WHY I AM AN ATHEIST

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Submitted Date 11/06/2023
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I am an atheist. For a significant period of my life, I was a Christian, but now I am an atheist and have been for over twenty years. The standard dictionary definition of atheism is a lack of belief in any god or gods, but there are numerous definitions of 'types' of atheists out there, and of course, a range of assumptions, mainly from believers, about atheists. Breaking down atheists into a spectrum of types may be useful on occasion, and some atheists make the assertion that there is no god[1], but for me, an atheist is simply a person who doesn't believe in a god or gods. So, it's worth pointing out explicitly, before I go any further, that this is an explanation and not a defence of my stance as an atheist. My atheism is making no claim to defend, as it is an absence of belief. I am not saying there is no god of any kind, as that statement is as unverifiable as stating there is one; I am simply saying that I have no good reasons to believe in a god, therefore I don't believe in one. The burden of proof, as a default position, has to be on the one making a claim, the one with a set of beliefs for which they should have good (or bad) reasons for believing, not on the person yet to be convinced. It would make no sense to have a default position that I believe everything until it is proven untrue – that would leave me believing in ghosts or fairies, and any other supposedly supernatural entity or belief until they are proven not to exist, even though being supernatural by definition makes such claims unfalsifiable. This basic principle is also why our legal system puts the burden of proof on the prosecution, not the defence. They are making the claim of guilt and must prove the defendant's guilt beyond reasonable doubt; likewise, a theist is making a god-claim, and the burden of proof is on them to convince the unbeliever of their claim, not the reverse.

But if there's no claim to defend, why bother writing this at all? You may ask, and it's a good question. One reason, I think, is that this is a subject personal to me and I'm well overdue getting it off my chest, so to speak, which I realise only goes part way to also answering the question, 'Why now?' My reasons for not believing may be wholly rational and evidence-based, but my journey to atheism is also deeply personal. My worldview was based on my Christian belief system, as were my occupation, personal sense of identity and social groups. One does not let all that go without it being a deeply personal, and sometimes traumatic, journey.

Atheists, on the whole, are not anti-god, (although some atheists may be anti-religion to some degree) and they certainly aren't Satanists[2]. Whilst many monotheists[3] feel that puts us in direct opposition to one another, I am also quick to point out that they also don't believe in any of the gods, except one, meaning they only miss out on being an atheist by one god, as I only don't believe in just one more god than them; likewise, when someone asks me if I believe in God, my usual response is: "Which one?". This generally engenders a vaguely confused look from the person asking me. Admittedly, it's a slightly sarcastic response, but there is a point to my reframing of the question, as it is loaded with a fairly sizeable assumption. Of course, as someone brought up in the West - in the UK to be precise - I understand the assumption - that when someone asks me if I believe in God, they usually mean the Christian god – the god of the Bible. Belief in a god is intrinsically tied to one's culture. Anyone who says their worldview isn't influenced by the culture in which they have grown up and resided, or by the influence of their parents and peers, is either a liar or doesn't have any understanding of how we form our core beliefs. If I was born in certain parts of India, my default would have been Hinduism; if I was born in Pakistan or Afghanistan, I would be a Muslim; had I been born in ancient Greece or Rome, I would likely worship the Greek or Roman Gods, just as I would believe in Odin and Thor if I were an ancient Viking. It's simply a fact that the vast majority of people tend to follow the religion of their culture and forebears. They generally don't consider why that religion might be true as opposed to every other religion, they just assume it is because it's the one they're familiar with and have been socially conditioned for. That's not a judgemental criticism at all; it's just a natural phenomenon of human social conditioning. It's the assumption upon which the question, 'What if you're wrong?' is based. That question is a version of Pascal's famous wager[4]. I often answer it with a question of my own: What if you're wrong? Or how do you know you're not worshipping the wrong god, or have misunderstood how to be saved? It's the assumptions that make the question and argument fallacious. Poor Pascal, his fallacious wager is only actually useful in demonstrating the power of social conditioning. Surely, if the God of the Bible is not only real, but is also loving and just, and really does seek a relationship with me based on freedom, honesty and love, wouldn't he prefer my honest unbelief rather than selfish, dishonest, fake belief? According to Pascal's wager, (thus the question 'What if you're wrong?'), he does not, and I am gambling my eternal soul and should, as a matter of safety, pretend to believe in the God of whoever is asking the question.

Evangelical Christians often push back when told they're just conditioned to think Christianity is the one true religion, and I understand that impulse, but it doesn't change the facts. Rather than demonstrate why their religion is true and all the others false by default, rather than providing reasons for their assertion, they tend to simply reassert their belief in it, maybe pointing to Jesus' death and resurrection as God sacrificing himself as unique (which it isn't). This might naturally lead to the fallacious argument that the apostles wouldn't have evangelised, and certainly not become martyrs if it weren't all true. This argument, of course, doesn't account for the many other people who have died for other religions or causes. Should I believe in every religion and cause people have ever died for? What about the martyrs from other religions? Even Islamic terrorists happily die for their cause. Should I believe in their version of Islam for the same reason Christians expect me to believe Christianity is true? Logically, all it demonstrates is that they believed it, and the strength of their belief is not an indicator of the truth of it.

Christians may then fall back on asserting that the spread of Christianity testifies to the truth of it, which, logically, it doesn't. The vast spread of Christianity has everything to do with the cultural context of its birth and the conversion of the Roman Emperor Constantine in 312 CE. Its spread throughout northern Europe has everything to do with the Roman empire, and its spread globally has even more to do with the spread of the British, Spanish and Portuguese empires, just as the spread of Islam correlates with invasion, and Judaism with the Jewish diaspora. No, the spread of the Abrahamic religions is inextricably linked to historical events and anthropology, and their spread has nothing to do with how true they might be.

Quoting the Bible is the most ridiculous response I get, maybe the verse in which Jesus says "I am the way the truth and the life"[5]. Because they believe it without question, they can't seem to see that it's a pointless circular argument because I don't believe in their holy book in the first place. It makes no sense at all to quote a source of evidence that I have already discounted. Think about it, if I deem A as an unreliable source, but B quotes A to convince me of the claims in A, I am hardly going to take them seriously! One can try to bring them back to the original question of why they consider it true above all other religions when they almost invariably have barely any knowledge of any other religions, but once they've quoted the Bible, I try to ask the same question, but of the Bible: how do they know their holy book is any truer than another religion's holy book? I have never come across a single good reason to believe the Bible, but have plenty of reasons why I should discount it.

Another reason for writing, perhaps, is that I grow increasingly weary of evangelical Christians behaving like they have the right to evangelise and proselytise without ever bothering to listen to the person to whom they are preaching. In my long and rich experience, when attempting to influence a non-believer, Christians have rarely taken the time to ask about their perspective. Their focus is purely on their message, and as a result, their understanding of the person is laden with assumptions, (and frankly, often an unhealthy dose of judgement). I shudder to think how many times I was guilty of exactly that. As an atheist, however, I don't go around trying to deconstruct believers' faith and de-convert them, and it grows tiresome when a Christian so focused on what they believe tries to influence me with the gospel message without even thinking of finding out, or taking into consideration that I not only know it well, but used to preach it too, or try to sway me with simplistic and fallacious arguments without even pausing to consider that I have considered all of them before and am more than capable of answering them.

It's also worth noting that this is meant to be a brief explanation. It is not an academic paper and I am not going to provide every atheist counterargument to every argument for theism; that would entail writing a book, engaging with lots of references and an extensive bibliography. What I aim to do, however, is mention just some of the core issues that are foremost in my mind and pertinent to me.

Whilst I hold a degree in religious studies, my personal history with Christianity means I am far more familiar with the Christian religion than any other. Some Buddhist philosophy resonates with my worldview, but I would, by no means, call myself Buddhist. Belief or non-belief in any god, whether a specific and personal god attached to a religion or a vague deistic or pantheistic entity, I am simply unconvinced of their existence. As I have already stated, I am not claiming that there is no Being behind the existence of the universe or multiverse. The answer to that question remains in the 'I don't know' camp[6]. As far as the vague notion of some sort divine being of some sort that lacks agency, whether there is one or not is largely irrelevant, as it makes zero demands on morality[7] or the way I live my life in general.

Before I move on to explain why I am unconvinced the god of the Bible even exists, I should, given that I said this subject is personal for me, provide some context. The best way to do this is by briefly recounting my history as an evangelical believer in Christianity. It would be dishonest of me to discuss why I am an atheist without recounting my personal history with Christianity, as my reasons for not believing were developed during the long process of deconstruction and deconversion[8]. Keeping autobiographical information relevant and to the point is difficult, and this account will, by necessity, be the bare skeleton of my story in order to achieve that. If I am not brutally brief, I am quite sure that I will find myself sidetracked by a developing full-blown autobiography, and that's by no means what this is about. How successful I am in achieving this will be up to you, the reader, to decide.

I always believed in the Christian god and Jesus Christ from early childhood. I guess, attending a catholic school, it simply didn't occur to me that it may not be true – indeed, I always felt an affinity for the gospel stories, and was fascinated by the character of Jesus, and the stories of his crucifixion and resurrection. I would see the large crucifix on the wall of the school hall at my primary school, and the giant one affixed to the small tower by the church building right next door to it, and be morbidly fascinated by them. Whilst I didn't have any desire at that age to attend Mass, (and was rarely made to), I enjoyed the annual Jesus film at Easter. When the mini-series, Jesus of Nazareth[9] aired when I was just nine years old, I soaked it in like the proverbial sponge[10]. The enigmatic Jesus character intrigued me. I loved superheroes, especially Superman, but Jesus was a different kind of hero. It didn't occur to my young mind that any of it was untrue, but neither did it occur to me that the gospel story should particularly impact my life in any significant way. When I was about ten or eleven years old, however, I was exposed to a much more involved and demanding gospel message by a protestant, fundamentalist, evangelical neighbour. Other than the rather laidback Roman Catholicism of my parents and schooling, I hadn't known there was any other expression of Christianity up to that point, let alone any of the defining labels I've just used regarding the neighbour. Suddenly, this woman was telling me that she was a born-again Christian, and the only way to be 'saved' was to accept Jesus into my heart so I would be born again, too, and have a personal relationship with Jesus. She explained to me how the death of Jesus was the punishment for my sins, and all I had to do was believe and accept that gift. His resurrection would mean that I would live with him forever in heaven after my death, instead of going to hell, and crucially, his atonement formed a bridge between me and God over the chasm that my sin had formed. What she seemed to be offering was a vibrant, living experience of religion, not an abstract story from history. As these kinds of Christians rather naively or dishonestly often state, it seemed I was being offered a relationship with God, rather than religion. Thus began my history with evangelical Christianity. As I grew up a slightly troubled teenager, my relationship with Christianity was somewhat inconsistent, and it wasn't until I was about nineteen years old that I had a significant conversion experience. Fully embracing Christianity gave me as a lonely, isolated and disillusioned[11] young man, restored relationships with old friends, provided a sense of belonging and a community in the church, and a sense of having found my place in life. Christians often point to these functional benefits as some kind of proof of truth, but that is, of course, fallacious. Functionality is no proof of truth at all, and other things could have provided the same functional benefits. I know better, now, why I believed so easily, and more importantly, why I was so receptive to a conversion experience. I also know, now, that a personal experience isn't a sound reason for belief. Christians I know still ask me how I can ignore all my 'experiences'. I understand why it's perplexing for them, and that their question is predicated by the assumption that one cannot deny a person's experience - that these experiences prove what I believed. It's a simple concept to explain that an experience is one thing, but the interpretation of that experience is something else. It is, however, a difficult one for them to accept, and I understand that. Our experiences are deeply personal events that shape our current reality, and it's difficult to hear that our interpretation of them might not be accurate[12].

