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On Jordan Peterson, Religion, & Atheism – Part 6, The Moral Atheist Mystification

The Moral Atheist Mystification

<< Previous, Part 5 – The Dostoevsky Distraction

On Atheism

As laid out in part 5, Jordan has his own definition of what an atheist is—an amoral psychopath who has rejected all societal values— and in his example from U, he elaborated on why people who self-identify as atheists are really not; in his mind:

Jordan: “As I said at the beginning, the atheist types act out a religious structure.”

Host: “You have a fascinating part in your book, Jordan, where, addressing atheists, you say you’re simply not an atheist in your actions, and it is your actions that most accurately reflect your religious beliefs. What do you mean by that? Are you saying that no one is really an atheist deep down?”

Jordan: “I didn’t say no one was; I said that most of the people who claim to be atheists aren’t.”

Jordan reiterated this sentiment in PP, in his talk with Matt Dillahunty:

Matt: “You’ve already suggested that despite me sitting here, and having talked about this for decades, that I don’t believe in God, that I actually do because I have a moral code, but my moral code…”

Jordan: “I was more specific, I said it was because you didn’t want to throw Sam off the stage.”

Given that atheists are already considered untrustworthy by many in the general public, and as eloquently stated by Matt in this quote:

“The mindset of what people have about what an atheist is has been poisoned by religious proclamations, we have been denigrated from the pulpit and it has seeped into every aspect of culture right up to the height of intellectual pursuits, and it’s time for that to end,”

it is irresponsible of Jordan to use his large social media following to fuel further misunderstandings with his misleading and distorted assertions which associate atheists with totalitarian psychopaths.

atheist baby

On Abandoning Religion

At odds with his warnings about the abandonment of Christian values leading to social anarchy, are the statistics demonstrating that the least religious countries are also the happiest. (page 13 in the UN World Happiness Report 2016, Chapter 2)

“Though 59% of the world’s population still describe themselves as religious, the proportion has fallen in most parts of the world, and this trend is likely to continue. Where religious belief declines, a new view of ethics emerges. The rules of behaviour are then seen as made by man rather than by God in order to improve the quality of our human life together.

UN World Happiness Report 2016, Chapter 3

Three of Jordan’s colleagues would disagree with his pessimistic outlook on the declining faith and what it bodes for the world.

“Peterson seems to assume that the only alternatives to religious morality are totalitarian atrocities or despondent nihilism.”

Psychology Today, Jordan Peterson’s Flimsy Philosophy of Life

“It is said over and over again by religious conservatives: without faith in God, society will fall apart.

Religion – or so the age-old hypothesis goes – is therefor a necessary glue for keeping society together. And conversely, secularism is a danger to societal well-being.

The correlation is clear and strong: the more secular tend to fare better than the more religious on a vast host of measures, including homicide and violent crime rates, poverty rates, obesity and diabetes rates, child abuse rates, educational attainment levels, income levels, unemployment rates, rates of sexually transmitted diseases and teen pregnancy, etc.”

Psychology Today, Secular Societies Fare Better Than Religious Societies

Steven Pinker has an entire chapter of his new book, Enlightenment Now, which is dedicated to humanism and its benefits.

On Morality

Jordan is worried atheists—or anti-religious thinkers—want to throw the baby out with the bathwater: not just rejecting the religious texts but ignoring the mythologies that emerged from our psyches, and thus abdicating basic moral values. The series is based on the psychological significance, the “moral of the story,” that’s contained in the some of the passages (if we ignore the not the not-so-moral bits) and so, we are told, keep that accumulated wisdom.


“The Bible stories—and I think this is true of fiction in general—is phenomenological. It concentrates on trying to elucidate the nature of human experience.

And so if you know that what the Bible stories, and stories in general, are trying to represent is the structure of the lived experience of conscious individuals, you open up the possibility of a whole different realm of understanding.”

The problem is, the people who believe in the Bible do not understand these stories in the metaphorical way that Jordan feels is important. Just ask Rabbi David Wolpe, who in his 2001 Passover sermon, dared to tell his parishioners that the Exodus story was not grounded in historical fact. As one can imagine, the more conservative Jews and Christians lost their collective minds.


How dare this honest theologian desecrate one of the most cherished beliefs of the Judeo-Christian tradition by using…dare I use the word, facts. As Jordan would appreciate, the point Rabbi Wolpe was trying to make was that the story contains a message of hope in times of suffering, and that is the psychologically significant take away. But, the light at the end of the tunnel sermon, well, that did not  go over well with the traditionalists who want to preserve their beliefs in the historical accuracy of the Bible as an anchor for their faith.

There are plenty of other meaningful parables in the world from which we can draw moral sustenance and keep us on the straight and narrow path, so we can safely dispense with the Bible and all its collective baggage, and, I think, not wind up in a dystopian hell on Earth.

As the unofficial atheist mantra goes: we are good without God.

On Nihilism

During the conversation between between Jordan and Susan in U, Jordan continued to peddle his nihilistic warnings, and it is clear he is either obtuse or just not listening in this interaction:

Susan: “Nothing matters, it’s all empty and meaningless. This is how the world is, get used to it, get on with it…”

Jordan: “The first part the first part of that is nihilistic and the second part isn’t.”

This outlook is only nihilistic from a Nietzschean perspective, which, Jordan admittedly is; but, Susan is very clearly using this phrase in the Buddhist way. Even the host commented on this fact just before Jordan interrupted. The Buddhist (Mahayana, of which Zen is a subset) meaning is in no way nihilist, but freeing and uplifting.

Monk email

Capital L life has no meaning. We, individuals, create meaning, which, Susan pointed out just after the above quote; but, life, in and of itself is, has no meaning. So, get on with it.

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Video References:

Biblical Series I (BS1): Introduction to the Idea of God, (transcript)

Biblical Series II (BS2): Genesis 1: Chaos & Order, (transcript)

Pangburn Philosophy (PP): An Evening With Matt Dillahunty & Jordan Peterson

Unbelievable (U): Jordan Peterson vs Susan Blackmore • Do we need God to make sense of life?


