Marriage is NOT a Judeo-Christian concept:

I have been intending to publish a piece on marriage equality for some time, but I haven’t got around to finishing the article I started quite some time ago on the topic. Anyways, the media has been all over tennis legend Margaret Court over the past week or so after she announced her intent to avoid flying Qantas (where possible) due to its support of same-sex marriage.

I was watching Court’s interview on “The Panel”, and as is common when hearing conservative Christians discuss their opposition to marriage equality, it was quite clear that Court believes that somehow marriage is a Judeo-Christian concept, as if it was invented by Jews (and Christians), and as if it were dependent upon the Bible.

Of course, nothing could be further from the truth. The origins of the concept of marriage appears to be lost somewhere in the realm of pre-history, as practically all recorded history shows the presence of some form of concept of marriage. That is, the very earliest surviving written records reveal that men and women formed life-long partnerships that were recognized as akin to formal marriage. That is, the kings of ancient Egypt had their queens, who were of course their wives. The gods of ancient Mesopotamia had their female consorts – their wives.

These early records significantly pre-date any evidence of Hebrew culture and/or religion by well over a thousand years, showing the existence of concepts of marriage well prior to any historical evidence for a Judeo-Christian tradition. Of course, Christians can claim that their religious tradition existed well before the earliest definitive and widely recognised historical evidence (roughly 1200 BCE). The same however is true for Egypt, Mesopotamia and India (amongst others). Hence, we cannot simply grant the Jewish-Christian claims without evidence and not do the same for other cultures.

Concepts of marriage exist in practically all cultures, most of which are clearly independent of any Judeo-Christian tradition. Obviously there are vast differences in the details of marriage traditions, but the fact remains that marriage is a universal concept, existing from time immemorial.

I have pointed this out to many Christians before me who had been claiming that marriage was a Christian (or Judeo-Christian concept), who have then sought to move the goalposts by arguing that, “well, our modern Western conception of marriage is derived from the Christian tradition”, or “the West is built upon Judeo-Christian foundations, and marriage in Western countries is based upon the Bible”.

This is of course simply a matter of splitting hairs, as if they are saying that because Western culture is different in some details from the innumerable cultural traditions of the world at large, that therefore marriage in our society is different. So, what they are trying to say is that Christian marriage is a Christian concept. Well, of course it is. Just like Hindu marriage is a Hindu concept. But Hindu marriage and Christian marriage are both marriage. And an Australian Christian husband and wife are recognised as being married in India, just as an Indian Hindu husband and wife are recognised as being married in Australia.

Furthermore, our modern Western culture is secular, not Christian. It was Christian, but thankfully over the past several centuries we have separated church from state, leading to the potential for dramatic reforms, allowing for massive improvements in women’s rights, religious freedom, multiculturalism and general liberalisation. Of course our modern culture is not perfect, but to take the flaws of modern culture as evidence of “cultural Marxism” or the evils of a relativistic, secular world as the far-right claim, would be mad. We have come a long way. We still have much progress to make, we may have regressed in some ways, but there is no point looking back to a time when religion ruled all, as in truth things weren’t so rosy back then.

To claim that marriage in general is based upon the Bible is absurd, and simply factually incorrect. Of course, Christian marriage within a church is based upon the Bible. But marriage as a whole; no. So, when Christians say that we should leave marriage alone, they are trying to reunite church and state. Modern marriage is largely a secular and legal matter to be determined by the state. Of course people can still choose to be married in a church or temple if they are so inclined, but they have no right to deny the legitimacy of someone else’s marriage just because they are outside their faith, or their sexual preference is abhorred by an ancient text which they hold sacred.

Whilst I will save my thoughts about marriage equality in general for a further article specifically on that topic, I will say this now. I have little sympathy for conservatives who claim that they are being bullied when called bigots for opposing marriage equality. Just to be clear, obviously I don’t condone actual bullying of people on the basis of their beliefs.  Freedom of speech is important, as is freedom of religion, even if we don’t approve of things that people say or believe.  However, when people cite the Bible in their denouncement of homosexuals and speak of diabolical conspiracies taking aim at our children in reference to pro-marriage equality political lobbying, such things deserve to be actively denounced.  Those that make such statements cannot expect others to simply let such comments fly without a response.  I have seen lots of bad arguments against marriage equality, but no good ones. Whilst Christians are indeed persecuted in some parts of the world (particularly many parts of the Middle-East), I don’t believe Christians are being persecuted in Western countries (though there have been some cases whereby activists have gone too far). Rather, Christians are losing their privilege, as they should. Christians need to accept that in a secular culture they cannot expect to say “the Bible says so…” and expect people to follow suit. Fortunately, the Bible has no standing in a secular culture.

Certainly our conception of marriage has already changed dramatically over time, and this is certainly a good thing, not something to mourn. For much of history, marriage has literarily been a transfer of property (the bride) from her father to her husband. The fact that in Western culture we largely aim towards the ideal of men and women being equal and autonomous entities in themselves is certainly a major step forward from historical norms. The modern Western conception of marriage is as a formal, legal and cultural recognition of a life partnership between two adults who love each other, and share both deep friendship and also romance and passion. In recent times we have come to recognise marriage between men and women of different faiths, races and cultures as perfectly healthy and normal. Recognizing marriage between members of the same gender is simply the next natural step in evolving modern morals and ethics in the direction of truly universal and timeless ethical ideals, and away from backwards and superstitious cultural norms.

There is obviously much more I could say on the topic, but again, I will save that for a further article on the topic in general. I just wanted to say that when you hear Christians claiming that marriage is a Christian concept, based on the Bible, you can call BS. It’s simply not true. Christians should stop making this claim, and they should retract their previous statements.

Peace

On interpretations of Scripture: Why many religious conservatives and progressives misread ancient texts, and misunderstand religion in general:

Note:

The following is a (somewhat) condensed adaption of a recent add-on I wrote for my upcoming book “The Web Unwoven”, the last extra material I wanted to add prior to publication. My original version of The Web Unwoven featured an in-depth discussion of Jewish and Christian origins and the nature of the Bible as a whole. However, the entire text ended up around 1,000 pages, which I felt was fairly well unreadable, so I eventually separated the text into two halves, the first of which I will publish shortly specifically on comparative religion, and the second half which I will later re-write and seek to publish separately.

Whilst reviewing part 1 (on comparative religion) I felt that I needed to put back in a (relatively) short discussion of the actual problems within some religious scriptures, and the way that people seek to view and interpret these texts. I feel it is fundamental to understanding comparative religion and religious pluralism properly. Hence, I feel that this is perhaps one of the most important sub-topics on which I can write (or speak). I believe that reviewing religious texts as they are will naturally refute the far left and right perspectives on comparative religion, and naturally push both ends towards the centre. Hence, this article summarizes a subject which I believe is central to why we are not currently resolving the problems inherent in religion, and I hope that it offers a solution and a way forward.

Please note that this article touches on things that really tend to upset a lot of people on both sides of the religious spectrum. Please understand that I do not seek to go about offending people, and that I do not take any pleasure from doing so. However, I think it is important to speak out on important issues, and I believe that the conclusions that I am laying forth here are well founded. There is no need for this to be taken personally. When I make strong claims about certain views being untenable, misinformed or simply due to attachment and bias, I do not mean to denigrate individuals that hold such views. We human beings are complex creatures and we have a myriad of different strengths and weaknesses. I know of many people that will hold the views of which I am seeking to refute, who have great strengths in areas where I am personally weak. So again, this doesn’t have to be personal.

Summary:

Religious conservatives frequently attempt to portray their scripture of choice as a flawless, divinely inspired work, whilst attempting to portray holy texts of other faiths in the worst possible light. Alternatively, religious progressives generally attempt to portray all holy texts as genuinely inspired texts that all teach the same philosophy. Hence, when critics point out obvious flaws in these scriptures, both religious conservatives and progressives attempt to argue that the critics are taking the text out of context (with the difference being that conservatives will only defend their own text, whilst progressives will generally defend all of them).

These approaches correspond directly with the overall views of comparative religion as taken by conservatives and progressives. Conservatives generally believe that their faith alone is good and true, whilst all others are evil and false, whilst progressives generally believe that all religions are equally good and true. As a result of this, both sides attempt to make the evidence fit their presuppositions, rather than considering the evidence as it actually stands. This approach has a long history through many cultures, in which human beings become psychologically attached (or even addicted) to particular texts and give them divine status, from which they attempt to defend such texts against any criticism and refuse to acknowledge the actual content of such texts in the context of how they were originally conceived.

If we actually approach the interpretation of holy texts without any presuppositions, we can see that there is a great diversity amongst the world’s scriptures, though I would argue that we can still indeed see a universal philosophy as the highest-common denominator between them. If we approach each text on its own merits, we can see that many of the criticisms of ancient religious texts are indeed legitimate (and are not simply the case of less mature believers twisting the tenets of a faith). Hence, I believe that genuine spiritual seekers should denounce the divine status of such texts. Likewise however, not all religious texts suffer equally from these flaws, and whilst some are the product of primitive superstitious minds, others espouse a sublime philosophy capable of leading a genuine seeker towards true liberation.

Whilst conservatives are correct that not all religions are equal or identical, and that they do contain mutually exclusive concepts, their general conclusion that there is one true faith at the exclusion of all others is completely untenable. On the other hand, whilst the common approach of progressives to proclaim all faiths pure and equal is also untenable, an honest investigation of comparative religion will indeed result in the conclusion that spirituality is truly universal, and no single faith or text can claim exclusive rights to truth. However, examining the world’s scriptures on their own merit will lead to the conclusion that we must differentiate between genuine spiritual insights and backwards superstitions.

Main Article:

Anyone that has ever been involved in debating religion knows that it is common for people to claim that their sacred text is being misquoted, or taken out of context whenever someone criticises some aspect of it. Practically everyone does this. The question is whether this is sometimes true, and if so, how do we differentiate times when it is from other times when it is not?

Obviously we must attempt to consider the facts on a case-by-case basis, and leave personal biases at the door. It is vital that we form our opinions on the basis of the facts, rather than trying to make the facts fit our preconceived opinions. Obviously religious literature contains a mixture of historical or pseudo-historical narratives, ancient law, mythology, allegory, poetry, philosophy and metaphysics. Once cannot simply read all religious texts in the same manner; however I would argue that it is usually fairly easy to determine which texts should be read in which manner.

A common problem that we face here is that human beings typically become psychologically attached to religions and sacred scriptures as wholes, and find it hard (or even impossible) to differentiate different features of said religion or scripture which may be true, from others, which may not. That is, we typically elevate our faith and scripture of choice to a divine status, and refuse to acknowledge its true strengths and weakness. Rather, we reject contrary views out of hand, as if the very fact that someone is not of the same persuasion as us renders their opinion ideologically biased, and thus mute.

The fickleness of the Greek gods and the evolution of Yahweh:

This behaviour has a long history, from ancient Israel and the classical Greek Empire, through to the Christian and Muslim worlds. Likewise, the same can also be found in the East, with the elevation of the Vedas to divine status within orthodox Hinduism, amongst other examples. The Homeric writings were held in high esteem in ancient Greece, to the point that the Greeks encountered natural problems as their own ethical ideals and conceptions of divinity transcended the norms of Homers time. In the Homeric works the gods were portrayed as fickle and harsh, with little genuine concern for human suffering, and this largely reflected social norms of the time (which were likewise found in other nations and cultures). However, the elite Greek philosophers of the 6th century BCE onwards held to higher ideals, to a universal morality and a more transcendent conception of Deity.

This produced problems in relation to the content of the Homeric works, as their content didn’t match with the new emerging ethical and spiritual ideals. As a result, prominent Greek intellectuals started to project their newer ideals back onto the Homeric texts, and sought to reinterpret them in light of the new standards. So, the mistake that some of the ancient Greeks made was to give (almost) divine status to the Homeric texts, to consider them to be flawless and beyond critique. As their own morality and metaphysics evolved, they didn’t face up to the challenges of the Homeric texts, and rather than accept them as simply being important works of classical literature, they tried to see them as they wished they were, rather than how they actually were.

We see a very similar situation with regards to the Hebrew Bible. That is, the Tanakh reflects the religious and social norms of the time and place in which it was conceived, leaving much room for critics to point out legitimate flaws in its theology, narrative and law. Whilst conservative Christians try to see Yahweh in the same conception throughout the Bible, mainstream Biblical scholarship recognises that the conception of Yahweh evolved over time, from originally being a tribal god – one of many sons of the supreme Canaanite deity El – into merging with El as the highest God in their pantheon, and later into a transcendent, universal conception of God.

The Hebrew Bible condones and mandates full-blown slavery[i], presents women as the property of men[ii], condones cultural genocide (including the slaughter of women and children), presents God as frequently lashing out against mankind in murderous rampages, demands the death penalty for all manner of trivial affairs, mandates a form of theocratic government in which there was no religious freedom, and it attests to the practice of human sacrifice in conflicting terms[iii]. Yahweh is presented for the most part in quite unflattering terms: As jealous, vengeful, petty and fickle.

Throughout much of the Tanakh we see the general theology of the text as a whole played out in the narratives that are told. We see a correspondence between the law sections and the stories of the Hebrews, whereby the laws are applied, often in a literal manner. Likewise, the general theology of the Tanakh – whereby Yahweh is thought to bless the Hebrews for obeying his covenant, and curse them when they break it and worship other gods – is likewise played out in the narratives themselves. So, we see a direct relationship between the laws, prophecies and the historical (or pseudo-historical) narratives within the text. For this reasons, mainstream Biblical scholarship largely accepts much of the laws and narratives in the Tanakh as being intended for a fairly literal reading (even if they reject the full historicity of the narratives in question), and see them in their historical context as being largely par for the course in the ancient Near East.

However, in due course Jewish culture developed, partially through the natural process whereby cultures evolve by themselves, and also due to their close contact with neighbouring civilizations and foreign invaders (Persian, Greek and Roman). At the turn of the Common Era we encounter Philo of Alexandria, a prolific writer and philosopher from the centre of Greek culture and learning at the time. Philo synthesized Greek philosophy with traditional Judaism, seeking to portray Judaism as a contemporary to the highest metaphysics of the Hellenistic world. However, as is typically the case, Philo did not see himself as changing Judaism, as reinterpreting it or merging it with Greek philosophical monotheism. Rather, he saw himself as explaining the true nature of the Hebrew scriptures.

Following in the manner of Philo came an abundance of Christian philosophers and theologians, who likewise reinterpreted the Hebrew scriptures to attempt to make it fit their own needs. That is, they claimed that the Jews themselves had misread much of their own scriptures, they mined the Hebrew scriptures for anything that they could reinterpret as prophetic of Christ, and one can argue that they blended the theology of the Hebrew bible with that of contemporary Greek philosophy.

Obviously there is much allegory in the Bible, both in the Old and New Testaments. Psalms and the Song of Solomon are spiritual poetry, Daniel is filled with allegorical imagery, and the prophecies of Isaiah are also open for interpretation. Likewise, the Gospels themselves are filled with parables and the Epistles are somewhat open for interpretation as to the original theological and historical context of these letters. And obviously the Book of Revelation is filled with allegorical imagery that cannot be read in a strictly literal manner.  However, the fact remains that the allegorical excuse cannot be applied to the Bible as a whole. Let us now have a brief look at some of the specific problems with the Hebrew Bible.

Ethical problems within the Bible:

(Please note my previous article where I recommended my readers to check out Thom Stark’s online response to Paul Copan titled “Is God a Moral Compromiser?” for a detailed examination of this sub-topic[iv].)

Your male and female slaves are to come from the nations around you; from them you may buy slaves. You may also buy some of the temporary residents among you and members of their clans born in your country, and they will become your property. You can bequeath them to your children as inherited property and can make them slaves for life, but you must not rule over your fellow Israelites ruthlessly.”[v]

In the above passage it is said that slaves are literarily the property of the slave owner, and a distinction is made between foreign slaves who can be ruled harshly, and Israelite slaves, which cannot be treated in the same way. There were provisions for Hebrew slaves to be released after six years (as with other ANE nations); however no such provisions applied to foreign slaves, who were seen as mere chattel. So, just as with slavery in the southern US states prior to the American civil war, a distinction was made between citizens of the nation that were granted basic human rights, and those outside the nation that were not.

Anyone who beats their male or female slave with a rod must be punished if the slave dies as a direct result, but they are not to be punished if the slave recovers after a day or two, since the slave is their property (or money).”[vi]

Whilst some Christian apologists have been known to present this passage as showing that Hebrews weren’t allowed to mistreat their slaves, the exact opposite is indeed the case. Rather, the above passage shows that Hebrews were legally entitled to beat their slaves to a pulp, as long as they “recovered” after a few days, as the slave was their possession.

Furthermore, women in general were also treated as the property of men, who could literarily own a woman just as they could own a slave or animal. Critics of the Bible have long pointed to the rape laws in Deuteronomy 22 to highlight the injustices of Biblical law:

“If a man happens to meet a virgin who is not pledged to be married and rapes her and they are discovered, he shall pay her father 50 shekels of silver. He must marry the young woman, for he has violated her. He can never divorce her as long as he lives”.[vii]

So, if a woman is not married (or pledged to be) and is violated, her rapist is “punished” by being forced to marry her, and she likewise has no choice but to marry him. To our modern sensibilities this seems to go against basic reason, but to the culture from which this emerged there was a simple logic behind this, as can be seen in the other verses from Deuteronomy 22:13-30 (read it all for yourself). The common logic throughout this section is that if a woman is violated then a property offence has been committed against her “owner”; either her father (if she is unmarried) or her husband. In the above cited passage from Deuteronomy 22:28-29, the rapist is forced to pay the dowry to the woman’s owner (her father), as his property was violated and he would no longer be able to fetch the price from his property that it was worth (the dowry upon marriage), not to mention that other potential husbands would not accept her, as she was no longer a virgin.

Of course, conservative Christian apologists have tried various tricks to attempt to defend the text. However, they all fall apart on close examination. Paul Copan has tried to argue that the passage cited above does not refer to rape, but merely consensual extra-marital sex. Thom Stark however pointed out that the Hebrew word used in the passage explicitly refers to the taking of something by force[viii]. Likewise, J.P. Holding has also tried the same erroneous argument[ix], as well as a number of other responses that stretch things even further. For example, Holding has also argued that the rape victim may have wanted to marry her rapist[x], and he has also argued that similar laws that are found in other cultures have been found to “hold the culture together”[xi].

Whilst on the subject, we should also mention that the Hebrew Bible also contains many examples of the Hebrews capturing “virgins” (pre-pubescent girls) as the spoils of war, or even simply because they “needed” them! In possibly one of the very worst segments of the Bible as a whole, Judges 21:10-24 tells a disturbing account of the Israelites complaining to Yahweh that they don’t have enough wives for all of them.  So Yahweh tells them to wait by the roadside until some virgins come past, and then leap out and grab them. The parent’s of the young girls complain to the Israelites, but the Israelites explain in response that they “needed them”. Likewise, multiple passages refer to the Israelites taking women (sometimes specifically referenced as virgins) as the spoils of war[xii], again with the blessing of Yahweh.

Another common criticism of the Hebrew Bible is that it presents Yahweh either ordering the murder of women and children (not to mentioned the indiscriminate massacre of adult men) in war narratives, or performing the massacre himself by supernatural means. For example, in the well-known story of Jericho we read:

“When the trumpets sounded, the army shouted, and at the sound of the trumpet, when the men gave a loud shout, the wall collapsed; so everyone charged straight in, and they took the city. They devoted the city to the Lord and destroyed with the sword every living thing in it; men and women, young and old, cattle, sheep and donkeys.[xiii]

Similar things are found throughout Joshua and Judges, and although we should note that there are good reasons for doubting the historicity of the accounts, the texts are clearly attempting to present a (pseudo) historical narrative, hence we may therefore still judge the morality of the text as it reads.

A number of Christian scholars/apologists have argued that the frequent commands to murder all women, children and animals along with adult men was simply typical ANE hyperbole, and that in such instances only the enemy soldiers (adult men) were actually killed. However, various examples from the Tanakh itself differentiate between civilians (women and children) and soldiers (adult men), thus refuting such apologetic claims. For example, Deuteronomy 20:10-18 makes a differentiation between how the Hebrews were to treat the “plunder” (women, children, livestock and treasures etc.) they took as part of their conquests, depending on whether or not the city was far away from them and not part of their neighboring nations that Yahweh had commanded them to take:

When you march up to attack a city, make its people an offer of peace. If they accept and open their gates, all the people in it shall be subject to forced labor and shall work for you. If they refuse to make peace and they engage you in battle, lay siege to that city. When the Lord your God delivers it into your hand, put to the sword all the men in it. As for the women, the children, the livestock and everything else in the city, you may take these as plunder for yourselves…This is how you are to treat all the cities that are at a distance from you and do not belong to the nations nearby. 

However, in the cities of the nations the Lord your God is giving you as inheritance, do not leave alive anything that breathes. Completely destroy them…as the Lord your God has commanded you…”.

So, there is no possible way to argue that in the second example the text does not explicitly command that women, children and livestock are to be killed along with adult men.