I was a committed and passionate Christian. My simple reasoning at the time (founded upon the firm belief that I had discovered the truth) made it a natural choice to dedicate every aspect of my life to serving God, so, within a year I had signed up for a twelve-month residential discipleship and evangelism course called 'Operation Year', run by the missionary organisation 'Youth With A Mission' (YWAM). That's when the indoctrination went up a few gears and when I found the sense of purpose I had thus far lacked in life. Mistakenly, I lapped up the very experiential aspect of the fundamentalist and charismatic Christian experience in my search for the most authentic expression of faith. I did this on the rationale that if it was true, then our experience of God should be far from a dry religious tradition lacking the miracles of the Bible stories, but a vibrant living experience of God's direct involvement with the world through the Holy Spirit. It was a simple logic of: it's either true or it isn't[13]. There was no room in my thinking for grey areas. Despite this, the charismatic, often literal fundamentalist perspective and aggressive expression of faith, exposed stark inconsistencies and raised questions, igniting a more rational and sceptical side to me. For the most part, however, I managed to suppress the cognitive dissonance I was experiencing. This was helped along by my 'leaders', however, who identified that I was 'oppressed by a spirit of unbelief' and performed 'deliverance' ministry on me[14]. We were taught about the place of demons in the world and how we should pray for deliverance. This wasn't, however, the first time I had come across this kind of worldview. As a child, our Christian neighbour said she identified seven different demons oppressing me. I can't remember what they were or represented, nor do I care[15].

I remember a discussion with fellow Christian leaders, a few years later, someone asking us about having doubts. Others confessed to sometimes having doubts, but I couldn't understand that and openly admitted that I had no doubts whatsoever, which they were as incredulous about as I was their doubts. In hindsight, perhaps I misunderstood the question. I assumed the question was regarding the reality of God, whereas, it may have been aimed at more specific doubts. In that case, I might have admitted to doubts about my understanding of his intentions and specific plans, or answers to prayer. My point is that I had either suppressed them or didn't have any doubts about the existence of God and the Christian message. My guess, in hindsight, is that I was probably suppressing cognitive dissonance, having interpreted it as my lack of understanding, rather than a fundamental problem with the logic and consistency of my beliefs.

Except for a couple of years in which I got married, I ended up working in YWAM for some years, first as an evangelist and missionary, then as a Bible teacher, and leader of the very course I had done: 'Operation year', before taking the role of a full-time church worker, then a de facto pastor when he stood aside due to a family tragedy.

It was, however, during my last two to three years of full-time Christian work that the cognitive dissonance became more and more difficult to ignore. I already read a lot but, naturally, in order to improve my witness and be the best Christian I could be, I began to study the Bible in more depth, including apologetics and theology. Despite reading theological works and material from renowned[16] Christian biblical scholars and Christian leaders, the more I studied, the more inconsistencies and contradictions appeared. No one's answer to the difficult questions was adequate. The cognitive dissonance - especially given my position in the church - was increasingly uncomfortable and difficult to ignore.

My desire for truth and authenticity morphed into core values of honesty and integrity, fuelling my studies but also making my situation of beginning to question my beliefs whilst leading a church untenable for me. Eventually, I opted for a complete break, left my church and uprooted my very young family back to my home city in the belief that I was burned out and in the hope that a break and a fresh start would help me find some equilibrium. It did, but not in the way I imagined; instead, the very foundation of my beliefs about God and Jesus was irreparably shaken. It took another couple of years to finally come to the point of fully accepting I had no good reason to believe any more. I had gone to university to study English language and literature but opted for a joint degree with Religious Studies. The knowledge, access to textual sources and newfound critical reasoning skills enabled me to evaluate my belief system even more rigorously but did nothing to preserve the beliefs that no longer held up to scrutiny. Throughout the whole process of deconstruction, I prayed and begged God to reveal the truth to me, to show me if I was missing something, but he was silent. I couldn't understand why, when I needed him, he was now so silent. I remember processing the whole experience with my long-suffering wife in countless conversations that would last well into the early hours. Despite it naturally forcing her to deconstruct her own faith, my wife patiently listened and discussed with me. Standing by me throughout it all and refusing to allow the changes in me to come between us engenders my deepest respect and gratitude. I knew of examples of marriages falling apart when belief was no longer shared, and I am so grateful this was not my experience. The process of deconstructing and de-converting was, nevertheless, a painful experience for a range of personal reasons. With the benefit of hindsight, I understand clearly that my sense of identity and purpose was entwined with my beliefs and position as a Christian leader. My social network was wide and full of Christians, and I knew that letting go meant letting go of far more than just a set of beliefs. I held on, however, to my motivation that as a Christian who valued honesty and integrity, I could not run from the process, but see it through to wherever it led. My thinking had switched from the back-to-front thinking that had started with the conclusion of God and Jesus being real, to following the evidence to a conclusion. I felt that, if God was who I'd always thought, He would surely see my honesty and I comforted myself with the notion that a just and compassionate God would not begrudge an honest pursuit of truth, and if it were all true, then it could ultimately stand up to scrutiny. Still, He remained silent. I had believed that I had a relationship with a living and involved God and there were plenty of personal experiences that supported this, but ultimately, I relied upon the Bible as the standard by which I measured my subjective experience of God. Whether I believed He'd spoken to me personally about my own life, or whether I believed He had something to say to the church or other individuals, it had to be consistent with the Biblical revelation of God. The Bible was an absolute foundation, and it had crumbled into the uselessness of subjectivity. It was a crisis of faith, but a blossoming of my mind and ability to think clearly and critically. When, one morning I awoke with a clear and present realisation that there was nothing left, that I no longer believed God was real, I knew it was a watershed moment. It was both freeing and painful, but what made it more painful was how so many long-standing Christian friends were utterly unable to process that I no longer believed. Apart from my wife, no one, not one single person, was interested in why and how I had come to not believing anymore, and worse still, no one seemed interested in maintaining our friendship. I found myself bereft of my former beliefs, bereft of purpose and bereft of my wide and long-established social network. One long-standing friend was so unable to deal with it, that he just never contacted me again - It was like I had just disappeared off the face of the earth. I don't say this with any bitterness or resentment, but that's not to say that it didn't hurt at the time, or that I didn't feel suddenly lonely and rejected.

One of the most insulting responses I've had to my deconversion is the accusation that I obviously didn't really believe in the first place, or the other way they put it is I wasn't really a true Christian. How rude to use their incredulity to make that kind of judgement! Do they have some kind of special ability to see into my mind, emotions and motivations? Have they got some kind of special power that enables them to decide who is and isn't a genuine Christian? While I understand their inability to accept my position is at the root of such a ridiculous accusation, it doesn't make it any less fallacious, or any less insulting. The argument's flawed logic is commonly known as 'The true Scotsman fallacy'[17] wherein the argument is based on the assumption that a Christian cannot lose their faith, so when presented with the reality of a Christian that has lost their faith, they change the rules of engagement by adding no true Christian, which, of course, is an unfalsifiable position making the argument a dishonest equivocation. Of course, no one can say who is or isn't a true Christian, but Christians do it all the time nevertheless. I have heard other variations based upon their own incredulity or refusal to accept my word. Here is a list of specific things that have been said to me:

Ø 'you're not really an atheist; deep down you still believe'

Ø 'you'll soon change your mind on your deathbed'

Ø 'you're really just angry with God'

Ø 'There must be some kind of blockage to your understanding'

Ø 'It must be demons deceiving you'

Yes, seriously, all of these things have actually been said to me.

Anyway, it seemed my only option was to reinvent myself and focus on building a new life. As someone who had left school with almost no qualifications and a misguided belief that I wasn't academically able, I was surprised by the ease with which I took to my academic studies as an adult. In contrast to my early experience of education, excelling at university came shockingly easy to me, and was so enjoyable, that I embraced that newfound aspect of myself. My newfound ability and understanding of critical thinking provided one of the final nails in the coffin of belief in God but formed a new version of me in my self-reinvention that has informed my life ever since. So, let's look at how I now see the Bible.

The Bible is not a reliable source of truth

Evangelical Christians are taught that the Bible is the inerrant, inspired word of God, mainly based upon Paul's comment in 2 Timothy 3:16-17: "6 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work." The first thing to remember is that when Paul wrote those words, he was referring only to the Old Testament – the Jewish scriptures, as the New Testament canon wasn't established until centuries later. It's very hard to imagine Paul had any sense of his letters forming part of a New Testament and being considered scripture. We have to remember, also, that there were no written gospels during Paul's time, and all he would know about Jesus would be via oral traditions and what any original apostles might have told him. It's interesting that Paul only directly quotes Jesus three times, and they are found in only one of his letters[18]. The position that the Bible is the measure of truth about God is reasonable, however, but only if we accept the truth of the first five words of that comment: "All scripture is God-breathed". It means that there is a measure of authenticity by which we can test all other proclaimed revelations, which made sense to me as a Christian in a charismatic environment in which people regularly claimed to speak for God when preaching, teaching, praying or worshipping. In my limited thinking at the time, the alternative would mean there would be no way of testing the validity of someone's claims of revelation other than our own limited understanding, personal biases, emotions and gut instinct, which may or may not be correct. It's also a fallacious position because it not only fails to acknowledge the many differing interpretations from all the other denominations, whether mainstream or non-mainstream versions such as Jehovah's Witnesses or Mormonism, which effectively add to the Biblical canon but also assumes one's own interpretation of the Bible is the correct one over all the others.

It was a position that upheld another evangelical belief about God, that He is unchanging, based upon verses like Malachi 3:6 "for I the Lord do not change", or Hebrews 13:8 "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, and today and forever." (even though there are other instances in the Bible that demonstrate quite the opposite). There are serious problems with the logic of such a belief, firstly the argument is fallacious because it is based upon the unverifiable assumptions that a) there is a god, b) the Bible is his inspired word of revelation, and secondly, because a proper, scholarly understanding of the Bible as literature is that it was written by men and is (naturally) full of contradictions and inconsistencies, (which tends to rather significantly chip away at a belief that it is "God-breathed"). Why it has this effect should be obvious, but I shall try to explain anyway. Understanding how the Bible came to be, with all its many flaws, begs the question of why an all-powerful god should choose such a flawed method of revelation. Why choose archaic times when he knew well enough that human understanding would outgrow it? Why create such hurdles to intellect and reasoning? It simply doesn't make any sense. When the Bible as Christianity's holy book – the primary source of revelation - is so fundamentally flawed, contradictory and inconsistent, the only honest conclusions have to be either such obstacles are there by design for some unknown reason, he is far less competent than 'all-powerful' after all, or the Bible is not, in fact, the inspired word of any god, and he simply doesn't exist. These arguments are, of course, related to the concept of divine hiddenness. In short, if God is so keen to establish a relationship with humanity, why place so many obstacles in the way of that, and from my personal perspective, why give me an intellect to reason then make the proposition of his existence so unreasonable and unbelievable? Moreover, why intervene with direct revelation in some cases, then rely on woefully unreliable and obtuse methods on other occasions, especially for the creation of his holy book? If God is able to intervene very directly as He does in many Bible stories, why not do that every time rather than deliberately muddying the waters? And remember, the argument for faith or free will doesn't count because of the inconsistencies. It just doesn't make sense.

The Old Testament is more recent than you think

Take the first five books of the Old Testament[19], for example. They are traditionally believed to have been written by Moses, and many Evangelical and fundamentalist Christians believe that today. No respectable Bible scholar, even if they are a believer, holds that belief anymore. Firstly, there is literally no evidence for the existence of Moses, the same can be said for Abraham and even the great King David, among others. These characters are almost definitely mythological. Their actual existence isn't a great problem if you accept them as myths, and of course, the possibility of their existence isn't an issue because only extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. It is an issue, however, if you insist on the claim that Moses wrote those texts, and claim they are all literally true. Incidentally, there is also no archaeological evidence for the captivity of the Israelites in Egypt, and their subsequent escape and desert wanderings – zero. Now, I know faux archaeologists and fakers continue to claim they have discovered evidence of lots of biblical events that aren't actually true, but not one of these has ever been verified, and many are routinely debunked. It's a case, I'm afraid, of being careful who you listen to, dear believers, but I digress. Even if you accept that Moses wrote them in the third person, and was somehow able to record events beyond his death, a thorough textual analysis of the said texts reveals a whole range of issues and different, unknown authors, (too many to go into here), including anachronistic evidence[20]. In fact, it's fairly definitive amongst scholars that they were written centuries later during the Israelite exile in Babylon[21]. No doubt they were written to provide a much-needed sense of national identity and let's be honest, it worked rather too well. Comparisons with Babylonian and other, earlier, ancient texts clearly reveal that many of the stories have been directly lifted from them, with only the characters and certain details changed in order to appropriate them for Jewish mythology. The Old Testament is not unique, not written by Moses and not the revelation of the one true God. To be fair, debunking the notion that the Pentateuch was written by Moses does not equate to any of it not being true, or some of the myths being based upon ancient oral traditions, but it does lend significant weight to them being mythological and not historical.

