A democratic organization supporting separation of state and church, and promoting understanding and acceptence of atheism and freethought in our community

A democratic organization supporting separation of state and church,understanding and acceptence of atheism 

and freethought in our community

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Michael Caton: (Dys)Function of Belief
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Born May 1952, raised in Sacramento, Ken Nahigian had deep if brittle religious convictions of the Eastern Orthodox variety until his pre-teens. Then the reading began. Books led him all over the map: to atheism, positivism, academic skepticism, mysticism, even the occult. In his early 20's, after a brush with Campus Crusade, he fell back into Christianity, this time of the Protestant neo-fundamentalist kind. Pulling free was like a long, slow tooth extraction, absent novocane. Luckily he began to make friends about then, among them the organized Freethought community. For the first time, it seemed OK to wonder, to guess, to be wrong, and to learn from being wrong. He continues to grow and learn. You may see a kind of evolution in these writings, mostly messages to friends arranged in reverse chronology. These days his knuckes barely drag. Maybe a little.

        "I don't have an answer," Ken says, "but I admire the question."

        You can contact him c/o any of the AOF officers. See the Contact page.

 

Church & State, and Public Religious Oaths
(letter to a friend, excerpted, 29 Sep 2004)

On church & state, and those public (legal) religious oaths and mottos, I appreciate your thinking. Not that we agree on all points. But yours were good ones. Carry them a bit further, and we might see how your p.o.v. and my p.o.v. come together.

For example, your point that the needs of the few do not outweigh the many – very true! I might only add that, in terms of "needs vs. needs" or "ideals vs. ideals," this is no conflict. That's a red herring. No matter how religious we are, the official, government-sanctioned, congressionally-specified Pledge doesn't "need" to say "under God." Removing that official religious reference does not take an atom from our religious freedom. How could it? Any good Christian soul can still say "under God" or "under Jesus" as he/she recites it, either out loud or in his/her heart. (Likewise, a Moslem can say "under Allah," a Pagan can say "under Zeus," etc.)

But, guess what: when Congress sets up an official, legal pledge with specific religious wording set by law, it uses public time and public resources. These come from tax money, taken from all citizens by force. Thus those who don't share the belief still have to pay for it. That's a problem. even if it comes to pennies per person. To understand, just suppose Congress voted to have a Pledge which said "under Satan." And suppose they said, "Well don't be silly, it’s just two little words, it's voluntary, you don't have to say them." You would still be angry, wouldn't you? (I would be furious!)

The principle is the thing. Obvious solution: let the official wording of the Pledge, and of all legal pledges and oaths, be secular and religiously neutral. Then each individual can silently add his own religious language (if he so wishes). That keeps religion out of government, and vice versa. It opens the door for everyone.

As Jesus said – it renders to Caesar what is Caesar's, to God what is God's.

But for some reason, the Religious Right doesn’t want that. To me it's clear why. When the Nazis came to power in Germany, but before they started rounding up the Jews, they passed a little law saying all Jewish citizens must wear a yellow Star of David badge in public, and Jewish businessmen had to put a Star of David sign on the shop door. In so doing, they transformed a private difference into a public display. You couldn't easily tell a Jew from a German just by looking at him, but you could see the emblem. Suddenly the Jews found themselves subject to abuse, prejudice and ostracism. It set the stage for kristallnacht, the infamous Night of Broken Glass, the anti-Semitic riot that led up to the death camps and the murder of 11 million.

Likewise, in the U.S. now, the Religious Right wants to have official, public oaths with religious language, or they want prayers at public school commencement ceremonies or public school sports events. Slyly they add, "Oh, it's voluntary, you don't have to recite those words." But this turns private religious belief into a public thing. If/when a child refuses to recite the Pledge, or omits those two words, everyone sees it. And that sets a stage for all sorts of prejudice and abuse – including numerous reported cases of schoolyard beatings. (And yes, cases have occurred where misled teachers have forced students to recite the Pledge, or punished those who don’t.)

This may be exactly why Jesus condemned public prayers, called on people to pray in private (Matt 6:5-6). Only hypocrites and heathens, He said, tried to make faith into a public show.

Your right-wing Christian friends, who argue that the Founding Fathers were died-in-the-wool Christians, may have a point there, sort of. Actually the Founders were a spectrum, some more Christian than others. John Jay and Patrick Henry were fairly strong believers, while Ethan Alan and Thomas Paine were liberal, close to agnostic, with folk like Jefferson, Madison and Adams somewhere in the middle. But the word "Christian" was slightly more slippery back then – none would have been very comfortable with the modern Religious Right, I bet. Jefferson called himself Christian, but thought Jesus was just a wise man, and published a version of the New Testament which omitted all the miracles. In modern terms, it might be truer to say the Founders were mostly reverent deists.

No matter! It was the late 18th Century -- they all remembered how state-sponsored religion in the Old World and the early Colonies had led to horrible abuses and repression, including things like witch-burnings, inquisitions and public torture, and worst of all the Thirty Years War, a Catholic/Protestant conflict which actually slaughtered one third of Europe. True horror. They wanted nothing like that in their new nation. That's why they made a Constitution which had no reference at all to God or Jesus, which only mentioned religion in order to exclude it from government. Even the official presidential Oath, at the end of Art. II Sect. 1, did not say “so help me God.” Later presidents added that part out of politics.

This godless constitution was something absolutely unique in those days, a mini-revolution. No other constitution or government charter of the day was anything like it. It was the first. And the Church was furious. The Pope, Pius VI, condemned the new United States with strong language.

You are right: America is a free nation, and that freedom makes us the strongest in the world. But the freedom arises from the fact that we are a nation of diversity where even democracy has limits – it does not, in theory at least, let the majority trample on the minority (for example, no slavery). That's why we are a democratic republic, technically, not a pure democracy. I know of patriotic folk who risked their lives in wars for the U.S. and love to recite the Pledge, but they happen not to be religious, so they find the religious wording offensive. It is only fair to bring them into our "big tent" too, let them know they are also citizens. They risked their lives for us. They deserve it.

