Monday, June 28, 2010

Childish Things-Idiotic Voices

“I believe it because it is absurd.” –Tertullian

“We sacrifice the intellect to God.” –Ignatius Loyola

“Reason is the Devil’s harlot, who can do nought but slander and harm whatever God says and does.” –Martin Luther

Can faith and reason co-exist? The longer I study and the more I research the answer becomes ever more clear; no. While I still do not regret (for the most part) my past, including my previous beliefs, I am, quite honestly, often embarrassed by them. I read the words of these giants of Christian history who shaped and directed the Church (and me) in both its theology and practices and more often than not I find I am reading the words of idiots who not only do not command respect but deserve pity. These are men who were scared of humanity’s potential through the use of reason, the loss of their personal power and, of course, their own deaths. Tertullian did not claim to know much about the afterlife but promised that in heaven one of the greatest sources of pleasure will come from the endless contemplation of the tortures of the damned. Luther’s work is filled with fear of demons, hatred for the mentally ill and blatant anti-Semitism, which would continue to inflame the hatred of Jews in Germany all the way up to the Holocaust. And Loyola was the founder of the Jesuits who were trained to search for and eradicate all heresy by any means necessary; thus the birth of the inquisition whose most successful apologetic was convert or die.

It has taken years but it has become clear to me that these men believed these things and said them not because they misunderstood Christianity but rather because they understood it all too well. Somewhat ironically, after lengthy and at times painful thought they came to believe and teach that Christianity demands mindless (in every sense of the term) obedience. Thoughtless faith is the greatest virtue while critical thinking is the greatest vice. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13, the famous chapter on love, “When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me.” I agree with these words of Paul and have sought to do likewise. The funny thing is that putting childish ways behind me has meant giving up almost everything Paul every taught. His teachings are childish at best and more often dangerous as they teach and support misogyny, slavery, anti-Semitism, hatred of homosexuals, elitism, xenophobia, sexual repression, anti-intellectualism and an all-around arrogant stupidity. Even as I write this I can remember many of the reasons I believed these things when I did and I can also remember how differently they looked back then. I did not see the blatant anti-Semitism in the Gospel of John or the clear disdain for women in Paul’s works. Even when I caught glimpses of them I found ways to side step the issues or explain them away as misunderstandings or misinterpretations. But perhaps what was best for my faith was that I was unaware of most of Christian history and the works of men like Tertullian, Augustine, Luther, Calvin and so many others. It’s easier to get the bible off the hook when you don't have any real concept of the history of its interpretation. Thankfully the one Christian lesson that never got pushed all the way through my head was, “don’t think for yourself just obey.” So I continued to think and study and research and discovered through more honest and impartial eyes than my own the errors and horrors created and sustain by the Christian worldview. And yes those more impartial eyes came from both Christians and non-Christians.

Now I will continue to study, including men such as Paul, Tertullian, Augustine, Luther and Loyola but I can no longer hide the fact that I pity these men and will continue to deride much of what they choose to preach. A fair trial has been given and the crimes these men committed (both in word and deed) allow, even demand, that I not give their voices the same amount of weight in matters of truth as those of more learned, wise, tolerant, generous and good people.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

The Questions of Zapata: Problems with the Bible

I found this piece in a book I'm reading containing the writings of Voltaire. Voltaire is the one who puts this piece together though it is written by Dominico Zapata as will be explained in the piece itself.

Zapata writes, in 1629, seeking the counsel of other doctors of the church in Spain who are "wiser" than he, concerning various problems he sees in the Scriptures. I enjoyed this work due both to its thoroughness and cleverness. While I was aware of many of these issues Zapata raises he clearly knows the Scriptures more thoroughly than I do and presents many of the simplest, obvious errors in the bible that are just read over by most people, including myself. They are not noticed in part because of people's lack of knowledge concerning various subjects such as history, geography, biology, topography and math but also in part because so many just do not wish to see them. With each error the questions concerning the nature of the bible as God's revealed word increase. What does revealed mean? Does it mean inherent? Infallible? How do we know what is meant as an allegory and what is meant as fact? How do we deal with the constant need for reinterpretation of prophecies as they continue to be unfulfilled? How do we understand the clear evils that the bible endorses and even commands? What do we do with the fact that the bible is just wrong about so many things?

The other thing I enjoy about this piece is it is written by a man in 1629 demonstrating that these questions are not new in the last 100 years but that there have been people who were brave enough and educated enough to question and doubt the bible for most of its history. Scholarship has advanced and can be used to answer some of these questions as well as to create many, many more. This is a long piece but reads fairly quickly, enjoy.

(Translated By Dr. Tamponet, Of The Sorbonne)

The licentiate Zapata, being appointed Professor of Theology at the University of Salamanca, presented these questions to a committee of doctors in 1629. They were suppressed. The Spanish copy is in the Brunswick Library.

Wise Masters:

1°. How ought I to proceed with the object of showing that the Jews, whom we burn by the hundred, were for four thousand years God’s chosen people?

2°. How could God, whom one cannot without blasphemy regard as unjust, forsake the whole earth for the little Jewish tribe, and then abandon this little group for another, which, during two hundred years, was even smaller and more despised?

3°. Why did he perform a number of incomprehensible miracles in favour of this miserable nation before the period which is called historical? Why did he, some centuries ago, cease to perform them? And why do we, who are God’s people, never witness any?

4°. If God is the God of Abraham, why do you burn the children of Abraham? And, when you burn them, why do you recite their prayers? How is it that, since you worship the book of their law, you put them to death for observing that law?

5°. How shall I reconcile the chronology of the Chinese, Chaldæans, Phœnicians, and Egyptians with that of the Jews? And how shall I reconcile the forty different methods of calculation which I find in the commentators? If I say that God dictated the book, I may be told that God evidently is not an expert in chronology.

6°. By what argument can I prove that the books attributed to Moses were written by him in the desert? How could he say that he wrote beyond the Jordan when he never crossed the Jordan? I may be told that God is evidently not good at geography.

7°. The book entitled Joshua says that Joshua had Deuteronomy engraved on stones coated with mortar; this passage in Joshua, and others in ancient writers, clearly prove that in the days of Moses and Joshua the peoples of the East engraved their laws and observations on stone and brick. The Pentateuch tells us that the Jewish people were without food and clothing in the desert; it seems hardly probable that, if they had no tailors or shoemakers, they had men who were able to engrave a large book. In any case, how did they preserve this large work inscribed in mortar?

8°. What is the best way to refute the objections of the learned men who find in the Pentateuch the names of towns which were not yet in existence: precepts for kings whom the Jews detested, and who did not reign until seven hundred years after Moses; and passages in which the author betrays that he was much later than Moses, as: “The bed of Og, which is still seen in Ramath,” “The Canaanite was then in the land,” etc., etc., etc., etc.?

These learned men might, with the difficulties and contradictions which they impute to the Jewish chronicles, give some trouble to a licentiate.

9°. Is the book of Genesis to be taken literally or allegorically? Did God really take a rib from Adam and make woman therewith? and, if so, why is it previously stated that he made man male and female? How did God create light before the sun? How did he separate light from darkness, since darkness is merely the absence of light? How could there be a day before the sun was made? How was the firmament made amid the waters, since there is no such thing as a firmament?—it is an illusion of the ancient Greeks. There are those who suggest that Genesis was not written until the Jews had some knowledge of the erroneous philosophy of other peoples, and it would pain me to hear it said that God knows no more about physics than he does about chronology and geography.

10°. What shall I say of the garden of Eden, from which issued a river which divided into four rivers—the Tigris, Euphrates, Phison (which is believed to be the Phasis), and Gihon, which flows in Ethiopia, and must therefore be the Nile, the source of which is a thousand miles from the source of the Euphrates? I shall be told once more that God is a very poor geographer.

11°. I should, with all my heart, like to eat the fruit which hung from the tree of knowledge; and it seems to me that the prohibition to eat it is strange. Since God endowed man with reason, he ought to encourage him to advance in knowledge. Did he wish to be served only by fools? I should also like to have speech with the serpent, since it was so intelligent; but I should like to know what language it spoke. The Emperor Julian, a great philosopher, asked this of the great St. Cyril, who could not meet the question, and said to the learned emperor: “You are the serpent.” St. Cyril was not polite; but you will observe that he did not per petrate this theological impertinence until Julian was dead.

Genesis says that the serpent eats earth; you know that Genesis is wrong, and that earth alone contains no nourishment. In regard to God walking familiarly every day in the garden, and talking to Adam and Eve and the serpent, I may say that it would have been very pleasant to have been there. But as I think you are much more fitted for the kind of society which Joseph and Mary had in the stable at Bethlehem, I will not advise you to visit the garden of Eden, especially as the gate is now guarded by a cherub armed to the teeth. It is true that, according to the rabbis, cherub means “ox.”1 A curious kind of porter! Please let me know at least what a cherub is.

[1 ]The kerubim (or “cherubim”) of the Old Testament are the winged bulls of the ancient Babylonians, of which there are two fine specimens in the British Museum.—J. M.

12°. How shall I explain the story of the angels who fell in love with the daughters of men, and begot giants? May I not be told that this episode is borrowed from pagan legends? But as the Jews invented everything in the desert, and were very ingenious, it is clear that all the other nations took their science from the Jews. Homer, Plato, Cicero, and Vergil learned all they knew from the Jews. Is not that proved?

13°. How shall I get out of the deluge, the cataracts of heaven (which has no cataracts), and the animals coming from Japan, Africa, America, and the south, and being enclosed in a large ark with food and drink for one year, without counting the time when the earth was still too damp to produce food for them? How did Noah’s little family manage to give all these animals their proper food? It consisted only of eight persons.

14°. How can I make the story of the tower of Babel plausible? This tower must have been higher than the pyramids of Egypt, since God allowed the building of the pyramids. Did it reach as high as Venus, or at least to the moon?

15°. By what device shall I justify the two lies of Abraham, the father of believers, who, at the age of one hundred and thirty-five (counting carefully), represented the pretty Sarah as his sister in Egypt and at Gerar, in order that the kings of those countries might fall in love with her and make presents to him? What a naughty thing to do, to sell one’s wife!

16°. Give me some explanation why, although God told Abraham that all his posterity should be circumcised, this was not done under Moses.

17°. Can I know by my natural powers whether the three angels, to whom Sarah offered a whole calf to eat, had bodies, or borrowed bodies?

18°. Will my hearers believe me when I tell them that Lot’s wife was changed into a salt statue? What shall I say to those who tell me that it is probably a coarse imitation of the ancient fable of Eurydice, and that a salt statue would not last in the rain?

19°. What shall I say in justification of the blessings which fell on Jacob, the just man, who deceived his father Isaac and robbed his father-in-law Laban? How shall I explain God appearing to him at the top of a ladder? And how could Jacob fight an angel all night?, etc., etc.

20°. How must I treat the sojourn of the Jews in Egypt and their escape? Exodus says that they remained four hundred years in Egypt; but, counting carefully, we find only two hundred and five years. Why did Pharaoh’s daughter bathe in the Nile, in which no one ever bathes on account of the crocodiles?, etc., etc.

21°. Moses having wedded the daughter of an idolater, how could God choose him as his prophet without reproaching him? How could Pharaoh’s magicians work the same miracles as Moses, except that of covering the land with lice and vermin? How could they change into blood all the waters, since these had already been changed into blood by Moses? How was it that Moses, led by God himself, and at the head of six hundred and thirty thousand fighting men, fled with his people, instead of taking Egypt, in which God had slain all the first-born? Egypt never had an army of a hundred thousand men, from the first mention of it in historical times. How was it that Moses, flying with his troops from the land of Goshen, crossed half of Egypt, instead of going straight to Canaan, and advanced as far as Memphis, between Baal-Sephon and the Red Sea? Finally, how could Pharaoh pursue him with all his cavalry when, in the fifth plague of Egypt, God had just destroyed all the horses and beasts in the country, and, moreover, Egypt, which is much broken by canals, always had very little cavalry?

22°. How shall I reconcile what is said in Exodus with the speech of St. Stephen in Acts and the passages of Jeremiah and Amos? Exodus says that they sacrificed to Jehovah for forty years in the desert; Jeremiah, Amos, and St. Stephen say that neither sacrifice nor victim was offered during all that time. Exodus says that they made the tabernacle, which contained the ark of the covenant; St. Stephen, in Acts, says that they took the tabernacle from Moloch and Remphan.

23°. I am not sufficiently versed in chemistry to deal happily with the golden calf which, Exodus says, was made in a day, and which Moses reduced to ashes. Are they two miracles, or two possibilities of human art?

24°. Was it a further miracle for the leader of a nation, in a desert, to have twenty-three thousand men of that nation slain by a single one of the twelve tribes, and for twenty-three thousand men to let themselves be massacred without making any defence?

25°. Must I again regard it as a miracle, or as an act of ordinary justice, that twenty-four thousand Hebrews were put to death because one of them had lain with a Midianite woman, while Moses himself had married a Midianite? And were not these Hebrews, who are described to us as so ferocious, really very good fellows to let themselves be slain for girls?

26°. What explanation shall I give of the law which forbids the eating of the hare “because it ruminates, and has not a cloven foot,” whereas hares have cloven feet and do not ruminate? We have already seen that this remarkable book suggests that God is a poor geographer, a poor chronologist, and a poor physicist; he seems to have been no less weak in natural history. How can I explain other equally wise laws, such as that of the waters of jealousy and the sentence of death on a man who lies with his wife during the menstrual period? etc., etc., etc. Can I justify these barbaric and ridiculous laws, which are said to have been given by God himself?

27°. What answer shall I make to those who are surprised that a miracle was needed to effect the crossing of the Jordan, since it is only forty-five feet across at its widest, could easily be crossed with a small raft, and was fordable at many points, as we learn from the slaying of forty-two thousand Ephraimites by their brothers at a ford of the same river?

28°. What reply shall I make to those who ask how the walls of Jericho fell at the sound of a trumpet, and why other towns did not fall in the same way?

