Qualifier: Confronting bad ideas is not to “attack” or “trash” religion in general. It is about careful distinction between religious ideas that encourage human goodness and subhuman ideas that have a history of promoting inhumanity.
Bad religious ideas and the harm they have caused humanity. The descent of bad ideas over history- from mythology to religion to ideology (i.e. mythology given “secular” expression, see comment on 19th Century “Declinism”).
Understanding imperfection: God is not pissed at imperfection. Threat theology got it all wrong. Exploring alternative narratives: There is no ultimate punishment, no angry God, no revenge of Gaia, no karma.
Racial facts- countering race as tribalism. We all identify as African.
Islamic terrorism and God- its not just a fight with ideology but with theology. That is where the real battle of ideas takes place.
Paul’s big fails- The mistakes made by the founder of Christianity. He buried Jesus with his Christ myth.
Note: Explore the profound contradiction between Jesus and Paul and you will understand better the larger story of our emergence out of animal existence to become human. It is about non-retaliation in Jesus (unlimited forgiveness and mercy, love your enemy) versus continuing retaliation in Paul (ultimate punishment and destruction of unbelievers- the outsiders to one’s band). It is about absolutely no conditions in Jesus (sun and rain generously given to all alike) versus supreme condition in Paul (his atonement theology- an ultimate payment- and the requirement of faith in his gospel).
I summarize animal existence in terms of such features as retaliation- the attack and then defense/retaliate response. Also, the tribal thinking of “us versus our enemies”, and the destruction of the competing outsider to one’s band. Human existence, on the other hand, has been about progress toward forgiveness (non-retaliation), inclusion of all, and generosity toward all, the central themes of historical Jesus.
Note also comment in next section below on “Why They Hate Us” (Fareed Zakaria documentary on CNN) and following comment “Nowhere left to hide”. When you purge the feature of violence from the God of the Western religions, you remove a central validation for human violence. This is how we win “the battle of ideas” in the most thorough manner and for the long-term future. See also comment in other sections below on Islamic violence (i.e. in “Site Project” section). I have traced the line of inheritance of violent God myths from Sumerian mythology to Zoroastrianism to Judaism to Christianity and then to Islam. It has always been the same old, same old.
Do not be put off by the exposure here of “bad religious ideas”. Note carefully the alternative- no conditions reality- that is offered all through this site. That is the real point- to clear away the obstructing bad stuff so that we can see more clearly the good stuff, the same point that is made by Leo Tolstoy on the gospels (see quotes below- next section). Also, careful distinction must be made between “moderate” and “extremist” views/practice of religion. All religious moderation endeavors must be encouraged and affirmed.
But do not short-circuit the process of thorough reform by defensively protecting what are unquestionably inhumane themes still embedded in religious traditions. Do not continue to protect recognizably bad ideas under the “canopy of the sacred”. Embrace the full humanization (making humane) of all thought and life. Unconditional points the way to that future of liberation from inhumanity.
Bad Religious Ideas
(This comment and the following “Big Picture” have been brought up from sections further below)
Bad religious ideas (Sam Harris’ term) have arguably caused humanity more grief and harm than anything else. These ideas have endlessly incited people’s basest emotions, impulses, motivations, responses, and consequent actions, even validating violence between people. Bad religious ideas have hindered human development, restraining people at subhuman stages of thinking, emotion, and behavior. See comment by psychologists like Zenon Lotufo, below (“Cruel God, Kind God”). Bad religious ideas have promoted unnecessary fear, anxiety, depression, and despair in the stories of human beings.
Many note that religion obviously plays a role in violence across the world, but few actually spell out what exactly in religion incites violence. This site details foundational religious ideas that have contributed to inciting, inspiring, guiding, or validating violence. If we are ever going to thoroughly and properly solve religious violence for the long-term future, then our religious traditions must confront these bad ideas and engage the project to radically change some very fundamental themes in religious belief systems and holy books. Western religions must do much more than just engage defensive attempts at peripheral reform. They must fully humanize the very core of Western religion- the Western views of God (Eastern religions contain the same religious pathology). Deity/God is where the worst of all bad ideas is located (i.e. divine vengeance, tribal exclusion, and violent punishment and destruction of enemies).
These pathological religious ideas appear in the earliest human writing, which means they most likely originated in the prehistory era (see John Pfieffer, Jacquetta Hawkes). They were then lodged deeply in human consciousness and worldviews, and have remained largely unchallenged down through subsequent religious history, forming the core themes of many belief systems. I have repeatedly traced their descent from Sumerian/Akkadian/Babylonian mythology, down through Zoroaster (the most influential religion in history- Boyce), then into Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, all the offspring of Zoroastrianism in our Western tradition of thought. Prominent bad religious ideas were then secularized in 19th Century Declinism, from where they have shaped contemporary Green religion or environmental alarmism, and much other modern ideology, including scientific thought. These pathological myths have infected most societies across the world. See, for example, apocalyptic themes in Buddhism and Hinduism, as noted in the research of Mircea Eliade (History of Religious Ideas).
Why focus on this dark stuff? Because these bad religious ideas have played the main obstructionist role across history, preventing billions of people from clearly seeing the liberating alternative to threat theology- the absolutely no conditions Love at the core of reality.
My list of bad religious ideas:
1. There is an angry, vengeful, violent, and punishing God behind all things. This is the worst of all bad ideas and the inciting mainspring for the rest. This bad idea appears right at the beginning in the Sumerian flood myth, and in the punishment of Enki for eating the 8 original plants (Dilmun paradise myth). It is also evident in the early belief in sacrifice- i.e. the required appeasement of angry, threatening deity. This core bad idea evokes the overwhelming terror of divine punishment. With this bad idea you have the worst of pathology projected onto humanity’s highest ideal and authority- deity. This myth of divine anger, vengeance, and violent punishment then distorts and buries entirely the true nature of Ultimate Reality as unconditional love.
This angry, punitive god myth is childish and subhuman in the extreme, but it continues to dominate human consciousness in such things as the revenge of Gaia myth, and angry planet, or payback Karma thinking. Angry, punishing deity has long incited and validated the worst impulses in people. And it adds the psychic burden of fear, anxiety, depression and despair to already unbearable physical suffering. Remember the Japanese lady after the tsunami, standing among the ruins and asking rhetorically, “Are we being punished for enjoying life too much?”
2. An original paradise or perfect beginning- i.e. the past was better. The Eden myth. Early people could not believe that divine power and goodness would create imperfection right at the start. So they misread the obvious imperfection of life all around them (i.e. natural disaster, disease, accident, death, violence from others) as a fall from an original perfection. The imperfection of the world was all evidence of the ruin and loss of the original perfection. This perverse myth of original perfection reverses entirely the actual narrative of life- that life has progressed from an imperfect beginning and toward more complexity and higher stages of development.
This myth of original perfection creates the platform for the narrative of life as being in decline since the loss of the perfect beginning. Loss of original perfection is at the basis of Declinist mythology and thought, that all has been going downhill since the original paradise was lost.
And original perfection mythology is at the basis of the devaluation of humanity. It is central to the myth that we humans ruined the original paradise, that we are corrupters of perfection and therefore deserve punishment. We have ruined the original perfection that God created.
Original paradise, or Eden mythology, also creates the basis for the myth that God desires perfection, that God only creates perfection and that we have ruined God’s perfect creation or plan. This original paradise myth feeds the notion that God is enraged at imperfection, is obsessed with punishing imperfection, and plans to purge all imperfection in a great apocalypse.
None of this helps us to understand the critically important role that imperfection plays in our development as human. It is only by struggling with imperfection in life that we learn and grow as human. Perfection mythology does not help us to embrace imperfection as a natural part of our learning process. By embracing the imperfect historical process and struggling to make it better, we discover insights and find solutions that benefit others. See Joseph Campbell and Julian Simon below.
The original paradise myth is the bedrock myth of the entire apocalyptic template of ideas. It also helps to understand why there will be a world-ending apocalypse. The angry, vengeful deity must purge the ruined world of the corrupting element- fallen humanity- in order to restore the lost original paradise.
3. As noted above, early people also believed that their ancestors had become corrupted or “sinful” and they had caused the ruin of the original paradise by committing an original error or sin. So “fallen, sinful” people now deserved punishment and destruction. This belief in the loss of original perfection, and blaming humanity for that loss, has led to the ongoing devaluation of humanity as something that has been corrupted, that has become evil. The fallen humanity myth also reverses entirely the actual narrative of human history- that we have consistently progressed toward something better than before, toward less violence and more empathy/love, and toward more creative improvement of life. We have emerged out of a brutal animal past to become human, to become more humane over history.
Fall myths, along with original perfection myths, promote the distorting idea that life has been in decline from the imagined perfect beginning. They promote the fraud that humanity continues to ruin the world and life. Humanity is also believed to be in decline, and degenerating toward something worse. This decline myth distorts entirely the actual trajectory of life and denies the mass of evidence that shows undeniable progress toward ever better conditions and higher stages of development, both in life and in humanity. Anti-human Fall mythology misses the essential love, goodness, and creativity of humanity that is evident in the overall improvement of life. This decline myth then incites unnecessary fear, fatalism, resignation, depression, and despair. It is a great distortion and lie.
This anti-human myth of fall and decline continues today in the Green religion pathology that views humanity as a virus on the planet, a cancer on nature. This has resulted in anti-population alarmism (i.e. the “population bomb”) and anti-human polices. This loathing and hatred of humanity as a corrupting force has promoted far too much anxiety and misery over being imperfectly human. It misses entirely the wonder of being human and that more human minds on the planet means more creative solutions to problems and more creative advance in life and civilization. Julian Simon was right that in net terms we have been more creators than destroyers. More people on Earth are not a threat to life.
Note: “Original noble savage” mythology is part of this fall and decline distortion. Many in the academic world (see LeBlanc’s “Constant Battles”) still propagate the myth of early noble savages that have “fallen”, or become corrupted, in emerging human civilization.
Think of what this fallen humanity myth has done to people’s view of themselves across history. This is the mother of all bad self-image thinking.