As for saying, "If you don’t like it, don’t use the money" – another point, but it's less of a free country if you can't use the legal tender, isn't it? Then if you do, it puts you in a bit of a bind, because the radical Religious Right gloats and crows, "Oh, you use money that says 'God,' so nyah-nyah, now we can join up church and state in other ways!" A real Catch-22.

Something very similar happened in 1st Century Roman Palestine. The Jews hated the coins that had graven images of the Roman god-emperors. Wisely, the Romans let them use their own money. This worked fine for a while, but broke down when the mad emperor Caligula wanted to force official Roman religion into Jewish public life. The eventual result was an uprising, the Jewish rebellions, massive slaughter, the great exile, and the destruction of the Temple. And so Jews and Muslims fight over Jerusalem today, and on the very spot where the Jews want to rebuild their temple sits the Muslim Dome of the Rock.

Now think. If the old Romans had had a better grasp of church/state separation, we would not have many of the Middle Eastern divisions and conflicts we have today. And the Twin Towers might still be standing.

Maybe we should learn from history. We can be a little wiser than the emperor Caligula, don't you think?

Ken Nahigian, Sept 2004

The Virgin Birth
(paraphrased from an email, January 2004)

“Was Jesus truly born of a virgin?” Good question. The gospels certainly say so, two of them at least. But what of the historical Jesus, if such existed -- the real breathing human who became the core and seed of the story? That may be something else.

To see why, look at how the story grew.

Scholars pretty much agree on relative dating of most of the NT, how the books connect. Paul’s early letters were first. At the best (earliest), they date to ten years after Jesus' death. Nothing we know was written about Jesus before that. Then the James and Hebrews epistles (40-45 C.E.). Scholars date Mark to 70-75 C.E., about forty years after Jesus' death. Matthew at about 80-85 C.E., Luke and Acts at about 85-90 C.E., and John at 110-120 C.E. – maybe as late as 140.

Between the early epistles and Mark came the Gospel of Thomas, the “book of sayings,” which never made it into the Bible. Scholars date it about 50-70 C.E., making it the oldest, most reliable gospel. (By tradition, the author was Judas Thomas the Twin, brother of Jesus.)

Now, you find no suggestion of a virgin birth in Paul’s authentic letters, do you? Nor in Thomas, nor in the James and Hebrews epistles, nor in Mark.

Paul doesn’t even mention the Virgin Birth when it would help his argument! That's interesting, don’t you think? All in all, physical miracles are fairly absent from his story. He does speak vaguely of a Resurrection, but in a way that seems spiritual, not physical.

Likewise, Mark's Jesus is almost totally human, though holy and devout like Moses, a radical rabbi who led a rebellion and was crucified. Like a good earthy Jew, he insisted that no one call him good, “for none is good save God alone,” and that if you want salvation and to enter heaven, you must “keep the commandments.” No Virgin Birth.

The first you hear of it is in Matthew.

Suddenly in Matthew and Luke, Jesus is God’s begotten son, born of a virgin. Much like Osiris, Adonis, Dionysus, Krishna, Mithra, Tammuz and other virgin-born saviors of the day. (Belief in other virgin-born, resurrected saviors was common, in fact so common an early Christian named Justin Martyr used it to defend Jesus. Pagans found it easy to believe in these other saviors, Justin argued, so what was the problem with Jesus being like them?)

Then in John’s gospel, Jesus becomes the Greek logos incarnate, the eternal “word” which was with God since before the world. It was a clear steal from Hellenic mystery cults. Heraclitus of Ephesus, the Greek philosopher, first used the term logos in the sixth century B.C.E; his description of it was just like the gospel of John.

Curiously, the Gospel of John doesn’t show much interest in Jesus’s birth either way. At one point the disciples just describe him as "Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth" (Jn 1:45).

But over all, do you see the pattern? A tale that grew in the telling:

Paul, the earliest writer, says nothing of a virgin birth, no raising the dead, no walking on water. A little healing but no big "wow" except a resurrection – maybe! Then zilch in James, Hebrews or the Thomas gospel. The next source, Mark, adds some miracles but no virgin birth, and no raising people from the dead. Possibly a real resurrection, but that missing end-chapter makes it uncertain. Matthew has a virgin birth, a clear Resurrection and even more miracles. Luke enhances the virgin birth and presents a slightly more miraculous person. John cranks it up another notch by making Jesus into a god-in-flesh, almost more spirit than human. By St. John’s Revelation, Jesus is a true avenging God, a being of wrath and fire.

The later the source, the more fantastic.

Ø  Jesus dies, history.

Ø  Paul hints at resurrection.

Ø  Mark shows an empty tomb.

Ø  Matthew/Luke add virgin birth, begotten son of God, post-resurrection appearances.

Ø  John makes him god-like.

Ø  The early Christian community makes him God.

I find this significant.

You would think that Paul and the author of Mark, and Jesus’s own brother Judas Thomas, charged with spreading the Good News, would have known and reported something as singular as a virgin birth – especially Paul, he would have made a big deal about something like that!

Even The Abingdon Bible Commentary finds the pattern compelling, at least with regards to the resurrection of Lazarus. This miracle appears only in John’s gospel. "He [John] is the only one to record the miracle of Lazarus,” it muses, “a miracle so incredible that it could hardly have escaped the attention of Paul, Mark, Matthew, and Luke had it really happened. Why did they not make mention of this miracle?"

Hints show up in the New Testament in other ways. If Jesus was virgin-born, for example, why the lengthy genealogies proving the “correct” ancestry of Joseph (Mt 1, Lk 3)? Remember, God had promised Abraham the Messiah would be of his “seed” (Gen 12:3, 22:18); David received the same promise (2 Sa 7:12; Ps 89:3, etc.; Ps 132:11). By Jewish custom this must mean bio-descent, not adoption. Paternal biological descent. I could never buy the spun-sugar story that Luke’s genealogy was really Mary’s, not Joseph’s, proving proper descent through Jesus’s mother. (Yes, the two geneologies differ. But for maternal ancestry, old Jewish lore cares not a fig. You can’t find one other example of it in the Bible. And if maternal descent does count, what’s the point of it? In a few dozen generations, most everyone in Israel would then be of Abraham’s and David’s “seed”.)