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The Vatican: Thou Shalt Not Lie!

I stumbled across this—I hesitate to use the word—documentary from CNN about the bishop of Rome, called, Pope: The Most Powerful Man in History.

I have heard late night pundits and comedians repeatedly bashing CNN for their lack of serious journalism, and since I do not watch CNN, I had no reference on which to judge these claims; until now. The complete lack of any unbiased reporting came shining through in this puff piece that presents nothing but self-aggrandizing Vatican propaganda and rhetoric about itself.

Pope Donald

This presentation was so one-sidedly slanted in favor of the Church’s self-proclaimed supremacy, that it made me think if the Vatican was a person, it would be Donald Trump: “I am tremendous, just absolutely tremendous. Look at all things I take credit for. My detractors? Fake news, fake news!”

I lost count of the consummate lies, and blatant lies of omission, within the first few minutes. For the sake of brevity—and this is still going to be too long—I will focus on a few major misrepresentations that occurred within just the first twenty minutes, going into detail on why each is wrong.

The show begins with the Church’s claim to primacy, based on its ties to Simon Peter, compounding fabrications and half-truths with the outright lie about how other cities were, from the start, subordinate to Rome. They even go so far as to display graphics showing all ties leading to Rome, if you will pardon the paraphrasing.

“What began with one apostle, has become 1.2 billion followers under one man.”

“World’s first pope…”

“Because Rome is the capital and the center of the empire, the bishop of Rome becomes the leader of the other bishops.”

I will break down why Peter was not the first bishop of Rome, and how the Vatican has perpetuated this lie for centuries as the foundation of their primacy.

Deconstruction #1: The Vatican stakes its claim from the verse in Matthew 16:17-19, highlighted in bold:

“But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.  I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” Then he ordered his disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.

As the renowned biblical scholar, Geza Vermes, pointed out in The Authentic Gospel of Jesus:

“The promise made to Simon, known as Peter, is the only passage in the Gospels where Jesus speaks of establishing a church. Also, whereas Peter is regularly depicted as the senior member or leader of the inner circle of Jesus, it is here alone that he is presented as the foundation stone of the community which was created by Jesus…

… The episode of Peter’s confession that Jesus is the Christ is contained in all three Synoptic Gospels, but his appointment to be the rock does not figure in either Mark or Luke. Their silence on something as important as Peter’s nomination as head of the [church] strongly intimates that Matthew 16:17-19 must be a secondary accretion. The lack of any mention of the church in the other Gospels, including John, also points in the same direction. In short, the words about Peter’s promotion should be credited not to Jesus, but to Matthew or his editor in AD 80 or later.”

A further clue for scholars that this passage was a secondary insertion, is that verses 17-19 break up the flow of the surrounding text. Reading verses 15-16 and 20, non-bold, it becomes clear that these verses flow together without the clumsy addition of the foundation of a church.

Deconstruction #2: There was no Church, nor any leader, in Rome until the second century.

As Professor Bart Ehrman stated in Peter, Paul and Mary Magdalene:

“We have two writings from Christians who actually resided in Rome. Both attest to a situation in which the Roman church was not under the leadership of a single individual, the bishop…

… It was only with the passage of time that the Christian churches developed the hierarchical structures that came to characterize their organization by the end of the second century…. Eventually these churches would band together to make common cause. And when they did so, they appointed leaders who would be in charge of all the communities found throughout the city. But this was a development that did not transpire until the middle of the second century. Peter, in short, could not have been the first bishop of the church of Rome, because the Roman church did not have anyone as its bishop until about a hundred years after Peter’s death.”

First Pontiff

Deconstruction #3: Rome was not the head of all other bishoprics.

Firstly, Christianity—at least what it morphed into—has always been a creation of the Greek world, not the Romans. Paul was a Roman citizen, and he preached extensively throughout the Greek-speaking, eastern half of the empire, as evidenced by the epistles he penned to the communities in Corinth, Galatia, and Thessaly. Additionally, Antioch (Turkey) and Alexandria (Egypt) were the leading centers of the Christian world, not Rome, until they were conquered by the Muslims in the seventh century.

Secondly, the bishop of Rome did not rise in importance until after the Fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476, due to the power vacuum created in the wake of this upheaval, when Gelasius donned the red shoes and asserted his claim to primacy, and reasserted by Gregory the Great another hundred years later. The revisionist history of Rome as the center of the Christian world is nothing but a delusional fantasy, spawned from the shifting socio-political realities in the Eastern and Western spheres of the sixth and seventh centuries. One could be considered impolite for so impudently pointing out that Rome came rather late to the party, so many hundreds of years after the time of Jesus and Simon Peter.

Thirdly, all the major Ecumenical Councils of the fourth and fifth centuries—predating the serendipitous elevation of the bishops of Rome by almost 200 years—were held in Greek cities, and leading to the next major lies presented as fact.

Fast-forwarding 300 years, and glossing over all the inconvenient truths listed above, the show jumps to Constantine the Great and his impacts on Christianity.

“One of his first official acts as the first Christian emperor of Rome is to issue the Edict of Milan. This not only makes Christianity legal, but favored.”

Deconstruction #4: This is just flat-out wrong. The Edict of Milan, despite the claims of the Church, did not make Christianity favored, nor the established religion of the empire; it merely extended Christians protection from being persecuted. Christianity did not become the official state religion for another 67 years, under Theodosius.

“Constantine, by legalizing Christianity, opened up a space where the bishop of Rome could become a permanent fixture on both the spiritual and political scene.”

Deconstruction #5: As already pointed out above, this is just more revisionist history, with absolutely zero basis in reality. The Greek-speaking half of Christendom was the center of authority, and it would remain so for another 300 years. Constantine’s edict has nothing whatsoever to do with strengthening Rome’s clout; indeed, he moved the capital to Constantinople.

“The hierarchy of clergy under bishops who reported to the bishop of Rome had been working well; but, now with Constantinople acting as a second capital, there is a second bishop who believes that he should be in charge.”

