Religion and “Believers”
Abstract: A brief survey of the existing or possible “definitions” of the concepts of God and religion, is followed by a rather extensive consideration of the content, the history, and the impact on societies of the Christian religion, the most powerful religion on earth. Finally, on the basis of this consideration of Christianity and on the originally stated assumption of the innateness of rationality in humans, an effort is made to determine whether any human, as a member of society, can be a believer in the Christian religion or simply plays the role of a “believer”.
The text that follows is based on the assumption that humans innately have the potential to think rationally. If this assumption is correct, then the text that follows could arguably also be correct. If the assumption is wrong, then there is no need for this text, or any other text on religion, for that matter.
What is God and religion?
Can one define God? For the nonbelievers things are easy: if there is no God then there is nothing to define. But it seems that even mainstream scholars (theologians, etc) cannot define God or religion. Usually they use expressions such as “the word God is unique in its logic”, or “language is inadequate to speak of God”, or that “God is the ground being”, whatever all these expressions might mean.
Moving back towards the roots of the western culture we meet Xenophanes (ca. 560-478 BCE) of classical Greece who wrote: “[M]en imagine gods to be born and to have raiment and voice and body, like themselves... oxen, lions and horses if they had hands wherewith to grave images, would fashion gods after their own shapes and make them bodies like their own.”
Of all the “existing” gods the most important (and the most powerful) seems to be the God of the Christians. Here also, as expected by students of religion, there are problems in the concept (and the nature) of God. On the one hand there is the God of the Old Testamant (OT), who is the “God of wrath”, and on the other hand there is the “God of mercy” of the New Testament” (NT). “Much has been written drawing sharp contrasts between the ‘God of the OT’ and the ‘God of the NT’... The major difference is that the NT reflects the conceptual world of the late Hellenistic and early Roman periods (i.e. 100 BC to AD 100) a later stage in the intellectual history than the OT”. Of course, one is left to wonder how come an entity that is divine can be affected by the philosophical ideas of mere humans.
Going now to the concept of “religion” things are equally vague. Starting with the dictionary definition of religion we end up with “religion” as the “personal set of institutionalized system of religious attitudes, beliefs, and practices”, where “religeous” is defined as “relating to or manifesting faithful devotion to an acknowledged ultimate reality or deity.”
Again, mainstream scholars have doubts about such definitions; “An acceptable definition of religion itself is difficult to attain. Attempts have been made to find an essential ingredient in all religions (e.g. the numinus, or spiritual, experience; the contrast between the sacred and the profane; belief in gods or in God), so that an ‘essence’ of religion can be described. But objections have been brought against such attempts, either because the rich variety of men’s religions make it impossible to find counter examples or because the element cited as essential is in some religions peripheral.” Or, these scholars come up with expressions such as: Religion is at once infinite and mysterious, whatever infinite and mysterious mean.
However, one should not ignore one more dictionary definition that sees religion as “a cause, principle, or system of beliefs held to with ardor and faith.” So ideologies such as Soviet Marxism, Maoism, Fascism, Nazism, etc can be classified as religions. Or, if an individual holds “with ardor” the belief that the cause to end all torture on earth, to expose the police brutality in the police stations all over the earth, to try to stop the genocide in East Timor, or to try to diminish the number of children mutilated by personnel mines left in the fields of villages after a war conducted by the “Religiously Correct” powerful of the world, then this individual can be considered as a religious person.
In this sea of uncertain definitions Noam Chomsky comes to the rescue. He writes: “As for religion being ‘a part of every observable society’, if what is meant is that every society we know has sought to find some explanation for matters of deep human concern that we do not begin to understand (death, the origin of the universe, etc), that’s doubtless true. If one wants to call the constructs developed ‘religion’, OK. I do not see what that implies, apart from the fact - I presume it is a fact - that people seek answers to hard questions, and where understanding reaches limits (very quickly, in most areas), they speculate, construct myths, etc.” (Our emphasis).
It seems that the “theoretical” analysis of concepts such as God and religion is rather uninteresting and pointless, at least for quite a few people. What is important and needs to be analyzed and highlighted is the impact of religion on societies and especially on contemporary societies. The task assigned to this text is to examine the impact of mostly the Christian religion on humanity, which for 2,000 years had and still has enormous powers of all kinds.
The Christian Religion
The foundation of the Christian religion is the “fact” of the Resurrection, that is the rising of Christ from the dead. The “constructor” of the Christian religion itself, Paul the Apostle, confirms this view very candidly. He writes:
But if there be no resurrection of the dead, then is Christ not risen: And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain. (1 Corinthians 15:13-14, King James’ Version, KJV from now on)
Thus, all Christians are invited to believe that a human organism that was undoubtedly dead rose from the dead. A more accurate expression for “are invited” should be are pressed (first by the family, then the school and the church, and finally by the state and by the corporation, as emloyers) to belive that people rise from the dead.
This should not sound so strange. The tradition is rich and quite old:
Osiris, whose cult had spread from Egypt to Greece and Rome before the Christian era, was believed by his worshippers to ensure to them by his resurrection eternal life in a better world... Attis, whose rites spread from Asia Minor to the West during the same period, was each year at the vernal equinox bound in effigy to a pine tree, wildly lamented, and buried until the third day, when his joyful resurrection was hailed as a promise that his devotees too would rise triumphant over death... In token to this they were baptized in the blood of a bull... and ‘born again to eternal life’... [Cf. ‘Jesus Christ is the one who came with the water of his baptism and the blood of his death... The water and the blood... give the same testimony... The testimony is this: God has given us eternal life’- 1 John 5:6-11.] Dionysus... rose from the dead and ascended into heaven, and those initiated into his mysteries, in which his death and resurrection were enacted, were made partakers of his immortality.
Even Aristophanes in The Frogs (ca. 405 BC) had somthing to say on the matter of resurrection and “made Dionysus say of Hermes and of Hermes’s father, that performing resurrections was a family profession.” One should not forget that Hermes was the Greek God of commerce, eloquence, invention, travel and theft.
Now, suppose that an individual tries to persuade, say his neighbors, that he belives that humans can rise from the dead, e.g. after a car accident. Evidently, he would be considered insane and possibly dangerous. He would probably also lose his job. If the same individual says that he believes in the Resurrection of Christ he is respected as a sane, pious, upright person and is honored by his neighbors, the Church and the community, not to mention the state and the corporation, that he might be employed by.
So, does one take St. Paule’s words literally, allegorically, as a myth. or as part of the “practice” of the time period mentioned above? Whether one takes them literally or not, etc, is irrelevant at this point, later on we shall return to the problem of allegory, etc, what is relevant here is that the Resurrection is the foundation of the Christian religion.
At a lower level of importance the fundamentals of Christianity include: revelation and salvation.
“The secret things belong unto the Lord our God: but those things which are revealed belong unto us and to our children for ever...” (Deuteronomy 29:29). How are those things revealed? Through visions and through the audible voice of God, either while one is awake or in dreams. Revelation is described as being similar to some drug-induced experiences or drug-induced “higher” states of consciousness. The Christian religion considers revelation superior to reason.
Paul N. Siegel writes: “The claims of revealed religion have been defended not only on the basis of alleged miracles... but on the basis of what is alleged to be a direct communion with God. This communion gives a sense of peace and assurance, and this blissful feeling is said to be convincing evidence of God’s existence... Not only is this dubious logic but the same could be said by the user of amphetamine, which likewise gives an enhanced feeling of well-being...”
