersubjectivity (other as self)? Does its universality not derive paradoxically from its relativity to every context as viewed from all perspectives?
– 8 –
Normative morality, without the support of myth, seeks only to harmonize interests on the basis of a secular Golden Rule (see DV-1 to DV-7). Yet, because the harmony sought is an evaluative standard transcending the actual interests it unites, in the way that a unified whole is greater than the sum of its separate parts, it accounts for the sense of morality’s unique irreducible features as depicted here by the following thinkers:
Immanuel Kant (1724-1804), Critique of Practical Reason, part I, book I, chapter III:
“[Moral duty] can be nothing less than a power which elevates man above himself [and] connects him with an order of things that [determines] the sum total of all ends (which totality alone suits such unconditional practical laws as the moral).”
W.D. Ross (1877-1971), Foundations of Ethics, chapter XIII:
“…I must consider equally all the elements, so far as I can foresee them, in the state of affairs I shall be bringing about. If I see that my act is likely to help [one] and to hurt [another], I am not justified in ignoring the bad effect… It is the whole nature of that which I set myself to bring about, not that part of it which I happen to desire, that makes my act right or wrong… This relation [of a moral interest in others’ welfare] is not one which can be stated in purely non-ethical terms, as the relation of being an object of interest can be stated; it involves the ethical or [seemingly] non-naturalistic term ‘worthy’ or ‘suitable’.”
C.L. Stevenson (1908-1979), Facts and Values, essay 2, sections 5-6:
“The traditional interest theories… neglect emotive meaning [and] dynamic usage [in our moral language]… Ethical judgments are social instruments. They are used in a cooperative enterprise that leads to a mutual readjustment of human interests.”
R.M. Hare (1919-2002), Moral Thinking 12.8, 12.9:
“…what will determine our final moral judgment is our total system of preferences. …it is that principle which we prefer, all in all, should be applied to situations like [the given one] regardless of what position we occupy. …if we are to arrive at a moral judgment about the case, [we need] to coordinate our individual preferences into a total preference which is impartial between us.”
Mark Platts (b. 1947), Ways of Meaning, chapter X, section 1:
“…moral judgments are autonomous of non-moral judgments. The parallel to exploit in understanding this autonomy is the relation [between] a certain arrangement of black dots on a white card and… a face there pictured to be seen. …we do not see the face by attending to that dot-arrangement… in terms free of picture and face vocabulary… [Similarly, we do not] make moral judgments… by attending to the non-moral facts… in vocabulary free of moral import…”
Questions to consider:
Although opposed to reductive ethical naturalism, do these thinkers here depict anything inconsistent with a conception of morality as the mutual harmonization of interests on their own terms? Is this not an irreducibly normative standard which nonetheless is implied by actual desires which people seek to reconcile, just as a harmonious whole, which cannot be explained solely by its separate parts, nonetheless is implied by their adjustment to each other? Does the opposing argument that non-moral facts can yield only a non-moral conclusion not then commit the fallacy of composition by reasoning that what is true of parts must be true of the whole?
– 9 –
Morality transcends subjective feelings and interests by harmonizing them into a social whole greater than its summed parts (see DV-1 to DV-8). A demythological corollary of this holism is that, just as there is no whole beyond its interrelated parts, each an integral element in the unifying process, so there is no morality beyond mutually adjusted desires, each an integral element in the process of seeking social harmony. Some of the implications of such a realization have been captured by the following thinkers:
William James (1842-1910), “The Moral Philosopher and the Moral Life,” II & III:
“I know well how hard it is for those who are accustomed to what I have called the superstitious view, to realize that every de facto claim creates in so far forth an obligation. We inveterately think that something which we call the ‘validity’ of the claim is what gives to it its obligatory character, and that this validity is something outside of the claim’s mere existence as a matter of fact. It rains down upon the claim, we think, from some sublime dimension of being, which the moral law inhabits… But… such an inorganic abstract character of imperativeness, additional to the imperativeness which is in the concrete claim itself, [cannot exist]. Take any demand, however slight, which any creature, however weak, may make… The only possible kind of proof you could adduce [against satisfying it] would be the exhibition of another creature who should make a demand that ran the other way… Any desire is imperative to the extent of its amount…
“Since everything which is demanded is by that fact a good, must not the guiding principle for ethical philosophy (since all demands conjointly cannot be satisfied in this poor world) be simply to satisfy at all times as many demands as we can? That act must be the best act, accordingly, which makes for the best whole, in the sense of awakening the least sum of dissatisfactions.”
Bertrand Russell (1872-1970), The Conquest of Happiness, chapter VII:
“In a rational ethic it will be held laudable to give pleasure to anyone, even to oneself, provided there is no counterbalancing pain to oneself or to others… [One] should be destitute of superstitious morality [based on sin].”
R.B. Perry (1876-1957), Realms of Value, chapter VI, sections 2-3:
“Owing to the fact that it requires inclinations to be overruled and disciplined, duty comes to be identified with disinclination – with doing what one does not want to do or leaving undone what one wants to do… [Yet any] denials derive their only moral justification from the affirmations for which they make room… In order to promote an organized harmony of life [people] must limit and adjust interests without destroying them… …in moral organization the whole serves the parts, or the whole only for the sake of the parts. The parts are interests, and they are organized in order that they, the constituent interests themselves, may be saved and fulfilled.”
Paul Edwards (1923-2004), The Logic of Moral Discourse, conclusion:
“Intuitionism and… non-naturalism in ethics… support the morality of self-denial and sin… [but] usually have very little to offer [as] empirical justification… In the last resort [such moralists] fall back on God’s alleged prohibitions… conscience or… our moral sense… Now, once a person rejects non-naturalism, he will demand a factual justification for moral judgments…”
Questions to consider:
Paraphrasing James’ question, should we not satisfy as many desires as possible? What can morally count against any desire, however apparently bad, except the interests of others?
– 10 –
There being no morality beyond mutually adjusted desires, the only grounds for moral appraisal of anyone’s subjective ends are the affected ends of someone else (see DV-1 to DV-9). A further step in demythologizing morality can therefore be taken by recognizing that ideals of the self, whether in terms of self-interest or self-realization, self-consistency or self-discipline, are simply matters of individual preference, with no moral significance, except as they concern others. Similar or related positions have been proposed by thinkers such as the following:
J.S. Mill (1806-1873), On Liberty, chapter IV:
“[Self-regarding matters] are only a subject of moral reprobation when they involve a breach of duty to others, for whose sake the individual is bound to take care for himself. What are called [our] duties to ourselves are not socially obligatory, unless circumstances render them at the same time duties to others.”
John Dewey (1859-1952), Human Nature and Conduct, intro, & part 4, section IV:
“There are [those] who take seriously the idea of morals separated from the ordinary actualities of humanity… Some become engrossed in spiritual egotism. They are preoccupied with the state of their character, concerned for the purity of their motives and the goodness of their souls [or realized ideal selves]. The exaltation of conceit which sometimes accompanies this absorption can produce a corrosive inhumanity which exceeds the possibilities of any other known form of selfishness. In other cases, persistent preoccupation with the thought of an ideal realm… induces a futile withdrawal into an inner world [where] needs of actual conditions are neglected…
“If a [person] lived alone in the world… the question ‘Why be moral?’ … would [not] arise. As it is, we live in a world where other persons live too. Our acts affect them. …Right is only an abstract name for the multitude of concrete demands… which others impress upon us, and of which we are obliged… to take some account. Its authority is the exigency of their demands…”
Kai Nielsen (b. 1926), Why Be Moral?, chapter 14:
“…pure practical reason [or mere consistency], even with a good knowledge of the facts, will not take you to morality… Underlying morality, for it to be what it purports to be, there must be a pervasive attitude of disinterested care for all human life [or] all sentient creatures…”
Jan Narveson (b. 1936), Morality and Utility, chapter VIII:
“…self-regarding acts have no specifically moral worth… notions of moral duty ‘to the self’ are out of place… The reason why it is improper to speak of its being a ‘duty’ in the moral sense… is that it’s my business, and I can call it off whenever I want. The matter is entirely up to my own judgment. …moral praise and blame just don’t come into the self-regarding sphere. This does not mean that we are demeaning the self-regarding sphere or claiming that it is unimportant. Quite the contrary: in a sense, it is the only important sphere, for it is everyone’s interest that is the concern of morality, and this means the same as everyone’s ‘self-interest.’ The point is, there is no need for the peculiarly moral kinds of praise and blame, which have an impersonal authority independent of self-interest, in matters of self-interest [or self-regarding discipline].”
Questions to consider:
How could a personal ideal ever morally justify disregarding the interests of others? Would this not rather disqualify the ideal as a moral one? Yet, insofar as others’ interests are not concerned, why cannot one be, in moral terms, completely liberated?
– 11 –
Evaluative ends being naturally determined by given subjective experiences (see DV-1 to DV-5), and moral demands being determined by the natural sharing of others’ experiences (see DV-6 to DV-10), it seems that, within a non-mythological naturalistic framework, the above causal determinants would render largely illusory the free or responsible will generally assumed by normative judgments. Thinkers such as the following make a case for this free will skepticism:
Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900), Beyond Good and Evil 21:
“The causa sui [or cause of oneself] is the best self-contradiction that has been conceived so far; it is a sort of rape and perversion of logic… The desire for ‘freedom of the will’ in the superlative metaphysical sense… involves nothing less than to be precisely this causa sui and… to pull oneself up into existence by the hair, out of the swamp of nothingness… [Thus] we act once more as we have always acted – mythologically.”
Galen Strawson (b. 1952), Real Materialism, chapter 13, section 1, & chapter 14, section 6:
“It is undeniable that one is the way one is, initially, as a result of heredity and early experience, and… that these are things for which one cannot be held to be in any way responsible… …both the particular way in which one is moved to try to change oneself, and the degree of one’s success in one’s attempt at change, will be determined by how one already is as a result of heredity and previous experience… [Further,] it is absurd that indeterministic or random factors, for which one is [supposedly] in no way responsible, can in themselves contribute in any way to one’s being truly morally responsible for how one is.
