'Peace Of Mind'
Is A Delusion
Tom Bratcher

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From: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
To: "Tom Bratcher"
Subject: Re: hello
Date: Saturday, July 28, 2001 8:03 AM

Your writing is somewhat difficult to understand. Perhaps you could distill the gist of what you have to say by recasting your question.
 

Why do I have such a hard time believing you?
 

I'm not sure I understand what spiritual means.
 

If this means what I think it does, yes: I'd like to have been able to talk with Paine myself. In fact, if I could talk with someone from history, but was allowed to pick only one person, Paine would be the one, for sure.
 

So, let me get this straight: I must already believe in order to be given the means or the justification to believe?
 

Let me get this straight: You wanted to be as open-minded as possible on the very question of God's existence -- to start off with as clean a slate as possible to give you the highest likelihood of finding the truth of the matter -- so you asked God to help you decide whether or not God exists? Does this not already prejudice your research in favor of concluding that a God exists?

How is this any more reliable than asking the Republican Party if a certain Democratic Party candidate is on the up and square?
 

How do you know that the enemy does not consist of those forces of darkness who continue to hunt me down in their attempts to convince me of the truthfulness of the Christian religion?

How do you know that the Christian religion has not deluded you into a life of meaninglessness by tricking you into giving your sense of self-worth over to an ancient fable?
 

Similarly, many who defend a proposition for which there is no defense will resort to exclaiming that this or that person simply did not practice the creed properly. Such people would never admit to the system itself being flawed. When this happens, there is no way to test the system itself. Any flaw will be cited as an example of someone not working the system properly.

This error is most apparent in the Twelve Step program. If somebody does not stay clean and sober, they tell us that this person simply did not work the Steps properly. There is no room for the program itself to be wrong.
 

Your little analogy, typical of all the Christian analogies I've ever heard, breaks down when we try to work it through as one would do with any analogy. This one presupposes that the father-figure is still alive. If we had evidence that the father was trying to contact the child, such as court proceedings seeking to open up the adoption records, invoices from private investigators who tried to find the kid, even registration with the natural parent search agencies, then we could conclude that a father seeks to contact a child. In my (real life) case, there are no records to indicate that any biological father seeks to find me. So I must conclude that he either has died or does not care or respects the original agreement of the adoption, which called for privacy and a new life for both of us. Metaphorically, no God has chosen to make Himself known to me (despite diligent searching on my part), so I can safely assume one of the following: (a) He does not exist (atheism); (b) He does not care (some forms of Deism); or (c) any divine plan that may exist precludes the type of "fellowship" that Christians describe (some forms of Deism).
 

That is a pretty good way to describe the experience one undergoes while attending one of Rev. Sun Myung Moon's weekend retreats. It's a grand way to describe what happens if you chant the Hare Krsna mantra all day, every day for a few weeks. It's precisely what happens when one abandons their own autonomy and submits to the dogma of the Christian religion. The only question, really, is whether this "renewing of your mind" is a good thing. I think this is not a good thing at all, that the default state of humanity is much more desirable.
 

Paraphrasing is convenient. Is this why you tale a passage describing the process leading up to salvation and apply it to your situation after salvation?
 

You enclose the word reasonable in quotation marks. Does this mean that you intend to convey a sense of irony, rather than the commonly accepted use of that word (as indicated by your use of the quotation marks)?
 

I still have trouble with who and whom myself, so when in doubt I simply recast the sentence to avoid these words altogether.

Cliff Walker
"Positive Atheism" Magazine
Five years of service to
     people with no reason to believe

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Added: July 28, 2001

[Redundantly quoted material removed.]
 

[Redundantly quoted material removed.]
 
 

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From: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
To: "Tom Bratcher"
Subject: Re: hello
Date: Saturday, July 28, 2001 11:06 PM

[Please pull only those comments from my response that you wish to comment on. If you cannot honor this simple courtesy which is common to almost all forums,
http://www.positiveatheism.org/mail/emlabout.htm
I will duck out of the conversation. If you simply insert comments into a copy of my complete letter, here and there at your convenience, this makes for boring reading unless I do some fancy editing. And if I do any editing, I expose myself to the charge of having altered your words.]
 