29°. How shall I excuse the conduct of the harlot Rahab in betraying her country, Jericho? How was this treachery necessary, since they had only to blow their trumpet to take a town? And how shall I fathom the depth of the divine decrees which enacted that our divine Saviour Jesus Christ should descend from this harlot Rahab, from the incest of Thamar with her father-in-law Judah, and from the adultery of David and Bathsheba? How incomprehensible are the ways of God!

30°. How can I approve of Joshua hanging thirty-one kinglets and usurping their little States—that is to say, their villages?

31°. How shall I speak of the battle of Joshua with the Amorites at Beth-horon on the way to Gibeon? The Lord sends a rain of stones, from Beth-horon to Azekah: it is fifteen miles from Beth-horon to Azekah; therefore the Amorites were exterminated by rocks which fell from heaven over a space of fifteen miles. The Scripture says that it was midday. Why, then, did Joshua command the sun and the moon to stand still in the middle of the sky in order to give him time to complete the defeat of a small troop which was already exterminated? Why did he tell the moon to stand still at midday? How could the sun and moon remain in the same place for a day? Which commentator shall I consult for an explanation of this extraordinary truth?

32°. What shall I say of Jephthah immolating his daughter, and having forty-two thousand Jews of the tribe of Ephraim, who could not say Shibboleth, put to death?

33°. Ought I to admit or deny that the Jewish law nowhere speaks of punishment or reward after death? How is it that neither Moses nor Joshua ever spoke of the immortality of the soul, a dogma well known to the ancient Egyptians, Chaldæans, Persians, and Greeks, but hardly known to the Jews until after the time of Alexander, and always rejected by the Sadducees because it is not in the Pentateuch?

34°. What gloss must I put on the story of the Levite who, coming on his ass to the Benjamite town Gibeah, excited the passion of all the Gibeonites? He abandoned his wife to them, and she died the next day.

35°. I need your advice to enable me to understand the nineteenth verse of the first chapter of Judges: “And the Lord was with Judah: and he drave out the inhabitants of the mountain: but could not drive out the inhabitants of the valley, because they had chariots of iron.” I cannot, of my own feeble lights, understand how the God of heaven and earth, who had so often superseded the order of nature and suspended the eternal laws in favour of the Jewish people, was unable to vanquish the inhabitants of a valley because they had iron chariots. Can it be true that, as some learned men say, the Jews at that time regarded their God as a local and protecting deity, sometimes more powerful, at other times less powerful, than the gods of the enemy? And is this not proved by the reply of Jephthah: “Ye possess by right what your god Camos has given you: suffer then that we take what our god Adonai has promised us”?

36°. I may add that it is difficult to believe that there were so many chariots armed with scythes in a mountainous district, in which, as the Scriptures often show, the height of magnificence was to be mounted on an ass.1

[1 ]Had Voltaire known what the modern archaeologist has discovered, he would have added that the age of iron did not even dawn until some centuries after this supposed episode; and iron was not used in the East until about six centuries afterwards.—J. M.

37°. The story of Ehud gives me even greater trouble. I see that the Jews were always in bondage, in spite of the help of their God, who had sworn to give them all the country between the Nile, the sea, and the Euphrates. For eighteen years they were subject to a petty king named Eglon, when God raised up for them Ehud, son of Gera, who used his left hand as well as the right. Ehud, son of Gera, made a two-edged sword, and hid it under his cloak —as Jacques Clément and Ravaillac did afterwards. He asks a private audience of the king, saying that he has a secret of the utmost importance to communicate to him from God. Eglon respectfully rises, and Ehud drives his sword into his belly with his left hand. God entirely approved this deed; but, judged by the moral code of all nations, it seems rather questionable. Please tell me which was the most divine assassination, that of St. Ehud, or that of St. David (who had Uriah, the husband of his mistress, slain), or that of the blessed Solomon, who, having seven hundred wives and three hundred concubines, assassinated his brother Adonias because he asked for one of them? etc., etc., etc., etc.

38°. I pray you tell me by what trick Samson caught three hundred foxes, tied them together by their tails, and fastened lighted torches to their hind quarters, in order to set fire to the harvests of the Philistines. Foxes are found only in wooded country. There was no forest in this district, and it seems rather difficult to catch three hundred foxes alive and tie them together by their tails. It is then said that he killed a thousand Philistines with the jaw of an ass, and that a spring issued from one of the teeth of this jaw. When it comes to the jaws of asses, you certainly owe me explanations.

39°. I also ask you for information about that good man Tobias, who slept with his eyes open, and was blinded by the droppings of a swallow; about the angel who came down expressly from what is called the empyrean to seek, with Tobias junior, the money which the Jew Gabel owed to Tobias senior; about the wife of Tobias junior, who had had seven husbands whose necks had been wrung by the devil; and about the way to restore sight to the blind with the gall of a fish. These stories are curious, and nothing is more worthy of attention—after Spanish novels; the only things to which they may be compared are the stories of Judith and Esther. But how am I to interpret the sacred text which says that the beautiful Judith descended from Simeon, son of Reuben, whereas Simeon was the brother of Reuben, according to the same sacred text, which cannot lie?

I am very fond of Esther, and think the alleged King Assuerus acted very sensibly in marrying a Jewess and living with her for six months without knowing who she was. As all the rest of the story is of much the same character, I must ask you kindly to come to my assistance, my wise masters.

40°. I need your help in regard to the history of the kings, at least as much as in regard to the history of the judges, of Tobias and his dog, of Esther, of Judith, of Ruth, etc., etc. When Saul was appointed king, the Jews were in bondage to the Philistines. Their conquerors did not allow them to have swords or lances; they were even compelled to go to the Philistines to have their ploughshares and axes sharpened. Nevertheless, Saul gives battle to the Philistines and defeats them; and in this battle he is at the head of three hundred and thirty thousand soldiers, in a little country that cannot sustain thirty thousand souls. The Jews had not at that time more than a third of Palestine, at the most, and so sterile a country does not sustain twenty thousand inhabitants to-day. The surplus population was compelled to go and earn its living by prostitution at Damascus, Tyre, and Babylon.

41°. I know not how I can justify the conduct of Samuel in cutting into pieces Agag, whom Saul had taken prisoner and put to ransom. I wonder whether our king Philip, if he captured a Moorish king, and made an agreement with him, would be approved if he cut the captured king in pieces.

42°. We owe great respect to David, who was a man after God’s heart; but I fear I am not learned enough to justify, by ordinary laws, the conduct of David in associating with four hundred men of evil ways, and burdened with debt, as the Scripture says; in going to sack the house of the king’s servant Nabal, and marrying his widow a week later; in offering his services to Achish, the king’s enemy, and spreading fire and blood over the land of the allies of Achish, without sparing either age or sex; in taking new concubines as soon as he is on the throne; and, not content with these concubines, in stealing Bathsheba from her husband, whom he not only dishonours, but slays. I find it difficult to imagine how God could afterwards descend, in Judæa, from this adulterous and homicidal woman, who is counted among the ancestresses of the Eternal. I have already warned you that this article causes much trouble to pious souls.

43°. The wealth of David and Solomon, which amounted to more than five hundred thousand million gold ducats, seems to be not easily reconciled with the poverty of the country and with the condition to which the Jews were reduced under Saul, when they had not the means of sharpening their ploughshares and axes. Our cavalry officers will shrug their shoulders when I tell them that Solomon had four hundred thousand horses in a little country where there never were, and are not to-day, anything but asses, as I have already had the honour to represent to you.

44°. If I were to run over the history of the frightful cruelties of nearly all the kings of Judah and Israel, I fear I should scandalise, rather than edify, the weak. These kings assassinate each other a little too frequently. It is bad politics, if I am not mistaken.

45°. I see this small people almost always in bondage to the Phœnicians, Babylonians, Persians, Syrians, or Romans; and I may have some trouble in reconciling so much misery with the magnificent promises of their prophets.

46°. I know that all the eastern nations had prophets, but I do not quite understand those of the Jews. What is the meaning of the vision of Ezekiel, son of Buzi, near the river Chebar; of the four animals which had four faces and four wings each, with the feet of calves; of the wheel that had four faces; and of the firmament above the heads of the animals? How can we explain the order given by God to Ezekiel to eat a parchment book, to have himself bound, and to lie on his left side for three hundred and ninety days, and on his right side for forty days?

47°. It will be my duty to explain the great prophecy of Isaiah in regard to our Lord Jesus Christ. It is, as you know, in the seventh chapter. Rezin, king of Syria, and Pekah, kinglet of Israel, were besieging Jerusalem. Ahaz, kinglet of Jerusalem, consults the prophet Isaiah as to the issue of the siege. Isaiah replies: “God shall give you a sign: a girl (or woman) shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. Butter and honey shall he eat, that he may know to refuse the evil and choose the good. For before the child shall be able to refuse the evil and choose the good the land shall be delivered of both the kings, . . . and the Lord shall hiss for the fly that is in the uttermost part of the rivers of Egypt, and for the bee that is in the land of Assyria.”

Then, in the eighth chapter, the prophet, to ensure the fulfilment of the prophecy, lies with the prophetess. She bore a son, and the Lord said to Isaiah: “Call his name Maher-shalal-hash-baz [Hasten-to-seize-the-spoil, or Run-quickly-to-the-booty]. For before the child shall have knowledge to cry, My father and my mother, the power of Damascus shall be overthrown.” I cannot plainly interpret this prophecy without your assistance.

48°. How must I understand the story of Jonah, who was sent to Nineveh to preach penance? Nineveh was not Israelitic, and it seems that Jonah was to instruct it in the Jewish law before bringing it to repent. Instead of obeying the Lord, Jonah flies to Tarshish. A storm arises, and the sailors throw Jonah into the sea to appease the tempest. God sends a great fish to swallow Jonah, and he remains three days and three nights in the belly of the fish. God orders the fish to give up Jonah, and it obeys. Jonah disembarks on the coast of Joppa. God commands him to go and tell Nineveh that in forty days it will be overturned, unless it does penance. It is more than four hundred miles from Joppa to Nineveh. Do not all the stories demand a superior knowledge which I lack? I greatly wish to confound the learned men who assert that this legend is taken from the legend of the ancient Hercules.

49°. Show me how to interpret the first verses of the prophet Hosea. God explicitly enjoins him to take a harlot and have children by her. The prophet obeys punctually. He pays his respects to Dona Gomer, daughter of Dom Diblaim, keeps her three years, and has three children—which is a model. Then God desires another model. He orders him to lie with another gay lady, a married woman, who has already deceived her husband. The good Hosea, always obedient, has no trouble in finding a handsome lady of this character, and it costs him only fifteen pieces of silver and a measure of barley. I beg you to tell me how much the piece of silver was worth among the Jews.

50°. I have still greater need of your wise guidance in regard to the New Testament. I hardly know what to say when I have to reconcile the two genealogies of Jesus. I shall be reminded that Matthew makes Jacob the father of Joseph, while Luke makes him the son of Heli, and that this is impossible unless we change He into Ja and li into cob. I shall be asked why the one counts fifty-six generations and the other only forty-two, and why the generations are quite different; and then why only forty-one are given instead of the promised forty-two; and lastly why the genealogical tree of Joseph was given at all, seeing that he was not the father of Jesus. I fear to make a fool of myself, as so many of my predecessors have done. I trust that you will extricate me from this labyrinth.

51°. If I declare that, as Luke says, Augustus had ordered a census to be taken of the whole earth when Mary was pregnant, and that Cyrenius or Quirinus, the governor of Syria, published the decree, and that Joseph and Mary went to Bethlehem to be enumerated; and if people laugh at me, and antiquarians teach me that there never was a census of the Roman Empire, that Quintilius Varus, not Cyrenius, was at that time governor of Syria, and that Cyrenius only governed Syria ten years after the birth of Jesus, I shall be very much embarrassed, and no doubt you will extricate me from this little difficulty. For how could a book be inspired if there were one single untruth in it?

52°. When I teach that, as Matthew says, the family went into Egypt, I shall be told that that is not true, but that, as the other evangelists say, the family remained in Judæa; and if I then grant that they remained in Judæa, I shall be told that they were in Egypt. Is it not simpler to say that one can be in two places at once, as happened to St. Francis Xavier and several other saints?

53°. Astronomers may laugh at the star which led the three kings to a stable. But you are great astrologers, and will be able to explain the phenomenon. Tell me, especially, how much gold the kings presented. For you are wont to extort a good deal of it from kings and peoples. And in regard to the fourth king, Herod, why did he fear that Jesus, born in a stable, might become king of the Jews? Herod was king only by permission of the Romans; it was the business of Augustus. The massacre of the innocents is rather curious. I am disappointed that no Roman writer mentions it. An ancient and most truthful (as they all are) martyrology gives the number of these martyred infants as fourteen thousand. If you would like me to add a few thousand more, you have only to say so.

54°. You will tell me how the devil carried off God and perched him on a hill in Galilee, from which one could see all the kingdoms of the earth. The devil promising these kingdoms to God, provided God worships the devil, may scandalise many good people, whom I recommend to your notice.

55°. I beg you, when you go to a wedding feast, to tell me how God, who also went to a wedding feast, succeeded in changing water into wine for the sake of people who were already drunk.

56°. When you eat figs at breakfast towards the end of July, I beg you to tell me why God, being hungry, looked for figs at the beginning of the month of March, when it was not the season of figs.

57°. Having received your instructions on all the prodigies of this nature, I shall have to say that God was condemned to be executed for original sin. And if I am told that there was never any question of original sin, either in the Old or the New Testament; that it is merely stated that Adam was condemned to die on the day on which he should eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge, and he did not die; and that Augustine, bishop of Hippo, formerly a Manichean, was the first to set up the doctrine of original sin, I submit to you that, as my hearers are not the simple folk of Hippo, I run some risk of exciting derision by speaking much without saying anything. When certain cavillers came to show me that God could not possibly be executed because an apple was eaten four thousand years before his death, and could not possibly have redeemed the human race, yet, apart from a chosen few, left the whole of it in the devil’s claws, I had only verbiage to give in reply, and went away to hide my shame.

