Posts Tagged ‘atheist’

Harvesting cash

December 17, 2009

Seeing so many of these “Harvest” bumper stickers everwhere, I felt obliged to to comment on a particular story. Apparently, demons are responsible for taking money away from charlatan, conman, preacher, Rod Parsley of the World Harvest Church. So, he is asking for a little help.

The headline of the appeal for donations reads: “Will you help me take back what the devil stole?”

He really needs help.

When asked to comment yesterday, Parsley’s World Harvest Church issued a statement saying the recession caused a decline in member giving in 2009, which has led to a fourth-quarter deficit of $3 million despite a 30 percent reduction in the budget.

That’s quite a deficit. Wait, also we have:

This year, the church settled for $3.1 million with a family whose son was spanked at its day-care center in 2006, to the point his buttocks and legs were covered with welts and abrasions.

The boy, then 2, said he was spanked with a “knife” by a substitute teacher. His parents, Michael and Lacey Faieta, believe it was a ruler.

Clearly nothing suspicious going on there. That nasty demonic recession has had effects not even I could have forseen.

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Bible oddities

September 3, 2009

Not too much time to post today, so I’ll leave you to ponder one of the many strange inexplicable stories from the Bible. This come from the book of Mark, chapter 14. Judas has just betrayed Jesus to a multitude sent by the chief priests, elders, and those totally bad-ass scribes. Jesus says basically, “Dude, you guys saw me everyday and could have taken me anytime. Why this way? Can’t we all just get along?”. O.K., he didn’t say the last part, but mentions something about the “scriptures need to be fulfilled”, although which ones exactly he doesn’t say. This does beg the question, if they knew who he was, as Jesus implies, why did they need Judas to identify him? I guess we need a plot device to heighten the drama. Immediately after this, we have verse 51 (my Revised Standard Version).

And a young man followed him with nothing but a linen cloth about his body; and they seized him, but he left the linen cloth and ran away naked.

Ooookay. Until now, I don’t think we have ever heard about this young linen-clothed man, and we never hear about the young man, now sans linen cloth, again. So, there’s a story in there somewhere, just waiting for somebody to bring it to life.

A prayer for South Carolina

September 1, 2009

Recently, in Columbia City, South Carolina, at the urging of possible mayoral candidate Tameika Isaac Devine, a resolution to open city council meetings with a prayer was unanimously passed with no discussion. It should go without saying that this totally violates the separation of church and state and thoughtlessly tramples over the sensibilities of those present who may not share the religious beliefs espoused in whatever magic words are incanted. Did I say thoughtlessly? No, Devine did put some thought into it.

Devine says she was surprised that City Council had not been starting its meetings with an invocation. “And I totally respect the whole separation of church and state,” she says.
But Devine says council members have an important job to do — the will of the people.

“And I think starting with an invocation gives you that importance and sets that tone,” she says. “But it’s definitely our desire to give voice to a diverse group.”

Although Devine does seem to have some dim glimmering that there is such a thing as separation of church and state, it is clear that she is pretty unclear on the concept. But to be fair, let’s give her the benefit of the doubt and offer a prayer that can be used in the city council meetings that will reflect the diverse system of beliefs and non-beliefs of all humanity.


Dear God and Jesus Christ our Savior, we know you are a jealous God whose name is Jealous, so please forgive mention of all these other gods and give us your blessings anyway. Wink, wink, nudge, nudge. O Allah, you are all great and merciful so we submit (and really we didn’t mean to pray to Jesus above, really). Lord Krishna, please aid us in our cosmic journey to put our city in harmony with the cosmos. Ganesha, please remove obstacles from the paths to reach our goals for our city. Lakshmi, please give us luck in our plans and make us beautiful and wealthy. Agni, we offer oblation, please don’t burn us. Vishnu, please help us create great plans, and Shiva, let us destroy old unworkable plans so we may begin anew. Great Spirit, help us in our hunt on this vision quest. Lord Buddha, help us make the city such that all our people can escape the endless cycle of suffering, perhaps by adding more light rail to ease traffic congestion. Jah, we promise to legalize ganja to let people engage in spiritual quests. Satan, thanks for getting us into that whole “Tree of Knowledge” thing; it’s working out pretty well. Athena, give us wisdom. Thor, please don’t strike us with lightning, and Loki, please don’t start causing mischief in our fair city. Blessed be the Goddess, by whichever name you know her, and may her blessings be bountiful upon us. We recognize the way of the Tao, which if can be named is not the eternal Tao. [insert appropriate incantations from other faiths, Judaism, Sikh, Bahai, Flying Spaghetti Monster, etc. etc. here]. Finally, we acknowledge that it is possible that none of these gods or goddesses exist so you should quit worrying and enjoy your life.