“…if we are to be truly deserving of praise and blame for our actions, then, since our intentional actions are necessarily a function of how we are, mentally, we must be truly responsible for how we are mentally, at least in certain vital respects. We must be genuine ‘originators’ of ourselves, and our natures… But the attempt to describe how we could possibly be true originators of ourselves in this way leads self-defeatingly to infinite regress (quite apart from being quite fantastically unrealistic): for even if one could somehow choose how to be, and then bring it about that one was that way, one would in order to do this already have to have existed prior to that choice, with a certain set of [unchosen] preferences about how to be, in the light of which one chose how to be.”
Derk Pereboom (b.1957), “Hard Incompatibilism” in Four Views on Free Will, # 3, section 7:
“…agents cannot be responsible for decisions that are undetermined because they are not produced by anything at all, for then agents quite obviously cannot be the source of the will to perform them… We have already seen that… agents are not morally responsible for decisions causally determined by factors beyond their control. …consider the first [assumed] free choice an agent ever makes. …she cannot be responsible for it, since she cannot be responsible for the effort of will from which it results… Because the agent cannot be responsible for the first choice, she also cannot be responsible for the resulting character formation. And then… she cannot be responsible for the second choice either [and so on] for all subsequent choices.”
Questions to consider:
By necessary implication, must not everyone, to the extent identically constituted and identically situated, have an identical and hence predetermined will? Could acausal free will be an illogical, mystified holdover from pre-scientific supernaturalism? Would even an immaterial, self-existent soul or deity be responsible for how it just happened to be? Is not ultimate free will meaningless?
– 12 –
Acausal free will is a mythical entity, for our ends and choices are determined by subjective experiences ultimately beyond our control (see DV-1 to DV-11). Though this means that we can only act “as if” we were truly free and responsible, such as-if responsible freedom paradoxically constitutes a real type of practical autonomy, via our predetermined ability to resist certain predetermined desires for the sake of other such desires, as described by the following thinkers:
John Locke (1632-1704), An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, book II, chapter xxi, 47-8:
“…the mind having… a power to suspend the execution and satisfaction of any of its desires… is at liberty to consider the objects of them, examine them on all sides, and weigh them with others… [Such] power to suspend the prosecution of this or that desire [is] the source of all liberty [and] that which is (as I think improperly) called free will… [Yet this] is the very improvement and benefit of [freedom].”
Harry Frankfurt (b. 1929), “Freedom of the Will and the Concept of a Person,” Journal of Philosophy 68, 1971, p. 5, IV:
“A person’s will is free [insofar as] he is free to have the will he wants. This means that, with regard to any of his first-order desires, he is free either to make that desire his will or to make some other first-order desire his will instead… There is no more than an innocuous appearance of paradox in the proposition that it is determined, ineluctably and by forces beyond their control, that certain people have free wills [in the above sense] and that others do not.”
Keith Lehrer (b. 1936), “Freedom and the Power of Preference” in Freedom and Determinism, # 2:
“…we at a certain stage have no preferences [but only] impulses and desires… that drive our behavior… Then we acquire the higher-order mind… that allows us to represent and think about our desires and beliefs, to prefer the satisfaction of some desires and not others… There might be causation all the way around, before and after my preferences. But some of them would [in a sense] be free. When I prefer what I do because I prefer to have the preference structure I do… I have all the freedom of preference that interests me.”
Ann Ferguson (b. 1938), “Can I Choose Who I Am?” in Women, Knowledge, and Reality, 2nd ed., # 7, II, 4 & note 7:
“…it is the possibility of… second-order reflexive consciousness that allows one way out of the Determinism / Moral Responsibility dilemma. Although the inputs to… the self-process are determined by the material and social conditions in which I find myself, my ability to reflect on, adopt, and act on reconstitutive self-strategies… is what gives me the space for agency and moral responsibility [and] clarifies the sense of the claim that I can choose who I am. …even reconstitutive self-projects may be completely socially determined [though] we agents… think of ourselves as freely choosing them. [The] problem of moral agency… may have to be simply dissolved by the pragmatic need to assume that we are not completely determined…”
Questions to consider:
Just as a free act is a matter of acting in accordance with one’s will, might we think of a free will as a matter of willing in accordance with one’s will? Can a will be free, in a practical sense, other than to the degree that it accords with itself, so that what one prefers is in harmony with what one would choose as most important, all things considered? Is this not why autonomy, and even psychological or spiritual authenticity, are often associated with an integrated personality?
– 13 –
Rather than depend on the myth of acausal free will or ultimate responsibility, genuine morality assumes only a naturally predetermined ability to harmonize naturally predetermined desires and interests, combined with a predetermined capacity for sharing others’ desires and interests (see DV-1 to DV-12). This naturalist-determinist framework, far from diminishing morality as some might fear, yields the most humane equitable outlook, illustrated by thinkers like the following:
Ted Honderich (b. 1933), How Free Are You?, chapters 9-10:
“Determinism offers… an escape from a mordant kind of self-dislike and self-disapproval… Consider personal feelings about others… We have the prospect of withdrawing from the negative or resentful ones which [are] owed to our image of origination, the idea that those who disregard or injure us really could have done better by us.
“…our retributive desires… are dependent on taking the other person’s action as not only voluntary but also originated… All of these desires are vulnerable to belief in determinism. They cannot persist. …any institution of punishment [insofar as its] recommendation is that it is retributive… should be abandoned… What is true of punishment is true to a greater or lesser extent with… other institutions or practices [based on] political and social philosophies [with] elements having to do with desert [as opposed to need].”
Bruce Waller (b. 1946), Freedom without Responsibility, chapter 14:
“…the no-fault naturalist denial of [ultimate] moral responsibility is likely to enhance individual freedom by encouraging a more egalitarian society. Careful focus on the full details of our environmental histories [and our genetics] eliminates moral responsibility and thus offers solid, worldly grounds for equality: exact equality of just deserts. That brings the principle of equality down from the transcendent realms… and anchors it in the gritty environments that shaped us and were – at critical points – not of our own choosing or making. And, if everyone is precisely equal in just deserts, then the vast differences in wealth and power among individuals in our society are unjust [as are] the severe practical restraints… imposed by such inequities.”
Sam Harris (b. 1967), Free Will:
“…I have to admit that if I were to trade places with [someone else], atom for atom, I would be [that person]… If I had truly been in [his place] – that is, if I had his genes and life experience and an identical brain (or soul) in an identical state – I would have acted exactly as he did. There is simply no intellectually respectable position from which to deny this. The role of luck, therefore, appears decisive…
“In fact, it seems immoral not to recognize just how much luck is involved in morality itself… This shift in understanding represents progress toward a deeper, more consistent, and more compassionate view of our common humanity – and we should note that this is progress away from religious metaphysics. Few concepts have offered greater scope for human cruelty than the idea of an [eternally punishable] soul that stands independent of all material influences, ranging from genes to economic systems… And yet, ironically, one of the fears attending our progress in science is that a more complete understanding of ourselves will dehumanize us.”
Questions to consider:
Upon reflection, can we not see a clear link between determinism and the empathic core of morality that compels us to see others as ourselves in like circumstances? Is the basis of our common humanity not the fact that we are ultimately the same when under identical influences?
– 14 –
Having seen that even God would have to be justified by an independent morality (see DV-1), explainable within a demythologized, naturalist-determinist framework in terms of mutual empathy (see DV-2 to DV-13), we also find, for reasons given by thinkers such as the following, that instead of requiring God, our sense of morality actually points to atheist ethics:
J.L. Mackie (1917-1981), The Miracle of Theism, chapter 6, section (e):
“…to explain an intrinsic to-be-done-ness or not-to-be-done-ness [as more than a human] reflection or projection, it is natural to take this as an injection into reality made by a universal spirit, that is, something that has some analogue of human purposiveness… [Yet,] although the objectivity of prescriptive moral values would give some inductive support to the hypothesis that there is a god, it would be more reasonable to reject the kind of moral objectivity that is required for this purpose than to accept it and use it as a ground for theism… When this moral objectivism is replaced by a subjectivist or sentimentalist theory… it is easy to explain [our] moral sense as a natural product of biological and social evolution [without God]… There is no good reason for introducing a god even as an essential part of the content of moral thinking.”
J.J.C. Smart (1920-2012), Atheism and Theism, #1, section 13:
“Since God [traditionally conceived] is not constrained by physical necessity [or anything comparable] there is no need for him to use painful means to attain a good end [in this or another life]… A common argument that is meant to reconcile God’s omnipotence, omniscience and goodness with the existence of evil is that evil is due to misuse of the free will with which God has endowed us… Natural evils… provide a formidable difficulty for the free will defence. They have nothing to do with free will. …even if we ignore natural evils the free will defence does not work. …any sensible notion of free will [must be] compatible with determinism… [Therefore] God could have set up the universe so that we always acted rightly, and so for this reason alone the free will defence does not work… In any case natural evils provide the biggest difficulty for the theist.”
Elizabeth Anderson (b. 1959), “If God Is Dead, Is Everything Permitted?” in Philosophers without God, #17:
“…morality, understood as a system of reciprocal claim making, in which everyone is accountable to everyone else, does not need its authority underwritten by some higher, external authority. It is underwritten by the authority we all have to make claims on one another. Far from bolstering the authority of morality, appeals to divine authority can undermine it… Appealing to God rather than [to] those affected by one’s actions amounts to an attempt to escape accountability to one’s fellow human beings. …if we take with utmost seriousness the core evidence for theism, which is the testimonies… found in Scripture, then we are committed to the view that the most heinous acts are morally right, because Scripture tells us that God performs or commands them. Since we know [for the above reason] that such acts are morally wrong, we cannot [accept the] evidence for theism recorded in Scripture. We must at least reject that part of the evidence that supports morally repugnant actions… The moralistic argument, far from threatening atheism, is a critical wedge that should open morally sensitive theists to the evidence against the existence of God.”
Questions to consider:
Even if the classical or biblical deity were real, would we not be morally bound to reject him as our God, because of the evil with which he is associated? Might atheism be viewed, not just as religious disbelief, but as an ethical way of life, or a form of moral protest?