The Dead Sea Scrolls are a good example of how the Old Testament literature changes over time, yet, mistakenly, many Christians hold their discovery up as a shining example of the unchanging purity of Biblical literature. The scrolls were discovered in 1947, and have been dated to a period from the third century BCE into the first century CE, so are contemporaneous with the gospel period[22]. They are a remarkable find for scholars, as up until their discovery, the oldest manuscripts dated almost a thousand years later. Unfortunately, some well-known Christian apologists claim that they are complete and demonstrate how the literature didn't change over a thousand years, so, understandably, many Christians believe this. The claim is false, and no actual scholar would agree. The only complete test is the book of Isaiah, and the rest are just fragments; moreover, there are a great many differences, which is entirely understandable, and I don't mean just simple variations, but huge differences that significantly affect the meaning of many, many passages. One look at the official translation would reveal this. There are footnotes for every difference from the texts that gave us our Bible, taking up to half of every page in the book. It's sad that these apologists mislead the Christian community in this way, but it's a great example of how misinformation enters the realm of urban myth so quickly and thoroughly. I don't know if whoever first propagated the falsehood was merely misinformed or outright lying, but I understand how others just repeat it trusting what they have heard is true.

The Old Testament is a terrifying example of ancient morality and belief

Genesis and God's plan of salvation

As we have established, the Pentateuch is mythological and I, along with any respectable scholar, don't believe them to be history in any way, but if we assume they are, they reveal some shocking things about this supposedly loving and just God. There are so many issues with the Old Testament that I have to consciously ignore many of them in the pursuit of brevity. Whilst many passages present a loving god, there is no shortage portraying, instead, a rather monstrous divinity. Naturally, there is a wealth of scientifically incorrect issues associated with such ancient literature but putting those issues aside, there's the very problem of salvation and the need for it, I mean, why would you create a wonderful universe, place life on this planet, and then allow it to utterly fall into ruin by providing a tree with forbidden fruit? Sure, I get the whole free will gig and can go with the banishment from the perfect little garden as a kind of 'go to your room' type discipline, but there is simply no excuse for punishing the whole of creation and subsequent generations simply because a couple of people were tricked into eating a piece of fruit God had told them not to. I mean, all women were to experience pain in childbirth forever just because of that? This concept of punishing every generation for the misdeeds of one ancestor is bizarre, and clearly unjust and unnecessary. And what did the earth and all other creatures do to deserve their punishment? The placement of the tree with the forbidden fruit, and the disobedience of Adam and Eve, are explained away by Christian theologians with the notion that it was absolutely necessary for the concept of free will and that the consequences were a natural result of their choice rather than a direct punishment from God. This is a misreading of the myth, for example, Genesis 3:16 says: 16 To the woman he said, 'I will make your pains in childbearing very severe; with painful labour you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you." There is no mention of this punishment being a natural consequence, but a very clear "I will…" from God. So, painful childbirth and the sexist domination of men over women are both, apparently, Eve's fault, but God's direct and collective punishment. Is that really proportionate? Even if a Christian accepts these stories as the myths they are, you have to ask what truths we are actually meant to take away from them. Accepting it allegorically rather than literally does, however, have implications for the evangelical understanding of the salvation story, including any necessity for Jesus' crucifixion as an act of atonement. This is based upon the idea that there has to be a collective punishment for humanity's 'sin' - that someone has to pay. Now, I realise that I'm going off on a tangent here, but it's an important one that needs addressing. The whole Bible message hangs on the idea in the book of Genesis that the first human sin instigated a kind of sin virus that infected the whole of creation, separating us from God, hence the development throughout the Old Testament of sacrifice being necessary for a relationship with God. It's where the concept of original sin[23] comes from. You have to believe that blood sacrifice is the only way to redeem humanity, because if you don't, the death of Jesus is rendered essentially meaningless, or at best, relegated to a symbolic sacrifice. The problem with viewing it all as symbolic and allegorical is that you have to wonder why all that suffering was really necessary – couldn't his sacrifice be 'symbolic' too? So, if we don't take these stories literally, (which of course, we shouldn't), it raises issues about God's plans for 'salvation'. We have to ask some serious questions about how sin is actually passed on. I mean, is it a genetic thing? Is there a gene that we could isolate and say "Here, here is the sin gene!" No. There is no physical aspect that we could call sin. It's nonsense. Of course, theologians who admit that the stories didn't literally happen, will fall back on it being real in a 'spiritual' sense. That is a good get-out clause because it's unfalsifiable, but, like any supernatural belief, given there is no evidence of the existence of the spiritual world in any measurable, tangible way, this theological construct provides no answers whatsoever to the questions, and in fact, just raises more questions. Let's remember, too, that the only 'person' saying any of this is necessary is God. It's his plan, and it's a problem of His own making. He made the rules, allowed for the problem to occur, and came up with the solutions, which culminated in the death of His son. Why? Of course, I don't believe there is any God. All of this is the thinking of ancient men – men who believed in blood magic, which is essentially what the whole plan is about. It's an example of ancient morality and belief to which I no longer subscribe.

The story of Noah's Ark, when taken literally as fundamentalists do, is ridiculous, scientifically impossible, and patently mythological[24] but again, putting a fundamentalist interpretation aside, the message it portrays is shocking; nonetheless, Christians don't seem to question it or struggle with it. In broad strokes, we have the story of how God decided that all of humanity had become so wicked that he regretted creating us, so, in a fit of temper, he decided to wipe us off the face of the earth in a massive flood with the exception of one man and his family, whom he instructs to build a boat that is supposed to save one breeding pair of all the land animals – the rest condemned to a watery death. Genesis 6:5-8 reads: 5 The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time. 6 The Lord regretted that he had made human beings on the earth, and his heart was deeply troubled. 7 So the Lord said, "I will wipe from the face of the earth the human race I have created—and with them the animals, the birds and the creatures that move along the ground—for I regret that I have made them." All of humanity was supposedly so wicked that every single thought was evil "continually", and this apparently applied to every single human regardless of age or mental capacity – even a two-week-old baby. The issue was so pertinent, everyone deserved to be murdered by God, every man, woman and child, in one blanket collective punishment. (It isn't clear what the animals did wrong to deserve their watery grave). My first issue with this is that it hardly speaks of a loving and compassionate God; rather, we see an angry and vengeful god here. I have to wonder quite how wicked every child in existence was to deserve death. What happened to the punishment fitting the crime and only punishing the guilty? How do God's actions of blanket murder meet even the most basic ethical standards? It seems, according to God, people were not free to live their lives freely as they saw fit, after all, and enough deviation from his standards (whatever they were) would always lead to their murder. In the absence of any decent answer, Christians ultimately fall back on 'might is right' morality, by reiterating that, God being our creator, he alone has the right to both give and take life with impunity. I don't agree that having the power to give and take life necessarily equates to the right to do so, and any Christian that holds to that explanation has to admit that they subscribe to the might is right mentality when it comes to God, yet somehow hold that in perfect balance with a god that is supposed to be love. I find it strange that they answer that by saying it's not about his might, but the fact that he's our creator, (as if that assumes his right for some reason), then go on to talk about him as a loving father. I am a father of two (now adult) daughters; so in a sense, I participated in their creation, but given that they are fully sentient human beings, I certainly don't see it as my right that I can take their lives, or make any kind of demands of them. I have witnessed Christians tie themselves in knots trying to explain this away, and every single time it ends up being based upon the morality of having the might gives him the right. Despite the Christian assertion of free will, the Bible doesn't present a God who promotes actual freedom of choice. Of course, I am, apparently, free to not believe[25] or reject him in this life, but given that the consequence is to burn in hell for all eternity, it's not really much of a choice now, is it?

Another issue with this story (and there are many, but I'll keep it brief) is how it not only portrays an angry and vengeful god, but one that seemingly makes mistakes, experiences regret and changes his mind. How does that tally with a view of God as perfect in every way – one who is perfectly loving, perfectly moral, doesn't make mistakes and is unchanging, so logically would never change his mind? Of course, it doesn't. Frankly, if the story of the flood is anything to go by, even if God did exist, I would refuse to worship such an evil, imperfect bully.

I could also delve into the story of Abraham and Isaac in which God requires Abraham to be willing to sacrifice his own son in order to prove his devotion. (Stepping in last minute to stop him going ahead with it hardly excuses such a demand), or there's the whole book of Job, a horror story of immoral values and unjust actions that portrays a god who is nothing short of a monster, but I think a glancing look at God's own laws is the perfect demonstration of ancient immoral values. It's not that the whole Bible is a horror story; of course, there are plenty of wonderful examples of good moral and ethical values, as well as beautiful representations of a deeply loving and compassionate deity; it's all the examples of the opposite that pose the problem. With such inconsistencies, how is one to know which is the true representation of God?

A murderous and vengeful God

There are numerous accounts of God commanding the Israelites to utterly destroy the people already living in Palestine when seizing it for themselves. The very concept of a God picking one group of people over every other as his chosen ones strikes me as morally flawed in the first place, I mean, how could he not know that would lead to the worst kind of atrocities? History is replete with examples of what happens when one group elevates themselves above others, the terrible toll on Jewish people during World War 2 being one example. (Ironically, and tragically, the modern state of Israel seems not to have learned this lesson at all given their treatment of Palestinians today. It's truly a case of the bullied becoming the bully, but of course, Zionism has its roots in the Bible). If seizing another's land and displacing a whole people isn't bad enough, in Deuteronomy 26:16-18[26], God commands the Israelites to "completely destroy" the people who already inhabited the land that God was having them take by force. There is no mistaking the intent here. The word used for the translation "completely destroy" at its root is Herem. It doesn't just mean to exterminate, but to annihilate, to so utterly destroy something that there is no trace left, and its context is religious in nature, as in irrevocably giving something or someone as a sacrifice to God by utterly destroying it. When you consider that these were other people – actual human beings, men, women and children, the excuse given in verse 18: Otherwise, they will teach you to follow all the detestable things they do in worshipping their gods, and you will sin against the Lord your God", hardly seems proportionate, and if genocide because he's insecure about other gods being worshipped was the best that a supposedly compassionate and loving god could come up with, then I wouldn't want to know such a tyrant anyway; but of course, I am very far from convinced any such being exists. What we read in Deuteronomy along with the rest of the Bible, clearly seems to be the work of men.

Old Testament laws are unjust and immoral

A brief glance at the laws laid out in Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy reveals serious moral and ethical issues with God. While there are some decent laws, there are also plenty of horrendous examples – again, too many to mention. A great many of the Old Testament laws are not only archaic but quite unacceptable to modern moral sensibilities, and almost all Christians do not, of course, keep them all. Even when certain laws are designed to protect the vulnerable in that society, such as the poor, women and slaves, they are so entrenched in a deeply sexist, privileged patriarchy that they still grossly favour the male, Israelite head of the household, who also happens to be heterosexual and financially/materially stable and secure. And people wonder why we still have such inequality, prejudice, discrimination and sexism in western society! Our Judeo-Christian heritage has a lot to answer for.

There are convoluted theological explanations for why Christians conveniently don't adhere to so many of the laws, but they do not satisfactorily deal with the thorny issue of why make such horrendous laws in the first place, and which laws should be preserved and which discarded, and it's unlikely any non-theologian is able to adequately explain the theology beyond simply asserting that Jesus has somehow fulfilled the law and they have now entered a new covenant. Furthermore, many, (if not all) Christians seem to cherry-pick from the laws and values laid out in the Bible according to their own sense of morality and prejudice. Look at the evangelical stance on sexuality in general, the focus on homosexuality, the rigid stance on gender roles or the inflexible views on abortion, and that's just for starters. To be fair, whilst theological constructs do away with the vast majority of Old Testament laws, there are portions of the New Testament that do not, so this hypocritical cherry-picking continues under the guise of the God of the Bible apparently being the embodiment of perfect morality – which clearly isn't actually the case. The worst attitude, for me, is when apologists ultimately fall back on the old chestnut: 'You just have to trust God' when they can't think of an excuse for what is clearly indefensible immoral behaviour. It's irrational blind faith, a refusal to face thorny issues, and is based on nothing more than the assumption that even if God appears to do something immoral, he must have a good reason, (as if there are any), or that if it's God that does something, it's moral, even if it is deemed to be immoral for us.