Now that this prayer is ended, it is the end of the day and time to go home.

On second thought, maybe a city council should just focus on doing the city’s business.

Gog, Magog, Iraq, and the mafia

August 21, 2009

So here’s a little sample of what happens when you make a interesting cocktail mix of politics and religion, especially bizarre religious mindsets. President Chirac recounts a story you may have heard before about the lead up to the Iraq war.

Now out of office, Chirac recounts that the American leader appealed to their “common faith” (Christianity) and told him: “Gog and Magog are at work in the Middle East…. The biblical prophecies are being fulfilled…. This confrontation is willed by God, who wants to use this conflict to erase his people’s enemies before a New Age begins.”

This bizarre episode occurred while the White House was assembling its “coalition of the willing” to unleash the Iraq invasion. Chirac says he was boggled by Bush’s call and “wondered how someone could be so superficial and fanatical in their beliefs.”

Well, there’s a huge contributing factor to what got us in Iraq. Dulled uncritical religious thinking. This is also consistent with all those Bible quotes from Rumsfeld, of course, fueling the fire for Bush’s self-proclaimed crusade. How many lives have been lost and how many resources have been squandered for Bush’s religious misadventure? Whatever the opportunity cost, it certainly has left us in a sorry state. As everyone should know by now, there were no weapons of mass destruction, Iraq was not allied with Al Queda, and Iraq posed no serious threat to us and now our economy is a mess. Although the latter is not entirely the fault of going into Iraq, but it certainly hasn’t helped.

So, what does what happened then have to do with now? You may recall America’s own dark little mercenary unit called Blackwater. It seems Obama is still funding this group. Why? There is a bit of information on one of the cofounders of Blackwater, Erik Prince, a crony of Bush. He is a big sponsor of and intimately related to that repressive group, The Family Research Council, known for wanting to disestablish public education, put prayer back in schools, and bigotry against gay people in regards to marriage. It was alleged (bottom of the wiki) by two Blackwater employees that:

Prince “views himself as a Christian crusader tasked with eliminating Muslims and the Islamic faith from the globe,” and that Prince’s companies “encouraged and rewarded the destruction of Iraqi life.”

But wait, there’s more! We also have the C-Street Christian mafia, an organization in which Congress are members of, and which seems to act as a kind of white washing facade for all sorts of corruption. Here you can hear more about this insidious organization from author Jeff Sharlet (be sure to check out his book, The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of
American Power
, a behind the scenes frightening look at what these power hungry self righteous tyrants are all about.

From American Atheist, we have a few tidbits of information.

Family leaders consider their political network to be Christ’s avant
garde, an elite that transcends not just conventional morality but
also earthly laws regulating lobbying. In the Family’s early days,
they debated registering as “a lobby for God’s Kingdom.” Instead,
founder Abraham Vereide decided that the group could be more
effective by working personally with politicians. “The more invisible
you can make your organization,” Vereide’s successor, current leader
Doug Coe preaches, “the more influence you can have.” That’s true —
which is why we have laws requiring lobbyists to identify themselves
as such.

Yes, super secret organizations wielding power behind the scenes. Because, you know, a healthy democracy just thrives on that stuff.