– 15 –
With a case having been made for a non-mythical account of ethics from a naturalistic, atheistic standpoint (see DV-1 to DV-14), it can be further argued, as implied by the following thinkers, that even if there is a perfect divine being or an all-benevolent will, we should still live according to a worldly morality:
Thomas Paine (1737-1809), The Age of Reason, part 1, section 14:
“…the practice of moral truth, or, in other words, a practical imitation of the moral goodness of God, is no other than our acting toward each other as he acts benignly toward all. We cannot serve God in the manner we serve those who cannot do without such service; and, therefore, the only idea we can have of serving God is that of contributing to the happiness of the living creation that God has made. This cannot be done [through] selfish devotion… Religion, considered as a duty, is incumbent upon every living soul alike, and, therefore, must be on a level with the understanding and comprehension of all. Man does not learn religion as he learns the secrets and mysteries of a trade… When men, whether from policy or pious fraud, set up systems of religion incompatible with the word or works of God in the creation, and not only above, but repugnant to human comprehension, they were under the necessity of inventing or adopting a word that should serve as a bar to all questions, inquiries and speculation. The word mystery answered this purpose, and thus it has happened that religion… has been corrupted into a fog of mysteries.”
R.B. Perry (1876-1957), Realms of Value, chapter 23, section 6:
“True religion must [seek] the moral end of harmonious happiness [and thus] ally itself with the secular conscience… The only good for which it is possible to claim preeminence is that harmony of all interests, which is the object of an all-benevolent will: a will which wills the fulfillment of all wills. …an otherworldly and supernaturalistic religion… in its straining after an image of perfection attempts to transplant it to another realm in which the actual human interests are purged away [so that it] is less, and not more, than the fullness of life on earth… There appears to be no loftier and more impelling vision of the good than the prolongation and progressive betterment of that life which is experienced and enjoyed here and now… whether those who have died survive to participate in [such a life].”
Robert McKim (b. ?), Religious Ambiguity and Religious Diversity, chapter 6, section 4:
“There is… some reason to think that, if God exists, it must not matter greatly to God whether we believe… If it were very important that we should accept theism or any particular form of theism, our circumstances probably would be more conducive to it [for all equally]… The situation, in effect, probably is that either God does not exist or God exists, but it is not terribly important that we believe here and now that God exists… …the puzzles that surround God’s hiddenness provide us with some reason to doubt that it is important, even from God’s point of view, that we should hold theistic beliefs.”
Questions to consider:
Insofar as it would be morally wrong to sacrifice others’ present needs for the sake of uncertain remote consequences, should we not apply the same principle to uncertain eternal consequences? Could a good God expect us to go against conscience in using others this way? Given the uncertainty, is not the most likely divine plan for earthly life some type of blind experiment to see how we respond to this world on its own terms?
This is a series offered by a spiritual agnostic. Information presented here can be found in standard books or websites. Corrections and comments are welcome, and may be sent to Vaughn Barnett, B.A., J.D. at email@example.com.
– 1 –
There is considerable evidence that Judeo-Christian religion is filled with mythological elements from ancient pagan cultures. Among the earliest and most fundamental of these are Mesopotamian/Canaanite themes, as found in the following motifs of the Bible:
1. Polytheism implied by God as “elohim,” a plural Semitic word for gods or the pantheon of El
2. “Let us” spoken by the elohim, like the council of gods consulting before creating or acting
3. World created in stages from watery chaos, with a sky dome between waters above and below
4. Creation and repose matching the week and Sabbath based on seven heavenly bodies or gods
5. Man formed from dust in God’s image, similar to the mythical mixing of clay and divine blood
6. Adam, like Adapa/Adamu, as the first man, and one who gains divine knowledge
7. Eve as the lady of the rib, and as the lady of life
8. Paradise guarded by cherubim, linking food and a serpent to death or mortality
9. Humankind required to work the ground, comparable to workers created to serve the gods
10. Cain and Abel competing with offerings, like the rival farmer-god and shepherd-god
11. Sin crouching for Cain, as in the myth of the evil croucher lying in wait for his offering
12. List of pre-flood patriarchs living for centuries, paralleling Sumerian/Babylonian king lists
13. Enoch as the seventh patriarch, who was taken to heaven, like the seventh king or sage
14. Great men born from unions between sons of God (sons of the elohim) and daughters of men
15. Divinely caused flood survived by a favored family and animals in an ark covered with pitch
16. Noah’s ark stranded on a mountain, and birds sent out from it, after the flood
17. God smelling a sacrifice, then promising by the rainbow as by the mythical divine necklace
18. Building of a Babylonian tower towards heaven, and confusion or diversification of language
19. Anthropomorphic depiction of God as walking, searching, making mistakes, being cruel, etc.
20. Willingness of Abraham and Jephthah (and even God as Jesus’ father) to offer child sacrifices
21. Jacob’s dream of a ladder to heaven, comparable to the myth of a tree or pole to heaven
22. Infant Moses in a basket floating on water, similar to the legendary king Sargon
23. Law of Moses comparable to codes such as Hammurabi’s, also said to be of divine origin
24. Henotheism or monolatry implied by worship of El/Yahweh as one god above others
25. Male God implying a goddess, such as the consort of El or Yahweh found by archaeologists
26. People of Israel given to Yahweh, one among many patron gods inheriting from Elyon
27. Yahweh, like Baal, as a warrior storm-god or cloud-rider, with a mountain brickwork palace
28. War in heaven, and defeat of fierce or multi-headed dragons such as Leviathan and Rahab
29. Astrological symbols, such as man-lion-bull-eagle imagery, and stars for signs
30. Christ as both human and divine, dying and rising, like pagan heroes/saviors/gods
Questions to consider:
How probable is it that pagan mythology borrowed elements from biblical history, rather than the reverse, when the former lacks traces of monotheism, while the latter contains such obvious hints of polytheism and henotheism? If we allow for Mosaic authorship of the first books of the Bible, despite the contrary evidence, can the divine offspring and supernatural motifs still not be accounted for by earlier Sumerian and Babylonian myths? Even assuming some historicity of such stories, is a supernatural explanation in terms of an anthropomorphic god and his procreating sons more plausible than the comparably fantastic, but at least naturalistic, theory of tribal people’s encounters with a lost or alien race (earthly or otherwise) so technologically superior as to seem god-like, as has happened in colonial explorations and modern cargo cults?
– 2 –
Of all the textual indications that biblical theology is largely derived from pagan mythology (see DR-1), perhaps the most telling is the fact that the first and most frequent Hebrew name for God in the Bible is the polytheistic “elohim.” Not only does this word literally mean “gods,” or possibly even “goddesses,” and is translated as such in other biblical contexts, but it is also the term used by the Canaanites for their pantheon of gods and goddesses under the high god El. There are no Hebrew capitals or other linguistic features to warrant a selective translation of this word as the proper name of one male “God,” nor is it unlikely that other singular terms accompanying biblical references to the elohim are due to later editing to preserve a well-known divine name without its polytheistic meaning. Hence, certain passages about God in the Bible’s opening chapters can be translated more literally to yield the following parallels to pagan myths:
“In the beginning the gods created the heavens and the earth… The gods created the great sea monsters and every living creature that moves… Then the gods said, ‘Let us make humans in our image, to be like ourselves’… So the gods created humans in their own image; the gods [and goddesses] patterned them after themselves; male and female they created them.”
Genesis 5, 6
“Enoch walked with the gods; and he was not, for the gods took him… Now it came about, when men began to multiply on the face of the land, and daughters were born to them, that the sons of gods saw that the daughters of men were beautiful; and they took wives for themselves, whomever they chose… The Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of the gods came into the daughters of men, and they bore children to them. Those were the mighty men who were of old, men of renown… Noah walked with the gods… Now the earth was corrupt in the sight of the gods… Then the gods said to Noah… ‘Make yourself an ark… We are going to bring floodwaters on the earth to destroy all life under the heavens’… Noah did everything just as the gods commanded him.”
“Now Abraham arose early in the morning… and he looked down toward Sodom and Gomorrah, and toward all the land of the valley, and he saw, and behold, the smoke of the land ascended like the smoke of a furnace. Thus it came about, when the gods destroyed the cities of the valley, that the gods remembered Abraham, and sent Lot out of the midst of the overthrow, when they overthrew the cities in which Lot lived.”
Questions to consider:
Is the willingness to destroy the innocent with the wicked, as depicted above, not what would be expected from the capricious gods of polytheistic mythology? Does not “elohim,” as a plural term used for the one God, capture in a word the demonstrated historic tendency for multiple gods to merge gradually into one? Are contrary explanations for this plural word, based on concepts such as God’s majestic fullness or the Christian Trinity, consistent with either tribal people’s less abstract mode of thought or a monotheistic God’s presumed desire not to mislead people with a polytheistic name? Could this scandalous hint at the possibility of the biblical God’s polytheistic origins be the reason that different versions of the Bible, even when otherwise scrupulously footnoting alternative translations of Hebrew terms, typically omit noting the most literal and plain translation of the Bible’s commonest Hebrew word for God?
– 3 –
Among the textual indications that biblical theology is largely derived from pagan mythology (see DR-1), along with the fact that the commonest Hebrew name for God in the Bible is the plural “elohim,” a term shared by the Canaanites for their multiple gods (see DR-2), there is the further revealing fact that “el,” another common Hebrew name for God in the Bible, was also the word used by the Canaanites both for a god in general and for their high god in particular. This supports the view, accepted by experts in history and archaeology, that the Hebrews once worshipped the Canaanite god El as one god among or above others. Consistent with such a view are apparent vestiges of this henotheistic El worship detectable in biblical references to the early Hebrews, such as the following:
“Melchizedek [possibly meaning ‘my king is Sedek,’ a Canaanite god], king of Salem [believed to be the Canaanite, pre-Israelite Jerusalem, possibly named for the god Shalim], brought out bread and wine; now he was a priest of El most high. He blessed Abram and said, ‘Blessed be Abram of El most high, possessor of heaven and earth; and blessed be El most high, who has delivered your enemies into your hand.’ Abram gave him a tenth of all.”
Genesis 17, 21
“[The Lord] appeared to Abram and said to him, ‘I am El almighty; walk before me and be blameless… No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham… I will give to you and to your descendants after you all the land of Canaan, where you are now a stranger, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their god [literally ‘gods’]’… In the very same day Abraham was circumcised, and Ishmael [meaning ‘El will hear’] his son… Abraham planted a tamarisk tree at Beersheba, and there he called on the name of [the Lord], the everlasting El.”