Likewise, in Judges 20 the Israelite tribes attacked a fellow Israelite tribe (the Benjamites) for failing to hand over some rapists, and killed nearly all the Benjamite soldiers, and all of the women and children.  Just to confirm that all the women and children really were killed in the story and it wasn’t merely ANE hyperbole, the next chapter (21) shows the Israelites being concerned for how the surviving Benjamite soldiers were to find wives, as they themselves had sworn an oath not to give them any of their own daughters, and all the women (young and old) had been killed. So they decided to attack another Israelite town (that hadn’t participated in the Benjamite massacre), murdered everyone except for virgin women and then brought the virgins to the surviving Benjamites as wives. So again, in the above example there is no possible way that the original massacre of the Benjamites could not have included women and children, as the rest of the story is dependent upon this being the case (and we should mention that the entire story is just rotten).

1 Samuel 15 tells of Saul being commanded (by Yahweh, through the prophet Samuel) to attack the Amalekites, being told:

Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy all that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys.”[xiv]

So Saul attacked the Amalekites:

“…and all his (the kings) people he totally destroyed with the sword. But Saul and the army spared Agag (the king) and the best of the sheep and cattle, the fat calves and lambs…”.[xv]

This angers Yahweh, because he had commanded Saul to kill everything, so Yahweh sends his prophet Samuel to rebuke Saul and to tell him that Yahweh regrets making him king. So again, contrary to claims that these passages shouldn’t be read literarily we have a case where the Israelites get into trouble with Yahweh for not taking his command to kill everything literarily.

And then we have Numbers 31:1-18, which tells of the Israelites going into battle against the Midianites, killing all the men and taking all the plunder (which is explicitly said to include people and animals) back to camp with them. However, Moses cracks it with them when they arrive:

““Have you allowed the women to live?” he asked them. “They were the ones who…enticed the Israelites to be unfaithful to the Lord…Now kill all the boys. And kill every woman who has slept with a man, but save for yourselves every girl who has never slept with a man.”

So yeah, let us not entertain any apologetic claims that the Hebrew Bible doesn’t really mean to imply that the Israelites really killed civilian women and children along with male soldiers. And let us remember that in many, many passages, the command to kill women and children apparently comes directly from Yahweh, and that many of the laws (which were likewise regarded as handed directly from Yahweh) also command the destruction of civilians in war.

And then of course, there are various laws that demand death for things that we can argue were not really crimes (or not worthy of death):

If a man has sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman…They are to be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads.[xvi]

If someone has a stubborn and rebellious son who does not obey his father and mother and will not listen to them when they discipline him, his father and mother shall take hold of him and bring him to the elders at the gate of his town…Then all the men of his town are to stone him to death.[xvii]

Anyone who shows contempt for the judge or for the priest who stands ministering there to the Lord your God is to be put to death.[xviii]

Do not allow a sorceress to live.[xix]

A man or woman who is a medium or spiritist among you must be put to death. You are to stone them; their blood will be on their one heads.[xx]

“…Anyone who blasphemes the name of the Lord is to be put to death.

All who would not seek the Lord, the God of Israel, were to be put to death, whether small or great, man or woman.[xxi]

If a prophet, or one who foretells by dreams, appears among you and announces to you a sign or wonder, and if the sign or wonder spoken of takes place, and the prophet says, “Let us follow other gods”…you must not listen to the words of that prophet…That prophet or dreamer must be put to death…If your own brother…secretly entices you, saying “let us go and worship other gods”…Show them no pity. Do not spare them or shield them. You must certainly put them to death…If you hear it said about one of the towns the Lord your God is giving you to live in that troublemakers have arisen among you and have led the people of their town astray, saying, “Let us go and worship other gods”, then you must inquire, probe and investigate it thoroughly. And if it is true…you must certainly put to the sword all who live in that town. You must destroy it completely, both its people and its livestock. [xxii]

And just to be clear; these are not isolated examples. Rather, these kinds of passages are found throughout the Hebrew Bible, and the above is only a very short list.

Again, in response to Christians who claim that such things were never meant to be taken literarily, I present the following example to show that at the very least, in some cases, such passages were indeed intended to be read literarily. Exodus 31:14 reads as follows:

Whoever does any work on the Sabbath day is to be put to death.”

An example of this law being applied in practice can be shown in Numbers 15:32-36:

While the Israelites were in the wilderness a man was found gathering wood on the Sabbath day. Those who found him gathering wood brought him to Moses and Aaron and the whole assembly, and they kept him in custody, because it was not clear what should be done to him. Then the Lord said to Moses, “The man must die. The whole assembly must stone him outside the camp.” So the assembly took him outside the camp and stoned him to death, as the Lord commanded Moses.

There are also examples in the Bible of Yahweh employing supernatural power to murder people for trivial things. In 2 Kings 2:23-24 we read the following:

From there Elisha went up to Bethel. As he was walking along the road, some boys came out of the town and jeered at him. “Get out of here, baldy!” they said. “Get out of here, baldy!” He turned around, looked at them and called down a curse on them in the name of the Lord. Then two bears came out of the woods and mauled forty-two of the boys.

This story seeks to illustrate the message that to mock one of Yahweh’s prophets is to mock Yahweh, and that Yahweh will have his revenge. Again, this is wholly consistent with the theology of the ancient Hebrews, as attested throughout the text. Without any supportive evidence (and contrary to all evidence), many Christian apologists (such as J.P. Holding) have argued that the above was simply a tale of some youths first harassing Elisha, and then attacking some bears, after which some of the youths were injured (or killed). To refute these claims by Christian apologists that we are misreading the text, take note of a very similar story in 1 Kings 20:35-36:

By the word of the Lord one of the company of the prophets said to his companion, “Strike me with your weapon,” be he refused. So the prophet said, “Because you have not obeyed the Lord, as soon as you leave me a lion will kill you.” And after the man went away, a lion found him and killed him.

Again, the point of this story was that Yahweh’s prophets must be obeyed as the voice of Yahweh himself, and anyone that defies Yahweh will die. We can therefore see how erroneous it is to attempt to defend the Biblical text, whether that be from conservative Christian apologists or even liberal, Eastern or New Age sources, who may also attempt an allegorical, mystical reading of the text to suit their needs.

So, we can see that critics are indeed correct in their critiques of the Hebrew Bible, and that it is actually those seeking to defend it that are twisting it with egregious misinterpretations in attempting to preserve it’s reputation. So, it is quite clear that the Bible has enormous moral issues.

Ethical problems with the Koran:

Similar problems are also found within the Koran. Two of the primary themes of the Koran are strictly exclusive monotheism (with dire consequences for those outside the faith) and a coming day of judgment in which sinners/non-Muslims will be condemned to eternal torment. For example:

“…then fear the Fire, whose fuel is men and stones, prepared for the disbelievers.” 2:24

And those who disbelieve and deny Our signs – those will be companions of the Fire; they will abide therein eternally.” 2:39

Yes, whoever earns evil and his sin has encompassed him – those are the companions of the Fire; they will abide therein eternally.” 2:81

And whoever disbelieves…I will force him to the punishment of the Fire, and wretched is the destination.” 2:126

Those who followed will say, “If only we had another turn (at worldly life) so we could disassociate ourselves from them (those who worship other gods)”…And they are never to emerge from the Fire.” 2:167

Indeed, they who conceal what Allah has sent down of the Book…those consume not into their bellies except the Fire. And Allah will not speak to them on the Day of Resurrection…And they will have a painful punishment…How patient they are in pursuit of the Fire! That is (deserved by them)…” 2:174-176

Indeed, those who disbelieve…And it is they who are fuel for the Fire.” 3:10

And fear the Fire, which has been prepared for the disbelievers.” 3:131

We will cast terror into the hearts of those who disbelieve…And their refuge will be the Fire, and wretched is the residence of the wrongdoers.” 3:151

Allah has certainly heard the statement of those (Jews) who said, “Indeed, Allah is poor, while we are rich.” We…will say, “Taste the punishment of the Burning Fire.” 3.181

And whoever disobeys Allah and His Messenger…He will put him into the Fire to abide eternally therein, and he will have a humiliating punishment.” 4:14

Indeed, those who disbelieve in Our verses – We will drive them into a Fire. Every time their skins are roasted through We will replace them with other skins so they may taste the punishment. Indeed, Allah is ever Exalted in Might and Wise.” 4:56

But those who disbelieve and deny Our signs – those are the companions of Hellfire.” 5:10

They will wish to get out of the Fire, but never are they to emerge therefrom, and for them is an enduring punishment.” 5:37

Indeed, he who associates others with Allah (anyone who ascribes divinity to any other being or god)…his refuge is the Fire.” 5:72

But those who disbelieved and denied Our signs – they are the companions of Hellfire.” 5:8

But the ones who deny Our verses…those are the companions of the Fire; they will abide therein eternally.” 7:36

…indeed, Allah is severe in penalty. “That (is yours), so taste it.” And indeed for the disbelievers is the punishment of Fire.” 8:14

And if you could but see when the angels take the souls of those who disbelieved…They are striking their faces and their backs and (saying), “Taste the punishment of the Burning Fire.” 8:50

And of course, this is only a small sample. These passages are found throughout the Koran, and they are a defining element of it. Likewise, many passages urge Muslims to fight and forcibly convert others:

O Prophet, fight against the disbelievers and the hypocrites and be harsh upon them. And their refuge is Hell, and wretched is the destination.” 9:73

And when We intend to destroy a city, We command its affluent but they defiantly disobey therein; so the word comes into effect upon it, and We destroy it with (complete) destruction.” 17:16

And let not those who disbelieve think they will escape. Indeed, they will not cause failure (to Allah). And prepare against them whatever you are able of power and of steeds of war by which you may terrify the enemy of Allah and your enemy…” 8:59-60.

Fight against those who do not believe in Allah or the Last Day and who do not consider unlawful what Allah and His Messenger have made unlawful and who do not adopt the religion of truth (Islam) from those who were given the Scripture – (fight) until they give the jizyah (tax) willingly while they are humbled…May Allah destroy them; how are they deluded?” 9:29-30

And when the sacred months have passed, the kill the polytheists wherever you find them and capture them and besiege them and sit in wait for them at every place of ambush”. 9:5

The passage directly above (9:5) clearly establishes that the Koran is not merely speaking of self-defense, but rather of offensive war against unbelievers. The passage goes on to say that if they should repent, convert and pay a tax they can be spared, after which it says, “Allah is forgiving and merciful”. So, when apologists claim that the Koran teaches forgiveness and mercy, this is the context in which it speaks.

Apologists and other defenders of Islam often claim that such passages are speaking of a spiritual struggle, as in purging the ignorance and hatred from oneself. However, to argue such a thing is to ignore the context of the Koran as a whole, as these verses are found repeatedly throughout the work. Furthermore, these passages reflect the historical reality in which Mohammad lived. The late great Perennialist Huston Smith argued in his book “Islam: A concise introduction”[xxiii] that Mohammad unified a previously war-torn Arabia, fighting only out of necessity for survival. However, history tells us that Islam has repeatedly sought to expand its power and bring the world’s nations and their people into submission to its totalitarian rule.

As with the problems inherent in the Bible, giving divine status to these texts takes a snapshot of human barbarity and makes it sacred, to be kept alive and passed down to future generations. Certainly, Mohammad himself preached a doctrine of judgment and hellfire, he himself held to the cultural norms of the day in regards to women (in which they were most certainly not treated as equals), he insisted repeatedly that no form of religion other than that which he himself preached was acceptable[xxiv], and Mohammad and continuous generations after him initiated war against people of practically all lands and faiths, seeking to establish a theocratic Islamic kingdom across the globe.

Obviously this doesn’t make all Muslims bad people; likewise criticisms of the Tanakh are not the same as anti-Semitism, and criticism of Christianity doesn’t denigrate Christians as people. However, it is vital that we recognize when there is a link between the actual content of religious texts and the problems that we see with the behavior of some of those who hold such texts to be sacred. Many religious liberals seem to believe that we can denounce bigotry whilst simultaneously upholding the Bible and Koran as they stand. I can only point out that this makes no sense, and this approach is destined to fail.

Many people have managed to avoid facing the issues inherent in various religious texts by convincing themselves that their critics are simply motivated by ignorance, bigotry and bias. However, even if someone is incorrect about many topics, it does not mean that everything they claim is incorrect by means of association. It is not hard in this day and age to get access to a translation of a sacred text in most languages. Therefore, there is no excuse now for being unaware of the actual content of these texts.

New revelations on the apocalypse of St. John:

Before moving on, I’d like to quickly point out that whilst most moral criticisms of the Bible relate to the Old Testament, there are some issues in the NT as well, most notably in the Apocalypse of St. John (Revelation). There are a number of different traditional views on the interpretation of Revelation, and many New Age authors have recently given their own opinions on this matter. However, upon a quick examination of the relevant facts, any informed and unbiased observer should be able to clearly identify what the text is largely about.

Aside from its introduction (which is largely an anti-heretical polemic), Revelation is a nightmarish recollection of visions, portraying a cosmic battle preceding the end of the world. Without a shadow of a doubt, Revelations was an outpouring of anger and hatred towards the Roman Empire, in hope of divine revenge as compensation for the hard times that had fallen upon Jews and/or Christians. Many scholars attribute the persecution of Christians under Domitian (81-96 CE) as the primary cause of the anger of the author/s, though the motivating cause could easily have been (possible) persecutions under Nero (60 CE), or even the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE. Either way, an objective reader must conclude that the author of the visions was largely motivated by the desire for revenge against the Romans.

Whilst the visions contain a vast number of symbols (of which the precise meaning are open for interpretation), there are a number of symbols that explicitly link the visions to the Roman Empire in the first century CE. Revelations 17 refers to the “whore of Babylon” as a clear code for the Roman Empire (Rome and the Roman Empire as a whole were often depicted as a woman – Roma[xxv]), saying she was “drunk with the blood of God’s holy people, the blood of those who bore testimony to Jesus[xxvi]. Revelation contains many common symbols with the Book of Daniel, which presents itself as being written during the Babylonian captivity[xxvii]. The Roman Empire fulfilled the same role relative to Jews and Christians in the 1st century, given that Judea was under Roman rule, the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed in 70 CE after 3 years of war, and Christians were alleged to have been persecuted by a number of Roman emperors. A number of other Jewish/Christian texts from the same period likewise use the same metaphor[xxviii], one example even being found in the NT itself (1 Peter 5:13).

Likewise, Revelations 17:18 states that the whore of Babylon is “the great city that rules over the kings of the earth” (clearly Rome, given that it was the center of the most powerful Empire in the world at the time), and 17:9 states that the woman sits on seven hills, referring to the seven hills of Rome[xxix]. Furthermore, the infamous passage about 666 being the number of the beast was almost certainly a reference to Emperor Nero. Jewish people had a numerological practice called gematria, in which letters were given numerical value. Nero Caesar’s name thus becomes the number 666 in its Hebrew transliteration from the Greek, whilst the Hebrew transliteration from the Latin becomes 616, which is attested in a number of manuscript variants as being the number of the beast. Likewise, Revelation 17:10-11 refers to seven kings, five of which have fallen, noting “the beast who once was, and now is not, is an eighth king”. Whilst the exact reading of this is complex, the seven (and five fallen) kings are almost certainly the Roman Emperors[xxx], and the reference to the Beast here references a legend in which it was thought that Nero would return from the dead.

Furthermore, the “mark of the Beast” almost certainly refers to the image of the Emperor on Roman coins, which was essential for trading in the Roman Empire. The Jewish prohibition against idolatry in the Ten Commandments[xxxi] was considered by many to include the images of faces on coins, hence simply using Roman coins could have been considered idolatry under Jewish law, and during the first Jewish-Roman war (under Nero) the Jews revolted and coined their own money, which did not feature any human faces on them. Furthermore, the “image of the beast” which men were forced to worship in Revelations 13:14-16 probably refers to the Roman Imperial cult, in which Roman Emperors were seen as gods, and the population were legally compelled to worship them and offer sacrifices to them. All of this combined means that there really isn’t much in the way of doubt that the author was indeed literarily speaking of the Roman Empire in the 1st century CE, and there are no shortages of sources that have reached this conclusion, dating back to the 2nd century CE[xxxii].

Now that we have dealt with the interpretation side of things, we may now consider the moral nature of the text itself. As a whole, Revelation is a nightmare of gruesome imagery, of supernatural entities torturing humanity:

Then the angel took the censer, filled it with fire from the altar, and hurled it on the earth; and there came peals of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning and an earthquake…The first angel sounded his trumpet, and there came hail and fire mixed with blood, and it was hurled down on the earth. A third of the sea turned into blood, a third of the living creatures in the sea died…[xxxiii]

And out of the smoke locusts came down on the earth and were given power like that of scorpions of the earth. They were told not to harm the grass of the earth or any plant or tree, but only those people who did not have the seal of God on their foreheads. They were not allowed to kill them but only torture them for five months. And the agony they suffered was like that of the sting of a scorpion when it strikes. During those days people will seek death but will not find it; they will long to die, but death will elude them.[xxxiv]

And the four angels who had been kept ready for this very hour and day and month and year were released to kill a third of mankind…A third of mankind was killed by the three plagues of fire, smoke and sulphur…[xxxv]

If anyone worships the beast…They will be tormented with burning sulphur in the presences of the holy angels and of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment will rise for ever and ever. There will be no rest day or night….[xxxvi]

The angel swung his sickle on the earth, gathered its grapes and threw them into the great winepress of God’s wrath…and blood flowed out of the press…[xxxvii]

The first angel went and poured out his bowl on the land, and ugly festering sores broke out on the people who had the mark of the beast…The second angel poured out his bowl on the sea, and it turned into blood…and every living thing in the sea died…The fourth angel poured out his bowl on the sun, and the sun was allowed to scorch people with fire…God remembered Babylon the Great and gave her the cup filled with the wine of the fury of his wrath….From the sky huge hailstones, each weighing about a hundred pounds fell on people…[xxxviii]

When the thousand years are over, Satan will be released from his prison and will go out to deceive the nations in the four corners of the earth…But fire came down from heaven and devoured them. And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulphur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night for ever and ever.[xxxix]

The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books…Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire.[xl]

New Age authors James Redfield and Eckhart Tolle have attempted to present Revelation in terms of a coming golden age, in which large portions of humanity become spiritually awakened, and thus create a “New Earth”. Likewise, Edgar Cayce also offered an interpretation of Revelation as relating to the various stages and processes of spiritual evolution within an individual, and humanity at large. Whilst I admire Cayce, Redfield and Tolle (and particularly recommend Tolle as essential reading on psychology and spirituality), their readings of Revelation are quite simply untenable. Trying to imagine that Revelation is a spiritual allegory is like arguing that a horror movie is actually a love story.

Here is the part that so many people do not seem to understand:

Recognizing Cayce, Redfield and Tolle as overall preaching legitimate spiritual truths does not necessarily mean that we have to by association, accept every single view that they gave. Likewise, rejecting their perspectives on Revelation does not mean that we have to reject their overall worldview. Rather, we need to be careful that when we ascribe a somewhat enlightened status to someone, that we do not therefore abandon reason, and simply side with them on particular sub-topics whereby it is quite clear that they are simply wrong.

Can’t it all just be allegorical?

In the face of the above, many will still argue that the Bible and the Koran are allegorical, and that the primitive, violent language and imagery is simply allegories for the struggles of the soul. Many progressives respond to critiques of religious scriptures by stating that such critics shouldn’t simply believe everything the media tells them, as if it were only highly biased, tabloid conservative media that make these cases, contrary to what they encounter from liberal academics. We can however be honest about the reality of world religions and scriptures without condoning the overall methodology and conclusions of those that commonly are vocal in pointing out the flaws in various religions.

Claims that religious texts are allegorical can only go so far. One could seek to extrapolate the same methodology onto any text and thus conclude that it actually means the opposite of what it presents. Perhaps “50 Shades of Grey” is an allegory for a healthy, respectful relationship? Maybe “The Communist Manifesto” was a satirical critique of socialism, and perhaps Ayn Rand was a closet communist? Obviously, such things are utterly ridiculous. The same is true of the misuse of the allegory argument, which has now amounted to a blanket excuse for the flaws of many a religious text.

Obviously, people are free to believe as they wish, and I don’t wish to come across as being overtly harsh as to other people’s spiritual beliefs. I know many wonderful people who hold these common liberal views on religion (and I generally commend such people for rejecting religious fundamentalism). Ultimately my goal here is to counter religious exclusivity and to promote a more open, tolerant perspective on spirituality and world religion. However again, the reason why I also critique the current progressive approach is because it is clearly flawed, and it is preventing further progress. Religious liberals and those amongst the “spiritual, not religious” crowd should not take offense at this, as I believe that I am on their side. Rather, I wish to show how we can be far more effective, in taking a truly informed perspective on world religion, in order to lay the foundation for lasting religious reformation.

The difference between criticisms of other faiths and religious scriptures relative to the Abrahamic faiths:

A common claim made by fellow progressives is that the problems associated with Christianity and Islam are not specific to these faiths, but rather are shared equally by all faiths. I understand that many people believe that this sounds like a tolerant and mature perspective on world religion; the problem is that it is categorically false. The Tao Te Ching does not have a single passage that could possibly be read in a light comparable to the issues with the Bible or the Koran. I have never seen anybody quote a single passage from one of the many Buddhist sutras that compares in any way to the problems of the Abrahamic scriptures.

Amongst the vast Vedic library there are indeed some problematic passages, such as those that discuss the Indian caste system, or the place of women. Likewise, there are some Tantric practices that are quite challenging, of which we may find somewhat disgusting. However, again, I have never seen any evidence of issues in the vast Vedic library comparable to those found in the Bible and Koran. Rather, whilst there are legitimate criticisms to be made of some aspects of Indian religion and culture (which are reflected in some Indian texts), such issues are not of the same scale as those relevant to the Abrahamic faiths.