But David Coe, Doug Coe’s son and heir apparent, calls himself
simply a friend to men such as John Ensign, whom he guided through
the coverup of his affair. I met the younger Coe when I lived
for several weeks as a member of the Family. He’s a surprising
source of counsel, spiritual or otherwise. Attempting to explain
what it means to be chosen for leadership like King David was —
or Mark Sanford, according to his own estimate — he asked a young
man who’d put himself, body and soul, under the Family’s authority,
“Let’s say I hear you raped three little girls. What would I think
of you?” The man guessed that Coe would probably think that he was
a monster. “No,” answered Coe, “I wouldn’t.” Why? Because, as a
member of the Family, he’s among what Family leaders refer to as the
“new chosen.” If you’re chosen, the normal rules don’t apply.

So, if you are chosen by God, according to the Christian mafia, the normal rules of man do not apply. Well, of course, why didn’t I think of that earlier? If I get myself chose, I can do anything! Their self proclaimed role models are Hitler, Mao, and Stalin. A very powerful light needs to be shone on this group.

Yes, many people do not take their religion to this extreme. There are many moderates content to believe, go to church on various Sundays, and have a normal life. But, like a cancer, religious memes are not content to remain local and benign. Inherent in religious thinking are threats to a healthy democracy, and all humanity. Humanity, as a whole, needs to stop giving any religion a free pass and examine these beliefs critically. After all, even the moderates stand on the same foundation as those in Blackwater, the Christian mafia, and all the rest.

Thanks to Vjack at Atheist Revolution for the posting about this.

Disabling the Cain myth

August 20, 2009

There was a bit of stir in the blogsphere recently concerning a certain visit of freethinkers, scientists, and assorted godless heathens to a certain Creation “Museum”. The Creation Museum, located somewhere in Kentucky, of course stands out as a shining example, a tremendous monument to humanity’s ability to remain stubbornly and willfully ignorant, while still somehow retaining the ability to read. The event was sponsored by the Secular Student Alliance (Go here to get involved.) and was a resounding success, such as from the above links and here (with associated links), and elsewhere.

Other than that, I won’t say much about the visit as I was unfortunate enough not to go and much more about can be found elsewhere. I was sent a book from this Hall of Ignorance previously, which when I free up some time I hope to review a bit of here. A cursory glance reveals extremely poor and misrepresented science, lies, and ad hominem attacks against Charles Darwin. Wonderful. Now one of the items I saw when looking through the various blog reports concerning this Cargo Cult Museum was an entire panel explaining from where Cain picked up his wife. Given the absurd starting assumptions, the only possible answer is that his wife was his sister.

As luck would have it, I came across this very topic discussed at GodAndScience.org. Not surprisingly, the author supports Ken Ham’s (the creator, if you will, of the afore-mentioned Baffle ’em with BS Museum in Kentucky) proposition. For a site advertising itself as showing God through science, I was surprised at how little science there was in this particular post. The idea is that man (an creation) was formed to perfection. Therefore no genetic flaws. So there will not be the genetic problems of inbreeding right from the start. These imperfections started multiplying after the so-called fall. So, at the time, marrying your sister was fine. I had seen further arguments elsewhere that this is consistent with the longer lifespans in the earlier parts of the Bible, presumably believing that genetic mutations necessarily lead to shorter lifespans.

The problem is that this is not how science is done. You don’t start with a conclusion based on an old book you think is right, and throw around some sciency terms, like genetics, in an effort to arrive at some self consistency. You might as well analyze the science in Lord of the Rings. You may get some cool ideas and interesting consistencies, but it is still fiction.

Let’s start with the idea of perfection, which I guess means no genetic defects, whatever that means. A genetic characteristic is beneficial ultimately in the “eye of the environment”, so I’m not really sure what this perfection entails at a reasonable level of precision. Certainly there are some defects which turn out to be harmful, some neutral and a few of which happen to be advantageous for a particular environment. I presume the biblical justification is that Adam was made “in the image of God”, since I can’t find any Bible references to Adam being genetically perfect. So God has genes, and specifically none of which are defective? Has anyone done a genome sequence of God to discover by how much we differ from genetic perfection? Or is being made in the image something different? Perhaps spiritual awareness? Would this entail knowledge of good and evil? God supposedly knew good from evil, but humans had to eat magic fruit to obtain this? So, perhaps not a perfect image? How did the introduction of sin lead to genetic defects and how can you test this? So right away our first assumption leads to more questions for which no clear answers are available.