58°. Throw some light for me on the prophecy which Our Lord makes in Luke (ch. xxi.). Jesus says explicitly that he will come in a cloud with great power and great glory before the generation to which he speaks shall pass away. He did not do this; he did not come in the clouds. If he came in some fog or other, we know nothing about it; tell me what you think. The Apostle Paul also says to his Thessalonian disciples that they will go with him in the clouds to Jesus. Why did they not go? Does it cost more to go to the clouds than to the third heaven? I beg your forgiveness, but I prefer the clouds of Aristophanes to those of Paul.

59°. Shall I say with Luke that Jesus went up to heaven from the little village of Bethany? Shall I state with Matthew that it was from Galilee, where the disciples saw him for the last time? Or shall I take the word of a learned doctor who says that Jesus had one foot in Bethany and another in Galilee? The latter opinion seems to me the more probable, but I will await your decision.

60°. I shall then be asked whether Peter was ever at Rome. I shall reply, of course, that he was pope there for twenty-five years; and the chief reason I shall give is that we have an epistle from the good man (who could neither read nor write), and that it is dated from Babylon. There is no answer to that argument, but I should like something stronger.

61°. Please tell me why the “Apostles’ Creed” was not written until the time of Jerome and Rufinus, four hundred years after the apostles. Tell me why the earliest fathers of the Church never quote any but the gospels which we call apocryphal. Is it not a clear proof that the four canonical gospels had not yet been written?

62°. Are you not sorry, as I am, that the early Christians forged so much bad poetry, and attributed it to the Sibyls? And that they forged letters of Paul and Seneca, of Jesus, of Mary, and of Pilate? And that they thus set up their sect on a hundred forgeries which would be punished to-day by any court in the world? These frauds are now recognised by all scholars. We are reduced to calling them “pious.” But is it not sad that your truth should be based on lies?

63°. Tell me why, since Jesus did not institute seven sacraments, we have seven sacraments 1 ; why, whereas Jesus never said that he was threefold and had two natures and two wills and one person, we make him threefold, with one person and two natures; and why, having two wills, he had not the will to instruct us in the dogmas of the Christian religion.

[1 ]The number recognised in the Church of Rome.—J. M.

64°. Is the pope infallible when he consorts with his mistress, and when he brings to supper a bottle of poisoned wine for Cardinal Cornetto?2 When two councils anathematise each other, as has often happened, which of them is infallible?

[2 ]The author was thinking, apparently, of Pope Alexander VI. [Note by Voltaire.]

65°. Would it not really be better to avoid these labyrinths, and simply preach virtue? When God comes to judge us, I doubt very much if he will ask us whether grace is versatile or concomitant whether marriage is the visible sign of an invisible thing, whether we believe that there are ten choirs of angels or nine, whether the pope is above the council or the council above the pope. Will it be a crime in his eyes to have prayed to him in Spanish when one does not know Latin? Shall we be visited with his cruel wrath for having eaten a pennyworth of bad meat on a certain day? And shall we be eternally rewarded if, like you, my learned masters, we ate a hundred piastres’ worth of turbot, sole, and sturgeon? You do not believe it in the depth of your hearts; you believe that God will judge you by your works, not by the opinions of Thomas and Bonaventure.

Shall I not render a service to men in speaking to them only of morality? This morality is so pure, so holy, so universal, so clear, so ancient, that it seems to come from God himself, like the light which we regard as the first of his works. Has he not given men self-love to secure their preservation; benevolence, beneficence, and virtue to control their self-love; the natural need to form a society; pleasure to enjoy, pain to warn us to enjoy in moderation, passions to spur us to great deeds, and wisdom to curb our passions? Will you allow me to announce these truths to the noble people of Spain?

66°. If you bid me conceal these truths, and strictly enjoin me to announce the miracles of St. James of Galicia, or of Our Lady of Atocha, or of Maria d’Agreda (who in her ecstasies behaved in a most improper manner), tell me what I must do with those who dare to doubt? Must I, for their edification, have the ordinary and extraordinary question put to them?1

[1 ]The tortures of the Inquisition.—J. M.

I await the honour of your reply,

Dominico Zapata, y verdadero, y honrado, y caricativo.

Zapata, receiving no answer, took to preaching God in all simplicity. He announced to men the common father, the rewarder, punisher, and pardoner. He extricated the truth from the lies, and separated religion from fanaticism; he taught and practised virtue. He was gentle, kindly, and modest; and he was burned at Valladolid in the year of grace 1631. Pray God for the soul of Brother Zapata.

Zach: Sadly as is so often true those that ask the hard questions concerning authority are silenced by those whose power depends upon that authority remaining unexamined and unquestioned. You'd think an all-powerful all-loving God could handle some simple questions but historically this God rarely is able to, instead he finds numerous ways to punish and destroy those who would ask them.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Volleyball Day

It’s been awhile since I have really told any stories about what is going on here. In large part that is because I have pretty much settled into a fairly common routine and there just are not that many interesting stories as there were the first couple of months. But life continues therefore so too will my writing.

Last week my school had its first volleyball tournament. Almost every week since I got here they have had me playing volleyball with the other teachers. Three or four times we have had others schools visit or we went to their schools to play a friendly match. But last week was an event that included 11 schools. It occurred on a Wednesday afternoon so the kids were let our earlier than usual, volleyball really is that important.

When we got to the school at which we were going to play I first noticed that it was closer to my apartment than my own school is. That made me happy almost like I knew in advance I would be going home before everyone else. Next I discovered that the games were going to be played outside rather then inside. It was a very hot and humid day. I still have not become used to humidity. I had been warned but there really was nothing that prepared me for what it is actually like. I mean really, I miss being dry. The other issue with playing outside is that all the schools have the same large playing area. It is a soccer field except there is not grass rather it is just hard ground covered with dust and rocks. I have played soccer with some of the kids before and I fell and my momentum caused me to slide along the ground almost like it was ice. I also found out that all the small rocks on the ground rip into your flesh causing a great amount of pain and bleeding. So I was not excited to see that this was where we were going to be playing the game. I quickly made the decision that I would not be diving after any balls in this tournament.

We got their pretty early and had to help set up all the nets. There ended up being three courts spread out over the large space. When our game finally started I was placed at the net on the right side. The last three weeks they have been using me up front and while I still do not share the same level of investment in the game as them it is more fun to be by the net and in a larger part of the action. Our team got down quick 4 to 1. The ball had yet to come to me. The head teacher called a time out and then they asked me to sit down and replaced me with another person. We had two more people than spots on the court and they had already talked about rotating players. That was fine with me but I was a bit surprised that I was pulled so early in the game. Our team came back and won that game but I never got back in because no one else was subbed out the rest of that game. Then for the next game, still part of the same match (you need to win two out of three games to win a match), they switched one person but I still was not put back in. I then got to watched the rest of that match and an entire second match, five games in all, without ever being placed back in. I became less and less invested in the games and finally got up and walked around to the other games. I spoke to my co-teacher during one of the times he was out and asked for his keys, my bag was in his car, so I went and got it. I brought the keys back to him and sat through another game and a half and finally walked over to him (he was not playing the game at that time) and told him I was going to go home. He was so absorbed in the game that he said okay without even taking his eyes of the court.

During the short walk home I admit I was highly annoyed and bothered by the fact that I did not get to play. It was kind of funny since five or six weeks ago I did not even want to be on the team still once I was there I wanted to play. Instead I waited for two and a half hours while everyone else got to play. After I got home I soon cooled off, physically and emotionally, and enjoyed some extra time to play on the computer and read a little. Around 6 o’clock my phone rang and I saw that it was my co-teacher calling. I had been home for almost three hours at this point and I just starred at the phone trying to decide if I was going to answer it. I knew everyone had been planning to go to dinner after the tournament and even before we got there I was not overly excited about doing that. Part of that is because dinner is one of those times where people try and talk to me for a little while but as meal progresses and the drinking continues I become less and less a part of the conversation and just end up sitting there starring at the wall and listening to, or maybe I should say hearing Korean conversations. I hesitated so long looking at the phone that it went to my voice mail. The other part that made me not want to go out was the concern that everyone was going to wonder where I had gone and why I left, etc. Despite these reservations and due to some pangs of guilt I called back.

As I thought I ended up walking down to a restaurant that they had all decided to go to, which was right by my house. When I got there I discovered that our school had won the tournament so everyone was having a blast, drinks all around. As I sat, sure enough, the first question I heard was asking where I had gone. I told them I had gone home and as I tried to think of ways to explain it I was offered, forcefully, food and drink. I had actually just finished my own dinner five minutes before my co-teacher called. Rejecting dinner was quickly strike two against me, the first being leaving the tournament. As I explained my desire to play some asked why I didn't stay just to support the team. I had no good answer for them so I avoided the question. I was then told that they had wanted to put me in the game but I was gone. I did not believe that for a second but I went along with it just apologizing and saying it was probably a good thing because you won the tournament. Dinner turned out okay. People spoke to me a lot more than normal and after the first 15 minutes the volleyball issue was forgotten. I ended up staying out much longer I would have expected being one of the last six or seven people there of the original thirty to forty. So that was volleyball day.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Homosexuality and Religious Hate-Peter Tatchell's Story

This is an essay written by Peter Tatchell. It is basically his personal de-conversion story and why he moved from his Christian faith to an atheistic view of the world.

I value this essay in particular because Tatchell is gay and he speaks directly to that issue in his writing. Of all the Christian ideas and dogmas that are still maintained and pushed into the political sphere there is none more irritating and bothersome to me than their labeling of homosexuality as sinful and following from that Christians overall homophobia and general hatred towards gays and lesbians. I usually understand and see that there are two or more sides to every issue but I truly can't see that with this issue. I won't pretend to understand the other side (Christian side) but rather admit the complete idiocy I associate with anyone who opposes homosexuality in any way, but especially in the political realm trying to hinder gay and lesbian couples in any and all ways possible so as to force their inane beliefs upon those who present no threat, mean no harm and are doing nothing wrong.

I offer this piece more to challenge Christian views on homosexuality rather than just as another piece questioning the existence of God though it is great for that too. I hope this story can serve as another window into the life of a wonderful and thoughtful gay man in order to make any and all who read it re-think any negative attitudes and beliefs they harbor against homosexuality.

My Nonreligious Life: A Journey from Superstition to Rationalism by Peter Tatchell

If God is willing to prevent evil, but is not able to,
Then He is not omnipotent.

If He is able, but not willing,
Then He is malevolent.

If He is both able and willing,
Then whence cometh evil?

If He is neither able nor willing,
Then why call Him God?
Epicurus, Greek philosopher, c. 341-270 BCE

The Bible, Talmud and Qur’an are to gays what Mein Kampf is to Jews. They promote straight supremacism and homophobic persecution.

This is a strong and shocking statement, but a true one.

These religious texts have incited and legitimated centuries of heterosexist terror against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people; including inquisitions and witch hunts that resulted in the stoning, burning, beheading, and hanging or “sodomites.”

This religious-inspired anti-gay oppression is still continuing today in theocratic states like Iran and Saudi Arabia, where clerics and Islamic courts enforce the flogging and execution of same-sexers.

Even within the Anglican Communion, so-called Christian leaders, such as Archbishop Peter Akinola of Nigeria, demand the jailing of LGBT people and the banning of gay churches and gay rights groups.

As a human rights campaigner who is motivated by love and compassion for other people, I would be betraying my humanitarian values to embrace religious beliefs that lead to the persecution of LGBT people – or to the persecution of anyone else.

Not only has organized religion cast out and victimized same-sex lovers, it has, at various points in history, also justified and colluded with slavery, colonialism, torture, the death penalty, and the denial of rights to women.

Despite moderating some of its worst excesses over the centuries, religion is still the single greatest fount of obscurantism, prejudice, superstition, and oppression. It has caused misery to billions of people worldwide for millennia, and continues to do so in many parts of the world.

Although the end of religion would not remedy all the world’s ills, it would bring greater freedom and justice to more than two-thirds of the planet’s inhabitants who remain, to varying degrees, enslaved by its dogmas.

I have not always held such irreligious views. On the contrary, I grew up in a strict, devout evangelical Christian family in Melbourne, Australia, in the 1950s and ‘60s. My mother and step-father (with whom I spent most of my childhood)_ were prim and proper working-class parents, with very conservative views on everything. The Bible, every word of it, was deemed to be the actual word of God. Their Christianity was largely devoid of social conscience. It was all about personal salvation. According to our church, some of the worst sins were swearing, drinking alcohol, smoking, dancing, sex outside marriage, communism, belief in evolution, not praying, and failing to go to church every Sunday. I can’t recall much concern about racism and the dispossession of the Australian Aboriginal people. Or about global hunger and the then nuclear arms race.

From my parents’ somewhat narrow-minded Christian perspective, all other religions offered false gods. Even Catholics were regarded as not being true Christians. In our household, there was no interest, sympathy, or understanding of other faiths like Hinduism, Islam, and Judaism. Although never hateful toward people of differing religious beliefs, it was nevertheless a fairly exclusivist, sectarian Christianity, bordering on fundamentalism.

The faith into which I was instilled overflowed with God’s wrath and vengeance and with fear-inducing warnings about the torment of eternal damnation in hell for nonbelievers and transgressors of God’s laws. It was more Old Testament than New; more fire and brimstone than love and forgiveness

[Personal Note: I disagree with this statement of his. He makes the all too common mistake of associating the God of the Hebrew Scriptures will hell. This is a misnomer because there is no fire and brimstone in the Old Testament. So while I’m not a fan of the God of the Hebrew Scriptures at least he only kills people. It is the God of the New Testament, the God of Jesus, that likes to use the fire and brimstone to cause people to suffer for all of eternity]

Unsurprisingly, I later rebelled against this dogmatism. But as a child, I knew no different. I had no other reference point. All my extended family was of the same persuasion. Naturally, I also embraced God.