Then, how can you speak of dimensions of which you are not aware? In other words, if you were to tell me of these dimensions, how could I independently verify your claims? How would I distinguish you from any number of "seers" that you and I would both agree are what some call "false prophets"?
 

I realize you're trying to be funny, but this is called Equivocation, using two different meaning of the same synonym in the same sentence.
 

You're splitting hairs. Actually, you get the trophy, because this is the first time anybody's ever pulled the inverse of an Equivocation on me.

Still, what you're saying is that I must already have faith in order to have faith. I must already think there's a god in order to find out if there's a god. I cannot investigate this question with an open mind -- a clean slate -- I must approach this question prejudiced in favor of the answer being "Yes, a god exists."

This is the opposite of how I typically go about verifying (or refuting) the various claims that people present to me. The God Question is the only question that requires me to go against that method which has proven to be the most efficient and effective technique for distinguishing true statements from falsehood.
 

I'm still not sure I understand what spiritual means.

Cliff Walker
"Positive Atheism" Magazine
Five years of service to
     people with no reason to believe

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Added: July 29, 2001

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From: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
To: "Tom Bratcher"
Subject: Re: hello
Date: Sunday, July 29, 2001 5:50 PM
 

Again: How can I independently verify something that we're not even aware of?
 

Spiritual? Spirit? Soul? I don't get it. Is it something we can detect, that we can independently verify? or must we go ahead and take it on "faith" in spite of what our senses and instruments tell us?

Cliff Walker
"Positive Atheism" Magazine
Five years of service to
     people with no reason to believe

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Added: August 6, 2001

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From: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
To: "Tom Bratcher"
Subject: Re: hello
Date: August 06, 2001 7:43 PM

I'd be interested in knowing which passages are alleged to teach about extra dimensions, and exactly what they teach about extra dimensions. This would include the historical interpretations of these verses given throughout history -- assuming that God would not deceive His children by discussing matters that will remain hidden until the twentieth century and allowing them to think He was talking about something else. In other words, are these passages so clearly describing extra-dimensions that someone with no background in twentieth-century scientific thinking could conclude that the passage is discussing extra dimensions?

I'd also like to know which extra dimensions research you are linking to the Bible passages and what that research does say as well as what it falls short of saying (where the researchers draw the line between reasonable but unprovable speculation and firmly established fact). This is because I want an analysis of how solid is the ground on which rests the extra dimensions research you are linking to the biblical verses. As I mentioned, some modern scientific thinking is very speculative and is admittedly on very shaky ground -- that is, the scientists who are making these speculations openly admit that they are speculating when they talk like this.
 

Some knowledge is shown to be "hard-wired" in through genetics. Certain birds that have never been in the wild will duck when the silhouette of a predatory bird is projected onto a planetarium screen. Certain other birds that have never been in the wild appear to know the locations of stars and can orient themselves based on a planetarium projection.
 

This is a common ruse to which I must reply, if a subject is beyond my ability to fathom it, then how can I be held accountable for knowing it? In other words, why would I need to know what is going on "beyond" or "before" the Big Bang if it does not affect me enough to be able to even understand it?

In other words, why would God make Himself available only to those scientists who are working on very speculative projects during the twentieth century?

Cliff Walker
"Positive Atheism" Magazine
Five years of service to
     people with no reason to believe

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Added: August 12, 2001

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From: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
To: "Tom Bratcher"
Subject: Re: self-help
Date: August 08, 2001 9:03 AM

Having read the Bible cover-to-cover twelve times, I am very familiar with what it says. In fact, I scored 45 out of 50 on the Freedom From Religion Foundation's new Bible Quiz, "What Do You Really Know about the Bible?" In fact, they got the first one, "What is the Tenth Commandment?" from the Which Ten Commandments? flyer on our website. I should have known at least three more, but I just wasn't thinking and had half a mind just to go ahead and look up the answers because I knew most of them.