Deconstruction #6: From Constantinople, a further 12 years after issuing the Edict of Milan, Constantine called the first major Ecumenical Council, the Council of Nicaea, in 325. Continuing to refute the Vatican’s penchant for playing fast and loose with the truth, this Council amply demonstrates just how unimportant Rome, and the Latin churches, were in the grand scheme. Of the roughly 300 bishops who attended, only 5 were from Latin-speaking, western churches, and, strangely, counter to the Vatican’s self-appointed status as the big man on campus, the bishop of Rome was not one of them.

“Constantine gives Romans a political and financial incentive to convert to Christianity. He gives Christians tax breaks and makes churches tax exempt.”

Deconstruction #7: In a brazen lie of omission, or at least a bending of the truth that would impress a yoga master, the fact that Constantine bribed the dissenting bishops at the Council of Nicaea with tax breaks was completely overlooked.

Gregory of Nazianzus, Archbishop of Constantinople, also known as Gregory the Theologian, a Cappadocian Father and a Doctor of the Church, commenting on the subsequent turmoil in the post-Council years, remarked:

“The pretext was souls, but in fact it was desire for control, control, I hesitate to say it, of taxes and contributions which have the whole world in miserable confusion.”

And the biggest bald-faced lie:

“As Rome falls, and Constantinople flourishes, much of the Church’s terminology becomes Greek instead of Latin.”

As pointed out in Deconstruction #3, the Church had always been dominated by the Greeks from its earliest days. This statement also completely ignores the fact that all four Gospels were written in Greek. Where the producers came up with this perception of the Roman Church as poor victims of an unfortunate change in circumstance, to have made such a ridiculously stupid and easily refutable claim, is beyond me. Many of the words still in use today, ecclesia, presbyter, etc., are Greek terms, and started out that way, they did not shift from Latin after the transfer of power to Constantinople.

Keeping up with this pattern of omitting inconvenient facts, the show also completely jumped over the schism which has kept the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches separate since 1054. This break—doctrinal, temporal, and spiritual—further cemented Rome’s unchallenged rise to preeminence in the West, and has allowed them to control the narrative, and spin their own legend, ever since.

Here endeth the sermon.

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Hell… is other people

This weekend I watched Netflix’s new docu-drama, Come Sunday, about the true story of an evangelical preacher who comes to the realization that hell is not only a false doctrine, but that it’s emotionally harmful.

What resonated for me in this presentation, was just how viscerally the congregation responded to their pastor’s epiphany when he stood up in the pulpit for his next sermon and dropped this little bombshell. Completely ignorant of the history of the doctrines they have whole-hardheartedly believed their entire lives, the parishioners reacted with overt hostility to this new information which ran counter to their brainwashing. You would think they might be relieved to hear that hell is a fiction of the early church; alas, no. People are strange creatures, and anything new, truthful or not, that contradicts a deeply held worldview, is perceived as a threat.

LizDuring my own debate with a Baptist preacher (2016) on this very topic, I was asked, “Are there any people of faith I do respect?” Sure, the ones who are honest about all the nonsense that has become blindly accepted as truth in religious doctrine. I can now add Carlton Pearson to that list, along with retired Bishop John Spong, who said:

Religion is always in the control business… It’s in the guilt-producing, control business… And so, they create this fiery place, which has, quite literally, scared the hell out of a lot people throughout Christian history; and it’s part of a control tactic.

Recently, the Pope was (mis?)quoted as stating that hell doesn’t exist. One overlooked tidbit in the Vatican’s spin control, was this quote:

There’s nowhere in Catholic teaching that actually says any one person is in hell. ~ Cardinal Vincent Nichols

While Catholic doctrine states hell is a literal place, honest Catholic priests will tell you they are not required to believe anyone is actually there.


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Misogyny in Atheism

He saidLast week I got immersed in what turned into an acrimonious online discussion about the so-called misogyny problem within atheist circles. The debate was spawned after a fellow atheist friend posted this article on growing alt-right extremism within atheism, and I took exception to some of the comments which followed.

The point being put forward in the comments, in a nutshell, was that fewer women are involved in atheism due to the prevalence of misogyny, based solely on anecdotal hearsay. The comments were from activist women, and words/phrases like bulwark, harbouring, toxic masculinity, and gaslighting were being tossed around. I won’t digress into how they were misappropriating these terms from their actual meanings to reinforce their own worldview.

Just because women are underrepresented in atheist communities, doesn’t mean that misogyny is the reason for this trend. Considering these are people active in the skeptic and free-thinking community, I asked, “Where’s your evidence that atheism has become a ‘bulwark of misogyny’ that is ‘harbouring toxic masculinity’?”

Pointing out that they were conflating correlation with causality did not go over well. Well, of course, as a white male, how dare I question the validity of feminist claims? I must obviously be “privileged” and the inevitable attempts to shame me into silence began, because I am supposed to feel guilty over this radical left-wing tool called “Western male patriarchy.

Yes there’s been brutality, but the brutality is in the minority. This sick portrayal of human history as nothing but male oppression and female victimage, this is a way to permanently ensure the infantilization of women. ~ Camille Paglia

Indeed, there is little (no?) evidence that misogyny is rampant within the atheist community. That is not to say that there are not isolated incidents of inappropriate conduct happening; and, of course, it should be remedied immediately when it is encountered. But, isolated incidents of boorish behaviour do not a systemic problem make, no matter how deeply such feelings of truthiness may be held.

Skeptic icon, Jerry Coyne, himself weighed in on this topic, stating in the article “Another plaint about sexism-ridden New Atheism” on his blog:

This self-categorization has no clear connection to misogyny. Remember, the thesis is not that women are innately less atheistic, but that they are, because of misogyny, less likely to be members of atheist groups. . . .

. . .The anecdotes are just that—anecdotes. There is no random interviewing or surveying of women to see if they’re staying out of atheist organizations because of sexism, nor any controls about the pervasiveness of sexism in atheism versus other endeavors like antiracism or politics.