At one time I did hear arguments that the old age (some to past 900, including Adam) to which people lived in the pre-flood era were consistent with the idea that human started with “perfect” genes before the fall. It is not at all clear to me how a lack of genetic defects leads to lifespans on the order of those mentioned in the Old Testament. I’ve seen no scientific evidence to support this. Other interpretations hold that the numbers associated with the long ages held only symbolic meaning, so not all Christians buy into a literal long lifespan picture presented by the Bible. That the earliest humans had the longest lifespans also flies in the face of available evidence (also mentioned in the discussion at the bottom of the page here). Note that the average life span in the Neolithic age, that is 9500 B.C., close to 5000 years before Creationists say we had the first human, was about 20.

So, how could this be made somewhat scientific? First thing to do is forget the Bible. You want independent evidence that will corroborate it, not by starting off with the Bible as your conclusion. Where is the evidence that the earliest humans had far fewer genetic defects? What predictions does this model lead to? Should we see an increase in the number of genetic defects through human existence? Should we expect a continuous rise in defects (accounting for systematic error due to pollutants in our industrial age)? If you want to take the approach that the earliest humans were living over 500 years of age, apart from old mythological stories, where is the actual evidence? Bone analysis can tell us something about age and we haven’t seen anything like the claimed ages in the Bible.

We do have bones from some of the earliest humans from 195,000 years ago. We also have the skeleton of a 25-35 year old woman from France who died about 13,000 to 15,000 years ago, roughly 7000 years before death came into the world, according to Creationists.

Billboard theocracy

July 23, 2009
Suggested billboard

My own suggested billboard

From my home state of Florida, we have a call to arms for theocrats everywhere. A fellow by the name of Gregg Smith apparently want to bring our country back to God by invoking the fiction that this what the founding fathers intended. On his website, he writes:

“The Judeo-Christian foundation that the Founding Fathers established when America began is the reason that this country has prospered for 200-plus years,” said Kemple, president and sole employee of the local Community Issues Council, which paid for the Web site.

“The fact is, for the last 40 years, as anti-God activists have incrementally removed the recognition of God’s place in the establishment of our country, we have gone downhill.”

I’m sure he’ll be publishing some peer reviewed paper soon to provide support for the claimed cause and effect correlation. I wonder if in his paper, he will make note of the fact that the famous Treaty of Tripoli, unanimously approved by congress in 1797, states in Article 11, “As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion; as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquillity, of Mussulmen; and, as the said States never entered into any war, or act of hostility against any Mahometan nation, it is declared by the parties, that no pretext arising from religious opinions, shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.” (emphasis mine).

So, essentially, Gregg Smith is putting up billboards with quotes from the founding fathers to support his contention that their intent was a nation founded on Judeo-Christian principles (whatever that means). Never mind the fact that Jefferson was pleased with what he called the wall of separation between church and state. Never mind the fact that there is sufficient evidence to believe that Adams, Jefferson, Washington, Madison, and others were likely deists who strove to maintain no overlap between government and religion (remember, the no religious test specified in the Constitution?). In fact, in addition to ignoring history, Smith creates some of his own. On one billboard we have:

…carry the same message but with fictional attribution, as with one billboard citing George Washington for the quote, “It is impossible to rightly govern the world without God and the Bible.”

Washington never said this, but:

“I don’t believe there’s a document in Washington’s handwriting that has those words in that specific form,” Kemple said. “However, if you look at Washington’s quotes, including his farewell address, about the place of religion in the political sphere, there’s no question he could have said those exact words.”