Besides, if the Luke genealogy was Mary’s, why does it not mention her? “Son” means “birth son” all through it except when it comes to the link between Joseph and Heli – then suddenly, it means “son-in-law” … Sorry, can’t swallow.

Re-reading the above, I am concerned it might disturb you. I hope not! The idea that human writers enhanced the Jesus story over time, making additions and changes, might be uncomfortable. But it’s just human nature. Early Christian writers were not nearly as fastidious as the ancient Jews about preserving their writings. It would be more amazing if they did not make changes.

Remember, not until about the middle of the second century do we find a written clue to anything like our present Gospels – that’s how little known they were in Christendom till then! In the third century, the Church father Origen complained about all the corruptions and changes that had crept into them and other religious texts. Scholars don’t doubt that our earliest manuscripts are interpolated and amended versions of the originals, and differ from those originals to a more or less considerable extent. The copyists of those days were in the habit of making marginal comments, references and additions to their texts, and frequently the next copyist just incorporated these notes. (We got the idea of the Trinity this way! I John 5:7-8 was originally a clerk’s marginal scribble, which some other scribe absorbed into the main text.)

That is why so many diverse versions of those early manuscripts exist. In the fourth century, St. Jerome griped that there were as many different versions of Matthew's Gospel as there were manuscripts. Celsus complained about how the Christians had re-written and altered their original Gospels. Our own oldest manuscripts of the NT books are fourth-century versions. In some cases, our modern Bible compilers ignored those in favor of still later versions.

The end of Mark is a well-known example. The oldest manuscripts ends with chap. 15, and other manuscripts at various points before the end of chap. 16. Some copyist added the account of Jesus’s reappearances after the disciples found the empty tomb. He probably swiped his materials from Luke.

All this should be no challenge to the honest Christian. Remember, the Bible itself admits it may contain human glitches and additions. In 2 Timothy 3:16, Paul says “all scripture is inspired of God” (literally, God-breathed), yet here and there Paul tells us that what he writes is just his own advice, and not from God at all (1 Corinthians 7:6,10,12,25; 2 Corinthians 11:17). So was God saying, "This is not God speaking"? A paradox.

Or was the Bible telling us it is not 100% scripture – that we must cherry-pick it for the truth? That makes more sense. To me at least.

Anyway, I do hope this answers your question. And I apologize for droning at such length. You just happened to hit on something that started cooking in my brain.

Peace to you. And thanks for a great project.

Ken Nahigian, Jan 2004

Genome and Evolution
(Email to creationist James Foard, 16 July 2002)

A few comments. I can't resist, though I truly have no time for this – and know I'll regret it later!

> if there was absolutely no similarity between ape and human chromosomes,
> none whatsoever, and in fact if there were no genetic similarity within
> family, genus and species groups, and if the genetic pattern were entirely
> random for creatures of morphological similarity, then evolutionists would
> point to that and say "Look, how can you say that there is evidence of a
> designer when the DNA pattern between humans and apes is so disimilar?
~ James

Thanks for letting evolutionists know what they'd think. Oooh, can I try? If paleontologists ever unearthed a perfect transitional series, fossil strata smoothly connecting modern humans right back to invertebrate ancestors, no gaps, gradations so fine as to be invisible, all preserved perfectly, in fact each critter falling down right on his daddy's grave to die, and all of 'em embedded in annual varves so that dating was unquestionable – then, then, creationists would point to it and say, "Look, how can you deny special creation, when God obviously created this to test our faith?"

Hey, that was fun. ;-) Forgive my tone of sarcasm, but I tasted a tang of sour grapes there. Here we have one of the outstanding testable predictions of evolution theory, confirmed with spectacular accuracy, and you just sluffed it off! Much as when creationists loudly mocked the idea of a land-mammal/whale link, then when scientists found a fossil, they immediately demanded links to the left and right of it. I must laugh, or I’ll cry.

James, I apologize now. But I also wonder, can you point to a single comparable, distinct prediction of creationism which has tested so cleanly true? For that matter, has creation science ever led us to any new discovery, any breakthrough, any findings that united data and opened the door to new & fertile research? Preferably something that would stand up in a refereed journal.

My question is sincere. Recall that "modern" creationism has been around since the heyday of George McCready Price, about a hundred years ago. No real progress in all that time? If that doesn't raise the red flag of pseudoscience, what does?

Offhand I cannot think of one living scientific discipline that's in roughly the same shape it was a century ago. Compare “creation science” to the achievements of astronomy, electronics, molecu­lar physics, geology, chemistry, medicine. Now compare it to astrology. Which is it more like?

Be honest now.

> When I make waffles and pancakes I follow a very similar recipe. The
> recipe for bread and muffins is similar, and that falls within a larger
> category of the recipes for cakes, pastries and breads. That falls within
> a greater category of overall traditional recipes for human consumption.
> These recipes all use a great variety of organic materials, along with
> water and salt, and are in a distinct category from the recipes for
> concrete and asphalt, or the recipe for car paint, which have to do with
> mostly inorganic compounds that come from non-living or long dead (tar)
> ingredients.
~ James

When preparing different foods, do you also duplicate eccentricities and glitches? Do those glitches fall into nested patterns? For example, if you sneeze while putting his first strudel in the oven, do you make a point to sneeze (or some variation of it) at the same point for subsequent ones? Later if a fly lands in the batter while you knead dough for that first strawberry strudel, do you carefully place a fly into succeeding strawberry strudel crusts, but none of the others? A strange way to cook, especially if the chef is omnipotent! But of course we see a pattern like that in codons – in the arbitrary precise "wording" of certain genes, in the placement of pseudogenes and endogenous retroviruses – just as we also see it in those well-worn anatomical flaws, such as the poor engineering of the human spine and eye. (The same pattern, too.)