As one of the original poster’s friends commented: “If you are a racist, or misogynist, it’s not because you are an atheist. It’s because you are just an idiot. Stop blaming atheism.”

He’s right. This is the same argument that theists use in relation to murderous dictators: Stalin, Hitler, Mao, et al, were atheists; ergo, atheism leads to genocide. It would be nice if theists, and feminist atheists, would desist from mixing two wholly unrelated issues and branding them as the same. Rational thinking is the hallmark of the free-thought movement—let’s see some exercised.

The atheist movement has been at the forefront of campaigning hard against religious oppression of women, homosexuality, and a host of other outdated ways of thinking. We, by and large, are for freedom in all its forms, and wholeheartedly support women’s rights. So, let’s not tarnish the whole movement because of a few bad apples.

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Grief & Non-belief


How does a person cope with grief when they don’t believe in a higher power or the afterlife? This was a question I was forced to confront recently, after losing a close friend.

Some people turn to food, drugs, and/or alcohol to bury their pain; which, is not physically or mentally healthy, or something I would do, anyway. Nor, do I believe in God or, consequently, that my friend is floating on a white cloud and we’ll meet up again someday—something I heard a lot of from well-meaning friends. Stunned, and in mourning, I struggled for days without any of the traditional comforts available to most people.

While I understand the powerful placebo effect which a belief in the afterlife provides to many people, this is simply not an option to ease the pain for those of us who have no such belief. The normal platitudes do not soothe atheist grief, because they ring false in our ears.

Part of the pain was caused by how suddenly my friend was taken. He was a healthy, middle-aged man, who exercised and drank moderately, if at all. Less than forty-eight hours before his death, we stayed up late talking—one of life’s little coincidences I am very thankful for providing—and he told me how great he was feeling lately: more energy, improved mood. A blood clot changed all that; and he never regained consciousness so that his family and friends could tell him how much he meant to us, and that we were all pulling for his recovery.

What I did realize, was that I was grateful for the memories and the time I did have with my friend; especially that last conversation. I recognized and acknowledged that, along with all his other loved ones, I was in pain and that I just need to be with that pain for a while. I chose to let the pain remind me that I was still alive, that I can reach out to other friends in my life and say the things left unsaid with those already gone.

I appreciate that this strategy might not, and probably will not, work for others; but, it might just help one or two other like-minded people who find themselves in this situation. Atheists, despite popular misconceptions to the contrary, are not evil people and we feel pain just like everyone else. When thoughts of an afterlife in the company of a benign deity will not provide consolation, then, maybe, the realization that we had those brief moments of friendship with those who touched our lives in the first place, might bring some comfort. Because, that’s all that life is, a series of moments.

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Easter Nonsense

It’s that time of year again, when Christians celebrate god sacrificing himself to himself to save mankind from himself.  Let’s look at some of the insanity behind it all.

The timing of Easter tracks with (or used to, at least) Passover, another celebration of the Abrahamic god’s apparent bloodlust. The Exodus story tied to the Passover celebration is a myth, with no basis in historical reality. What’s even more bizarre to any person with a conscience and an iota of critical thinking, is the Jewish commemoration of an event in which a cruel and indiscriminate god murders innocent Egyptian children. To compound all the nonsense, the Passover observation wasn’t even original to the slavery myth, but was an ancient festival appropriated by Judahite propagandists:

This celebration is found only in the Priestly source. Just as P grounded the Sabbath in the creation story, so it grounds the Passover in the story of the exodus. The Passover was probably originally a rite of spring, practiced by shepherds. In early Israel it was a family festival. . . . The celebration was changed by the reform of King Josiah in 621 B.C.E. into a pilgrimage festival, to be celebrated at the central sanctuary (Jerusalem) and was combined with the Festival of Unleavened Bread.

~ John. J. Collins, A Short Introduction to the Hebrew Bible

Easter, then, builds off the Passover feast, which, as most Christians overlook, was the Last Supper. John 13, however, puts the Last Supper a day earlier, in order to cast Jesus in the starring role as the sacrificial lamb of Passover.

Emperor Constantine, at the Council of Nicaea in 325 (where the Trinity Doctrine was proclaimed orthodox in addition to the other bullshit which follows), made the extremely intolerant comment:

It is unbecoming that on the holiest of festivals we should follow the customs of the Jews; henceforth let us have nothing in common with this odious people.

This from the guy Christian propagandists claim made Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire when he signed the Edict of Milan in 313, ironically an edict of religious toleration, which put a stop to the Diocletian persecution of Christians.

And so, Passover and Easter were forever decoupled; and human memory being short-term and highly selective, many Christians fail to recognize the original connection.

Moving on, the resurrection stories in the four Gospels don’t even gel in their respective accounts. Go figure, the Bible is inconsistent; who would have thought? The accounts differ in who went to the tomb, who they met, and what happened after.

Mark originally ends at 16:8, with the women (Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome) fleeing in terror:

[T]hey saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. But he said to them, “Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.” So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.

One wonders, if the women said nothing, how did the tale spread? Scholars believe the remainder of the verses in Mark 16 were added by a later editor to correct this blatant oversight.

In Matthew, the women are Mary Magdalene and the other Mary—what the hell happened to Salome?—and this time, it’s an angel, not a young man, who greets them. The women go and tell the disciples, then Jesus appears, and they go back to Galilee where Jesus appears again

In Luke, the women aren’t even named, and it’s not one man they meet, it’s two. The women go and tell the disciples, who don’t believe the story, so Peter goes to the tomb to see for himself, but then just goes home and says nothing.

In John, Mary Magdalene goes alone, sees the stone is moved and runs to get Peter and John (the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved). They didn’t understand what they saw, so they just went home. Then, Mary Magdalene is greeted by two angels . . . and Jesus.