So, they are reduced to making things up. Very nice indeed. Next I’ll just claim that Rockefeller meant to leave me all his assets; it is something he could have done.

But, you know, although we are fortuitous that the founding fathers had the astounding insight to separate the state from religion, to argue that this was the right thing to do because they were the founding fathers is fallacious. It is argument from authority. If the founding fathers did, for the sake of argument, establish a theocracy, with religious tests in the Constitution and so on, this would be as wrong now, as it would have been the wrong thing to do then. If that had been the case, we would need to change it. History shows that societies function better when religion is kept out of the apparatus of the state (see here.).

Hat tip to PZ Myers.

Science, religion, and accomodations

June 27, 2009

Right. Let’s see if I can get back on track blogging instead of letting those pesky little details like work and life get in the way. One needs a sense of priority after all.

So, lately, the buzz around the blogosphere has been about whether or not science and religion are compatible. The spark was apparently a new blog from Jerry Coyne. In one posting, referenced is Lawrence Krauss, who quoted Sam Harris arguing that reconciling modern science with Iron age convictions was “ridiculous”. Of course, PZ Myers had several observations on this discussion, the latest of which can be found here. Another salvo was fired from Sean Carroll at Cosmic Variance. Since this is a topic close to my interests, I would be remiss if I were not to throw in my 2 cents.

Are science and religion compatible? Well, if you want to define your religion as a belief in a supernatural being transcendent to the universe and who is undetectable and never interacts with anything in the universe, then sure, why not? I’m in a generous mood, and such a god and science really have nothing to say about each other. Completely useless as a religion, and in reality, this is not the type of entity most religions posit anyway. The big 3 Abrahamic faiths declare a supernatural entity who has (and in many cases continues to) interacted with the universe and humanity in particular. This means we can bring scientific methodology and logical reasoning to bear. In particular, the scriptural texts that are supposedly the best evidence for this god are full of scientific errors, misunderstandings, and contradictions. Metaphorizing stories away aside, we know there the world was not created in 6 days 6000 years ago. We were not made separate from the animals from dust. The evidence is clear that there was no global flood. The world is not supported on pillars. Historical and literary analysis shows it highly likely that Jesus never existed..

The claims about the state of the world reached via religious means have almost always been contradicted when careful scientific scrutiny has been applied. Indeed, claims about human nature reached via religious means stand in contrast to what we have learned through the painstaking rigor of science. Think about how the linkage between the physical construct of the brain and our personality stands in stark contrast to the idea of an invisible and immortal soul, for example. Each time, those who wish to hold on to religious faith must dance around the problems, squeeze their god into tinier gaps, and/or build elaborate baroque smoke, mirror metaphors to make it look like the religious stories don’t really conflict with reality, or try to dismantle science education by trying to get mythology taught as science. Now one of the ways these religions claim that a god interacts with the universe is via miracles. Making the sun stand still for a day. Resurrecting a corpse. Helping people getting better from various ailments by proper usage of various drugs under the care of a doctor. Oh wait, that latter was actually science and the hard work of doctors.

I have seen one argument made by a few of my fellow atheists (and I’m not sure where I read this) on the compatibility issue that I don’t think is quite correct. The argument is that the miracles did not happen, because they are incompatible with reality. Well, yes. That’s pretty much the point. A god above the laws of physics can do whatever he or she wants. That would count as pretty good evidence that such a being exists (assuming appropriate verification can be made, of course). The correct question is whether or not such events took place. It seems all the major miracles occurred long ago. The further back, the more miraculous. The scriptural stories including miracles have been handed down over the centuries copied down from sources which were second hand at best. We know how easily fooled our brains are, even first hand. Given the major problems inherent in the Bible, we simply have no reason to think that these stories are in any way reliable. We have no reliable evidence these events took place.