In seeking to present Buddhism as having the same potential for violence and other misuse as Christianity and Islam, many people have raised the example of the role of Zen Buddhism in WW2 Japan. Whilst it is indeed true that many Buddhist Temples were openly supportive of the Japanese governments war efforts, this doesn’t mean in any way that Buddhism was responsible for the military aggression and general wartime atrocities committed by the Japanese during WW2.

In his book “Zen at War”, Brian Daizen Victoria discussed various aspects of Buddhism that were adapted by the Japanese government in favor of their war effort. However, unlike the relative problems of the Abrahamic faiths, the most that could be produced was the emphasis of Buddhism on person spiritual development (rather than social activism), with teachings on inner peace and the acceptance of things as they are possibly leading to a failure of Japanese Buddhists to stand against their government. As far as I am aware, there aren’t any Zen Buddhist sutras that can be cited in favor of violence or other injustices. Rather, we just have the case that unfortunately the presence of a spiritual tradition within a culture did not prevent the people of that culture from being swept up in violence and injustice.

A similar situation is found in relation to Christianity in Nazi Germany. That being, WW2 Germany was predominantly a Christian nation. It is difficult to pin down the precise religious views of the Nazi party as a whole, as there are a complex mixture of different elements at play, and one will encounter a range of different opinions on the topic[xli]. Certainly at some times the Nazi party was professed to be Christian, as it presented its own form of anti-Semitic Christianity: Positive Christianity (which, by the measures of orthodoxy was certainly heterodox). Likewise, there were a number of prominent occultists within the Nazi ranks. However, it seems that by and large, the Nazi party were predominantly driven by racial and nationalistic ideology, though of course religious views naturally come into that mix.

In many respects the Nazi party waged a war against Christian churches, as part of broader measures that persecuted various peoples and organizations. However, the fact remains that the majority of Christians in WW2 Germany were either supportive of Hitler or passively complicit to the atrocities committed by the ruling Nazi party. Most members of the Nazi party and German soldiers considered themselves to be Christians (even if one can argue that their actions were not generally consistent with the teachings of Christ). There was a small percentage of Christians in Nazi held territories that were involved in hiding Jewish people and helping them escape. However, by and large, the moral teachings of Christianity did not lead to a widespread resistance against the Nazis by German Christians.

Here’s the thing, we don’t blame Christianity for Hitler, and neither do we have any right to blame Zen for Japan’s WW2 activities. Christianity has long had association with religious anti-Semitism (or more correctly, Jew hatred), with the Protestant reformer Martin Luther being a prominent figure in its development (not to mention many early Church fathers), and the NT shows mixed views in regards to the Jewish people. However, one can legitimately cite various NT passages as preaching love and compassion, and thus opposing the atrocities committed by WW2 Germany. Therefore, one simply cannot blame the Holocaust (and other atrocities committed by Nazi Germany) upon Christianity.

Hence, we can see that the military aggression and general atrocities of Japan and Germany during WW2 and their relationship to Zen and Christianity are a different category by comparison to the previously raised issues within the Bible and Koran. That is, we are not applying a double standard here. Rather, we are simply differentiating different cases whereby in some cases the religion (and religious scripture) explicitly promotes the injustices in question, and other in which they do not.

An example that is often raised by conservative Christians in their attempts to present Hinduism as a dark, demonic religion is that of the Hindu goddess Kali, and the atrocities that have been committed in her honor. Presented as a fierce, bloodthirsty deity with a garland of skulls hanging around her neck, the goddess Kali is presented in Hinduism as a representation of the destructive power of nature, and a divine power that destroys demons (which is often interpreted allegorically as destroying ignorance). In this sense, Kali is more akin to a Biblical angel of death than an evil spirit or deity, as the wrath of Kali is pretty much always directed at forces of evil. Mythological tales abound of Hindu goddesses transforming into Kali in order to kill demons, hence showing the inherent potential within the divine feminine principle to unleash awesome power to defeat evil.

The well-known movie “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” featured an Indian Thuggee cult that worshipped Kali and offered human sacrifices to her. Many people seem to think that this is the true face of Hinduism. There were indeed real Thuggee cults in Indian that were associated with the worship of Kali. They were essentially a tribe of professional thieves and murderers, and much of the literature about them claims that they worshipped in front of large statues of Kali. Likewise, in rural India there have been cases whereby sorcerers[xlii] calling themselves Tantriks (practitioners of Tantra) have told their clients to murder people (even infants) as a sacrifice to Kali in order to gain some boon from the goddess.

So, it is indeed true that Kali is represented in fearsome imagery as a bloodthirsty goddess, and that there have indeed been well documented cases of people in India committing atrocities in her name. However, this does not mean that this reveals the true dark nature of Hinduism. The earliest evidence we have for the conception of Kali is as a fierce protector of goodness, a defender of righteousness and enemy of evil (rather than a perpetrator of evil). Only later do we have evidence showing Indian cults and individuals doing evil works in the name of Kali. So, this is indeed a very different kettle of fish to cases whereby the original conception of a deity was as a barbaric tribal deity that incurred divine wrath on all those that defied it, and only later evolved into a benevolent, transcendent and universal deity.

These examples of the Thuggee cult and Tantriks committing (or ordering) atrocities in the name of Kali actually bear the same relationship to orthodox Hinduism as Theistic Satanism has to orthodox Christianity. That is, Theistic Satanism exists within the same overall religious bubble as Christianity, except that it exists as its polar opposite, opposed to all its central tenets. In a similar vein, the Thuggee cult exists within the vast, dynamic and diverse religious world known as Hinduism, yet they likewise defy all the central tenets of orthodox Hinduism (which has always taught strict moral and ethical codes).

In this regard then, using examples of atrocities committed in the name of Kali to try and denigrate Hinduism as a whole would be similar to citing examples of heavy metal obsessed teenagers committing atrocities in the name of Satan to denigrate orthodox Christianity. Obviously the latter is absurd; therefore, so is the former.

Whilst on the topic we should probably mention the Indian Aghori cult, an ascetic Shaivite or Tantrik sect known for their complete rejection of social norms and deliberate seeking out of various taboos. The Aghori’s denounce clothing, smear their (sometimes completely naked) bodies with cremation ash, meditate with corpses and human skulls, and smoke hashish (and/or marijuana) amongst other things. Hence, they deliberately seek to immerse themselves in unclean practices in order to realize the illusionary nature of dualistic opposites, and thus transcend duality and attain the state of liberation to which more orthodox Hindu sects also aim. Now, whilst the various practices of the Aghori may raise our eyebrows, I’m not sure if they are really harming those outside their sect, and we have no way to really assess their personal spiritual attainment.

Again though, it would be extremely misleading to present such examples as indicative of the true nature of Hinduism as a whole. Let us remember that even orthodox Christians have been known to whip themselves in imitation of the suffering of Christ. Likewise, we should note that in their descriptions of various heterodox Christian sects, the early proto-orthodox heresiologists (Irenaeus, Tertullian, Epiphanius et al.) cite various beliefs and practices that would certainly raise the eyebrows of modern readers. Hence, were it not for the state sanctioned purge of heterodox Christianity in the 4th century, we would know Christianity as having a similar degree of diversity to Hinduism, and one would be able to cite Christian (albeit heterodox) examples to parallel that of the Hindu Aghori.

I will certainly concede that the fearsome imagery and mythology surrounding Kali leaves the door open for people to commit atrocities under the guise of religion, citing Kali as their example. Regarding the use of dark and violent symbolism in religion and mythology, I’m not sure where we draw the line, and this is a problem that plagues many different faiths. This is perhaps a topic which should be discussed in more detail elsewhere. Nevertheless, it is a different case to that of the violent imagery found in the Bible and Koran, as in both cases we historical context of the works reveals that they were intended to be read largely in a literal manner.

The problem is of course that religious conservatives are compelled to argue that their sacred scripture alone should be read in the most generous light and that all others should be read in the worst possible way, whilst progressives are likewise generally compelled to argue that all scriptures should be read generously. And of course, people like myself will generally get accused of applying double standards when we attempt to differentiate cases whereby a text actually is bad and directly causes injustices, from other cases whereby a text uses symbolism which is taken out of context and misappropriated to support some aberration in the name of religion, or where atrocities committed by members of a religion are effectively unrelated to the teachings of the religion in question (as was the case regarding Zen and Japan’s WW2 atrocities).

Followers of Aleister Crowley and his religion Thelema often find themselves accused of child sacrifice. In the Thelemic holy book “The Book of the Law”, we find the following:

Now let it be understood that I am a god of War and of Vengeance…I will give you a war-engine. With it ye shall smite the peoples; and none shall stand before you…Worship me with fire & blood; worship me with swords & with spears. Let the woman be girt with a sword before me: let blood flow to my name. Trample down the Heathen; be upon them, o warrior, I will give you of their flesh to eat! Sacrifice cattle, little and big: after a child…Mercy let be off; damn them who pity! Kill and torture; spare not; be upon them! The best blood is of the moon, monthly: then the fresh blood of a child, or dropping from the host of heaven: then of enemies; then of the priest or of the worshippers: last of some beast, no matter what.”[xliii]

Now, that is certainly some nasty sounding stuff above, and if we took it literarily then one would certainly be right to view Crowley and his followers as bloodthirsty practitioners of a barbaric and wicked form of black magic. However, in truth, the above is simply code for sex magic, involving the consummation of menstrual fluids and semen in magical ritual (Crowley used to joke about masturbation as sacrificing children). Ok, so that’s still pretty full on, and I could understand many people still viewing it with repulsion. I have to say that I think Aleister Crowley had a sick sense of humor; not indicative of a spiritually advanced soul. However, it seems debatable as to whether they actually hurt anybody else outside of their own cult (directly at least), so one can certainly argue that their faith is perhaps less offensive than those religions that have indeed used violence against others outside their religion of choice.

I am no big fan of Crowley, and I am not seeking to defend him here. Nevertheless, my point is simply that whilst the above cited passages from The Book of the Law are pretty awful as read straight off the page, we do here have a true example whereby something that seems awful if taken literarily is certainly (at very least) somewhat less so in its true context[xliv].

This is indeed very different to the examples previously cited from the Bible and Koran, as in both cases we do indeed have direct evidence from the pages of history that they were originally intended to be taken literarily. That is, we know that many of the horrible passages from the Bible were intended to be taken as given, by the fact that they simply represented cultural norms of the Ancient Near East, and by the fact that the Bible contains many stories that relate to the relevant laws, showing their literal application. Likewise, the same is true of the Koran. That is, the pages of history tell us how Mohammad himself was said to have acted, along with those that directly followed him. Hence, with the Koran we can see that the atrocities contained within were acted out by those that were directly involved in writing the text itself.

If followers of the Abrahamic faiths are able to bypass and transcend the psychological processes that prevent them from viewing their own faith and sacred text objectively, they will see a completely different reality. Comparatively, the Bible and the Koran are not great texts at all; rather, they contain some of the lowest expressions of human potential in written form[xlv]. It is time for reasonable, intelligent and decent people to recognize the vastly inflated importance that has been given to the Bible and the Koran, and look elsewhere for spiritual and philosophical wisdom, both amongst the myriad of works that have emerged from all over the world over history, and also amongst modern works, many of which are free from the dogmas that have diluted true spirituality across the ages.

A falsehood repeated a thousand times does not become true:

The common and deeply flawed approaches of both conservatives and progressives in relation to religious scriptures are largely held in place through repetition, and because the public at large are dependent upon specialists to direct their opinion. Conservatives have armies of apologists and religious scholars trained from their very own universities that tell them exactly what they want to hear, regardless of what the truth actually is. Conservative academia merely exists to maintain the status quo, to uphold the divine status of the Bible and Koran. Regardless of what evidence and argument is given against them, conservative apologetics always holds their ground.

Likewise, progressives at large are influenced by liberal academics (who are also often university qualified) and otherwise well-meaning spiritual teachers, who tell them that religious scriptures should be upheld, and that we simply need to read them differently. In the cases of the Bible and Koran, liberal Muslims, liberal Christians and New Age spiritual teachers all largely seek to uphold the texts, arguing that all criticisms are the results of misinterpretation, and are largely motivated by bias and bigotry.

In both case, the common apologetics are preventing spiritual seekers from actually examining religious scriptures themselves, and/or accessing unbiased and informed opinions on them. Both conservatives and progressives respond to criticisms of their scripture of choice (or all scriptures for progressives) by viewing the critic as being misinformed by poor journalism and scholarship, driven by ideology and bias. Hence we need to spread the word that there is another option for how to view religious scriptures, and how to apply this perspective to our approach to comparative religion as a whole.

Throughout the 20th century there was an outpouring of Western esotericism and Eastern mysticism through the Western world, with Theosophy, Spiritualism, Edgar Cayce, Dion Fortune etc., through to a great number of Indian sages (Yogananda, Vivekananda et al.). Common to nearly all of them was the attempt to interpret Christianity in light of a Perennial Philosophy (which is basically philosophical Hinduism). As such, many tried to force their interpretations upon the Biblical text, with the sincere belief that they were actually revealing the original truth of the text.

For example, I am a big fan of Paramahansa Yogananda, and I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve read “Autobiography of a Yogi”. Yoganandas guru Sri Yukteswar wrote a book titled “The Holy Science”, in which he argued for the fundamental unity of all religions, in particular focusing on attempting to harmonize the Bible with philosophical Hinduism. Whilst I am personally a big fan of Yogananda, the unfortunate fact is that the view of Jesus and the Bible as a whole taught by him and his guru (Sri Yukteswar) is simply untenable. That is, whilst I am certainly down with their overall philosophy, their perspective on Christianity and its sacred text just cannot possibly be correct. I would like to emphasize the following, as I think it sums up the heart of the problem here:

Unfortunately many people who lean towards Eastern religion or general New Age spirituality can’t seem to accept that they can simultaneously acknowledge someone like Yogananda as a legitimate spiritual teacher, whilst rejecting his perspective on Christianity, as it is incompatible with the relevant data. Whilst Sri Yukteswar was no doubt a great yogi who may indeed have been extremely enlightened, this does not mean that his opinion on absolutely everything must necessarily have been correct.

The truth is that whilst I admire much of what most Eastern and New Age spiritual teachers have taught, very few (if any) of them have actually examined the evidence in question for themselves in relation to many of the world religions they seek to defend. Just to clarify, I am not saying that Eastern and New Age spiritual teachers are completely unfamiliar with world religion. Rather, I am only stating that they are not familiar with the textual and historical evidence that shows that the criticisms launched against some particular faiths are in fact legitimate. Hence, whilst their overall teachings may be good and true, they are largely speaking out of ignorance and wishful thinking when it comes to the problems inherent in many religious texts.

I personally suspect that higher spiritual beings do not attempt to directly overturn human belief systems, but rather leave that to us, and instead try to communicate to us through the context of our sacred beliefs. For example, in his altered states of consciousness Edgar Cayce was not told to abandon Christianity, but rather was told to view Christianity through the filter of Perennialism. Likewise, the same is true of countless people who have had Near-Death experiences, or visions and peak mystical experiences through the practice of meditation, or who have communicated with non-physical beings through mediumship and trance.

It is ironic that so few people within the field of religion itself can actually perceive the true nature of religious scriptures as they as are. Rather, it has often been those outside the field (that being naturalists – atheists) who seem to be some of the only ones able to look at texts such as the Bible and the Koran without presuppositions, and take the texts as they stand. Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris (amongst others) have all raised very legitimate objections against the Bible and the Koran, and a large percentage of religious people of all persuasions have failed to integrate the truths that they have spoken into their overall worldview (though obviously I disagree with naturalists on more general counts, such as the objective reality of spirituality as a whole).

I believe that the defence of certain religious texts is entirely untenable, and completely lacking in credibility. Now, I realize that the preceding and following statements could certainly be taken as offensive to many. However, we are not discussing the overall worth of human beings here. We are simply discussing whether particular perspectives on ancient religious texts are correct, and it is important that we view the facts without emotional attachment. As such, there are three reasons why such a large percentage of religious believers of various persuasions have taken obviously flawed perspectives on religious texts:

  1. a) The persons in question are simply unaware of the actual content of the text as a whole, the historical context from which it originates, and the ways in which the content of the text has a direct causal relationship with atrocities committed throughout the history of the faith in question. This is true of both progressives and conservatives that hold firm views about the divine status of religious texts (and defend them with fervor), yet have not actually read them for themselves.
  1. b) The persons in question are in fact intimately familiar with the source material in question, yet are so attached to a particular religious perspective that they approach the text/s in question with firm presuppositions, and then attempt to view the text in light of these prior beliefs.
  1. c) The persons in question have some degree of familiarity with a text and the criticisms of it, but they have been swayed by apologetic arguments in its defence from those of the same camp. This applies to conservatives that believe that their texts have survived centuries of attack, thanks to the apologetic responses of conservative Bible scholars, historians, philosophers and theologians. Likewise, this applies equally to progressives who are swayed by university trained liberal academics who tell us that Islam is a religion of peace and that critics of the Koran are motivated by racism and religious bigotry, that the Bible is an allegorical work and that the doctrine of eternal damnation in hell was invented by the Catholic Church in the Middle-Ages

In conclusion:

As a result of this, both sides attempt to make the evidence fit their presuppositions, rather than considering the evidence as it actually stands. This approach has a long history through many cultures, in which human beings become psychologically attached (or even addicted) to particular texts and give them divine status, from which they attempt to defend such texts against any criticism, and refuse to acknowledge the actual content of such texts in the context of how they were originally conceived.

If we actually approach the interpretation of holy texts without any presuppositions, we can see that there is a great diversity amongst the world’s scriptures (though I would argue that we can still see much common ground between them). If we approach each text on its own merits, we can see that many of the criticisms of ancient religious texts are indeed legitimate (and are not simply the case of less mature believers twisting the tenets of a faith). Hence, there is a need for genuine spiritual seekers to denounce the divine status of such texts. Likewise however, not all religious texts suffer equally from these flaws, and whilst some are the product of primitive superstitious minds, others espouse a sublime philosophy capable of leading a genuine seeker towards true liberation.

We can clearly see that the claims of conservatives that their religious scriptures of choice are alone good and pure at the exclusion of all others is completely untenable. Likewise however, the claims of progressives that all the worlds scriptures are equally good and pure and essentially identical in their core message, are equally untenable. However, despite the latter case, I will still argue that an honest investigation of comparative religion will indeed result in the conclusion that spirituality is truly universal and no single faith or text can claim exclusive rights to truth. However, examining the world’s scriptures on their own merit will also lead to the conclusion that we must differentiate between genuine spiritual insights and backwards superstitions.

In light of all of this may I suggest that we should seek to apply the following approach to reading and interpreting religious scriptures. Whilst this approach may seem novel and controversial to many, I would suggest that it is simply common sense:

  1. a) Firstly, we examine different religious texts on a case-by-case basis, and we do not approach them with presuppositions about their nature. That is, we remain open about the nature of a text until we have examined it for ourselves (or weighed up multiple competing views about it), and we remember that there is a tremendous amount of diversity in world religion.
  1. b) Secondly, we remember that even if we take a low opinion about a particular scripture, that it doesn’t necessarily mean that we reject everything that is taught and practiced in the faith in question, nor does it mean that followers of the faith in question are necessarily bad people.
  1. c) Thirdly, just because a faith and culture in general may contain much in the way of dogma and superstition, it doesn’t mean that people within that context cannot still have genuine spiritual experiences. That is, even in a faith that preaches hate, some followers will still find divine love regardless. Likewise, the opposite is still true; even if a faith had been purged of imperfection, human beings would still pollute it with the lower aspect of their nature.
  1. d) Hence, when we encounter examples of mystical streams within larger faiths that are dramatically different to the orthodox forms, we need not conclude that these mystical forms are the original, pure form of the faith. Rather, these may simply be examples of evolution within a religion, rather than a return to their primal state.
  1. e) Ultimately, we can take a critical view on particular religious scriptures (and religions as a whole) whilst still upholding a universal, timeless perspective on world religion and spirituality. That is, Perennial Philosophy does not depend upon all scriptures being pure and equal. Rather, when properly defined, Perennialism should differentiate between spiritual truth and religious dogma, both in the practices and beliefs of a faith, and in the scriptures that they hold sacred.

May we all be honest with ourselves and each other, transforming our inner states and reforming the structures in the world around us.

Peace.

[i] Whilst Christian apologists attempt to twist the source material to present Hebrew slavery as merely a form of employment.

[ii] If a woman was married she was seen as the literal property of her husband, otherwise she belonged to her father.

[iii] That is, portions of the Tanakh believed to be of older origin mandate the sacrifice of first-born male children (and animals), whilst accepting the power of a human sacrifice to gain the assistance of the gods, particularly in war, as well as demanding the literal sacrifice of the spoils of war (including people) to Yahweh. Fortunately, there was a later reformation following Jeremiah in which human sacrifice was denounced outright (regardless of which god it was to), and hence we see evidence of redaction in the Old Testament texts relating to this issue.

[iv] https://jameshiscoxblogs.wordpress.com/2017/03/29/essential-reading-on-the-historical-context-of-moral-issues-with-the-hebrew-bible-thom-starks-is-god-a-moral-compromiser/. Stark’s work can be read at the following: http://thomstark.net/copan/stark_copan-review.pdf.

[v] Leviticus 25:44-46.

[vi] Exodus 21:20-21.

[vii] Deuteronomy 22:28-29.

[viii] See Thom Stark, “Is God a Moral Compromiser”, pages 133-140.