Let's be clear, while some gospel accounts present a Jesus who appeared to simplify what he believed were God's expectations regarding the law, others portray a Jesus who fiercely upheld the law in its entirety, for example, Matthew 5:17-20: 7 "Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfil them. 18 For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. 19 Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven".[27] These words are as plain as can be in upholding the keeping of the Jewish law, and certainly contradict the views of the early Christian church presented by Paul, and preached to the non-Jewish, gentile converts. Oddly, Christians regularly use this quote as a means of asserting that Jesus taught that rigorously keeping the law was no longer necessary, but it strikes me as rather confused that such a passage is used as a means of side-stepping the awkward and embarrassing laws found in the Old Testament, particularly because the above verse literally says the opposite (see verse 19). When Jesus talks about fulfilling the law, and says that "not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished", he is referring to the end times when his kingdom comes, not his death and resurrection, for the context and message of Matthew's gospel is apocalyptic, preaching the imminent coming of the kingdom of God. So, using this as a defence for cherry-picking only the comfortable bits of the Old Testament that don't clash with a more modern sense of morality is deeply dishonest and flawed. What makes this habit of cherry-picking worse, is that it also serves peoples' bigotry. To be fair, Paul's point that Abraham did not keep the law because he was before the law[28], is a fair one, and with his focus on converting gentiles, it's not surprising the early church didn't require converts to actually convert to Judaism, thus be bound to keeping the law. It is also fair to point out that Paul's theology echoes the words of Jesus is in Matthew 22:27-39: "37 Jesus replied: "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbour as yourself.' 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments".[29]

This is all very well, and I fully understand both the historical and theological context; however, no explanation, as far as I can see, adequately addresses the many moral contradictions with the beliefs that the whole of the Bible is God's self-revelation to humanity – that all the scriptures are "God breathed" and that God is unchanging in his perfection.

Let's look at just a few specific laws. How about Deuteronomy 22:5: "A woman should not wear a man's apparel, nor should a man put on a woman's garment; for whoever does such things is abhorrent to the Lord." Are we really to believe that that this nonsense comes from the one true God? It's so tied into a deeply sexist, over-gendered, patriarchal society it's laughable. I mean, who decides what men and women wear anyway? Clothing styles and gendered dress codes are so obviously cultural issues, yet, if you are to believe the Bible, therefore these laws, come from God, then you have to accept that he is a rather small-minded bigot if he finds something as trivial as dress codes so "abhorrent" that He needs to make a law against it, while failing to address other more serious issues in society like, for example, the widespread practice of slavery[30].

It's not just that many of the laws are no longer considered moral, it's the punishments for breaking the laws that are also so unjust. Take a look at Exodus 21:17: "Whoever curses his father and mother shall be put to death". I'm not advocating for disrespecting one's parents (though I would fully understand the odd curse should a parent be abusive), but surely, it's hardly worth the death penalty! How is this kind of punishment in any way proportionate? How could it possibly come from a perfectly just, loving and compassionate God? Deuteronomy 21:18[31] is much the same, advocating for death by stoning for a rebellious son. I'll tell you now, had I been born to a wealthy Israelite family at that time and place, I would have suffered an early and horrific death.

Here is an oddly specific one from Deuteronomy[32]. Imagine your husband gets caught up in a fight, he is losing, the other man is bigger, stronger, more brutal, and Hs your husband in a headlock, choking him to death. You fear for your husband's life and you're screaming for the man to stop but he just carries on. Then, in terror, you suddenly see an opening, you rush the man and grab his genitals with all your strength and the pain causes him to release your husband. Fair enough, right? Wrong. You must now be punished for your interference by having your hand chopped off. It's the final sentence of the verse about the punishment that I find so chilling: "Show no pity." Nice. I wonder what God's instructions would have been if two women were fighting and the husband intervened similarly. Sadly, we will never know, as there is no law for the converse of this scenario.

The whole of Deuteronomy chapter 28 is a good example of the focus of God's covenant with the Israelites. There are 68 verses in the chapter. God is so loving and wonderful to his special chosen people, it begins with 14 whole verses outlining the marvellous blessings, or rewards, for keeping the covenant by obeying all his laws. But wait, the next 54 verses outline the horrific curses (punishments) from God should they fail to keep the laws. That's 80% on the punishments and only 20% on the rewards. Quite some imbalance. Have a read of the punishments God threatens in all their horrific detail and ask yourself, 'what does that tell me about God's character?'.

Whether it's the mental gymnastics of apologists or convoluted theological explanations, either God is the all loving moral absolute who is omniscient and omnipotent, or he is not; either he does change his mind or he does not. You can't have it both ways. If God is so loving and so powerful, and could be bothered to iterate so many laws in so much detail, with such disproportionate and cruel punishments, why not just make them all moral and just in the first place? Why couldn't God start as he meant to go on? The whole concept of stages of revelation, new covenants and a developing plan of salvation speak not of the failure of humans, but of the failure of a God who just couldn't seem to get it right.

I think I have made my point that the Old Testament is not a reliable source of either the character of God or a decent standard of morality. I cannot, however, leave this issue until we look at the problem of slavery, and the Bible's endorsement of it.

The Bible and Slavery

Slavery is the ownership of another human being as property, usually associated with forced labour without proper, (or any), remuneration and with varying restrictions of liberty. It is currently outlawed in international law.

Extremists apart, any modern Christian would, or should, rightly agree that the practice of slavery is unethical and immoral. It is, therefore, reasonable to assume that the God of the bible should be against it and, given that it was common practice in the cultures of both the Old and New Testaments, would forbid the practice. But what does the Bible actually say about slavery and God's attitude to it?

Knowing, at the very least that slavery isn't listed in the Ten Commandments, one excuse I hear Christians make is that the absence of a mention doesn't equate to an endorsement. Sure, but this argument fails to consider all other options. The logic is flawed for two main reasons: firstly, the omission of a subject as significant as slavery in those cultures is not an excuse for an all-powerful God who could have quite easily included it. Not mentioning it could equally lead to the conclusion of either endorsement or incompetence, not a lack of support for it. Secondly, it's based on the false assumption that God simply never mentioned it, when in fact, the Bible has plenty to say about it in both Testaments, but especially in the Old Testament books of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. It is shocking indeed that slavery is actually mentioned numerous times, sometimes in detail, yet not one mention explicitly forbids the practice of slavery or even expresses disapproval of it. God apparently had a great deal to say about it, so why not one simple mention of slavery instead, like, 'Do not own other people as property' or 'Do not put other human beings into forced labour', I mean, how difficult would that have been for an all-powerful god?

Another argument against God endorsing slavery that I hear is that the Bible often talks about love, forgiveness and compassion, and that is the nature of God, therefore he cannot possibly endorse slavery. Indeed, there is plenty in the Bible presenting a loving, compassionate and just God, and Jesus is reported to have instructed that the Christian way is to love your neighbour as yourself[33], which, surely, must mean that keeping slaves is not the Christian way. None of that, however, deals with the problem that there is plenty in the Bible that I can point to that demonstrates the very opposite. The logic of Christians pointing only to verses that portray a loving and just God is flawed simply because they are cherry-picking. The Bible also presents a cruel, jealous, murderous and vengeful God as well. If they cannot adequately explain these contradictions, then the notion of the whole Bible being the inerrant, inspired word of God is a problem, and if that's a problem, how do they choose which bits portray the true God and which bits don't, and how do they justify those choices? Let's look at slavery in each Testament separately, starting with the Old Testament.

Slavery in the Old Testament

The first mentions of slavery are found is in the book of Exodus. The rules around slave ownership here are detailed and complex. This more than adequately counters the idea that God simply stayed silent on the matter. Keep my question in mind: if he could be bothered to go into such detail regarding all these rules and not simply forbid the burgeoning nation of Israel from the practice, how is that not an endorsement of the practice of slavery?

Let's focus on Ex.21:2-11 first:

2 When you buy a male Hebrew slave, he will serve you for six years. But in the seventh year, he will go free without any payment. 3 If he came in single, he will leave single. If he came in married, then his wife will leave with him. 4 If his master gave him a wife and she bore him sons or daughters, the wife and her children will belong to her master. He will leave single. 5 However, if the slave clearly states, "I love my master, my wife, and my children, and I don't want to go free," 6 then his master will bring him before God. He will bring him to the door or the doorpost. There his master will pierce his ear with a pointed tool, and he will serve him as his slave for life.

7 When a man sells his daughter as a slave, she shouldn't be set free in the same way as male slaves are set free. 8 If she doesn't please her master who chose her for himself, then her master must let her be bought back by her family. He has no right to sell her to a foreign people since he has treated her unfairly. 9 If he assigns her to his son, he must give her the rights of a daughter. 10 If he takes another woman for himself, he may not reduce her food, clothing, or marital rights. 11 If he doesn't do these three things for her, she will go free without any payment, for no money".

Note how these are only rules about enslaving fellow Hebrews. The rules regarding foreigners are even less moral as we shall see. All of this section is based on the idea that a person is owned as property. One issue that stands out to me is verse 4. This clearly demonstrates that human beings are owned, like cattle, and can be bred like cattle, so when two slaves are mated and have a child, that child remains the property of the slave owner, and can never leave, even if their parents are released. How is that ethical or moral?

The next mention of slavery in this passage is in Vs.20-21: 20: "When a slave owner hits a male or female slave with a rod and the slave dies immediately, the owner should be punished. 21 But if the slave gets up after a day or two, the slave owner shouldn't be punished because the slave is the owner's property".

Here we have the endorsement of violence towards a slave, founded upon the key notion that a slave is not a person, but property. Sure, if the slave is killed immediately, the owner is punished, but why on earth is there no punishment if it's GBH but the slave survives? It answers that question clearly: "because the slave is the owner's property".

There's a fairer approach to violence in Vs.26-27: 26: "When a slave owner hits and blinds the eye of a male or female slave, he should let the slave go free on account of the eye. 27 If he knocks out a tooth of a male or female slave, he should let the slave go free on account of the tooth" but this hardly makes up for the rest.

There are so many issues with these instructions, but the main one being my question from earlier: why not simply say "Stop the practice of all forms of slavery, including debt indenture?" Instead, God decides to make rules about the practice rather than forbid it. One excuse often presented about these verses is that they refer to a different kind of slavery – that slaves are more like indentured servants, owned until their debt is paid. Yes, that applies to Hebrew slaves, but the point is an equivocation - irrelevant hair-splitting. It is still a form of temporary slavery – the worst practice of capitalism and exploitation, and still the unethical treatment of other human beings.

Another excuse purported by some Christians is that the rules are designed to make the practice more humane and just. I cannot take this excuse seriously. What possible reason is there that stopped God from simply forbidding it altogether, instead of these complex rules? The old 'they were different times' excuse simply doesn't wash either. This, apparently, all-powerful God had plenty to say about all sorts of other cultural practices (especially the worship of other gods), but couldn't forbid slavery? Surely the time to do it was when shaping a nation for himself?

The second mention of slavery is in Leviticus 25:44-46:

44 As for the male and female slaves whom you may have, it is from the nations around you that you may acquire male and female slaves. 45 You may also acquire them from among the aliens residing with you and from their families who are with you who have been born in your land; they may be your property. 46 You may keep them as a possession for your children after you, for them to inherit as property. These you may treat as slaves, but as for your fellow Israelites, no one shall rule over the other with harshness".

This one deals with keeping slaves from other nations, and I find it bizarre that some Christians try to defend it at all. The wording is clear and damning, for example vs.44 "it is from the nations around you that you may acquire male and female slaves." If this isn't express permission, and therefore endorsement of the practice, I don't know what is. It goes on: "…they may be your property.", Vs.45, or how about Vs.46 "You may keep them as a possession for your children after you, for them to inherit as property. These you may treat as slaves…".

That it adds "as for your fellow Israelites, no one shall rule over the other with harshness" hardly makes it more ethical. It suggests you can't rule over "fellow Israelites" "with harshness", but apparently, it's to treat foreigners wirh harshness. Isn't that the worst kind of racism? It is unquestionably clear that God is not only endorsing slavery here, (rather than forbidding it for being utterly immoral) but is also actively promoting the treatment of people from other nations as property. So, God apparently missed His opportunity to forbid slavery in the Old Testament, but does He do any better in the New Testament, after all, it's a New Covenant by grace through faith in Christ, in which, (according to Pafine ul) Christians are no longer under the "curse" of the law[34].