Now some do argue that science and religion are compatible in the sense that some scientists do hold religious beliefs. This does not mean that the religious beliefs they hold are compatible with scientific knowledge. As Sam Harris points in The End of Faith, our imperfect finite brains are perfectly capable of holding a contradictory set of beliefs. The scientific work is approached via honest and rigorous inquiry without mixing religion. Religious beliefs are dealt with by varying combinations of subjective feelings and authoritative dogma. As long as they are kept out of direct internal conflict, the cognitive dissonance is not recognized as such. Or the cognitive dissonance is skirted around by unjustifiable rationalizations for the religious views. Perhaps in some sense, the religious belief system is seen as a beautiful and fragile crystal. Too delicate for the full brunt of critical scientific and logical inquiry. However, long ago I and many others have seen that this beautiful crystal is nothing but cheap glass. It’s not doing anything useful and gets in the way of our understanding of how things work. Its beauty is simply an illusion that disappears on closer and honest scrutiny.

Dancing with the broom

June 6, 2009

Over at Evidence for God, one of those religious sites I check out once in a while, there is an intriguing article on human worth and what the Bible has to say about it. The sermonesque story begins on a cleaning person sweeping the floors of a laboratory and apologizing for getting in the way of “important” scientists, saying in effect that she was “dancing with the broom”. The author correctly points out as a society, we seem to place the lion’s share of importance on movie stars, athletes, politicians (and scientists too we hope!), and so on. The point is then made that in God’s eyes we are all equal and Jesus said that he himself came to serve. That the greatest is the least and least is the greatest and so on. That we should try to see our fellow humans in this light. This is similar to other interpretations about parables where Jesus tells his disciples that when they do things to others they do so to him. The relevant interpretation that I am thinking about is that we all have a Christ-like nature.

There is a tremendous amount wrong and even atrocious with most religions and Christianity specifically. However, there are a few gems that can be picked out of any religion, and with a little polishing, the idea of equality of human nature and helping others is one of them. It is a good moral instruction with which I believe most of us can agree. But here is a major difference. The writer of the afore-mentioned article writes:

The reason why we are to act without partiality is because God Himself does not show partiality towards individuals. So, the Christian is to serve others on the basis of the strength God supplies, so that all glory goes to Him. God values all human beings equally, since we are all created in His image. Even though we are created in the image of God, we have all strayed from His morally-perfect image, and so need a Savior to be declared Holy and acceptable to God by faith in Jesus Christ, in order to gain entrance into heaven. However, once we enter that state, our station in heaven will be based upon our record of service to others in this life. So, it seems likely that the famous people on earth might be the broom pushers in heaven, while the lowly are given the highest honors.

No, we do not need a God to justify acting towards others with impartiality. Why is it not enough to recognize each others basic humanity? To recognize our common shared heritage of several billion years of evolution and the shared progress of civilization. Why is it not sufficient to be self-aware enough to recognize our own imperfections and inabilities but to know our strengths and how they can be used to help others in this fantastic journey of humanity. To know that others too will also not be perfect but will have abilities that perhaps we lack? That each of us contributes to the human experience. Grow when we can, self correct, learn, move forward, ever onward. In the indifferent eyes of the cosmos, we are all the same and insignificant. We all stand humbled by the amazing (yet ever more comprehensible) complexity of life, power of shifting continents, power of the sun, and a cosmos stretching out billions of light years and containing billions of galaxies. In the face of all this and all there is yet to learn, what we have is each other. Each of us an amazing complex arrangement of star dust.

This I believe or not

April 13, 2009

Over at The Friendly Atheist, a probing question is pondered. What do atheists believe in?. This is a question I’ve also heard from time to time, so I thought I’d see if I could do anything with it. The Friendly Atheist states:

It’s really just a bad question. Just because we don’t believe in a God doesn’t mean we don’t believe in anything. And just because someone says they do believe in God doesn’t mean we know anything else about them.

I’ve said here before that, of an by itself, atheism is not necessarily for anything. It is simply lacking a belief in a supernatural being that is possibly desirous of our worship, Often, for many of us, the path to atheism is a journey which sharpens ones toolkit towards answering questions and facing the complexities of life and the universe as it is. But really, for those atheists who have considered what their atheism is, a short and correct answer is that we believe in a likely vanishing probability for the existence of any god or gods, for some suitable definition of a god which probably includes such things as supernatural transcendence, or some such.