So, since I am so familiar with what it says, I can, in all confidence, assure you that it is not the statement of a supernatural being. Were it from a perfect being, one could expect it to be as universal as the Law of Gravity and as precise as a multiplication table or a calculus equation. It is neither. I do not spend much time or space on Positive Atheism dealing with biblical errancy, but I have covered this subject extensively in my own studies. I ignore biblical errancy because it takes only one error and the notion of inerrancy crumbles to dust. For this, I satisfy myself with an early work of mine called "The Fig Tree Enigma." A shortened summary of the Fig Tree Enigma lives on our "National Bible Week" poster, and is summarized in our new "Big List of Scary Bible Quotations" (which is not all that big yet, because I started working on it only recently and commenting on the Bible not a high priority with me).

I have spent some time on a few biblical issues. First, I documented several problems with the Genesis creation accounts (plural because there is more than one).

Later, while answering a challenge to find discrepancies in the Bible, I decided to make my case rock solid by listing how the various translations handle these mathematical problems I'd chosen to showcase. (For some reason he wouldn't allow me to talk about "geographical or historical" problems, but in retrospect I think he just didn't know how to write. But at the time, I chose to discuss several mathematical problems that I had recently read about.) During my research for this piece, I discovered that the New International Version actually covers up many of the well-known and "classic" Bible problems. The NIV "translation" team simply translates these problems out of existence -- as if the manuscripts say something different!

After that, Kameron Shultz asked about Gospel contradictions, and I overviewed the problems with the construction of the Gospels, showcasing a few of the specific examples. Then I explained why I do not spend much time with lists of Bible contradictions. Finally, Matthew Rupert asked about misapplication of Scripture, and I showed him several examples of how the New Testament writers misapplied Hebrew Scripture, proving that the practice of taking Bible verses out of context is as old as the Apostles themselves!

Most recently, a dialogue with Troy Dyck, he stated that the Ten Commandments are representative of human morality, and I went over each Commandment and show this not to be the case. Afterwords, I developed a Bible Quiz. Let's see if you can answer mine, if you don't want to do the one from FFRF!

So, it's not that I don't know the Bible -- the problem is that I do know the Bible. I don't trust it as an authoritative source of information, and I do not think the morals it teaches are anything that I'd encourage any children to emulate. I think humankind can do much better than what the Bible has to offer.

As for faith, show me that a god exists and I won't need faith -- I'll know.

Cliff Walker
"Positive Atheism" Magazine
Five years of service to
    people with no reason to believe

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From: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
To: "Tom Bratcher"
Subject: Re: hello
Date: August 12, 2001 7:08 AM

True. Your linking these passages to extra-dimensional research is conjecture on your part, as is evidenced by the arbitrary nature of the passages you chose as your example. I could write that the line from the Tom Waits song that goes "The sky cracked open / And the thunder groaned" refers to extra-dimensional research (because how else could the sky be said to have "cracked open"?) and it would be no less valid than what you have said here. It is a simple matter to take obscure poetry from any era and try to link it to some of the more esoteric speculation coming out of the softer ends of certain universities. Some have gone so far as to take every nth letter of an x by y grid composed of the consonants taken from books of the Bible transcribed from ancient languages -- not unlike a word search puzzle like you'd find in the newspaper except the grid is in an ancient tongue and the words you find are in a modern tongue -- and try to find hidden messages there. (What kind of god would make you go through all that just to receive a message from Him?) Skeptics have "found" similar "messages" in similarly processed works currently on the New York Times bestseller list.

All of this proves the same thing: Nothing.