By contrast, when you learn a nifty cooking technique, I bet you "borrow" it for divergent foods. For example, learning to separate eggs & whip the whites for a fine meringue pie – you might use the same trick for a dinner soufflé. With such cross-pollination of methods, obviously, foods & food recipes do not fall into neat hierarchi­cal, nested patterns, certainly not the kind we find when comparing DNA. Why? Because recipes are, in fact, the outcome of intelligent design. DNA is not. Codon-wise, pigs and cows are more similar to each other than to dogs; these groups together more similar than they are to rodents; all placental mammals more similar than to marsupials; all mammals more similar than to reptiles; and so on. Genetically, dolphins and whales are more like land mammals than fish. The genome of parasitic worms links them not to other parasites, but to other worms.

But crack open three or four cookbooks and see just how differently they classify foods. Some listing quiche with the baked goods, some with egg dishes, some with pies. (Damn, I'm getting hungry.) Cooking, being a practical technology and a multi-billion dollar industry, would benefit greatly from a universal standard of food classification, such as Carolus Linnaeus established for living things a century before Darwin. None such exists. Why?

Of course, the Grand Old Designer (GOD) could have chosen to design life with out such hierarchal patterns. He could have made four-legged insects, or grass-eating lions, or vertebrate plants, or mammals that use photosynthesis when food is scarce. He didn't. The creationist explanation is, GOD simply chose things this way. And of course that explains nothing – it is a Gumby model, a one-size-fits-all theory, that adapts to any pattern of evidence.

Evolution, at least, explains why things are one way and not another way. The buzzword is "falsifiable." Just like Biblical scholars who study old manuscripts of Genesis, comparing unconscious glitches and syntax variations to decide which scroll or codex derived from which. You know, mainline Christian apologists use the same logic to prove that Joseph Smith plagiarized parts of the Book of Mormon from the KJ Bible. Why does the logic stop working when we talk about evolution? I wonder.

But the “new” creationists seem to say that GOD did indeed plagiarize – deliberately designed living things into evolutionary classes, always modifying old features for a new purposes, even awkward and unrelated purposes, with old features ever taken from the higher taxis, rather than "going back to blueprint" and re-designing a creature from scratch, as humans often do with software or machines. If so, it seems unoriginal, limiting, and vaguely blasphemous. ... Unless, hmmm, it was all deliberate. And if the Grand Old Designer went to such deliberate effort to make evolution seem true, hadn't we better start believing it? Before we really get in hot water.

> the much ballyhooed "retraction" by Denton from his subsequent work was
> nothing of the kind: It is at best a muddled and mixed message where he
> compromises with the false evolutionary theory but still believes in
> intelligent design, much to the chagrin of evolutionists.
~ James

I suspect you meant "previous," not "subsequent." Also you may not recognize that theistic evolution is a variety of intelligent design. The real point is, Michael Denton originally denied common ancestry (of widely divergent species) and now accepts it. Once the darling of special creationism, he is now persona non grata. Please see Gert Korthof's other review at http://home.wxs.nl/~gkorthof/kortho18.htm. And Denton revised his view after a study of basic evidence he should have examined in the first place.

After his first book, fellow biologists approached him. Denton was surprised to learn about therapsids (mammal-like reptiles). Much less had he been aware of the almost continuous therapsid-mammal transition, nor of those cynodonts who had both reptilian and mammalian jaw joints. And while Denton admitted, under weight of evidence, that the modern horse de­scended from the Hyracotherium (aka Eohippus), he was apparently unaware that another fossil sequence, just as continuous, connects Hyra­cotherium to the rhinoceros, and yet another to tapirs (making horses, rhinos and tapirs cousins, all one “kind”). Yet such information was well in reach of any graduate student in paleontology! To the chagrin of creationists, Denton admitted he would have "written his book differently" if he had bothered to do such basic homework.

Then he did the homework, and what was the result? "Compromises with evolutionary theory." I think that's quite telling. Do you?

Ken Nahigian, July 2002

 

The LDS Church, the Mountain Meadows Massacre and Book of Mormon
(email to a Mormon friend, 9 Feb 1996)

In 1857, after early Mormons had settled in Utah, Brigham Young apparently wanted to consolidate his control of the territory, and feared an invasion. So he ordered a henchman, Bishop John D. Lee, to lead a band of Mormons and Paiute Indians against a wagon train passing through to California. Lee and his team slaughtered about 120 men, women and children, took their property to auction at the church tithing office, and left the corpses to rot on the plain. Twenty years later, authorities caught and executed Lee for the crime. (He even wrote a book about it, The Confession Of John D. Lee.)

You'll hear about the Meadows Massacre from evangelicals critical of Mormons, folk like Ed Decker and Richard Baer of the "Ex-Mormon Alliance." Apparently the incident, or something like it, really did happen. Testimonies from Lee's lieutenants and others also implicated Young (who died the year Lee was convicted).

But let us be fair. Bad as it was, the Meadows massacre was nothing, a mere peccadillo, compared to bloody skeletons hanging in the church closets of those same evangelicals.

Historians have estimated (conservatively I think) that 68 million people have died in various "orthodox" Christian wars, crusades and pogroms. The horrible murder of Hypatia in 415 A.D. (living flesh carved from her bones by Christian zealots, on orders from Archbishop Cyril of Alexandria, now honored as St. Cyril) was but an appetizer. What about the great Bartholomew's Day Massacre (1572), when good Catholics lured the Protestant Huguenots to Paris under guise of a wedding, then slaughtered them all? 10,000 dead at least, and Pope Gregory XIII later wrote to Charles IX of France, "We rejoice with you that with the help of God you have relieved the world of these wretched heretics."

Or what about the Catholic holocaust of Orthodox Serbs in Croatia, from 1941 to 1945, occurring with the full knowledge and support of Archbishop Aloysius Stepinac? Body count: 1.7 million. That's right, million. Meanwhile, Pius XII signed concordats with Mussolini, Franco and Hitler while Jewish families were being rounded up within view of the Vatican.