Slavery in the New Testament

The following five quotations all focus on telling Christian slaves to obey their owners, to be good little slaves and to submit to their masters as an example of the way they submit to Christ. Basically, it's a policy of preserving the status quo (for the wealthy and privileged) rather than allowing Christianity to be a force for good in challenging injustice and protecting the poor and vulnerable in society.

Ephesians 6:5-9 says:

"5 Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect] and trembling, in singleness of heart, as you obey Christ, 6 not with a slavery performed merely for looks, to please people, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from the soul. 7 Render service with enthusiasm, as for the Lord and not for humans, 8 knowing that whatever good we do, we will receive the same again from the Lord, whether we are enslaved or free.9 And, masters, do the same to them. Stop threatening them, for you know that both of you have the same Lord in heaven, and with him there is no partiality."

There are four verses here on slaves submitting to their masters, but just one instruction to the masters to "stop threatening them". This seems to me an imbalance. Why not tell them to release their slaves and pay them a fair wage instead? If Paul was writing scripture inspired by God, why couldn't God have told him to forbid slavery altogether as part of the new Covenant in Christ, rather than this repellent acceptance of it? It's very easy to look at these instructions from the perspective of freedom, so it's worth asking how you would feel if you were a slave. Choosing to serve your owner with the same enthusiasm you serve Christ may help you with accepting your lot in life, but is that attitude helpful to society? If the Christian way is to accept injustice humbly without ever questioning it, how will any society ever improve? Lucky for the African continent the abolitionists didn't see it that way! Lucky for working people workers began to unionise! Luckily the brave suffragettes refused to accept the injustice of not being given the vote! The list could go on and on and on. Human rights have to be fought for, not their abuse blindly accepted as obeisance to God in the hope of reward in the next life.

Colossians 3:22-4:1 very closely echoes the previous one from Ephesians. Paul, it seems, wanted to be very clear about slaves being good little slaves:

"22 Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything, not with a slavery performed merely for looks, to please people, but wholeheartedly, fearing the Lord. 23 Whatever task you must do, work as if your soul depends on it, as for the Lord and not for humans, 24 since you know that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward; you serve the Lord Christ. 25 For the wrongdoer will be paid back for whatever wrong has been done, and there is no partiality. 4 1 Masters, treat your slaves justly and fairly, for you know that you also have a Master in heaven."

The above comment applies here, too. There's just one verse telling masters to treat their slaves "justly and fairly". But let's be clear, anything short of release from slavery is still unjust and unfair. This notion of doing everything, even serving a slave master "as for the Lord and not for humans" benefits no one except the person doing the exploiting, whether that be a slave owner or simply an employer. I find the notion sickeningly pro-exploitation. Again, if you are being exploited, would you be happy being told that "whatever task you do, work as if your soul depends on it, as for the Lord, and not humans"? This attitude serves no one but the exploiter. Does God take pleasure in exploitation? If not, why support one of the worst systems of human exploitation in existence?

A similar sentiment is echoed in 1 Timothy 6:1-2:

"6 Let all who are under the yoke of slavery regard their masters as worthy of all honour, so that the name of God and the teaching may not be blasphemed. 2 Those who have believing masters must not be disrespectful to them on the ground that they are brothers and sisters; rather, they must serve them all the more, since those who benefit by their service are believers and beloved."

The advice to Timothy, here, bears no less scrutiny. Apparently, if you are a Christian slave, you should regard your master "as worthy of all honour" despite the fact that they are treating you like property. It seems God doesn't regard owning people as a dishonourable activity.

Again, Titus 2:9-10 continues the theme of being submissive:

"9 Urge slaves to be submissive to their masters in everything, to be pleasing, not talking back, 10 not stealing, but showing complete and perfect fidelity, so that in everything they may be an ornament to the teaching of God our Saviour".

Fine, don't steal form your master, be a good example and model of good behaviour, but don't talk back? Really? I see it as my duty and obligation, at the very least, to talk back to someone who thinks it's appropriate to exploit me or treat me in any way less than acceptable. I will serve no god who asks me to do otherwise.

Whoever really wrote 1 Peter 2:18-20 (We can pretty sure it wasn't Peter) makes no distinction between good and bad slave owners – slaves should be subject to them regardless:

"18 Slaves, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only those who are good and gentle but also those who are dishonest. 19 For it is a commendable thing if, being aware of God, a person endures pain while suffering unjustly. 20 If you endure when you are beaten for doing wrong, what credit is that? But if you endure when you do good and suffer for it, this is a commendable thing before God."

Here, slaves are told to "be subject to your masters with all respect" even to "those who are dishonest". And to rub salt in the wound, they are then told, that it is, in fact, "a commendable thing before God" if they endure being beaten for no good reason. What kind of God finds that 'commendable'?

I understand the concept of being humble and serving Christ in everything we do, but my moral conscience absolutely does not allow for or agree that being a good Christian should involve submitting to (and therefore supporting the continued practice of) an immoral and unethical system. For me, when it comes to social injustice, a Christian, if they follow what is supposed to be a just and moral God, should scream from the rooftops against injustice, not silently submit to it; consequently, I find the idea of being a good little slave disgusting and repellent. Moreover, the main focus on slaves being submissive, rather than slave owners being just, utterly fails to condemn the practice of slavery. You would think the emergence of early Christianity might have been the perfect opportunity for Christians to model a better way, but it seems God missed His opportunity to deal with slavery yet again, or of course, isn't actually real and these are the views of a deluded first-century man.

Both the supporters and the opponents of slavery used the bible to defend their point of view, and not mistakenly; the Bible's contradictory values made it possible. The problem is the Bible, and one has to wonder at the belief that it is the inerrant and inspired word of God when it is so patently flawed. Even if just one single specific verse condemning slavery could be found in the Bible, that wouldn't deal with the injustice of the others. Slavery, of course, is just one of my examples, which are just a few amongst many. The issue of the Bible's endorsement of slavery is just the tip of an iceberg of issues I have with the complex and contradictory values contained within the Bible. My point is that, if one chooses to accept the Bible as the standard for their beliefs about God and morality, as evangelicals do, then they should, at the very least, know what it actually says. Likewise, if one wishes to actively promote their belief system through evangelism, then they should be fully aware of that upon which it is based. The way slavery is supported in the New Testament perfectly demonstrates the problem of cherry-picking which Old Testament values and laws to still follow, depending on one's personal bias.

The New Testament is as flawed as the Old Testament

The Gospels

This has already been exemplified in our discussion on slavery, but let's take a closer look at the New Testament as literature, and where best to start than the gospels, and their historical validity. Tradition attributes the names of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John to each of them, but even believing Bible scholars accept that these are not the actual authors and we don't know who the writers were. Evangelical and fundamentalist Christians also tend to treat them as first-hand, eyewitness accounts, which they are, in fact, most definitely not. At the most generous, the earliest gospel of Mark was likely written around 70 CE, the others, decades later. Matthew and Luke are largely based upon Mark, and an unknown source scholars call Q (no, not the Q of Star Trek), then tailored for their own purposes, and the one attributed to John is dated sometime in the 90s CE (I find it hard to believe the John to which it is ascribed lived long enough to have written it, as does any respectable scholar). Seen as written accounts based upon decades-old oral traditions, the contradictions and inconsistencies found, both between and within them are quite understandable; seen as perfectly remembered eyewitness accounts, written under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, one has to wonder if God's memory isn't quite what it should be. Of course, it also has to be understood that they were never written as historical accounts. Rather than accurately recording historical events, their purpose is proclamatory and theological. Indeed, the very name 'gospel' was a commonly used term to mean a proclamation of good news. The point is, they are the only record of any of the events they profess, and as such, utterly unreliable as evidence of the truth of those events and extraordinary claims. The Gospels do not meet adequate standards of evidence as far as reliable historical records are concerned.

The gospels are written in Greek, but Jesus and his disciples would have spoken Aramaic[35] and been illiterate. Not only are the gospels decades away from any original events, but we are supposed to believe they were written by illiterate men in another language! In fact, it's clear they were written by well-educated men, which would make them elites in the Greco-Roman culture of the time. It's likely that some powerful Roman citizens or officials would have a hand in their sponsorship and distribution[36], (the same can be said for the Letters of Paul). The earliest actual manuscripts date back to about 125CE, (although a small fragment of Mark has recently been dated to possibly the first century). Any complete collections of all four only go as far back as the 4th Century, but given the canon wasn't established until that period, it's hardly surprising. The point is that the belief that the gospels are somehow reliable historical documents is more than questionable.

As a young Christian, I was told that oral traditions are incredibly reliable. It was a lie. Decades-old oral traditions of this nature are notoriously unreliable and almost certainly altered and embellished. Numerous studies have demonstrated this to be the case. There are good reasons why oral traditions, whether societal, familial or personal, very easily become distorted, or even effectively false. Memory and imagination are extremely closely related as brain processes; both run from the Hippocampus and as far as the brain is concerned there is little, if any, difference between an imagined scene and a remembered one. It's the predictive way the brain works. Psychological scientist and memory expert Dr Julia Shaw, explains how unreliable our memories can be: "…we can unintentionally fill in our memory gaps, and make up details…Two of the main processes during which this occurs are known as confabulation and source confusion"[37]. Confabulation is when the brain generates false information that seems to make sense to fill the gaps. This is likely to be triggered by suggestion, imagination and emotional bias, thus we have the phenomenon of false memories that never actually happened. Source confusion is when the brain inserts information from other sources, but we don't remember them, thus we conflate information into one memory. Dr Shaw describes source confusion as "forgetting the source of information and misattributing it to our own memory or experience."[38] When we hear a story, we also imagine it, and those images can be confused with memories. The reality is that many of our false memories are most likely a combination of these two natural processes. Another important aspect of memory and imagination is that the brain wipes previous information with every remembrance and retelling, just like wiping data from a hard drive, so the newest version is always the definitive, even if it has been altered. We literally cannot remember the original. Just think about those family stories that get embellished with every retelling. One person remembers it one way and someone else remembers it another, but both think their memory is accurate, despite the likelihood being that they're both misremembering. Only recently a childhood memory came up when talking to one of my cousins. I remembered the event as just my mother and siblings being there, whereas she remembers being there, too. Who is right? The other problem with the story is that not only has it been told and retold so many times over the decades that the original event has long been replaced, but being a spooky ghost story, as children we no doubt embellished it with every retelling. The thing to remember (excuse the pun) is that the embellishment of stories from oral traditions will add further weight to this process, and it's pretty easy to see how the oral traditions and stories of Jesus found their way into the gospels when they were finally written down decades later, but also easy to see how and why the extraordinary claims of miracles, resurrection and divinity probably bear little or no resemblance to any original events.

Now, you can, if you wish, believe that God somehow had a guiding hand in the passing on of the Jesus stories to such a point that they remained accurate enough to one day give birth to the gospels and be classed as God-inspired scripture, and many Christians do. The problem with this belief, however, is that there is no evidence for it apart from the Bible's own claims about itself, but plenty of evidence that they are not sufficiently accurate, are full of significant contradictions and extraordinary claims for which there isn't even adequate evidence for even the sloppiest historian to take seriously, let alone appropriately extraordinary and robust evidence for such extraordinary claims[39]. 'But it's faith!' I hear the Christians cry. Sure, you can take it on faith, after all, "faith is the excuse people give for believing something for which they have no evidence"[40], besides, it's one thing to have no evidence, but even faith shouldn't ignore good reasons not to believe something.

On the subject of the Canon, it is believed that this was essentially established during the Council of Rome in 382 CE, but the process was, of course, took place over a much longer period of time and was more involved than one conference meeting. Nevertheless, are we to trust blindly that God so inspired the church leaders of three hundred years after Jesus to create the canon of the New Testament?

Ever wondered why there are four gospels? There were many gospels in circulation, so why just these four? What were the reasons why they were the only ones chosen? How did they know they were the 'right' ones? The simple answer is, they didn't. They didn't make it into the canon through a process of fact-checking. Historical truth wasn't really viewed as important. There was no corroborating history or textual analysis to see whether they contradicted each other. It was, put simply, down to theology, and there was no set, agreed to stance on the key issues at that time. They were chosen because they most closely matched the theology of those particular men – they matched their views, but they, of course, would have called it orthodoxy[41].