And to whom are those revelations offered as a gift by God? As with most things in the Christian religion there are various “estimates” as to who is worthy for such a divine gift. One estimate is that only some are privileged to see or hear God. An analogy, offered by a theologian, is that only “some are ‘privileged’ to understand a joke when others do not” For example Calvinism declared that worldly success is a sign of membership in the elect arbitrarily chosen by God. However, the theologian cited above adds that by using the proper “techniques” any man “can have reasonable expectation of a view of religion from within.”
Another estimate, adopted by the majority of theologians, is that things are not that complicated but that the problem of revelation is childishly simple. All you have to do is say words similar to the following: “I confess Jesus as my Lord and Savior and I come to you God in the name of your son Jesus. I confess I am a sinner and ask forgiveness for all my sins. I now invite you to be Lord of my life.” If you were sincere, if you meant it from your heart, then that’s it! You are saved! Of course if you say that you were sincere yet there was no response from the Lord, the theologian has the answer: you did not try hard enough. You should try harder and so on.
During the English Revolution of the 17th century the Christian sects as part of the plebeian masses were the moving force behind the revolution. As mentioned above, Calvinism declared that the rich were the chosen of God. “The sects denied that the poor were damned and asserted that the salvation came through an intense religious experience, which was more likely to come to those not corrupted by wealth... The sects denied the need for formal learning to know the ways of God... but (one could attain knowledge of God) through the ‘Inner Light’, the spiritual spark capable of bursting into flame and revealing God, that was the posession of every human being.”
Why did the “representatives” of the God of the Christian religion paint themselves into a corner, since any human being can easily have an immediate proof of the lack of revelation, no matter how hard he tries to “generate” one? One answer could be that the 2000-year success of Christianity made it confident enough to declare its dicta as the truth.
Here is a recent example confirming this “confidence”: In 1995 there were two metropolitan bishops fighting for the throne of the Church at the town of Larisa, in central Greece. The word “fighting” should be taken literaly, as the police for years had been separating their supporters in violent battles in the streets of Larisa. The bishops were Ignatios, who was officially chosen by the Church and confirmed by the state, and Theologos the officially rejected pretender of the throne.
In May of 1995, during the celebration of the patron saint of the town of Larisa, Theologos, the pretender, together with his supporters occupied the local cathedral and celebrated mass. Ignatios, the official bishop, did not dare intervene, because there was no police protection available. The reason was that the police was busy helping out the government in its work after an earthquake that hit the area before the celebration of the patron saint.
The conclusion of the pretender and his supporters was that God through the earthquake kept the police busy, so that Ignatios, the official bishop, would not dare celebrate mass without police protection. Theologos, taking for granted that he was God’s favorite, in a press conference after the mass, expressed this conclusion very politely thus: “I would plead that all of us dwell on the earthquake in order to obtain our lessons. When God speaks so strongly we should keep silent.”
The reader of the present text is warned not to take the modern Greeks as barbarians who at the doorstep of the third millenium consider earthquakes as the tongue of God. It is the Greeks, modern or otherwise, who consider the rest of the human race as barbarians, because they consider themselves as the chosen people of the God of the Greek Orthodox Christian faith. Notice the word Greek before the word Orthodox. Also notice that the word “Orthodox”, a Greek word, means “having the correct faith”. They could claim that St. Paul did “flirt” the Athenians, the Corinthians, the Thessalonians, etc, in oder to build (or “constructe”) the Christian religion. The case of who are the barbarians is a bit complicated, as there are many “chosen” peoples around, e.g. the Germans, the Russians (of the 19th century), the Americans, the Jews, the French, etc. The only reasonable way to settle the matter is for God to reveal the truly chosen one. And this is something that one can expect from God as he has the nack of revealing things to a rich variety of people. Take for example the case of Clarence Thomas, the African American US Supreme Court justice, who “is convinced that he is on a mission of God... Thomas told his close friend Armstrong Williams that ‘God’s law’ led him to rule against affirmative action... He told Williams that ‘Jesus said `sin no more!`’ That is what I have to do.” Or take the example of the Million Man March in October 1995 in Washington, D.C. and the Rev. L. Farrakhan, who claims “that the idea for the march was divinly inspired.” These are part of the impact of religion on a human society at the end of the second millennium.
Thus, one could agree with Bakunin who said that “God being master man is the slave. Incapable of finding justice, truth, and eternal life by his own effort, he can attain them only through divine revelation.”
In human religious history there are about 15 suffering saviors very similar to Jesus, the savior mentioned in the Christian religion. We have already mentioned Osiris, Attis, and Dionysus, who originated from the periphery of only the Agean Sea. A geographical extension of the search will come up with that not insignificant number of 15. “These similarities, according to Justin Martyr and Tertullian, were due to the wicked devil anticipating and imitating Christianity...” Justin Martyr (c. 100 AD - c. 165 AD) was a Greek philosopher- Aplogist in the early Christian Church. Tertullian (c. 159 AD - c.220 AD) was an important early Christian theologian, polemicist and moralist.
The name Jesus is derived from the Hebrew root meaning “salvation”. So salvation, in a way, is built-in in the Christian religion. Christ, the title of Jesus, is the translation in Greek of the Hebrew word “messiah”, the anointed one.
In the Old Testament the word “salvation” has all kinds of meaning, but it seems that things end up with its apocalyptic meaning as expressed in the verse that follows:
“And I will feed them that opress thee with their own flesh; and they shall be drunken with their own blood, as with sweet wine: and all flesh shall know that I the Lord am thy Saviour and thy Redeemer, the mighty One of Jacob.” (Isaiah 49:26, KJV)
In the New Testament things at first seem to be confused and complicated, in relation to Christ as the Messiah. Jesus does not fit the clearly identifiable messianic prophesies of the Old Testament. Also during the first century after the death of Christ, Jews were rejecting Jesus as the Messiah. Finally, St. Paul declaring that the consummation of salvation is not for humans to grasp says:
“But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.” (1 Corinthians 2:9, KJV)
However, in spite of all these, the message of salvation in the New Testament is quite clear and quite simple, as expressed by Jesus himself, who says:
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16, KJV)
The message is crystal clear: non-believers go to Hell, believers to Paradise. Yet, as is usual with Christianity, or any other human community for that matter, the clarity of Jesus’ statement has been vehemently disputed among Christians. One side (Luther) insisted that “justification”, that is the act of God absolving the sinner from sin, was achieved by faith, not works. The other side (Catholics) claimed that both faith and works were necessary for justification.
Accepting the above cited words of Christ we end up with a situation in which all people born before the birth of Christ go to Hell. Also the same holds for all the people born after the birth of Christ, but who have never heard of him, say the native Americans, before Columbus. In reality, things are even worse. Jesus himself prophesied that his kingdom would come in glory before some of those listening to him died, when he said:
“Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass away, till all be fulfilled.” (Luke 21:32, KJV)
Christianity has not answered yet on this chronological problem.