Genesis 32, 33
“[The man] said, ‘Your name shall no longer be Jacob, but Israel [meaning ‘he who strives with El’ or ‘El strives’]’… So Jacob named the place Peniel [meaning ‘face of El’]… Now Jacob came safely to the city of Shechem, in the land of Canaan… Then he erected there an altar and called it El-Elohe-Israel [meaning ‘El, the el of Israel’].”
“God [or ‘the gods’] said to Jacob, ‘Arise, go up to Bethel [meaning ‘house of El’] and live there, and make an altar there to El’… So Jacob said to his household and to all who were with him, ‘Put away the foreign gods which are among you, and purify yourselves and change your garments; and let us arise and go up to Bethel, and I will make an altar there to El’… So Jacob came to Luz (that is, Bethel), in the land of Canaan, he and all the people who were with him. He built an altar there, and called the place El-Bethel [meaning ‘El of Bethel’].”
Questions to consider:
Can it be just coincidence that the biblical Hebrews were called to worship the same god that was worshipped by the Canaanites at the same time that they were settling in the Canaanites’ land? Does not the depiction of the Hebrews receiving a new land and adopting its high god as their own, being blessed by a Canaanite king-priest in this god’s name, making offerings and altars to that god while putting away foreign deities, all suggest that the Hebrews were making a henotheistic transition from the gods of their former homeland to the local supreme deity?
– 4 –
Whereas two common Hebrew names for the biblical God of Abraham are the singular “el” and the plural “elohim,” suggesting that the Hebrews of that time recognized the Canaanite high god El and his pantheon of lesser deities (see DR-1 to DR-3), it would seem to follow that Yahweh/Jehovah, the biblical God of Moses who later was hostile to the Canaanite deities, must have been a new or rival god, assimilating El and competing for the Hebrews’ exclusive loyalty. Accordingly, historical and archaeological experts have concluded that biblical monotheism was preceded by a transitional stage of Yahweh monolatry, or the exclusive worship of Yahweh combined with a continuing belief in the existence of other gods. Following are apparent vestiges of this mythology, based on the Hebrews’ assimilative and competitive acknowledgment of other gods, found in books of the Bible attributed to Moses:
“God spoke further to Moses and said to him, ‘I am Yahweh; and I appeared to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as El Shaddai [a name for the Canaanite high god], but by my name Yahweh I did not make myself known to them.’”
Exodus 15, 18
“Moses and the sons of Israel sang this song to Yahweh: ‘I will sing to Yahweh, for he is highly exalted… Who is like you among the gods, O Yahweh?’… Jethro said, ‘Blessed be Yahweh… Now I know that Yahweh is greater than all the gods.’”
Exodus 20, 22, 23
“God spoke all these words, saying, ‘I am Yahweh your god… You shall have no other gods besides me… for I, Yahweh your god, am a jealous god… You shall not revile the gods… …do not mention the names of other gods, nor let them be heard from your mouth.’”
Deuteronomy 4, 6, 10
“Has any other god tried to take for himself one nation out of another nation… as Yahweh your god did for you in Egypt before your eyes? To you it was shown that you might know that Yahweh is God; there is no other besides him… Hear, O Israel! Yahweh is our god – Yahweh alone… Yahweh your god is the god of gods and the lord of lords.”
“When Elyon [another name for the Canaanite high god] gave the nations their inheritance, when he separated the sons of man, he set the boundaries of the peoples according to the number of the sons of gods. For Yahweh’s portion is his people; Jacob is the allotment of his inheritance. …let all the angels [or ‘sons of the gods’] worship him.”
Questions to consider:
Do the above biblical passages, especially the last one, not say or imply that Yahweh was the deity of Jacob/Israel as one patron god among many, and that the Israelites were therefore to honor Yahweh above all these other gods? Is it also not said or implied in the last passage that Yahweh was distinct from El/Elyon, as one of the gods inheriting from him, and that the early Hebrews thus knew only El, not Yahweh, as their high god? Hence, could the first passage above be a hint that Yahweh was later identified with El, so as to become their new high god, in the same way that a high god of the pagans was often absorbed by a previously lower deity?
– 5 –
Given the evidence that biblical theology originated in polytheistic mythology (see DR-1, DR-2), then developed from henotheistic or monolatrous worship of one god above others (see DR-3, DR-4), it would not be surprising to find that the first clear monotheistic statements in the Bible come, not from Abraham or Moses, but centuries later from Isaiah of the first millennium BCE. The following passages illustrate this evolution from polytheism towards monotheism:
“If it is disagreeable in your sight to serve Yahweh [Jehovah], choose for yourselves today whom you will serve: whether the gods which your fathers served… or the gods of the Amorites…”
“The woman gave birth to a son and named him Samson [or Shamash, name of the sun god who, like Samson, takes zodiacal vows, has strength to move pillars, kills a lion whose body serves as a beehive, burns fields, is weakened by loss of his ray-like hair, and is blinded by dark forces].”
1 Samuel 28
“The woman said, ‘I see gods coming up out of the earth.’”
2 Chronicles 2
“Solomon sent this message to Hiram king of Tyre: ‘…our god is greater than all other gods.’”
Job 1, 38
“One day the sons of God [literally ‘sons of gods’] came to present themselves before Yahweh… Yahweh answered Job out of the whirlwind and said, ‘…who laid [the earth’s] cornerstone, when the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God [or ‘sons of gods’] shouted for joy?’”
Psalms 8, 29, 82
“You have made [man] a little lower than the angels [literally ‘the gods’]… Give honor to Yahweh, O sons of the gods… God [literally ‘the gods’] presides in the assembly of El [the Canaanite high god]; he gives judgment among the gods… ‘You are gods, and all of you are sons of Elyon [another name for El].’”
Psalms 86, 89, 95, 96, 97, 136, 138
“There is no one like you among the gods, O Lord… Who among the sons of gods is like Yahweh, a god greatly feared in the council of the holy ones?… For Yahweh is a great god, and a great king above all gods… He is to be feared above all gods. The gods of other nations are worthless things… Yahweh reigns… All the gods have worshipped him… For you are Yahweh most high over all the earth; you are exalted far above all gods… Give thanks to the god of gods… I will give you thanks with all my heart; I will sing praises to you before the gods.”
Questions to consider:
Would we not readily understand all the verses above as having been written from a polytheistic or henotheistic perspective were we not conditioned by our Judeo-Christian heritage to read the Bible as a purely monotheistic book? Should we not understand the Jewish merging of El/elohim and Yahweh/Jehovah into one God, and the later Christian merging of that God and his Son, as part of the historic global evolution from polytheism to monotheism?
– 6 –
If biblical apologists have difficulty accepting the evidence that their religion has evolved from polytheistic mythology (see DR-1 to DR-5), they cannot ignore the corroborative evidence in the biblical narrative for the very slow evolution of so-called ethical monotheism. This is illustrated by the Bible’s clear accounts of murderous heroes. Leaving aside the mass deaths from natural disasters attributed to the main biblical hero, God, as well as numerous other condoned atrocities in the Bible, the following scriptural references focus on just three biblical heroes whose cruel and homicidal behavior would surely be condemned by more modern, and presumably more divine, standards of morality:
Exodus 2 – He committed premeditated murder of an Egyptian.
Exodus 21 – He allowed slavery, and punishment of slaves as long as they did not die quickly.
Exodus 32 – He had 3,000 men killed for idol worship.
Leviticus 27 – He even seemed to condone human sacrifice.
Numbers 15 – He ordered a man stoned to death for gathering wood on the Sabbath.
Numbers 25 – He had leaders hanged before God for worshipping other deities.
Numbers 31 – He decreed the death of all the Midianite children except virgins.
Deuteronomy 2, 3 – He had his army kill the men, women, and children of conquered cities.
Deuteronomy 20 – He ordered the same, but allowed women and children to be taken as booty.
Moses’ successor, Joshua, son of Nun, followed the precedent of utterly destroying whole cities, including women and children (Joshua 6, 8, 10, 11). Later prophets continued this practice (1 Samuel 15; Ezekiel 9). A similar disregard for the children of enemies is shown in Psalm 137:9: “How blessed will be he who seizes your little ones and dashes them against the rocks.”
1 Samuel 18 – He killed 200 men for their foreskins, to be allowed to marry King Saul’s daughter.
2 Samuel 11 – He had a man killed to cover up adultery with the man’s wife.
1 Chronicles 22 – He was not allowed by God to build a temple due to his bloodshed and wars.
1 Kings 18 – He killed hundreds of Baal prophets after they lost a contest between gods.
2 Kings 1 – He had heavenly fire kill about 100 visiting soldiers to show he was a man of God.
Questions to consider:
Even if the Bible were assumed to be true factually, do the above texts not give us ample reason to doubt that the Bible is true morally or spiritually? Yet, if we have reason to doubt that the Bible is morally or spiritually true, do we not have all the more reason to doubt that it is factually true, particularly with regard to its incredible supernatural claims? To what extent, then, can we say that the homicidal, warmongering deity and heroes of the Hebrew Bible are morally superior to, or less mythical than, the pagan gods and heroes with their similar bloody conflicts? Likewise, to what extent can we consider the Christian Bible to be more advanced, when it not only presupposes the Hebrew Bible as its Old Testament, but also presents Jesus as a Davidic messiah or savior transfigured with Moses and Elijah? What about the implicit approval of Joshua via his namesake in Jesus (who also is a spiritual son of John/Ioannes the baptizer, just as the earlier Joshua is a son of Nun/Oannes, the name of a pagan god from the waters)?
– 7 –
Reinforcing the other textual evidence that biblical theology evolved only slowly from polytheistic mythology to ethical monotheism (see DR-1 to DR-6), the following biblical references hint at a history of approved child sacrifice:
Genesis 22 – God commands Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac and, though later revoking the command, rewards Abraham for his willingness to kill his son as an offering to God.
Exodus 22 – Through Moses, God commands the Israelites to give him the firstborn of their sons (redeemed or not), just as they are to offer up the first of their crops and flocks.