Beyond that is beyond the scope of bare bones atheism, but many of us do go beyond anyway. Obviously I can not speak for everyone, but I believe in the power of a human mind to collaborate with other human minds to examine the evidence to ascertain how the universe works. I believe collaboration is necessary because, as Richard Feynman noted, the easiest person to fool is yourself (What looks to be an interesting but speculative book that touches on this topic is Why We Lie by David Livingstone Smith. Something on my to buy list.). I believe in the freedom to question assumptions to see if they survive the fire of critical grilling. I believe that working together as a society, there are many problems we can solve, and there is much we will continue to learn and accomplish (We have the evidence to back this up). I believe that part of the toolkit that enables us to have such a society is human compassion and doing unto others as we would have done to us. Further, I believe that no religious structure or belief system in the supernatural is necessary for us to perceive this. It is part of who we are.

Celebrating the resurrection

April 12, 2009

It is that time of season again. The time that we celebrate the coming of spring and how death was conquered through the mythical death, burial and miraculous resurrection of Osiris. When we stop to ponder the mystery of the Holy Trinity of Osiris, Isis, and Horus.

Well, now there was a more recent usurper of this ancient and venerate religion. That of Christianity. This religion also boasts a killed and resurrected God, as incarnated in one Jesus, with yet another trinity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. I’m oft told that Christianity is unique because God loved as so much that he incarnated as a human and sacrificed himself to save us from the universal rules of punishment for sin that he set up (well, not in those exact words). I don’t really see the sense of this, but it seems that the idea of dying and resurrected gods is not so unique. In fact, humanity in the Mideast seems to have been plagued with dying and resurrecting gods. From where did this idea arise?

To start, we see that the earliest religions had gods which seemed to represent different aspects of nature. For example, the sun, moon, weather, and so on. The sun rises and sets to rise again the next day. The moon changes phases disappears during the new moon and resurrects a couple of days later. Crops are harvested and vegetation dies every winter to be resurrected in the spring. It seems natural that gods would acquire the characteristics of the natural elements they represented, along with the human characteristics of the people creating them. In fact, I found a fairly decent discussion of this here. In this essay, an observation is made that many of the mystic numbers (3, 7, 12, etc.) common to many of the Mideastern religions (also found to be special in the Bible) arise out of simple astronomical observations. Observations critical to knowing when to plan and harvest crops, for example. How these observations made their way into the various myths of that region is given fairly plausible explanations.

From the link:

Here then, are the core ingredients for all future religious theology and mythology. They are all in one place, in the minds of one group, at one particular time in history. This place and time is the area of the world’s first civilisation, Sumer in Mesopotamia pre 3500 BCE.

With my fellow Sumerians I take these core religious ingredients and make up stories for them, creating characters to represent the objects and the elements as Gods. We also create characters for most of the natural things we do not quite understand which results in a plethora of demi-gods. We give form and names to the groups of stars in the sky and relate these images to the demi-gods we have created. The stories we create are parables and allegories; they all contain constant references to the magical numbers, particularly 7 and 12 representing the 7 heavenly bodies and the 12 Moon phases per year. 3 and 4 also feature heavily in the stories either as themselves or as multiples of themselves; 3 being the two extremities and the mid point in the experiment with the steaks …

The stakes (misspelled as steaks) refer to possibly used posts to align with the extreme and mid-positions of the sun as we pass through the seasons. The number 4 is the number of the seasons, which may be its special significance.

One of the earliest gods was Tammuz, a Sumerian deity, later incorporated into the Greek Adonis. He was a god associated with agriculture, vegetation, and fertility. He was killed when vegetation died and then resurrected when it came back.