[ix] In the following video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ahJpxUjOzuE, and he also provides a link to the following page: http://www.mandm.org.nz/2009/07/sunday-study-does-the-bible-teach-that-a-rape-victim-has-to-marry-her-rapist.html.

[x]First, our subject objects that the victim may not want to marry the rapist. In modern times this would be a sensible objection; but for the ancients, this was a highly viable and indeed merciful solution…”; http://www.tektonics.org/af/ancientmores.html.

[xi] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eZv94om4Ry0.

[xii] For example, Numbers 31:7-18 and Deuteronomy 21:10-14.

[xiii] Joshua 6:20-21.

[xiv] 1 Samuel 15:3.

[xv] 1 Samuel 15:7-9.

[xvi] Leviticus 20:13.

[xvii] Deuteronomy 21:18-21.

[xviii] Deuteronomy 17:12.

[xix] Exodus 22:18

[xx] Leviticus 20:27.

[xxi] 2 Chronicles 15:13.

[xxii] Deuteronomy 13. Also Deuteronomy 17:2-5 and Numbers 25:1-9 continue the same theme.

[xxiii] https://www.amazon.com/Islam-Concise-Introduction-Huston-Smith/dp/0060095571.

[xxiv] Though it should be noted that at some points in the Koran, Mohammad somewhat accepted Jews and Christians as part of the same religious tradition as himself. Different passages in the Koran are both positive and negative towards Jews and Christians, though certainly the Koran is absolutely and consistently negative towards all other faiths.

[xxv] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roma_(mythology).

[xxvi] Revelations 17:6.

[xxvii] Though modern scholars have good reason to believe it was actually written in the 2nd century BCE. Nevertheless, the book presents itself as being written during the Babylonian captivity in the 6th century BCE.

[xxviii] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Whore_of_Babylon#Rome_and_the_Roman_Empire.

[xxix] And a coin from 70 CE shows Rome as a woman sitting on seven hills.

[xxx] The exact calculations are dependent upon both the time at which this verse was originally composed, and whether or not the author counted all of the Emperors from the “Year of the Four Emperor’s”, as the relatively short rules of Galba, Otho and Vitellius may not have been known throughout the kingdom. I cannot comment further on this.

[xxxi] Exodus 20:4 and Deuteronomy 4:15-18.

[xxxii]In a still clearer light has John, in the Apocalypse, indicated to the Lord’s disciples what shall happen in the last times, and concerning the ten kings who shall then arise, among whom the empire which now rules (the earth) shall be partitioned.” Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Book 5, Chapter 26:1: http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/0103526.htm.

[xxxiii] Revelation 8:3-9.

[xxxiv] Revelation 9:3-6.

[xxxv] Revelation 9:15-18.

[xxxvi] Revelation 14:9-11.

[xxxvii] Revelation 14:19-20.

[xxxviii] Revelation 16:2-21.

[xxxix] Revelation 20:7-10.

[xl] Revelation 20:12-15.

[xli] Of which I am not going to attempt to unravel.

[xlii] Whether or not they actually possess supernatural power through the practices of black magic, I think it is appropriate to refer to them as sorcerers.

[xliii] Aleister Crowley, The Book of the Law, Chapter 3, Verses 3-24.

[xliv] That being, whatever you think of Crowley, surely ceremonial magick involving sex and drugs is ultimately less horrendous than bloodlust and human sacrifice.

[xlv] Though again, they are not wholly bad. Rather, they do of course also contain inspirational passages mixed in, which believers can quote mine in order to paint a rosy picture of their sacred text.

Easter and Spirituality:

For quite some time I have been intending to write articles to deal with the origins and religious significance of Christmas and Easter. Every year like clockwork, out come the articles, videos and memes, some of which give a bad representation of half-truths claiming that Christmas and Easter are both pagan, and the others again giving half of the story in claiming that they are not. At some point I would like to offer my own presentation of the facts on both Christmas and Easter, to try and bring some clarity to the subjects. However, today is not that day.

Rather, today I simply wish to talk about true spirituality and its relationship with the Easter mythos. For Christianity, Easter is a time of both mourning and celebration, for what they believe was the death and resurrection of Jesus. For Christians the death of Jesus was a cosmic sacrifice, God incarnating as a man and taking on the frailty of humanity, suffering and taking on death for the sins of humanity, so that we may be free of sin. Likewise, the resurrection of Jesus is seen by Christians as the ultimate triumph, mankind being given the opportunity to share in eternal life through divine grace, accepted through faith in Christ.

Elsewhere I have already written quite a bit on the fact that there were indeed older pagan precedents for the theme of death and resurrection, celebrated at major seasonal markers (as is Easter – being celebrated immediately following the Vernal Equinox in the Northern Hemisphere), which also associated the devotee with the deity, in order to give eternal life after death[i]. Unfortunately, this reality is still largely denied and derided by both Christian apologists and many secular religious scholars, bringing the field of religious scholarship into disrepute. Anyways, I will not be dwelling on that today.

Rather, I simply wish to speak briefly on the fact that through the incredible privilege that Christianity has enjoyed throughout the Western world over the past 2,000 odd years, many people have been taught to believe that they require salvation to be reunited with God. That is, we have been taught that we are dependent upon belief in a story, belief in a pseudo-historical myth to be freed from the natural consequences of our mistakes, and to have eternal life.

It is time that humanity at large came back into contact with the greater reality, of which they are part, and which constitutes our true, innermost being. Deep inside, within us all is Spirit, and you do not have to subscribe to a fixed belief system or religion to experience this. All you need to do is find true stillness and inner silence, and indescribable peace and love will reveal itself to you. Whilst followers of all faiths commonly experience self-validating visions and so forth that relate to the specific dogmas and myths of that particular faith, there are universal spiritual experiences that are not dependent upon faith in any conception of deity, scripture or creed. Even those that subscribe to metaphysical naturalism can experience this same inner peace, as it does not require any belief in the objective reality of spirituality.

As individuals, we basically all have issues that we struggle with, and we can all use a bit of grace. Grace however is not something that we have to earn or attempt to deserve, and likewise, it is not something that we cannot deserve and is simply given to us anyways. Rather, grace is part of the natural absolute reality, the substratum of the cosmos, and nothing we can ever do could take away our right to that grace. However, grace can be obscured and we can lose sight of it, as is often the case, and we can feel disconnected and alone in a cruel harsh world.

We do not need to believe in religious myths or stories to gain eternal life. We are eternal life. We can swim in the ocean of bliss, love and infinite creativity through deep meditation, and it is likewise possible to sustain this in everyday life, through the seemingly mundane world. For most of us it requires self-effort, but it is a path that brings true happiness, and peace to the world.

There is room in the world for religious mythology, allegorical stories that help humanity to touch that which is beyond form. It is important for us to remember however not to become attached to these forms, or to mistake them for the goal. The Abrahamic faiths in particular (but not exclusively) have been largely responsible for the idea that one needs to exclusively follow the tenets of one faith in order to find God, and that without perfect adherence to the dogmas of a particular religion one is denied eternal life in the hereafter.

The belief in eternal damnation is certainly the single most abhorrent superstition that has ever corrupted the field of religion, and it is time that it was rejected outright as being immoral, irrational and utterly supported by evidence or reason. Likewise, the idea that eternal peace could only be given to a small group of sentient beings on the basis of rather arbitrary and petty criteria is simply untenable.

Spirit is naturally eternal, and there is nothing we can do to lose eternal life. However, we can be unaware of the existence of Spirit within us and around us, leading to the temporary illusion that we have to struggle and fight in a cold and uncaring cosmos, devoid of meaning and compassion. Suffering befall us all, giving legitimate reasons to doubt the existence of anything beyond cold hard matter. Certainly, the injustices that we perceive in the world are extremely difficult (if not impossible) to harmonize with the idea that all life is created by a transcendent being with a nature of infinite love. And yet, this is the world we inhabit.

Injustice and suffering do abound in the world, and yet somehow, simultaneously, unspeakable, eternal, infinite love, joy and peace is only ever a moment away for any of us. What we seek is not far from us but right here, and with the right instruction, a little practice and some grace we can all experience it, and even live it continuously. I’m still working on it myself, but I have experienced this beyond doubt, from cosmic oneness and unimaginable peace in deep meditation, to a constant inner lightness through presence/mindfulness in daily life. Fluctuation is normal, but our internal state is within our power, as are our responses to the world outside us. We cannot control the actions of others, or the greater environment in which we live, or all the circumstances that we encounter in life. And yet we have great power over our internal state, and through taking responsibility for it we reclaim our own power, and contribute towards a better world.

Human beings have great potential to different extremes. We can be extraordinarily kind, compassionate, forgiving, joyful, brilliant and serene, and yet we can also be unimaginably cruel, unforgiving, vindictive and insane, and can fall into endless spirals of hopelessness and anxiety. We live in a world that has the capacity to sustain us all, or we can deprive ourselves and all other beings of a liveable world.

So, at Easter time I would like to say that we need not believe that Osiris really did drown in the river and was brought back to life by magic and the intervention of the gods, nor do we need to believe that Attis really was castrated by a bull and returned to life as a tree. Nor do we need to believe that Dionysus was really torn apart by the Titans, before later being reborn via the thigh of Zeus, or that Jesus was really crucified and resurrected. None of these are essential for becoming free of our lower nature, becoming reunited with God and attaining eternal life, regardless of whether or not any of these have roots in real historical events.

Grace is always waiting for us, balanced with self-effort that brings great rewards, both immediately and continuously throughout our lives. May we all find peace within us, living joyful lives of passion and creativity, and bless others around us and the world at large through showing the higher potential of humanity. May we forgive others and end the insane cycles of retribution and greed that have held us down for too long.

Peace.

[i] I haven’t as of yet published anything specifically designed to quickly summarize the evidence and logic behind this conclusion. However, for anyone that is reading this and hasn’t read my previous articles on the topic, please see the following:

https://jameshiscoxblogs.wordpress.com/2015/08/22/the-pagan-parallel-thesis-and-why-practically-every-single-major-objection-to-it-is-false/

https://jameshiscoxblogs.wordpress.com/2014/09/20/the-whole-truth-on-justin-martyrs-diabolical-mimicry-argument/

https://jameshiscoxblogs.wordpress.com/2015/08/06/on-christian-origins-part-1-why-i-favour-mythicism/

Essential reading on the historical context of moral issues with the Hebrew Bible: Thom Stark’s “Is God a Moral Compromiser?”:

I would argue that to be well informed, it is not simply a question of how much your read, but (more importantly) what you read. I know of some people that have extensive libraries in their houses and/or have studied various topics in-depth for many years, and yet are so drastically misinformed (or uninformed) on many of the topics that they have focussed upon.

Many people prior to myself have made statements to the following effect, and I would largely concur:

In this day and age, with access to the internet on any decent mobile phone or a variety of other portable devices (let alone desktop computers), there is no excuse for being misinformed.”

There are of course many cases whereby there are complex webs of evidence and arguments that are presented by multiple sides of an issue, in which it can be difficult to be properly informed from a quick glance at a topic. Serious topics like religion are perfect examples, as the psychological attachment people have to their particular religion of choice (and its sacred Scripture) frequently prevent them from being objective in considering the strengths and weaknesses of said religion and scripture. So, to be properly informed on religion you either need to be somewhat well-read yourself (and also quite objective in your consideration of comparative views), or you need to possess an innate, intuitive wisdom that helps you to recognise well informed perspectives as a whole from those that are driven by bias and personal attachment.

One absolutely critical sub-topic in the study of comparative religion is that of the moral and ethical problems of many ancient religious texts. Conservative followers of various faiths often project sacred status and authority onto the religious text/s of their faith in question (to which they will defend to the death), whilst they generally seek to view the scriptures of other faiths in the worst possible light. Alternatively, those of a liberal religious persuasion frequently seek to be as generous as possible to all sacred scriptures, and pass off any criticisms as mere misinterpretation.

Many people have raised serious criticisms towards the Hebrew Bible[i] (which Christians take as their Old Testament), accusing it of condoning and mandating slavery, presenting women as inferior to men (to the extent of being considered the literal property of men, to be owned like cattle), justifying cultural genocide and various other violent crimes, condemning homosexuals, denying any expression of religious freedom and various other things. Many critics have stated that the conception of God as Yahweh in the Hebrew Bible is one of a primitive and barbaric tribal deity, a bloodthirsty, violent, fickle, jealous deity; a projection of the lowest human potential, and not a transcendent, benevolent universal God of unconditional love, as those why typically defend it would like to claim.

Conservative Christians are heavily invested in the Hebrew Bible, as it forms the foundation for their own religion, and takes up the first half of the Christian Bible. Hence, there are extensive Christian apologetics available to attempt to defend the accusations levelled against the Hebrew Bible. One particular Christian apologist who has spent some time specifically focussing on this topic (and whom is well cited by other Christians on this topic) is Paul Copan. Copan has a number of short articles freely available from his website on the topic[ii], and wrote a full-length book titled “Is God a Moral Monster” to attempt to counter such criticisms[iii].

Enter Thom Stark. Thom Stark is a liberal Christian with academic qualifications, and a published author. Stark wrote a book-length online response to “Is God a Moral Monster”, which he titled “Is God a Moral Compromiser”. In Stark’s response, he goes somewhat in-depth into every major claim and argument made by Copan (he ignores some of the less significant material), and effectively shows how utterly untenable Copan’s attempted defense is (and by extension, this also shows how erroneous pretty much all attempted defences are of the moral failings of the Hebrew Bible). Hence, I would like to state that “Is God a Moral Compromiser” is absolutely essential reading for anyone with an interest in comparative religion, religious history and Christianity (and the other Abrahamic faiths) in general.

I would like to state that I believe that there is absolutely no question that Stark utterly demolishes Copan’s apologetic dance. Piece by piece, Stark destroys every major claim made by Copan, showing effectively that many of the criticisms launched at the Hebrew Bible are in fact legitimate. The truth is that the Hebrew Bible was overall fairly well par for the course in terms of Ancient Near Eastern (abbreviated ANE) culture. That is, the flaws of the Hebrew Bible aren’t specific aberrations of the ancient Hebrews, but rather were cultural norms from the time they were written.

Whilst many people have used this fact to attempt to excuse the Hebrew Bible (as if it was simply a record of an imperfect people living in a backwards time, and a transcendent God trying to reach them), properly understood, it actually achieves the opposite. That is, understanding that the Hebrew Bible was par for the course actually reveals the historical context and “logic” that explains many of its bizarre features. Contrary to apologetic claims, the historical context of the Hebrew Bible does not excuse it, but rather reveals the true depths of its failings.

“Is God a Moral Compromiser” is freely available on the Internet, you can read it whenever you want as many times as you wish. It presents an extremely well informed response, referencing current mainstream scholarship from someone that (if anything) should be invested in the defense of the Bible, but is largely forced to concede the true nature of the Hebrew Bible in light of the undeniable reality. Hence, if you are interested in these topics you absolutely must read it (if you have not done so already). I have included a link in the endnotes for the benefits of my readers to the revised 2nd edition[iv], or you can just Google it just as easily.

As far as I am aware, Copan has still failed to offer any substantial response to Stark. Rather, he initially responded to Stark’s first edition by complaining of the sarcasm and wit employed by Stark (to which Stark then responded by revising his work to downplay his tone), whilst making no real attempt to debate any of the actual content of Stark’s response. In fact, whilst Stark’s work came out over five years ago, I haven’t seen any real attempts at responding to it from any Christians (If anyone knows of any such attempts, I would appreciate any links). I do recall seeing that J.P. Holding has offered some thoughts on Stark before, but hey, J.P. Holding is J.P. Holding; I just can’t take that guy seriously[v].

Unfortunately conservative Christianity survives largely through the sheltered and intellectually isolated world in which they live (in which I was once part, so I can speak from experience). That is, conservative Christians trust other Christians to give them honest, accurate, informed and unbiased information, whilst they often reject any contrary views with the presupposition that their critics must be dishonest, ill-informed and/or just plain biased. The way to truth is found through comparison of competing ideas. In this topic there is no question: Stark utterly refutes every single shred of Copan’s stance.

On a final note, I would like to concede that I personally don’t quite understand Thom Stark’s take on Christianity and religion as a whole. I have not read enough of his work outside of his response to Stark to be able to fully reflect his thoughts on the subject, but still, I can’t understand his overall perspective on the Bible. From what I understand, he (accurately) concedes that the Bible is a deeply flawed work with largely human (rather than divine) origins, but that it is what it is, and that Christians have to work with it nevertheless.

I would argue that it makes much more sense to recognise the Bible for what it is, and likewise take other texts as they are (rather than as we want them to be), and move outside of the confines of Christianity for a universal, timeless perspective on spirituality and religion. In doing so one may still feel drawn to one particular tradition, and in fact, it is still ideal to have one primary path, through which one can travel inwards and discover the depths that can be experienced through a serious and prolonged spiritual discipline. But nevertheless, recognising the true strengths and weaknesses of various religions as they are is an essential step in both personal spiritual evolution, and the larger evolution of human perspectives of religion as a whole. Regarding the latter, I believe that both conservatives and progressives frequently fail at this due to their separate biases (of which I will be posting very shortly, and of which I have discussed in-depth in my upcoming book).

I would also like to express some slight disagree with Stark in his perspective of prominent atheist figures. I think we both share some mutual ground in our overall perspective on them, but I think we disagree on the details. In his response to Copan, Stark makes it clear that he thinks that many atheists are resorting to rhetoric and hyperbole in their criticisms of the Bible. Rather, Stark thinks that whilst Copan’s defense is erroneous, that this does not make the case that such atheists are seeking to make. And yet, I think it does. I think that after reading Stark’s response you can see just how legitimate many specific criticisms levelled by atheists against the Bible are.

Just to be clear, I would be on the same side as Stark in terms of more general criticisms by atheists against religion and spirituality as a whole (and I would actually be on the same side as Copan and Holding on that manner, even if I would largely reject their methodology on the topic). However, I think that many prominent atheists have made numerous legitimate criticisms of various religions and religious texts, and that genuine spiritual seekers and religious reformers need to integrate these perspectives into their overall worldview. In simple language, whilst I completely disagree with Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris and Dennett et al. as to their profession of metaphysical naturalism and their outright rejection of the objective reality to spirituality and paranormal phenomena, I think they have many legitimate criticisms to make of particular religions, and particular religious texts, practices and beliefs.

In perhaps one of the only occasions in which I would find myself in agreement with J.P. Holding on anything, I do recall reading Holding mocking Stark for considering himself Christian (in a tone typical of Holding), arguing instead that he should just come out and reject Christianity outright and become an atheist. Whilst I think that Stark has legitimate spiritual options outside of Christianity and therefore doesn’t necessarily doesn’t need to become an atheist upon rejection of Christianity[vi], I do somewhat agree with Holding here. I wonder if perhaps Stark is leaning more towards Secular Humanism whilst still holding onto the outer edges of liberal Christianity?

Anyways, the point of all this was to encourage people to actually read Stark’s work in full (several times would be ideal). It is very readable, quite easy to digest, and the 300 odd pages actually pass quite quickly once you consider the size of the font. Then, actually compare for yourself the quality of his work to that of Copan (which Stark also recommends you do for yourself in his introduction), and you will see for yourself which of the two is correct. If you actually read the two and you think that Stark is wrong and Copan is right, well, I don’t know what to say to that. Any further analysis I could give would simply be rehashing what Stark has already done, and it would be simpler and quicker to just point any such people back to Stark’s analysis.

Human beings have the potential to either move forward and upward, or to remain where we are, or even degenerate. There are important reasons why we need to reform religion, and I would challenge anyone personally involved in spirituality and religion to face up to this. I personally look forward to the possibility of humans realizing more of our potential, and expressing more of the highest facets of the human spirit.

Peace.

[i] Traditionally known in full as the Tanakh – not to be confused with the Torah, which generally refers specifically to the first five books of the Tanakh (although it can also be taken to have a broader meaning).

[ii] http://www.paulcopan.com/articles/.

[iii] https://www.amazon.com/God-Moral-Monster-Making-Testament/dp/0801072751.

[iv] If you want the link to the 2nd edition of Is God a Moral Compromiser?, here it is: http://thomstark.net/copan/stark_copan-review.pdf.

[v] On a quick online search to find any such works it appears that Holding has discussed Stark in a newsletter, which appears to be available to purchase. Needless to say, I’m not paying to read Holding.

[vi] Some conservative Christians have attempted to dismiss practically all other religions out of hand with grossly oversimplistic and erroneous misrepresentations and arguments (as I have discussed in my upcoming book), and make it seem as if there were only two options: Christian or atheist.

The doctrines of karma and reincarnation, and hereditary caste and poverty in India:

Summary:

Conservative Christian apologists frequently attempt to portray other faiths in the worst possible light (by comparison to their own, which they attempt to portray in the best possible light), in attempting to justify their harsh exclusive view of comparative religion. However, when we examine the details of the arguments that they use to try to make their case, we see that in every example they are fudging the facts, and abusing logic in order to attempt to reach their conclusions.

In this case, Christians have been known to claim that the doctrines of karma and reincarnation naturally justify and produce injustice and poverty, as can be seen in the hereditary caste system of India (which inflicts gross injustices on the lower-castes) and in modern India’s vast poverty.  However, the fact remains that India’s cultural aberrations are not natural results of the doctrines of karma and reincarnation.  Identical doctrines of karma and reincarnation are also found in other Dharmic faiths (such as Jainism, Buddhism and Sikhism) which do not give any support to concepts of caste.  As a whole, all the Dharmic faiths teach compassion and charity towards all life, all humans and animals.