4. One of the most psychologically damaging of all bad religious ideas is the myth of humanity being rejected by God (i.e. thrown out of Eden), of humanity becoming “separated” from God and now under obligation to heal some imagined broken relationship, to become reconciled. Separation from our Source never happened. We have not been rejected and abandoned by our Creator. No one is excluded from the unconditional Love at the core of reality and life.
5. The myth of cosmic dualism and the related human dualism. This bad idea states that there is a cosmic Good Force/Spirit that exists in opposition to a Bad Force/Spirit. The cosmic dualism is then played out via human dualisms- i.e. the tribal thinking of us versus our “enemies”, us versus some other group in the human family. Such oppositional dualism incites and validates all the varied forms of human exclusion, domination, and destruction of outsiders- all the racial, national, religious, ideological, and other dualisms that we create to exclude and oppose others that differ from us. Dualistic tribal thinking misses entirely the essential oneness of the human family. It incites endless conflict and warfare.
Another element in tribal thinking is the myth of a “chosen people”, a special “elect” group that is uniquely favored by God. This myth re-enforces the feeling of being an insider, in opposition to outsiders or enemies.
6. Looming and always imminent apocalypse. The threat of coming collapse and ultimate destruction stirs fear, and fear incites defensive aggression and violence. This mythology is often accompanied by victimhood alarmism- that there is some threat or enemy that we must eliminate in order for us to survive.
7. Violent and overwhelming divine intervention is necessary to purge the corrupting element from life and restore the lost paradise, to bring in some hoped-for utopia. The apocalypse itself is the great instantaneous purging of imperfection that will permit “true believers” to escape from imperfection and instantly enter into their utopia. People have always tried to escape the slow, messy historical process for a mythical perfect existence. We hate the slow learning process, the struggle with imperfection.
This violent intervention mythology validates coercive action to “save” the world, or human civilization, or whatever else is believed to be threatened. We are watching the impact of this thinking right now in ISIS and the fight for its utopian caliphate. A similar situation is playing out in the environmental alarmist movement with its demand for coercive centralized action to “save the world” and restore a lost paradise. So also Marxism engaged violent intervention to purge the world of “destructive capitalism” and to restore the imagined lost paradise of original egalitarian communalism and hunter/gather existence.
Violent intervention mythology validates the coercive overruling of individual freedom in the name of some greater good. It misses entirely the importance of embracing the human struggle with imperfection and that this gradual learning process- i.e. our wrestling with the imperfect historical process- is vital to human development. Many other bad ideas come in here- i.e. the felt need of people to act violently as the agents of God to get the delayed apocalypse and the purging of life moving along.
Further, this instant, violent purging myth (apocalypse) does not understand authentically humane love and power. Truly humane love will not coercively overwhelm and intervene to short-circuit learning and bring instant change. Authentic love patiently respects human freedom of choice and tries to gently persuade. Love does not violate the freedom of others. And far from being a “weak response to evil”, such love is the most powerful response to transform life and people for the better. Note how Nelson Mandela’s non-coercive unconditional approach spared South Africa from civil war. As he said, it brought out the best in others and made friends out of former enemies.
Again, we balance this with the responsibility of love to restrain violence and to improve life in every way. We do not passively yield to suffering.
8. The demand for a salvation plan. Historically, this has been the demand for sacrifice. Religious Salvationism has always been highly conditional (sacrifice as demanded payment, punishment) and believes that violence is necessary to solve problems (i.e. blood sacrifice). Salvationism believes that God must hurt/harm an innocent victim in order to find satisfaction, in order to be appeased. Punishment must be meted out. Lotufo rightly stated that this view is psychopathic. Green religion also demands sacrifice in order to save something.
(Note: This is not to deny the obligation to care for nature. But while doing so, we must beware of Green Salvationist exaggeration and distortion of problems and their extremist anti-human responses.)
9. Payback as true justice. Based on the above belief in punishing deity- a God that demands the full punishment of sin, the full payment for sin- so human justice systems have been oriented to punishment, to getting even, or to getting revenge. This is known as ‘eye for eye’ justice. It originates with primitive offense and retaliation response- that if someone offended you, then you had the right to get even. This primitive retaliation view of justice argues that retribution is necessary to make things right again. And it misses entirely the humane ethic of loving enemies, of forgiving unconditionally, and of treating all people with unconditional inclusion and generosity. Unconditional love is the supreme expression of authentic humanity, of authentic love. Humane justice systems should be based on an unconditional approach, as restorative justice that affirms responsibility and accountability in an unconditional framework. Not justice as promoting retaliation and punishment.
Further, studies in psychology conclude that punishment approaches do not work with children or criminals. Punitive approaches do not teach alternative humane behaviors.
10. Bob Brinsmead would add another to this list of bad religious ideas. He points to the myth of a hero messiah, common throughout all cultures and notable in the Greek epics such as the Odyssey. He says that the gospel of Mark appears to be based on the Homeric epic model, and the miracles of Jesus in Mark are similar to the Homeric epic.
The myth of a super-human hero is found in the Sumerian/Akkadian combat myths. Zoroaster speaks of a savior that would defeat evil and a great final battle. The Roman emperors were super-human political messiahs. Brinsmead says, “Usually these divinized heroes were virgin born or born of some miraculous union with the divine”.
Brinsmead continues, stating that every messiah was expected to be someone who would bring victory by superior violence. The book of Revelation expresses this hope. But in the Q Sayings Gospel, the original teaching of Jesus, there is none of this messianic Christology, says Brinsmead. Jesus made a complete break with this messianic violence myth. He rejected what many of his followers wanted him to be.
One more- Biblicism is another bad religious idea that needs to be abandoned. This fallacy claims that religious holy books, or scriptures, are uniquely inspired by God and are therefore special. They are more valuable than ordinary human writing. Not at all. We evaluate all writing with the simple criteria of what is good or bad. If any material contains good insights then we affirm that in terms of general categories of good and bad. If such material contains subhuman, or bad material, then we expose and reject that material just as we would discriminate between good and bad anywhere else (or humane and inhumane). Religious writings are not more special or more valuable than any other common human communication or writing.
And another bad religious idea…
Another bad religious idea is that we are obligated to know, love, serve, and be loyal to some invisible Person, to a God above. This derives from the primitive belief that “humanity was created to serve the gods”. Absolutely not. We live in a material world and our primary obligation is to know, love, serve, and be loyal to people around us, here and now.
Too often the endeavor to know and serve Something invisible and above has led to neglect and abuse of real people here and now. Look at the history of religion to see this sorry outcome. We are here to improve the human condition in this world and this life, for ourselves and others, and we are not to worry about some invisible reality outside of this life, or another existence at a later date.
Loyalty to things outside of humanity, or above humanity, has too often resulted in neglect and abuse of real people. Remember the example offered by Jesus. Jewish law forbade work such as healing on the Sabbath. Jesus responded that the needs of real people took priority over loyalty to some religious law or greater authority above (i.e. deity).
The perception of God as something outside of, or above humanity, is part of this religious error that promotes loyalty to heavenly deities. To help rethink this issue, consider the general thrust of the statement of Jesus in Matthew 25:40, aside from its normal context, “Whatever you did for the least person, you did for me”.
And again, God as unconditional love alleviates entirely any concern about serving anything other than real people. It frees us to join the human race and to work to improve the human condition here and now. There is no God that demands attention and worship, or that threatens people with punishment for failing to worship and serve God.
As some have stated, God has disappeared into humanity and if there is any wrong to make right in life, then it will be done only by us, not by some invisible, intervening sky God. If someone is sick then a doctor will heal them. If anyone is hungry then a farmer must grow crops to feed them. If anyone is jobless and poor then a businessperson creating a new business venture will provide jobs and create wealth for the poor. And so it goes all through life. Any deity is in all of us, and is expressed in our help to our fellow humans. That is how we know, love, and serve any God. That is all the theology that we need to know.
Add your own bad religious ideas…
These bad religious ideas are the foundational themes of all three Western religions- Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. They are, in varied features, very much the expressions of base animal impulses, impulses long ago projected onto the gods, embedded in myths and religious beliefs, and now considered the untouchable sacred. They continue to incite and validate inhuman behavior.
The humanizing project that has impacted most of the rest of life must confront these bad ideas, purging them and replacing them with more humane alternatives such as unconditional.
Some will note that if you purge these particular ideas from Christianity then you have nothing left of the original religion. But if you replace them with the central theme of Jesus- unconditional- then you have rediscovered the best of everything, something far better than the retaliation religion of Paul.
Once again- If you take the step and reject the idea of some great Threat behind life, and embrace the ideal of absolutely no conditions Love at the core of all, you will have embraced the greatest liberation ever, the single most profound shift in human consciousness. If the core idea of ultimate Threat is purged, then the supporting/inciting basis for all the other bad ideas collapses.
Love and freedom (further comment on the violent, coercive intervention noted above)
Critical to add to the Top Ten Bad Religious Ideas is some further comment on the pathology of God as dominating. This fallacy has been coupled with the ancient myth that people were “created to serve the gods”. People have expressed this pathological mythology in ideas of God as King, Lord, Judge, and so on. The “superiority and rule of deity”.
The humane response to this? Authentic love is tightly bound to authentic freedom. True love does not dominate, control, threaten, or coerce. It grants full freedom to the other, it respects the freedom of the other and will not interfere, overrule, overwhelm, or intervene in the freedom of another. Love is not totalitarian or tyrannical but persuasive. It is non-controlling.
Further, a God of love is not a self-centered Idi Amin or Kim Jong-Un, demanding to be the center of attention, or demanding constant praise of his greatness, on pain of death for not doing so. A truly loving God will be self-forgetful as any decent human person is, and will treat others as equals, with respect and honor.
(Note: Alex Garcia in Alpha God rightly portrays much human worship of God, with people bowing down before deity, as more animal behavior than human. It is exactly what inferior animals do- averting eyes, bowing heads- in the presence of dominating alpha leaders.)