When I was 5, my grandmother died. My mother recalls that some weeks later I asked to ride a Ferris wheel. I wanted to ride up to heaven to visit grandma.

My sweet, simplistic faith was reinforced at school by religious education (RE) lessons, where a succession of local parsons or Christian teachers would fill out impressionable minds with stories from the Bible.

But in high school, aged 13, I began to think for myself. I remember a rather smarmy RE teacher who one day gave us a lesson in faith, where he argued that when we switch on a light we don’t think about it; we have faith that the room will light up. He suggested that faith in the power of God was the same as faith in the power of electricity to turn on a light. Bad analogy, I thought. What causes a light to go on when one flicks the switch is not faith; it can be demonstrated by empirical evidence. In contrast, the existence of God cannot be tested and proven by empirical demonstration. This set my mind thinking skeptical thoughts. The contradictions between religion and science began to surface in my teenage mind.

This nascent skepticism was not, however, strong enough to stop me, at the age of 16, from becoming a Sunday school teacher to 6-year-olds. Being of an artistic persuasion, I made exceptionally colorful cardboard tableaux of Bible stories. The children loved it. My classes were popular and well attended.

The first serious cracks in my faith had begun to appear the previous year, 1967, when an escaped convict, Ronald Ryan, was hanged for a murder he almost certainly did not commit. At age 15, I worked out that the trajectory of the bullet through the dead man’s body meant that it would be virtually impossible for Ryan to have fired the fatal shot. Despite this contrary evidence, he was executed anyway. This shattered my confidence in the police, courts, and government.

It also got me thinking about my faith. According to St. Paul (Romans 13:1-2), all governments and authorities are ordained by God. To oppose them is to oppose God. In other words, God supposedly ordained the police officers, judges, government ministers, and executioner who dispatched a probably innocent man, Ronald Ryan, to the gallows. I asked myself why God would ordain an apparent injustice? If he did ordain it, did God deserve respect? And what about other excesses by tyrannical governments? Did God really ordain the Nazi regime? Stalin’s Soviet Union? The apartheid dictators in South Africa? And closer to home, the nineteenth-century British colonial administration which decimated, by intent or neglect, the Aboriginal peoples of Australia?

Ronald Ryan’s execution set me on a path of critical thought and rebellion. I began questioning lots of things I had previously taken for granted, such as the racist marginalization of Australia’s original black inhabitants, and the invasion of Vietnam by the US and Australian armed forces. The indifference of many Christian leaders to these injustices, and their sometime complicity in them, led me to distance myself from the church and organized religion.

I began to develop my own version of liberation theology, long before I had ever heard the term. During the 1960s, the nightly TV news bulletins were dominated by footage of the black civil rights struggle, led by the US Baptist pastor, the Revd Martin Luther King. His faith was not mere pious words; he put Christian values into action. This is what Christianity should be about, I concluded. Accordingly, at 14, I left my parents’ Pentecostal church and started going to the local Baptist church instead. Alas, it was not what I expected – not even a quarter as radical as Martin Luther King’s Baptist social conscience. A huge disappointment.

Undeterred, I began to articulate my own revolutionary Christian gospel of “Jesus Christ the Liberator,” based on ideas in the Sermon on the Mount and the parable of the Good Samaritan. This led me into Christian-inspired activism for Aboriginal rights, as well as against apartheid, the draft, and the Vietnam war. I linked up with members of the radical Student Christian Movement.

At the time, I was a great admirer of the US direct action Catholic peace protesters, Fathers Daniel and Philip Berrigan. Deciding to do something myself, in 1970, aged 18, I initiated Christians for Peace, an interdenominational anti-war group which, among other campaigns, organized a spectacular candlelit march through the heart of downtown Melbourne, calling for the withdrawal of Australian and US troops from Vietnam.

Previously, at the age of 17, I had realized I was gay. Despite my hardline homophobic evangelical upbringing, from the first time I had sex with a man I felt emotionally and sexually fulfilled, without any shame at all. It was a truly ecstatic experience. My long-gestating rational pragmatism kicked in. I could sense my own happiness and that of my partner. It overwhelmed all the years of anti-gay religious dogma that had been pummeled into me. Gay sex felt totally natural, spontaneous, and satisfying. Amazingly, I never experienced a moment’s doubt or guilt. The proof that gay is good was in the orgasm and the sexual and emotional afterglow. How could something so wonderful and mutually fulfilling be wrong? From that moment of my first sex with a man (we have remained lifelong friends), I understood that gay is not a crime or a sin, as the state and church claimed. I instantly accepted my sexuality and was determined to do my bit to help end the persecution of lesbian and gay people.

For the next three years, I managed to reconcile my faith with my sexuality; although the goodness and joy that I experienced in a loving gay relationship clearly contradicted biblical teaching. This set me wondering: if the Bible had got it wrong on same-sex love, what else had it got wrong?

So began a period of intellectual wrestling with my faith. Echoing the eighteenth-century Franco-German philosopher Baron D’Hollback, I reasoned:

-If God made the world and the natural laws of physics, chemistry and so on, according to his will and design, why does he intervene to adjust his own natural laws by allegedly performing miracles that defy the natural laws that he devised?
-If God is love and infinitely good, why do religionists speak of God’s wrath and fear him, and why does God condemn sinners to hell, which is supposedly a place of immensely cruel, barbaric torment and suffering?
-If God is perfect, wise, infallible, and master of the universe, why do his creation include the “imperfections” of people born with terrible deformities and genetic disorders; and why does his earthly firmament include the flaws and terrors of devastating tsunamis, earthquakes, and tornadoes?
-If God watches over us and protects us, why do sincere believers nevertheless have fear, including fear of death, and why do they have tragic accidents and die in wars and natural disasters?
-If God made man in his own image, why are there thieves, murderers, torturers, and rapists?
-If the righteous are destined for heaven, why do they worry about whether or not they die and why do the followers of God mourn their passing?
-If God knows everything, why do the faithful have to inform him of their needs and bother him with their prayers?
-If God is just, why does he allow the good and godly to suffer?
-If God is fair, why does he punish people who are born with genetic traits, and into dysfunctional families headed by bad parents, which predispose them to doing wrong?
-If God made nature, why did he make it so harsh and cruel, based as it is on the survival of the fittest where the weak and vulnerable suffer and die, and where horrific natural diseases like Ebola and HIV kill decent, honorable people, including people of faith?
-If God is all-powerful, how is it possible to break his laws, resist his will, and cause him offense?
-If God is so great, why does he need to be worshipped and idolized, and why does he need to be protected by laws against blasphemy and apostasy?

There are some of the questions that I debated in my mind, over and over.

Then, from the moment I recognized my gayness, it also became obvious to me that one of the main contemporary sources of homophobia is religion. I felt my love for my partner, and our mutual commitment and happiness, was under attack. We were being disparaged and reviled in the name of God. This harsh, cruel Christian homophobia dealt a body blow to my faith.

Despite the valiant efforts of liberals to reinterpret scripture in gay-inclusive ways, the Bible, like the Talmud and Qur’an, condemns same-sex acts. We can debate the precise meanings of particular words and the historical context and mores, but it is fairly clear that it was the intention of the Bible writers to proscribe all sex outside of marriage. Indeed, Leviticus 20:13 does not merely denounce homosexuality as an abomination; it also explicitly urges that men who have sex with men should be put to death.

Following these theological admonitions, most Christian leaders down the ages have preached a doctrine of straight supremacism, supported the execution of gay people until around the nineteenth century, and have, in recent decades, campaigned against gay equality and in favor of legal discrimination against LGBTs.

The religious doubts that were amplified by my homosexuality were further compounded by my growing anger at the churches’ frequent indifference to injustice and oppression around the world (racism, dictatorship, poverty, and war), and their sometimes support for tyrannical regimes like Franco’s Spain and Thieu’s South Vietnam.

By the time I turned 20, rationality finally triumphed over superstition and dogma. I didn't need God anymore. I was intelligent, confident, and mature enough to live without the security blanket of religion and its theological account of the universe. Science offered me a more accurate explanation of the world and our place in it. Rational thought struck me as a better way to think through issues and devise my ethical code. The moral reasoning of John Stuart Mill made more sense than the mostly irrational, often contradictory, and sometimes cruel morality of the Old and New Testaments.

Accordingly, I renounced religion; embraced reason, science, and an ethics based on love and compassion. I don’t need God to tell me what is right and wrong. We humans are quite capable of figuring it out for ourselves, as we have done in great secular emancipatory documents like the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

My atheism does not, however, lead me to hate religion or people of faith. Hate isn't part of my mindset. I have a rational critique of god-worshipping, but I also defend religious believers who suffer persecution and discrimination. I may find their superstition irrational, but they have human rights too. Way back when I first stood for Parliament in 1983, long before the UK churches took up the cause, I argued for comprehensive anti-discrimination laws to protect everyone, including people of faith. In my human rights work I have often supported religious refugees.

My defense of religious freedom is, alas, often not reciprocated. Right now, the resurgence of religious fundamentalism is one of the biggest global threats to human rights. Clerical fanatics adhere literally and uncritically to the centuries-old bigotry and ignorance of their holy books, which were written by people living in a barbaric era largely devoid of rational discourse, humanitarian ethics, and scientific knowledge. Like their predecessors, today’s superstitious religious dogmatists want to impose their particular interpretation of “God’s will” on everyone else. They seek to enforce their sectarian religion as the law of the land.

This fundamentalism is the enemy of human rights. It is, in particular, an attack on free speech and freedom of expression, as we witnessed in the threats and violence over Salman Rushdie’s book, The Satanic Verses, and following the publication of the Danish cartoons of Muhammad.

Even my own calm, rational criticisms of the fundamentalist strands of Islam have resulted in me receiving death threats which, incidentally, the police have failed to investigate. They have never brought the perpetrators to justice. I am told that some officers “don’t want to upset sensitive relations with the Muslim community.”

I also experienced this police partisanship in 1994, when the Islamist fundamentalist zealots of Hizb ut-Tahrir staged a mass rally at Wembley Arena in London, where they openly incited the murder of gay people and women who have sex outside marriage. Six of us from the LGBT human rights group OutRage! dared to protest against their criminal incitements – lawfully, peacefully, quietly, and without causing any disruption. It was six of us against six thousand of them. We were arrested, but not the criminal Islamists, who threatened, right in front of the police officers, to track us down and kill us.

Since the police appear unwilling to trace and arrest the Islamist fanatics who have threatened to kill me, there are, I am ashamed to say, certain criticisms and protests concerning Islam and Muhammad that I dare not express. Why? I don’t want to end up being murdered like Theo van Gogh or having to live under constant bodyguard protection like Ayaan Hirsi Ali. Faith extremists have successfully intimidated me, and many others, into moderation or restricting our critiques of their extremism.

Contrary to the threats and censorship of clericalists, all ideas, including religious ones, should be open to scrutiny and criticism. People ought to be free to criticize Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, and other faiths – especially the violent, oppressive strands of these religions.

All social progress, including the development of democratic societies and the advance of scientific knowledge, has depended on the free exchange of ideas and the right of people to question orthodoxy and even to cause offense.

Every idea is capable of giving offense to someone. Indeed, many of the most important ideas in human history, such as those of Galileo Galilei and Charles Darwin, caused extreme religious offense in their era and provoked the wrath of clerical authorities. If their ideas had been permanently stifled, as many in the church wanted, we would still be living in an age of profound ignorance.

The free and open debate of ideas includes the right to dissent, criticize, and mock. It involves the right to hold and express opinions that are outside the mainstream and which challenge religious and state authority.

What is truly abhorrent, and absolutely astonishing in the twenty-first century, is that hundreds of millions of people are at risk of arrest, torture, and execution by tyrants and mobs inspired by fundamentalist religion. Their crime? Expressing ideas that are deemed forbidden and unacceptable. It is like a re-run of the Dark Ages. More than three centuries after the Enlightenment, there are still faith fanatics who want to kill people because of their ideas and words.

Experience demonstrates that everywhere religion has political power, it suppresses democracy and civil liberties. We saw this clerical tyranny in Europe during the Inquisition and the Puritan era, with the torture and burning of so-called heretics, witches and sodomites.

Today, this despotism is particularly acute in Islamic states. Hundreds of millions of Muslims suffer under Sharia law, where they are forced to obey ancient religious edicts that curtail human rights and where the death penalty is enforced for religious and moral crimes like apostasy, sex outside marriage, and same-sex love.

The Bangladeshi feminist writer, Taslima Nasrin, was threatened with death and forced to flee into exile after she questioned the second-class legal status of women in Muslim states. In neighboring Pakistan, Christians are persecuted by Muslims; while in Iran, Sunni Muslims are the victims of a theocracy where Shia Islam is the state religion where fellow Muslims who dissent from the official orthodoxy suffer victimization. This is one reason why secularism – the separation of religion from the state – is such an important principle and freedom. It not only protects the rights of nonbelievers, but also the rights of minority faiths and religious dissenters.

Islamic extremists are not the only ones. They have their mirror images in other religions. Christian fundamentalist churches in countries like Migeria, Jamaica, and Uganda incite homophobic hatred which often leads to the jailing, beating, and murder of LGBT people. Judaist zealots in Israel have spearheaded the oppresiion of Palestinian people, and their ongoing illegal settlements on the West Bank are blocking efforts to secure a peace settlement.

There are, of course, some truly heroic religious leaders, like Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who are prepared to challenge the greedy, corrupt, unjust, and cruel. I salute them. But they are the exception. There are also many grassroots people of faith who are involved in campaigns against hunger, war, poverty, and racism. I value their compassion and activism. They are laudable. But overall, organized religion and the clerical establishment are, in most parts of the world, synonymous with intolerance and the abuse of human rights.

So, following my abandonment of God and clerical dogmas, what are my post-religious ethics? I try to live by the maxim: treat others as you would like them to treat you. This is not a religious philosophy; it is plain common sense and human decency. The same goes for the parable of the Good Samaritan. We don’t need religion to inform us that it is wrong to walk by and do nothing when people are suffering.