When the Crusaders marched into Jerusalem in 1099, killing Muslims, Jews and Coptic Christians alike, the chronicler Raymond of Aquilers rejoiced at how "the horses waded in blood up to their knees, nay, up to the bridle. It was a just and marvelous judgment of God...". And when Cromwell's Puritan forces landed in Ireland in 1649, his 17,000 men could hardly wait to slaughter the Catholic Irish. They marched into battle with psalm signing and Bible reading. After his first campaign, in which Irish men, women and children were exterminated like insects, Cromwell sent a dispatch to the House of Commons: "It has pleased God to bless our endeavor at Drogheda ... I wish that all honest hearts may give the glory of this to God alone..."

Then there was the Thirty Years War, famous for its nauseating atrocities. Sparked in 1618 by a religious squabble between German Protestants and the Catholic Hapsburgs, it destroyed almost one third the population of Europe. (In some regions you can still see the scars.)

But, pah. These are mere trickles compared to the worst Christian bloodbath of all time, one almost unknown in the West. This was the Taiping Rebellion, which killed 20 million from 1851 to 1864. Hung Hsiu-ch'uan, a Christian convert, proclaimed that God had commissioned him to make China a Christian state. The army he raised loosed a holocaust.

No, my friend; next to other denominations, the Latter Day Saints are, well, saints. Remember this next time someone tries to toss up the Meadows Massacre.

Moving on ... You also asked about forgeries in the Book of Mormon. I meant those bits that were obviously lifted, in whole or part, from the King James Version of the Bible. You asked, so I'll list them, but please understand that this is not an attempt to de-convert you. In fact be patient, bear with me, and I'll also venture just why I think such petty-change plagiarism is not a serious problem for the LDS.

The most obvious cases are:

Moroni 10 taken from I Cor 12:1-11
II Nephi 14 taken from Isaiah 4
II Nephi 12 taken from Isaiah 2
Mosiah 14 taken from Isaiah 53
II Nephi 13:1-18 taken from Matthew 6:1-23

According to LDS apologists, if I understand rightly, God or Jesus was here simply using similar language to convey similar ideas to the Nephites (Native Americans). Problem is, in these passages, even wording and punctuation follows the King James English almost exactly – and remember, the prophet Mormon supposedly composed those golden plates about 1000 years before the KJV of 1611. Worse, among the "lifted" passages are some known translating glitches and errors found only in the KJV. (Of course Joseph Smith knew only the King James Bible but had no idea what a sloppy version it is.)

For instance, I John 5:7 (KJV), the bit about the Father, Son and Holy Ghost bearing record, is echoed in III Nephi 11:27 & 36; but we know that the passage is not found in the earliest manuscripts of John – it was a late addition by a rambunctious scribe. (The Bible contains only two direct references to a Trinity, both late additions, and nobody in Christendom believed in a trinity until about 325 A.D.) Likewise, Mark 16:16 (KJV), another scribal interpolation, is echoed in III Nephi 11:33-34. Isaiah 4:5, a mistranslation in the KJV, appears with the error intact in II Nephi 14:5. (Isaiah 4:5 in the KJV is "For upon all the glory shall be a defense", but should be, "For over all the glory there will be a canopy", as it appears in the better editions.) Another mistranslation, Isaiah 5:25, is repeated word for word in II Nephi 15:25. (In the KJV: "And their carcasses were torn in the midst of the streets"; should be: "And their corpses were as refuse in the midst of the streets.")

Enough of this. Here is the counter-argument.

The Bible itself does the same thing. Please compare II Kings 18:17 - 20:11 to Isaiah 36:2 - 38:8 (KJV), two "separate" accounts of the same battle and its outcome. Parallels are obvious, and II Kings 19 and Isaiah 37 are identical. Word, for, word. Even the punctuation is virtually the same, a patent piece of plagiarism by some overly- enthusiastic scribe or translator.

Likewise even a cursory reading shows that I Chron 10 thru II Chron 36 steals much material from the Books of Samuel and Kings; in many places the text is precisely the same, often right down to those minutia of wording and punctuation. Just compare:

I Chron 10:1-11 to I Samuel 31
I Chron 11:1-3 to II Samuel 5:1-3
I Chron 17:1 - 18:14 to II Samuel 7:1 - 8:15
II Chron 4:11 - 9:24 to I Kings 7:40 - 10:25

… etc., etc. And likewise, Psalm 14 and 53 are largely identical, Psalm 70 simply paraphrases Psalm 40:13-17, Psalm 108 is a combination of Psalm 57:7-11 with 60:5-12. The story of the wicked Gibeahites (Judges 19:16-20) is a rather transparent rework of the story of Lot's visitors (Gen 19:1-11).

And these plagiarisms include occasional mistranslations, just like the BoM.

Nor is the NT much better. One of the best-kept non-secrets of Christendom, acknowledged openly by scholars, is that the Books of Matthew and Luke baldly crib from Mark, the earliest Gospel. Perhaps you've noticed how Matthew and Luke tend to agree (even use parallel language) when they recount incidents contained in Mark; in fact, of the 661 verses in Mark, 600 appear in Matthew and 300 in Luke either word for word or with minor changes. But when Matthew or Luke "pad" the story with details of their own, they diverge wildly, even contradict.

Clearly the anonymous authors of Matthew and Luke had a copy of Mark in front of them when they composed their own books. (Mark was written circa 64-70 A.D., Matt around 74 A.D., and Luke in 80 A.D., BTW.)

On top of it all, the Bible and the early Church often reworked material from earlier Pagan sources: The Ten Commandments from the much earlier Babylonian Code of Hammurabi, details of the Flood myth from the Epic of Gilgamesh and Epic of Izdubar, the Creation myth from an old Chaldean story, and, well .... ever hear of this fellow?