If God is authentic love then God will not dominate, control, threaten, interfere, overrule, or coerce. This helps to understand the central problem of theodicy- how there can be an ultimately good and loving God, yet evil still exists. When authentic freedom is granted to people, there will always be the possibility that some will abuse such freedom and the consequences can be horrific for others. Others note that God is invisible spirit and it is up to us to stop evil and solve the problems of life.
The Big Picture (Historical descent of mythical/religious pathology)
Intro: The following material comments on how mental pathology begins and develops over history. See further below for more comment on the logic behind the ancient misread of the natural realm and its imperfection. We (i.e. humanity across history) have always had a hard time embracing imperfection. We just do not appreciate its role in promoting struggle, learning, and our development as human. For example, what about the role of inhuman behavior in the struggle to learn how to love? Opposites that provide opportunity to exhibit the better human qualities. Again, I would point to Joseph Campbell’s comment on human story- that our struggle with “monsters” has the outcome that we gain insights that can then benefit others. Julian Simon also affirms the role of struggling with problems, and how such struggle then prompts the search for personal solutions and that produces solutions that benefit others. But still… Yechh, eh.
Our ancestors tried to understand and explain the big question- the presence of imperfection in life. Why natural disaster, disease, cruelty and violence, and death? They concluded that life must have been originally perfect but that our ancestors messed it up somehow. They could not accept that Ultimate Goodness or Power would have created an imperfect world. So blame humanity for some original error or “sin”. They then wrongly concluded that the subsequent imperfection of life was punishment from angry gods, gods that were pissed at human failure to honor and obey the gods, failure to offer sacrifice, or failure to live according to the dictates of religious taboos and commands. The result of their misread of human suffering was the profound mental and emotional pathology that is still lodged at the core of most myth and religion. All those “bad religious ideas” (Sam Harris’ term).
But laser in on the worst of all bad ideas that came out of the early misread of imperfection- that God was angry and would punish human imperfection. An entire suite of other bad ideas was developed to support this core bad idea.
Here is a long-term historical view of the origin and descent of some of the main ideas that are explored on this site. I have focused quite intensely on the pathological ideas that have caused more damage to human consciousness and life than anything else. Across the millennia these themes have become hardwired in human subconscious where they work in concert with our inherited animal impulses to incite, inspire, guide, and validate the worst behavior. These themes have long shaped how people see the world, how they feel, and how they respond to life.
Again, the cohering central theme behind the bad religious ideas listed below is that of a threatening deity (the worst of all bad ideas), a God that uses violence to resolve problems, to punish people. Further, I have gathered these ideas under the umbrella framework of apocalyptic. Ernst Kaseman called apocalyptic the “Mother of Christian theology”. I would expand that out to argue that apocalyptic is the Mother of most mythology, most religion, and much ideology. Its just that prominent and persistent across history- the pessimistic belief that life is declining toward some catastrophic ending where this imperfect historical process will be abandoned. Many of the other bad ideas noted below relate intensely to apocalyptic. They are part of the larger template of tightly inter-connected apocalyptic mythology.
Note how these ideas descend down through history, being absorbed into ever new systems of thought or belief. Subsequent systems (i.e. religions) make changes and revisions to adapt these inherited ideas to their local situations and cultures. But it is important to note that the core themes remain the same. It is always the same old, same old being repeated, whether in religious or later secular systems of belief.
Historically, apocalyptic has been mainly about a divine intervention to punish bad people for ruining an original paradise, and to purge the world of corrupt and evil humanity so that paradise can be restored. Apocalyptic is the destruction and removal of fallen, corrupted people. That would be most of us. Except for the “true believers” in the destroying God. They are exempted. Saved.
This summary is incomplete because brevity was the goal. See rest of site for more detail. I am posting this because it is helpful to keep an overall historical picture in mind, a greater background template in which to locate things. For brevity, I am only touching on some major nodes down through history and I am tracing mainly down through to our Western tradition. One also finds similar bad ideas moving down through the Eastern tradition. See Mircea Eliade, and others, on apocalyptic themes in Hinduism, Buddhism, and elsewhere.
Lets start in prehistory. Pre-historians John Pfieffer and Jacquetta Hawkes state that what we find in the first human writing (i.e. Sumerian cuneiform tablets) we can assume represents what was believed in the pre-literature or prehistory era.
Pfieffer suggests, for instance, that people in prehistory may have already held an original golden age myth, the cornerstone myth of apocalyptic. The belief that life began in some early paradise. Is he on to something? Well, consider that our line of humanity emerged about 150,000 years ago. And consider that evidence of developing consciousness also begins far back- i.e. ancient people burying their dead, artistic beauty in tool-making, sacrifice to appease spirits, and so on. Prehistory people were already engaging their impulse for meaning and purpose, the fundamental impulses of human consciousness. They were trying to understand and explain life (especially the bad parts), the world, and the cosmos, and what it all meant.
Some checking of the natural history of the more ancient past shows that the previous interglacial- the Eemian Interglacial Period- occurred from about 130,000 to 115,000 years ago, well within the span of developing human consciousness. And some research shows that the Eemian Interglacial may have ended abruptly, within several centuries. The ancients would have considered that loss of better interglacial conditions in terms of the loss of a paradise- the warmer interglacial- and descent toward something worse- the colder glaciation that followed. That severe downturn/decline in climate may have prompted the belief in early apocalyptic. Those people may have wondered why the gods were punishing them. Such is how myth originates and develops.
Note on following: Early myths of apocalyptic floods may originate from varied natural events such as Mediterranean tsunamis or the great Black Sea Deluge of 5600 BCE.
Sumerian mythology– Here we find the first human writing and literature. Writing begins roughly around 3000 BCE (noun lists of temple produce, and kings lists) and then more expressive literature (words as verbs, adjectives, etc.) develops around 2600 BCE. Then we start getting early poems, stories, epics, and related material. The Sumerian cuneiform tablets are broken and scattered but later Akkadian and Babylonian versions are more complete and are quite identical to the earlier Sumerian versions of the same myths.
Apocalyptic is not found in any formal statement of theology in that first writing. It is more a scattering of themes throughout the epics. For instance, we find an original paradise theme in the story of the city of Dilmun where there is no sickness, death, predation, or corruption. We then find a loss of paradise and “fall of man” mythology in the story of the god/man Enki eating the 8 forbidden original plants and becoming ill. The Dilmun myth states that he was punished for his “sin”. The paradise of Dilmun was then corrupted and lost.
A statement of early proto-apocalypse is also found in the Sumerian Flood myth. In this myth the waterworks god, Enlil, becomes enraged at people. There are too many people (early over-population scare) and they have become too noisy and he is sleep-deprived. So he plans a great flood to wipe out humanity and end human history. Some “nicer gods”, arguing against drowning, suggest that they could destroy people by having wild beasts tear them apart. Ah, such mercy.
Again, this is not formal apocalyptic theology but the core themes are detectable in this mythology, right at the beginning of human writing.
Egyptian mythology: Running almost historically parallel with the development of Sumerian mythology, Egyptian mythology appeared in art and architecture, and then in written form, around the mid-Third Millennium BCE. In Egyptian myth we also find gods (i.e. the Eye of Ra) planning to destroy humanity (the Middle Kingdom myth of the ‘Destruction of Mankind’) and plotting to dissolve the ordered world and take all back to chaos. This expresses a form of eschatology (the end time) or apocalypse.
As with most mythology/religion, the Isis and Osiris myth- the central Egyptian myth- is a myth of vengeance/retaliation, and justice as payback destruction of one’s enemies. Also, the great battle between the good god Horus and the evil god Seth is played out among their followers (tribal dualism and opposition).
Skipping over to another major node along the way- Zoroaster is dated around 1500 BCE. He is credited with shaping ancient apocalyptic themes into a more formal statement of apocalyptic theology. He claims that there is a great cosmic dualism, a cosmic battle between a good God (Ahura Mazda) and an evil power (Angra Mainyu). Zoroastrian cosmic conflict is similar to early combat mythology and order versus chaos myths. The cosmic battle is played out through humanity, with the followers of the good religion set in opposition to the unbelievers, the “bad people”. The good God eventually destroys the world in an apocalypse of fiery molten metal that purges the world of corruption. Note that Zoroaster shifts from a water apocalypse to an apocalypse by fire. Then after the final purging, the lost original paradise can be restored.
Zoroaster makes revisions and changes to the myths that he adopts, but he preserves the core themes of previous apocalyptic in his “new” religion. Zoroaster is then credited with shaping Jewish thinking and belief. Varied routes to this line of descent are suggested- e.g. Jewish exile in Babylon, or Jewish descent from the Sumerian/Mesopotamian region, or the usual exchange of ideas over centuries of mutual contact and trade.
Jewish apocalyptic belief is stated more formally around the second to first century BCE in books like Daniel, written roughly around 175 BCE. See Walter Schmittals’ “The Apocalyptic Movement” for more detail.
The next historical node is a major one- Christianity. Christianity is a religion created by Jewish people within Jewish culture. Paul, the main creator of the version of Christianity that came down to us, was a Jew. His apocalyptic Christianity has shaped Western consciousness and society more than any other body of thought (see James Tabor, Mary Boyce below). Tabor says that apocalyptic influenced all that Paul said and did.
In the Christian scriptures we find all the main themes of apocalyptic- original paradise, early human sin and the loss of paradise, the corruption of life, the decline of life toward something worse, toward some great catastrophic end where evil people will be punished and purged from the world, and then the original paradise will be restored, or a new utopia created. In the meantime, the true believers exist in opposition to unbelievers (Zoroastrian dualism- good versus bad, truth versus falsehood).
Note that Salvationism, often thought of as the basic Christian message- i.e. Jesus died for our sins in order to save us from Hell- is a sub-category of the larger apocalyptic system of belief. Salvationism derives from the myth that humanity suffered an early Fall into sin when paradise was lost and people must subsequently find salvation from the apocalyptic wrath to come (punishment for sin, a God angry at humanity for ruining paradise). The threat of future punishment pushes people to find some atonement scheme- a payment for sin in order to escape the coming apocalyptic wrath of God (Romans 5:9).