The motive of my human rights campaigning is love, I love people. I love justice. I love peace. I love life. I don’t like seeing other people suffer. I think to myself: since I wouldn’t want my family or friends to suffer, why should I tolerate the suffering of other people’s family or friends.

If we all had love for the wider human family and a zero tolerance of suffering, most of the world’s great injustices, like tyranny and hunger, would soon be solved.

Well, that’s how I see it. A different, better world is possible – and we don’t need religion to make it happen. All we need is love and people willing to turn that love into political action for human freedom and liberation.

If we go back to the beginning we shall find that ignorance and fear created the gods; that fancy, enthusiasm, or deceit adorned or disfigured them; that weakness worships them; that credulity preserves them, and that custom, respect and tyranny support them.
Baron D’Holback, Franco-German philosopher
The System of Nature, 1770

For more information about Peter Tatchell’s human rights campaigns and to make a donation, visit his website

Monday, June 14, 2010

Hope and Fear

Hope and fear. Are they feelings? Thoughts? States of being? I don’t know. What I do know is that they are two things that I am very familiar with. There is not a time in my life in which I can remember not having them or perhaps I should say not being with them.

As I examine my life I find an odd change in what I hope for and what I fear. In my youth I feared disappointing God but I did not fear wasting my time because I knew there was more to come after this life. And what I hoped for was to be faithful to Christ in all things whatever the cost but I did not hope for intellectual honesty or the genuine character to stand up for what is right no matter the cost. But as I examine my life now I find that the tables have turned. Now I fear wasting my time pining away for whatever does or does not come next but I do not fear disappointing any god or gods. Now I hope and work towards intellectual honesty and the genuine character to stand up for what is right whatever the cost but I no longer hope to be faithful to Christ in all things. And one reason I no longer hope this is because the cost is too great. In order to be faithful to the Christ of Christianity I must (and I believe most others) sacrifice intellectual integrity and the pursuit of an authentic morality. Faith ultimately demands ignorance, this does not mean stupidity but usually an intentional blindness or a willingness to stop searching and cease questioning. Faith says be obedient, just keep your head down and do as you are told. By no means is obedience bad in and of itself but when we choose to be obedient to an authority that places itself above moral questioning then our obedience becomes a character flaw that exposes our own trepidations or lack of concern for seeking to do what is truly right.

There is a reason people fly airplanes into buildings it is because faith demands it. Faith demands obedience and fidelity to the one that commands you to act no matter what action is commanded. The morality of the command is of no consequence rather it is only the authority of the one giving the commands that matters. The only wiggle room available to people of faith trying to distance themselves from those who do evil in the name of God is simply arguing over what their silent authority has actually commanded, not about the required response to any given command. The only moral action faith recognizes is obedience. According to the Bible disobedience was the first and chief sin of humanity. If God says kill one must kill there is no other option for faith and so I do not want to be a person of faith but rather a person seeking truth, willing to reject authorities that clearly command evil.

Now I can talk a big game, indeed, but I will not pretend that these new hopes and these new fears never waiver. There are many times I look back at where I used to be and where I am now and wonder if I've made a huge mistake with the path I have now chosen. Sometimes I still hope that there might be something more for us after death, after our life here on earth and that in some way I am of eternal significance. This hope is occasionally accompanied by times of fear particularly the fear of hell. What if traditional Christianity (Islam too) is right about their being both a heaven and a hell with eternal life for some and eternal torment for others? And what if the choices I've made and all my efforts to live a good life ultimately lead me to that eternal torment? These times are few but they are real.

When I was a Christian I had neither this hope (for something more) nor this fear (hell). Heaven was a given and hell was simply not thought about. Hell wasn't actually tangible or real it was a doctrine to be accepted but not dwelled upon. I think the easiest way to maintain one’s belief in hell is to never make any friends who don't share your beliefs. It sounds silly but I truly was insulated in my Christian bubble, not that I didn't know any non-Christians but I simply had no genuine connection to them except in theory. I “loved” them because God did but love of course only really meant trying to make them believe the things I believed. Once you start to make true friends with those who do not share your eschatology you discover that there is simply no reason for them to go to any sort of hell except for the silly math equations (Rom. 3:23; 6:23; John 3:16 ) you were taught as a child. Another thing I have noticed is that in all of the people I have met and all the friends I have made I've never once met a person who thought they were going to hell, no matter what their religion happened to be or not be. While this is but a small sampling it would not surprise me to find out that of all the people on this planet who believe that hell exists not a single one of them believes they are going to be the ones residing there. Ah, the convenience of our personal beliefs.

The other oddity that is raised by this hope for something “more” and this occasional fear of eternal punishment is that they expose my previous beliefs for what they were, prudent self-interest. While I did not view my Christian beliefs in that light, few do, I see that what I believed was not believed because of intellectually inquiry or moral testing but rather because it was good for me. It made me feel good and just as importantly, though again I would not have said it this way, it insured me eternal life. If morality is nothing more than blind obedience in order to gain the greatest reward then does morality have any inherit value beyond prudence? Can one do what is right merely for right’s sake?

Many I have talked to believe there must be something more after death because ultimately they believe there must be some greater purpose to the world, which I think is a nice way of saying they believe they are too important to simply stop existing. It seems that if the belief in hell is the price to ensure that they live forever then so be it. Christians appear willing to accept mystery when it comes to the existence of evil and the suffering of others but not when it comes to their own eternal well-being. For them certainty must and does exist when it comes to their own salvation. Once again the convenience of that idea seems worth noting. For me this has switched. I have come to accept mystery when it comes to death particularly my own but not when it comes to idea of eternal evil and the suffering of others. It is worth giving up heaven to be rid of hell. If there is a God he/she does not deserve adoration simply because he/she offers great rewards for docile compliance.

In the fictional dialogs I recently posted with Satan as the main character there is one point where he is arguing with a theologian and the theologian smugly accuses Satan of making arguments that are personally harmful and self-defeating. Satan responds, “Would I be Satan if I were prudent? Or egotistical? What could be more satanic than to bite the hand that feeds me, regardless of the consequence to me? Is not that how I became the Lord of Hell? Let the pious be prudent! What else is their piety, in nine cases out of ten, but enlightened selfishness? What is satanic is not egoism but the love of truth at the expense of happiness—to find one’s happiness in truth, to oppose illusion, to value integrity above God, and character above salvation.”

So that is where I find myself today, hoping to be satanic in my love of truth while fearing I am still just being pious in my prudent desire of salvation.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Walter Kaufmann-Satanic Interlude or How to go to Hell

These are three fictional dialogs between Satan and a Theologian, a Christian and an Atheist. They were written by Walter Kaufmann and can be found in his book Critique of Religion and Philosophy. The first half of the book focuses on critiques of philosophy while the second half focuses upon religion. I will say the dialogs fit perfectly within the flow of the book and as such can be best understood within the context of the whole work but they can stand on their own and definitely worth sharing.

I think the dialogs should be read together but they need not be. One can read any of them individually. The first one with the theologian is the most dense of the three and as such the hardest to get through. Though I will say the second half of that dialog is well worth getting to as it moves past pure philosophy and deals with issues concerning ethics and scripture. The second dialog with the Christian will likely be the most interesting to any typical Protestant Christian. It addresses the problem of evil and defining who God is as well as scriptural issues. Finally the one with the Atheist, which is by far the shortest, creates a fun game in which Satan and the atheist agree about many things but then the atheist finds himself far less wise and in far more danger then he thought

If nothing else I believe they are fun reads because they are written to be both serious and humorous and in many ways that is how issues of religion really need to be approached; with a serious sense of humor.

Please know this is a long entry and may take awhile to read. I've read each dialog multiple times and it still takes me a long time to get through them but each time I still see things I missed in previous reads.

VII. Satanic Interlude or How to go to Hell in Critique of Religion and Philosophy by Walter Kaufmann

Dialogue between Satan and a Theologian p. 228

Satan: I just had an argument with a man who tried to rehabilitate metaphysics as a kind of poetry.

Theologian: How ridiculous! Judged as poetry, Spinoza’s Ethics and Hegel’s Logic would be worse than ever.

Satan: Of course. And in poetry inconsistency is permissible, while in metaphysics, once you commit yourself to what is sometimes called a root metaphor, you have to stick to it. The whole point of the game is to see how far you can get with it.

Theologian: But it is not meant to be a metaphor.

Satan: How true! The metaphysician claims that his metaphors are no metaphors—or at the very least that his metaphors are the only ones in terms of which everything that is at all understandable can be understood. Hegel and Spinoza are not proposing one way among many others: each claims that his own metaphysic is the most rational yet, Homer, Shakespeare, and Goethe made no comparable claims for their creations.

Theologian: Still, one can see why people might compare metaphysics and poetry.

Satan: Sure. Metaphysics is a kind of lyrical chess—a game in which a man’s feelings about the world are expressed in quasi-mathematical fashion. But the metaphysician wastes his life playing a single game without ever realizing that it is a mere game. And when he sees another man playing a similar game he is sure that the other fellow is wrong. He mistakes his own tactic for the truth.

Theologian: Are you in earnest? A metaphysic is not an episode begun at pleasure. Metaphysics is an epic, and the metaphysician is a bard who wants to correct mistakes made by his predecessors. It is against them that he pits his skill in an effort to hear the true melody. And chess and other such games are metaphysics deprived of dimension, meaning, and consequence. They are pale substitutes for man’s proper vocation, which they reduce to the level of pleasure without profit and rivalry without risk. No wonder that these petty games can never satisfy and that the quest of satisfaction leads from game to game in an endless but futile search for what really can be found only on a different plane: in metaphysics—or eventually in theology.

Satan: I don’t like the twist you have given to my line. But I can afford to lose an argument about metaphysics, which, after all, interests me only as a snare for theologians and others who, but for its fatal lure, would probably have gone to heaven. But losing an argument about theology might cost me my job.

Theologian: Do you consider theology a game, too?

Satan: Would you deny its playfulness?

Theologian: What could be more serious?

Satan: That, my friend, is a spurious alternative. Play and seriousness do not preclude each other. Think of King Lear.

Theologian: Are you punning on the word “play”?

Satan: No. There is something playful about a play, even about a tragedy: it gives free play to the imagination and yet follows certain rules; it has its life in a world of its own, a world of leisure and fancy; it is its own reward and requires no justification in terms of expediency; it offers suspense and is yet repeatable, and the suspense does not evaporate with repetition.

Theologian: I remember having read something similar in Huizinga’s little book, Homo Ludens; but he did not extend these ideas to theology.

Satan: Yet he shows how they are applicable to philosophy. He points to the play element in the performances of Sophists; he emphasizes the origin of Greek philosophy in leisure and the similarity of philosophic puzzles to non-philosophic puzzles; and he cites Plato in his own behalf.

Theologian: The Sophists, of course, were playing; but Socrates and Plato were not. Plato was as serious a thinker as ever lived, and Socrates even paid for his ideas with his life.

Satan: Your spurious alternative again! Of course, they were serious; but unlike most theologians they had a sense of humor: they realized that they were playing a game of sorts. And Socrates’ childlike delight in his own clever moves and his frank laughter at the clumsiness of his opponents infuriated his fellow Athenians. One by one he challenged them to engage in a contest with him, and one by one they lost, not in the privacy of a study but in the market place where other men of leisure came to watch the game and see the greatest reputations bested by the witty Socrates with his inimitable irony.

Theologian: Well, if that is what you mean when speaking of a game and playfulness, I suppose you find a contest of sorts in the dialogues of Plato, too. Certainly, the Greater Hippias and Protagoras are playful in a way, and the Symposion is cast in the form of a contest.

Satan: The whole form of the dialogue is playful. The dialogue is a kind of a play—certainly serious, but no more so than King Lear. The trouble with most later philosophers was that they accepted the same false alternative which you have urged against me: being serious, they thought that they could not be playful, and soon little laughter was heard among philosophers.

Theologian: I suppose the time has come for me to say that I can afford to lose an argument about metaphysics, while losing an argument about theology might cost me my job. You are quite right: the philosophers are merely playing around with petty puzzles, trying to best each other and to win an argument. But theology is very different.

Satan: Was Abelard a theologian?

Theologian: One of the greatest.

Satan: You will remember that he started out as a philosopher. Do you also recall why he first turned to the exegesis of the Bible?

Theologian: To win a bet. You are coming back to Huizinga. Yes, Abelard admitted that he liked the arms of dialectic better than the arms of war, and he enjoyed triumph after triumph till at last he encamped his school upon a hill to “besiege” his rival who held the chair in Paris. And Huizinga says that the same mixture of rhetoric, war, and play can be duplicated in Muslim scholasticism.

Satan: All right, if you admit that, we can forget Huizinga. Just let me quote him once: “In the whole development of scholasticism and universities the agonal element is as crucial as possible. The long popularity of the problem of universals as the central topic of philosophic discussion, and the division into realists and nominalists is certainly connected with the primary need to form parties over some issue.” Surely, Huizinga is right that there is a playful element in polemics. And with that I am quite willing to leave him.

Theologian: Are you admitting no difference at all between theology and philosophy?

Satan: In theology the stakes are higher—and people used to get burned on them. Not only that: one was threatened with eternal damnation. The game had a Roman touch and for centuries never quite lost the odor of the arena. And the forcible disputes with rabbis in the Middle Ages were not altogether unlike a bullfight.

Theologian: Let bygones be bygones! The modern theologian does not participate in contests or besiege his adversaries.

Satan: He composes monologues, alas! And most of them are quite unreadable.

Theologian: I suppose you prefer to read Gibbon and Voltaire, Nietzsche and Freud. But surely that is quite beside the point. What matters is that the modern theologian is a highly serious person, much more similar to a professor of history or science than to a Sophist or a gladiator.

Satan: Surely, more similar to a Sophist!

Theologian: I wish you would be serious for once. Some theologians are fine historians.