To top off all the Gospel inconsistencies, is the sheer impossibility of resurrection, or as Celsus put it in the second century:

But we must examine this question whether anyone who really died ever rose again with the same body . . . But who saw this? A hysterical female, as you say, and perhaps some other one of those who were deluded by the same sorcery, who either dreamt in a certain state of mind and through wishful thinking had a hallucination due to some mistaken notion (an experience which has happened to thousands), or, which is more likely, wanted to impress others by telling this fantastic tale, and so by this cock-and-bull story to provide a chance for other beggars.

I will let draw your own conclusions as to the magnitude of the last two thousand years of Western history being shaped by the delusion of a hysterical woman. Fast forward to today with chocolate bunnies and coloured eggs. What the hell, enjoy the long weekend!

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Mythology of Christmas

PowerPoint Presentation – Mythology of Christmas


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Deconstructing Christian Apologetics

The following treatise is a partial transcription of a debate held between myself (Jason) and a Baptist pastor (Jonathan) over the concepts of Heaven and Hell, highlighting a number of Jonathan’s assertions of the truth as he believes it to be, along with my post-debate deconstruction of his apologetic arguments.

Dear Jonathan,

I am going to start with this quote, as it lays the context for every argument, both yours and mine, which follows.

I don’t know a single biblical theologian of world-rank that thinks the virgin birth is literal history, and I think it’s time we say that to the world-at-large. And you might find one at some of these fundamentalist schools, but they wouldn’t be recognized as scholars in the academies of Christian learning.

John Shelby Spong, Bishop of Newark (retired), @9:45 Allan Gregg in Conversation (2008)

So, let’s dive right in to the statements (of dubious fact).

On the dating of the Book of Daniel

7:05 Jonathan: For a long time, 50-70 years ago, it was a very normal thing for people to get around and date Daniel at 167…The reason I say it is exciting…even though that was the accepted scholarship that began in Germany, now it’s actually very few people who would hold that particular date for Daniel, for historical and archaeological reasons.

17:07 David: From a Christian perspective, Jonathan, is there a concern about the time that these books are written and the order that they are presented?”

Jonathan: So, in a sense, no. And, this is in terms of the theory that is being put forward to this type of dating, which, I don’t think, based on the evidence, is correct….So, the answer is no, for that reason.

38:35 Jonathan: Over against that, the date of 167 is troublesome now, because some of you have heard of the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Qumran community. When they uncovered the Dead Sea Scrolls you’ll know this was overlapping the same period as the Maccabees and the Hasmoneans, and so when they located this, if the theory about Daniel being so late is true, Daniel would be separate from the other documents and it probably wouldn’t be in there because it’s the same period. But, in the Dead Sea Scrolls, Daniel was already part of the codices, part of the documents, which means it was already part of the accepted Scriptures before the 167 date that Jason gave. . . .Without a question, less than fifty years.

What I am trying to say to all of you is the accepted scholarship . . . are towards an earlier date of Daniel . . .


Yale University, Holmes Professor of Old Testament Criticism & Interpretation

. . . So, now it’s the chance to say, well do I date it late, because I find the theology inconvenient . . .

Church Lady

. . . or do I date it earlier, because all the evidence demands that I do so?

People have dated the materials, with radio carbon dating; they also have textual scholars, who are not all believers, saying these are the dates of the documents.

Sorry, Jonathan, but I will take a Yale professor’s informed declaration, over your completely unqualified, unsubstantiated, and baseless claims on this point. Note Professor Collins states, quite emphatically, “No legitimate biblical scholar . . .” which, as I will illuminate shortly, is exactly the type of scholarship you carefully avoid in favour of your dodgy references.

Now, let’s examine your claims.

One: Who are these “very few people who would hold that particular date for Daniel, for historical and archaeological reasons”?

Presumably, you mean the overwhelming majority of leading academic scholars, who just happen to disagree with your current worldview? It is interesting to note that you believe this makes up very few people.

Two: Who are these people whom you, without reference or citation, merely claim make up “the accepted scholarship . . . towards an earlier date of Daniel”?

You never specifically stated who these mysterious scholars were who give Daniel an earlier date, you simply claim, with certitude, that this is the case. Perhaps this was a convenient lie of omission? Anyway, a brief internet search turns up the shadowy scholarship you claim constitutes the majority of current scholarly opinion.

Presumably—boy, I sure do use that word a lot—you are referring to Dr. Michael Hasel of Southern Adventist University? Southern University, whose About Us page states:


Does this stated school policy strike anyone as being wholly impartial and open to critical thinking, especially of facts which would contradict biblical teachings? No, I didn’t think so, either.

Moving on, Dr. Hasel, whose undergrad and first Master’s Degree were from Andrews University, a carbon copy of Southern, published an article in 1992 making the claims you cite about Daniel and the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Further, this position is reaffirmed by the Associates for Biblical Research, whose website makes the following statement:


Again, I ask, does this sound like they are applying rigorous methodologies to produce unbiased, legitimate scholarship to you? Presupposing the answer, before you go find the evidence, is, to you, credible? No, I didn’t think so, either.

Presumably, then, you are basing your entire argument, and your casual, off-the-cuff dismissal of the dating of Daniel to 167 BCE, and your matter-of-fact statement that few people believe this anymore, on Hasel’s article and this post from the ABR?

Most importantly, the existence of Daniel in the DSS disproves the skeptical position that Daniel was originally written in the 2nd century BC. This position has been taken by skeptics to avoid the detailed prophecies in Daniel that ultimately came to pass, strong evidence for the divine authorship of Scripture.

I’ll pause for a moment, while the magnitude of both the willful self-delusion and the intentional deception of your statements to the group sinks in for everyone.

Ready? This! is your evidence, for which you categorically stated: “Do I date it late, because I find the theology inconvenient, or do I date it earlier, because all the evidence demands that I do so?”

Compounding your logical fallacy, you doubled-down again at the end, stating:

46:15 Jonathan: It’s just not legitimate in history to do that, unless there is something exclusively saying, ‘this is why it’s a forgery, this is why it was written. And, with Daniel, they always say, ‘we don’t like the afterlife being so early in the Hebrew Scriptures, it sure would be nice if we could put it in the Maccabean period, therefore, we say it’s written in the Maccabean period.’ . . . So, I’m okay with coming up with all kinds of stories, but it would be encouraging for your case if there were some strong evidence to back it up; other than higher criticism, based on inconvenient theology.