(Side note: The Jewish/Christian movement also gave us one of the best expressions of the new insight into absolutely no conditions reality, though the early Christian movement then immediately buried that insight in highly conditional reality)
And with this template of pathological ideas the Western world entered the Dark Ages of Christianity- very much a consequence of such irrational and damaging mythology. However, the humanizing influence of Jesus’ core teaching (i.e. Matthew 5:38-48, Luke 6:26-37, and related material) also remained within the Christian tradition. That central theme of no conditions love helped to blunt the harsher impacts of the larger body of Christian teaching.
Then, continuing the Western line of descent, we have the stepchild of Christianity- Islam. The early revelations of Muhammad begin roughly around 610 CE when Muhammad was about 40 years old. And yes, as Joseph Azzi’s The Priest and the Prophet shows, Muhammad borrows Jewish/Christian ideas from his Jewish Christian mentor Waraqa (Ebionite Christian) and shapes Islam around those ideas. Islamic apocalyptic also believes that an angry, vengeful God will destroy all unbelievers, purging them from the world and will then restore a lost caliphate- Islamic paradise- across the world. See, for instance, David Cook’s books on Islamic apocalyptic belief.
Islamic historian Abbas Amanat adds that Islamic apocalyptic includes the beliefs in the advent of the Mahdi (Islamic Messiah) to be followed by a great resurrection and Day of Judgment. This will include the restoration of the utopian Islamic community. See “Apocalyptic Islam and Iranian Shi’ism”.
And then the next major historical node- The Enlightenment and scientific age from roughly the 1600s on to the present. From this time, in a more widespread manner, people begin to think more critically, scientifically, or secularly. Less mythically, or at least they believe so. They shift toward a more rational way of viewing life and reality. Again, so they think. And much is good in this shift. Empiricism emerges more widely- observing natural evidence and making rational conclusions based on evidence- and is developed further. The empirical/observational approach actually began initially with the Greeks (i.e. Aristotle) but never became as widespread as during the Enlightenment.
But something else happened in the shift toward the more widely accepted scientific worldview. People also brought along the themes of primitive apocalyptic mythology into their new scientific worldviews. They actually “secularized” ancient mythical themes, giving them new secular expression. Thus the same old, same old continued into modern consciousness. How so?
Arthur Herman (The Idea of Decline) details some of the transformation of mythology into secular ideology. But he notes only a few themes from apocalyptic mythology. For instance, he states that 19th Century Declinism- also known as Cultural Pessimism, or Degeneration theory- borrowed ideas of an original golden age that was lost, a pristine natural paradise before humanity. He also notes the Declinist belief in the violent purging of the corrupting element from the world- i.e. removing the destructive human technological, industrial society. This purging myth is derived from the similar Christian belief that God will violently purge the world of corruption- the present “evil” world system- in the final apocalypse. Despite Herman’s limited references to previous apocalyptic mythology, much of the template of primitive apocalyptic is still visible in 19th Century Declinism. Herman then rightly concludes his book showing that Declinism has subsequently shaped contemporary Environmental Alarmism.
(Note: In the development of Declinism there was also a notable anti-science element. That was a rejection of the rational approach of science and a longing to re-establish the mythical mindset. Also, a strong anti-human element was built into Declinism. That has always been part of the mix of human mythology, religion, and more recent ideology.)
And this brings us to today. As Herman and others have noted, the environmental alarmist movement repeatedly voices the themes of primitive apocalyptic. Environmental alarmists believe that the world was an original paradise before humanity emerged to engage, use, and change nature. They believe that corrupt, greedy humans have destroyed the original paradise and all is now in decline toward some catastrophic collapse and ending. So Gaia must take revenge and punish humanity. The salvation scheme? We must purge the world of the corrupting element- greedy, destructive humanity in industrial society- in order to restore the lost paradise.
Apocalyptic despair infects more than just environmental extremism. Its core theme of violent, punishing deity finds expression in such widely embraced myths as punishing Karma, or angry planet.
I detail this below.
And I am now verklempt. Discuss this mental pathology- these bad religious ideas- amongst yourselves.
Wrestling with imperfection– W. Krossa
The following comments have been pulled from varied sections and articles below that treat the problem of imperfection in life (i.e. natural disaster, accident, disease, human cruelty). It is helpful to explore early human logic to see where and why people went wrong in their thinking. Why did our ancestors come to the conclusion that imperfect humanity was being punished for being imperfect? Why did early people believe that the gods were punishing spirits and that we deserved punishment? Why does this fallacy still persist today in prominent public themes like “the revenge of Gaia”, karma, and angry planet mythology. Why do so many still believe that all forms of misfortune are punishment? Remember the Japanese lady after the tsunami asking, “Are we being punished?” Or the singer Toni Braxton stating that she believed that a miscarriage later in her life was punishment for an abortion that she had earlier in her life.
This punishment mythology is embodied as a central feature of the God of all the great Western religions- Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. The threat by a punishing God to destroy humanity in a great apocalypse is arguably one of the most prominent narrative themes of contemporary public story-telling. (Note: Include also the secular versions of apocalyptic punishment such as in environmental alarmism)
Bob Brinsmead- discussion group post on imperfection
Christianity did not abandon perfectionism at all. It was based on a premise of perfectionism. The God of Christianity was said to have created a perfect humanity and a perfect environment.
Man’s fall made it all imperfect, including himself. The punishment of a perfectionistic God was horrendous. One strike and you are out! (Adam in Eden). The original sin of man opened up an infinite gulf between a perfectionist demanding God and an imperfect humanity. Christianity then found a convenient way to meet the demands of a God who was above everything else, a deity of perfectionism. The only way that that gulf could be bridged was that the Son of God should come and live that perfectionistic life that God demanded of humanity. As an old theologian used to say “perfect obedience to every decree to the utmost degree.”
Jesus then had to die a horrific, infinite suffering separation from God to pay the infinite price for human imperfection. Then, through faith in what he did, the perfection that he rendered to the perfectionistic God would be imputed to us – and thereby we could be justified, standing perfect before a perfection demanding God.
God is so perfect and so demanding of perfection that he could not even hear the prayers of his saints unless they were first perfumed with the incense of the perfect obedience of his Son.
In all of this grand narrative God is so perfect and lifted up above us that he could not as much as touch us, reach us, by a disinfected stick. His Son, the instrument of his reach, had to be born as the result of an immaculate conception of a mother who would have to be conceived by another immaculate conception so that through that procedure he was twice removed from human imperfection, first by the immaculate nature of the conception of Mary to start with and then the asexual birth of Jesus himself.
See how far we must have been removed from God – and God removed from our imperfection. So the whole ball and wax of Christian theology and soteriology was grounded in perfectionism and how we poor human imperfects could even dare or be able to get back in touch with the ultimate perfectionism of God. Then in one particular Christian tradition, one needed to contact this Christ figure through Mary, the intercession of saints, the ministration of priests and the sacraments of the church. Wow! Such a long chain of contacts to reach a perfectionist God!
So what we now put forward is another grand narrative that flies in the face of the old one. Man emerges in a very imperfect environment, and the real human beginnings were dirty, smelly and brutal. If this planet, the home of humanity looks imperfect and threatening, what about the rest of the universe with supernovae, black holes, collisions of meteors, explosions, disintegration of great suns and systems – and even our sun with its suns spots in not perfect, its journey around the sun is not a circle and not a perfect ellipse, our climate is a random and imperfect system, our genes don’t always reproduce perfectly.
I could go on and on about our imperfect planetary neighbours, mass extinction events on this earth destroying about 99% of all life forms that have existed here – but the obvious conclusion must surely be this: If God indeed created this universe, this solar system, this earth and all the creatures on it, if the emergence of all this had something to do with God, then God must love imperfection and is not pre-occupied with human sin, guilt and shame as if all God’s energies are focussed on solving such puny problems.
So rather than have us focus on all this negative stuff that only aggravates such things anyway, we should be focussed on human development and the human potential and the human purpose. We apparently need and God must use this imperfection for this end. R. Brinsmead
The longing for perfection- W. Krossa
Richard Landes in “Heaven on Earth” talks about the Millennialist’s “hope for perfection”. This sparks some thoughts on how people have wrestled with this issue of perfection/imperfection over history. The Fall myth was the primitive explanation for how imperfection entered life. And the apocalypse myth explained how imperfection will be punished and then purged from life, so that the original perfection can once again be restored.
All this explanation arises from the human impulse for meaning- to understand and explain life. Why disease, disaster, and death? Ancient people concluded that the horrible elements of life emerged because the earliest people had sinned. They had ruined the original perfection. And now all humanity deserved punishment because of our failure, our sin.
But we also long for perfection again, for some future utopia, a millennial paradise. So how do we respond to all this longing for perfection, and how do we answer the primitive endeavor to explain imperfection in terms of myths of original paradise and Fall into sin? One possible route, from the angle of theology, would suggest that imperfection is the Creator’s “plan” to create a learning environment for human story. A place where people struggle to be better, to make life better. And in such struggle with imperfection we learn and grow as human. We learn what it means to be human. We develop as human.
As both Julian Simon and Joseph Campbell have noted, our problems push us to find or create solutions and this benefits others. Campbell said that we face monsters, struggle to conquer them and in so doing we learn insights/lessons that we can bring back to benefit others.