Joshua 6 – Joshua decrees for God that Jericho cannot be rebuilt without the builder’s sacrifice of two children, including a foundation sacrifice of his firstborn at the city’s base (as at 1 Kings 16).
Judges 11 – Under divine influence, Jephthah wins a battle after vowing to sacrifice whatever meets him at the entry of his home, and thus has to sacrifice his daughter.
2 Samuel 21 – King David is told by God that a famine has been caused by a former king’s guilt, which David then expiates by having sons and grandsons of the former king hanged before God.
2 Kings 3 – When the Moabites are losing a battle against the Israelites, the Moabite king sacrifices his oldest son, which causes a great wrath to come upon the Israelites to defeat them.
Isaiah 30 – Israel’s enemies, the Assyrians, are consigned by God to the fire-pit of the Topheth, a site of child sacrifice.
Jeremiah 19 – As if protesting too much, Jeremiah declares that God never commanded, decreed, or even thought about child sacrifice, suggesting that this was debatable at the time.
Ezekiel 20 – God explains that he gave the Israelites bad statutes and ordinances, and made them offer their firstborn by fire, so that they might be horrified and know that he is God.
Micah 6 – Morality is said to be more desirable to God than offerings of young calves, thousands of rams, or even one’s firstborn (all by implication progressively more pleasing to God).
Questions to consider:
If biblical religion evolved from polytheistic mythology, and if, as the evidence also suggests, human sacrifice was a worldwide practice up until the Common Era, how likely is it that the early biblical tradition involved no child sacrifice? Since there are hints of approval for this practice in even our present edited Bible, dated back to only the first millennium BCE, what does this tell us about the possibility of overt approval for child sacrifice at an earlier stage of the same tradition? Does not the mythology underlying child or human sacrifice continue even to the present in the Passover celebration of God’s ritualized slaughter of firstborn Egyptians, and in the Easter celebration of God’s offering of his crucified son as an atoning sacrifice? Could it be significant that these solar-lunar festivals appear to have connections to the pagan celebration of the spring equinox, with its generation of life after a time of death, and that Christ is honored on Sunday or Sun Day, originally the day of the sun god, the first known god depicted on a cross?
– 8 –
Corroborating the evidence that ethical monotheism in the Bible evolved from polytheistic mythology in the first several centuries BCE (see DR-1 to DR-7) is the evidence that Moses did not write the Torah, or the first five books of the Bible, in the second millennium BCE, as traditionally held, and that our more ethically monotheistic Hebrew Bible was largely composed or edited centuries later. Among the indicators of this late biblical authorship are the following:
1. The references in Genesis to Philistines and Chaldeans appear to be anachronisms, since research confirms that these peoples arrived much later, suggesting that Genesis or the Torah was written, or at least edited in its present form, no earlier than the time of the Chaldeans and their Neo-Babylonian empire in the 600’s to 500’s BCE, centuries after both Abraham and Moses.
2. Duplicate stories (often with Yahweh as deity in one version and Elohim as deity in the other), internal inconsistencies (such as Joseph being sold to Ishmaelites and to Midianites at the same time) and linguistic variations (based on analysis of grammar, vocabulary, and writing style) have led to a general scholarly consensus that the Torah has more than one author or literary source.
3. Similarly, two incongruent traditions have been found in the Torah, such that according to one tradition, deity is called Yahweh, the mountain of the covenant is called Sinai, the original inhabitants of the promised land are called Canaanites, and Moses’ father-in-law is called Reuel, whereas according to the other tradition, deity is called Elohim, the mountain is called Horeb, the land’s inhabitants are called Amorites, and Moses’ father-in-law is called Jethro.
4. Virtually nothing has been located by archaeologists (such as an Egyptian record, or a bone or campsite artifact in the Sinai desert) to support the supposed Mosaic account of a mass exodus from Egypt and a forty-year trip in the desert by over half a million Hebrew slaves.
5. Mosaic authorship is not claimed in the Torah for its whole five-book text, but only for specific parts, such as a song or a law, implying that someone other than Moses wrote the Torah as such.
6. In the Torah’s narrative, Moses is referred to in the third person, is described as the humblest man on earth, and is depicted as dying (in the same writing style as the preceding narrative, contrary to the postscript theory), making it unlikely that Moses wrote the Torah about himself.
7. Phrases in the Torah such as “at that time” and “to this day,” its references to a conquest of Canaan and a pre-monarchy period as completed phases of Israelite history, and the Torah’s geographical orientation to the east side of the Jordan River as “beyond the Jordan,” even though the Torah says that Moses never went to the west side of the river, all reflect a much later time.
Questions to consider:
Since even biblical apologists have acknowledged changes and anachronisms in the Bible, as a result of either human fallibility or an intention to clarify for later readers, what implications does this have for the notion of inerrant or unvarying scriptures? If late composition or editing of the Torah has to be conceded, is it not likely that theologically undesirable language has been altered over time? Hence, does our present edited Bible, dated back to only the first millennium BCE, not allow for its possible evolution from the prevalent polytheistic mythology of the second millennium BCE, as otherwise suggested by the evidence?
– 9 –
Building on the evidence that biblical religion emerged from a subsequently edited history of polytheistic mythology and ritualized violence (see DR-1 to DR-8), we may note that the shift to a more ethically oriented monotheism occurred largely under the impact of the Persian Empire and its official Zoroastrian faith. Persian motifs in our Judeo-Christian tradition include the following:
1. God as the one, universal, transcendent, wise and good creator
2. Angels and demons in place of a pantheon of gods
3. Invisible spirit world existing beyond and before material creation
4. Holy Spirit as God’s emanation or agent
5. Devil as the author of evil, temptation, and affliction
6. War between God and the devil prior to the creation of humanity
7. Fall or expulsion of the devil from heaven
8. Earth as a battlefield for continuation of the same war
9. Temporary reign of evil, causing corruption of the material realm
10. Human beings with free will influenced by good and evil spirits
11. Characterization of this struggle in terms of light versus darkness
12. Light representing truth, darkness representing falsehood
13. Pastor or shepherd as a model of moral behavior or leadership
14. Magi watching the stars for a sign of a savior or messianic figure
15. Virgin birth or miraculous conception of the savior
16. Wisdom, healing, and other benefits upon the savior’s arrival
17. Food/drink symbolizing a slain Son of God
18. Son of God sacrificed to bring eternal life
19. Resurrection of the dead
20. Heaven, hell, and purgatory as earned abodes for the soul after death
21. Final judgment of the dead at the end of the known world
22. Time divided into world-ages, such as four periods symbolized by metals
23. End-time preceded by great apostasy, conflict, earthquakes, and natural signs
24. Messianic figure to come or return, and make all things right
25. Triumph of good over evil in one last great battle
26. Glorious or fiery transformation of the earth
27. Kingdom of God on earth or millennial reign
Questions to consider:
Could Isaiah 40-66 be exhibiting sympathy for Zoroastrianism in praising the Persian king Cyrus, presenting the Bible’s first clear statements of monotheism, expressing some of the earliest messianic themes in the Bible, and using light-dark imagery? Should we suppose that Persians borrowed more from Jews than the reverse, when the Persians were culturally dominant, when Zoroastrianism is thought to predate messianic Judaism, and when the apocalyptic aspect of the latter has more in common with Zoroastrian doctrine than with earlier biblical religion? What of the possibility that the Jewish Pharisees were so named after Parsees or Persian Zoroastrians? Is this, plus the Zoroastrian concepts in the Dead Sea Scrolls and apocryphal texts, not evidence of Persian and Jewish ideas being synthesized around the beginning of Christianity? Hence, is it not reasonable to suppose that Christianity also came under Persian influence, particularly via Gnosticism and Hellenistic mystery cults, given that the above list reflects what Zoroastrians and Christians had in common more than what either group shared with biblical Jews?
– 10 –
Only when the biblical tradition made its transition from polytheistic mythology and ritualized violence to a more ethically oriented monotheism under the influence of Persian dualism (see DR-1 to DR-9), did it apparently resort to inventing the devil to account for the existence of evil. Hence, in the Hebrew Bible or Old Testament, there is a virtual absence of the devil, under that or any other name, and it would seem instead that he was retrospectively constructed from other figures, during the Persian and Greco-Roman periods. The following evidence supports this:
Nowhere does the word “devil” appear in the Hebrew Bible. As far as can be determined, the early Hebrews had no term for a chief demon.
In 2 Samuel 24:1, believed to have been written before the Babylonian exile, God tempts King David to commit the sin of conducting a census, whereas in the later version at 1 Chronicles 21:1, believed to have been written during the Persian era, Satan replaces God as the tempter. This is the only biblical verse where the word for “Satan” is correctly translated as a proper noun, apparently a cognate of the name for the Egyptian devil Set/Sata.
Elsewhere in the Bible, a “satan,” according to the Hebrew, is basically any “adversary.” The word may refer to a human being (1 Samuel 29:4), an angel of God (Numbers 22:22, 32), or a prosecutor in God’s court (Job 1:6; Zechariah 3:1-2). It does not refer to God’s evil counterpart.
A reference to Satan as a fallen angel is supposedly found in Isaiah 14:12-14, although these verses actually concern the fall of a Babylonian king. Metaphorically, the king is called Lucifer or “morning star, son of the dawn,” who sought to exalt his throne “above the stars of God” and become “like the Most High” – or in an alternative translation, “son of Shahar” who sought to exalt his throne “above the stars of El” and become “like Elyon.” Shahar was the name of the Canaanite god of dawn, while El and Elyon, Hebrew names for God in the Bible, were also names of the high god of the Canaanite pantheon. This mention of a morning star and stars of El would thus appear to be a reference, not to the origin of the devil, but to a Canaanite astral myth.
Like Lucifer, Beelzebul appears to be another Canaanite god only later transformed into the devil, according to the historic practice of demonizing others’ gods. The name is derived from Baal Zebul, referring to the warrior storm-god Baal who was the greatest competitor of the biblical God.
The Hebrew Bible does not identify the serpent or dragon as the devil. Such an association was simply assumed later. Moreover, the serpent in the Garden of Eden, and the dragons fought by God, including their names or descriptions, have direct parallels in ancient Near Eastern myths.