Really? Did you seriously make that argument? How do you not to see the blatant irony in that statement? The only reply I can muster is, Oh. My. Gawd. Nice to meet you Pot, I’m Kettle.

So, let’s recap what we know so far:

  • 25 years ago, a solitary, nobody professor, from an apologetics school, writes an article challenging the dating of Daniel, based on flawed dating of the Dead Sea Scrolls; which, as Professor Collins stated above, are actually one hundred years later than Hasel, and you, claim.
  • Based off this solitary, nobody professor, from an apologetics school, you—and other apologetic ‘scholars’ who, like a drowning man desperately clinging to a lifebuoy, have perpetuated this fantasy—actually convinced yourselves that this, then, constitutes the majority of “accepted scholarship” which led you to make the wholly unqualified claim that very few people actually consider the date of 167 BCE to be valid anymore.

On Daniel being the only apocalyptic book of the Old Testament

First of all, I used the term: apocalyptic. You, however, used the word apocryphal; more than once.

10:58 Jonathan: Secondly, that it’s the only apocryphal-type writing. Isaiah, which has apocryphal passages, Ezekiel has them, Joel has those passages, Amos, Zechariah. . . . They talk about things in an apocryphal way, quite clearly, similar to Daniel.

Amos, Joel, Ezekiel & Zechariah refuted –
John J. Collins, The Scepter and the Star

I will grant you the benefit of the doubt that this was just a slip of the tongue. After all, I myself admit I misspoke a few times. I mistakenly referred to Augustine originally as Augustus. I said Daniel 12:2 is the only passage speaking of an afterlife, when, more accurately, it is the only passage to speak unambiguously of a resurrection. Mea culpa, and I stand by my integrity and admit when I made a mistake.

However, this was a pretty amateur mistake for someone who has a more in-depth, and higher, level of formal education in the Bible than I do. Perhaps it was a Freudian slip?

Apocryphal, adjective:

  1. of doubtful authorship or authenticity.
  2. Ecclesiastical: a. (initial capital letter) of or relating to the Apocrypha. b. of doubtful sanction; uncanonical.
  3. false; spurious.

Now, I know you were using it in the capacity of #2a, which would still be technically incorrect. We were not discussing extra-biblical (Apocrypha) books, but to the genre of revelation. But, I can’t help but wonder, if, maybe, deep down, you have a suspicious feeling that #1, #2b and #3 might really apply. I jest, relax. Have some sacramental wine and put your feet up, my friend.

As to my claim on Daniel being the only book with an apocalyptic genre, I was referencing the same Yale professor, John Collins, used above to refute your spurious claims that no one holds the 167 date anymore. Additionally, this quote also reinforces my later point on the re-ordering of the books in the Christian Old Testament for very deliberate reasons.

Daniel contains the only example in the Hebrew Bible of the apocalyptic genre that was of great importance for ancient Judaism and early Christianity. In Christianity Daniel is regarded as the 4th of the Major Prophets and follows those of Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel. In the Hebrew Bible Daniel is placed in the Writings. The canon of prophetic writings may already have been closed or the Rabbis saw the book as having more in common with the Writings than the Prophets.

A Short Introduction to the Hebrew Bible

On the point of Christian knowledge beyond a basic understanding by the laity

20:58 Jason: How many Christians are actually doing that? How many are questioning and looking at the scholarship?

Jonathan: I can only speak for myself, and I am here to represent that minority.

Jason: But, it would be a minority, you agree?

Jonathan: No.

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, James A. Gray Distinguished Professor of Religious Studies:

The Bible is the most widely purchased, extensively read, and deeply revered book in the history of Western Civilization. Arguably, it is also the most thoroughly misunderstood, especially by the lay reading public.

Scholars of the Bible have made significant progress in understanding the Bible over the past two hundred years, building on archaeological discoveries, advances in our knowledge of the ancient Hebrew and Greek languages in which the books of Scripture were originally written, and deep and penetrating historical, literary, and textual analyses. This is a massive scholarly endeavor. . .

. . . Yet such views of the Bible are virtually unknown among the population at large. In no small measure this is because those of us who spend our professional lives studying the Bible have not done a good job communicating this knowledge to the general public and because many pastors who learned this material in seminary have, for a variety of reasons, not shared it with their parishioners once they have taken up positions in the church. . . . As a result, not only are most Americans (increasingly) ignorant of the contents of the Bible, but they are almost completely in the dark about what scholars have been saying about the Bible for the past two centuries.

Bart Ehrman, Jesus, Interrupted

Tufts University, Austin B. Fletcher Professor of Philosophy & Co-Director of the Center for Cognitive Studies:

Even some conservative seminaries staff their courses on the Bible with professors who are trained in textual criticism, the historical methods of biblical scholarship, and what is taught in those courses is not what the young seminarians learned in Sunday school, even in the more liberal churches. In seminary they were introduced to many of the details that have been gleaned by centuries of painstaking research about how various ancient texts came to be written, copied, translated, and, after considerable jockeying and logrolling, eventually assembled into the Bible we read today. It is hard if not impossible to square these new facts with the idea that the Bible is in all its particulars a true account of actual events, let alone the inerrant word of God. It is interesting that all our pastors report the same pattern of response among their fellow students: some were fascinated, but others angrily rejected what their professors tried to teach them. Whatever their initial response to these unsettling revelations, the cat was out of the bag and both liberals and literals discerned the need to conceal their knowledge about the history of Christianity from their congregations.

Daniel Dennett, Preachers Who Are Not Believers

On references to Hell in the Old & New Testaments

23:30 Jason: There are no references to Hell in the Old Testament.

Jonathan: In the Old Testament we have a variety of terms that people usually understand as Hell; the usual one is translated as Sheol. You know the first appearance of that?