What might be a response to theodicy issues- the defense of Ultimate Goodness behind an imperfect world? How should we understand and respond to imperfection? I would suggest that the imperfect historical process is the arena in which we learn how to become human, how to love in the face of brutality and evil. We should therefore embrace imperfection as part of God’s “plan” (horrible religious term) for our human story. There should then be no shame or guilt over being imperfectly human. There should be no fear of judgment or punishment for being imperfectly human. And certainly, there should be no looking to violence to solve the problem of imperfection. Imperfection is the reality and environment in which we struggle and develop as truly human. It is essential for our growth and learning. W. Krossa
This from Bob Brinsmead on imperfection in life
The important thing to realize about evolution is that it demolishes the basic narrative on which the Christian religion of Paul in particular and the Church in general has built its theology – that is, a narrative that begins with a perfect humanity in a perfect world — the Fall of man from a perfect state/world, then a redemptive work that makes atonement for the Fall through a violent act of atonement and a final apocalypse in which a remnant of believers escape whilst the rest suffer a divine Holocaust. It is narrative that begins in an act of divine violence against human imperfection or human defection, a violent atonement which demonstrates God’s absolute intolerance of any human imperfection or lack of submission/obedience to his iron-clad authority, and then a final holocaust of violence of Judgment and hell. The idea of an eternal torment of those who displease God entered the narrative with Jewish apocalyptic, it was certainly continued in some NT passages, it was taken up in Islam, and it is central to the final apocalypse. Even the great NT teaching of love can’t dissipate the core theme of violence – which comes through strongly in Paul (Romans 1-5) and the Apocalypse.
Now this entire narrative is utterly demolished by the evolutionary narrative as effectively as Galileo and Copernicus demolished the Flat Earth thinking. The reality is that that the story of humanity began not in the perfection of Eden but in the most inauspicious and unpromising and imperfect way down in Africa about 175,000 years ago as computed by the best Human Genome science, in an earth over 4 billion years old and in a Universe about 13.7 billion years ago. It is clear from genetics that this Homo sapiens was another animal, 98.8% genetic compatibility with chimpanzee and 90% compatibility with a mouse – having the same structure of cells as all forms of life demonstrating what the fossil record points to, namely, that all life on this planet originated from a single source.
If this narrative is in any sense correct, then the Creator behind this emergence of humankind gave to humanity an imperfect inheritance, all the animal drives of predation, hierarchical or pecking order orientation as all animal have, xenophobia, band separation, the tendency to violently respond to threats of danger or competition (retaliation), and altogether as Lyle Watson (Dark Nature) calls it, all the natural tendencies of “the wicked old witch.” The life of early man tended to be short and brutal, dirty and smelly. Yet we look at human history and we see a trajectory of amazing progress, of rising and developing – language, agriculture, writing, art, music, culture, industry, technology and a developing human consciousness that increasingly sees human brutality, discrimination in regard to race or gender, cruelty to even our fellow animals, more and more opposition to war especially what is called “collateral damage”, intolerance, xenophobia, inequality and social conflict as less and less acceptable and contrary to human dignity.
Far from being intolerant regards any imperfection, the Creator of this real world shows an enormous tolerance to the less than perfect. Humankind is even saddled with imperfection – as great as it is, there are serious defects and weakness in the human body. We are saddled with not only an imperfect, but also a very dangerous environment. How long did humans live on this planet before they discovered that the most dangerous animals were not the big ones they could see, but the countless billions of little critters not visible to the naked eye – hordes of pathogens waiting to invade the human organism and kill it?
It is just plain silly to go on with a narrative of God’s anger against any human failure or imperfection, the need to have every such human defect atoned for by some violent blood payment for human sin. The old narrative creates a pre-occupation with guilt, God’s anger, insistence on atonement or payback for every failure, etc. But if the narrative of evolution is in any sense true, then God must surely be focused on this great trajectory of human development and the goal toward becoming all that humanity might become, a destiny that Freeman says is “infinite in all directions.”
The human story is more like the great Exodus story, from darkness, slavery, poverty, smelly dirty conditions to the vision of creating from an unpromising looking environment, a Promised Land where no one is hungry, when the inhabitant will not say “I am sick,” where nation will not lift up sword against nation nor learn war any more, where people will not do to others what they would not desire to be done to themselves, where they will no man teach every man his neighbor saying,” Know the Lord, for they shall all know Me from the least to the greatest.” Here is a vision that does not have a God who is preoccupied with their mistakes, much less guilt, but people who can live with imperfection but become co-creators with God to make a better world, a Promised Land, out of a land that does not appear to be so promising. We are given a lot of raw material, a lot of undeveloped land, unpromising unproductive soil in both human nature and the environment, and thrown in we are given suffering, sickness, grief, setbacks as if all these things are a kind of resistance training in the gym of life, and things to develop patience, fortitude, forgiveness (of ourselves as much as others) compassion for others and hopefully that we will find that the bottom line is that we are here to serve and bless others, and in doing this will see the face of God.
I have not been discouraged to find out that I have been wrong on so many fronts. Heck, I born into an apocalyptic faith stuck with a primitive kind of Sabbath keeping, in a six day creation of a little match box universe only six thousand years old, with a ludicrous interpretation of Daniel 8:14, believing in virgin birth and bodies flying of this planet into space (ascension) and the delusion of an imminent apocalypse, but above all (I can’t stress this too much) what structured my theological thinking was this basic Christian narrative of Paradise Lost to Paradise restored. I began a journey where piece by piece of this edifice was seen as wrong. But here is the point of I want to make. It was never so hard for me to discover I was mistaken. That was the thing that always gave me a great buzz, because at every point this gave me the confidence that things were going to get a whole lot better. It’s like me learning that I have been using the wrong kind of fertilizer, chemical or root stock for so many years in my horticulture. I get a buzz out of finding a better way of moving forward.
My point in all this is that we must see that evolution destroys the old Christian narrative of Paradise Lost to Paradise Restored. We need a whole new story, a narrative that is true to both science and the history of man. RDBrinsmead
Perfectionism comment (from other sections below)- W. Krossa
There has been endless confusion over this issue of imperfection in life. Ancient people believed that a Creator would not create an imperfect world. So the obvious imperfection of the world (natural disaster, accident, disease, predation) meant that the first people must have messed up the original perfect world with some original sin or fault. That is why life fell into imperfection. Blame corrupt humanity for messing it all up. Now people must live with endless threat from a God obsessed with perfection/imperfection and punishing imperfection.
An alternative narrative will embrace that imperfection was part of creation from the start and God is not obsessed with imperfection and driven to punish. No. This imperfect world and historical process should be embraced as a great learning arena. It is where we struggle with imperfection and in the process, learn and develop as human. As Joseph Campbell said, our struggle with life and its problems (monsters) enables us to discover insights that benefit us and others. Julian Simon said that in our struggle to solve problems we discover solutions that benefit us and others.
We need to embrace our imperfection for its learning potential. And we need to relax over its possible ultimate consequences. Contrary to most mythology/religion over history, we will not be ultimately punished for being imperfect. We will not be ultimately destroyed for struggling to be better in this life, for learning how to become more human in an imperfect world. Remember, the patience of parents with imperfect children and their slow growth and development. Surely, a God of love understands and treats all with the same patience and mercy.
Racial facts– Countering tribalism, “us versus them” thinking.
All modern humans (Homo Sapiens) originated in Africa about 200,000 years ago. One hypothesis claims that all people alive today have inherited the same mitochondrial DNA from a woman in Africa about 160,000 years ago. We all share a common black African mother, an ancestor that had dark skin. Our origin shows that we are one human family and we all identify most fundamentally as African.
Our human family began to disperse and migrate out of Africa about 130,000-115,000 years ago. We spread out across the Earth to settle in diverse habitats and climates, subject to different environmental pressures.
The point? All people have the same amount of melanocytes in their skin. Melanocytes produce melanin that regulates absorption of UV or ultraviolent rays penetrating the skin, and gives skin its darker color. Some of our dark-skinned African ancestors migrated to lower sunlight areas such as Northern Europe. Over multiple millennia human populations have experienced natural selection in response to environmental pressures. The black Africans that settled in Northern European areas experienced selection for lighter skin in order to maximize the absorption and synthesis of vitamin D. That process may have taken 10-20,000 years.
Human populations that remained near the Equator in high sunlight areas continue to have the protection of active melanocytes. Their skin remains darker. However, there are rare exceptions to this rule and for other reasons (e.g. Inuit living in low-sunlight areas of the Northern Hemisphere but getting Vitamin D from diet). Some other minor differences also emerged from local variation.
Our fundamental roots and identity are African. Later differences in humanity are minor local variations to that basic identity of the human family.
One scientist said that if you take the genome of an African and the genome of a European you would have a hard time distinguishing them as different. The things that we base racial difference upon “amount to things of no more importance than a sunburn”, he said. Skin color- active versus inactive melanocytes.
Another scientist said that race is more of a “social construct” than a biological reality. We “make it up” based on almost non-existent biological differences. Despite local variation, due to environmental pressure producing inactive or active melanocytes, all of us are still members of the same one human family. Our defining feature is that we all share the same human consciousness, human minds and human spirit, and we all have the same human potential.
What then are we really arguing about? Why do we encourage and vent primitive tribalism impulses (us versus them) over such petty things that amount to nothing more than a sunburn?
Finally, there is evidence of racism in the ancient world. People have long viewed others as different based on various minor features. But racism based on skin color gained wider acceptance during the Colonial era when invaded peoples with darker skin were devalued and dehumanized as uncivilized, un-Christianized and therefore inferior and subordinate to the lighter-skinned European invaders. The residue of this thinking persists today.
The perception of racial difference is beyond petty as it is often based on things like the genetically-peripheral feature of inactive melanocytes versus active melanocytes. Something of no more importance than a sunburn. But if not sunburns, we resort to ethnic, national, religious, or ideological issues to divide and separate over.
How silly of us, eh. Surely, we can rise above animal tribalism to embrace our common humanity. We are one family, and if we claim to be human, then we must include every human being as an equal member of our family.
(Note: Where ethnicity, nationalism, occupation, religion, or ideology have been viewed too seriously and held dogmatically as fundamental sources of human identity- i.e. Louis Zurcher in “Mutable Self”- then they have been harmful to human existence. But where they have been held more lightly, then they have served as healthy expressions of human diversity. However, the fundamental oneness of all people must ultimately define all human diversity.)
Followup note: Ancient roots of racism in animal tribalism
Animals exist in a world of small band or extended family groupings. There is intense survival competition among such bands, whether between same-species bands or different species.
This small band mentality and practice continued into emerging human existence as tribalism, group members or insiders versus outsiders or others.