Questions to consider:
Regardless of the sense in which there might be good and evil forces, must we still be tormented by the unsupported and much abused idea of the devil or Satan? Can he not just “go to hell”?
– 11 –
Upon making its transition from polytheistic mythology and ritualized violence to a more ethically oriented monotheism (see DR-1 to DR-9), not only did the biblical tradition apparently invent the devil (see DR-10), but it also appears to have invented Jesus Christ as a cosmic figure to vanquish the devil. So just as the devil is virtually absent from the Hebrew Bible, Jesus is also absent as the promised messiah or savior. For the following reasons, the Old Testament’s supposed prophecies about Christ, as subsequently claimed by New Testament authors, cannot be accepted as genuine:
1. In the Hebrew Bible, a messiah or anointed one is never a Christ-like figure, but only a king, prophet or priest. As well, a king might be God’s metaphorical son or earthly representative. Several supposed prophecies of Jesus simply refer to concepts such as these, rather than to a divine Christ. – 2 Samuel 7:14 (referring to a king who might “commit iniquity,” obviously not sinless Jesus); Psalms 2:1-7; 16:8-11; Isaiah 9:1-7; 61:1-2; Daniel 9:24-27 (two instances apparently referring to King Cyrus and a high priest, possibly Onias III).
2. Other passages are similarly taken out of context, but have the further problem of being too easily subject to intentional or unverifiable fulfillment. The supposedly prophesied event could have been either consciously planned in advance (such as is explicitly recorded for Christ’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem on a donkey) or constructed after the fact with details that cannot be substantiated (such as minor alleged incidents related to the supposed betrayal of Jesus and his crucifixion by the Romans). – Psalms 22:18; 34:20; 69:21; Zechariah 9:9; 11:12-13; 12:10.
3. Some verses, apart from being taken out of context, are too general or vague in any case to be convincing as prophecies about Christ. – Deuteronomy 18:15; Psalms 41:9; 78:2; 118:22; Isaiah 40:3; 42:1-3; Daniel 7:13-14; Micah 5:2; Zechariah 13:6-7; Malachi 3:1.
4. Certain passages concern the writers’ past or present rather than a messianic future. – Jeremiah 31:15 (“Rachel is weeping for her children,” referring to captives during Jeremiah’s time, not to victims of King Herod’s alleged massacre during Jesus’ time); Hosea 11:1 (“When Israel was a youth I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son,” referring to the Exodus, not to Jesus’ return from Egypt after his parents’ flight from Herod).
5. For some purported prophecies, the above problems are compounded by mistranslations. – Psalm 22:16 (‘like a lion” mistranslated as “they pierced”); Isaiah 7:14 (“the young woman is with child” mistranslated as “a virgin will be with child.” A sign was given to address a king’s fear of an imminent invasion, not to predict a virgin birth far in the future); Isaiah 53:5, 8 (a servant is wounded “because of,” mistranslated as “for,” people’s transgressions; “a plague befell them” mistranslated as “was he stricken.” Hebrew plural terms, and references to the nation of Israel as the suffering servant, indicate that Isaiah was depicting an afflicted Israel, not a crucified Christ).
Questions to consider:
Why does the Hebrew Bible, in all its many books, never give one unambiguous account of Christ’s mission, or even distinguish between his first and second comings? If the Hebrew Bible was intended as the Christian faith’s Old Testament, why are its supposed prophecies of Jesus so cryptic? Do these factors, and Jesus’ failure to fulfill the messianic expectation of political liberation, not provide an obvious explanation for why the Jews would have largely rejected him?
– 12 –
Having an Old Testament whose abundant mythological themes (see DR-1 to DR-10) did not include the promise of a royal, virgin-born, literal Son of God (see DR-11), Christianity apparently contributed this theme as its own mythology through Jesus’ fabricated nativity and genealogy. Following are indications that Jesus’ biblical birth narratives are at least partially inventive:
1. Contrary to what would be expected for such a great event, Jesus’ virgin birth is not mentioned in the Bible outside two late gospels. Most New Testament authors seem unaware of the event, treating Jesus’ mother, not as the Virgin Mary, but as an ordinary or even faithless woman. This suggests that the virgin birth story, like its eventual appropriation of the pagan Meri/Madonna and Child, and the sun god’s winter solstitial birthday, was a later adaptation to a Hellenized culture.
2. Matthew and Luke, the only biblical books to make the claim of a virgin birth, contradict this claim by presenting Jesus as a descendant of King David through his earthly father Joseph. Apologists cannot solve this problem by arguing that royal descent came through adoption, since elsewhere in the New Testament, Jesus is said to be of David’s “seed” (John 7:42; 2 Timothy 2:8) “according to the flesh” (Romans 1:3), denoting normal biological descent.
3. A royal genealogy for Jesus (a common feature of birth myths) is presented in two inconsistent versions in Matthew and Luke. The inconsistency cannot be avoided by attributing the versions to different sides of the family, since both lines are expressly Joseph’s. Such an explanation also fails to account for the fact that these two genealogies have so many ancestors in common, and yet are hugely discrepant in the number of ancestors listed for the same time period. Plus, neither version fully conforms to the genealogy in 1 Chronicles 3 of the Old Testament.
4. Both New Testament genealogies include Jeconiah or his descendants, about whom it was prophesied in Jeremiah 22:30, “no man of his seed shall prosper, sitting on the throne of David, and ruling again in Judah.” Since Jesus was held to be of David’s seed, he was also held to be a Davidic ruler through Jeconiah’s seed. According to the Bible, this was not to happen.
5. Incompatible explanations are given for how Jesus, thought to have lived in Nazareth of Galilee, was born in Bethlehem of Judea, King David’s birthplace. Matthew has Jesus’ family settle in Nazareth after fleeing Bethlehem to escape King Herod’s attempt to kill his infant rival (another common feature of birth myths), whereas Luke has Mary give birth in Bethlehem as a result of Joseph having to travel from his Galilean residence to his ancestral home for a Roman census carried out by Cyrenius/Quirinius. Given that Herod died about 4 BCE, and the census was conducted about 6 CE, there is a gap of a decade or so between the two accounts.
6. Historically, there is no evidence of Herod’s alleged slaughter of children, even in Flavius Josephus’ careful record of the king’s abuses. As to the historicity of the alternative story, Galileans would not have been subject to a census in the administratively separate land of Judea, nor would an expecting couple have been required to make a very long and difficult trip to an ancestral home, when the census’ aim was only to obtain current information for taxing purposes.
Questions to consider:
Might the above suggest the wisdom of the biblical counsel against myths and genealogies (1 Timothy 1:3-4)? Does not the incoherence of the Christian Nativity speak for itself?
– 13 –
Jesus Christ, if he has any basis in history, can be understood as a Jew, or very possibly a composite Jewish figure, who inherited a long tradition of evolving religious mythology that, by his time, included messianic, apocalyptic and related themes, but without the non-Jewish concept of a promised savior as a virgin-born Son of God (see DR-1 to DR-12). According to most critical scholars in the field, this historical/composite Jew did not present himself as God’s literal son or an otherworldly Christ, but was a thoroughly Jewish prophet/sage who, like other figures of that period, was persecuted or killed for challenging Roman rule by preaching the kingdom of God on earth. Certain New Testament passages support this view in suggesting that Jesus helped initiate the same type of resistance movement as the following contemporaneous Jews:
In Acts 5:36, a prominent Jewish judge urges toleration for Jesus’ followers by comparing them to the followers of Theudas, a reputed prophet-magician. Such a comparison reflects the biblical Jesus’ own reputation as a miracle-working prophet who, like Theudas, seems to have placed more emphasis on miraculous divine intervention than on armed revolution as the means of bringing about or manifesting the kingdom of God on earth.
Judas the Galilean
Yet, in the next verse, the judge compares Jesus’ followers to those of Judas the Galilean, a failed messianic leader and founder of the revolutionary Zealots – not to be confused with Jesus’ apostle Judas Iscariot, though Iscariot might be a Zealot term for political assassin. Whether or not Jesus was violent, the New Testament records that he had one or more Zealots among his chosen apostles (Luke 6:13-16), that one of them used a sword violently (John 18:10), and that Jesus required other disciples to carry swords (Luke 22:36-38). Paralleling proto-Zealot and Zealot revolts, Jesus reportedly organized a triumphal entry into Jerusalem, took charge of the temple as an economic centre of Roman-Jewish collaboration, was considered an atoning martyr vindicated by resurrection, had martyred followers, and in dynastic fashion, having succeeded “cousin” John the Baptist, was succeeded in turn by “brothers,” James and then Simon – not by Peter and the corrupt Romanized papacy with its own proven violence. Later orthodox Jews known as the Ebionites, invoking James against Paul, accepted Jesus as a non-divine messiah.
A Roman commander, in Acts 21:38, asks the Christian Paul whether he is the man called the Egyptian – another comparison with political implications since the Egyptian sought kingship by leading an anti-Roman revolt. While Paul may not have sought kingship, Jesus reportedly was crucified between two rebels for claiming to be king of the Jews. The Bible’s description of Jesus’ revolutionary message inciting less animosity from the normally brutal and anti-Jewish Roman governor Pontius Pilate than from the normally nationalistic, progressive and humane Pharisaic Jews (not the stereotyped Pharisees of the gospels) is a historically false role reversal.
Questions to consider:
Leaving aside claims of divinity, is there anything about Jesus’ adult life, more or less as depicted in the synoptic gospels, which makes it so unique within the context of the Judaism of his time? Is our New Testament not anti-Semitic, inherently and by its effects, in denigrating this Judaism, and suggesting that “the Jews” as a supposedly evil people, rather than their Roman oppressors, killed Christ? As a Christian in the past, do I not owe Jews an apology for alleging this?
– 14 –
Assuming that the Jesus movement was originally a Jewish “Kingdom of God” movement derived from a long tradition of evolving religious mythology that did not include the pagan idea of a dying and rising divine savior (see DR-1 to DR-13), it seems that such an idea came into the movement through Paul, under the influence of the Gnosticism and mystery cults of his Greco-Roman environment. While Paul’s letters in the Bible are considered the earliest extant Christian texts, precluding direct comparison with prior Christian writings, the following excerpts from those letters contain hints, minimized in the later book of Acts, of a mystical Hellenized Paul promoting new beliefs that caused division within a Jesus movement based until then on orthodox Judaism:
“…we have been buried with [Christ] through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead… so we too might walk in newness of life.” [as in the mystery cults]
1 Corinthians 1
“One of you says, ‘I follow Paul’… another, ‘I follow Peter’… Is Christ divided [like his followers]?”