What? Doesn't the Gospel stand on its own merits, that it needs all this weird stuff to validate it before you'll believe it? Or is regular theology just too boring for you, that only this magical mystical hocus pocus can grab your attention? In either case, I'd suggest you're pursuing the wrong religion if you need any of this kind of stuff to keep you interested or to validate it. I cannot distinguish what you're doing here from the Nostradamus craze or Hal Lindsay's Late Great Planet Earth or the daily horoscope in the newspaper. I mean, I don't care what you do, but please don't think I'll ever respect you for going along with this stuff. In 1848, twelve-year-old Kate Fox and her fifteen-year-old sister Margaret became instant celebrities by claiming that they could communicate with the spirit of a peddler who had been murdered in their house years before. They communicated through encoded "rapping" sound that witnesses could hear very clearly. By 1950 they had been exhibited by P. T. Barnum, amidst his bearded lady and Tom Thumb. By 1853, only five years later, some forty thousand spiritualists were in business in New York City alone, with thousands reported in other cities. Years later, the Fox sisters confessed that they had perpetrated a hoax from the start: the "rapping" sounds were simply the sisters cracking their toe-joints! Nevertheless, spiritualism is still a very lucrative business all over the world. One could even make a case that the Bible predicted this phenomenon in the passage where Saul hoodwinks the "witch" of Endor to dig up the "soul" of Samuel (never mind that the "witch" in the story isn't clairvoyant enough to figure out that this is Saul in disguise!).
 

Hugh Ross is a preacher, not a scientist. Based on some of the other things Ross has come up with in his power grabs before the nation's school boards, it makes sense to see him trying to link the Bible to extra-dimensions research.

Why don't you start getting your science education from scientists? This would greatly reduce the prospects of you getting hoodwinked by the likes of Hugh Ross.

I have no problem with you or anybody else wanting to be religious. But when you start telling people that science says something -- and that's not what science says -- then you not only discredit your own religion but you do a great disservice to those younger, more impressionable people who might just believe what you say because they haven't yet learned that Christians and especially preachers are not above lying if that's what it takes to convince someone to believe in Christ.

Cliff Walker
Positive Atheism Magazine
Six years of service to
    people with no reason to believe

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Added: September 1, 2001

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From: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
To: "Tom Bratcher"
Subject: Re: Addendum to last letter (Re:Self-help)
Date: September 01, 2001 11:48 AM

How many questions did you get right? I got 45 out of 50 and would have gotten 48 had I been paying attention. Only two questions stumped me. I dare most pastors to do that well. In fact, it was I who recently popularized the answer to the first question, that the Tenth Commandment prohibits us from seething a kid in its mother's milk. I wonder why they always want to post the Decalogue which Moses allegedly destroyed on classroom walls, and are so fond of ignoring its replacement, which is described in Exodus 35 and is the only list which the Bible calls the Commandments?
 

and

and

and

and

Yeah, some so-called Christians (but never real ones) in a city with seven hills -- they're always the culprits! There's nothing wrong with the core values of the religion itself, it's all in the way that certain people practice the religion (or fail to practice it, as the case may be). I see. Same as with the Twelve Steps: if you don't stay sober it's because you didn't work the Steps -- as if the Steps have anything to do at all with staying sober! They only mention alcohol once, and that is to announce that we are powerless to stop drinking it!

If the Christian religion is not fundamentally flawed, then why can so much evil be justified through its Scripture. And if it's all Roman Catholicism's fault, then why were the Reformationists just as gleeful about lighting my forebears on fire as were their Roman Catholic colleagues -- to the point where John Calvin even cooperated with the Catholics in the burning of Michael Servetus? And why did Calvin place Servetus upwind of the flame, to give him that much more time to repent?

Do you see what we're dealing with? This is what monotheism, with its twin evils of special grace and infallibility, do to people! it turns people into monsters!

Your little trick of pointing to Scripture to contradict my Scripture shows only that Christian Scripture is so varied and inconsistent that you can pick just about any act conceivable and justify it with Scripture. Then you can turn right around and find a different passage which forbids the very act you just got through justifying! I am amazed that Freedom From Religion was able to come up with 50 questions that each have only one correct answer! I'm not sure I could have done that if presented with the challenge!

I'd like to see you try to answer my five questions by finding out which statement attributed to Jesus was used for several centuries to show that burning my philosophical forebears at the stake is the express will of Christ! I'll give you a hint: it's in the Gospel of John -- the one that they publish into booklet form and hand out to children and teenagers. I'll give you another hint: the passage talks specifically about men doing the burning. A third hint, you ask? here goes: the "crime" for which we were burned was because we did not hold the correct religious beliefs -- specifically, for not believing in Jesus, the new God which our fathers did not worship.