Satan: You mean that “theology” is often very loosely used to embrace any study of religion. Indeed, according to one of the definitions in Webster’s—“the critical, historical, and psychological study of religion and religious ideas”—The Decline and Fall and The Future of an Illusion would be classics of theology, and Gibbon, Nietzsche, and Freud would qualify as theologians. But that is surely ridiculous. Nor should we call every scholar who happens to be teaching at a seminary a theologian. Or would you insist on calling atheistic church historians theologians?

Theologian: Of course not. But some outstanding theologians have been, and are, good historians.

Satan: A theologian who is also a candid historian is like the author of Alice in Wonderland who was also a mathematician—and even more like Penelope who unraveled at night what she had woven by day.

Theologian: Let us forget about theologians and discuss theology.

Satan: Theology is a contradiction in terms: there can be no “science of God,” comparable to geology, biology, or physiology. A god who could be studied scientifically would be no god.

Theologian: Theology is the queen of the sciences and older than they are.

Satan: Theology was founded by Plato and Aristotle, who eulogized their highest principles by calling them divine. Theology is an impertinence perpetrated by a couple of philosophers.

Theologian: How preposterous! There are good scholarly books on the theology of the pre-Socratics and of the Old Testament.

Satan: Their titles are glaringly anachronistic. To be sure, the pre-Socratics spoke of “gods”; but they did not pretend to speak of them scientifically. Heraclitus spoke of the divine in veiled aphorisms; Parmenides, in poetry. Nor can you find in them the least trace of apologetics for traditional religion. They have only one thing in common with theologians.

Theologian: What is that?

Satan: They often used the word “god” in the strangest ways.

Theologian: And what of the Old Testament?

Satan: That certainly did not purport to offer nonpoetic discourse about God.

Theologian: What, then, do you make of the Book of Job?

Satan: I have mixed feelings about it. I like it because it is one of the very few places in the Old Testament in which I am mentioned. What I don’t like is that I am given such a pitifully small part. In never even occurs to anyone that the problem of evil might be explained by giving me some credit. And that goes for the author as well as the characters.

Theologian: That only shows the profundity of the book. The author wisely realized that crediting you would not solve the problem. The next question would have been: And why did God allow you to have your will? But what I meant with my question was whether the Book of Job was not theological?

Satan: In the first place, it is poetic and not scientific discourse; in the second place, the book probably owes its final form to Hellenistic times; and in the third place, it is the most anti-theological treatise ever written.

Theologian: You take too narrow a view of theology.

Satan: It is in Plato that we first encounter the word; but that of which he and Aristotle furnished a science, or a pseudoscience was not God.

Theologian: You mean that it was not the Christian God?

Satan: It was neither the God of Abraham and Job nor the God of Jesus; it was not the Brahma of the Upanishads and not the Tao of Lao-tze.

Theologian: Of course not. Who said they wrote about Brahma or the Tao? You are being ridiculous.

Satan: About the God of Abraham, Job, and Jesus there can be no connected nonpoetic discourse any more than about the Brahma or the Tao; and the God of Job says so outright. In Athens, Socrates had been sentenced to death for not believing in the gods and for corrupting the youth of Athens. Plato and Aristotle did not believe in the old gods either, but they called their own highest principles divine and escaped the fate of Socrates. Even so, Aristotle had to flee in old age, “lest the Athenians sin twice against philosophy.”

Theologian: What you insinuate about their motivation is ridiculous.

Satan: Their motivation does not matter. The road to my home is paved with splendid motivations. What is important is that “theology” was a fantastic misnomer from the beginning. Plato and Aristotle were most generous with the epithet of divinity and freely accorded it to principles and to physical objects like the stars. Aristotle wrote a Physics and a Metaphysics but spoke freely of “God” and “theology.” And the early Christians failed to see this.

Theologian: That is a stupid point! You are just peeved because Plato no sooner mentions that there must also be an evil soul or god than he forgets about it. But you must not take things so personally. You see, the early Christians were not interested in Aristotle.

Satan: My point is that the early Christians conceived of God in terms of the Greek or Hellenistic Logos. Right in the New Testament, too. That is the beginning of Christian theology. It was a fantastic misunderstanding, the worst mismarriage on record. At first the theologian tried to wed the God of Abraham and Jesus to Hellenistic philosophy; then, in Augustine’s time, to Plato’s; still later to Aristotle’s; and finally Luther went back to the Hellenism of the Fourth Gospel and of Paul. To think that the God of Job could be identified with Aristotle’s magnetlike attractive god!

Theologian: In the first place, the New Testament was not Hellenistic but profoundly Jewish, as W.D. Davies and David Daube have shown, and as the Dead Sea Scrolls prove beyond a doubt. And in the second place, there was a profound humility in the admission that the Hebrew Scriptures did not contain all the wisdom of which man was capable; the men you deride were modest enough to be willing to learn from Greek philosophers.

Satan: First, it was not Greek, and secondly it was! Both your points are untenable. The first depends on a fallacious alternative which you wrongly attribute to your authorities. It is neatly exposed by two brief quotations from Albright: “Greek ways of thinking undoubtedly affected Ecclesiastes about 300 B.C. or a little later” (20) and “The New Testament arouse in a Jewish environment which had been enriched by Hellenic and Iranian elements” (23). And as for your second point: only today I read a reference to “the Apostle Paul, the man who became Christianity’s greatest salesman.”

Theologian: What does that have to do with my point?

Satan: Did he really learn humbly, or was he trying to sell a bill of goods to the Gentiles? He simply found that he could not sell it unless he dressed it up in accordance with the latest fashions of Hellenistic thought. “If I do this thing willingly, I have a reward,” he frankly tells the Corinthians (1:9); and then he explains his strategy: “To the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews; to those under the law, as under the law…to those outside of the law, as outside the law…that I might gain those outside the law. To the weak I became as weak, that I might gain the weak.” And Paul himself sums up his approach: the point is to be “all things to all men.” Surely, Amos and Jeremiah had not been “all things to all men.” They had defied all men. But John, the Evangelist, went even further than Paul. Before long they had thrown in a good dose of Gnosticism as well as the sacraments of the Greek mysteries and some talk of the Logos. Others added a story how Jesus was begotten in the manner made popular by Zeus; Matthew copied some details from the birth of Moses; and Luke added a few sentimental touches. No effort was spared, and their exertions were crowned with success. They offered almost everything that any other religion offered—and heaven, too. What you call humility was really unprecedented brass.

Theologian: I refuse to engage in debate on that level. The early Christians surrendered the haughty exclusiveness of the Jews and—

Satan: Followed the example of less exclusive Jews, like Philo, who had spoken of the Logos in a similar vein a few generations before John.

Theologian: Have it your way: a few of the Jews already had been willing to learn from the Greeks, and the early Christians followed their example rather than the isolationism of the Pharisees. They were willing to concede that the ideas implicit in the poetry of Scripture could be clarified by the wisdom of the Greeks.

Satan: They were merely trying to ingratiate themselves with their audience. Look at John! He writes at a time when the Jews were proscribed by the Romans, and so he goes to absurd extremes to dissociate his religion from that of the Jews by denouncing them on every turn while he fawns on the Romans and turns the hardy Pontius Pilate, who in fact crucified Jews by the hundreds, into the incarnate milk of human kindness.

Theologian: Surely, your facts are questionable.

Satan: Bultmann, who doubts that Jesus ever considered himself the Messiah, concedes that “the movement he sparked among the Jewish people may and must be designated as a messianic movement, for it was inspired by the faith that the messianic expectations would now be fulfilled, and that the kingdom of God was at hand…The Roman procurators resorted to bloody suppression of such movements, and Jesus, too, fell victim to the intervention of the procurator Pilate, When he entered Jerusalem with his followers, his bearing evidently struck the procurator as politically dangerous…In no case may one suppose that Jesus’ ethical teaching so infuriated the Pharisees and scribes that he finally fell victim to their hostility. The constant opposition of the Pharisees and scribes rest upon the schematic imagination of the later Christians” (34f.). But I admit that Bultmann and his colleagues hesitate to draw the inescapable conclusion about the motivation and the moral character of the evangelists and the early Christians.

Theologian: I don’t want to argue about people’s motives. Do you or do you not admit the humility of the early Christians toward Greek thought?

Satan: You can hardly blame me for being fascinated by people’s motives. That is part of my business, you know. But as for your question, the answer is an emphatic No. The attitude of the Book of Job, in which I am mentioned and, as you may recall, make a great point of motivation—that attitude is humble. It humbly admits the impossibility of all theology. But the pontifical dogmatizing of the Christian theologians from Paul and John down to the present is anything but humble. It is arrogant to the point of being ridiculous.

Theologian: You seem to feel that the Old Testament was enough—

Satan: After all, it invented me.

Theologian: The Jews took you over from the Persians; so by the same token you could stop with Zoroastrianism, which also assigns you a far bigger role than the Old Testament ever did.

Satan: But the Old Testament gave me my name. And the Zoroastrian Ahriman had to fight all the time against the god of light. You should not confuse him with me, really. I am much more civilized. I do not like to fight. I like to talk.

Theologian: What I meant to ask you was this: Do you think that the early Christians could not learn anything at all from the Greek philosophers?

Satan: They could have learned a lot, but they learned the wrong things. They might have learned critical thinking; and there was humor in Greek philosophy, too. But there is little of either in the New Testament.

Theologian: You should not complain: it makes a great deal more of you than the Old Testament.

Satan: In the Old Testament I have a small role, but I like it. In the New Testament I play a big role, but I am the subject of endless calumny, and my home is represented as if it were all fire and brimstone and howling and gnashing of teeth.

Theologian: You have a genius for getting away from the subject. I don’t want to talk about you, I want to talk about myself—or rather about theology. Your objections depend on understanding theology too narrowly as a kind of science.

Satan: First, you objected that I call it a game when it really was a science; and now you object that I call it a science. What is it?

Theologian: Theology is the Logos of God, the word concerning God.

Satan: The word concerning God is poetry and may be found in the Tao-Teh-Ching and the Upanishads, in Genesis and Job. Theology is a misguided attempt to make poetry scientific, and the result is neither science nor poetry.

Theologian: Theology is a noble attempt to understand and give a systematic exposition.

Satan: To understand poetry one does not give a systematic exposition of it. That is precisely your mistake. You should study the poetry in its historical context, give attention to its form and to the weight of the words, and in the end re-experience it. That is the most important thing: everything else is merely preliminary.

Theologian: How do you re-experience poetry?

Satan: You try to get at the experience which has found its way into the poem.

Theologian: What do you mean? In the case of the Old Testament alone that would mean hundreds of experiences.

Satan: To get the most out of the Old Testament, you can’t do less. And anyone who has not recaptured these experiences and tries to explain the whole book by writing a theology of it is an imposter.

Theologian: Might there not be a few basic or central experiences, and one experience above all, the experience of God?

Satan: Perhaps what you call the experience of God was really a host of very different experiences all of which have been lumped together under this one label. But be that as it may, you cannot lead people to recapture an experience by giving a systematic exposition of what you take to have been its contents, let alone by threatening with damnation all who disagree.

Theologian: You said that if you lost an argument about theology, that might cost you your job. Now it would seem that if you win your argument you face the same prospect.

Satan: Would I be Satan if I were prudent? Or egotistical? What could be more satanic than to bite the hand that feeds me, regardless of the consequence to me? Is not that how I became the Lord of Hell? Let the pious be prudent! What else is their piety, in nine cases out of ten, but enlightened selfishness? What is satanic is not egoism but the love of truth at the expense of happiness—to find one’s happiness in truth, to oppose illusion, to value integrity above God, and character above salvation.

Theologian: But isn’t Satan a materialist?

Satan: The materialists who want to go to heaven say materialism is the devil, and the egoists who want to go to heaven say that egoism is satanic. But can you imagine a materialist or egoist who would not want to go to heaven?

Theologian: Heaven is for those who love God above riches, and their neighbor as themselves, if not more.

Satan: At most—and even this is rare—they renounce small sums for huge gains, which is hardly renunciation, and they give their neighbors what they themselves have come to feel is not worth having, which is hardly love. They distribute unto the poor what moth and rust corrupt to gain treasure in heaven where neither moth nor rust corrupt.

Theologian: That is a complete perversion of Christianity.

Satan: What, then are the words in Luke 18:22 that follow upon “sell all that you have and distribute to the poor”? What are the very next words?

Theologian: “And you will have treasure in heaven.” But surely that is not the spirit of the Sermon on the Mount.

Satan: Oh, isn’t it? That is just one of the favorite fables of the theologians. How the rhapsodize about unselfishness, obedient love, and all the rest, as if the Sermon on the Mount were not constructed around the theme of enlightened selfishness. Surely, this morality is not centered in the neighbor but in salvation. It is an otherworldly Lohnmoral.

Theologian: Not only theologians know how wrong you are everybody knows it.

Satan: What everybody knows is often untenable. Need I tell you that? The Sermon on the Mount opens with the so-called beatitudes, and each of the nine promises a reward, culminating in the conclusion; “For great is your reward in heaven.” In the Sermon that follows, promises of great rewards and threats of dire punishments alternate continually: “shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven:; “shall in no case enter the kingdom of heaven”; “judgment”; “hell fire”; “your whole body should be cast into hell”; “for if you love those who love you, what reward have you?”; “otherwise you will have no reward”; “will reward you openly”; “your heavenly Father will also forgive you”; “neither will your Father forgive your trespasses”; “lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust corrupt”; “all these things shall be yours as well”; “that you be not judged”; “and the measure you give, shall be the measure you get.”; And in the end—the conclusion should not be ignored—the moral is stated quite explicitly; those who do not do what Jesus commands “will be like a foolish man,” while those who do as they are bidden are likened to “a wise man.” St. Thomas was quite right in agreeing with Aristotle that prudence was a virtue from the Christian point of view too. He forgot to add that it was the Christian virtue par excellence. You Protestant theologians are trying to assimilate to Kant what is basically anti-Kantian. You are embarrassed by any talk of prudence in ethics.