Born on December 25. Born of a virgin. First worshipped by shepherds. Had 12 disciples. Was crucified, after a last supper of bread and wine. Rose and ascended to heaven. Ascension celebrated on the Spring Equinox (Easter).

Right! It’s the Persian Mithra – his story recorded over 600 years before Christ.

I could go on. But you get my point. Sure, old Joseph Smith lifted material, consciously or unconsciously, from the KJ Bible. He had ample precedent for doing so. It was a way to get his point across. As old Joseph Campbell said, religion is a vehicle, a vessel; it is metaphor before fact, poetry before prose. It is not the truth of history, or the truth of science – but the truth of art, of music.

Some liberal Mormons say the story that BoM was translated from plates of gold hidden for millennia in the hills of Ohio should be taken as allegory or metaphor, because so much of what it says inspires them, offers hope & guidance or just plain makes sense.

Many (most) thinking Christians see the Bible this way also, a product of its era, to be mined for meaning on many levels. Like a sea of dark clouds that open occasionally to give flashes of light, glimpses of blue sky.

Another point (I'm giving you a lot of ordinance here, I hope you can use it!): Bashers of the LDS Church have made much of the supposed false prophecies of Joseph Smith. They emphasize, for example, how Smith prophesized that certain friends who bore witness to the gold plates of Moroni would reign with him in Heaven, yet three of these witnesses (Oliver Cowdery, David Whitmer and Martin Harris) later apostatized, recanted their testimony – and were excommunicated.

Maybe so. But pufi. Turning to the Bible, you'll find Jesus in much the same pickle. In Matt 19:28, speaking to the disciples, Jesus gave his solemn prophecy that the twelve of them, Judas included, would sit on twelve thrones in heaven and judge the twelve tribes of Israel. Unless you happen to believe that Judas was indeed saved (an idea to horrify most "orthodox" Xians, I don't know the Mormon view) this is just as big a problem.

I admit that in some predominantly Mormon areas, in Utah especially, the LDS church has overstepped, crossed the line between church and state. This upsets me greatly. But I can understand, seeing how Mormons are treated in other areas. Action/reaction.

My point was (and this is my last point, thanks for reading this far!), where the LDS church is active but not in the majority, it has a fairly good track record for keeping "orthodox" Xian fundamentalists at bay. After all, what Pentecostal demagogue will lobby for a public school commencement prayer if he thinks it might be a Mormon prayer?

Ken Nahigian, Feb 1996
 
 

Biblical Morality
(from a Usenet discussion, July 1994)

In a recent post, user Jedidiah demanded to know exactly how the Bible condones rape, slavery, human sacrifice, murder, killing children and intolerance of gays. Good question. 

The first two are easy enough. For one instance, God commanded murder in Num 25:4-5. Also, in Ex 32:27-28, at God's command, Moses had the Levites murder their brothers and friends over religious differences; three thousand die. For more mass murder, read Numbers 31:17-18 -- in this case note how the virgin girls were saved for the "use" of the Israelite warriors. Then, in Num 15:32-36, at God's command, a poor man is stoned to death for gathering a few sticks of firewood on the Sabbath. More?

At God's command, Joshua slaughtered all the inhabitants of the city of Ai, including women and children (Joshua 8:2, 24-25), and went on to obliterate Makkedah, Libnah, Lachish, Gezer, Eglon, Hebron, and all who lived in "the country of the hills, and of the south, and of the vale, and of the springs" (Joshua 10:28-37, 40). He killed everything, even suckling babies. The Bible devotes barely a phrase to each massacre, as if to say, Of course he killed them all, big deal, what'd you expect?

Saul, of course, butchered all the Amalekite citizens on God's order, including women, innocent infants and babes in arms (I Sam 15:3, 8). And why? Apparently because some Amalekite ancestors had dissed the Israelites about 450 years earlier (I Sam 15:2).

For general commandments condoning murder, look at Deut 13:6-10, where a man must slay his own daughter, wife, son or friend over a religious squabble; or read Deut 13:12-16, which commanded the Israelites to decimate whole cities for the same reason. If a city did not enslave itself immediately to the Israelites, God commanded them to kill all males and take the women and children as slaves (Deut 20:12-17). (But some cities must be destroyed utterly, children, babies, pregnant women, even animals!) Note also: Female prisoners of war are subject to the sexual whims of their captors, and have only a month of mourning for slain families (Deut 21:11-14). And according to Deut 22:20-21, if a woman turns out not to be virgin on her wedding night, she must die. By stoning.

Then there was David, who lived by robbery and unprovoked murder of men and women (I Sam 27:8-9), ordered murders (II Sam 5:20, 25), told his troops to kill ("smite") the blind and lame of the city of Zion (II Sam 5:8), tortured and killed prisoners of war (II Sam 12:31, I Chron 20:3), and in general carried on nasty. With his last breath, he betrayed an oath and advocated murder (I Kings 2:8-9). Yet, according to I Kings 11:6, 15:3-5 and Acts 13:22, King David followed the Lord completely; all his deed were morally right, except perhaps for those regarding his friend Uriah (one small bit of adultery and murder, see II Sam 11). David was a man "after God's heart", "had a perfect heart", kept God's commandments, did only what was right in God's eyes (I Sam 13:14, I Kings 3:14), and so on and so on and so on. How much more "condoning" do we need?

Fortunately the New Testament is a bit less murderous. But in Luke 19:27, Jesus tells the apostles to murder his enemies, or seems to. The words come at the end of a parable, and may just be part of it, but some scholars think it stands out as Jesus's direct command. See the Interpreters Bible, Vol. 8, p. 327; or the Jerome Bible Commentary, Vol. 2, p. 152.

(At this point, we need not wonder at the words of writer/philosopher Robert Anton Wilson. "The Bible tells us to imitate God," he wrote, "then page after page describes God as a mass murderer. This might be the key to the development of Western Civilization.")