1 Corinthians 2, 15
“…we speak God’s wisdom in a mystery… the wisdom which none of the rulers of the age [Gnostic demons] has understood [or] they would not have crucified the Lord of glory [as was done to the pagan savior] …Christ died for our sins… was buried… was raised on the third day [like the pagan savior] …he was seen [from a word for mystical sight] by Peter, then by [others].”
1 Corinthians 10, 11
“Is not the cup… a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread… a participation in the body of Christ? [mystery cult language] … For I received from the Lord [directly/mystically, not from Jesus’ followers] …that the Lord Jesus [instituted the Lord’s Supper, a mystery cult term].”
2 Corinthians 4
“The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers so that they cannot see the light… For God [gave us] the light of the knowledge…” [Gnostic themes of two gods, light, and knowledge]
2 Corinthians 11
“For if one comes and preaches another Jesus… you might well bear with him. But I do not think I am in the least inferior to those super-apostles… For such men are false apostles, deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ.” [more division over Jesus; see also below]
Galatians 1, 2
“…if anyone is preaching to you a different gospel… he is to be accursed… For I neither received [my gospel] from man, nor was I taught it [by Jesus’ followers], but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ. …false brothers infiltrated our ranks to spy on our liberty [from Jewish law, as in Gnosticism]… When Peter came… I opposed him [for heeding] certain men from James [orthodox Jew leading the Jesus movement]. …Christ lives in me.” [mystical language]
Questions to consider:
Between orthodox Jews, such as Peter and James, who knew Jesus historically (per the Bible), and Paul who knew him only mystically – who knew him better? Was the false apostle not Paul?
– 15 –
Granting that Paul was a transitional figure in an evolving mythology (see DR-1 to DR-12), linking the original Jesus movement’s “Kingdom of God” Judaism to later Christianity’s worship of Jesus as a divine savior similar to the dying and rising gods of the surrounding pagan cults (see DR-13, DR-14), we are now able to make sense of the following pattern whereby Paul’s letters and the biblical gospels, considered in the order in which they are thought to have been written, exhibit a developing Christology, with an increasingly deified Jesus and accumulating pagan motifs:
In Paul’s letters, Jesus is depicted as one who had “the form of God” but not “equality with God,” who only by being “obedient to death” was exalted as Lord (Philippians 2:5-11), and who only “by his resurrection” became God’s son, just as others might also receive “a spirit of adoption as sons” to become “fellow heirs with Christ” (Romans 1:4; 8:15-17). Without ever mentioning the virgin birth or other miracles associated with Jesus, Paul simply says that “God sent forth his son, born of a woman… that we might receive the adoption as sons” (Galatians 4:4-5).
According to the earliest manuscripts of the gospel attributed to Mark (which end at 16:8), there is darkness at Jesus’ death, as well as a messenger at an empty tomb, but no appearance by the risen Christ. Mark has miracles, but no virgin birth, beginning rather with Jesus receiving God’s spirit, and being declared by a heavenly voice to be God’s son, only at his baptism (Mark 1).
The gospel attributed to Matthew introduces the virgin birth and its miraculous circumstances, including a guiding star for visiting magi (Matthew 1-2). Christ’s death and resurrection are portrayed as being accompanied by an earthquake, an angel rolling back a stone from Jesus’ sepulcher, and appearances of both Jesus and other resurrected people (Matt. 27-28). Nowhere else, in the Bible or historical records, is this earthquake and multiple resurrection account found.
Presenting a different virgin birth story, the gospel attributed to Luke has a manger, attending shepherds, and a host of praising angels (Luke 2). Also, in another version of the resurrection, Luke introduces a second angel, and emphasizes the physicality of Christ’s risen body, as well as the glory of his heavenly ascension as a separate event from his resurrection (Luke 24; Acts 1).
Finally, in the gospel attributed to John, Jesus is not just God’s son at his resurrection (Paul), baptism (Mark), or birth (Matthew, Luke). Moving still farther back in time, he is identified with God as the only One or Son, and as the pre-existent, incarnated Logos, Light, and Lamb (John 1). His God-like miracles include turning water into wine at a wedding, like the wine god (John 2), and raising buried Lazarus before two sisters at Bethany amid much weeping (John 11), as in the earlier Egyptian myth of El-Asar-us, raised before two sisters at Beth-Anu, a place of weeping.
Questions to consider:
Are these stories not too inconsistent, too Gentile, and too increasingly mythical, to be first- or second-hand historical records? Is this not confirmed by the fact that the gospels were unknown to church fathers before the second century, then quoted as anonymous works until c. 180 CE?
– 16 –
Various mythical elements of the Judeo-Christian tradition, originating in ancient Mesopotamian and neighboring cultures, and concentrating in the story of Jesus Christ (see DR-1 to DR-15), have the following parallels in relation to Jesus-like figures of other major faiths, such as Zoroaster in Zoroastrianism, Krishna in Hinduism, Buddha in Buddhism, Lao-Tzu in Taoism, Confucius in Confucianism, and of course Jesus as depicted in the Islamic and Baha’i faiths:
Divine incarnation, deification – Zoroaster, Krishna, Buddha, Lao-Tzu, Confucius
Royal genealogy – Zoroaster, Krishna, Buddha, Confucius, Islamic/Baha’i Jesus
Virgin/miraculous birth – Zoroaster, Krishna, Buddha, Lao-Tzu, Confucius, Islamic/Baha’i Jesus
Birth accompanied by a special star – Krishna, Buddha, Lao-Tzu, Islamic/Baha’i Jesus
Shepherds, wise men, or angels visiting – Zoroaster, Krishna, Buddha, Confucius, Baha’i Jesus
Murderous threat from a rival king – Zoroaster, Krishna, Buddha, Baha’i Jesus
Baptism or ritual bathing – Zoroaster, Buddha, Islamic/Baha’i Jesus
Temptation by or as by a devil – Zoroaster, Krishna, Buddha, Confucius, Islamic/Baha’i Jesus
Healing of the sick or possessed – Zoroaster, Krishna, Buddha, Islamic Jesus
Miracles such as passing over water and magically feeding a multitude – Krishna, Buddha
Accounts of a man born blind, a woman by a well, and a prodigal son – Buddha
Wisdom from youth onward – Zoroaster, Krishna, Buddha, Islamic/Baha’i Jesus
Lessons about offensive eyes, rain for the unjust, waterproof houses, eternal treasure – Buddha
Parables about a mustard seed, wheat and tares, seeds in different soils – Buddha
Declaring the Way/Word – Zoroaster, Krishna, Buddha, Lao-Tzu, Confucius, Islamic/Baha’i Jesus
Proclaiming God’s kingdom or heavenly rule – Zoroaster, Krishna, Buddha, Islamic/Baha’i Jesus
Names such as Firstborn or Only Begotten, Lord or Prince of Peace, etc. – Krishna, Buddha
Triumphal entry in a city or among hailing disciples – Krishna, Buddha, Islamic/Baha’i Jesus
Bodily transfiguration – Krishna, Buddha
Mission as savior, redeemer, or messiah – Zoroaster, Krishna, Buddha, Islamic/Baha’i Jesus
Betrayal and death on a cross or tree – Krishna, Buddha, Baha’i Jesus
Earthquake or signs at death – Zoroaster, Krishna, Buddha, Lao-Tzu, Baha’i Jesus
Journey into hell, assistance or judgment of the dead – Zoroaster, Krishna, Buddha
Resurrection or ascent – Zoroaster, Krishna, Buddha, Lao-Tzu, Confucius, Islamic/Baha’i Jesus
Promised return one day – Zoroaster, Krishna, Buddha, Islamic/Baha’i Jesus
Questions to consider:
Can the biblical story of Jesus be uniquely true when it shares so many features of narratives from other world religions that, directly or indirectly, could have been expected to influence the development of Christianity through the commerce and syncretism of its Hellenistic environment? Is not Islam also discredited, along with its Baha’i offshoot, since it incorporates biblical mythology, and since its god Allah, like the linguistically related El/elohim of the Bible, is a former high god of a pantheon, who still speaks as a polytheistic “we” or “us”? Similarly, is not Judaism discredited, insofar as the apocalyptic and related themes it contributed to Christianity it also shares with other world religions, dating from the period of its contact with the Persians and their Zoroastrian faith? Likewise, can Zoroastrianism be uniquely true, or Hinduism or Buddhism, given that the Zoroastrian and Hindu faiths share features drawn from a common Indo-Iranian heritage, while Buddhism incorporates Hindu motifs? Are not the parallels in all these world religions, particularly as they are traceable to the descending-ascending figures and other themes of ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt, sufficient proof that all the faiths are reworked mythology?
– 17 –
Paralleling Christian, Islamic, and Baha’i revisions of biblical mythology (see DR-1 to DR-16), the Mormons also revised biblical myths. Other reasons to reject Mormonism include the following:
1. Mormon founder Joseph Smith made claims of paranormal experiences common for young people in his time. Further, his new religion promoted ideas already found in occult traditions: spirit as purer matter, prior spirit creation, Christian prophetic sacrifice originating with Adam, Satanic secrets originating with Cain, Enoch weeping over the resulting flood but rejoicing in Christ, proxy baptisms for the dead, initiatory ordinances of washing and anointing with a garment and new name, Masonic-like symbols and oaths, key words and signs for a heavenly ascent, mortals seeking godhood, three celestial worlds and two lesser degrees of glory, etc.