Jason: Yes, but what was it originally? What did it become?

Jonathan: The first appearance of that is in Deuteronomy . . .

 (Actually, the first appearance is Genesis 37:35 – I shall go down to Sheol to my son, mourning. Thus his father bewailed Joseph.)

. . . and it’s the idea of not just Hell as a grave, which is where it is very often used, but also as an idea of punishment and burning.

Jason: Not in Deuteronomy it’s not!

Jonathan: If you look, there is a reference there.

Jason: The concept of Sheol as a shadowy netherworld exists in the Old Testament. But, not once does Hell show up as a place of punishment. Not once!

David: That’s a fairly strong claim.

Jonathan: I disagree and I would love to give examples, but David says I can’t use my Bible. Deuteronomy, the first occurrence; you can look there. You can also look in Numbers to see the punishment aspect of it there.

Presumably, you are referring to:

Deuteronomy 32:22 – For a fire is kindled by my anger, and burns to the depths of Sheol; it devours the earth and its increase, and sets on fire the foundations of the mountains.

Numbers 16:30, 33 – But if the Lord creates something new, and the ground opens its mouth and swallows them up, with all that belongs to them, and they go down alive into Sheol, then you shall know that these men have despised the Lord. . . . So they with all that belonged to them went down alive into Sheol; the earth closed over them, and they perished from the midst of the assembly.

So, exactly how, are these references to what we would think of as Hell? Exactly how are these references, in any way, to a place of punishment and torment?

Sorry, Jonathan, but you are really stretching the truth, and your interpretations. The first reference has absolutely nothing to do with death and/or punishment. The second merely refers to perishing. There is nothing about eternal torment; unless, of course, your version of the Bible purposely makes this association in its translation.

Salve Regina University, Associate Professor of Religion:

 We begin our investigation with a brief overview of the biblical references to hell. There is no hell in the Hebrew Bible. The proverbial pit of fire where sinners are tortured for all eternity is absent. {emphasis added} All the dead, righteous and unrighteous, share a common destination, a subterranean world known as Sheol. The Hebrew Bible does have a Heaven, but it’s the abode of God and the angels, not mortals except in special cases, like Elijah (2 Kings 2:11) who bypassed death and Sheol and went directly to fellowship with God.

T.J. Wray & Gregory Mobley, The Birth of Satan

25:42 Jason: Paul makes no mention of Hell. Eternal punishment does not enter into Paul’s theology. He calls his opponents Satanic, but there is no mention of Hell in his theology.

Every mention of Satan in the Pauline corpus involves the Devil working through a human to thwart Paul’s mission and prevent believers from attaining that quality of personal and social life, “life in the spirit that allegiance to Christ offers.”

The seeds of heaven and hell were scattered here and there, in the Enoch and Elijah legends, in the traditions about prophets transported to the heavenly court and in the widening chasm between Judahites experience and their theology. After centuries of unfulfilled hopes, Jewish thinkers in the Second Temple period began to consider the possibility that the Day of Judgment occurred not in this life but in the next.

The idea of “hell” does not appear until the New Testament. The actual word never appears, as “Hell” is a Germanic word, the name of an underworld goddess, Hel. The New Testament uses the terms Gehenna and Hades.

Paul never mentions Hell at all, though he has plenty to say about the fates of sinners. For Paul, those who received Christ would experience resurrection, (1 Thessalonians 4:14). Sinners and those who reject Christ would simply cease to exist, (Galatians 5:19-21, 1 Corinthians 6:9-10). Sending sinners to hell does not enter into Paul’s theology.

T.J. Wray & Gregory Mobley, The Birth of Satan

Jonathan: To the quick references that Paul never mentions it, there are explicit mentions in 2 Thessalonians . . .

Jason: Forgery. Not a legitimate book of Paul’s!

Jonathan: Whenever we have a statement it’s ‘there are no . . . or there is none . . . you will not find . . .’ Whenever I suggest to say it’s here, the answer will be, ‘actually, that was late, or a forgery.’ And whenever you ask why, the scholarship is ‘because it’s a late doctrine.’

Jason: Because it is describing events that are after the time in which that person lived; that’s why.  That’s how they know it’s a forgery. 2 Thessalonians is describing an era in which there is an organized church. Paul does not live in an era where there are organized churches. He’s writing letters to individual communities.


I am always giving the same answers to your suggested passages, because my answers are actually providing the generally accepted scholarly explanations. You appear to be willfully blinding yourself to the irony of your making the same arguments in reverse, to deny the scholarship, in order to prop up a flimsy Christian apologetics interpretation. Whenever I  say ‘this is the scholarship’ your answer will be ‘but I believe it, because the Bible says so.’ However, as I pointed out above with your reference to Hell in Deuteronomy and Numbers, it doesn’t actually say what you told everyone that it did.

Trinity Facts

I noted, as I am sure others did as well, that each time I made a statement of fact about a scholarly claim that contradicted one of your beliefs, you tended to smile and roll your eyes, as if to say, oh here we go again. In addition to where you did this on the points I have laid out above, during the Q&A when we were asked about the Trinity, I made mention that this was not an official Christian doctrine, but only one of many sectarian beliefs, until it was affirmed by the Council of Nicaea in 325. This is an unimpeachable fact of history, yet you seemed to be repulsed by the mere mention of it, as if the existence of inconvenient truths are really not anywhere to be found on your radar, but are blissfully ignored.

Regarding this point, perhaps you might like to familiarize yourself with Bart Ehrman’s The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture: The Effect of Early Christological Controversies on the Text of the New Testament, which was written for religious scholars, such as yourself, and is of a technical nature beyond the scope of the general reading public. It will inform you of the facts in evidence, of which you seem to be unaware.

Another fact, of what I am sure will be an inconvenient truth for you, is that Constantine offered tax breaks to sway the dissenting Bishops at the Council into agreeing with the Nicene formulation. Don’t believe me? Then perhaps you will trust Gregory of Nazianzus, Archbishop of Constantinople, also known as Gregory the Theologian, a Cappadocian Father and a Doctor of the Church, who said:

The pretext was souls, but in fact it was desire for control, control, I hesitate to say it, of taxes and contributions which have the whole world in miserable confusion.