Furthermore, India was actually one of the wealthiest nations in the world for almost all of its history.  It was only after British annexation of India that the Indian economy fell (from which the modern Indian nation is steadily rebuilding itself), as the British literarily raped India of its riches.  Whilst India does indeed have real issues to face, and whilst Hinduism does indeed have areas in need of reform, conservative Christians are guilty of spreading misinformation about Hinduism, and do a gross injustice to the sublime spiritual philosophy that is found in Indian spiritual texts.

Main Article:

The following is an add-on that I have been working on for my soon to be self-published book.  It may still be edited further for that purpose, but I decided to publish it here as is.  The following is being added to a chapter in my book on common arguments against Perennial Philosophy (see Eastern religion and the New Age movement), usually given by conservative Christians in their attempts to paint other faiths in the worst possible light:

(The below text in bold is therefore the accusation against Perennialism that I am seeking to here counter):

The concept of karma and reincarnation naturally leads to people ignoring the suffering of others, rather than seeking to help them. As a result, Hindus in India will step over the bodies of those suffering in the streets because they don’t want to interfere with their karma, as they believe that whatever others are experiencing is fully deserved, and it isn’t their place to interfere with divine justice. The doctrines of karma and reincarnation naturally support the evils of India’s hereditary caste system, in which lower castes are treated as sub-humans simply on the basis of their birth. Hence, the Dharmic doctrines promote suffering and poverty, and we can see what Hinduism has done for India.

Both parts of this argument are extremely common amongst conservative Christians[i], however I have found some parts of it difficult to verify. I certainly have encountered examples whereby Indians have justified the hereditary caste system by explaining that spiritually advanced souls are born to high-caste parents and wicked souls are born to low-caste parents. However, I have yet to verify for myself the claim that some Hindus will refuse to help those who suffer on the grounds that it would be interfering with their karma[1]. So, whilst I have found it hard to personally verify, let us assume that there are cases where there is true. Let us accept that there are indeed some cases whereby a Hindu may see someone suffering and may believe (or argue) that to help them would be to interfere with their karma, and therefore to interfere with the action of the gods. The question is then, if this is so, would this be indicative of the very nature of the concepts of karma and reincarnation, and of Hinduism itself?

Whilst Christian apologists would like us to believe it is so, the truth is quite the opposite. In truth, by and large, the Vedic Scriptures actually teach that to fail to give assistance to those in need would bring bad karma. There’s actually a tradition in India where they treat the stranger as if they were God, offering food, clothing and shelter freely to those in need, as if God were dwelling amongst them disguised as a beggar. Indian spiritual texts repeatedly encourage the aspirant to serve all beings equally and wholly, seeing the king and the beggar as identical in their inner, eternal nature. Hindu spiritual texts repeatedly promote compassion for all, infinite unconditional love and the unity and equality of all existence. Hence, the enlightened soul naturally stops to help those who suffer, regardless of whether or not the cause of their suffering can be clearly seen to be self-created.

A primary concept of all the Dharmic faiths (including of course Hinduism) is ahimsa – non-violence. Obviously ahimsa isn’t simply the absence of violence towards others, but rather also compassion for all living things, humans, animals and all existence[2]. Compassion for all living beings is one of the central hallmarks of Buddhism; hence Buddhists often take a vow to remain within creation until all beings are liberated from suffering and ignorance[3]. Likewise, the same sentiment can be found in Hinduism in the mantra “Lokah Samastah, Sukhino Bhavantu”, which literally translates as “May all the beings in all the realms find peace”.

It is true that the concepts of karma and reincarnation have indeed in some cases been used to justify the harsh life endured by some. In particular, the concept of reincarnation has been used by the priestly Brahmin caste to justify hereditary caste. Accordingly, they argue that each soul incarnates into a body that is appropriate for their level of spiritual growth. Hence, they have argued that a spiritually advanced soul would naturally incarnate into a child of a priest or king, an intermediate soul into the child of a merchant, and a wicked soul into the child of a servant or sub-caste. However, this does not mean that such a view is inseparable from Hindu philosophical doctrines.

To the contrary, there were (and are) a number of other well-known religions (or philosophical sects) that preach the doctrines of karma and reincarnation, but yet are largely free of the cultural issues that are associated with Hinduism. For example, Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism and Platonism all share these primary doctrines, yet do not also teach hereditary caste. This fact alone should refute the above argument, as it shows that the doctrines of karma and reincarnation do not always go hand in hand with hereditary caste. Likewise, as Platonism was a prominent philosophy of the elites of the classical Greek and Roman worlds, this likewise refutes any idea that the doctrines of karma and reincarnation run contrary to the success of Western civilization.

Obviously I am not attempting to defend India’s hereditary caste system and its treatment of the poor. Rather, these things are indeed worthy of being denounced, and people of all faiths and nations should speak against them. I have seen it argued that India’s original conception of caste was simply as a measure of natural tendencies, rather than a rigid designation of ones life occupation based solely upon birth[ii]. If this was the case than one can of course argue that the hereditary caste system that we are familiar with is a degeneration of the original Vedic system of caste. Otherwise, if Indian caste has always been as unjust as it is today, it is simply a case of a social institution that runs contrary to the highest ideals of India’s philosophical elite, but was upheld through the power of the ruling elites. Either way however, my responses still stand to refute the above apologetic argument.

Whilst India’s hereditary caste system is indeed a wicked aberration, one must remember that Western civilization has not been free from rigid class snobbery, in which peasants obviously couldn’t marry nobility, and the higher classes often treated servants as sub-humans. Certainly the way in which European settlers treated indigenous people in the Americas, Australia and New Zealand is every bit as bad as the treatment of the sub-castes in India, and the treatment of African slaves in the US is probably the very worst of all. Furthermore, in this last example we can actually state that the Bible itself not only does not condemn slavery, but certainly the OT actually condones and mandates slavery[iii].

Now, whilst I do criticize Christianity on the basis of the major moral issues with the Old Testament, I do not hold Christianity as a whole accountable for all the atrocities that have been committed by Christians over the better half of the last 2,000 years. Rather, I attempt to limit my criticisms of Christianity to the actual content of Christian scriptures, and the core doctrines that are central to the orthodox form of the faith. There certainly is the case that sometimes the misbehaviour of members of a certain faith can be found to be encouraged by the scriptures of the faith in question, in which case it is indeed fair game to lay some of the blame on the faith itself.

In the case of India’s hereditary caste system, one can certainly point out that it is condoned and mandated by the Laws of Manu, and thus argue that Hindu scriptures themselves condone the injustice of the caste system. In this example it is true that the Laws of Manu is considered canon by many Hindus. However, the case is quite a bit more complex than the canonisation of problematic parallel texts in Christianity and Islam (for example). In the cases of Christianity and Islam, each faith has one primary text made up of many parts[4]. A unifying feature of all orthodox Christian denominations is that they accept the Bible as a whole to be the Word of God, and likewise the same is true of orthodox Muslims and the Koran. Certainly one can argue that certain parts of the Bible contradict other parts[5], or that parts of the Koran contradict other parts[6]. However the fact remains that if a Christian were to openly renounce part of the Bible, this would immediately place them outside of the boundary of orthodoxy[7].

By contrast, the Vedic canon is not as unitary or well defined. Rather, there are a vast number of texts considered to hold canonical status, with primary texts designated sruti, and secondary texts designated smrti. In this case, the Laws of Manu are one of many, many texts generally given secondary status as smrti. In this regard different Hindu sects may focus their studies on particular texts from the vast Vedic library, and may not pay attention to competing doctrines found in another text. Furthermore, modern scholars have concluded that the Laws of Manu did not hold the same authoritative status prior to British rule. That is, prior to this period there were more than a dozen different law texts in circulation[8]. It was the British that gave the Laws of Manu its formal status, as they wanted a formal law by which to govern Hindus, just as they allowed sharia law for Muslims[9]. Hence it is much easier for progressive Hindu to accept some Vedic texts whilst ignoring or denouncing others, than for progressive Christians or Muslims, who find themselves forced to consider denouncing the Bible or Koran in part or whole.

There have been many Hindu reformers that have sought to rid India of hereditary caste, as they have argued that it is contrary to the core spiritual principles of Hinduism. On many occasions progressive Indians have sought to enact legal reform to improve the rights of the low-caste, which have been opposed by those of high-caste, who wish to keep things as they are. One could perhaps draw a parallel to examples in North America where attempts by progressives to enact policies designed to raise the minimum wage, institute universal healthcare and make tertiary education more affordable etc. are met by resistance by conservatives (who largely represent the wealthy), who accuse all such efforts of being examples of socialism.

Of course both of these examples have little to do with religion, and more to do with common behaviour of human beings possessed by the ego, manifesting the lowest potential of humanity in resisting positive change. Likewise, both of these examples show people of different faiths going against the primary doctrines of their faith. Philosophical Hinduism teaches unconditional love and absolute compassion for all beings, and given that this naturally extends to animals as well as humans, it should naturally extend to all humans, regardless of birth. Likewise, whilst there are parts of the Old Testament that could be presented in favour of conservative political doctrines[11], a major theme of the NT Gospels is social justice, compassion for the poor and sick, and likewise early Christians were known to give up their individual possessions for the community as a whole[iv].

Hence, we do not use examples of politically conservative Christians in the US being unsympathetic to the plight of the poor in their own country as examples of the true nature of Christianity, as in truth the New Testament in general praises asceticism and promotes compassion for the underprivileged, whilst condemning materialism. Likewise, we should not take examples of high-caste Indians who wish to maintain their privilege (which comes at the expense of those below them in the social sphere) as examples of the true nature of Hinduism, as the central doctrines of Hinduism teach compassion and service for all humanity, and likewise again the concepts of karma and reincarnation are present in other faiths like Buddhism and Sikhism, naturally leading to compassion for all beings.

As for the 2nd part of the argument where apologists claim that these Hindu doctrines are the cause of the poverty of India, again this is a gross misrepresentation of the truth. It is indeed true that classified under the general term Hinduism are a myriad of different sects. Certainly, there are many expressions of supernaturalism in India that can legitimately be termed superstitious, and some of these could be argued to hold back Indian culture. One could also argue that Indian spirituality is known to place too much emphasis on transcendence of the physical world, and not enough upon evolution within it. However, to argue (as Christian apologists do) that the problems of Indian society are the natural consequences of the concepts of karma and reincarnation (in contrast to Western culture, which they falsely claim is primarily a result of its Judeo-Christian heritage) is quite erroneous, as I will now explain.

In truth, from very early on in its history India was well known for its wealth, and for the majority of the past 2,000 years (prior to European invasion) India had one of the world’s largest (and possibly the largest) economies. It is estimated that at the time of British annexation India accounted for approx. 23% of the worlds economy, whilst at the time of the re-establishment of Indian independence this had fallen to as little as 4%[v]. The British placed a tax on local goods whilst placing none on imported products, they held back the industrialisation of India commerce, used prime Indian agricultural land for growing Opium instead of food crops[12], and imported Indian food and other resources back to Europe, whilst Indians were starving and living in stark poverty[13]. Tens of millions of Indians starved under British rule, and whilst there obviously was poverty in India prior to British rule, there doesn’t seem to be any question that these famines were largely due to the economic policies of the British.

Of course the issue isn’t absolutely black and white. The British did build railways, which bestowed various benefits to Indian people, plus they also built damns, which helped to create fertile land out of previously arid soil. Likewise, I am not claiming that the Indian region did not have any problems prior to British annexation. However, the point still stands. Whilst Christian apologists claim that poverty is a natural consequence of Hinduism – in contrast to the Judeo-Christian tradition, which they claim breeds prosperity – in this case, the truth is the exact opposite. Quite literarily, a so-called Christian nation screwed India, raped her economy and plundered her riches. Now, in fairness, the behaviour of the British in this manner could hardly be considered to be consistent with general Christian morality as derived from the New Testament. However, the above again refutes this general argument.

Furthermore, again we should note that Western civilization was actually founded by so-called pagans, that being the Greeks and Romans, and we could likewise argue that the foundation for Greek culture was found in Egypt and other nations prior to the flourishing of the great Hellenistic Empire. A number of major Greek philosophers actually shared the Hindu doctrines of karma and reincarnation. Hence, one could actually argue that Western civilization was founded on similar philosophical foundations to Hinduism. Now of course, the large parts of Greek and Roman civilization would not have necessarily shared the high ideals of the philosophical elite (in which case we can argue that Western civilization was founded on traditional polytheism). However, Platonic thought (for example) was incredibly influential amongst the elite of the ancient world, and so the point still stands.

Ultimately, if some Indians have used the concept of karma as a justification for ignoring the suffering and injustice inflicted upon others, they have done so in direct violation of the central tenets of their religion. Therefore such attitudes are not a direct consequence of the concept itself, but are more akin to some Christians using the concept of divine justice as a justification for the suffering of those caught in natural disasters[vi]. One must be careful in any comparison to compare apples with apples; that is, to take a fair consideration of each side rather than to stack the deck to favour one team. Hence, this is again another case of Christian apologists attempting to define other faiths by the worst examples that can be found within and around them, whilst they likewise attempt to excuse their own faith of quite legitimate criticisms.

For true progress to occur in interfaith relations (and also in other fields of study), we all need to be willing to see various belief systems as they are.  That is, we should be willing to see the strengths and weaknesses of different faiths as they stand, not as we might wish them to be relative to our own faith, in order to attempt to justify our stance on comparative religion.  We do indeed need to reform our own faiths, and perhaps when we stand outside another faith we may perhaps see their problems from a different perspective to them.  However, we should not let apologetic arguments like those above stand without being refuted.  Christian apologists are responsible for enormous amounts of misinformation on various sub-topics of religion, and these erroneous arguments deserve to be laid aside once and for all.

Peace.

[1] Though I have heard a close family member (who is Christian) tell me that she has heard this directly from an Indian woman she knows.

[2] Hence vegetarianism is common amongst the Dharmic faiths.

[3] Known as the Bodhisattva vow.

[4] Many individual books for the Christian Bible, and many chapters for the Koran.

[5] Say for example, one can take various quotes ascribed to Jesus in the Gospels and present them as contrary to the harshness of the Old Testament (as Marcion did in his Antithesis).

[6] Again, I believe that there is disagreement between early and late chapters of the Koran in relation to how Mohammad viewed Christians and Jews in relation to Islam.

[7] And again, the same is also true of Islam.

[8] Some of which were significantly more liberal by comparison to the Laws of Manu.

[9] We should also mention that there are many different manuscript variants on the Laws of Manu, and it is universally accepted that the text is subject to considerable interpolation and redaction. The British effectively gave canonical status to the first manuscript of a law text they encountered, without any in-depth consideration of the consequences.

[11] Though again, there are also parts of the OT that speak up for the plight of the poor, and feature similar social justice themes to those found in the NT.

[12] For which the monetary gains were taken by the British.

[13] And they refused to send them back as emergency relief.

[i] I believe that the above analogy was raised amongst others by Stephen Mansfield in his recent book “Where has Oprah taken us”: http://www.amazon.com/Where-Has-Oprah-Taken-Religious/dp/B007SRZ8XW.

[ii] See the following link and the further links at the bottom of the page, which contain various passages from Vedic to support the contention of the author, as well as the examples of sages becoming recognized as Brahmins (priests) on the basis of their learning, despite being born from mothers who were Shudras (servants): http://www.hinduwisdom.info/Caste_System.htm. I personally have no vested interest in whether or not this was the case, and without having studied the issue at length one must also consider the possibility that the above are merely exceptions to a system that was from its conception rigid and unjust.

[iii] One should note that as Christian apologists are well known for claiming credit for everything, they have also attempted to claim credit for ending slavery. However, the fact remains that the enslavement of African people by Europeans was instigated by Christians, that this was mandated by papal bull, and that many Christians also opposed the abolishment of slavery. See following article: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/daylightatheism/2009/11/did-christianity-abolish-slavery/. Also, we should note that Christian apologists are well known to claim that their critics are taking the Old Testament out of context, and to argue that the slavery condoned by the OT was merely a sort of employer-employee contract. I will not be going into this issue here; for those that are interested, please check out Thom Stark’s online response to Paul Copan, titled “Is God a moral compromiser?”: http://thomstark.net/copan/stark_copan-review.pdf.

[iv] This is largely encouraged in the Gospels themselves, Acts of the Apostles attests to it (and whilst I consider Acts to be largely – if not wholly – fictional, this attestation is still significant), and it is mentioned by Lucian in “The Death of Peregrinus” (again a work of satire, possibly fictional, though still an important citation). Hence, many people have correctly considered early Christians to have followed a form of socialism, much to the irritation of modern politically conservative Christians.

[v] According to the calculations of historian Angus Maddison: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Economy_of_India#British_Era_.281793.E2.80.931947.29.

[vi] This has happened on several occasions in America, such as with the 2010 earthquake in Haiti (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f5TE99sAbwM). Pat Robertson proclaimed that the suffering was brought on by “wickedness” and that the natural disaster was God’s judgment. Whilst these claims were heavily criticized, most observers are intelligent enough to note that such absurd and abhorrent claims are not indicative of Christianity as a whole (even though there is possibly some justification for such a view, mostly in the Old Testament). Rather, most observers can see that such comments are a result of human stupidity and bigotry, manifested within a Christian context. Likewise, the aforementioned example of Indians not caring for the suffering of others fits this last description; human stupidity and bigotry manifest within a Hindu context, and it is not indicative of the very nature of the concept of reincarnation or karma.

Apologetics vs. Real scholarship on the dating and authorship of the Gospels:

I was inspired to write this article in response to a recent post on a FB forum for fans of Dr. Robert Price. Obviously attempting to evangelize to the non-believers, a Christian by the name of Timothy Kennelly posted a summary of claims made in Brant Pitre’s “The Case for Jesus”. Kennelly claimed that Pitre made a convincing case that all four NT Gospels were written prior to 70CE, and that they weren’t originally anonymous, but rather that church tradition regarding their authorship was indeed accurate. Likewise, Kennelly claimed that Pitre showed that all four Gospel authors believed that Jesus was God. Furthermore, Kennelly claimed that Pitre showed that “many of the elements of the standard critical take on the Canonical Gospels are products of scholarly bias as opposed to good scholarship”. So, for the benefit of my readers I would like to give a quick response to these claims.

Pitre was attempting to respond to the general academic consensus that all four NT Gospels were written following 70CE, by arguing that there is no explicit mention of the destruction of Jerusalem and it’s temple anywhere in the Gospels. Pitre is not the first Christian apologist to attempt to make this case. Rather, countless apologists prior to Pitre have already made the same argument. Here lies the difference between apologetics and scholarship; Christian apologists generally make no attempt at even acknowledging the quite obvious responses that critics give to their arguments. That is, apologists make no real attempt at engaging with the opposing view. Alternatively, critics have long been attempting to directly engage with the arguments presented by apologists.

The argument that apologists like Pitre make is that had the Gospels been written after 70CE they would have featured explicit reference to it, particularly in light of the prophecies of the destruction of the temple, as found in Mark 13. For those unfamiliar, Mark 13 is often referred to as the “mini-apocalypse”, as it features Jesus giving a quite specific prophecy that the temple of Jerusalem would be destroyed, and that the end of the world would follow (Kennelly has implied that Mark 13 wasn’t specific in referring to the destruction of Jerusalem. This is of course completely untenable; the prophecy is quite explicit). Christian apologists claim that had Mark been written post 70CE than it’s author would have wanted to boast about the prophecy coming true, something along the lines of “… and look, it did happen! Therefore Jesus really did posses supernatural abilities!”.

The response to this is really quite simple. If the author of Mark had written something along the lines of “…and we all know the prophecy came true…” then that would give away that it was written after 70CE. If you are writing after 70CE but trying to pass off a work as if it were written prior to 70CE, you can’t give the game away by putting something in the text that explicitly places it after that date. Again, if you are trying to present a text as predicting some recent event before it happened, you can’t put in an explicit statement that the event has now occurred and that the prophecy has been fulfilled, otherwise you give the game away. Obviously this is just simple logic, and I am not the first to point this out. The very fact that Christian apologists are still making this argument in light of this is pretty staggering.

To further this, we should note that it was extremely common in the ancient world for religious texts to present themselves as being written in an earlier age to when they were, both to give them additional authority and in order to pass them off as being prophetic. There is actually a Jewish work known as the Syriac Apocalypse of Baruch which attempts exactly the same thing as the Gospel of Mark, in presenting a prophecy of the destruction of the Temple as being given well before the even had taken place. Again, scholars date this text after 70CE for this simple reason.

Likewise, a non-Canonical (but otherwise orthodox) Christian text called the “Epistle of the Apostles” gives a prophecy of the coming of the Apostle Paul, even though the text was clearly written in the 2nd century (at least). Furthermore, it wasn’t just Jews and Christians that backdated prophecies. Rather, retroactive prophecies are also found in the religious texts of other cultures; for example, the Bhagavata Purana contains a prophecy of the spread of the Vishnu cult in Tamil country, leading scholars again to date it after this was known to have happened.

Occam’s Razor states that that the simplest explanation is often the best explanation. It is far simpler to suppose that a text that clearly references a historical event was written after the event in question rather than before, unless there is extremely strong evidence to the contrary. In the case of the Gospels, the earliest fragments are generally dated to the late 2nd century CE and beyond (with the only exception being P52, which is late 1st – late 2nd and beyond); hence we have no manuscript evidence of them prior to 70CE. Likewise, there are no external references to the Gospel narratives that are pre-70CE. There are no inscriptions, no artefacts, nothing at all.