Focusing now on the killing of children, where do I begin? God helped Moses to be a child murderer (Deut 3:3, 6). God punished a man by killing his innocent child (II Sam 12:14-18). Jehu, one of God's favorites, beheaded 70 innocent children and stacked their heads in two piles; this atrocity and others pleased God, who promised that Jehu's descendants would rule Israel (II Kings 10:6-8, 30). God accepted the slaughter of innocent children for a father's minor crime (Jos 7:20-26). And when 42 children teased Elisha about his bald head, God sent she-bears to rend them limb from limb (II Kings 2:23-24).

If that's not enough, read Lev 26:29, Jer 19:9 and Deut 28:53, where as punishment, God threatens or commands the cannibalism of children. Because Samaria rebelled against God, God ordained that its pregnant women be ripped open, and innocent children dashed to the ground (Hosea 13:16). Don't forget Psalm 137:9, which blesses those who dash Babylonian children against rocks.

For general commandments on child murder, please read how we must kill a child (by stoning) if, in a moment of anger, the child reviles either parent for any reason (Ex 21:17, Lev 20:9). Who hasn't? This is a normal part of growing up. The Bible also commands death for disobeying parents (Deut 21:18-21).

By now it is hardly shocking that the Bible also advocates child abuse. Some charming highlights: Do not withhold the stick (Prov 23:13-14, 13:24); "Blue wounds" cleanse away evil, beatings purge the soul (Prov 20:30); A good beating will drive folly from a child (Prov 22:15); Beating a child imparts wisdom (Prov 29:15). For a NT commandment to beat children, see Hebrews 12:6-8. Perhaps these verses are allegorical, but right-wing groups quote them even today to justify brutality toward children.

Slavery, now. God authorized it in Lev 25:44-46, for the "children of strangers" at least; and in Exodus 21:7 God even tells fathers how to sell their daughters into slavery or indentured servitude. Note: Read Ex 21:20-21. The master could beat the slave even to death, as long as the slave "lingers" a few days before dying. The reason: "For the slave is his property (money)." Obviously the Hebrew master had virtual power of life and death; to all intents, this was real slavery. In any case, true slavery was common enough in Roman Palestine, and NT verses such as I Tim 6:1-2, Titus 2:9, and Eph 6:5 certainly condone it. (See also I Peter 2:18-21, Colossians 3:22. Slaves must serve their masters in all respects, never rebel.) In fact, the Greek word rendered "servant" in the KJV is "slave" in all the more honest translations (REB, NAB, NIV, etc.).

In spite of ample opportunity, Jesus never denounced slavery. Once this baffled me. Eventually I found Luke 12:47, a verse where Jesus remarks almost off-handedly that rebellious slaves should be beaten. Obviously he had little problem with the institution.

Am I taking these out of context? Unlikely. At the first Southern Baptist Convention, in May of 1845, church leaders resolved unanimously that the Bible ordained slavery, and quoted the very same verses as proof-texts. More recently the Reformed Church in South Africa has used them to defend apartheid.

As for homosexuals, the verses condemning them are rather loudly broadcast by the Religious Right, so it should be easy to find a few. Try Lev 18:22 or Lev 20:13 (note it calls for the death penalty). For NT examples, see: I Cor 6:9-10; Rom 1:26-27, 32; I Timothy 1:9-10. (Oddly enough, the Bible directly condemns only male homosexuality, "man laying with man". Only one verse, Rom 1:26, might be critical of lesbianism, and this is far from clear.)

Some scholars, on the other hand, have suggestted that David & Jonathan were lovers (I Sam 18:3-4, I Sam 20:41, II Sam 1:26). Also, I believe old King James, who authorized the King James Bible, was gay. Then there's Jim Bakker.... But I digress.

Finally, human sacrifice. A bit of speculation here. You might check out Lev 27:28-30, which says that human beings "devoted" or "made sacred" to Jehovah must be put to death, and Ex 22:28-29, where God commands the Israelites to "give" him their firstborn. Then read Ezekiel 20:26, where God admits that the Israelites once immolated their firstborn children. Another little clue is Num 31:40, where "the Lord's share" of captured pubescent females was 32. We can only guess what that means.

But the case of Jepathah is clear enough. God accepted a human sacrifice, and in return, delivered Jepathah's enemies into his hands (Judges 11:30-32, 34, 39). In II Sam 15:3-8, God accepted the sacrifice, by dismemberment, of seven innocent men, and removed a famine.

Not least, there is Abraham. Read Gen 22. Yes, the angel stopped the knife; but obviously Abraham was at least willing to sacrifice his firstborn, and this willingness pleased the Lord. (If God simply wanted to test Abraham's faith, He could have devised a better test -- such as asking Abraham to give all his goods to the poor, or to cut off his own hand, perhaps.) The story may not shock you because you were conditioned to it from childhood. But just suppose you met a Hindu who casually mentioned that he would gladly slit his own son's throat for Vishnu. How warm and cozy would you feel about him?

Many scholars see such episodes as traces of an early Jewish and Canaanite tradition of human sacrifice. (I admit this is open to debate.)

Needless to say, other Bible verses do directly condemn murder and human sacrifice. And it is not difficult to find verses which may be construed to condemn child abuse, bigotry or slavery. The Bible is like that. During the Civil War, ministers of the North and South gleefully quoted the Bible at each other; and even today, in the rural South, in religious segregationist strongholds such as Bob Jones University, the debate is very much alive.

What does it prove? Only that the "monolithic Bible" is a myth. The real Bible is a complex, polymorphic book, or rather, collection of books; a cluster and bundling of many moral threads, mythical traditions and cultural outlooks, rather like a literary Rorschach ink-blot. In a work so wonderfully rich and multifaerous, so full of imagery and metaphor, so clouded with obscure language, one can find fragments to support almost anything. Is it any wonder that Christians who use the Bible as a moral guide have come down on both sides of every issue, from gay rights to the death penalty? Or any wonder that over 20,800 Christian denominations and sects exist today (according to the World Christian Encyclopedia), disputing one another on the most basic issues?