Can you imagine?

What did Jesus allegedly say that would prompt his followers to light their fellow humans on fire just for having the wrong religious beliefs? And if he had foreknowledge and could tell in advance that millions of atheists and witches and the like would die this horrible death just because of one sentence that he uttered, then why did he still utter the sentence? Why did he not clarify himself so that there could have been no mistaking what he said?

And what did Peter and Paul allegedly say that would prompt a mob of cloistered Christian monks to fall upon a brilliant woman and hack her to death with oyster shells? What did they say that would make these men think that killing her with such brutality was in express obedience to a commandment of God?
 

I call Hugh Ross a preacher because his agenda is to make science fit the Bible, rather than using science as a tool to determine what is environment (including the Bible) is and is not. I refrain from calling him a scientist because scientific method specifically addresses humankind's fallibility by pronouncing that no piece of information is above scrutiny, whereas Hugh Ross pretends to have infallible information in the form of a Bible. Thus, if his Bible is infallible, he must force everything he observes to fit into the mold of what the Bible says, rather than what a real scientist would do: test even the Bible using the tools of science just as she or he would test anything else. Because he has been so dishonest in this respect, I cannot call him a scientist. Because he has been so dishonest in this respect, I must call him a preacher. You will never find the truth by assuming that you already have it.
 

You know what? Have a nice life. As far as I can tell, it's the only one we get. I will live mine trying to treat others as if this is their only chance to exist, as if life is like a bird flying out of the winter chill through an open window in a hall and then passing back out again through a window on the other end. Compared to the rest of time, the chances of "now" being during my life-span is like tossing a penny out the car window onto Highway 30 (Maine to Oregon) and it landing on a specific ant walking along the highway. That's how brief my life will be: a penny compared to the United States. What can I do to make my fellow humans' all-too-brief journey that much less painful?

A few people have tried to relieve me of the inordinate amount of pain that I suffer compared to most. The people who raised me, for one, and several friends since then, most recently Bobbi, who has made my life almost livable at times. I certainly couldn't do this work if she weren't helping me out with some of the other things that have to do with living.

But for the most part, most of the people I've encountered wish only to exploit me -- and not even for personal gain but to try to convince me to give assent or lip service to an idea that is not even their idea! an idea which not only cannot be shown to be true but is demonstrably false! and not just benignly false, but parasitically and diabolically and destructively wicked! I just don't get it! Why do so many people wish for me to spend my only chance to live believing and teaching a lie? Why? What good does this do for them, for me, or for anybody?

Cliff Walker
Positive Atheism Magazine
Six years of service to
     people with no reason to believe

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September 5, 2001

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From: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
To: "Tom Bratcher"
Subject: Re: Addendum to last letter (Re:Self-help)
Date: September 05, 2001 3:57 AM

I contend that monotheism turns people into monsters who would not have otherwise been such. Monotheism promotes a tribal totem loyalism, and this loyalism has the power to "immunize people against all appeals to pity, to forgiveness, to decent human feelings" as Richard Dawkins so aptly described the situation.

I contend that it is the religion itself that does this. Even Communism used the elements of religion that I am speaking about, turning atheism itself into a religious dogma around which they rallied to obtain the loyalty of the people. Rather than atheism being the simple absence of religious faith, the Communists turned it into a positive belief: "There are no gods."

PAM is trying to restore the original definition of atheism to popularity by saying that atheism is the simple absence of religious faith. Atheism, in this sense, stops being anything special -- it stops being something around which it is even possible to rally and become loyal. Atheism, in this sense, is simply the default human state before religious faith has had a chance to do her work on her victims.

PAM further protects atheism from being a rallying point for loyalism by insisting that all religious people have (or think they have) valid reasons for believing the way they do. This forces us to consider what it would be like to have grown up and never challenged the faith of our fathers. This forces us to consider what it would be like not to have had the luxury of examining what we thus far have taken for granted because that's what we learned on our Mama's knee. This forces us to consider what it would be like for one's relationship with kin to be more important than truth itself. Of all the unique spins on atheism that we have, this is certainly the most controversial among atheists. It is also probably our most attractive feature among the new breed of atheists that is fast replacing the old school of spiteful, vindictive atheism popularized by Madalyn Murray O'Hair and even, to a small extent, Robert Ingersoll.
 