Going now to the theme of paradise, the available information, again from St. Paul, is the following:
“And I knew such a man, Whether in the body, or out of the body, I cannot tell: God knowth;) How that he was caught up into paradise, and heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter.” (2 Corinthians 12:3-4, KJV)
All we learn is that: first, we cannot be informed if, when in paradise, we shall be in our bodies or out of our bodies, and second, that it is mostly unlawful to relate the conversations taking place in paradise. Jesus himself does not offer enlightening information on paradise. To one of the “malefactors” that were being crucified with him, Jesus simply said:
“Verily I say unto thee, To day shalt thou be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:43, KJV)
The Old Testament, as expected, does not agree with the notion of paradise. The Ecclesiastes (the “haranguer” in the Hebrew root), a mysterious unknown individual even by biblical standards, definitely turns things upside down:
“For the living know that they shall die: but the dead know not anything, nor have they any more a reward; for the memory of them is forgotten.” (Ecclesiastes 9:5, KJV)
Later Luther tried to, at least, inform the Christians about who goes to paradise. So, Luther, because of “his zeal against the rebellious (poor German) peasants... proclaimed that those who died fighting against them were ‘true martyrs for God’ who were assured of salvation. Apparently, killing peasants was a ‘good work’ so extraordinary that it guaranteed salvation regardless of whether or not it was performed with a pure heart.”
Much later, a part of humanity tasted paradise, also known and as “heaven”, even while on earth. “Black churches in the North had split off before the (American) Civil War from the white churches of which Blacks had been members. Aside from the desire of Blacks to express themselves in their own form of worship, they had being segregated withing the churches, being consigned to galleries or ‘nigger heavens’.” Some could argue that this is a rather trivial impact of the Christian religion on society. There has been much worse taking place for almost 2,000 years. The people in the “nigger heavens” would not be willing to agree.
Now, how about Hell? Again the information in the Old Testament is minimal and sketchy:
“And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life and some to shame and everlasting contempt.” (Daniel 12:2, KJV)
In the New Testament, Hell, the place of eternal punishment, was (and is) an important theme since the early days of Christianity. The Revelation, the last book of the New Testament, gives a quite vivid (and infantile) description of the hellish atmosphere by painting seas and rivers of blood, lakes of fire, etc. The Revelation was written by an unknown individual who has given to us only his name, John, and who nevertheless took care in his writing to express, admittedly indirectly, his sexual preference, as this is offered in Revelation 14:4 where we are told that the men who “were not defiled with women; for they are virgins... These were redeemed from among men, being the first fruits unto God and unto the Lamb.” The Revelation was written by John in AD 95 or AD 96 on the Greek island of Patmos, where he was exiled, but also maybe it was written by a “committee”. Who knows?
At this point a parenthesis is in order. The Revelation is a rather “queer” text of low quality (and content), was written in Greek that is grammatically and syntactically crude. Yet phrases taken from that text were the basis for the attainment of one of the greatest achievements of the human mind; Handel’s “Messiah”. Especially the renowned “Hallelujah” chorus part, which is based on Revelation 19:6, 11:15, and 19:16. Fortunately, the librettist, Charls Jennens, who selected the verses from the Bible and offered them to Handel, was careful, to his credit, to avoid any blood dripping or fire spewing biblical words, especially those from the Revelation. What if he had chosen to include the Revelation’s rather “disturbing” image of the angels, saints, et al, with a twoedged sword coming out of their mouth. A sword?
So, will unbelievers and those whose date and place of birth did not allow them to know Christianity end up in Hell? There is no consensus about this among the Christians but the answer of the majority seems to be, yes! And not only that but they are trying to persuade non-Christians that this should be so. A situation described quite accurately by Muir Weissinger who writes: “The delusions sustained by Faith maybe weeping virgins, green spacemen or engraved troop-invitations (of the soviets in Afghanistan) - the possibilities are endless. But the social problem created by these delusions is the great almost psychotic need of the ‘deluded’ to initiate other people into their fantasy world; hence all Faith systems are or have at some time been messianic.” For almost 2,000 years the initiation tool of Christianity has been the Bible, which also prescribes through the words of Jesus the fate that awaits those that do not “hear” and do not “receive” the message. He says:
“And whosoever shall not receive you , nor hear you... verily I say unto you, It shall be more tolerable for Sodom and Gomorrha in the day of judgment, than for that city.” (Mark 6:11, KJV)
A canon is a list of books that are accepted as authoritative, because they present the word of God. It took about 1,000 years to compile the canon of the Old Testament, that is to select the books that go in the list, from a plethora of existing religious books. Who selects the books? Ordinary humans or “committees” of ordinary humans. This means that what is acceptable to be the word of God is decided by non-divine entities. Quite a peradox.
After centuries long disputes, around 500 BC it was decided by some individuals that the first 5 books of what now is the modern Bible will constitute the “Torah”, the central document of the Jewish faith. In the fifth book, the Deuteronomy, there is a warning that is important for the faithful to help them check the authority of the sacred texts:
“And if thou say in thine heart, How shall we know the word which the LORD hath not spoken?
When a prophet speakth in the name of the LORD, if the thing follow not, nor come to pass, that is the thing which the LORD hath not spoken, but the prophet has spoken it presumptuously: thou shall not be afraid of him.” (Deuteronomy 18: 21-22)
This means that the prophets of the Old Testament Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Daniel had “spoken presumptuously” as their prophesies did not “come to pass”. The same holds also for Jesus and Paul, for the same reason. For Jesus, see the chronological problem with his listeners, which was mentioned earlier.
During the first century, the Christian church accepted the Jewish scriptures and it had no distinctive Christian canon. Then in a period of only 75 to 100 years the texts that later were chosen to become the New Testament canon, were written, starting with Paul’s letters around the 50s or 60s of the first century.
Here it is very important to note that the chronology of the events of the entire New Testament is based on the extrabiblical evidence that links Paul’s first visit to Corinth, in 51 to 52 of the first century, to Lucius Gallio, the Roman proconsul of Achaia (the Roman province that included the lower half of the Greek peninsula). This evidence is an inscription on stone that was found in Delphi, the seat of the ancient Greek oracle, which mentions Gallio as proconsul of Achaia during the reign of the emperor Claudius. This means that the entire edifice of the chronology of the New Testament rests on the three pieces of marble that bear the engraved name of Gallio and which were found by luck.
It is also important to dwell a bit on the events of the first visit of Paul to Corinth:
“After these things Paul departed from Athens and came to Corinth. And found a certain Jew named Aquila... and his wife Priscilla... And because he was of the same craft, he abode with them and wrought: for by their occupation they were tentmakers. And he reasoned in the synagogue every sabbath... and testified to the Jews that Jesus was Christ (the Messiah). And when they (the Jews) opposed themselves, and blasphemed, he shook his raiment, and said unto them. Your blood be upon your heads; I am clean: from hence forth I will go unto the Gentiles. (Meaning the Greeks of Corinth.) And he departed thence and entered a certain man’s house , named Justus, one that worshipped God, whose house joined hard on the synagogue... Then spoke the Lord to Paul in the night by a vision, Be not afraid, but speak, and hold not thy peace: For I am with thee, and no man shall set on thee to hurt thee: for I have much people in this city. And he continued there a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them. And when Gallio was the deputy of Achaia, the Jews made insurrection with one accord against Paul, and brought him to the judgment seat. Saying This fellow persuadth men to worship God contrary to law. And when Paul was now about to open his mouth, Gallio said unto the Jews, If it were a matter of wrong or wicked lewdness, O ye Jews, reason would that I should bear with you: But if it be a question of words and names, and your law, look ye to it; for I will be no judge of such matters. And he drove them from the judgment seat. Then all the Greeks took Sosthenes, the chief ruler of the synagogue, and beat him before the judgment seat. And Gallio cared none of these things. And Paul after this tarried there yet a good while, then took his leave of the brethern, and sailed thence into Syria... (The Acts 18:1-18, KJV) (Words in parantheses in the text are ours.)