Older readers may recall how Adolph Hitler coasted into office on a platform of Biblical values mixed with anti-semitism, and how outspoken fundamentalist ministers in the United States (the Revs. William Bell Riley and Gerald Winrod, to name two) cheered him. At every step, they "proved" his case Biblically.

Likewise, rather few Christians regarded early-term abortion as murder until Pope Pius IX, in 1869, decided it must be viewed as such. (Prior to that the Church considered it a crime of conception only, not murder.) Suddenly anti-abortion crusaders found Bible verse after Bible verse "proving" the fetus is a person from conception.

Prohibition is another case in point. Temperance leaders managed to read the Bible as a "dry" book in spite of clear verses praising wine (Gen 27:28, Psalm 104:5, Prov 31:6-7, Jer 13:12, Judges 9:13, Ecc 7:29, Matt 11:19, Matt 26:29). (God even once commanded men to become drunk, see Jer 25:27.) And about a century ago, fiery fundamentalist John Hampten converted thousands to the "clear and unmistakable flat-earth teaching of the Bible" (using many the same tactics as creationists today).

Obviously the Bible is a pretty flexible book. The truth is, nothing in it directly condemns drinking or abortion. The Bible does not even have a direct injunction against rape, except perhaps for Deut 22:25-29, which requires the rapist of an unbetrothed virgin to pay a fine and marry her. (For raping a betrothed virgin the punishment is worse -- not surprising for a book that generally treats women as chattel.) Nor is there anything unequivocally condemning euthanasia, suicide, racial or religious bigotry, and other things which many now considered wicked.

Yes, you might invoke verses such as Deut 5:15, Matt 19:18 or Rom 13:9 against suicide or abortion. But first you must assume abortion or suicide is murder, which rather begs the question, don't you think? As in the case of slavery, it's easy to find general verses to condemn the bad thing indirectly, if you have already decided the thing is wrong. But you just won't find an unequivocal "Thou Shalt Not ..."

The Bible simply evades these basic (to us) moral issues, or buries them in vagaries and generalities. Yet it devotes page after page to picayune crimes and infractions, such as: Do not trim your sideburns (Lev 19:27); Tattoos are a sin (Lev 19:28); No woman may teach a man (I Tim 2:11-12); Never cook a young goat in its mother's milk (Ex 34:26); A widow must marry her brother-in-law (Deut 25:5); etc., etc.

Odd, isn't it? Odd, at least, if we insist that the Bible comes right from the hand an infinite, moral, omniscient God, a God Who foreknew the moral hotbuttons of our day, Who provided us the Bible as a moral guide, Who plenarily inspired it down to every jot and tittle. Would it have been so difficult to leave out the nonsense about sideburns, and add something like "Thou shalt not enslave thy brother," "Thou shalt not commit suicide," "Abortion is right out," or "Men, don't jack the sisters"?

Don't misunderstand. I respect the Bible; it is grand literature. But as a moral guide it stinks. Once we have already reasoned out an ethical standard, it's easy enough to select and interpret, post facto, verses to fit it. And such moral retrofitting is useful to some extent, a poetic way to underscore our convictions. But too often have believers turned it all around -- cast aside sweet reason, used the Bible as a moral roadmap with no rational court of appeal -- and historically, with what result?

Mountains of corpses; rivers of blood.

Taking a cue from the Reconstructionists, maybe those who demand a return to "strict Biblical values" should be sentenced to a history course on what has happened when societies tried to implement just such thinking. From the murder of Hypatia to the burning of the Alexandrian libraries, to the street massacres of Constantinople, the Crusades, the "Gallieo" incident, the Thirty Years War, the witch-hunts of Salem, the pogroms of Czarist Russia, the great Taiping civil war of China, and the current horror in Bosnia, the record will chill you. How easily we forget the dungeons of the Inquisition, the bones broken, skin flayed, flesh sawed and roasted, old men and women turned into bloody writhing puppets ... But such horror is part of the fabric of history, the bloody basalt on which the Church built its power. We must not forget. It happened. It can happen again.

But thoughtful Christians, of the mainline sort, will remember and agree. After all, the idea of a literal, perfect, plenarily inspired Bible is not a pillar of Christendom; it is not even Biblical. It is an aberration, an outgrowth of Mid-19th century revivalism. Most of the Christian fathers (who had some hand in editing and assembling the Bible) denounced the idea of Biblical inerrancy. In 248 A.D., Origenus Adamantus (Origen to his pals) wrote to deplore what he called the fanatical literal exegesis of the Bible. In the 4th century, St. Gregory and old St. Augustine also rejected the idea of a literal Bible. They taught that the first chapters of Genesis were allegorical; Augustine even suggested that some animals had developed from simpler forms!

Modern mainline denominations, such as the Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican, Episcopal, American Baptist and United Presbyterian, have all accepted an ancient earth and biological evolution. Great Christian apologists such as C.S. Lewis and G.K. Chesterson ridiculed the Literalists. In March, 1994, the Vatican released a document on "The Interpretation of the Bible," prepared by the Pontifical Bible Commission. It stated flatly that Biblical literalism is a form of "intellectual suicide", that God's word is "expressed in human language, ... by human authors possessed of limited human resources."

Perhaps the Bishop John Shelby Spong said it best. “I could not believe that anyone who had read this book would be so foolish as to proclaim that the Bible in every literal word was the divinely inspired, inerrant word of God. Have these people simply not read the text? Are they hopelessly misinformed? Is there a different Bible? Are they blinded by a combination of ego needs and naivete?”

In short, Literalism and Inerrancy are simply not issues in the learned halls of Rome, Canterbury or even Salt Lake City. But in the backwaters of Arkansas, in right-wing lobbies, among evangelical groups like Campus Crusade, and on this net, they are issues.

Strange.

Let me close if I may with one final quote, the words of writer William Mizner, a wise man.

"I respect faith," he said, "but doubt is what gets you an education. Men become civilized not in proportion to their willingness to believe, but their readiness to doubt. Where it is a duty to worship the sun, you can be sure it will be a crime to examine the laws of heat."

Ken Nahigian, July 1994