To paraphrase Dr. deGrasse Tyson, facts are true whether they contradict your theological beliefs or not.


On the myth of Christian persecution

28:20 Jonathan: It’s no surprise, that for a long time these were small groups. I think everybody knows and agrees that historically it was an era of persecution. You can read about it in the New Testament, but you can also read it in the history of the world and the early church fathers.

Playing the victim card, much? That is outright Christian propaganda. The persecutions were small and limited, not widespread, nor as vicious as Christians like to pretend they were.

University of Notre Dame, Professor of New Testament and Early Christianity:

[The] Sunday school narrative of a church of martyrs, of Christians huddled in catacombs out of fear, meeting in secret to avoid arrest and mercilessly thrown to lions merely for their religious beliefs . . . Christians were never the victims of sustained, targeted persecution.

Candida Moss, The Myth of Persecution: How Early Christians Invented a Story of Martyrdom

As to the Church fathers you mention, presumably you are referring to Eusebius of Caesarea, whose Ecclesiastical History has been, essentially, discredited as a source of historical accuracy, and is viewed, mainly, as a panegyric.

Yale University, Dunham Professor of History and Classics:

Hostile writings and discarded views were not recopied or passed on, or they were actively suppressed . . . matters discreditable to the faith were to be consigned to silence.

Ramsay MacMullen, Christianizing the Roman Empire: AD 100-400

University of Basel, Professor of Cultural History:

Eusebius is no fanatic; he understand Constantine’s secular spirit and his cold and terrible lust for power well enough and doubtless knows the true causes of the war quite precisely. But he is the first thoroughly dishonest historian of antiquity. {emphasis added} His tactic, which enjoyed a brilliant success in his own day and throughout the Middle Ages, consisted in making the first great protector of the Church at all costs an ideal of humanity according to his lights, and above all an ideal for future rulers.

Jacob Burckhardt, The Age of Constantine the Great

On the legitimacy of the academics upon which ALL your arguments rest

Gleason Archer – Apologist, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School

(Is anyone else sensing a trend developing here? Andrews, Southern, Trinity. To give everyone a frame of reference, William Lane Craig went to Trinity. But, I digress).

His defense of the doctrine of Biblical inerrancy by proposing harmonizations and exegesis regarding inconsistencies in the Bible made Archer a well-known biblical inerrantist. He stated: “One cannot allow for error in history-science without also ending up with error in doctrine.”

D.A. Carson – Apologist, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School

Carson is a founding council member of The Gospel Coalition, a “fellowship of evangelical churches” founded in 2005. It has a very strong Calvinist bent.

Douglas Stuart? (audio wasn’t clear, but Google returns this result, consistent w/ your theme) – Apologist, Gordon–Conwell Theological Seminary (is there anyone left who didn’t see this coming?)

Kenneth Kitchen – Apologist, University of Liverpool (finally, a mainstream institution and not a Bible college)

Kitchen is an evangelical Christian, and has published frequently defending the historicity of the Old Testament. He is an outspoken critic of the documentary hypothesis, publishing various articles and books upholding his viewpoint, citing several types of proof for his views showing that the depictions in the Bible of various historical eras and societies are consistent with historical data. Kitchen has also published articles for the Biblical Archaeology Review. (As with ABR, BAR is yet another site that uses a pro-“Bible & Spade” presuppositional approach to “evidence” which neatly fits with apologetic beliefs).

James Barr – Non-apologist, Oxford University

Barr is skeptical of the influence of Zoroastrianism on Second Temple-era Judaism.

So, in total, you gave the name of a only a single scholar who is not an apologist. Yet, you decided to cite his paper from 1985 which makes the claim that Zoroastrianism did not influence Judaism; which is a completely ludicrous argument, given the Jews were captives in Babylon and freed by Cyrus the Great, as your own Scriptures amply testify. As you delighted in telling me, this claim had to be peer-reviewed to make it into the Journals. Yes, and his peers (Boyce, Russell, Shaked, et al) have all thoroughly refuted this utterly ridiculous premise.

Given the nature of your arguments, I would, therefore, like to acquaint you with the following terms; perhaps you might notice a pattern emerging in your reasoning.

Circular Reasoning – A type of reasoning in which the proposition is supported by the premises, which is supported by the proposition, creating a circle in reasoning where no useful information is being shared.

Confirmation Bias – Occurs from the direct influence of desire on beliefs. When people would like a certain idea/concept to be true, they end up believing it to be true. They are motivated by wishful thinking. This error leads the individual to stop gathering information when the evidence gathered so far confirms the views (prejudices) one would like to be true.

I will state frankly, and for the record, that I reaffirm what I said to you in private that evening: I think you are being dishonest with yourself by blindly refuting the copious amount of rigorous scholarship available; but, rather, strictly adhering to your rigid apologetic interpretations. I like you, Jonathan. I find you to be a truly genuine (very rare to find in this world), albeit misguided, and likeable fellow. But, someone has to be honest and forthright with you, and not politely dance around the elephant in the room. It’s time to rip off the Band-Aid.

Perhaps your half-truths and mis-directions about ‘this passage says this’ or ‘no one believes that dating’ or ‘we can all agree we poor Christians were so hard-done by’ might work on your parishioners and the less well-informed, but you can’t pull those tricks with me, because I know better. And, I will always be ready, and able, to wave the BS flag on your play.

That said, always happy to debate you again, my friend.


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Heaven, Hell, & The Afterlife

My latest presentation, my first to a non-atheist group, on the origin and evolution of beliefs in Heaven, Hell, and the Afterlife: in Jewish, Christian, and Muslim Contexts

Universalists – Heaven, Hell and the Afterlife

Southpark Satan


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The Vatican – Covering Their Asses

Vatican CYOA

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March 5, 2016 · 8:49 pm