No need to comment on the text. However the following remarks are useful: First, the “business” of God speaking to people at night through visions was a quite common “practice” at that historical epoch. Second, it is confirmed that the first century Jews did not accept Jesus as the Messiah, and third, the newly coined (Greek) Christians instead of being suffering martyrs they went around beating people for not accepting Jesus as the Massiah.
Now back to the texts of the New Testament canon. Following Paul’s writings the Matthew, Mark, and Luke Gospels (the “synoptic gospels”) were written, between AD 70 and AD 100, starting with Mark. The John Gospel was the last to be written.
The Matthew, Mark, and Luke Gospels originated as oral tradition and only later were written down. Matthew and Luke are based on Mark and on a (mystreious) “source” of Jesus’ teachings labeled “Q” (from the German Quelle, source). The Q material consisted entirely of Jesus’ sayings and has nothing about his birth, death, or resurrection. Finally, it is debatable if John was one of the apostles, that is an eyewitness to the events around Jesus. Almost all of the New Testament authors are unknown. The practice of that time was to write these texts communally and anonymously. This does not bother the Christian church, as long as the texts are part of the canon of the New Testament. There are no original texts of the New Testament writings. All there is are copies of copies of copies...
So, the canon of the New Testament was compiled by selecting the “cream” (by whom?) from a much larger body of existing Christian writings. For example, there were more non-canonical gospels around than canonical ones! The process of selection was gradual and seems to have reached the canon acceptable today in AD 376.
To summarize: The Bible purports to have the authority of God behind it, no one knows who wrote the various books included in it, and no one knows who selected these books to be part of the Bible.
Finally how does one read the Bible? Does one read it literally? The Christian “trick” is to read literally at some points, e.g. as to the resurrection of Jesus, and to read it metaphorically, allegorically, etc at other points, e.g. the Genesis.
James Ussher (1581 - 1656) was an Anglo-Irish prelate and scholar “who in 1654, analyzing the ‘begats’ in Genesis and combining his results with other biblical hints, concluded that the earth was created on October 26, 4004 BC at 9:00 in the morning. Later biblical exegetes emended the date somewhat: if the Genesis is correct, the earth is no more than a few thousand years old.” The number in current use is 6,000 years.
“The oldest rocks yet (1982) dated on earth are granites from Greenland, approximately 3.8 billion years old... moon samples and all meteorites always yield dates of about 4.5 billion years... geologists estimate the age of formation of the earth at about 4.5 billion years ago.”
Are there people who believe that the earth was created 6,000 years ago? The answer is: yes! Millions of men and women profess to “believe” that. Other millions say that you should read the Genesis metaphorically, etc
Many attempts were made to find archaeological evidence of a worldwide flood. None was found. Also, there is no geological evidence that such a flood took place in the past 6,000 years.
There are tens of thousands of cultures on the planet. In all these cultures there are legends that originated from floods that were local. For example, the Zoroastrian flood was “to the high of a man’s armpits.”
The most important Flood legend is that of the Gilgamesh Epic, which was written on tablets by the Southern Mesopotamians long before the Genesis was written. There are tablets dating as far back as the first half of the second millennium BC. Even mainstream scholarship accepts that the Bible story of Noah’s ark and the Flood is based on the Gilgamesh Epic.
In addition to that, common sense disputes the logistics of the Ark operation:
How could Noah and his people find, catch and transport more than 200,000 distinct species of beetles?
Were there kangaroos from Australia, or penguins from Antarctica in the Ark? Who brought them to the ark from there and who retuned them to Australia or the Antarctica?
How did Noah feed tens of thousands of animals for over 100 days? Etc, etc.
Does one read the story of Noah’s Ark literally or as an allegory?
Again there are millions of men and women that profess to “believe” that the story of the Flood and the Ark is true.
There are numerous lists that have been compiled by various people over the years which classify the atrocities described in the Bible. Actually, any teenager can very easily make his own list of Biblical atrocities. The material is abundant. The same holds for the contradictions and the absurdities contained in the Bible.
No need to repeat here either the atrocities in the Biblical lists or those that were carried out by the Christians in the centuries that followed the death of Jesus; the Inquisition, the Crusades, the Holocaust, etc. The three cases presented below, were chosen to highlight the fate of woman in the hands of the faithful.
A single Bible verse is responsible for the death of hundreds of thousands of women over the centuries in the hands of the Christians. The verse:
“Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.” (Exodus 22:18, KJV)
The impact of the religious “tool” of witch-hunting on women was vile. Who does not recoil in disgust to find, for example, that two Dominican friars, Heinrich Kraemer and Johann Sprenger after securing from Pope Innocent (!) VIII the licence to witch-hunt initiated a “pyromanic” assault on the women of Europe and then of America, when the Protestants joined the witch-hunt and improved the “sport”. The “theoretical” foundation of the work of the pious friars rested on the “existing” sexual relationship between the women and the Devil. The “instrument” for the application of that theory was the above verse in Exodus 22:18. The horror becomes even greater if one takes into account the fact that the Christian faithful were most frequently accusing their neighbours, usually old women, for witchcraft and sent them on their way to be burnt alive.
The following is a command, to Eleazar, the priest, and to all the princes of the congregation, by the revered Moses, the one that God trusted to bring to us the Ten Commandments (of which, by the way, there are three versions: Exodus 20, Deuteronomy 5, and Exodus 34!):
“Now therefore kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman that hath known a man by lying with him. But all the women children, that have not known a man by lying with him, keep alive for yourselves.” (Numbers 31:17-18 KJV)
These commands were given almost thirty centuries ago. The case that follows is more recent.
The preceding paragraph was written on September 22, AD 1998. The incident that is reported below took place on Sunday, August 9, AD 1998 in Corinth, that is only 43 days ago.
An Iraqi man accused of drowning his sister because of an alleged premarital affair claims that Islamic law obliged him to take her life, media said yesterday. Karouan Kadar, 26, was arrested Sunday in Corinth, about 80 kilometers west of Athens, after witnesses told authorities he pushed his sister Kioskan, 30, into the sea following an argument, police said. ... Kadar told the police he killed his sister because she had been violating the law of the Koran, the Muslim holy book, by conducting sexual affairs in Germany, where she resided. “He continues to believe that he carried out a sacred duty,” said Corinth police chief Yiannis Papadopoulos. According to the Koran, a woman can be punished by death for conducting an adulterous affair, but only if there are four witnesses to the event and if she is convicted by a religious court. But such a punishment is rarely imposed because of the difficulties in finding witnesses. Greek authoritirs said the two had been travelling overland from Germany to Iraq, where their parents were allegedly waiting to kill the woman as a punishment for her actions. The woman attempted to escape by fleeing (on) an Athens-bound train, police said. Her brother pursued her when she left the train during a stop at Corinth and allegedly pushed her into the sea in the port of Agios (Saint) Nikolas, knowing she could not swim, officials said. Corinth police arrested Kadar after he boarded the train to Athens. He fainted while in police custody after learning he was being charged with murder, and was treated at a hospital. He is to appear in court today. (Associated Press)
The Greek papers had the additional information that the brother had already telephoned his mother and she gave her permission for the killing. Also it is worthwhile to try to understand why the brother fainted. If he really believed “that he carried out a secrade duty”, he would probably accept his fate stoically, if not with pride. However, it seems that at some point, as a rational human, he realized that he was going to spend the rest of his life rotting in a Greek jail, just for playing a role in a barbarous and stupid “theatrical play”. The audience being a couple of dozen people, his neighbours, back in his home town in Iraq. Will his mother now walk with pride among those neighbours? Or, at a moment of lucidity she will hate herself for what she did?