2. While Joseph Smith’s Book of Mormon purported to be a new divine translation from ancient plates, it restated popular claims made by his nineteenth-century American contemporaries:
– that ancient America was inhabited by migrants from Israel and/or the tower of Babel
– that they divided into dark-skinned uncivilized people and fair-skinned civilized people
– that the latter built great cities (such as those whose ruins were found in Mesoamerica)
– that Christ visited these people post-resurrection (possibly becoming Quetzalcoatl)
– that these people were Christ’s other sheep of a different fold, per the New Testament
– that the dark-skinned people destroyed the fair-skinned people in a final great battle
– that descendants of the former later became known as the American Indians
– that a record of these people was written on metal plates, and buried in a stone box
– that these people were destined to help establish the New Jerusalem in America
Virtually all non-Mormon experts in the field, and even some Mormon experts at the risk of excommunication, have concluded that the archaeological, linguistic, and/or genetic evidence does not support the above claims (forcing a partial concession by the main Mormon church in 2006 when it changed its introduction to the Book of Mormon).
3. The religious and Semitic complexity of the Book of Mormon can be explained by Joseph Smith’s prior involvement with Sidney Rigdon, an educated preacher whose mentor’s unique restorationist theology is discernible throughout the book, except significantly where Rigdon disagreed with that mentor (such as regarding common property, spiritual gifts, and extra-biblical authority, all of which the Book of Mormon and Rigdon endorsed against his mentor). In Book of Mormon passages that reflect Rigdon’s views, there has been found a disproportionate frequency of terminology characteristic of Rigdon’s teachings, notably the phrase “children of men.”
4. A similar word pattern has been found in other Mormon scriptures – Doctrine and Covenants, Book of Moses, and a modified Bible – discrediting them also as God’s supposed revelations to Smith. The Book of Abraham, a further Mormon scripture, purports to be a translation by Smith from Egyptian papyri, but Mormon and non-Mormon Egyptologists have agreed that this is a false translation, and that the papyri are funerary texts having nothing to do with Abraham.
Questions to consider:
Should I not, as a Mormon apostate, warn that my former faith has doctrines such as dark skin by divine curse, priesthood denial to blacks formerly and women still, and plural wives as an ideal? Is not another concern the Mormon Church’s heavy taxation of its members without ethical investment accountability? Does this powerful emerging world religion call for our vigilance?
– 18 –
Evolving biblical religion, having borrowed anthropomorphic concepts of the divine from the ancient Middle East (see DR-1 to DR-17), similarly drew upon Western and Eastern philosophy to develop a doctrine of God and spirits as immaterial entities. That this immateriality doctrine is a post-biblical pagan myth can be seen from the following considerations:
1. According to a growing consensus of biblical scholars, the ancient Hebrews did not make a distinction between material and immaterial beings. The original Hebrew and Greek words for spirit in the Bible mean “breath” or “wind,” suggesting a more refined or subtle form of matter. Possibly influenced by Stoic pantheism, which used the same Greek word to represent the deity as a material substance pervading the universe like a creative fire, some church fathers held that God was embodied. So common was this interpretation of the Greek word that John 4:24, which employs that word to describe God, was actually cited by those who argued for divine corporeality. Hence, the contrary view has been challenged as unbiblical, while religious believers as diverse as Mormons and New Agers have defined spirit in terms of matter or energy.
2. Only when non-biblical philosophers had conceptualized a purely immaterial reality did such a notion enter biblical theology. This development began when teachers of the East and West, speculating about the hidden unity or permanence underlying transient matter, without recognizing it as the physical universe’s own inherent order, ascribed to it a separate reality. Consequently, this natural unity became reified and deified as the One or Being or the Absolute, a truer reality of mind or pure reason transcending the world of the physical senses. Under the influence of such a philosophy, largely as transmitted via Plato and his successors, biblical theologians made the pagans’ transcendent immaterial reality their own.
3. Therefore, although an immaterial reality was introduced on philosophical grounds, it is not philosophically justified other than as an abstraction from material existence. Likewise, minds do not justify belief in immaterial souls, for we have no evidence of minds other than as abstractions from thinking matter, of which thought can no more exist independently than movement or weight can exist apart from things that move or have weight. Neither can a mind, by its very nature subjective, have access to reality (as opposed to mere imagination) except as it finds that reality beyond itself. Yet, it can do this only by contacting some external entity that stimulates its awareness, in which case the entity would be known empirically and thus, by necessary implication, constitute a form of matter-energy. It follows that any knowable reality, however elevated or mystical, must be scientifically explainable in naturalist or physicalist terms.
Questions to consider:
Why should Christians (or anyone) retain the doctrine of immaterial entities when such a doctrine is neither biblically nor philosophically justified? Although it avoids crude anthropomorphism, might this doctrine simply be raising anthropomorphism to a more abstract level, replacing projections of physical human beings’ limited bodily and emotional attributes with projections of thinking human beings’ ideal mental and rational attributes? Is this not why some theologians go further in claiming that we cannot use any literal or positive terms at all to describe the divine, because it is wholly other and incomprehensible, thus implicitly conceding to agnostics that we cannot even know that a transcendent God is real? Does not such abstracting/negating with regard to deity lead to the abstract nothingness of liberal theology’s God as the Ground of Being, showing that this deity is equivalent to an atheistic metaphor derived from material existence?
– 19 –
Biblical supernaturalism can be understood as an extension of the pagan tendency to deify natural forces, having evolved from Mesopotamian/Canaanite polytheism with its sky and earth deities, incorporated the Persian dualism of light and dark forces, Christianized the Hellenistic motif of a dying and rising savior personifying seasonal cycles, and adapted the Platonic concept of a transcendent immaterial God or Reality falsely abstracted from the unity of material existence (see DR-1 to DR-18). Consistent with such an understanding, there has been a shift away from supernaturalism as implausible mythology toward an exclusive reverence for the natural order, updating ancient wisdom in an empathic, holistic manner that can be considered progressive as long as it does not bring mythical notions back in by deifying nature, other than metaphorically. In that regard, the following can be said about three expressions of this reverential attitude:
Reviving polytheistic or animistic beliefs in a modern form, Neopaganism deifies processes of nature, whether intended literally or metaphorically. If the deification is intended literally, the divine beings would by definition be more than mere symbols for natural processes, and so would have to be separate from those processes in some sense, controlling or manifesting them from beyond, as it were. Besides reintroducing an implausible supernaturalism, this would be difficult to reconcile with Pagan claims that goddesses and gods are archetypes of an immanent energy, and that beliefs are to be considered metaphorical when needed to avoid conflicts with science.
Identifying God with the all, or a harmonious universe, pantheism is a classic example of deifying the unity of nature, again either literally or metaphorically. On a literal view, supernaturalism is only nominally avoided, by representing the deified unity as immanent rather than transcendent. Further, if this immanent oneness is conceived in terms of everything as part of a single consciousness, such can only make sense as a symbolic image of the collective life or organic unity of the material world. Yet, if the oneness is conceived as entirely impersonal, as it often is, even more is a metaphorical view suggested, for an impersonal immanent unity is not meaningfully distinguishable from the inner harmony of the physical universe studied by science.
New Age Mysticism
Drawing on quantum physics and other sciences, New Agers have claimed that everything is interconnected as dynamic energy, and that human consciousness can alter this energy or connect to higher beings. Critics have complained that such claims are being misapplied to distort the science on which they are based, and that ideas such as consciousness and energy are being used in unscientific ways. When mystics in fact do this, in a literal rather than metaphorical manner, it can again be argued that avoidance of supernaturalism is only nominal, given that physical processes are then effectively being treated as divine or supernatural forces. Correcting this error means keeping mystical references to consciousness, energy, and the like, unambiguously within a materialist or physicalist framework.
Questions to consider:
Is it fair perhaps to suggest that those who purport to eschew supernatural forces, while expressly or implicitly deifying processes of nature, are trying to have it both ways? Are they not trying to say that reality, in one sense, is only physical processes but, in another sense, transcends the purely physical? Does this not require the two senses to be literal and metaphorical respectively?
– 20 –
Finding reasons to reject biblical supernaturalism as implausible mythology (see DR-1 to DR-18), Neopagans, pantheists, and New Agers have sought instead to modernize the ancient wisdom of pagan cultures (see DR-19). Unfortunately, some of them have made explicit or implicit claims about the past that are inconsistent with the documented conclusions of historical and scientific experts, such as the following dubious claims about paganism:
That an advanced pagan civilization, typically called Atlantis, existed in the ancient past before vanishing under the sea – whereas this idea is contradicted by multiple findings related to anthropological and geological history, as well as by evidence that Plato’s account of Atlantis, which gave rise to Atlantean notions in the first place, was intended as philosophical fiction, possibly inspired in part by the recent flooding of an island named Atalanta.
That ancient pagans had advanced skills passed down to us as magic or psi, energy healing or therapy, astrology or other divination, etc. – whereas belief in such phenomena tends to be correlated with psychological mechanisms such as confirmation bias (dismissing negative evidence), ignorance of statistical probability (underestimating the frequency of coincidence), perceptual illusion (being fooled by appearance), the placebo effect (reacting based on expectation), and the ideomotor response (unconsciously moving a divinatory object).
That pagan societies in prehistoric times were peaceful and egalitarian, honored women, and worshipped a supreme goddess – whereas their remains contain evidence of weaponry, violent deaths, class distinctions, sex role differentiation, and male-oriented religious imagery.
That the early modern witch hunts of the West targeted a pagan religion surviving from antiquity – whereas this claim has been discredited in favor of the view that the witch hunts targeted heretical sorcery, falsely accusing women and other marginalized people who were not pagans.
That ancient pagan worship survived underground until emerging as modern witchcraft or Wicca – whereas there is compelling evidence that Wicca founder Gerald Gardner supported this claim with false data and credentials, a false initiation story, and a false tradition combining occult symbols, Eastern concepts, romanticized folklore, and the above discredited witch hunt theory.
That there is a direct connection between ancient and modern Druids – whereas the British Museum has formally stated that there is no such connection, and that many of the popular ideas about Druids, such as their supposed link to the builders of Stonehenge, are based on scholarly misconceptions from two centuries ago that have since been superseded by better research.
That the end date of an ancient Mayan calendar prophesied a global catastrophe or transformation around late 2012 – whereas there is no evidence that this end date was anything other than the day when the calendar was to turn over, nor has there been any scientific support for such an event occurring on that date.
Questions to consider:
Does it make sense for Neopagans, pantheists, and New Agers to reject Christians’ unhistorical and unscientific claims only to replace them with similar claims of their own? Are not their feminist and other progressive values better served by the avoidance of discreditable myths?