I realize this, and realized it when I wrote my response, but I still maintain it is a trick even if you were not personally aware that the habits you've learned from studying Christian apologetics are very wiley.

Nevertheless, my point still stands: you can use Scripture to justify just about any position. This only shows that Christian are still using their own human reason to make decisions and to come up with answers -- even if they themselves think they are getting it from Scripture!
 

John 15:6 was used for centuries to justify burning my forebears at the stake. It reads:

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If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned.

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This passage was seen as a direct commandment from Christ. It specifically says that "men" gather them, so cannot refer to the angels casting us into Hell fire. Also, the prohibition from Hebrew Scripture against spilling blood combined with this passage justified burning people, as this mode of death prevented blood from being spilled. All of the Christian tortures were specially designed to avoid the spilling of blood.
 

Had there been any mention of burning here, I might be swayed toward believing that Jesus had clairvoyant powers. However, all the methods described here were current for the day, failing to show that whoever wrote this had knowledge for ideas beyond what was available to anybody who lived during those times.
 

This refers to both Apostles' prohibition against a woman teaching a man. Hypatia was a brilliant scientist on the order of a Newton or a Darwin. Because she taught science in the Library of Alexandria and because many of her students were men, a mob of Christian monks hacked her to death with oyster shells. The Christian leadership at the time justified the act because Hypatia was teaching science to men.
 

I thank you for your concerns and your kind sentiments, but the myth of the religion, however noble, cannot salve the wounds that the religion itself has inflicted both upon me as an individual and upon the culture into which I was born.

Religion's goal is to dominate a large fraction of any culture. To accomplish this goal, religion creates gods and heroes that will attract the attention and the admiration of the people. When the Christian followers of Paul invented Jesus of Nazareth, they put into his mouth the greatest wisdom of the day -- and for good reason. The followers of Mohammed (if Mohammed even existed) did the same thing for Allah and His Prophet. Naturally, if you have set out to invent a god, you do well to attribute to Him the best and loftiest sentiments you can imagine.

These glowing words are used when representing the enticements of the religion to the public as a benign attractive persona. Because this is a classic bait-and-switch head game, the target, once inside the group, is told that only the group has truth and nothing outside of the group is good. The classic words of Thomas à Kempis reflect this strategy: "Trust not to friends and kindred, neither do thou put off the care of thy soul's welfare til hereafter; for men will sooner forget thee than thou art aware of" (The Imitation of Christ).

Then the words originally used to entice the mark into the group begin to show their true meaning to the group members. The word love, which has a specific meaning outside the group, comes to mean "obedience" in the group. Other words "killed off" in this manner include life, death, truth, joy, peace, and wisdom. Thus, when a Christian talks of "truth" (usually capitalized "Truth"), we observers think of one thing but the Christian means something entirely different.

This exclusive use of language makes it easier for the mark to accept on faith what even his own senses cannot verify, which promotes the mark to distrust even his own senses. Thus, "Lean not unto thine own understanding" becomes a central motto of the Christian. This religion frowns on all emotions except guilt, encouraged as a means of mind control, along with a trivialized "peace" and an indecisive "joy" -- which, as I stated above, means something entirely different from what it does to the uninitiated human whose emotions have remained unscathed by Christian indoctrination. These emotions must be contrived because they do not arise naturally, spontaneously, as they would out of normal human experience. Natural human emotions such as anger become sin, to be suppressed or redefined at all costs because the "natural man" is to be suppressed in place of the "new creation" in Christ.

At this point, bridges are burned in a last-ditch attempt to prevent the mind from returning to its normal state and to keep the mark loyal by complete dependence on the group for all emotional needs. The "real world," perceived solely in terms of the Christian world view, becomes foreign. As psychologist Edmund D. Cohen said, "The content of the teaching, as well as the form of social relations, is set up so as to dig a psychological moat around the believers."