Christian apologists have often argued that if a narrative ended at a certain point and failed to mention later traditions (relating to the death of disciples and so forth), that this is evidence for it being early (this argument is often presented for Acts of the Apostles). Again though, such arguments are entirely theoretical, and one can envisage countless reasons why a narrative would end at a certain point even if it were late.

Obviously the evidence for Markan priority is pretty straightforward, and it is mostly only conservative Christians that contest it (though there are a few other theories floating around, such as that the Gospel of Phillip or Marcion’s Gospel pre-dated Mark). Firstly, Matthew and Luke copied the vast majority of Mark verbatim, and it is much simpler to suppose that they both expanded upon Mark than to suppose that Mark is a shortened version of them. Furthermore, Mark is lacking a birth narrative or post-resurrection appearances (noting that Mark originally ended at 16:8); hence it is clear which way development went. So, considering that Mark is clearly post 70CE, this means that all four canonical Gospels are post-70CE. The evidence is really straightforward; there really isn’t much room for debate.

Regarding the authorship of the Gospels, mainstream scholarship long ago concluded that church tradition regarding the authors of the four canonical Gospels was largely (if not entirely) fictional, and that all four Gospels were originally anonymous. Kennelly claims that Pitre refuted this by pointing out that the earliest manuscripts we have for the NT Gospels have the names of the traditional authors on them.

Much has been made of the fact that the Gospel texts themselves do not have the names of the authors within them. Some have argued that this implies that they were originally anonymous, whilst others have argued that it was common for ancient works to only have the authors name at the beginning or end of the manuscript. I cannot personally offer any opinion on that. I do think we shouldn’t base any claim that they were originally anonymous on that fact alone.

However, whilst some Christians will claim that there was never any debate amongst the early church as to the authorship of the NT texts, the fact remains that we do know that there were multiple versions of the canonical Gospels in circulation, and that some of these variants went by different names to what we know them as. For example, Marcion’s Gospel appears to have been related to Luke, and we generally know of his by the name “Gospel of the Lord” (though I believe it also went by other titles). In fact, I believe that it is up for discussion as to whether Marcion claimed his Gospel was written by the Apostle Paul? Whilst church tradition maintains that Marcion removed material from Luke (thus making Luke earlier), there are some scholars that believe that Marcion himself wrote his Gospel by adding material to Mark, and that Luke is a redaction of his Gospel (and I personally believe that the evidence for this conclusion is strong).

Regarding Matthew, it seems that a number of heterodox Jewish Christian sects had their own versions of the text. In this case the works were known as “The Gospel of the Hebrews”, “The Gospel of the Ebionites” and “The Gospel of the Nazarenes” etc. Again, as with Marcion’s Gospel, I believe that a good case can be made that Matthew is a Catholic redaction of one of these Gospels. Likewise we know that many of the Alexandrian Gnostic heresiarchs used a version of the Gospel of Mark, and we do not know what theirs was called. Furthermore, there is likewise evidence that the Gospel according to John was used by heterodox Christian sects, and there is even a tradition that both John’s Gospel and Apocalypse (Revelation) was written by the Alexandrian heresiarch Cerinthus (though I personally have long suspected that Cerinthus wrote Revelation and Mark). Hence we have real reasons to doubt the original attribution of the names Matthew and Luke to their respective Gospels, and there is also evidence to suggest the same could have been so of Mark and John.

From the late 2nd century onward we have evidence of the power of the proto-orthodox Church, which wielded authority over a large number of churches over a large area. The fact remains however that at the same time, Marcion’s churches were spread far and wide, and his churches certainly would have used his canon of NT texts rather than the Catholic one we are more familiar with. The earliest evidence we have for the NT canon as we know it comes from Irenaeus in the late 2nd century, and likewise the earliest surviving manuscript fragments with names on the Gospels also date around the turn of the 2nd-3rd centuries CE. Beyond that the earliest surviving complete NT manuscripts date from the 4th century CE.

If Catholics hadn’t sought to destroy manuscripts and entire texts that they didn’t consider canon (and likewise if they had deliberately attempted to preserve such texts) we would indeed have surviving manuscripts bearing different titles to what we know today. We even know of variant titles for some of Paul’s Epistles, and again one can certainly make an argument that the Marcionite titles are more original.

We should also mention that we do not hear of orthodox Christians accepting that heterodox Christian Gospels really were written by Mary, Judas, Phillip, Peter and Thomas etc. I have never heard of any alternate tradition that gave different titles for the Gospel’s of Mary and Judas, and yet it would be foolish to presume that they were really written by  historical disciples of Jesus by those names, just because the Gospels bear those titles.

Christians of all persuasions (orthodox and heterodox) backdated their Gospels, Epistles, Acts and Apocalypses, and presented them under the names of prominent disciples in order to give them authority. This was how they rolled. Christian apologists are trying to have it both ways by using special pleading to try and defend the traditional dating and authorship of the canonical NT texts, whilst likewise accepting the conclusions of mainstream academia on the dating and authorship of heterodox texts, even though they display the same tendencies as the canonical texts.

Anyways, all of this is quite mute when you consider that aside from what names were originally attributed to these Gospels, one way or another the Gospels are largely (if not wholly) fictional. Again, as I’ve stated repeatedly, large chunks of the Gospels are Midrash, or are historically impossible, or are dependent upon pagan myths etc. There were obviously no eyewitnesses to Jesus feeding the 4,000, because it was copied from a story of Elisha in 2 Kings 4:43-44. There were no eyewitnesses to record Jesus’s last words on the cross because nobody was within earshot, not to mention the text is taken from various passages in Psalm 22.

There was no eyewitness to Jesus’s agony in the Garden of Gethsemane, as the disciples are all presented as being asleep. There were no eyewitnesses to the cleansing of the Temple, as the whole narrative is practically historically impossible (it would have started a riot, the Roman guards out the front would have killed them all on site, and there is no mention of such an event by Josephus, Philo or Justus). And on it goes…

Anyways, on the final claim about all four canonical Gospels teaching that Jesus was God, it certainly is true that there are some references to divinity in all four Gospels. However, I believe it is still quite correct to state that there are a variety of Christological views represented in the New Testament Gospels. For example, the Gospel of Mark has no birth narrative (but rather starts at the baptism) and describes Jesus’s family as thinking he has gone mad when he starts preaching and performing miracles (Mark 3:21). If we were to take this in isolation (bearing in mind that it was the first of the NT Gospels) we would have no reason to suspect that anything supernatural had occurred to Jesus prior to his baptism. No virgin birth, no angels, no pre-existent Logos. Just a mortal human being who was overshadowed by a divine presence from his baptism on. And what would you know, this is exactly what a number of prominent heterodox Christians who used the Gospel of Mark (in some form) believed.

Likewise, the birth narratives in Matthew and Luke (as we know them) do not necessarily presuppose a pre-existent Christ being born into the flesh. Rather, if read in isolation they simply present a god being born the same way as various pagan gods or Emperor’s were born (Dionysus, Perseus, Augustus etc.), that being via the supernatural impregnation of a mortal female by the supreme male God. They were a god, son of God for sure, but it was their supernatural birth that established this as their genesis, not necessarily their descent into the flesh. What’s more, as previously stated, we have good reasons to believe that the canonical versions of Matthew and Luke are redacted forms of heterodox Gospels, in which case Ur-Matthew was originally also an adoptionist Jewish Christian Gospel, and Ur-Luke originally featured Christ descending down from heaven.

As for John, there is no birth narrative, so we have no reason to presuppose that if read in isolation its readers would have thought that Christ was born from a virgin. However, John most certainly makes it clear that Christ was a pre-existent divine being who had taken part in Creation and had descended down from the heavens. Furthermore, a number of critical scholars have presented a very strong case that even in the form we know it today, the Gospel of John presents Jesus as not being the son of Yahweh, but rather the son of a higher God. Whilst John is big on the whole divinity of Jesus thing, it is also very critical of “the Jews”, to the point that it can be argued that it is presenting Jesus as being from a God above Yahweh, which would mean that it originated amongst Marcionite-Valentinian circles or something along those lines (to which we should cite the tradition that it was a Valentinian who wrote the first commentary on John).

Let us remember that aside from the orthodox church post-Irenaeus, most Christian sects used only one Gospel at a time. That is, prior to Irenaeus, even proto-orthodox Christians would likely have not necessarily tried to harmonize multiple different Gospels with different Christology’s. Likewise, both before and after the time of Irenaeus, the multitude of heterodox Christian sects generally made use of one narrative Gospel (though some had supplementary Gospels of a more esoteric nature). Why use multiple Gospels that contradicted each other (and the doctrines of your sect), when you could use one that said exactly what you wanted it to say?

Anyways, all of this should show rather clearly that there is a vast chasm separating Christian apologetics from secular scholarship, although it is also true that the quality of secular scholarship is compromised by the interpenetration of apologetics into its field. Nevertheless, the frequent claims made by Christian apologists as to the reliability of the NT texts and the authority of their tradition blow away in the wind when compared with the arguments and evidence presented by critical scholars.

Regardless of how many times critics refute their claims, Christian apologists have continued to make the same ridiculous claims and use the same erroneous arguments. Christian apologists are spokespeople masquerading as scholars. They are like tobacco spokespeople, or alcohol industry lobbyists. Christian apologists entered the pseudo-academic world specifically to try and uphold their presuppositions. That is, they masquerade as historians and Bible scholars to try and maintain church tradition that is essential for them to make their rather serious claims.

Of course, orthodox Christians have completely identified with their faith. That is, they believe it to be who they are; they say “I am a Christian”, as if it defines some fundamental feature of their immortal soul. They unconsciously believe that if Christianity were to fall they would become less, perhaps even nothing. They believe they would lose hope of an afterlife, of divine justice and divine love. Hence, we need to promote accurate education of comparative spirituality.

Let us remember again that orthodox Christians are not simply trying to avoid persecution and live and let live (though they are certainly persecuted outside of the Western world). Rather, many of them wish to condemn and restrict other faiths, control the legal rights of the LGBTI community, restrict science education in schools and bring religion into foreign policy etc. Conservative Christians want to tell us that we will all be tortured for eternity because we deserve it, and they base it all upon a deeply flawed collection of texts we know as the Bible. Apologetics like Pitre’s “The Case for Jesus” are essential for their case. Unfortunately for them, whether it is Josh McDowell, Lee Strobel, William Lane Craig, James Patrick Holding, Brante Pitre or anyone else, the arguments are the same, and the complete lack of quality is ubiquitous to the genre.

Let us be willing to see the worlds religious text’s as they really are, not how we wish them to be. Giving up the divine status of the Bible and giving up Christianity is not the end of spirituality. I would encourage Christians to accept the reality of the deeply flawed nature of their Scripture and faith as a whole, and look into other spiritual texts, sects and practices. For those that stay within the faith, can I suggest you look to reform it into a culturally specific form of the Perennial Philosophy, which should be vastly different to orthodox Christianity as we know it.  There are of course many liberal and universal Christian sects that have already moved significantly in this direction .

Peace.

Ancient and modern Christian apocrypha: The Gospels of Judas, Mary, Thomas, Peter and Phillip etc. and The Kolbrin Bible, The Gospel of The Essenes and The Aquarian Gospel of Jesus Christ etc.:

Summary:

In response to recent links that appeared in my FB feed regarding a modern hoax called the Kolbrin Bible, I thought it necessary to clear up the subject of alternative Gospels. Basically, everybody is trying to make Jesus out in their own image. This is true of the modern-day New Age movement, and it was also true of both orthodox and heterodox early Christians. Whilst knowledge of the diversity of early Christianity does indeed give new context to Christian origins and the earliest conception/s of Jesus, it does not achieve what so many people are trying to make out.

Whilst I am an unashamed believer in the supernatural, I believe the New Age movement can benefit from a little critical thinking, and we need to be far more cautious about accepting extraordinary claims, which are unsupported by evidence. Everybody wants to believe that Jesus taught exactly what they personally believe in. This shows that even whilst rejecting the doctrines of orthodox Christianity many, many people are still attached to this figure of Jesus.

We need to be willing to accept the overwhelming evidence as it stands regarding the figure of Jesus, and seek out cohesive spiritual worldviews that stand on their own grounds, rather than pretending that existing religions have simply been misinterpreted for all these years. Whilst I actively recommend reform of the worlds faiths, the New Age movement primarily tries to argue that each of the world religions was originally a pure vessel of the same truths. This is simply false, and whilst there is some good intent behind this approach it is ultimately misguided, and will not achieve the ends to which many aspire.

Main Article:

Every once in a while I see a story somewhere online about a revolutionary text that reveals the “true story about Jesus”, you know the one the Church fought for centuries to hide. The general common thread in these stories is that the author/s claim that the text in question reveals Jesus to have really been exactly who they wish he was. That is, some argue that Jesus was really a Gnostic, that he was married to Mary Magdalene, that he was a mere wise human and so forth. Others argue that he went to India and became enlightened from studying with yogis, after which he was able to perform miracles and teach on higher spiritual matters. Others argue that he was an ascended master, a freemason, an alien, an 8th dimensional being and on it goes.

Obviously I do agree that the true origins of Christianity were almost certainly different to what Christian tradition states. Likewise, there are many subjects on which I believe we can reject mainstream consensus views and consider alternative views. There are even some cases whereby views that are considered pretty far out or even ridiculous by many turn out to be quite reasonable and defendable once a deeper investigation is undertaken.  However, there is no end to the ridiculous claims that are made regarding these apocryphal Christian –New Age texts (note, I believe we should designate most of the modern examples as New Age texts rather than Christian texts). Hence, I would like to offer my own approach to viewing these texts.

Starting with the ancient alternate Gospels, there were obviously many, many other Gospels that circulated in the first four centuries of the Common Era other than the four that became canonized in the New Testament that we are familiar with. A great number of these were however simply alternate versions of the canonical Gospels. Basically, it seems that just about every single different Christian sect had their own version of these texts, which just so happened to support their own doctrines. It seems to have been par for the course for the leaders of early Christian sects to modify existing texts to their taste, and this applies both for heterodox and orthodox Christians.

There were also a significant number of largely unrelated Gospels, such as those bearing the names of Judas, Mary, Peter, Phillip and Thomas, as well as those known by more generic titles such as the Gospel of Truth (as circulated amongst Valentinian circles). Again, this shows that the leaders (and other members) of various Christian sects weren’t afraid to create new texts to attempt to give authority to their personal opinions. Again, I believe this applies both to the creation of apocryphal and canonical texts.

Finally, there are many other texts that are mentioned in passing in surviving literature that haven’t survived to this day (both due to being deliberately destroyed, and also through not being copied and preserved), and in likelihood many, many more that we have no record of the existence of.

I believe it is quite clear that the majority of texts in the New Testament cannon were not originally composed by authors that shared the theology of orthodox Christianity. Rather, the four canonical Gospels, the primary Pauline epistles, Revelation and possibly a few of the general epistles were originally written by heterodox Christians, and the versions that we are familiar with are Catholic versions. However, this does not mean that Jesus really was a yogi, or a universalist, or an alien, or married to Mary Magdalene.

Many of the apocryphal Gospels date from approx. the mid-2nd century CE through to the 3rd century. Whilst orthodox Christians claim that this makes them all older than the orthodox versions (thus arguing that heterodox Christianity post-dates orthodox Christianity), the truth is that we do not have reliable sources for orthodox Christianity prior to the 2nd half of the 2nd century (with Justin and Irenaeus). Hence, apocryphal texts that date to the mid-2nd century are actually early enough to be contemporaneous with orthodox Christianity, and let us remember again that heterodox Christians also made use of the majority of texts from the NT canon, as well as apocryphal ones (and I should also point out that I believe that late-dating for many NT texts into the mid-2nd century CE is quite credible).

The Gospels of Judas and Mary both feature interesting narratives that are in many ways contrary and complementary to the traditional NT narratives. However, I believe many people miss the greater point of these texts. For example, whilst the Gospel of Judas may present the picture of Judas being asked by Jesus to betray him, the fundamental point of the text was to present knowledge of Jesus received through visions as superior to knowledge of Jesus as passed down by man. Likewise, the same is true of the Gospel of Mary. The idea of Mary being Jesus’s closest companion and bearer of his deepest teachings appeals to many people, but much of the content of the text itself is concerned with upholding the superiority of knowledge gained through visions.

We learn from early orthodox apologists such as Irenaeus that Gnostic Christians believed that knowledge gained through revelations was more reliable than that handed down by man. Hence, Irenaeus was so keen to argue for the authority of the proto-orthodox tradition on the basis of apostolic authority. This was a major point of contention in the 2nd century, and if we accept the authenticity of the primary Pauline epistles than the same is also true of the 1st century.

One way or another, whether or not there was a historical Jesus (those familiar with my work know that I strongly favour a no) all of the earliest Christian texts were inspired by revelations derived from both visions and allegorical readings of the Septuagint (Greek translation of the Hebrew scriptures for those unfamiliar). This is true of the canonical Gospels, the primary epistles, the Book of Revelation, and it is likewise true of various apocryphal Christian texts.

There is abundant, overwhelming evidence for this conclusion, and it does indeed overthrow the traditional Church tradition of Jesus and his disciples. However, it doesn’t mean that the visions of one or another Gnostic Christian sect taught the truth about the true historical Jesus. Rather, it simply means that none of their doctrines were based upon the teachings and actions of a historical man, regardless of whether there was a historical Jesus at the genesis of Christianity. Hence, we should not be so quick to believe that these alternate Gospels revealed some suppressed truth about Jesus. Rather, they simply preserved the doctrines of a competing early Christian sect.

Likewise, as for these modern “Gospels” claiming to be revealing hidden truths about Jesus that have been suppressed by the Church for 2,000 years, they are all either channelled or outright forgeries, or we are in no position to differentiate them from those that are. That is, no evidence has ever been produced (or probably ever will be) to show that any of these texts have any ancient foundations. No mention of these texts is made in any ancient text, no manuscript or other evidence has ever been produced, and they do not correspond with what we do know about early Christianity (and I’m not talking about Church tradition here).

The so-called Kolbrin Bible for example is a completely modern text, 10 or 20 years old at the max. Of course the publishers claim that it has a long sordid history, surviving a medieval fire, which was intended to destroy it, with Christian portions dating as early as the 1st century CE, and Egyptian portions dating to the mid 2nd millennium BCE. However, there is not a single shred of evidence to support these claims. If we were to honour such claims we would likewise accept that the Kybalion dated to the time of Hermes Trismegistos, that the Torah dated to the time of Moses, and that the Vedas preserved traditions that were millions of years old!

In regards to the Kybalion I believe it is an excellent text, though it is most certainly modern (early 20th century). It is simply par for the course for writers of modern occult works to claim that their text is ancient, as if doing so gives it authority. However, we need to leave our critical faculties in check, even when dealing with texts that strike chords within us.

Likewise, as for the Essene Gospel of Peace (also known by a number of variant titles), we have no evidence of the existence of any manuscript for the texts prior to the publication by Edmund Bordeaux Szekely in the mid 20th century. Of course Szekely claims that he copied the text from manuscripts he found in the Vatican library and another Italian library. However, no evidence has ever been produced to verify these claims.

As for the Aquarian Gospel of Jesus Christ, that openly admits to being channelled, though it claims to have been copied from the Akashic records (an astral library, home of the history of mankind and other knowledge). I personally accept some examples of channelling as a legitimate supernatural phenomena (though the contents of such works still naturally correspond with the personality of the personal doing the channelling). However, it would be irresponsible of us to simply accept the author’s claim to have channelled the text from a sort of non-physical history book.

I am personally involved in Spiritualism and have had numerous experiences that have convinced me that many people are indeed able to obtain information from non-physical sources that can later be verified. However, I have also found it to be the case that whilst material gained through these methods may prove useful in spiritual progress (and may on many occasions prove to give useful advice pertaining to an individuals earthly circumstances), “knowledge” relating to the “true history of mankind” from these sources are pretty much always unverifiable, and contract other claims made by other channelled texts. Basically, these texts are pretty much science fiction for New Agers. They may feature some useful spiritual advice, but it would be foolish to believe that they truly revealed historical facts that have been lost to the sands of time. This is true of literarily hundreds (if not thousands) of New Age texts, such as “Abduction to the Ninth Planet”, Ramtha’s “White Book”, “Bringers of the Dawn” (all of which I have read) et al, and it is also true of the personal revelations of millions of people who have been told something about who Jesus really was (and the “true history of mankind”) in a meditation or by a spirit guide.

Final words:

The reason we are so interested in these alternative accounts of Jesus is that we have (rightfully) instinctively felt that many of the doctrines taught to us by orthodox Christianity were false, and we have naturally sought a better spiritual worldview than the one handed to us. However, the problem is that a part of us is still attached to Christianity, and hence we are inclined to attempt to squeeze a square plug into a round hole, in believe that Jesus was truly an enlightened being that taught only truth, and it is only due to some diabolical conspiracy that his true teachings have not survived to us today.

Whilst it is indeed true that the Catholic church has indeed supressed other competing forms of Christianity, and they have indeed interpolated and redacted various texts, this does not mean that the earliest form of Christianity was a pure enlightened religion. Rather, the evidence we have shows us that the author of the earliest Gospel (Mark) was a Greek educated Jew who was pretty pissed of with the Romans about the destruction of Jerusalem (as was the author of Revelation) and certainly believed in much of the traditional Jewish dogma. Likewise, it is clear that the earliest author of the Pauline epistles was not necessarily teaching an enlightened universal doctrine.