Early people projected this tribal separation and opposition onto their gods/myths. They claimed there was a great cosmic dualism of a good God versus and evil force or god. Irreconcilable combat and conflict flowed from this. Combat mythology is related to this. Projecting tribalism onto greater realities then creates validation for tribalism in our highest ideals and authorities.
The differing gods favoured their chosen people (believers), excluded unbelievers, and opposed/destroyed their enemies. This dualistic opposition (tribalism) was to be played out between the followers of the differing gods. We see this in the Zoroastrian conflict of good against evil. The good or true believers were responsible to oppose, convert, or destroy unbelievers, the bad people. They were to eliminate the other false religions that threatened to pollute their good religion or lead them astray (victim-hood under threat is part of this tribal opposition and conflict).
This primitive tribal mentality to divide, separate/oppose, dominate, exclude or destroy, continues in varied forms today- racial tribalism is one expression among others, whether ethnic, national, religious, ideological, gender, occupational, generational, or other.
Islamic terrorism and theology (It comes from Christianity, Judaism, Zoroastrianism, and… )
(Note: Proper distinctions are critical here- many adherents of these religions have learned to ignore or downplay the harsher elements in their belief systems. They are “moderate” followers of these religions and they form majorities in these traditions. All such moderation of religion must be encouraged and affirmed. The real issue is- what exactly are the ideas/themes in any religion that promote inhumanity?, as opposed to- what are the ideas/ideals that encourage human goodness?)
Media commentators repeatedly tell us that to win the war on terror we must confront the “ideology” behind Islamic terrorism. I am confused- ideology? That is a term more properly associated with political or economic issues, not religion or theology.
Look, the Islamic jihadists are telling us very clearly what the real issue is behind their acts of terror, the real motivating factor. It comes from their own mouths, telling us exactly what is on their minds at the very moment that they commit acts of horror against innocents. They are telling us themselves just what helps them get past any remaining restraints of common humanity (any normal human compassion, empathy, love) to commit terror. And it is not political or ideological. They shout, “God is great”.
Their very own words tell us that it is theology. And this will be hard for many Muslims to hear but it is not theology from some aberrational version of Islam, or from some “extremist” interpretation of Islam. It is the theology- the view of God- that is the very heart and core of their religion and holy book. It is the God that the Quran repeatedly and clearly states wants violence to deal with unbelievers. The God that threatens vengeance, punishment, and destruction in Hell. This is not some peripheral theme in Islam, some minor note off to the side.
Counters and quantifiers tell us that just as the Christian Bible has over 600 passages advocating violence, so the Quran has over 300 passages that advocate violence. And adherents claim that these are religions of peace!?!
Violent deity is the very heart and center of Islam and, be very clear on this, the heart and center of all three Western religions. And before I am charged with Islamophobia, let me affirm again, that Islam got its violent God from Christianity which got its violent God from Judaism which borrowed from Zoroastrianism, which…. yes, violent deity goes all the way back to Sumerian mythology. The very beginning of human writing.
Violence has always been central to the human perception of deity. Note, for instance, the Sumerian Flood myth and the plan of the god Enlil to destroy all humanity. Just as Egyptian gods also planned to destroy humanity.
The line of inheritance down to Islam is clear. In more recent religious history (roughly 600 CE), the myth of violent deity was borrowed from the early Christian book called “The gospel to the Hebrews” (an earlier version of the gospel of Matthew). That gospel was translated into Arabic by Waraqa the Ebionite priest (i.e. Jewish Christian) who was the spiritual mentor of Muhammad. Waraqa then filled Muhammad’s head with visions of a violent Christian God that demanded punishment of unbelievers and threatened hellfire. (Note: the gospel of Matthew is a fuller version of the gospel to the Hebrews and Matthew repeatedly presents a God who threatens to cast unbelievers into outer darkness where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth).
So when a jihadist is about to commit terror he shouts out exactly what is motivating him to engage vengeance and to punish. He mouths the very thing that pushes him past any remaining human impulses, and enables him to kill and destroy. He does not shout political ideology, or social issues, or personal criminal history. No. He shouts “God”, and a specific view of God. He appeals to a God that is vengeful, punishing, and destructive, not a God that is loving and merciful. He appeals to the God at the heart of his religion. The God that he inherited from previous Western religions.
Islamic terrorism- clarifying issues
Donald Trump and others argue that we must say “Islamic terrorism” if we are to solve the problem of contemporary religious violence coming out of the Muslim world. OK. And now what? What has been cleared up by including the term “Islamic”? Shouldn’t we ask- What exactly are the ideas in Islam that incite terrorism?
(Note: As with Landes’ comments on Hitler- historians and scholars have ignored the Christian ideas that influenced Hitler to commit mass violence. They dismissed him as just a psychopathic madman, an aberration. That does not help us to solve the problem of violence properly and fully for the long-term future.)
President Obama is careful about using the term “Islam” because he wants to avoid inciting “Islamophobia”. He does not want to paint all Muslims with the broad brush of terrorism. That is a valid concern.
But, the confusion continues. Fareed Zakaria, in his documentary “Why They Hate Us”, claims that there are only about 100,000-200,000 Muslims who will actually engage in violent jihad, in terrorism. But what about Wahabi Islam, the Saudi-financed version of Islam that many claim produces most terrorists?
Others note that there is a significant population of people in Islam that will not actually commit acts of terror themselves, but they support the violent jihad that is done by others. This population produces jihadists and supports their violence. Some estimates are that this population is about 10-15% of all Muslims.
Is this where the “battle of ideas” or the fight against “ideology” must take place? And what exactly are the “bad religious ideas” that incite people to support the violent destruction of unbelievers?
Paul’s big fails
(Note: For those fearful and hesitant about questioning their religious tradition, I would urge them to consider the Jesus/Paul contradiction that helps us to recover the best thing in the Christian scriptures- the stunning discovery of Historical Jesus that God was absolutely no conditions love. Paul missed this entirely, and contradicted it with his highly conditional atonement theology, as in his Christ myth. Paul’s contradicting view of God highlights the Jesus discovery by contrast.)
Preface: I have been reminded that I am being a bit tough on Paul and should balance my exposure of his harsher themes with the fact that he also said some nice things about love, mercy, grace, and so on. He did not just focus on the “wrath of God” but also on the love of God. And the nicer side of God is important to Christians.
But my argument with Paul is that his larger context distorts and undermines his better themes like love. The context or the larger framework that a person uses, defines all the other elements in the person’s writing and worldview. So when Paul talks about love, what exactly does he mean? Is he on the same page as Jesus who advocated a fully universal or entirely unconditional love? I have shown throughout this site that Paul did not get the central unconditional theme of Jesus but taught the very opposite- a highly conditional love. And Paul taught a tribal version of love- exclusively reserved for true believers in his gospel but not for unbelievers.
Paul also spoils his better ideals like love and grace by littering his letters with repetitious reminders of a wrathful God that is still residing in the background, threatening destruction and hellfire if you do not believe Paul’s gospel. That is an essential feature of Paul’s larger context. When reading Paul, you are repeatedly reminded of the smell of sulphur, the fire burning in the background. So also Muhammad repeatedly reminds readers in the Quran that you better believe the messenger and his message, or else. There is always that Fire. Hell fire, and you cannot escape.
But back to Paul…
Note, for example, this statement in Romans 5 just after Paul has set forth his foundational belief in atonement (blood sacrifice, human sacrifice) in the previous chapters 1-5. In these chapters Paul has detailed that there is a wrathful God who will punish and destroy sinners but this God withholds his anger (“forbearance”) till Jesus makes a blood sacrifice, a payment for all sin. And now that Jesus has died to pay for sin, God can forgive and love sinners, but… ah, always some but, eh…. only if they believe this teaching of Paul. Note the condition in Romans 3:25-26 that after God punished Jesus… “to be just and (then he could be) the one who saves the man who has faith in Jesus”. Paul’s God does not save everybody, but only those who believe in Paul’s gospel. That condition is critical in Paul’s teaching.
Paul then, in Romans 5:9, tries to re-assure those who believe in his gospel. He says, “We are saved…”. Again, good news- saved. But wait…”saved from… wrath…”. Oh, damn it. There it is again. The angry, threatening God in the background. So you better believe, or else. You are reminded once again of the angry God and the burning sulphur. So it goes all through Paul’s letters. You will be reading along somewhere in Paul about nice things like love and grace, and then unexpectedly Paul will remind you of his foundational beliefs in wrath and destruction, the threat that he uses to scare people to embrace his gospel.
Examples: Romans 9:22- “objects of his wrath prepared for destruction”, Romans 11:22- “kindness of God only if you continue in his kindness” (or you will be cut off), 1 Corinthians 1:21- “save those who believe”, 2 Corinthians 2:15 and 3:3- “those who are perishing”, Galatians 1:9- “eternally condemned”, Ephesians 5:6- “God’s wrath”, Philippians 1:28- “they will be destroyed”, Philippians 3:19- “their destiny is destruction”, and so on. Reminders of ultimate threat and damnation.
Remember, Paul’s “good news” of Salvationism resonates so powerfully with people because they have first been terrorized by threats of wrath, destruction, and hellfire in the larger context.
Another example of the larger context of conditions and threat is given in John 3:16 the favorite Bible verse of Christians. Note its progress of thought- “For God so loved the world…”. Great- love again in God. “That he gave his son (the generosity of love)…”… but now here it comes… “that whoever believes in him…”. Ah, the big “believe” or “faith” condition again. And then it gets worse, “…will not perish…”. Oh no, the depressing reminder once again- “Perishing in hell fire”. Yes, it’s always there in the background. The wrath and punishment and destruction, if you do not believe.
That nastier stuff in the larger context consistently defines the better ideals like love that you find in the bible. Christian love is subject to conditions- if you do not believe then its hell fire. Such ideas tell us that Paul and the other New Testament writers are talking about highly conditional love, limited love, exclusive love, not the universal and unconditional love that Jesus taught. Paul’s love is tribal love, reserved only for true believers, not unbelievers. And it is love that comes with a repeated warning- believe, or else there will be destruction and fire. What kind of love is backed by threat of the worst kind imaginable?