Another god to arise in the Mideast out of these various patterns was Mithra (Mithras for the Roman incarnation). His birthday was December 25th, and according to some stories he died, and rose 3 days later. He also had a Eucharist, or “Lord’s Supper”. This was before the Jesus stories. More information can be found here, although there does appear to be some controversy on some of the parallel aspects of the Mithras myth. It does seem indeed that the specific relationship between Mithraism and Christianity may not be so clear cut. I would be interested to see if anybody else has more specifics on this.

The Greek Dionysus (and here) was yet another dying and resurrecting god, associated with wine, the earth, and vegetation. It is interesting to note that Dionysus was a child of Zeus and a mortal woman (Presumably a virgin. For more virgin births see here).

Of course, the most famous example is the Egyptian trinity of Horus, Isis and Osiris (Be careful. The font is horrible and you may want sunglasses.) This was another agricultural god. The I-kher-nefert stele describes the Passion of Osiris. It is interesting to note here the distributing of the body of Osiris which was eventually eaten in a Eucharist. The Egyptians took the story a bit further and associated a shared immortality with the god. They were quite concerned with an afterlife. From the first Osiris link:

According to Egyptian scriptures, “As truly as Osiris lives, so truly shall his follower live; as truly as Osiris is not dead he shall die no more; as truly as Osiris is not annihilated he shall not be annihilated.” Believers were “in Osiris,” the equivalent of being “in Christ.”

Be sure to check out all these myths and more as they are pretty fascinating in how they originated and developed.

Of course, as many Christian apologists will take care to explain, there are also some differences between the individual myths and the Christian story. But, the important fact is that all the elements were there. We humans are quite good and adopting and developing stories. Evolving them to meet the needs of the audience. There is simply nothing in Christianity that can not conceivably be easily extrapolated from what has gone before. At Pagan Library, an argument is made that all these patterns were there so that people would be receptive to the gospel. As one Christian correspondent told me, “Eternity is written into the hearts”. But the patterns motivating the myths were based on natural cycles, governed by Newtonian mechanics (gravitation, rigid body motion, etc.). The motion of the sun and moon. The tilt of the earth that results in seasons that give the appearance of the death and resurrection of vegetation, of life (the ultimate wish). These patterns have purely natural explanations and require nothing else. The explanation that these were purposeful foreshadowings of some sort adds no explanatory power and raises far more questions than it answers.

Another difference often stated is that in contrast to all these myths, Christianity is based on an actual historical person, somebody who actually lived among historical people, got crucified and rose again. We’ll pass by the easy argument that, in fact, all accounts of this person were written years after the alleged events and not by any eyewitnesses. There is a more fundamental argument. There is strong evidence that Jesus not only may not have existed as a historical person, but that the earliest Christians may not have viewed him as historical. An essay at Ebon Musings eloquently discusses this in some detail. Another essay by Earl Doherty fills in much extra detail which supports this. As an example, a smoking gun verse is Hebrews 8.4

8:3 For every high priest is ordained to offer gifts and sacrifices: wherefore it is of necessity that this man have somewhat also to offer.
8:4 For if he were on earth, he should not be a priest, seeing that there are priests that offer gifts according to the law:
8:5 Who serve unto the example and shadow of heavenly things, as Moses was admonished of God when he was about to make the tabernacle: for, See, saith he, that thou make all things according to the pattern shewed to thee in the mount.

The “he were earth” reference refers to Jesus. In fact, the original Greek is a perfect tense saying “if he had been on earth”. The clear implication is that the writer of Hebrews did not think of Jesus as a historical person. He is seen as a heavenly being in a mystical Platonic realm. The idea of earthly things being imperfect reflections of heavenly things was a prevalent idea and the Hellenizing influence common in the Mediterranean made Platonic ideas quite popular among the gnostic sects and mystery cults. We see that in 8.5, where the earthly sacrifices are seen as the imperfect shadows of the heavenly sacrifice performed by Jesus.

What we have is the development of a story, springing out of the existing myths of the time, dressed up for a contemporary audience using popular contemporary ideas. Nothing surprising here. It was simply a resurrection of the resurrection myth.