Islam is a kin religion to the Christian religion. A Martian or an other planetary visitor to the earth observing from his perspective the various religions of our planet would not find great differences in the core of these religions, especially between Islam and Christianity.
One could claim that the impact of these religions, especially those of Christianity and of Islam, has not changed in the course of time, either in intensity or in the basics of that impact. For example, the history of the murders, etc, out of the US abortion clinics could be easily included in a book to be incorporated in a future addition to the New Testament canon. Things become even more clear, for the above thesis, when one examines contemporary Saudi Arabia, Iran, Algeria, Afghanistan,etc.
The Virgin Mary
The virgin birth of a god was a theme common in the Greek and other religions. Venus, the goddess of sexual love is depicted as springing from a seashell. Mithra, the Iranian god of light, is described as being born from a rock, the birth being witnessed by shepherds on December 25 (!). The story of the virgin birth of Alexander the Great (4th century BC) from his mother Olympias, whose reputation was not that of a virgin, was used to prove Alexander’s divinity. And so on...
In the Christian faith, Paul, the first of the founders to put things in writing, nowhere mentions the virgin birth of Jesus. The only references on the matter are those of Matthew and Luke:
“Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise: When his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Ghost.” (Matthew 1: 18, KJV)
“And the angel said unto her Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favour with God. And, behold, thou shall conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shall call his name JESUS.
“Then said Mary unto the angel, how shall this be, seeing I not know a man? And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee,...” (Luke 1:30, 31, 34, 35, KJV)
The rest is two thousand years of weeping icons, innumerable Lourdes-type “enterprises”, etc.
On January 30, 1987 the Religious Service of the Greek Police through the document 9002/1/1, addressed to the “Holy Synod” of the Christian Orthodox Church of Greece, requested the approval by the Holy Synod of the sanctioning of Saint Artemios as the “patron saint” of the Greek Police. On February 2, 1987 the Synod replied through the document 214, that it “was well pleased to approve” the request of the Police.
To complete the “transaction” one more document was needed, which is the Presidential Decree No. 398, issued on September 28, 1987 which decrees that Saint Artemios “Is recognized as the patron saint of the Greek Police Force.” The document is signed by the President of the Republic, none other than Christos Sartzetakis, the examining judge in the murder by the Greek state in 1963 of Gregory Lambrakis, a parliamentarian of the Left, on which murder the famous film “Z” was based. “Verily”, society is quite complex.
Mr. John Snyder, the dean of the US gun lobbyists, in 1996 was lobbying “for the sanctity of firearm rights.” So, Mr. Snyder “founded the Saint Gabriel Possenti Society to lobby for the establishment of Saint Gabriel as the patron of hand gunners. St. Gabriel was canonized by the Vatican in 1920 after righteously brandishing two handguns to save the Italian town of Isola from brigands.
To demonstrate shooting prowess, Mr. Snyder fondly related, St. Gabriel spied a lizard darting across the road at the critical moment of the standoff. He drilled it dead with a single shot and with that drove the marauders into retreat. Thus, the society medal, available to $100 contributors, depicts the saint flanked by a pistol and a lizard and hails ‘Marksmen-Defenders of the Faith’.” The US always being the leader in private enterprise, no need there for the state to sanction a patron saint. Nevertheless, there is still the fundamental question: how come mere humans decide on things divine?
Did Christianity have any positive impact on society? We find at least two very important cases: First, the contribution of the Latin American church to the socio-political arena with its “preferential option for the poor” and second Cristianity’s contribution through the ages to the Arts.
The story of the heroic humanitarian work of Latin American priests and of the laity in the US, in helping the Central American refugees in the US itself, is more or less known. Also, the murderous reaction of the US government toward this movement and the unbelievably immoral stance of the Pope and the official Church in general, is again more or less known.
This humanitarian contribution originated with ordinary people that were associated with Christianity. Yet, to our mind a question is raised: Did these people, priests and laity, act the way they did, as Christian believers or as ordinary people resisting the barbarity of the North American state in a similar manner to that of the Resistance Fighters against the Nazis during WWII? The analogy seems to be justified. The Resistance against the Nazis was carried out by ordinary people whose principal aim was to fight the Nazis (in Latin and Central America to fight the US barbarity). When they entered the Resistance most Europeans did not do that on the basis of some political ideology. The fact that the communist parties in the different counties were the leaders in the Resistance, was due, among other things, to the event that they could offer their organizational apparatus to the struggle against the Nazis. It seems logical to conclude that also for those resisting the US in the Americas, the existing organization of the Church was a vehicle for them to achieve their humanitarian aims. That in the process of resisting, both the Resistance Fighters against the Nazis and the resisters against the US were politically radicalized was a (happy) collateral event.
The contribution of Christianity to the Arts is immense. The contribution to painting and sculpture during the Renaissance and the period of the Baroque is the most important. This contribution was basically material (mostly financial), but also it offered the stories in the Bible from which the artists chose their themes. The artistic works that were created are part of the heritage of humanity.
In architecture the results were not as rich and diverse as in painting and sculpture. Of course the gothic cathedral is a beautiful and impressive work of art. Yet it had an inherent restraining technical factor. The cathedral has as its basic structural element the stone arch. The stone arch is a structure that exploits in a perfect way the laws of physics (in this case of statics) using only the existing natural materials, simple stones. However, there are two important weaknesses: First, the span of a stone arch can only be moderate, second even the least movement of the two points on which the arch rests will cause the arch to collapse. (That is why all cathedrals should be considered as very dangerous places in case of an earthquake. The latest case is that of the collapse of part of a cathedral during a quake in Italy.) This inherent restraint resulted in repetition of a basic form for the cathedrals with no possibility of variation of the form. It goes without saying that the cathedrals were built by ordinary people working on them for centuries, for the benefit of the Church.
In music the contribution was incomparable. Johann Sebastian Bach and George Friedrich Handel left a cultural heritage that will live as long as there is a planet Earth around. Bach lived most of his life as an “employee” of the Church and most of his music is based on verses from the Bible or on the various religious masses. These texts offered to Bach phrases like: “Et exultavit spiritus meus” (And my spirit hath rejoiced, Luke 1:47, Magnificat in D Major), phrases that can inspire not only Bach but also ordinary people. Or phrases like: “... a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3) that Handel deeply felt and magnificently translated into music in the Messiah.
That Handel’s secular work was equally good and abundant does not diminish the contribution of Christianity to his work. Conversely, for Bach, his secular cantatas are equally good as his religious ones, e.g. his “Coffe” Cantata based on a text about coffee, the prohibited brew of his time.
“The basic difficulty of all religions is to effect a constant rebirth of symbols in changing cultures,” approximately so, goes the evaluation of the future of religion by the mainstream scholarship. That is, the “trick” for the survival of Christianity for almost two thousand years has been the ability for a “chameleonic” adaptation of the Church in a changing society, irrespective of (or in violation of) any “divinely”given guidelines. For these scholars, this kind of operation is called “inventiveness in the field of aesthetics, ritual, etc.”
Recently (1998), the Greek Orthodox Church “elected” its new head, the Archbishop (kind of a local Orthodox Pope). The new Archbishop proved to be a (politically) very ambitious person. He started his “career” as Archbishop by embracing an extreme nationalism, with oratory against the enemies of the nation (meaning the Turks), etc. Then, he invaded the “turf” of the youth by telling them that he “digs” (sic) them, that he will accept the boys in the Church even if they wear earrings, that he will open a cafe (or cafeteria) for them in downtown Athens, etc.