So we are constantly reminded in Paul and the other New Testament writers that the better ideals that they talk about are defined, distorted, and undermined by the nastier things in the larger context. Those nastier things that make up the larger framework of the New Testament worldview. They ruin the better ideals like love, mercy, and grace with ever-present threats and conditions.
This explains why I am going after Paul, even if it seems to some that I am being too harsh on the creator of Christianity. The following comment emphasizes that Paul made three critical mistakes/fails, among others.
As you read the following on the Jesus/Paul contradiction, keep in mind the impact that Paul’s threat theology has had on human consciousness, and compare that with the liberating and comforting unconditional theology of Jesus. It is night and day difference.
Scholars say that Paul basically “ignored” the teaching of Jesus. True, generally. But in several places Paul did engage some of the teaching of Jesus. Not to affirm it, but to counter it, to repudiate and reject it, and then to propose ideas that were the very opposite to what Jesus taught. I would even argue that Paul went directly after the central theme of Jesus in order to replace it with an entirely opposite theme. He went after the foundational theology of Jesus, his view of God as presented in Matthew 5:38-48- i.e. God does not retaliate, no eye for eye. Paul rejected that and then presented an entirely opposite theology, Romans 12:19- i.e. God will retaliate with far more than just eye for eye. This is more than some mistake, or ignoring of someone’s teaching. It is an intentional choice to reject the central theme in Jesus’ message, to contradict it, and to replace it with something else, something very opposite.
Note: The Matthew 5:38-48 and Luke 6:26-37 passages are the core of Jesus’ message, the presentations of his central theme. In these sections Jesus stated clearly that we should treat everyone with unconditional love because that is what God does. We must not retaliate (no more eye for eye- getting even, payback, punishing) but we should love enemies, because God does. We should be merciful just as God is merciful, to all, both good and bad. This is Jesus’ great discovery and main contribution to human insight and understanding regarding ethics and spiritual reality. It is a non-retaliatory ethic based on a similar non-retaliatory theology.
This is by far the single most profound definition of love anywhere in human literature. Non-retaliating, unconditional love takes us to the height of what it means to be humane. It is the best statement of supremely authentic humanity. There is nothing comparable anywhere in human thought or writing.
It appears clear to me that Paul intentionally confronted this central theme of Jesus and rejected its stunning new theology, giving his own version of a non-retaliatory ethic but based on an entirely opposite retaliatory theology (more below). Paul sums up his contrary theology in his Christ myth, and that is Christianity as we know it today. His Christ is the great anti-Jesus with its themes of supreme retaliation (i.e. apocalypse, Hell). In his Christ, Paul presents his rejection of Jesus’ theology of a non-retaliating God and replaces that with an opposite theology of divine retaliation, of supreme retaliation. Paul’s Christ then becomes Christianity. Remember, Christianity is Christ-ianity, not Jesus-ianity. Christianity is more about Paul’s ideas that the Christ had to die to pay for sin, and not the teaching of Jesus that a non-retaliating God does not demand conditions or payment.
Look at this contradiction carefully: In Matthew 5:38-48 Jesus had taught that God did not retaliate against offenders, did not get even, did not punish (no “eye for eye”), did not exclude (sun and rain given to both good and bad), and did not destroy. Instead, God exhibited absolutely no conditions generosity and love toward all, both good and bad. God loved “enemies”.
Paul could not understand the core non-retaliatory spirit and message of Jesus- the no vengeance, no payback, no demand for punishment or destruction of the enemy. He could not embrace the unconditional forgiveness of Jesus, the inclusion, and generosity (sun and rain given to all, just and unjust, alike), without discrimination or exclusion.
Again, the Matthew 5:38-48 statement of Jesus is the epitome summary of his central theme. He first presents a non-retaliatory ethic (no more eye for eye retaliation but love enemies) and then bases this ethic on the very same non-retaliatory theology- because God does not retaliate against offenders, but loves enemies. I repeat for emphasis- this is the single greatest statement of supremely humane reality and existence to be found anywhere in human literature. This is simply the greatest human insight ever presented anywhere in history. It is the supreme expression of unconditional love to be found anywhere in all human thought. It is the finest statement of authentic humanity that can possibly be made, that of a truly and supremely humane God. Superlatives fail to express the truth of this- its scandalous and wondrous reality is transcendently beyond expression or understanding.
In Romans 12: 17-20 Paul engages this central teaching of Jesus, following a similar pattern of presenting an ethic and then basing it on a theology, a view of God. He appears to at least embrace the non-retaliatory ethic of Jesus (“do not return evil for evil”). But closer examination shows that he is doing something quite opposite. He says, do not repay evil with evil. OK, so far, apparently so good. But read on. He then says, do not retaliate because God states that (quoting a verse from Deuteronomy 32:35), “Vengeance is mine, I will repay”. He bases his ethic on a stunning reversal of Jesus’ theology, on an opposite theology of a retaliatory God. That corrupts his ethic entirely. What he is really saying is love your enemy into God’s vengeance, into ultimate destruction from God. Do good to your enemy in order to ensure that your enemy will be punished and destroyed by God (i.e. “heap coals of fire on his head”). (See more in The Christian Contradiction below).
So Paul also missed the non-retaliatory ethic of Jesus. He missed the defining non-vengeful spirit of Jesus.
From another angle- Paul just did not get the unconditional element in Jesus. That the God of Jesus did not demand payment, did not threaten, and did not require atonement. Jesus had taught that we should just give unconditionally, not expecting anything in return. We should forgive unconditionally or without limit- seven times seventy. And we should include all people unconditionally- welcoming all to our table fellowship. He demonstrated this in his own behavior that scandalized others (i.e. welcoming prostitutes and other “sinners” to meals).
Paul recognized and partially embraced some of these ideals like inclusivity, in his more humane treatment of women and his more welcoming and open attitude toward Gentiles.
But Paul then rejected the unconditional element in Jesus by setting forth the supreme condition of a divine demand for atonement, for ultimate payment, punishment, and sacrifice- that of a human blood sacrifice. Atonement (Jesus died to pay for sin) is the foundational theme in Paul’s Christian gospel.
Overall, Paul interpreted Jesus as all about vengeance, retaliation, punishment and destruction. He made Jesus into his Christ who would engage ultimate vengeance, retaliation, exclusion, punishment, and destruction in a coming judgment, apocalypse, and finally Hell.
Paul chose to focus Christian imagination intensely on a retaliating, punishing God and expressed this in the ultimate retaliation of the Christ who would return in flaming fire to punish and destroy enemies/unbelievers. Paul pointedly rejected the non-retaliating God of Jesus for his own retaliating God who punishes with eye for eye justice.
Note the prominence of Paul’s divine retaliation in his earliest letters to the Thessalonians written around 50 CE. Watch his repetitious focus on his vision of a retaliating and destroying Christ. “The coming wrath…the wrath of God has come upon them…the Lord will punish…destruction will come on them…they will suffer wrath…He will pay back trouble to those who trouble you…Lord Jesus will be revealed from heaven in blazing fire…He will punish those who do not obey the gospel… they will be punished with everlasting destruction…doomed to destruction… Lord Jesus will overthrow with the breath of his mouth and destroy by the splendor of his coming…”. Other letters of Paul continue this retaliation and destruction theme.
So Paul confronts Jesus’ greatest discovery of a non-retaliating, unconditionally loving God and rejects it entirely.
Two: The profound contradiction between Jesus and Paul is epitomized in the death of Jesus. Paul took the death of Jesus and reframed it to mean the exact opposite of the meaning that Jesus gave it. When Jesus was cruelly tortured and killed, he said to his Roman tormentors, “Father forgive them, because they do not know what they are doing”, Luke 23:34. Jesus used his death to express the dominant theme of his life and teaching- unconditional forgiveness and love for even enemies. But Paul used Jesus’ death to express the opposite- that there was an ultimate demand for payment before forgiving, an ultimate punishment being meted out, and an ultimate condition being met first (blood sacrifice) before there would be love from God.
Jesus had embraced his death as an opportunity to express the central theme of his teaching and life, to affirm his main message- there should be no retaliation or punishment but only unconditionally forgiving love to even the worst offenders. Because that is what God does. While experiencing the worst of Roman violence, Jesus responded with forgiveness and love of the enemy just as he had taught and practiced throughout his life. He used a cruel death to once again affirm his message of no more eye for eye, no more retaliation or punishment. His unconditional love theme included forgiving the worst of crimes.
But Paul took the death of Jesus and turned it upside down and made it the expression of ultimate retaliation and punishment and eye for eye justice. He ignored again the statement of Jesus to forgive his enemies and refocused Christian attention on his myth that the death of Jesus was a great divine punishment of sin, a divine retaliation against all sin (Romans 3:25), a sacrifice of atonement, an expression of divine wrath against sin, the demand for a supreme condition to be met. He claimed that in the death of Jesus God was punishing all sin, was retaliating against all sin, and was expressing the ultimate demand for payment, for payback, for eye for eye justice. Paul gave Jesus’ death the very opposite meaning that Jesus had given it. Paul summed this great contradiction up in his new view of Jesus called Christ or Jesus Christ. His Christology or Christ myth.
Paul added that if you did not believe his version of Jesus’ death then you would suffer damnation in Hell at the hands of an angry, retaliating, destroying God. Only those who met the condition of believing Paul’s gospel would be saved from all this retaliatory horror.
Look carefully at this great rejection of Jesus and his message that Paul created. He turned the death of Jesus into an ultimate expression of vengeance, retaliation, and punishment- the demand for an atonement for all sin, a supreme condition to meet. This was a direct contradiction to Jesus’ own statement on what his death meant- unconditional forgiveness for even the worst of crimes. Paul rejected Jesus’ own explanation for his death and gave it the very opposite meaning. Where Jesus had used his own death to affirm his message of unconditional forgiveness and love, Paul hijacked the death of Jesus to promote his contradicting vision of Jesus death as a violent punishing of sin (blood sacrifice) and payback retaliation. (Note- This was in line with the general Jewish view of Roman occupation as an oppression that had to be retaliated against, and the Jewish desire for a Messiah that would deliver them from their enemies by violent overthrow and destruction).