Don't be fooled into thinking they were all great thinkers. Ever heard of Irenaeus[42]? It was his influence that led to there being just four, no more, no less. His reasoning for this? Among other ridiculously convoluted theological reasons, it was because of the four corners of the earth (yes, he would have believed the world is flat and that influenced his thinking). Another reason cited is the idea of the four winds[43]. There are more just as ridiculous, and I don't need to list them all to make my point, but yes, four, for him, was the magic number. That's the level of thinking that went into the formation of the Biblical canon.

When we think of the earliest biblical texts we actually have for both the Old and New Testaments, we have to view them as archaic literature that has developed and changed over time. Yes, despite what some ill-informed apologists might say, the Dead Sea Scrolls demonstrate many textual differences from other texts we have. Just considering all the many languages the Bible texts have been translated into, (Including Klingon – yes, really) and taking into account just how many different English translations there are, with all their subtle and not-so-subtle differences, one wonders why God hasn't taken more control over what is meant to be his primary source of revelation.

Archaeological evidence is both weak and irrelevant

It's also worth mentioning, as an aside, that there is no corroborating archaeological evidence of the events or claims. Sure, amongst some inaccuracies, there are many accurate references to real places and features of the time, which have been corroborated by archaeology, and Christian apologists will readily mention these, (among other, fraudulent, examples) as evidence of the truth of the gospels. But they are irrelevant. All historical and biographical texts reference the real world, and even fiction set in the real world will contain accurate descriptions and references to real places, none of which testify to the truth of the events they describe. Indeed, the very reason historians evaluate sources is because historical documents, even, contain inaccuracies and are generally woefully biased and laced with inaccurate information and direct falsehoods. Ever heard the phrase history is written by the victors?

Extra-biblical documentary evidence

Even the external documentary sources are extremely limited, and at best, attest to the existence of a historical Jesus, not the extraordinary claims made about him. Of course, ordinary believers and Christian apologists are quick to mention the Jewish/Roman historian, Flavius Josephus as external contemporary evidence of the validity of the gospels, but his historical writing is no such thing. Firstly, Josephus wasn't even born until about 37 CE, let alone having written anything contemporary to the events. Anything he wrote is, therefore, dated no earlier than the gospels, (most likely in the 90s CE), and the earliest manuscripts we have are dated at 230 CE! Most recent peer-reviewed studies demonstrate that the pertinent references to a historical Jesus are extremely likely to have been altered and fabricated, and do not represent the beliefs of Josephus at all; however, even if they were authentic, as they're not contemporary, they provide absolutely nothing of value as corroborating evidence except that the early church existed. Pliny and Tacitus[44] also make passing references to the early Christians. None of this is of any relevance to the gospel claims that the historical Jesus actually performed the miracles, really rose from the dead, or even made the claim, himself, that he was God. Indeed, all these external sources only confirm is that the early Christians believed Jesus was the Messiah, not that he actually is. Whilst the evidence for a historical Jesus is scant, I am not a mythicist and think it likely there was also an impressive historical figure, but, as I have pointed out, this adds nothing in establishing the truth of the claims about Jesus. Jesus and his apostles were all illiterate and left no written legacy. The theological beliefs about the nature of Jesus as the son of God/God himself varied throughout the early church for centuries (and still do). It wasn't until several centuries later that the New Testament canon was established, and the concept of the Holy Trinity became a significant theological stance. It was a pre-Trinity Christian church, incidentally, that Mohammed, the founder of Islam, reacted against, as he thought they had abandoned monotheism for polytheism advocating for three gods.

As I've already outlined, once I understood what the Bible is, its place as the foundation and the measure of how I discerned what is true or not was pulled like a rug from under my feet. My only reasonable conclusion was that the Bible is not the inerrant and inspired word of God. I could have continued to believe it to be God's word, but in a different way. Even if I accepted the contradiction of details as the human aspect of God's revelation – that God's truth reverberated throughout the Bible like a shining thread, despite the flaws - I would still have to trust, rather blindly, that all the writers over the centuries, and the early church leaders who collated the New Testament canon, were sufficiently inspired by God to make the right decisions. the question of why an all-powerful god would lay down his message in such a flawed way remains. For me, to accept the Bible as God's word in any way was no longer a reasonable proposition. Not only did my knowledge of early church history and the way the Bible was collated count as strong evidence otherwise, it would also mean accepting a fallaciously circular and self-validating argument. The problem is that the contradictions and inconsistencies are not just over minor details of narrative, history, genealogy or even ancient worldview, but include huge moral contradictions and glaring inconsistencies regarding God's nature and moral character.

Ignorance Vs. knowledge; Reason vs. faith

How do you tell what is true, false or unverifiable? Truth is important, nevertheless, people find comfort in falsehoods all the time, whether that be a religion, a superstition, or simply the little lies we tell ourselves. When I talk about truth in this context, I mean reality. To know the truth of something is to know the reality of it; to deny the truth of something is to deny reality. So it seems to me, that if one can know the truth of something, then consciously chooses to ignore it in favour of a lie, then that is not only foolish but lacks integrity. I remember meeting with some former students[45] of mine at a wedding. One girl had gone to university and had begun a religious studies degree, but she reported that she'd switched subjects after the first year because she realised the course would challenge her faith too much. I remember feeling so sad that was her attitude. For me, to ignore clear evidence in favour of a lie is a kind of self-betrayal, and as Shakespeare famously wrote, "To thine own self be true"[46]. It's what drove my search for authenticity and integrity as a believer and what led me to put those beliefs aside. Of course, we can never know the full truth of everything, which is an excuse I have heard Christians make, (usually in some kind of misguided attempt to discredit scientific method or even seeking truth at all. It's true, but that attitude is also an equivocation and is not how we need to live our lives. I don't properly understand how a car engine works, but I can reasonably trust that others do and can know from experience that they do. When it comes to the big questions like is there a divine being behind the creation of the universe? it's reasonable and rational, when we reach the end of our knowledge, to accept it's all we know so far, or conclude with 'I don't know'. That is a far more honest and reasonable response than filling that gap with assumption, superstition, or as Christians do, God. And let's be clear, if we did discover evidence of some kind of being behind the universe, (though I have no idea what that kind of evidence would look like), it's still quite some steps away from confirming what kind of being it is, let alone establishing it's the God of the Bible – but of course, that's exactly the assumption Christians would make.

Alone among the animals of this planet, human beings appear to be the most conscious, capable of abstract thought, incredible imagination, creativity and invention; we are capable of razor-sharp analysis, insightful and rational logic, of constructing devices and systems to observe and understand the nature of reality beyond the bounds of our senses, and of course, self-awareness. We are able to observe our own responses, to conduct dialogues with ourselves, to ask why am I here? What is my place, my purpose, my nature? We alone can ask ourselves, why did I think that? Why did I do that? Why did I say that? Why do I feel that? Yet, at the same time, we are vulnerable to constant self-delusions, a lack of emotional and mental control and destructive and irrational behaviour. We can build community, work together and are capable of empathy and compassion, yet we are also capable of the most incredible destruction and horrific cruelty. We truly are a species of contradictions. I think religion and superstition fall into the category of one of our delusions. It's quite natural for us to want to find meaning outside of ourselves, to fill the gap in our knowledge with God, rather than be happy with saying I don't know. We have evolved to see patterns, to believe in something 'more', but that doesn't mean there is. It's probably clear that my perspective is materialist, but It's probably worth making it explicit at this stage that, yes, my worldview is that of what is often called 'materialist' in that I don't believe there is anything more than the material world. Let me be clear, I'm not making the claim there definitely isn't more than what we understand materially about the universe, just that all I know is what we've discovered so far, so I have no reason to assume there is any kind of spiritual dimension, (at least not one that can be demonstrated to interact with the material world). It's the basis of the scientific method and has to be by definition. Science can only test that which is testable, only verify or falsify that which is verifiable or falsifiable. That's why it says nothing of whether there is a god or not. Materialism isn't a belief; it's a perspective, but a highly reasonable one. So, as a materialist, I do not believe in anything supernatural. The natural world can be studied materially using rigorous scientific method, but as the supernatural is unverifiable and unfalsifiable, it cannot, so there is no good way to establish the truth of it. As it stands, there is no supernatural claim that has ever been verified by science; if there were, then, by definition, it would no longer be supernatural, just natural. Some Christians will always fall back on saying that materialism is a kind of arrogance, believing that we are assuming that there isn't anything more, but that's either a misunderstanding of science or a deliberate equivocation because it mispresents the position[47]. There is no such assumption; rather it is a belief in the supernatural that is making the assumption, given that there is no evidence to support such a belief.

The story of human nature is the tension between our rational selves and our instinctive selves, and for me, Christianity exemplifies that; in fact, there is good evidence that the God of the Bible values submissiveness and ignorance, and faith over reason, not freedom of thought and intelligence. The development of our intellect and our search for knowledge and understanding is uniquely human, yet there's a clear thread in the Bible that would suppress this wonderful trait.

Faith isn't a virtue

Firstly, let's look at the concept of faith. In his letter to the Hebrews, Paul describes faith as "the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen"[48], and goes even further when he adds "…without faith, it is impossible to please God, for whoever would approach him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those that seek him".[49] in his second letter to the church in Corinth, he says "…we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen"[50] and in the next chapter, "for we walk by faith nor by sight".[51]

What these descriptions have in common is that faith is believing, confidently in something we don't see – that means something we have no physical evidence for. No doubt this seemed reasonable to a first-century man who had no concept of science in the way we do, and the context of his comment is pure theology, so we can forgive him for this, but let's look closer at Paul's comment from Hebrews 11:6. Here we are not only told that it is impossible to please God without faith, but believing he exists is essential, and God values belief in him so much he rewards it. What does that say about this God? It tells me that he values blind belief over reason and that he values ignorance over knowledge. Is that a god that has any respect for human intellect? I sought deeper understanding whilst I had faith, and that led to no longer believing, so no wonder he doesn't want us to use our brains. Apparently, he needs unreasoning, unquestioning automatons as worshippers. Of course, this is the exact opposite of scientific enquiry, by which we begin with observation (seeing). Is this kind of blind belief justified in the age in which we live? Today, through invention and scientific method, we can see and understand a great many things beyond our senses, yet there is an underlying value within our culture, not confined to religious circles, that faith is a virtue – why? I don't see believing in things for which we have no evidence should be virtuous, rather it is the reverse - no better than superstition. What's worse, is that this attitude is only applied to the question of belief in God; we don't apply such a ridiculous attitude to any other aspect of our lives, thus it is a double standard. Think about it. No one ever seriously says, oh but ghosts are real, but you need to have faith, or Santa Clause is real, just have faith in him. It's the concept of faith that puts Christianity at odds with knowledge. Paul might as well be saying, put your intellect aside and choose to be ignorant, and why not, as he is relying on other scriptures that promote this idea. Paul even appears to mock any wisdom that isn't based on faith. Quoting the Old Testament prophet, Isaiah, he writes "I will destroy the wisdom of the wise and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart."[52] Then says, "Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?" Well, no, Paul, he hasn't. Again, perhaps it was easy for a first-century man to have that point of view, but one look at our scientific advancements today makes Paul's first-century mocking sound rather foolish.

Some Christian apologists will try to wriggle out of this issue by stating that the opposite of faith isn't knowledge, but unbelief. Well, this is also true, but the argument is a dishonest equivocation when you consider that, for many people, their unbelief is based on…you guessed it, knowledge! It's similar to when they say that the opposite of knowledge isn't faith, but ignorance (lack of knowledge). Again, this is misdirection. yes, it's fair to say ignorance and knowledge are opposites, but the argument is fallacious because it assumes that faith does not equate to ignorance, which it does. It's just another equivocation based on misdirection, assumption and semantics. It might confuse some, and might even convince others, but adding words that mean the same thing anyway makes the argument not just invalid, but nonsensical.

Is knowledge sinful?

The book of Proverbs is full of admonitions to value knowledge and wisdom, but there's a catch, as it has to be God's wisdom, for example, "Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding." It's actually nonsensical. If I need my own understanding to know what god's wisdom is, but can't use my own understanding, I'm a bit stuck, aren't I? Proverbs also says "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge"[53], and "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom"[54]. How does this work? How are we to know what God's wisdom actually is? We have already seen that the Bible is an unreliable source, and if the teaching on faith is anything to go by, we must turn our back on free thought and learning. The Bible's definition of faith is clear. If you think you know something to be true, then trusting in that knowledge is faith. I use the word knowledge here loosely because, unfortunately, just because you think you know something is true, it doesn't mean it is, especially when you have absolutely no evidence to support your supposed knowledge.