Well "inside" the group, the mark is pummeled into submission through the fear of what awaits those who fail to subjugate their humanity to the will of the leadership. Of course, this "will" is naturally cloaked as the will of the Christian godhead, as expressed in the Bible. But as I suggested above, this "will" could turn out to be just about anything the leadership wants it to be, because, as I have shown earlier, the Bible can be made to take both sides of just about any issue you could imagine. (I've even seen the Bible made to forbid the ingestion of LSD, which was not until the late 1930s, and not discovered until April 19, 1943!)
 

Edmund D. Cohen, quoted above, is the author of the book, The Mind of the Bible Believer. When I left the Church, three books influenced me more than any others. The first was White's History of the Warfare of Science and Theology in Christendom, which showed me what happened to me when, while still in the Church, I studied Church history. The shock came from the Christian apologists' inability to hide the hideous results of taking on Christian dogma as public policy and as a philosophy of life.

The second book was actually a trilogy by Hyam Maccoby, two of which I have read and now own, and the third of which I have never seen (because it was never published?). Maccoby's Revolution in Judaea introduced me to the concept of the historical Jesus, divorced from the mythical Jesus of the Gospels. Cohen suggests a Jesus who was a devout Pharisee -- of the noble Pharisees of history rather than the straw-man "Pharisees" so viciously misrepresented by the New Testament -- as well as a loyal Jewish nationalist seeking to free his country from the Roman occupation and thinking that he was the man who had been ordained by God to accomplish this task.

Maccoby's other book, The Mythmaker: Paul and the Invention of Christianity, was actually the first of the two to catch my eye. I had specialized in the writings of Paul, having realized early on that Paul was the interpreter of Christ as we know him today. In my attempts to remain loyal to my faith, I suppressed several glaring discrepancies that I distinctly noticed during my studies. Just seeing the subtitle, "Paul and the Invention of Christianity," on the library shelf, hit me like a flood because this was the logical conclusion of what I had initially seen: Paul as interpreter of Christ, became Paul the inventor of Christ now that it had become clear to me that Christ was not all that he'd been cracked up to be -- not by my experience, anyway!

In Revolution in Judaea, Jewish scholar Maccoby shows the many discrepancies in the Gospels that draw the immediate attention of anybody versed in Jewish history and the Jewish religion. Already mentioned was the discrepancy between how the Pharisees are described in the Gospels versus what we know about them from other sources, such as the works of Josephus as well as their own writings. Many passages where Jesus allegedly rails against "the Pharisees" are criticisms of teachings and practices rightly leveled against other sects. At one point, Jesus is made to attack the Pharisees, but the words placed into his mouth are classic Pharisee arguments against the Sadducees!

Of the discrepancies that Maccoby brings to his readers' attention, the idea that Jews would encourage and laud the crucifixion of any Jew is the biggest of all. Thus, when the Jews are said to have cried for the release of Barabbas (meaning, "the son of the Father"), they were probably crying for the release of Jesus himself! this tale having been twisted around in later times for the purpose of hurling contempt against the Jews before an essentially Roman readership. Careful comparison of the Gospel stories reveals that hardly any good is spoken of the Jewish characters, and never is a Roman character portrayed in an unsavory light -- even when the story casts them in a bad way. Even Pilate is shown to have no small ray of faith in Christ while in the very act of having him put to death! Thus, the two villains, Barabbas and Judas, were most likely inventions designed to vilify the Jewish people in this seminal work of anti-Semitism. This was crucial for the furthering of the idea that God had withdrawn His grace from the Jews and given it, instead, to the Jews' enemies, the Gentiles.