You can sum up the contradiction between Jesus and Paul in some blunt opposites- non-retaliation in Jesus (no more eye for eye, but love enemies), but retaliation in Paul (God will take vengeance, and repay your enemies).
Or unconditional love in Jesus, opposed to the demand for a supreme condition to be fulfilled in Paul, that of human sacrifice or atonement, the payment that must be made before there would be any forgiveness.
So the death of Jesus epitomizes these contrasts between Jesus and Paul. Jesus did not see his own death in terms of payback retaliation, that God would punish sin. He embraced his death as an opportunity to once again affirm his life message of unconditional forgiveness and love toward all, including the worst offenders. He gave his own meaning to his death and it was not a payment to meet a supreme condition (punishing all sin). It was not some great divine retaliation against sinners. No. It was once again a profound expression of his central message of unconditional love.
Paul took the exact opposite view of that death. His Christ-centered redefinition of Jesus’ death as a divine retaliation and punishment of sin, and the demand to meet a supreme condition of blood payment, gets us to the core difference between Jesus and Paul.
Paul then made his view of Jesus death the very center of his Christ gospel- “I know Christ crucified (as a divine retaliation, punishment, and condition- atonement) and nothing else”.
Three: The apocalypse- a dominant theme in Paul- further shows how central divine retaliation was in Paul’ s thinking. Paul in the myth of great apocalypse presents his epitome expression of ultimate retaliation, judgment, exclusion, punishment and destruction. Paul taught that his Christ would return to punish and destroy all unbelievers in a great fiery end of the world, life, and history. Apocalyptic is the supreme statement of ultimate vengeance, retaliation, punishment and destruction. Paul again pushed early Christian thinking away from Jesus unconditional forgiveness and towards supreme conditions and threats of retaliation.
Jesus had clearly rejected divine retaliation against imperfect humanity. He had stated that there should be no more “eye for eye” justice because God does not retaliate and punish offenders but is generous toward all, both good and bad. Apocalyptic is a great divine retaliation and punishment. You cannot reconcile Jesus’ theology of a non-retaliating God (again, no more eye for eye) with Paul’s apocalyptic retaliation.
This is the great contradiction between Jesus and Christianity, or Paul. There is no real liberation of consciousness from threat theology in Paul. Jesus had fully liberated consciousness with his no conditions, no retaliation theme. But you have to pull this unconditional diamond of Jesus out of the bible, out of the “dunghill” context of Paul (Thomas Jefferson’s term) in order to see it clearly. Paul’s context distorts, undermines, and ruins the good stuff in Jesus.
This was a monster mistake by Paul- to ignore the actual teaching of Jesus and to create the Christ myth with its essential message of retaliation, vengeance, and punishment. What has been the outcome of Paul’s error? It has been rivers of blood across Christian history. If you choose to focus on retaliation and violence in your highest ideals and authorities- God and Christ- is it any wonder then if you get that same feature erupting in people’s behavior?
As above, I sum up the contradiction between Jesus in Paul in simple opposites like:
Jesus= non-retaliation toward all. Paul= ultimate retaliation toward unbelievers.
Jesus= absolutely no conditions. Paul= a supreme condition of atonement must be met first.
The outcome of Paul’s Christology
Ever since Paul had his visions of Christ, Christians have been fighting over the Christ myth. Following the example of Paul’s vengeful and violent Christ, Christians have endlessly retaliated against, persecuted, expelled, and tortured unbelievers and heretics (people who disagreed with various features of the Christ). And for much of Christian history, Christians have even engaged the ultimate act of vengeance and killed their disagreeing fellow believers. Christian history is a sorry tale of the exclusion and punishment of people holding differing views, often minor, over the details of what the Christ myth was about.
If Christians had focused on Jesus’ actual message- “love your enemies”- then there would have been no justification for such inhumane treatment of differing others.
Consider the beatings and killings surrounding the early Church Councils, the violence over esoteric disagreements about the Christ. What exactly were those early Christians fighting over? Questions such as- was Jesus fully God in human nature or just an ordinary human? Was he two persons- God and human with two natures, human and divine- or was he two natures united as one God. Such debates were in the same realm of esoteric metaphysics as the silly and petty squabbles over how many angels could balance on the head of a pin.
Bob Brinsmead notes, for instance, that there were 400 years of bitter controversy over the Arian issue, a doctrine that fell a miniscule diphthong short of acknowledging that Christ was the same substance as the Father (homousia versus homouisia- see if you can spot the difference, the diphthong). This bitter Christian fighting had departed far from the teaching of Jesus, says Brinsmead. Christians would damn anyone who had the slightest different kind of gospel, or Christology.
Once again, if the Councils had focused on the teaching of Jesus, then there would have been nothing to argue over. Love one another? How do you fight and kill over that? But Christians found lots to fight over in the Christ myth- all sorts of unprovable metaphysical details. Note that all the great creeds of Christianity have focused on the varied features of Paul’s Christ myth- i.e. that Jesus was born of a virgin, that he was equal with the Father (Trinitarian mythology), and so on. Nothing about the “love one another… love your enemies” that was the central message of Jesus. But instead, intense focus on esoteric ideas about Christ that have been used to determine who is a true Christian, in opposition to heretics that deserve to be excluded and punished and finally damned.
Such madness flowed out of Paul’s focus on Christology. And the river of blood continued down through Christian history, repeatedly erupting against Jews that refused the Christ myth, and other groups of people that differed in their views of Jesus. Muslims were killed in the Crusades because they were the enemies of God with their rejection of the Trinitarian doctrine of Jesus as a divinity. Stephen Patterson of the Jesus Seminar states that millions of Jews and Muslims were slaughtered by Christians, many because of such disagreement over esoteric metaphysics.
Calvin exhibited the same insanity over the Christ myth when he demanded that a fellow Christian theologian, Michael Servetus, state that “Jesus was the eternal Son of God”. Servetus refused to move the adjective “eternal” over just two words to the left and affirmed instead that “Jesus was the son of the eternal God”. He did not believe the Trinity myth. So Calvin had him burned at the stake, using green wood so that the dying process was tortuously slow and painful. It took a half hour for him to die. Servetus begged for mercy, but received none from another Christian theologian standing nearby. The theologian sternly insisted that Servetus deserved his punishment.
Calvin threatened other Christians that were repulsed by the thought of punishing Servetus. They were inclined to show him mercy. They preferred to love one another. But Calvin threatened them with similar harsh punishment. Where is the central message of Jesus to “love your enemies” or “love one another” in Calvin’s thinking and response?
Wikipedia makes this comment on the punishment of Servetus: “Calvin argued that those whom the ruling religious authorities determined to be heretics should be punished.
Calvin’s own words: “Whoever maintains that wrong is being done to heretics and blasphemers by punishing them, makes himself an accomplice in their crime and is as guilty as they are. There is no question here of man’s authority; it is God who speaks, and it is clear what law he will have kept in the church, even to the end of the world…” (The following is my paraphrase of the rest of his statement because the English is extremely convoluted) …”God demands this extremely severe punishment (putting heretics like Servetus to death) to show us that we must pay honor to God, we must put our service to him above every human consideration, we must not even spare any blood kin, and we must forget all humanity in order to fight for God’s glory”.
According to Calvin, and many Christians before him, it was the obligation of all who believed the Christ myth to violently punish those who disagreed over some detail regarding the Christ. Love and mercy be damned.
If Paul had only paid some attention to the actual teaching of Jesus then this sorry history of bloody religious violence could have been avoided. Jesus had clearly stated that we should not engage retaliation against our enemies, but instead we should love them. This was his central theme and message. Love one another. Forgive all offenses, include everyone, and exhibit unlimited generosity and mercy toward everyone. Especially, against enemies. Because God does this.
If you follow this basic teaching of Jesus then you would never exclude, persecute, punish, or kill anyone that disagreed with you over some detail of some unknowable metaphysical theory. Jesus had said nothing in his original teaching about excluding and punishing those who disagreed over such doctrines. That would be entirely inimical of love.
Paul’s Christ myth was a complete contradiction to the actual teaching of Jesus. Where Jesus had clearly stated that there should be no more eye for eye retaliation because God did not retaliate but loved enemies, Paul rejected that theology and stated that God/Christ would retaliate and destroy unbelievers. A robust sense of this contradiction should permeate and shock Christian consciousness. The very nature of Paul’s Christ embodies the themes of vengeance, exclusion, punishment, and destruction. No wonder that brutal myth has engendered so much violence toward disagreeing others, from the very people that are committed to serving and propagating it. The foundational theme of the Christ is retaliation, not forgiving love.
(Again, I would urge readers to check the quotes below by Thomas Jefferson and Leo Tolstoy, who give some graphic sense of the contradiction between the basic themes in Jesus’ teaching and the rest of the New Testament. Many Christian scholars do not present this thematic contradiction clearly.)
Such a flood of misery has flowed from Paul’s original mistake to reject the love-centered teaching of Jesus and to focus instead on his retaliation-oriented myth of Christ. A myth oriented to the threat of severe punishment (Hell) for all who refuse to believe it. The outcome has been endless fighting over the Christ, despite the fact that Jesus had clearly taught that love is all that matters. Love one another. Love your enemies. What does this Christ-centered fighting have to do with “love your enemies”?
Note: Paul was influenced in his Christology by Jewish messiah mythology (see Daniel Boyarin’s The Jewish Gospels), and probably by Greek hero epics. These streams of mythology emphasized the need for some hero who would exhibit superior violence to conquer and destroy enemies, to save the chosen true believers.
On this site I have focused intensely on the contradiction between Jesus and Christianity because this contradiction epitomizes the great struggle of the overall human story. We have emerged out of an animal past to seek a more human existence. This journey can be summarized in some opposites- as leaving a past of retaliation (animal attack and defense) for non-retaliation (forgiveness, cooperation). Or conditional existence for unconditional existence. Or punitive for non-punitive. These features define the difference between Jesus and Christianity.