Theologian: You completely misunderstand Aquinas’ conception of prudence, and you forget that Calvin came centuries before Kant. Certainly, Calvin’s ethic was not prudential. And was Luther’s? Worst of all, you talk as if charity had no place at all in Christian ethics. Yet Christianity preached love and changed the morals of untold barbarians by inculcating a supreme regard for love.

Satan: A supremely hypocritical regard for love. Charlemagne sought to convert the Saxons to Christianity by threatening with death all who refused to become his loving subjects. You should read the article on slavery in the Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics, written by one of your friends, not by a foe of Christianity. You will find that the captives taken by Charlemagne after his defeat of the Saxons “and by Henry the Fowler and his successors after the defeat of the Slavs were sold as slaves.” Most of the Saxons, of course, had preferred death and were butchered.

Theologian: Didn’t Christianity abolish slavery? Surely, you are falsifying the facts.

Satan: Read the article, my friend. Your apologist there admits that “the abolitionist could point to no one text in the Gospels in defense of his position”; and also that the church tended, “owing to its excessive care for the rights of the masters, even to perpetuate what would otherwise have passed away.” Face the facts: “Legislation forbade Christian slaves to be sold to pagans or Jews, but otherwise tended to recognize slavery as a normal institution.” And again: “The general tone of this legislation can hardly be said to favor the slave.” And did you really not know that the church itself “was a slave-owner”?

Theologian: You don’t expect me to stand up for the Catholic Church, do you? In the Reformation love became central.

Satan: Surely, you do not suppose that Luther was against slavery any more than the Catholic Church? Do I have to quote Luther to you? “There is to be no bondage because Christ has freed us all? What is all this? This would make Christian freedom fleshly!...Read St. Paul and see what he teaches about bondsmen…This claim, therefore goes straight against the Gospel and is criminal in that each robs his master of his body which is his master’s property. For a bondsman can be a Christian and have Christian freedom, even as a prisoner and a sick man can be Christians, even though they are not free. This claim aims to make all men equal and to make a worldly, external kingdom of the spiritual kingdom of Christ. And this is impossible. For a worldly kingdom cannot exist unless there is inequality among men, so that some are free and others captive.” (581).

Theologian: That is the late Luther, counseling the Swabian peasants to keep the peace. That was written under the stress of extraordinary events that were endangering the whole Reformation. If he had supported the peasants, he would have lost the crucial support of the princes.

Satan: The last Luther? In 1525, four years after the Diet at Worms! You admire Luther from breaking with Catholicism, but cease to admire him the moment he broke with it.

Theologian: There is nothing inconsistent in that.

Satan: But there is, assuming you agree with Luther that the right faith begets good works; and that without the right faith good works are impossible. For you believe that he did the right things as long as he clung to the wrong faith, and that he began to do wrong as soon as his faith became entirely right. You amuse me, but your conception of the “late” Luther won’t stand scrutiny. It hinges on the ridiculous assumption that the young Luther was a democrat, and that he later betrayed principles for the mere sake of expediency. But he never was a democrat, nor did he betray his principles any more than Paul whom he was following. Luther gave very similar advice to Christian prisoners of war who had been made slaves by infidel Turks: “You are robbing and stealing your body from your mater, your body that he had bought or acquired in some other way, so that it be no longer yours, but his property, like cattle or other goods” (581 f.).

Theologian: You are getting away from the subject. We were talking about love.

Satan: You mean to say that this has nothing to do with love? But actually it was you who changed the subject by introducing love. What I was talking about was prudence. Even when it stares you in the face, you simply ignore it. Yet Jesus himself concludes the Sermon on the Mount, which he began by harping on the theme of reward and which he continued with promises and threats, by saying expressly that anybody who does not obey is a fool while those who do obey are “wise.” Now if Satan were an egoist, as you suppose, he would not be at all satanic. There would not be a drop of wickedness left in him; he would simply be a wretched fool. Every pious soul would be much shrewder.

Theologian: What troubles me is precisely that you are not wicked. Wrong as you are in many ways, you seem full of decent, even noble, feelings; scholarly and gentle; and in places I feel closer to you than to many theologians.

Satan: If I had come to you with horns and tail, speaking of the delights of wine and sex, should I have got this far with you? Would I be Satan if I had not eye for my audience? After all, I am speaking to a decent, even noble, person, scholarly and gentle—

Theologian: False flatterer! Now I know you.

Satan: I do not worship numbers. Let the theologians learn from me, give up theology, and go to heaven. There are too many of them in hell as it is. For centuries they have been sending each other to me. What I want is less of the blind leading the blind and more who choose hell with open eyes.

Dialogue between Satan and a Christian p. 243

Satan: God is not a person but a panacea, like love. This invalidates all the psychological theories that would explain belief in God in terms of one or two needs. God gratifies man’s self-respect in easily a dozen ways and allows man to feel humble, too; he gives strength and permits weakness; he is the great symbol of hope and yet justifies despair; he signifies the reality of all that one could wish for, and yet allows the outcry: what is man? He is someone to address when one is utterly alone, someone to praise, thank, implore, complain to, and accuse. He explains everything, even why one can explain things, and why one cannot. He backs up laws and morals, guarantees the existing social order, listens to the oppressed, is the safety valve for the slave’s resentment, leads revolutions (rarely), gives man a surpassing sense of power, can be thanked for victories, and sends defeat as a long-deserved punishment. He can be blamed for man’s inadequacy-not necessarily outright-and as long as he figures in the drama, a man’s sordid condition is at least not despicable: “I amount to nothing not because I am abject but because Adam defied God.” Is any further explanation needed why men cling to him?

Christian: But God exists.

Satan: What does that mean? What does “God” mean? And what “exist”? Surely you do not believe that there is an old man with a long white beard up in the sky?

Christian: God is love

Satan: When you say that God exists, are you merely asserting that there is love in the world?

Christian: I assert that the world was fashioned by infinite love.

Satan: Infinite but impotent?

Christian: Infinite and omnipotent.

Satan: Why does a god who is omnipotent and loving permit men to suffer? Could it be that eternity is so frightfully long? Could it be boredom? Surely, he must have some weaknesses if he saves only those who eat his son.

Christian: Atheist!

Satan: Am I then unanswerable?

Christian: God is perfect. He has no weaknesses.

Satan: The problem of evil has occupied your best minds for two thousand years; and it depends on your claim that God is perfect. But in other contexts you do not hesitate to ascribe to God what in human beings would be called not merely imperfections but downright perversions.

Christian: Impious villain! What do you mean?

Satan: He metes out eternal punishments, damns the unbaptized, and could save men from the hell that he created only by sending his son to be crucified, by persecuting for thousands of years the descendants of those who did not believe all the words of his son (and who today believes all the words of his son?), and he saves only those who eat and drink on regular occasions what they themselves consider his son’s flesh and blood.

Christian: That is a caricature of Christianity.

Satan: Are you denying that this is what Christians have believed for nearly two thousand years?

Christian: You must not judge a religion by its worst adherents.

Satan: Is not that exactly how you have always judged every religion except your own? But this is not what I have done” I have taken my clue from St. Paul and St. Augustine, from St. Thomas, Luther, and Calvin, from the dogmas and the sacraments which almost all denominations have in common.

Christian: The God in whom I believe is not like the god you impugn.

Satan: The God I impugn, I understand; indeed, he resembles the popular misconception of me. But what does the god do in whom you believe?

Christian: He has made you and me.

Satan: Why did he make us?

Christian: He created you as an angel, but you rebelled and fell.

Satan: When your children rebel, do you punish them eternally?

Christian: You were an angel and should have known better.

Satan: But apparently I did not know better, and it was, you say, God that created me. Tell me, do you really believe in angels?

Christian: No

Satan: But there are angels in your Scripture.

Christian: I do not take them literally.

Satan: Do you take me literally?

Christian: No.

Satan: I am glad; so I can be blunt. Do you take God literally?

Christian: What do you mean?

Satan: You believe in God, and you believe that atheists are very wrong. What exactly is it that you believe and they deny? What exactly are you saying when you say that God exists?

Christian: God exists-that means: life is bearable, the reality of everyday life is not the only reality; our dreams are not mere dreams; our ideals, whatever they are, have authority; the passion for justice, however conceived, is no mere quixotism; reason is not a capricious quirk of evolution; I am made in the image of one who is infinite and eternal and perfect, who fashioned the heavens, the stars, suns without number, planets and plants, whales, tigers, snakes, and whatever is frightening-it was all made by him in whose image I was created; I that seem small am greater than anything else in the universe; beware oppressors: my avenger lives; he sees my enemies even now; he hears me if no one else does; he love me if no one else does, and what I do has infinite significance.
God exists-that means: I that am made of dust am all that I say of God, only less so; I, worm that I am, shall judge the angels; that am of no account and never shall be, am not what I seem, and that great are not what they seem: we are equal, and if they do not bow before me, I shall yet behold their damnation from heaven; the world has a purpose, and I am part of that purpose, exalted above the sun and the moon which stop in their tracks or are blackened on my account; and the center of the universe with its glittering milky ways is in my heart.
God exists-that means: I shall not want, I will fear no evil, the ocean and the mountains hold no terror for me, nor does man; for me the whole world is the footstool of God’s glory; my enemies are his instruments, and he cares for me; I am in good hands; and though life be agony, I shall endure.

Satan: Is not that just what I said in the beginning, though you have, no doubt, said it more beautifully-or at least with more feeling?

Christian: I believe that God exists.

Satan: I can see that this statement means a great deal to you, and you have expressed very well what it means to you. But while I understand how you feel, I still do not understand what it is that, you think, exists, or in what way it exists. Does God take up space as you do?

Christian: Of course not.

Satan: Why, the, do you say that he exists?

Christian: Surely, many things exist that do not take up space.

Satan: Name three.

Christian: Does a dream take up space? Or a feeling? Or a thought?

Satan: Is God a dream, a feeling, or a thought?

Christian: Certainly not.

Satan: Try again.

Christian: What of justice?

Satan: What of justice indeed? Does it exist? Is it not an idea, or if you prefer, an ideal? Something towards which men aspire? Injustice exists, but justice is a name for what does no exist.

Christian: You admit that injustice exists. Does that take up space?

Satan: Injustice is a word that sums up a complex state of affairs together with the speaker’s reaction to it. It is not an entity.

Christian: Love exists.

Satan: Love is another word that does not designate an entity but a highly complicated pattern of feeling, thought, and behavior.

Christian: I never said that God was an entity.

Satan: But when you speak of God, you do not mean a mere concept or a pattern of human feeling, thought, and behavior. And I do not know what exactly you do mean. And I think you don’t know yourself.

Christian: If you do not know what I mean when I speak of God, read Scripture.

Satan: You know that I can cite Scripture to my purpose.

Christian: You must not take verses out of context-

Satan: Like preachers and theologians?

Christian: You must consider the over-all picture of God in the Bible.

Satan: Especially in the New Testament?

Christian: Yes.

Satan: Beginning with the Holy Ghost and the Virgin?

Christian: Read the words of Jesus.

Satan: Jesus himself said that he spoke in parables to ensure that, except for his twelve disciples, men should “not understand, lest at any time they should be converted and their sins should be forgiven them” (Mark 4:12). And at times the very same parables are understood differently by the evangelists, and Julicher and Bultmann, among others, have argued that the evangelists themselves have often misinterpreted the parables. Certainly, you can read the whole New Testament, including all the letters, too, and still have no clear idea what you, my friend, might mean by “God.” Believe me, I have read it many times and found all sorts of curious superstitions as well as all kinds of moral ideas, but I still do not know what you mean when you say that God exists.

Christian: Have you read our theologians and philosophers?

Satan: Read? I have talked with many of the best of them for centuries. They discuss the attributes of God as if they knew to begin with who it is that has these attributes. They argue whether he is in time, conscious, separate from the world, as if they knew whom they are discussion.

Christian: God is the Supreme Being.

Satan: Thank you. That is a great help. What do you mean by “supreme”?

Christian: Highest.

Satan: But he doesn’t take up space?

Christian: The most powerful and perfect.

Satan: Oh, that again! We are back at your contradictory idea of a being who damns the unbaptized in all eternity, save those-

Christian: Stop it! Leave out perfection for the moment. By “God” we mean the most powerful being.

Satan: Have you done research to find out which being is most powerful? What is more powerful-a virus or an elephant? That a most powerful being exists is as true as that a smallest being exists, though, of course, in both cases there might be several that are neck and neck. The contest would turn on definitions: what you mean by “powerful” and what is, and what is not, a being. And who else is admitted to the class of beings that do not take up space?

Christian: Your facetiousness is insufferable. God is the Creator.

Satan: That’s no help. As long as the assertion that there is a Creator was held to exclude the truth of scientific theories like Darwin’s, for example, one had some idea what was meant. But if you accept science, what are you saying when you claim that the world has been created?

Christian: Never mind your subtleties. The point is: God exists.

Satan: “God exists” is not a statement but a shibboleth: those who utter it, belong; those who refuse to, do not deny anything in particular but refuse to conform. The philosophers who speak of God do not agree with each other or with the man in the street: they make their obeisance to conformity. They use a traditional term for untraditional ideas and make the most of the fact that the word conveys no precise meaning.

Christian: Are you making excuses for atheists?

Satan: “Atheist” is a label that covers up more than it shows. Atheism can be aggressive nonconformism, but in certain countries it may be timid or unthinking conformism; it may be the protest of the maladjusted or an expression of ultimate serenity; it may be inspired by the desire to shock or hurt, to be grown-up, enlightened, sophisticated, or honest. And theism is equally protean. Let us not generalize about such vague labels!

Christian: But theism is true, and atheism false.

Satan: No doubt, some atheists are very wrong, and so are some theists. Theism is a language, a way of speaking, rather than a claim of fact.

Christian: What do you mean?

Satan: Look at it this way. At the end of your prayers you say: “This we ask through Jesus Christ, our Lord.” Need God be told? Must he be approached through proper channels? Protestants find fault with Catholicism on similar grounds? What is moral?