It certainly is true that there is much goodness found amongst the words ascribed to Jesus (both in canonical and apocryphal texts), and it is quite clear that Gnostic Christianity was far more mystical than orthodox Christianity. On this last point, we don’t have enough surviving evidence to know enough about every different early heterodox Christian sect to know exactly what they believed. It is likely that some of them could have been considered to be semi-Perennial in their approach to comparative religion (noting the preservation of Platonic and Hermetic texts amongst the Nag Hammadi library amongst other evidence). However, it is commonly the case that religious texts reflect a complex mixture of truth and superstition, inspired knowledge and personal dogmas. All the evidence relating to early Christianity supports this conclusion, and we should accept the evidence as it sits.

If we truly wish to follow a universal, Perennial religion, than let us go about identifying the highest-common denominators in comparative religion, in the same way that scientists and philosophers of science attempt to do in their attempts at constructing unified theories of everything. Or, if we wish to follow an enlightened ancient faith, let us choose one on the basis of its merits.

Peace.

The Bibliographical Test, and why Christian scholars, apologists, preachers and laymen need to stop using it:

Summary:

For some time Christian apologists have been making outrageous claims such as: “The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the best attested historical event of the ancient world”, or “There is more evidence for Jesus Christ than for Julius Caesar”, or “The NT texts have been proven to be the most reliable historical texts of the ancient world”, or “If you distrust the NT then you also have to throw out every single other surviving text from ancient history” etc. ad nauseum.

These claims are heavily dependent upon an argument known as “The bibliographical argument”, as popularised by Josh McDowell and Lee Strobel. Simply put, this argument claims that as there are far, far more surviving fragments and manuscripts of the NT then for any other ancient text, and since the earliest surviving fragments date far closer to the original date of composition then for any other text, that this means that the NT is therefore more reliable than any other historical text.

The reality is that this argument is simply 100% bunk. Real textual critics do not use this test in determining the accuracy of a historical work. This argument has been around for quite some time, and it was refuted many years ago. The claims about there being more evidence for Jesus Christ then Julius Caesar are likewise completely untrue. Christians however have to the best of my knowledge never made any attempt at responding to its refutation, but simply continue to use the argument in complete denial of the natural response to it. Due to the isolation of many Christians and the natural way in which the human ego will avoid facing facts that would naturally lead to the breakdown of its false sense of identity, Christian scholars, apologists, preachers and laymen continue to use this argument (and variations of it) and make claims as to the textual integrity of the NT.

This has to stop. Christians have to realize that they have been duped by the conmen acting as their leaders, and concede that this argument and all the claims that stem from it are completely erroneous.

Main Article:

Orthodox Christianity depends very heavily upon a literal reading of the NT as historically and theologically accurate texts. As such, Christian apologists are heavily invested in attempting to provide evidence and/or arguments for their reliability. Whilst there are many criticisms launched against Christianity and many reasons given by non-Christians for rejecting the gospel, many people (such as myself) find various reasons to reject the historicity of the Gospel accounts, and view them either partly or wholly as works of fiction. Likewise, many people (such as myself) believe that the texts that we have today have undergone significant interpolation and redaction from their original form.

So, contrary to the claim that textual criticism has shown the NT texts to be the most reliable of all ancient historical works, real textual critics and historians have concluded the exact opposite: That the NT texts we have today have been heavily modified from their original form, and that even the original forms of these texts were not necessarily historically accurate. There are really two separate (but related) questions here: 1) That of the accurate or inaccurate transmission of the NT texts, and 2) That of the historical reliability or unreliability of the original form of the texts. In making the claims that the NT texts have shown themselves to be reliable and that there is more evidence for Jesus then anyone else in classical history, Christian apologists are conflating two separate claims into one (though it should be noted that occasionally some of them have noted this fact and attempted to make the two cases separately).

Starting with 1), it is indeed true that there are far, far more surviving NT fragments and manuscripts then for any other work in classical history. Likewise, it is also true that some of the earliest fragments (note that these are not complete manuscripts) date very close to the original date of composition (P52 being probably the best example). However, this does not in any way present evidence that the NT texts we have today have been transmitted faithfully from their original conception. Rather, we have extensive evidence that pretty much all early Christians wrote pseudographical texts (that is, they forged them in the name of notable figures) and modified pre-existing texts (whether to create a new text altogether, or simply create their own version of an already existing text).

The earliest NT fragments are generally dated from the mid-2nd century to the early 3rd (1), and the earliest complete manuscripts date from the 4th century onwards. Whilst Christian apologists and biblical scholars have been known to argue for 1st century dating for a number of fragments, these dates have not been accepted by secular paleographers (who study the scripts and papyrus to attempt to determine a date range for a manuscript). Christian apologists and scholars consistently give only the earliest possible date for a manuscript (and even then rely on disputed dates and fringe claims – such as that there is a fragment of Mark amongst the Dead Sea scrolls (2)). For example, regarding P52 Christian apologists and scholars have consistently given its dating simply as 90CE, when its original date range was proposed as roughly 100-150CE, whilst most accept the range of 125-175CE, and many actual paleographers have argued that we should extend the range into the early 3rd century CE (3). In this case the actual fragment itself is miniscule; hence we cannot judge the accuracy of later copies against this copy, as it contains only 5 verses.

In previous centuries some critics have argued that the Gospels may not have been written before the 4th century. Such claims can now be rejected with absolute certainty. However, we do still have a fairly wide range between the 1st -2nd centuries CE, to which we should note that markers which many apologists and scholars have used to claim early dating (such as the Apostolic fathers) are no-where near as solid as they would like. Either way, one cannot claim that the NT texts were written any later then the mid 2nd century (though perhaps the range on a few could be extended to as late as 170CE-ish). Likewise, one cannot argue that significant interpolation or redaction was taking place after the 4th century.

However, one can indeed claim that significant interpolation and redaction was taking place in NT texts throughout the 2nd century by various early Christian sects. The NT texts we have today are basically all Catholic versions, and whilst early proto-orthodox church fathers accused their opponents of mutilating the texts, we have significant evidence of proto-orthodox Christians doing the same. Take the Gospel of Mark for example. It is common knowledge that the earliest manuscripts all ended at 16:8 with the women fleeing the empty tomb, there are three different variations on additional verses that are extant in different manuscripts (4), and a number of early church fathers actually discussed this issue, and concluded that 16:8 was the original ending. Hence the majority of modern scholars also favour this conclusion. Hence, we have here a perfect example of additional verses being added after the end of a NT Gospel. All up we therefore have four different variations on the ending of Mark that have survived to this day (and we should point out that they are all Catholic versions).

Most mainstream NT scholars and historians accept Markan priority; that is, they accept that the Gospel of Mark was written first amongst the NT Gospels, and that Matthew and Luke both added material to Mark, and John was written later as a response. The evidence for this is overwhelming and involves very simple logic. Obviously it should be noted that whilst Mark has no nativity narrative (but rather begins at the baptism of Jesus), both Matthew and Luke do. Therefore, according to the theory of Markan priority, this means that the authors of both Matthew and Luke added their nativity narratives to Mark’s Gospel (amongst other changes). Hence, this means that the very genesis of these texts is in interpolation and redaction.

To further this point we should note that there were alternate Gospels in use by heterodox Christian sects for which we have good reason to believe that they were effectively versions of Matthew and Luke. Heterodox Jewish Christians (Ebionites, Nazarenes etc.) used Gospels that were almost certainly related to Matthew (known as the Gospel of the Ebionites, Gospel of the Nazarenes, Gospel of the Hebrews etc.). Likewise, the Marcionites had a version of Luke known as the Gospel of the Lord. The interesting thing about this is that the church fathers tell us that these heterodox versions of Matthew and Luke also had no nativity narrative, but rather also began at the baptism (chapter 3 of Matthew and Luke). And what would you know, but amongst the earliest extant fragments of Luke there happen to be an example that is missing the nativity narratives (chapters 1-2) and begins with the baptism (chapter 3)(5). What a coincidence! So, one way or anther, we can see that the nativity narratives of both Matthew and Luke (upon which the virgin-birth claim for Jesus is built) are the product of interpolation and redaction by proto-orthodox Christians (early Catholics).

Likewise, many modern scholars believe that the Pauline Epistles contain many interpolations, and are subject to heavy redaction. I am not going to go into this here today, though I will cover it in upcoming articles (I certainly favour a radical version of this theory). Likewise, some scholars have argued that our version of Revelation is considerably longer than the original (and again I also favour this conclusion). So, early proto-orthodox church fathers repeatedly claimed that their opponents had modified their versions of texts, which are also in our NT canon. However, whether or not this is true, we have good reason to believe that early Catholics did the same. Thus all complete surviving versions of the NT texts (which all post-date the 2nd century, when it appears there was much modification of these texts taking place) contain at least some (and most probably many) variations on the original versions. So, that’s out with part 1) of the Christian apologists claim.

Before moving on to part 2), It is important for me to point out that arguing that the NT texts have undergone significant changes from their original forms does not mean that the original form of these texts were true (as some might argue), and that the problems with Christianity are only present due to the changes in these texts. Rather, I believe that the original forms of the NT texts were themselves the products of competing early Christian sects that all had their own dogmas, which were themselves a combination of various schools of thought, teaching a complex web of human ideology and superstition alongside sublime universal spiritual truths.

The reason why I (and others) argue that there is significant evidence of interpolation and redaction in the NT texts is that we wish to encourage everyone to take an honest look at the NT canon for what it is, and be realistic about attempting to reconstruct what can be known about Christian origins. Likewise, we seek to counter erroneous claims such as those made by Christian apologists.

Anyways, moving onto part 2), I believe I have already briefly summarized my reasons for rejecting the original Gospel narrative as being largely (if not wholly) fictional in other places (6). Let me now just give a quick summary of reasons why I (and others) reject the historicity of the Gospel narratives. Firstly there is the very obvious fact that the Gospel authors largely re-wrote portions from the Hebrew Bible to suit their new narrative, using techniques known as midrash or pesher. The stories of Jesus feeding the five and four thousand (Mark 6:30-44 and 8:1-10) are clearly rewritten from the story of Elisha doing the same in 2 Kings 4:43-44. What’s more likely, Jesus did exactly the same miraculous thing that Elisha did, or that the author of Mark copied a mythological motif from the Hebrew Bible? Obvious examples of this are found through the Gospels (and Acts), and even the dialogue of Jesus on the cross is lifted straight from Psalm 22. I’m not going to go into detail here; there are plenty of online resources that do so, and people can read my own summary one day when I get around to publishing part 2 of my book on religion (I still need to publish part 1 first).

So, large portions of the Gospels can be rejected as non-historical as they are clearly derived from the Jewish scriptures. Secondly, we have the somewhat contested reality that the Gospels also drew liberally on pagan (Greek, Egyptian, Roman etc.) mythology and literature. The most obvious examples are that the Gospel of Mark (which we should remember is the original template from which the others were drawn) was written to deliberately parallel the works of Homer (primarily the Odyssey). Whilst this thesis hasn’t yet achieved widespread acceptance, I believe it is only a matter of time (I gave a few examples in my article referenced in endnote 6, otherwise look up an online summary).

And then there are the clear parallels to the Osirian cult/Mystery religions (amongst other general pagan parallels, such as miraculous, non-sexual (and sometimes virginal) birth). I’ve discussed this in a little detail already elsewhere (7), but lets just summarize again. The Osirian cult involved the belief that Osiris had been killed and brought back to life, and Egyptians sought to associate themselves with Osiris in order to attain eternal life through sharing in his resurrection. The Egyptians went to great lengths to preserve the bodies of the dead (and hence believed in a physical resurrection), had public rites where the passion of Osiris was played out, in which they mourned at his death and celebrated at his return to life 3 days later. They ate ritual cakes in the shape of Osiris, ritually cleansed themselves in the Nile and even had amulets with a symbol of Osiris as a tree (the Djed) superimposed over their symbol of eternal life (the Ankh, which is a cross with a loop. Look up Djed-Ank amulets).

The Greek (and Roman and other) Mystery religions superimposed the primary themes of the Osirian cult upon the myths of various other gods (Dionysus, Demeter, Orpheus, Attis, Adonis, Mithras etc.), resulting in a whole category of cults which promised eternal life to their followers through identification with a god that had died and returned to life. In most cases this was pretty explicit in pre-Christian sources; a handful of examples require significant discussion to explain this though. Anyways, as Richard Carrier has succinctly stated many times, if you were living just prior to Christianity and you were asked what a pseudo-Jewish version of a Mystery religion would look like, you could have predicted literarily every single feature of Christianity (through a synthesis of the Mystery cults and Messianic Judaism). This doesn’t mean that Christianity is primarily pagan (as clearly one way or another it has largely Jewish roots), but that it’s founders practiced syncretism in one way or another.

So, the Gospel narratives are heavily dependent on both Jewish and pagan mythology and literature. Furthmerore, we have various historical difficulties (if not impossibilities) within the Gospels, such as the cleansing of the temple incident (which is a major feature of the narrative), or the circumstances surrounding Jesus’s trial. We have the fact that Christians couldn’t decide amongst themselves when Jesus was born (was it 6-4BCE, 6CE or 100BCE?), or how long his ministry was for, or exactly when he was killed.

And then we have the bizarre case whereby the Epistles (which are commonly thought on very strong grounds by pretty much everyone to pre-date the Gospels) seem to be completely ignorant of the earthly narrative of Jesus. The authors of these letters only cite revelation (visions) and the scriptures (the Greek version of the Hebrew bible) as their sources, and they even cite the Hebrew bible verbatim as the words of Jesus (thus again confirming the methodology of the authors of the Gospels).

Compare this to the special pleading that is presented by Christian apologists and scholars to argue for the reliability of the NT texts, and there is simply no comparison. I can understand if Christians or mainstream scholars may wish to dispute the strength and scope of some of the evidence I have mentioned above for my case (though I stand by my conclusions). However, even if we downgrade things a little we still have the case that there is no way that a reasonable and informed person can believe that the Gospels are literal, historically reliable accounts.

So, we can see that the whole bibliographical argument thing is just one big charade, a house of cards. And it’s not like I’m the first person to point this out, or that it is only mythicists and/or radical critics who are seeking to make this case. Nobody outside Christian apologetics gives any credit to the bibliographical argument. It is just plain wrong on so many counts, and its use is simply ignorant and dishonest.

As for that claim that there is more evidence for Jesus Christ than for Julius Caesar. Well, we have portraits of Caesar from his lifetime, coins from the same, letters that he wrote himself, various references to him in literature etc. Most significantly, the historicity of Caesar is affirmed because he is central to Roman history. That is, one could say that he was both central to the foreground and background of Roman history in the 1st century BCE. Julius Caesar is everwhere in Roman history of this period; you simply cannot discuss Roman history of the time without him. We do have reason to be suspicious of some of the things later historians said about Caesar, but this is not decided on the basis of the amount of time passed since his time when they wrote, nor the extant number of manuscripts.

Jesus however is generally placed in the foreground of Jewish history in the 1st century CE (though the Nazarenes placed him 100 years earlier, as attested by Epiphanius and the Babylonian Talmud), but nobody really takes much (if any) notice until the 2nd century when Christians go around preaching of him. The foreground of Jewish history is important to understanding the Christian religion (as the Jewish wars and the destruction of the Temple is very significant in the origins of the Gospel narrative at very least); however one could easily discuss Jewish history of the period without mentioning Jesus (as apparently did Justus of Tiberius, likewise for Philo, and then there is the question of Josephus?)

So, again the claim that there is more evidence for Jesus Christ than Julius Caesar is just plain bunk. It is based upon the erroneous bibliographical argument, and uncritical acceptance of claims from Acts and the Epistles of large numbers of witnesses to Jesus’s resurrection. In truth these are simply faith claims of religious scriptures, all belonging to the one category or religious literature after-the-fact. They do not count as historical evidence, any more than Hindu texts being evidence for the historicity of Krishna, or the Pyramid texts being evidence of Osiris, or the Bacchae being evidence of the historicity of Dionysus. Likewise, even though Greek historians and mythographers such as Diodorus and Euhemeris believed that prominent gods had been great men (and women) of old who had been made into legends, it doesn’t really count as evidence that they were.

Anyways, it is obvious that Christians are being lied to by their leaders. Christians are supposed to uphold a strict ethical code, which involves always speaking the truth. However, the reality is that the ego will blind people to their actions in order to sustain its identity. Hence, Christians repeatedly make false claims and employ appalling arguments in order to try and hold their ground, and push onto the ground of others.

Let us remember here that it is not simply that Christian apologists wish to be left alone in peace to believe what they believe, and leave the rest of the world out of it. Rather, Christian apologists wish to claim that their beliefs are historical facts, at which point conservative Christians wish to force their religion upon others. Let us remember that Christianity has been largely intolerant of other faiths over the course of its history (amongst other legitimate issues), and that conservative Christians today still attempt to gain privilege in secular nations (in funding programs to teach Christianity in public schools in Australia, in attempting to teach “Creationism” alongside biological evolution in classrooms in America, etc.). Conservative Christians wish to claim that all those outside their faith (and not just that, but outside their particular version of their faith) are damned to an eternity of torment. Hence, it is important that we counter their misinformation.

Peace

1) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Categories_of_New_Testament_manuscripts#Distribution_of_Greek_manuscripts_by_century_and_category.

2) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/7Q5.

3) http://vridar.org/2013/03/08/new-date-for-that-st-johns-fragment-rylands-library-papyrus-p52/.

4) http://www.errancywiki.com/index.php?title=Legends2.

5) P75: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Papyrus_75. We should note that for Matthew there is the case of P64 (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Magdalen_papyrus), for which the earliest portion is again from chapter 3. However in this case the fragment is so miniscule that it is missing just about everything, so we should be cautious about reading too far into it.

6) https://jameshiscoxblogs.wordpress.com/2015/08/06/on-christian-origins-part-1-why-i-favour-mythicism/.

7) https://jameshiscoxblogs.wordpress.com/2015/08/22/the-pagan-parallel-thesis-and-why-practically-every-single-major-objection-to-it-is-false/

https://jameshiscoxblogs.wordpress.com/2014/09/20/the-whole-truth-on-justin-martyrs-diabolical-mimicry-argument/

https://jameshiscoxblogs.wordpress.com/2014/11/19/diabolical-mimicry-part-2-response-to-alberts-mcllhenny-back-in-the-ring/

 

 

 

The Web Unwoven – Sample Chapter:

As I am just about ready to self-publish my first book, I thought it fitting that after telling people that it was nearly finished for the last 4 years, it might be nice to give people a quick sample of what The Web Unwoven is all about.  Originally I had planned on covering the origins and content of the Bible (and therefore also the origins of Judaism and Christianity) in this first book, but due to the the sheer length of the work (and the time involved in editing such a work, let alone the cost of publishing) I have divided it into two. The first part which I will self-publish very shortly is on comparative religion and religious pluralism, whilst the second part on the Bible and the origins of the Judeo-Christian tradition will come out at a later date (hopefully within a year).  So, here is the first chapter of The Web Unwoven – Part 1:

Chapter 1)     Introduction:

We live in a marketplace of ideas, beliefs, worldviews, paradigms, philosophies, religions and ideologies. They share many views and overlap in particular areas, and likewise contradict in other ways, often ending up at opposite ends of fierce debate. Religious beliefs play a significant role in society, influencing laws and popular opinions on morality and ethics. They are also intensely personal, as they relate to the very meaning and purpose of life, and give hope for a better life after death, as well as giving faith in a higher power that brings justice and grace. Most religions and systems of philosophy aspire to bring healing, forgiveness, grace, mercy, compassion, joy and prosperity to the world, and to a certain degree they generally succeed in doing so. However at the same time, religion has also been known as a political force that has been wielded to justify and create hatred, bigotry, separation, persecution, fear and superstition. Holding different religious views to those of society, family or other major cultural groups can produce a range of social consequences, from heated exchanges of words, to social exclusion and political persecution. In more extreme cases, many people have been killed or locked up for their religious views, and throughout history many wars have been fought over faith.

There are many religious debates and interfaith dialogues taking place today, as there have been throughout recorded history. However, it is rare that anybody actually changes their beliefs on the basis of these debates, and it is rare that any level of resolution is achieved. To some degree this is understandable, as personal opinion isn’t always something that can be analyzed and studied objectively, and the data and evidence making up the study of religion isn’t black and white. This can make it difficult to achieve resolution in a topic that is vastly complex, personal and sacred. Likewise, another major reason why resolution is rarely achieved through religious debates and dialogues is that human beings have learned to associate their very identity with their mental concepts. We believe that we are our thoughts, and religious beliefs are habitual thoughts that we consider to be above all other human concepts. When someone expresses a critique of our religious beliefs we feel as though it is a personal attack against us, or against all followers of our faith. As such, debates on religion tend to stir the emotions of all parties, and make it difficult to see reality objectively through the emotion that we experience when our sacred beliefs are questioned or ridiculed. The thing is that reality doesn’t change just because someone denies or derides it; hence there is no need for us to react emotionally to the disbelief and/or disrespect that others show in regards to our religious beliefs. It is understandable that we would take our religious beliefs seriously; however we have perhaps been guilty of taking ourselves too seriously to this point, as it has hindered our ability to sort out truth from untruth in the realm of ideas.