Will this “inventiveness” help Christianity survive? Religious theorists see the function of religion in society and in relation to the state as being similar to the “function of a carburettor” in an automobile engine. Which means, that overtly or covertly the Church is part of the state. Therefore, any change in the impact of religion in society is related to a possible future change in the political structure of society and not on the “inventiveness” of the Church.
Incidentally, what is this “Church”? (Not the administrative structure or the buildings, but the community of the believers.) It started as the “People of God” in the Old Testament, then during the first century, most Christians being Jews, naturally it was called the “synagogue” (from the Greek word “synagoge”, a gathering). When the Greek Christians took over, a little later, they called it “ekklisia” (which in Greek originally meant an “assembly” of citizens in a political sense). When the Anglo-Saxons got into the picture they translated the word “ekklisia” to “church”. Unfortunately, the root of even that word is Greek, as the word church derives from “kyriakos”, that is “of the lord” (“Kyrios” beeing the Lord in Greek). No wonder the Greeks (arrogantly) call themselves “Orthodox” (“correct believers”) and think of the rest as “second-rate Christians”.
It was with this first Greek Christian Church, that (poor) Paul had to deal with and try to install some sense into, by telling them one should not fornicate with “his father’s wife”, i.e. his mother, (1 Corinthians 5:1), or that “neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind” will inherit the kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 6:9) and by telling them to stop being obsessed with litigation as “brother goeth to law with brother” (1 Corinthians 6:6).
So, who are these “People of God” who constitute “a body or organization of religious believers” (according to modern dictionaries)? An effort is made in the next section to classify and understand these believers.
On the basis of our original assumption about the innateness of rationality in humans, it is reasonable to ask: do people really believe in the resurrection, the salvation, etc? Also, if they do not, then why do they profess to “believe”?
On the first question: Ordinary people may not have heard about canons, 6,000-year old earth, etc, but they have heard since early childhood that Jesus rose from the dead, that there was a flood and a Noah’s ark. That much they have heard. However, is it possible that people in their, even rare, moments of lucidity, with the faculty of (the assumed) rational thinking functioning, really believe this things to be true? No matter how successfully they have internalized these beliefs, can one exclude these moments of lucidity? The logical conclusion is that they do not believe them to be true.
On the second question: If they do not really believe in these things, why do they profess to “beliive” in them, let us try to list and analyze the possible reasons that make people to be “believers”.
Let us start at the top; the elite of the corporate world. These people are proud of their rationality, they have powers of all kinds that give them many more opportunities for lucid thinking than the general population. Actually they will not tolerate irrational thinking in the top levels of their corporations and try to rear their children (and future heirs) as rationally thinking individuals. For example, they advise their daughters, and possibly help them, to have an abortion, if need be. Of course, they profess to be pious “believers” and Christian philanthropists. In that level of society even the above brief analysis of their “believer” status was redundant. Their cynicism is all too obvious.
Actually this cynicism goes back to the beginnings of modern capitalism, when “the lure of the Established Church, attended by members of aristocratic society, was great for Methodists who had ‘made it’. ‘It is an appauling truth,’ it was said in 1821, ‘that very few children of rich Methodists ever become members of the society.’ Methodism, like Quakerism and indeed like the other middle-class non conformist sects, was a rung on the social ladder for the upwardly mobile.”
In all societies the shadow (or front) of the corporate elite is the president (or the prime minister, the chancellor, etc). No need to dwell on the fact that no head of state can survive for one minute as a politician if he admits that he does not believe in God, to wit that he is simply a “believer.” Especially for the US, it is quite strange that its Founding Fathers were of a quite different timber. America’s first six presidents were Deists, not Christians. (Deism defined as a system of thought advocating natural religion.) The quotes that follow are very enlightening (and definitely not included in the US educational curricula):
“...difference of opinion is advantageous in religion. The several sects perform the office of a common censor over each other. Is uniformity attainable? Millions of innocent men, women and children, since the introduction of Christianity, have been burnt, tortured, fined, imprisoned; yet we have not advanced an inch towards uniformity. What has been the effect of coercion? To make one half the world fools, and the other half hypocrites. To support roguery and error all over the earth.”
Thomas Jefferson, “Notes on Virginia”
“The divinity of Jesus is made a convenient cover for absurdity. Nowhere in the Gospels do we find a precept for Creeds, Confessions, Oaths, Doctrines, and whole carloads of other foolish trumpery that we find in Christianity.”
“During almost fifteen centuries has the legal establishment of Christianity been on trial. What has been its fruits? More or less, in all places, pride and indolence in the clergy; ignorance and servility in the laity; in both, superstition, bigotry and persecution.”
James Madison, “A Memorial and Remonstrance,” 1785
Abraham Lincoln also was a Deist early in his life but avoided any mention of it when he began his political career. Also Thomas Pane seems to have used his innate rationality to honest thinking:
“Of all the tyrannies that affect mankind, tyranny in religion is the worst.”
Descending to the next step of the social ladder we meet the people who make a living out of religion, professionals like priests, Popes, Metropolitan bishops, mullas, etc. It seems that for people it is instinctive (and therefore legitimate) to seek jobs that offer sufficient rewards with the least possible effort. This is true for animals, the reward being food. So, the religious professional very “cleverly” chose a job that has as a basic task a few hours of work each Sunday, and the rewards are sufficient for a comfortable life. The rest of the time is filled with “philanthropy, etc”, to avoid boredom.
In all history the religious professional was part of the political authority, any kind of political authority; kings, emperors, and dictators of all colours, especially the latter. Being part of the state is an additional reward and a strong incentive for the “clever” choice. For example, as informers of the security services of the state the clergy has obvious “benefits.” To what limits will reach a religious professional to partake in the power of the state is shown by the case of Pope Alexander VI (1431 - 1503), of whom “it has been said at ‘no previous or subsequent election were such immense sums of money spent on bribery.’” Again it is Thomas Jeffeson that tells the truth:
“In every country and in every age the priest has been hostile to liberty; he is always in allegiance to the despot, abetting his abuses in return for protection of his own.”
Thomas Jefferson, letter to Horatio Spofford, 1814
Another important motive for a young man to choose the cassock is the “rich” sexual life of the clergy. “Ask any minister who has to fight lonely women off with a stick.”
“Four priests in one small Roman Catholic diocese in southern Illinois have been removed as pastors after accusations of sexual misconduct that stretch back to the 1960s. The allegations involve separate incidents in four separate communities. But they have stunned Catholics in the Belleville Diocese...”
“The Roman Catholic Church is responsible for warning parishioners when priests are suspected of child molestation, a California appeals court has ruled. The 4th U.S. Circuit of Appeals said the mother of an abused boy could sue the Diocese of Orange for damages.”
“A number of scandals in recent years have quickened a decline in the public’s veneration for the monks in the monasteries, which are so much part of Thai life. Reports of sex scandals within the supposedly celibate monkhood have become common. Most recently, the monkhood has gained notoriety as a hideout for criminals on the run, and several lurid rapes and murders have seized the headlines... ‘Before, I really respected the monk’, said a middle-aged woman... ‘Now when I go to the temple and I see a young monk I am afraid of him. I am afraid he is going to seduce me.’ ... The Ministry of Education which oversees the Department of Religious Affairs, proposed... lie-detector tests to monitor the sincerity of monks’ pledges of celibacy.”