Christian: Christ’s word concerning mote and beam.

Satan: Rather: Protestantism strikes agnostics just as Catholicism strikes Protestants. And an infidel is simply a man who agrees with Catholics about Protestants and with Protestants about Catholics. All religions look quaint from the outside but are all things to the believer. That is true of atheism, too: it looks impious from outside and honest from the inside. And this is applicable to all religious rites and phrases: viewed with sympathy, they all seem odd. Take even a service of your own denomination: as soon as it is conducted according to another tradition or in a different language, it immediately becomes problematic and usually seems all wrong.

Christian: There is some truth in that. People have that attitude confronted with translations of the Bible to which they are not used. But what does that prove?

Satan: Religion can be a matter of habit, and it can be intense through and through; but it is incompatible with detached scrutiny.

Christian: Religion is like love: for him that experiences it, nothing else matters so much.

Satan: For those who observe its manifestations without sympathy, it seems madness.

Christians: That is no objection to religion any more than it constitutes a criticism of love. Religion, like love, has inspired generosity—

Satan: As well as wars—

Christian: It has inspired sacrifices—

Satan: Especially of others—

Christian: And works of art.

Satan: To be sure, religion has had good fruits as well as foul ones; and where would I myself be without it? But all this does not establish the truth of its claims. And it is in no position to dispute the results of any of the sciences.

Christian: The quarrels of religion and science belong to history.

Satan: Nor is it clear what religious statements mean.

Christian: They remind us that scientific attitude toward the world is not the only one.

Satan: Every artist knows that, and whoever loves art, and every lover.

Christian: Art and love are intimations of Christianity.

Satan: Christianity signifies the emasculation of love and art, the triumph of the fig leaf over classical beauty, the maculation of conception, and the vilification of love both between men and between men and women.

Christian: You are mistaking the prudery of certain ages for the doctrine of Christianity.

Satan: Is it not written in the New Testament: “It is good for a man not to touch a woman. Neverthless, to avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband.” Is it not written: “Come together, that Satan tempt you not for your incontinency. But I speak this by permission, and not of commandment. For I wish all men were like myself.” And Paul, whose words are as sacred to Protestants as they are to Catholics, concludes: “I say therefore to the unmarried and widows: It is good for them if they abide even as I. But if they cannot contain, let them marry: for it is better to marry than to burn.”

Christian: Has not Christianity modified these words of the First Epistle to the Corinthians? Did it not survive by modifying them?

Satan: The teaching of the New Testament has remained authoritative. To avoid fornication, permission has been given for properly regulated conjugal love. But what is done to avoid fornication is no longer the consummation of love: it is an unclean bodily function, coupled with a sense of sin. Even at best, married love is only considered a lesser evil. “it is better to marry than to burn.”

Christian: You stress those words too much.

Satan: The words of Paul are the clue to Catholicism as well as Protestantism. They permit us to understand the Catholic saints and the Catholics’ veneration of the saints; they explain monasticism and the fear of hell.

Christian: Is there the least evidence that these words were taken as seriously as you suppose?

Satan: “St. Jerome’s words are epoch-making and are passed from generation to generation of medieval writers as a classical commonplace: ‘Marriage peoples the earth, but virginity peoples heaven’” (Coulton 444)

Christian: That is a mere mot.

Satan: Here is another mot, my friend, a bon mot, also from St. Jerome, There was, he said, a place for matrimony no less than for virginity: est crater ad bibendum, et matula ad secretiora naturae (ibid).

Christian: Would you mind translating that?

Satan: Not at all: “There is a cup for drinking, and a chamber pot for the secretions of nature.” Isn’t that a lovely view of love between the sexes? A Christian view, perhaps? And Jerome was not fastidious. It was one of his maxims that “when a man has once been washed in Christ, there is no need that he should wash again” (Coulton, 554). And this precept was highly honored by medieval monks. You should contrast these attitudes with Jewish marital ethics and rules about bodily cleanliness and with republican Rome.

Christianity: Surely, Jerome was an exception.

Satan: No doubt, he was. He was a great scholar and translated the Hebrew Scriptures into Latin. His achievements could not be copied widely, but the precepts I quoted were adopted by large masses of people. St. Bonaventura does not equal Jerome’s erudition, but “St. Bonaventura decides that there is no aureola in heaven for the married folk” (Coulton 445).

Christian: I am sick of your medieval lore, Luther broke with monasticism and the saints.

Satan: Because he read Paul and concluded that “it is better to marry than to burn.” He considered it sinful to try and please God by works. But far from considering love divine, as the Jews and the Greeks had done, Christianity considered it sinful; and being sinful, man must believe in Christ and hope for salvation by grace. Today, of course, many Protestants agree with me, not with Luther.

Christian: Christianity is the religion of a higher love.

Satan: Christianity is the religion that made love a sin. But how could it face the world without some subterfuge? It could not openly declare war on man’s noblest passion. So one talked as if one were opposed to one kind of love only, and as if there were another kind.

Christian: But there is: love of the neighbor, love of one’s enemies, charity.

Satan: What religion is less charitable than Christianity? What other religion has as much as conceived of eternal damnation? What other sacred book contains as much venom as the New Testament? What great religious figure breathes vengefulness like the Jesus of the Gospels? How different is all this from the Upanishads and the Bhagavadgita, not to speak of the teaching of Buddha!

Christian: You mistake prophetic wrath for vengefulness.

Satan: The threats of the Old Testament prophets are clearly intended to change the hearts of those who are addressed; and a whole book is given over to the instruction of a prophet who is slow to understand this: Jonah. But even he has no wish for revenge in the first place, though he is sent into the capital of the enemy, Nineveh. In the New Testament a new note is struck: personal revenge and eternal damnation.

Christian: But Christianity introduced a note of hope: glad tidings.

Satan: Precisely. The glad tidings of the turning of the tables in the world to come.

Christian: The glad tiding is salvation through Christ.

Satan: Precisely. The Christian jubilates that he will be saved-in a world in which, unfortunately, the mass of mankind will be damned. The idea of salvation was not new. The idea of eternal damnation was.

Christian: You talk as if the Christians had invented these notions. In fact, it was through Christianity that the truth was revealed.

Satan: What truth?

Christian: The truth is that those who believe in Christ and partake of the sacraments may be saved, while those who don’t are damned.

Satan: What exactly do you mean when you say “saved” and “damned?”

Christian: Those who are saved see God.

Satan: Is God visible? I thought you said he did not take up space?

Christian: He doesn’t, and he is not visible.

Satan: Then those who are saved do not see him?

Christian: They are near him.

Satan: Near? But not in space?

Christian: You are being stupidly literal.

Satan: The fact is that I still don’t understand what you mean by saying that some are saved. And I think you don’t know yourself what you mean. You are repeating words that once designated very understandable superstitions. Now you denounce these superstitions but cling to the same words and believe that you are still saying something. And the less sure you feel of yourself, the more you want others to agree with you, and the more you resent or pity those who don’t.

Christian: Those who are saved escape everlasting torture.

Satan: In hell?

Christian: Yes. But of course hell is no place; it is a name for alienation from God, for being far from him-but not in space.

Satan: I suppose, God is like a father, and the saved are those who after death feel secure in his love, while the damned feel excluded and labor, as it were, under a bad conscience.

Christian: Yes.

Satan: Any loving father would go out of his way to make his children feel that they have not been excluded from his love, and that he loves them no less because they have rebelled against him or disappointed him.

Christian: That is why God sent his son down to earth.

Satan: What would you think of a father who gave a few of his children a single chance, and the rest of them none at all?

Christian: You always harp on hell.

Satan: There is no place like home. And you might as well get used to the idea: haven’t you been told that I enjoy the company of those who cannot answer me any better than you?

Christian: But I don’t understand at all. Only hysterics think of going to hell themselves.

Satan: I know: Good Christians consider hell a place for others. But don’t you realize that if you are right about everything, you, and those like you, are undoubtedly headed for hell? Don’t you see how immeasurably you stand to gain if Christianity is untenable? It is I that bring you glad tidings. Believe me and your are saved. That God exists, that is a ritual phrase, charged with emotion and a thousand connotations: some sheer superstition, some myths, some true, some false, and most of them vague. But here is the truth that shall make you free: I do not exist.

Christian: If Satan does not exist, I must have dreamed. So I might as well go on believing what I have always believed. But what exactly do I believe? That is the question.

Dialogue between Satan and an Atheist p. 255

Atheist: You look so content. Have you grilled another theologian for breakfast? Or did you heat up a Christian for your lunch?

Satan: Both, my friend.

Atheist: I have often wondered how you catch Buddhists. After all, they do not believe the sort of thing Christians believe, so you can’t undermine their faith.

Satan: I get them to fall in love with the world.

Atheist: By dangling beautiful women in front of ascetics?

Satan: Not necessarily. Their aim is to fall out of love with the world. I try to show them that suffering is worth while.

Atheist: That’s what I said: women.

Satan: That works only in the least interesting cases. The others I try to interest in some cause, some task, some mission. I may even persuade them to spread their knowledge to as many men as possible. As soon as I have kindled some ambition I generally do not find it too hard to involve men in all sorts of compromises. But there are other ways.

Atheist: Just name one more.

Satan: Sometimes I try to lead them from detachment into callousness and indifference to the sufferings of others. But that works only in the early stages. Once a Buddhist has developed his peculiarly detached compassion he represents one of the hardest cases that I know. A Christian theologian is child’s play compared to that.

Atheist: Who else gives you trouble?

Satan: For a long time the Jews did. I took the wrong approach. I argued about Scripture with them and got nowhere. They knew the texts as well as I did, made connections from verse to verse across a hundred pages much more nimbly than I did, and were never, absolutely never, fazed by anything I said. I could not shock them. Usually they produced some rabbi who, more than a thousand years ago had made my point and been given some classical answer. They considered the whole thing a game even more than I did: after all, for me it was business, too. For them, talking about Scripture was a sheer delight. It was their favorite pastime which allowed them to forget their business and all their troubles. Where a Christian might have blenched they laughed, told stories to refute me or make fun of me, and I wasted my time.

Atheist: But couldn’t you show them that their interpretations were untenable?

Satan: I tell you, they considered the whole thing a game, and they played it according to special rules: by their rules, their arguments were tenable. They never claimed that Moses had meant all the things they put into his mouth. Of course not. But according to the rules of the game it could be argued that an interpretation of the words of Moses was correct in spite of that—even several conflicting ones. What mattered was that you played well; and compared to some of their rabbis I didn’t.

Atheist: So what happened?

Satan: I tried to get them to speak irreverently about God. Sometimes they did, but then it turned out to have been humor, and so it did not count. Threats, on the other hand, stiffened their backs, and most of them would rather be martyred than blaspheme under pressure. As long as the Christians martyred so many of them, there was a real dearth of Jews and Buddhists in hell, and the place began to fill up with Christians and Muslims. It got terribly stuffy, and there began to be talk of discrimination. I was even accused of having adopted a quota system. But now things have changed.

Atheist: Did you change your policy of admission?

Satan: Not at all. But when the Christians stopped persecuting the Jews, I began to be phenomenally successful with a new approach. I told them that their way of life was dated, that their laws were not made for the modern world, that freedom was the big thing now, and that their ancient laws interfered with their freedom.

Atheist: Do you mean to say that all Jews who eat pork go to hell?

Satan: Of course not. But once they give up their laws, their old way of life goes by the board, and they no longer study Scripture as they used to. By now many of them know the Bible as little as Christian youths.

Atheist: And does everyone who doesn’t know the Bible go to hell?

Satan: No, certainly not. But when they get to that point I ask them what right they have to call themselves Jews, religiously speaking. And that does make a dent. Then they begin to worry. And whether they worry or not, their religion has become a social affair for most of them, just as for the Christians.

Atheist: I am glad to hear that. More and more people are beginning to see the light. I have been joking with you, asking about people going to hell. I don’t really believe in hell. So far as I am concerned religion is bunk.

Satan: Just what do mean by saying that? Bunk?

Atheist: I mean, it is a lot of nonsense which isn’t worth bothering about. There are sensible things like science, especially psychology and anthropology, which are much more profitable. Religion is a stupid waste of time.

Satan: Oh, I don’t think so at all. There is nothing that interests me more. Religion is one of the most fascinating subjects in the world. I suppose you don’t like poetry and art either.

Atheist: You are wrong. There are some painters and poets whom I like, Picasso, for example, and a lot of modern art. I like Tolstoy, too, before he became a Christian, or tried to become one. And Dostoevsky, in spite of his crazy religious ideas. I am interested in their psychology.

Satan: What about the Book of Genesis?

Atheist: I don’t read stuff like that. Next you will ask me if I say Psalms. I must have been exposed to things like that as a child. But I have mercifully forgotten it.

Satan: Have you read no religious scriptures at all?

Atheist: I have only an amateur’s interest in anthropology. I have read a bit about primitive religions. But I have never followed it up. There are all sorts of handy cheap editions now; perhaps I’ll try some of them next time I travel by train. Usually I drive.

Satan: But these things were not written for a quick dip on the train between a crossword puzzle and a whisky sour.

Atheist: And why not? You would not want me to go to church to catch up with the Upanishads?

Satan: Of course not? You don’t go to church to catch up, as you call it, with Lear; but at least you take off an evening for it and give it your whole attention and let it do something to you.

Atheist: And what should these scriptures do to me? At most I should want to fill a gap in my education. I don’t want to be converted.

Satan: Well, these are not things merely to know about or have handy for a dinner conversation. The Bible and the Buddha, the Upanishads and the Bhagavadgita, Lao-tze and the Tales of the Hassidim, these are not things about which one is informed or not informed: what matters is that they speak to you and in some way change you.

Atheist: Have you become a preacher, Satan?

Satan: I am merely shuddering at the prospect of having to spend an eternity with you. I should rather like to make a human being of you before you settle down in my place. I don’t agree with the people who accept these scriptures, but I can talk with them and, to be frank, I rather enjoy talking with them. But you! I wish you’d go to heaven.