Putting aside the fact that the whole problem of sin and God's plan of salvation is both a problem and solution of God's own making, one wonders why He has made His plan of salvation so heavily reliant on belief and faith, and so anti-knowledge yet so unreasonable to believe. Why create such an intelligent species as human beings and then value the repression of that intelligence? It's like a talented child being told not to pursue their talent by their parents. At first, it seemed God preferred ignorance and submission, and any hint of using our intelligence to pursue knowledge had to be rooted in pride and arrogance, but then, the more I saw this theme throughout the biblical texts, I began to see it for what it was, the repression of a deeply insecure and jealous tyrant. It's why the first half of the Ten Commandments are focused on loving God and having no other gods before him[55]. This theme runs like a river of blood throughout the whole of the Old Testament, so much so that terrible commandments and instructions were dished out, including the most horrific punishments and genocide. Of course, I now see that these are the inventions of men designed to repress and control the populace. The issue haunted me as I went through the process of deconstruction. As my intellect blossomed and I studied His Word (as I thought it was) in greater depth, and addressed contradictions and inconsistencies with courage because I had faith, it was so disappointing to find that God's grand scheme not only became so inadequate but my studies revealed a God who didn't value knowledge and reason at all – indeed, it seemed knowledge was at the heart of what Jesus called the unforgivable sin of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit[56], that it was at the heart of the very concept of sin.

With this in mind, let's have a fresh look at the story of Adam and Eve and their first sin. The problem begins in the second creation account in chapter 2 verse 9, when God places two trees in the centre of the Garden of Eden: the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. (We have to make an educated guess that at this stage they somehow couldn't conceive of the concepts of good and evil, but God could). God instructs Adam that he may eat of any tree, but not the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and if he does, he will die, (Vs.16-17). Why God put this tree in the garden in the first place if he didn't want them to eat from it, would be a good question. One wonders why He took such a risk with his wonderful creation. Christians are routinely taught that placing temptation there was necessary for free will, but what kind of free will they actually had is anyone's guess given that they apparently had no concept of good and evil (hence the tree). Moreover, why make this specific tree? Why not choose something that would be harmless? The key word here, though is knowledge. The tree represents knowledge and it's something God doesn't want them to have, so let's see if we can figure out why. A clue may be when the account makes a point in Ch.2:25 that they were naked and not ashamed of it. Why should they should be ashamed anyway? It is interesting, however, that they did feel ashamed of being naked after eating from the tree. One has to wonder what feeling ashamed of one's nakedness and gaining knowledge of good and evil have to do with each other. Let's look more closely at the event. The talking serpent comes along (notice that there is no mention of it being Satan, here, just an animal). Genesis 3:1-7 says:

3 Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, "Did God really say, 'You must not eat from any tree in the garden'?"

2 The woman said to the serpent, "We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, 3 but God did say, 'You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.'"

4 "You will not certainly die," the serpent said to the woman. 5 "For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil."

6 When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. 7 Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves".

The serpent misrepresents God's instructions in his question, and on hearing Eve's answer, declares that they won't die at all, and what's more, they will gain the same knowledge God has of good and evil. Anyway, it turns out the serpent was right, they do gain the knowledge of good and evil, and they don't die – at least not right away, although given that God expels them from the garden in case they eat from the other tree, which would make them live forever, they would have died anyway had they obeyed him (Vs.22-24), and one assumes would have lived forever anyway had they had the wherewithal to eat from the tree of life, too. I still don't know what knowing about good and evil has to do with being naked, but, other than God's direct and disproportionate punishments, their newfound sense of shame certainly seems to be the main consequence of eating from the tree, as they then hide from God not because they have disobeyed but because they were naked (Vs.10). Of course, these are entirely mythical events, but it's difficult to gain any useful lesson from it other than the fact that God really didn't want humans to live forever or have knowledge of good and evil like him (or that they were naked it would seem), but went ahead and placed the two trees in the garden anyway. Given that the plan of salvation is also to grant us eternal life, when did God change his mind about that? And I ask again, why does this knowledge have the effect of making us ashamed of our nakedness? Weird. While we're on the subject, if Adam and Eve had already made coverings out of fig leaves, why did God feel it necessary to kill animals to make them clothing[57]? Even more weird.

So, we have, right from the start, a God that provides the potential for humans to gain knowledge, but throws a complete wobbly when they seek it out. Isn't he meant to be the all-powerful creator of the universe, so why is he insecure about us being like him just because we can conceive of the concept of good and evil?

This kind of insecurity that humans might become like him continues. Let's have a quick look at the story of the tower of Babel[58]. Genesis 11 tells us that the nations descended from Noah's sons all spoke the same language, (which I would think quite useful), and they decided to build a large city and tower as a way of staying as one people in one place, and making a name for themselves – a fairly standard story of human cooperation and advancement. But God was not fond of this idea at all:

5 But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower the people were building. 6 The Lord said, "If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. 7 Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other." 8 So the Lord scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city.

Seriously, was God really so worried about human advancement? And how did this all-powerful God not know that humans would overcome language barriers anyway? Considering what we've achieved over the thousands of years since, if he was worried about a tower reaching the "heavens", he must have been apoplectic when we went to the moon! Given almost everything else we read in the Old Testament, it would seem he actually prefers division. Of course, none of this really happened, but again, it teaches believers about an insecure and naïve god who doesn't like humans seeking knowledge.

Considering the pursuit of knowledge triggered my transition from believer to atheist, I guess he has good reason to want to keep us ignorant. I may be driving my point home a little hard, but that doesn't make it any less valid. There is an anti-knowledge, anti-science mindset within evangelical Christianity, which has gained a great deal of influence in the USA over recent years, so much so that they are dealing with ridiculous book burnings, the censorship of science education in schools, and the promotion of creationism in science lessons. I am thoroughly and passionately against it. It's the same attitude that causes Christians to say things like, "You're thinking too much", and "There's more to the universe than what science has shown us" and even equates the pursuit of knowledge to pride and arrogance, or accuses atheist materialists like me of being closed-minded. None of these attitudes are in the least bit valid. I mean, "thinking too much", seriously? My usual response is to ask what the assumption behind that statement actually is – I mean, is God not able to handle a bit of deep thought? The pursuit of knowledge isn't an act of pride or arrogance; it's predicated on not being knowledgeable enough; it's a humble activity! The reliance on science isn't closed-minded because it's based on the pursuit of knowledge, it's the admission that yes, there is so much more to know, so much we may never know, and that's a great reason to be open and increase our knowledge. Materialism is merely the acceptance of what we have discovered so far and the rejection of unverifiable and unfalsifiable ideas that lack a shred of evidence, but it is not closed-minded. What makes the statement: 'There is more to the universe than science' so flawed is the sheer hypocrisy of it. The scientific method by definition understands this and seeks to know and understand reality better. What is closed-minded is giving up on discovery and lazily inserting 'therefore God' every time we reach the bounds of our knowledge. Religion dogmatically says it knows the truth (without any evidence but ancient, archaic texts) but science is entirely comfortable with mystery. It doesn't make absolute conclusions and works by trying to disprove hypotheses. It's why a very clear conclusion with mountains of evidence is only ever called a theory, and that's why religious ideas are called dogma. So yes, I utterly refute the anti-knowledge mindset in all its ugly forms.

I'm (not) a soul man

One such human delusion that has been reinforced by our Judeo-Christian and Greco-Roman heritage is the notion of a soul, or spirit if you prefer. It's easy to see why we imagine a self that is somehow separate from our bodies and may even live on beyond our bodies. That self-awareness has been one of our greatest evolutionary advantages. But here's the thing, Biology and neuroscience have demonstrated pretty well that we just don't work that way. We know how everything we think and feel is a physical thing. As much as we like to think there's an unchanging 'self' inside us somewhere, which perhaps drives the core of our personality, emotions and innermost thoughts, we all know, really, that isn't the case. Despite many of us holding on to the idea we are spiritual beings, as far as we can tell, everything we are is physical, and when the body dies, we die. Just think about how our physical well-being can affect our moods and clarity of thought, how we can become 'hangry' when both tired and hungry, or how degenerative neurological conditions can utterly change a person's personality. Why? Because the mind and body are one and there is no magical third part to our nature. It has, literally, never been detected. Let me ask you, where does the soul reside? Is it in our brains? Or maybe in our nervous system? Maybe in our hearts, after all, we often use the term 'heart' to mean the core of our being, even though it's just an organ that pumps blood. Unfortunately, the concept of an eternal soul is so entrenched in our psyche, that it permeates our culture and how we think in so many ways. I cannot almost guarantee that if the subject were to come up in discussion with friends, some, if not all, would baulk at the outrageousness at my confession that I am not at all convinced that there is such a thing as the soul, yet in reality, as far as any study has ever been able to demonstrate, it's just another human delusion. The notion of a soul, despite there being no evidence for it, is as old as the earliest human societies, and just as Judaism believed the concept, so did the Greek philosophers and the early Christians. Greek philosophers believed everything has a dual nature, the essence and the substance. Put rather simply, the physical being or object as we see it is the substance, but its true nature is the essence. This plays into the concept of the soul, in that one might consider our bodies to be the substance and the soul our essence. It's what informed the Roman Catholic concept of transubstantiation, in which they believe the eucharist actually becomes the body of Christ, but the reason it still looks like a little round wafer is because it's only the essence that has changed, see? As a society we still think in terms of mind and body being separate in some way, or worse still, as if we have a tripartite nature of mind, body and soul/spirit and not only are many religions reliant on this concept[59], even the modern wellness industry exploits it.

My lack of belief in this concept directly informs my views on an afterlife, which in turn, puts a pretty big spanner in the workings of Christianity. The ramifications for my belief in Christianity should be clear, if I don't believe in an eternal soul, then the concept of eternal life falls apart. It's why I don't believe in ghosts either. No science has discovered anything that lives on that is in any conceivable way capable of thought and feeling and memory once the body and brain has died. I have no need to imagine any kind of life after death, and am quite happy with the notion of oblivion. In fact, I find it difficult to see why people struggle with this concept so much. Until 1968, I did not exist, and one day I will once again cease to exist. I don't feel in any way traumatised by those billions of years of not existing, so I'm pretty sure going back to that state will be ok, too. I may never have had a near-death experience, but I have had a facing-death experience. When I was knocked down in 2010, for a while, my injuries appeared to be such that I genuinely thought it was my last day. I wasn't frightened because I knew death is natural, and I neither fear nor look forward to an imaginary afterlife. I was, however, sad for my wife and daughters and the grief my early demise would force them to endure. As far as I know, we have only one life, and the Biblical imperative to focus on eternal life after death is now repugnant to me.

The inconsistency of the Christian experience and the problem of suffering.

Some Christian denominations, both mainstream and non-mainstream have developed theologies as to why God doesn't seem to act in the world as he does in the Bible stories, but that wasn't the version I believed in, and so the problem of God's seemingly inconsistent and mysterious intervention was always there, lurking beneath the surface of my psyche. My conversion experience, I'm a little embarrassed to say, was one in which I felt God intervened directly by speaking to me, and that kind of visceral, experiential Christianity is what I believed in. If I'm honest, though, even as a believer, I never had, nor encountered an adequate answer as to why God might sometimes intervene and other times not, and ultimately, I had to rely on the get-out clause of trusting that God knew what He was doing – literally, the cliché of 'God works in mysterious ways', and it eventually gnawed away at my faith.