Most people, more or less, are aware of these things but they do not dare talk about them. There is an intellectual (and quite frequently physical) terrorism that has been exercised against the people for almost two thousand years. The above cited incident with St. Paul in Corinth in AD 51 could be characteristic of the sad reality.
Lately, though, there is an encouraging albeit “strange” phenomenon: atheist clergy!
“A London council has defended its decision to have an atheist in a top religious post. Denis Cobell, who does not believe in God, has been appointed chaplain for a Labour-run borough of Lewisham.” Of course, as expected, the “Church attack(ed) the council’s atheist chaplain. The Church says it sends the ‘wrong message.’”
“Episcopal Bishop John Shelby Spong of Newark, N.J., is regarded as a reformer by some Christians and as a radical heretic by the rest.. Spong proclaims that most Christian beliefs such as a transcendent God and a divine Jesus Christ are antiquated and irrelevant. ‘The Bible is not the word of God in any literal or verbal sense’, Spong writes. ‘It never has been.’ As with the 70 church of England ministers who admitted that they were atheists last year (1997), Spong rejects the term atheist, (he is) struggling to ratify his new-found disbelief with his morality and his professed spirituality...” Spong seems to be still terrorized by the power of the Church, so he has to soften his radicalism. “Spong writes, ‘I am one of the countless host of modern men and women for whom traditional religious understanding has lost most of (its) traditional power. We are that silent majority of believers who find it increasingly difficult to remain members of the Church and still be thinking people.’”
So, the conclusion is that the mass of the religious professionals as rational beings are “believers”, again for their own cynical reasons.
A step down the ladder leads one into the intellectual community (the academics, the authors, the journalists, etc). Here again, there is the need for a choice to secure a living. A choice that takes into account that any overt indication of being a non-believer leads to trouble and very uncomfortable situations. Therefore, the solution of “believer” brings some material relief and possibly some discomfort in the conscience. To be a “closet” atheist is painful, but the terrorizing of the intellectual community is strong and effective. Take the case of the courageous student in the University College Dublin, who in the mid 1970s when he was filling the enrolment forms, at the question for his religion he replied: “None.” Then he discovered that where he had written “None” there was “No Answer.” When he raised the matter with the person that dealt with his registration the reply was: “But you cannot have no religion!”
The above presented picture is the situation with the elites of all kinds, economic, religious, and intellectuals, in relation to their “believer” status, yet their number is small.
On the next step down the ladder, stands the vast mass of the population that includes the middle, the lower middle, and the working classes. This mass of humanity to simply survive, that is to have a job, has to conform to the dictates of the elites. They have to live in the real world. And in spite of the indoctrination in the family, the school, the (inevitable) church, etc they are rational humans that have to “believe” in “ghosts”, because they know that otherwise they will have a rather difficult life. Theirs is an instinctive response to the threat emanating from above, the (physical) boss. Twenty-five centuries ago the sophist Critias considered that “religion was invented to frighten men into adhering to morality and justice.” The system has been tremendously improved by the benevolent presence of entities as the GATT, the Group of 7, the IMF, the NFTA, et, that spread economic misery and make people even more insecure economically, therefore more docile. They have enough troubles as it is. Expressing doubts about the “official” religion would make things even worse. Yet, they know that people do not rise from the dead or that virgins cannot have babies, but they have to be “believers”.
Finally we reach the bottom rung of the ladder: the poor, women, the very poor and the blacks.
For the poor, the least educated in any society, who are almost crushed in the misery of poverty, any serious thoughts about religion is a “luxury.” Whether they believe or “believe” is irrelevant. These people, being almost out of the production process, are disposable.
Statistically women constitute about 50% of any given population. The Bible is a “manual” for the humiliation, the debasement, and finally the dehumanization of women, that is of half of the human race. No list of negative Biblical quotes can be compiled in the case of women, because the list is going to be almost as long as the Bible itself. Yet, all over the world women seem to be more “religious” than men. It is very rare to hear a woman openly say that she is an atheist. Why then this paradox, of the humiliated woman willingly accepting the humiliation?
Again the main reason seems to be the terror instilled by the Christian religion that makes women to feel the intense need to be considered socially acceptable by being ardent “believers” in the prevailing faith. Being human, women are innately rational and usually more honest thinkers than many men. They know that things are already bad as they are, going against or being indifferent towards the prevailing faith will make things unbearably worse. So, all they do is become “believers” and have the “protection” of the prevailing faith.
There is an analogy of this in the political arena. “Why a poor person would vote for an oppressor? Because voting for someone who has your interests at heart may harm you, since that will bring on violence by the rich.” In this case, the poor person is the woman, the oppressor is the prevailing faith and the interests of women is rational thinking.
Also, an additional benefit for women in being part of the prevailing faith is the chance it offers them to socialize, meet people, and finally to feel part of the community by participating in the activities of the Church. Women will be free of this intellectual dishonesty of having to be “believers” in order to live a passably painless life, only when there is a change in the barbarous, male-dominated present social system and humanity is on its way to an anarchic, that is a really democratic society. Women have the latent attributes and the ever present common sense to be atheists and anarchists. Also, they constitute half of humanity and this could be the hope of humanity. When women will judge that it is time for them to openly express their atheistic and anarchistic ideas, that will be a sign that social change is on its way.
The very poor include those that are close to the lumpen condition (homeless, etc) and the prisoners. To ask people, that find themselves living as lumpen, to talk about religion is a “blasphemy” to them as individuals. Also, at this level there are psychopathological problems that durden these people. Again, any discussion about religion will be inappropriate. What they need is solidarity.
At this point it seems appropriate to mention a specific disorder in relation to religiosity. This is the Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), which actually is a biological disorder and not a psychopathological one, as its cause seems to be (mainly) a chemical imbalance (of serotinin) in the brain of persons that suffer from OCD. The most common manifestations of the disorder are contamination obsessions, excessive hand washing, etc. This disorder, obviously is found in individuals of all social classes. Some famous cases of people with OCD in history are those of Martin Luther, of Dr. Samuel Johnson (the lexicographer) and that of the late multi-billioner Howard Hughes with his fanatic preocupation with germs.
The religious obsession manifests itself as excessive concern with sacrilege and blasphemy, sinfulness, right and wrong, morality, etc. Although people with religious OCD are less than a fraction of 1% of any population their impact on the social environment sometimes is not negligible. First, families that have a member with OCD live a very disturbed life, so the persons affected are at least four times that of the number of the sufferers. Second, if the person afflicted happens to be Luther then the impact could be tremendous. When the individual is among the very poor then the situation is devastating mostly for the individual himself.
Prisoners have been included in this group, as their life resembles that of the very poor. However, their case is quite different from that of the very poor and is also very instructive. There are no reliable statistics concerning the religious beliefs of convicts when they are imprisoned for the first time. However, it seems that most of them become “believers” in front of the parole boards, for obvious reasons. This observation could be considered as a sufficiently accurate picture of the “believer” situation in the general population.
It seems that prisons are the right places to find God and be born again. In reality things are diametrically different. Prisons are schools for deep political radicalization, hence a step towards rational thinking. After a certain number of years, radicalized prisoners due to provocations against them in the prisons, finally become political prisoners, not born again Christians. Yet, before the parole board they have to go along with the “oppressor.”
How blacks became religious “believers” in America and in Africa is a story of barbarity. We shall examine, briefly, the case in America. For Africa the following quote is indicative:
“It would not be fair to charge that atrocities pass unmentioned. One of the most notorious slaughterers was king Leopold of Belgium, responsible for the death of perhaps 10 million people in the Congo. His contributions and defects were duly recorded in the Encyclopaedia Britannica, which describes the ‘enormous fortune’ that he gained by ‘exploitation of this vast territory’. The last line of the lengthy entry reads: ‘but he had a hard heart towards the natives of his distant possession.’”