While Revolution in Judaea shows Jesus to have most likely been a loyal Pharisee, The Mythmaker makes a compelling case that Paul's alleged claim to have been a Pharisee to be false. (This claim occurs only in Philippians, which is probably a forgery.) Examining the places in Paul's writings where he pretends to be scholarly, particularly Romans 7:1-6, Maccoby shows, instead, the very absence of that precision of thinking which marks Pharisaic training. Maccoby then examines the extant writings of a sect known as the Ebionites, whose claims exist only in the refutations of Epiphanius (most of the writings of Christianity's ideological opponents exist in this form, as excerpted by the early "heresy fighters," since the State Church made sure to burn any writings that did not bolster her own claims and position). According to the Ebionites, Paul was a Roman who failed Pharisee training and returned to work as a goon for the High Priest, a quisling for the Roman occupation and no friend of the Jews. To turn one's back on the people and instead work for the Romans would be the last thing you would expect from any Pharisee.

The final book to bring about in me a striking -- that is, shocking ring of familiarity was Edmund D. Cohen's The Mind of the Bible Believer, which I briefly and subtly summarized for you above. Like the work on Church history and the works about Jesus and Paul, reading Cohen's book was like seeing what my mind had been suppressing for many years, but seeing it clearly for the first time. The shock from reading this book was as vivid as the shock from having read the other two: this book describes precisely what had happened to me, from beginning to end! I went through the entire process that he talks about -- numbered and in order!

Cliff Walker
Positive Atheism Magazine
Six years of service to
    people with no reason to believe

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Added: October 21, 2001

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If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned.

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From: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
To: "Tom Bratcher"
Subject: Re: Addendum to last letter (Re:Self-help)
Date: September 26, 2001 9:38 PM

The Jesus that moderns believe in would never do something like this, but the overall gist of the Hebrew Scriptures are at least this barbaric, so someone who is using only the Christian Bible to obtain moral input could easily (and justly) conclude that the Son of the Hebrew Deity would act no differently than his Father did.
 

How it's supposed to read (and I won't get into that beyond the above statement) has nothing to do with the fact that for centuries people used this very passage as a commandment to burn people alive.

The attempts of the Christian Church to suppress her bloody history (to increase her prospects for gaining political supremacy once again) probably have a lot to do with why so many modern "translations" go to such great lengths to translate this and several other key "proof texts" of Medieval butchery differently from the way the Inquisitionists understood them.

Another example is I Timothy 6:1-5. A proper reading of this passage, as I have always understood it, has Paul saying what the King James has him saying (because otherwise there's too much of a break in the focus of the subject). Thus, if anybody disagrees with Paul's teaching on human slavery he is anathema, etc. It makes no sense for Paul to be talking about human slavery and then to pronounce a curse on anybody who disagrees with some generic "sound doctrine" -- as some newer "translations" have rendered this passage. No, the natural reading, to me, is that Paul curses anybody who disagrees with his views on human slavery.

Now, on a practical side, since Evangelical Christianity is the unofficial State Religion of the United States for the next three years and four months, I am actually glad that your interpretation of John 15:6 and your (probable) interpretation of I Timothy 6:1-5 prevails among modern Christians. Why? Because this makes it less likely that should Bush's antics be used as precedent for actually turning this into a bona fide Christian nation, we are less likely to see the followers of Rushdooney implementing into law human slavery and the auto-da-fé "cleansing" ritual. So, I'm rather glad that post-Enlightenment Christendom has altered the Word of their God. Maybe we won't have to endure what our forebears had to endure at the hands of your forebears.
 

It is most unfortunate that people still believe this way:

Author Cyril Connolly agreed, in kind:

as did noted historian W. E. H. Lecky:

There are, to me, two proper responses to any mention of the notion of a literal Hell. We could, with atheist philanthropist Joseph Lewis, be sympathetic and say:

Or we could, with Civil War hero Robert Green Ingersoll, condemn the idea for what it is, considering that I would rather go there than worship a deity who would create such a place.

That anybody could fail to see that the doctrine of a literal Hell was invented to keep the masses in line and as an aid to proselytization campaigns escapes me entirely. I have trouble fathoming many of the superstitions which people have looked me straight in the eye and told me were true, but this one simply boggles my mind.

And they tell this story to their young children! This is child abuse in the extreme.
 

So why do you continue to tell your fellow humans that it is good?

Cliff Walker
Positive Atheism Magazine
Six years of service to
    people with no reason to believe

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