The topic of religion, spirituality, philosophy and the paranormal is incredibly vast, to the point that one can study it all their life and continue learning more. It is obviously not possible for everyone to personally study the topic in depth, and neither should we expect everybody to have the motivation and interest to do so. To reach a “big picture” understanding and construct a religious “theory of everything” requires enormous amounts of time, and one is required to resolve and conflate countless opinions and arguments in order to reach a cohesive and comprehensive worldview. Hence, as with other fields of interest, many of us find ourselves being influenced by accepted authorities, and we put our trust in them to accurately summarize the topic for us. Unfortunately, when these authorities themselves cannot reach the correct conclusions on a topic, they lead much of the general public astray. I would like to offer my readers my own personal approach to understanding religion, along with the evidence and arguments that led me to my conclusions. Despite the vast, complex and personal nature of the topic, I believe it is possible for resolution of interfaith conflict to be achieved, and for the followers of different faiths to therefore come to see each other as spiritual brothers and sisters. To attain this resolution we simply need to compare different beliefs and doctrines and follow them through to their logical conclusions. We also need to consider the bare facts relevant to the subject, and apply our natural human capacity for reason to resolve conflicting opinions, and sort through the maze of differing conclusions. Obviously I am not claiming to know everything on the subject of religion, nor do I wish to deny the necessity and worth of other books on the topic. Rather, I wish to offer a means through which religious dispute and conflict can be resolved, and through which we can all understand the relationship between different faiths. I also wish to offer an understanding of why religion has been a force for both good and bad, and offer a suggestion as to how we can reform it so that it continues to heal humanity, but ceases to divide and harm us.

I will argue that there is a singular spiritual philosophy that we refer to as the “Perennial Philosophy”, that is found to different degrees in most (but not all) of the world’s faiths, and that therefore most religions share common goals. However, I will argue that this does not mean that all religions are equal or that they are all identical. Rather, to the contrary, I will argue that most religions have different strengths and weaknesses, and that some are closer to a pure representation of the Perennial Philosophy then others. I will argue that whilst there have been many great spiritual teachers across the ages and from various cultures, the founders of the world’s faiths were not all enlightened sages. Rather, human beings have a great capacity to deviate from truth, and there have been many religious leaders over time that have preached their own doctrines, which have originated either through fraud and/or delusion. I also believe that many common religious ideas have developed through the common means through which human beings share ideas. As such we can trace the evolution of many religious concepts back through the ancient world, and gain context on the doctrines of the major religions in the world today. I do accept that many of my conclusions may be contentious, and my personal approach to attaining religious harmony involves facing the difficult issues surrounding religion, rather then attempting to sugarcoat them or simply ignore them. As such, I could understand if my opinions raised the emotions of some of my readers. Hence, I will ask for patience from my readers, as I will discuss each subject in considerable detail in order to attempt to convince readers of the merits of my conclusions.

I found myself feeling compelled to create this book because I felt that my own intuitions on the topic were not being fully represented anywhere. I myself am deeply indebted to many brilliant scholars, mystics and philosophers for much of the information that I am presenting here, and I do not wish to take the credit for the work of others. There are endless books on religion, spirituality and philosophy that offer insight into the topics that I could not give, and I do not wish to diminish such works. Rather, my hope is that my own work would compliment the work of others, and give my readers a means through which they can understand the ways in which different sub-topics of religion and spirituality relate to each other, and how one can harmonize the different views that are found in the religious world. Most books that I have read on comparative religion either seek to achieve one of three goals. Some proclaim one exclusive faith alone to be true, at the expense of all others. Others argue that the world’s faiths are all the same, at the expense of the details that show that they are not. Finally, some works simply seek to present information on different religions, without offering any opinion as to how one is to view their relationship to each other. What I have sought to do is to be realistic about the contradictions that one finds between different religious viewpoints, and yet show that we can resolve them and attain an understanding of comparative religion that results in friendship and cooperation between different faiths.

The Abrahamic faiths[1] (Judaism, Christianity and Islam) have traditionally been quite outspoken in regards to expressing their explicit disapproval of other faiths, to the point of quite literally demonizing them and their followers as being agents of evil. Such a view has of course never promoted tolerance and unity between various faiths; at best it leaves an uneasy truce, and at worst it leads directly to various levels of conflict. There have also been ultra conservative streams of other faiths throughout history that have taken similar exclusive views towards other religions, although these rarely receive as much attention. At the opposite end of the scale there is a liberal movement that is very popular in the western world at the moment, which has presented the opinion that all ideas are relative and therefore equal, particularly in the realm of religious beliefs. In doing so they have argued that the religious beliefs of all peoples are sacred, and should thus be respected. Hence it has been argued that we should not attempt to argue that any faith is superior in comparison to any other, and that it is offensive to criticize anybody’s sacred beliefs. Those that hold this opinion often believe that all religions are ultimately cohesive, and form one universal spiritual tradition. Hence they argue that all major religious figures spoke of the same truths, and that all sacred scriptures preach the same doctrines; only that they argue that many devotees of these faiths have misunderstood the teachings of the founders of their faiths, and the texts which they have left behind.

Hence, religious liberals often claim that Abraham, Moses, Krishna, Buddha, Lao Tzu, Plato, Jesus, Mohammed etc. were all prophets of the one God, and that the Tanakh, the Bible, the Koran, the Vedas, the Upanishads, the Bhagavad-Gita, the Buddhist Sutra’s, and the Tao Te-Ching etc. all speak of the same universal truths. I would like to discuss these two competing perspectives on comparative religion and consider whether they are consistent and cohesive, whether they are supported by logic and the relevant facts, as well as consider what the implications of each view are. Obviously there are other opinions on comparative religion aside from those expressed above, not to mention that many religious followers only have opinions on their own faith, and do not wish to pass judgment either way on other faiths. Hence, some views have been formulated to take into account many of the relevant facts and factors, but some of them only take into consideration very specific experiences and conditions relative to their own context. Due to the open access to information that we have in today’s world, we now have many alternatives to the traditional views on religion, for better and for worse. Consequently, as well as the well-known and structured religions of old we now have countless other worldviews, pieced together from various sources with an amateur DIY approach[2].

I have therefore attempted to do what I haven’t seen anyone else do in a way that has satisfied me. There are many books (and websites) written by conservative Christian apologists that have attempted to give a complete means of viewing comparative religion, through offering a defense of their own faith, and equally offering a scathing critique of all others. I have therefore set out to counter these works and the conclusions that they set forth, whilst making a positive case for my own views. In many ways you could say that I am likewise offering an apologetic for Perennial Philosophy, as well as offering a counter-response to Christian apologetics. Whilst there are many individual faiths in the world today, I have spent the majority of the book comparing the views of orthodox Christianity and Perennial Philosophy (as I see it). As I personally had a Christian upbringing, and as Christianity is currently the biggest religion in the world today[3], I believe that this is necessary, and I hope that my readers will grow through taking this journey with me.

I do not mean to single out Christianity for criticism however, or simply focus on its weaknesses and ignore its strengths. Rather, the conclusions that I reach from comparing Christianity and Perennialism should apply to religion and spirituality as a whole, and hopefully give the necessary context to put everything in its place. I do not wish to simply offer my critiques for the sake of it, but rather I am doing so in the hope of offering a solution. In the final chapter I will offer some conclusions that I believe we can be certain of once all is considered. I believe that many of these conclusions have the potential to dramatically change humanity for the better, were they to gain widespread acceptance. I am hoping to reveal a complete truth that unites people of different faiths, and gives humanity a template from which we can reform and evolve the subject of religion. I have offered what I believe to be the way through the mess of contradictory and internally inconsistent views, so that we may unweave the web of opinions and see the light that shines behind it. It is my belief that to create a convincing case you must look at every angle in the same context, in that merely covering part of an issue allows for people to dismiss strong arguments through circular reasoning[i]. The entire spectrum of information must be covered for the possibility of achieving resolution to be realized.

I have written this book as a comparison and consideration of different religious views; not a consideration of whether religion in general is valid. So, there is a whole category of views on religion that I have deliberately failed to cater for here; that being atheism or naturalism (depending on how you choose to label such views). There are actually a wide variety of sub-variants on the naturalistic philosophy, though they all claim that reality is wholly material, and reject any sort of belief in the supernatural or paranormal. Such a view is known by the technical term metaphysical naturalism[4], but could also be known as material monism[ii], in that it states that there is in-reality only matter, and that mind is a second-hand construct created from matter, and existing only due to matter. This view does not allow for the existence of any sort of spirit and/or soul, God/gods or any other non-physical or super-physical entities, existence after death in any form, or spiritual or mental interaction and intervention in the material world[5]. This non-religious worldview is of course very popular today, particularly amongst the highly educated ranks of people in western countries. It is however not a new philosophy, as there have been naturalistic philosophies in many nations going back millennia[iii]. I have deliberately tried to avoid making statements about evidence for or against the existence of the supernatural in this book, although occasionally I have found it relevant to the discussion at hand. I am personally a believer in the reality of spiritual experiences and the paranormal, and it is not possible for me to put that fully aside in writing this book.

So, for the purpose of this book I will assume that my readers are either already avid believers in the paranormal for whatever reasons[iv], or that my readers are willing at least to humor me in this regard, or even just ignore this point for the purpose of this book. I personally consider that question to be a completely different kettle of fish altogether[6], despite the efforts of some influential leaders from certain faith groups that have attempted to confuse this issue[v]. So, essentially I am asking the question:

If spirituality is real, then what is the best worldview for explaining it, and the various phenomena that exist because of it?”

Without any further ado then, let us begin to attempt to answer that question.

[1] Obviously named as such because all three view themselves as originating with the biblical patriarch Abraham. We should note that many Christians object to being identified in the same category as Islam. Rather they generally use the phrase Judeo-Christian tradition to identify their belief in the continuity of Christianity from Judaism, whilst rejecting any claim that Islam is in any way directly related to their religion (except to see it as having borrowed, copied or stolen many of its tenets, as well as those of Judaism).

[2] Again, for better or worse.

[3] Not to mention that it still maintains a privileged position in the western world.

[4] Not to be confused with methodological naturalism (which is the method of science), in which we presume a naturalistic explanation as the simplest and most likely explanation in absence of strong evidence to the contrary. In an upcoming book I will in fact argue that many people today have confused and conflated methodological naturalism with metaphysical naturalism, and confused science with philosophy.

[5] For example: Prayer, spiritual healing, manifestation, magic, psi or miracles of any sort etc.

[6] Which I will discuss in detail in a future work.

[i] Complex topics like religion and philosophy naturally involve many interconnected facts, points, sub-topics and arguments. In many cases during heated debates people on both sides are accused of using circular reasoning. A circular argument is obviously one whereby ones argument cannot stand on its own ground, but only seems to have strength on the weight of other facts and arguments. It can be quite difficult to avoid some level of circular reasoning in various topics (particularly religion), as ones entire worldview filters into each individual topic. Thus any point raised to support an entire worldview must to some degree refer to other topics that are important to the worldview in question. Having conceded this however, you can’t construct a large-scale argument for something as significant as a religion solely on the basis of individual arguments that cannot stand on their own merit. An argument must not rest upon things not yet covered or resolved, and a valid argument should not collapse on the basis of information not yet elucidated. If this is the case then it is likely that the arguments are in fact baseless, and are simply intellectual games or tricks, like constantly transferring credit from various credit cards to cover the fact that you are in fact broke. Ideally, slight diversions in the middle of good solid arguments should not be done for the purpose of providing presumptions on which the new argument will rest. Therefore, valid arguments should be able to stand independently.

[ii] By very definition monism refers to the existence of only one thing, and in philosophical contexts it generally implies that several things commonly considered to be separate are in fact part of the one thing. Dualism, on the other hand relates to the interaction and eternal relationship between two individual and distinct things. The terms monism and dualism can refer to a multitude of issues and topics in religion and philosophy. For example, dualism can refer to mind-brain dualism, subject-object dualism, God-creation dualism, spirit-matter dualism, or good God-evil god dualism. The brain-mind dualism is a common concept in western philosophy, relevant to the topics of religion, philosophy, psychology and medicine. Eastern religion and philosophy makes multiple use of the concept of monism, both in subject-object monism and God-creation monism, both which ultimately amount to the same thing when seen in the greater context of Perennial religious teachings (as will be shown later). Subject-object monism refers to a state whereby there is no distinction or separation between a perceived external universe and the being that is perceiving, observing or experiencing it. This concept has controversially been used by some in the New Age movement to attempt to explain the particle-wave duality of quantum physics, but most commonly it is known through the writings of various mystics in attempting to describe their experiences of cosmic consciousness. God-creation monism therefore is the application of subject-object monism to the absolute reality – God; seeing creation as existing within God, commonly with the metaphor of Creation as God’s dream existing within the mind of God, rather than being in eternal relationship and interaction with an independent creator as in the Abrahamic faiths. In this way Christianity can be referred to as dualistic compared to Perennial Philosophy, which is primarily monistic.

The term dualism often holds negative connotations, and is commonly used as a derogatory term to defame the belief of an opposing party. Many modern philosophers oppose the belief in mind-body dualism, just as in a religious sense dualism is often associated with Gnosticism, with its assertion that there is both a good God and an evil god. As there are various different contexts in which the term dualism can apply there is a burden for the person using the term to define what it is in particular they are referring to. In terms of ultimate worldviews, monism is commonly connected to the belief that there is only one singular absolute reality, from which all other things can be reduced. Naturalism (atheism) can be considered to be a monistic worldview as it states that there is truth only matter in existence, and that consciousness is only a by-product of matter. Hence this presents consciousness as a construct, having no ultimate separate existence of its own without matter, and ultimately existing only within matter. The complete polar opposite of this is the view of the Perennial Philosophy, which is expressed quite succinctly amongst the many Eastern philosophies (as well as others) in stating that the only absolute reality is God (or Consciousness, Spirit and/or the Self if you like), and that matter is a by-product of Spirit. The technical term for this view in western philosophy is “Monistic Idealism”, and it is found in many mystical traditions such as Advaita Vedanta, Yoga, Tantra, Kashmir Shaivism, all forms of Buddhism, Taoism, various mystical variants of Hellenistic philosophy such as Platonism, Pythagoreanism, Orphism and Hermeticism, and possibly even some indigenous Shamanic traditions.

There are countless other contexts to which we can apply these terms, therefore it is necessary to clarify what context they are being used in when using these terms, as sometimes the words monism and dualism are often just thrown around without explaining what exactly they are referring to, therefore having the potential to be misleading. It is also important to avoid seeing the term dualism as always being a negative term. It simply isn’t so, as those that use it in a negative sense often object to many monistic concepts (as we will see).

[iii] For example, some of the early Greek philosophers held a belief in metaphysical naturalism. Likewise the Bhagavad-Gita makes reference to naturalism as well (albeit in rather a negative light): “They say: The world is unreal, without a substratum, without a God, and without an order. Sexual union of man and woman alone and nothing else causes the world.” Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 16:8.

[iv] There are many reasons why individuals such as myself believe in the supernatural. For example: Personal experiences, correlations between personal experiences and the testimony of other people, examination of various fields of research such as near death experiences (NDE’s), parapsychology etc., various complex philosophical arguments, and much more. Regardless, I am not assuming that all my readers accept the existence of the supernatural (in fact quite the opposite, I am accepting and acknowledging that many of my readers probably will not).

[v] Many Christian apologists (such as William Lane Craig) have argued that any argument or evidence for the existence of the supernatural is positive evidence for Christianity, as they have argued that Christianity is the only spiritual worldview that is internally consistent. There is even a specific sub-category of Christian apologetics called “pre-suppositional apologetics” that actually claims that it is impossible to make an argument for anything without presupposing the Christian worldview (yes, that is actually what they claim)! I have dealt with these arguments later on in this book, so please read on.

My thoughts on the passing of D.M. Murdock (aka Archaya S):

Love her or hate her, D.M. Murdock was well known amongst mythicists and Christian apologists, and many mainstream NT scholars are likewise familiar with her work. Her work is frequently heavily criticised, not only by those critical of mythicism in general, but also by many amongst her own ranks. Despite this, she maintained a loyal band of supporters, many of which have gone on to produce their own works on a similar theme to her own.

I thought that in light of her passing I would offer my own opinions of her work. As with many other people, I personally became familiar with Ms Murdock through the religion portion of the Internet conspiracy sensation Zeitgeist 1 (which was essentially a bad representation of many half-truths). Initially enthusiastic, I soon discovered that the relevant portion of the movie and her work in general were getting very negative reviews by academics and apologists alike. Over the course of many years since, I have learned much on the topic of Christian origins, and I think it is necessary to acknowledge both the strengths and weaknesses of her work.

Certainly, there seems to have been a massive difference in the quality of Murdock’s early work compared to her later work. “Christ In Egypt” is well worth reading (and much of it can be read online for free at Google Books[i]). Whilst I still find that she stretches sources too far, reads too far into the data and is too quick to reach definitive conclusions, I still believe that many of the core claims of the work are still correct; only that I think they can be presented and argued better.

I haven’t personally read any of her earlier works in full; however I have seen plenty of examples of major problems with them. One perfect example is the list of names quoted in the “argument from silence” that is cited in Zeitgeist 1:1, and I believe is also found in Murdock’s book “Who Was Jesus?” This list presents 23 names of figures from around the time that Jesus was supposed to have lived that Murdock stated never mentioned Jesus. Unfortunately the list is deeply problematic, and there are perhaps only 2 or 3 names on there for which it should actually be argued that they would have had a reason to mention Jesus had he lived.

Murdock focussed much of her career in arguing for parallels between astronomical phenomena and features of the Jesus narrative, for which she is known to argue that Christianity was founded upon “astrotheology”. Hence, she argued that the earliest conception of Jesus was as a solar deity, and that Christ’s nature as a representation of the sun was (and is) the primary feature of Christianity. Whilst I agree that there are legitimate examples whereby religious motifs reference the passages of the sun, moon, planets, stars and constellations, I feel that Murdock is wrong to argue that astrotheology is the primary explanation for the creation of Christianity. I would state that as the Mystery religion themes that are found in Christianity (that themselves date back to the Osirian cult) relate both to eternal life for initiates and the rebirth of nature for a nation as a whole, it is natural that solar features are found within them, as many of the major seasonal markers involve key points in the suns yearly journey (such as the winter-solstice and vernal equinox). However, the Mystery religions weren’t simply about sun worship, and Messianic Judaism (with its Midrash of the Septuagint) was responsible for a large part of what makes up Christianity.

Having noted this however, Murdock was almost a lone crusader in pointing out the very legitimate links between the Egyptian celebration of the birth of Horus at the winter solstice and the later Christmas tradition. This topic is one in which even many fellow mythicists scoff, and certainly Christian apologists feel that they have laid this claim to rest many times over. However, when presented properly (unlike the many Facebook memes that float around every year around Christmas) the case stands on solid ground.

Whilst indeed it is true that much of the evidence that Murdock presented for her case was from within the Christian era, she did briefly allude to pre-Christian written evidence that shows that the birth of Horus was fixed in alignment with the winter solstice just prior to the Common Era, with the creation of the Alexandrian calendar. The evidence in question is found in a text called “The Lamentations of Isis and Nephthys”, which refers to birth celebrations of Horus and places their date on the 25th of Choiak (which with the Alexandrian calendar corresponds to December 21st). This shows that contrary to the claims of many scholars and apologists, Plutarch’s testimony can indeed by trusted (and was indeed observing a preservation of a pre-Christian tradition), and that likewise the later testimony of church fathers was again referencing something that had origins before Christianity itself. Furthermore there is also the Kikellia as cited by Epiphanius, of which the pre-Christian origins is attested from the “Decree of Canopus”, this time in honour of Osiris on the 29th of Choiak (which was December 25th in the Alexandrian calendar).

As for the astronomical symbolism within the nativity narrative of Matthew and the events surrounding the adoption of the December 25th date for Christmas, that requires some time and space to do justice, so I will probably write my own article on the topic at some point in the future. In the meantime, I would like to recommend that my readers check out the following radio talk show, which features my friend DN Boswell, who is to my knowledge probably the best qualified person in the world on the topic of pagan parallels (even though (like myself), he lacks formal qualifications)[ii]. Boswell’s book and blog are currently offline as he is making a number of changes, so in the meantime this is a good place for people to encounter the evidence from someone who is properly informed and can reach the correct conclusions on these issues.

Also, Murdock was quite vocal in arguing for quite late dating for much (if not all) of the NT, and I find much to agree with her on this issue. Anyways, the point of all this is that whilst there were many very real flaws with Murdock’s work, there are likewise many gems to be found amongst her work. Hence, whilst she may have deserved some of the criticism that came her way, she also deserved credit for standing up for some under-represented arguments that deserve our attention.

Finally, oh what irony that she passed on the 25th of December, considering her obsession with the history of the Christmas tradition! Obviously, one must consider the possibility that this is simply one great coincidence, as in a vast universe such coincidences do occur frequently. However, as a friend pointed out to me, it may simply be evidence of the great power of the human mind. With Christmas approaching and the scourge of disease stripping the life from her body, could it be that Murdock so strongly desired to pass on the 25th of December that her will made it so?

So, whilst I didn’t always agree with all of her conclusions or approve of her methods, I feel we are somewhat in debt to Murdock for her life’s work, and I for one am grateful for what she contributed to the study of Christian origins.

R.I.P.

[i] https://books.google.com.au/books?id=Iaqe9CG_s6cC&printsec=frontcover#v=onepage&q&f=false.

[ii] http://sftbinc.podomatic.com/entry/2015-12-29T16_18_14-08_00.