King Leopold of Belgium would never have accomplished that feat without the spirited and skilful help of the heroic missionaries of Christianity. The Rwanda case seems to be the latest chapter of the African story, this time written through the benevolence of the French section of Christianity.
The story in America starts with the Old and the New Testaments and the divine instructions concerning the slaves contained in them:
From the Old Testament the instructions of God himself are:
“Both thy bondmen, and thy bondmaids, which thou shall have, shall be of the heathen that are around about you; of them shall ye buy bondmen and bondmaids.
Moreover of the children of the strangers that do sojourn among you, of them shall ye buy, and of their families that are with you, which they begat in your land: and they shall be your possession.
And ye shall take them as an inheritance for your children after you, to inherit them as a possession...” (Leviticus 25:44-46, KJV)
From the New Testament St. Paul’s instructions are:
“Servants, be obedient to them that are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in singleness of your heart, as unto Christ.” (Ephesians 6:5, KJV)
Finally, again from the New Testament, St. Peter’s instructions are the most important:
“Servants, be subject to your masters with all fear; not only to the good and gentle, but also to the froward.” (1 Peter 2:18, KJV)
The word “froward” in the Revised Standard Edition of the Bible is rendered as “overbearing.” The Oxford English Dictionary offers the senses of: “perverse”, “hard to please”, and “evilly-disposed”. The original Greek word is “diestrammenous”, for which both the classical and the modern Greek sense is closer to “perverse” or “warped”. Peter’s advice does not sound very “reasonable”.
Christianity’s problem with slavery had always been economic. What was important, was the profit that could be gleaned out of the slave. One factor in this problem was the question as to whether the slaves should be taught the Christian religion or not.
In 1727 the Bishop of London tried to settle this economic problem of slavery. “It has been argued,” he said, “that ‘the time to be allowed for instructing them would be an abatement from the profit of their labour,’ ‘that making them Christians only makes them less diligent and more ungovernable,’ and that baptizing slaves automatically destroys the owner’s property rights in them.” He concluded that, “Christianity and the Gospel does not make the least alteration in civil property or in any of the duties which belong to civil relations.”
Even so, the situation with the black slaves in America presented additional problems. The Declaration of Independence proclaimed that “all men are created free and equal.” On the other hand “some members of the Southern ruling class believed that slavery was a wasteful mode of production that exhausted the soil.”
The solution to the problem “was the invention of the cotton gin, which expanded the production of cotton enormously and made the value of a slave...quadruple in 40 years.”
In this Christiano-economical context, slaves in America, being human, and therefore rational, turned into “believers” and exploited at the utmost any chances offered by religion to survive. But the black slaves were not meek “believers”. Their religion was not “openly insurrectionary, but it was subtly rebellious. The spirituals, for instance, were often ambiguous in their meaning. Frederick Douglass, the great ex-slave abolitionist, comments, ‘A keen observer might have detected our repeated singing of O Canaan, sweet Canaan,/ I am bound for the land of Canaan,... the North was our Canaan.”
Little by little the African American community, as part of the poor, the very poor, and the prisoners, moves away from the role of the Christian “believer”, either to cynicism and indifference or to Black Nationalism by joining the Black Muslims, again in the role of the “believer”. As for African American women, even more than their white sisters they had been striving to become “socially acceptable”, by being “believers”. However, even more than their white sisters, when things are ripe for the change of society, black women will fight with anger for their right to think rationally. At this epoch, the idea of “a black atheist and anarchist woman”, sounds unreasonable. Yet, this is a logical expectation, if we accept that there is hope in the world for a future change of society. Also, there is a historical precedent: Lucy Parsons (1853-1942), a major figure in the history of the American people, a black woman, atheist, and anarchist and widow of Haymarket anarchist martyr Albert R. Parsons. If there is no hope, then this text was in vain.
* Nikos Raptis is assistant editor of Democracy & Nature and a writer. He is the author of Let Us Talk about Earthquakes, Floods and the…Streetcar, (Athens, 1981) and The Nightmare of the Nukes (Athens: Carre, 1986). He has also translated into Greek and published Noam Chomsky’s Year 501: The Conquest Continues (Athens:Topos, 1994) and Rethinking Camelot (Athens: Topos,1994)
 T. R. W. Longstaff, Ph. D, Harper’s Bible Dictionary, (San Francisco: Harper&Row, 1985), p.351. Hereafter referred to as Harper’s.
 Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, Tenth Edition, 1993
 Smart Ninian, Encyclopaedia Britanica, 1984, Vol. 15 p. 613
 Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary , Tenth Edition, 1993
 Message URL: http://astro.sig.net:4580/mb/*index?message=225
 Archibald Robertson, The Origins of Christianity, (New York: International Publishers, 1962), pp. 69-70
 W.Smith Homer, Man and His Gods, (Boston: Little, Brown, 1952), p.202
 Paul N.Siegel, The Meek and the Militant, (London: Zed Books Ltd., 1986), p.17. Hereafter
referred to as Siegel.
 Ian Thomas Ramsey, Rev., Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1984, Vol. 15, p.594
 K. Philip, Re: Can you Belive?, NG alt.atheism. moderated, 7/25/98
 Siegel, p.94
 Eleftherotypia, Theologos: God has spoken through the earthquake, May 15, 1995, p.53. (Eleftherotypia is one of the most important Greek dailies.)
 Norman R. Allen, Jr., Religion and the New African American Intellectuals, Nature, Society,
and Thought, Vol. 9, No. 2, 1996
 Ibid, p. 186
 Michael Bakunin, God and the State, Anarchist Archives (URL: http://www.geocities.com/
CapitolHill/5065/religion.html), Chapter II, p.7
 Siegel, p.75
 Siegel, 91
 Ibid, 117
 Muir Weissinger, The Failure of Faith, (London: Forum Editions), 1977, p.125
 Niles Eldredge, The Monkey Business, (New York: Washington Square Press, 1982), p.19
 Ibid, p.19
 Alan Macfarlane, Withccraft in Tudor and Stuart England, (1970). Macfarlane reviewd over
1200 cases of witchcraft gleaned from court records in the English county of Essex for the 120 years following 1560.
 Kathimerini, English Edition, inside the International Herald Tribune, August 11, 1998, p.1
 Eleftherotypia, October 19, 1994, p.42
 International Herald Tribune (IHT), April 8, 1996, p.3
 Siegel, p.97
 Siegel, p.79
 Stanley L, Moore, Re: An Atheist in King Arthur’s Court, NG, alt.atheism.moderated, 6/27/98
 IHT, April 3-4, 1993, p.3
 IHT, May 6, 1993, p.3
 IHT, March 12, 1996, pp1,6
 URL: http://news.bbc.co.uk/hi/english/uk/newsid%SF142000/142708.stm
 URL: http://fearsome.net/rants/98/07/07/index.htm
 Tony Dermody, Re:The dreaded word; atheist, NG: alt.atheism.moderated,8/1/98
 Noam Chomsky, Expanding the Floor of the Cage, Z Magazine, March 1997, p.39
 Noam Chomsky, Year 501, (Boston: South End Press, 1993), p.20
 Siegel, p.115
 Ibid, p.113
 Ibid, pp.113,114
 Ibid, p.116