I was able to ignore this issue for years, but the process of deconstruction brought it to the fore in stark relief, and as I transitioned, just trusting God no longer felt like an appropriate option. Striving to find a way to understand it that would preserve my faith-based worldview, I read a variety of books on the subject, but apologists' and theologians' answers were always lacking. The problem is twofold. Firstly, I realised the excuses for suffering no longer held sway. The most common ones are that suffering is a result of sin, and the other is that God won't interfere with free will. I got to a point where I could no longer acknowledge the concept of sin, or that suffering is a result of it, and the free will argument is contradicted by too many exceptions. So, the second issue is one of consistency. Either God is compassionate or not; either he is prepared to intervene or not, and trusting God was no better than the throw of a die, except the chances of a positive outcome are considerably worse. It's not that I didn't accept suffering as a part of life, but I could no longer accept the notion of a compassionate and involved deity in the equation. The reality is that not one single modern miracle has been demonstrated to be real, and a whole lot are easily debunked, yet, with a heavy dose of confirmation bias, Christians continue to believe that God acts in the world. Robust studies and meta-studies[60] have demonstrated that there is no power in prayer beyond that which is associated with meditation, positive thinking and the placebo effect, and let's be clear, spontaneous remission is a well-documented phenomenon separate from prayer. The simple fact of the matter is that the supernatural has never been demonstrated, whatever the context, to be real. My Christian experience is laden with examples of confirmation bias, wishful thinking, and downright irrational belief. It's why any apparent miracles are almost always soft miracles. Interestingly, there are plenty of stories of God healing that dodgy knee or shoulder - how nice of him- but what about the child with Leukaemia, or the young mother with Bowel Cancer? Is God all-powerful or not? Does heal people or not? If not, why did he used to intervene in the Bile stories, but doesn't bother anymore? I have so many stories to exemplify this one, but will limit myself to just one. I remember once when my brother escaped a tragic avalanche which took a number of lives because he happened to leave the area the day before it happened. Rather than see it as a fortunate coincidence for him, a relative said, "Someone was looking after him" (meaning God, of course). Even then, as a believer, I found the statement to be trite and insulting, more akin to superstition than faith in God and challenged it by stating it was a shame God wasn't watching over the poor people who died the next day, too. I think this kind of blind trust in God's apparent favouritism is not just ignorant, but callous, too, and demonstrates just how that kind of faith is by no means a virtue. It's the hypocrisy of confirmation bias combined with faith in God that enables Christians to have it both ways. If events seem to turn out as requested, then God answered prayer, if not, the excuse is it wasn't God's plan for some reason and we should trust him to know best. Working in a charismatic missionary organisation, my experience is replete with examples of Christians treating prayer more like superstition. I worked with a guy who insisted on praying for God's protection every time we embarked on a journey. Of course, if we made it to our destination safely, God had protected us, but if we didn't, then God was testing us or had a greater plan. How convenient.

Concluding remarks

So there it is: an explanation of why I am an atheist. It's not a comprehensive rebuttal of Christianity, just an account of some of the main reasons I no longer believe, and is primarily focused on my rejection of Evangelical Christianity. When I deconstructed my own faith and belief system, it was found wanting. I studied the Bible with the honest desire to be as good a disciple as possible, only to find that it opened Pandora's proverbial box, leaving me with four possible options: One, ignore the contradictions and issues and live a dishonest faith, two, accept that God is far less competent in making his will known, three accept that he is not just and moral at all, but a monster, or four, accept the more likely option that he doesn't exist and the Bible is the muddled ravings of ancient deluded men. Christians regularly describe their conversion (as did I) as 'seeing the light', 'waking up', or some other metaphor for seeing reality more clearly. Interestingly, deluded conspiracy theorists say the same. For me, understanding the Bible for what it is was more like coming out of the darkness than anything else. Critical thinking, logic and academic rigour are what helped me 'see the light'. Once you have seen the problems with believing in Christianity, they cannot be unseen.

There's a lot I have left out. I could have answered typical Christian arguments for God, such as how nature gives the appearance of a designer, for example, but these kinds of arguments, whilst easily answered are largely irrelevant as even if I were to concede there could be a designer who created the universe, there would still be many steps to proving that designer and creator is the God of the Bible. I neither know nor care if there is some vague deity behind the universe, but I do care if that deity makes demands of me. It's the concept of a thinking, acting agency like the God of the Bible that is relevant to me. I am utterly unconvinced the God of the Bible exists – at least not in the form presented, but if there is a different thinking, acting agency, and it wants my attention, then I suggest it gets off its ass and lets me know, because as far as I can tell, there isn't one, and if there is, why does it seem so hidden? If it wants to reveal itself, have at it, but I don't feel any need or obligation whatsoever to seek it out. So, I have restricted myself to issues that are only relevant to me.

It's also decades since I was in higher education and I am acutely aware that this is by no means an academic paper. I would, however, stress that whilst this is only a slightly autobiographical opinion piece, I hope it can be appreciated that my thoughts and opinions are well-informed. I think an epistemological approach to this subject is important, and I believe in the value of critical reasoning, academic rigour and the scientific method. Anyone who knows me well knows that I can be a little opinionated at times, and I hope that this piece of writing doesn't come across as too imperious in tone, but I also hope that anyone who knows me well also knows that I am not one to express unfounded and un-thought-through opinions, and only tend to discuss a subject in depth or convey an opinion with vigour if I have put in the work first.

 

 

Endnotes:

[1] Which them puts them on exactly the same footing as having to prove the claim, and they should know better that you can neither prove nor disprove either assertion.

[2] Yes, believe it or not, there really are some Christians out there that believe this (mainly in the USA).

[3] People who believe there is only one God.

[4] Blaise Pascal (1623-1662) was a philosopher and theologian. His 'wager' is premised on the notion that human beings who don't believe in God are taking a huge gamble of ending up in hell, so they should strive to be believers in order to avoid it. It's fallacious for a number of reasons, but mainly because it assumes only two options: either the God of the Bible is real or the God of the Bible isn't real, thus utterly failing to take into account that a) there may be another god that's the real one (there are plenty to choose from) or b) that his interpretation of the Bible and beliefs about God are correct, (there are, of course many, many different Christian denominations and differing views of salvation. Another failing of the wager is that it assumes that either belief is a choice, or his God doesn't care if you really believe or not, as long as you're dishonest and hypocritical enough to simply go through the motions to save your (assumed) eternal soul from eternal damnation.

[5] John 14:6

[6] A stance I am entirely comfortable with regarding any, as-yet-undiscovered answer or unanswerable question. Theists reach the (so far) unknown, and rather than accept we don't know yet or we may never know, they then insert a god. This is, essentially, the logic of superstition, and is a dishonest and fallacious thing to do, because any concept of a god, unless proven and verified by scientific method and sound reasoning, remains an utterly unverifiable and unfalsifiable conclusion.

[7] We have already seen that God's laws in the Old Testament are hardly a fitting guide. Contrary to the Christian assertion, The Bible is wholly inadequate as a measure of morality, but how I form moral standards and ethics is a separate issue, and my general worldview, that is, who and what we are as a species, our place on this planet and how we relate to nature and each other, is informed by critical reasoning, science and philosophy.

[8] I use both terms, deconstruction and deconversion, as I don't see them as the same thing. Theoretically, one might go through the deconstruction of a set of beliefs and the beliefs emerge confirmed and more robust. For me, however, deconstructing Christianity found it seriously wanting, and the outcome was my deconversion.

[9] 1977, Directed by Franco Zeffirelli and starring Robert Powell in the titular role.

[10] These days, I would cringe at the overtly Western portrayal of Jesus with those piercing blue eyes or the scene in which he gives the sermon on the mount in 16th-century English ( also a quirk of Joseph Smith's apparent revelations from God, when establishing his frontier Christianity – why he didn't choose the 19th century English of his own time period is open to debate, but perhaps god had forgotten Hebrew or Aramaic, or Greek, or Latin, or maybe he just loved Shakespeare and decided to pass on his new revelations in 16th century English?

[11] With the benefit of hindsight, it's easy to see that I was most likely slightly depressed, too.

[12] It's well documented that people will interpret dreams, hallucinations, near-death experiences and other emotional and transformative experiences in the context of their cultural and personal worldview.

[13] Indeed, given the evangelical and fundamentalist stance on the Bible, I applied the same logic as a sceptic, too.

[14] Yes, this expression of Christianity fully believed in the existence of angels and demons, 'principalities and powers' (Ephesians 6:12). Note that the term oppressed is used instead of possessed, and deliverance instead of exorcism. This is because as a Christian, you could be oppressed by a demon but not possessed – although in practice, it amounted to the same thing.

[15] I must have only been between around 10-12 years old at the most. I didn't realise it at the time, but I can see, now, how that experience (along with the very concept of sin) introduced a degree of shame into my psyche, which influenced me for years. I now think that it was an unethical thing to related to a child, and personally believe the indoctrination of children is an immoral act, but understand that a believer would see it the opposite way around.

[16] I don't mean renowned in academic circles here, just renowned in the Christian world.

[17] It's an appeal to purity that goes like this: Person 1: No Scotsman puts sugar in his porridge! Person 2: But my friend Duncan likes sugar with his porridge. Person 1: Ah, but no true Scotsman puts sugar in his porridge. You can replace 'Scotsman' with any other type of group of people. The fallacy defends a generalisation or premise by denying the validity of any counter-argument by changing the goal posts on what constitutes a definition by adding 'true', thus it is an equivocation dismissing every counter-argument without having to be true itself.

[18] 1 Corinthians, where he quotes Jesus to justify paying your preacher, advising against divorce and the words of Jesus during the Last Supper.

[19] Known as the Torah in Judaism and the Pentateuch to Christianity

[20] Many of the anachronisms relate to linguistic issues and references to places that shouldn't yet exist or geographical features. There are even references to ironworking nearly a millennium before the Iron age, and somehow Abraham kept domesticated camels centuries before they had first been domesticated.

[21] Between 600-500 BCE. There is clear evidence for this event. They were defeated by King Nebuchadnezzar, then around sixty years later, he was, in turn, conquered by the King Cyrus of Persia, who allowed the Israelites to return home. By that time, 'home', of course, was Babylon and almost all the Israelite population wouldn't have known any different – hence the need to maintain and establish their sense of national identity under their particular god.

[22] I mean the events the Gospels are about, not the written texts.

[23] This is the notion that the first sin infected the human race, meaning that we are all born with a proclivity to sin. The early church father, Augustine of Hippo (354-430 CE) first coined the phrase 'original sin' but of course, Paul seemed to teach it as fundamental to the plan of salvation: "12 Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned." (Romans 5:12)

[24] A historical and textual analysis easily demonstrates its roots in the context of earlier ancient Near Eastern texts and reveals more than one author (it is obvious the mythological Moses was not the writer).

[25] Although, I would hardly describe belief as a choice. I can no more help not believing in fairies or believing that the sky is blue. A lack of belief, though, is no excuse for God, and more than a choice to reject him.

[26] "16 However, in the cities of the nations the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance, do not leave alive anything that breathes. 17 Completely destroy them—the Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites—as the Lord your God has commanded you. 18 Otherwise, they will teach you to follow all the detestable things they do in worshipping their gods, and you will sin against the Lord your God"

[27] This verse also demonstrates the difference between the Jesus of the earlier gospels and the Jesus of the gospel of John, in how salvation is achieved, and of course, the difference between how this Jesus perceived salvation in some gospel accounts as opposed to the belief and atonement-based salvation taught by Paul.

[28] Found in Paul's letter to the Galatians. To his credit, it' a masterpiece of theology. The whole letter is a grand theological treatise explaining how he believed Jesus' death and resurrection fulfilled the law, and how salvation in that new covenant is by faith, just as it was for Abraham who, of course, pre-dates the law of Moses. Unfortunately, this hasn't dealt with the Christian cherry picking of laws to suit their own biases, or the reiteration of some of those laws in other parts of the NT.

[29] Romans 13:8-10 and Galatians 5:14

[30] There will be more on this specific issue later.

[31] "If you have a rebellious son, you should take him to the elders who will ensure all the men of the town will stone him to death."

[32] Deuteronomy 25:11-12 "If two men are fighting and the wife of one of them comes to rescue her husband from his assailant, and she reaches out and seizes him by his private parts, you shall cut off her hand. Show her no pity."

[33] Mark 12:31

[34] Ephesians 2:15

[35] A semantic language closely related to Hebrew, in which the Jewish Torah was written.

[36] The Origins of Early Christian Literature: Contextualising the New Testament within Greco-Roman Culture, Professor Robyn Walsh, Cambridge University Press, 2023

[37] The memory Illusion: remembering, forgetting, and the science of false memory, Dr Julia Shaw, Penguin Random House UK, 2016, P.3

[38] The memory Illusion: remembering, forgetting, and the science of false memory, Dr Julia Shaw, Penguin Random House UK 2016, P.4

[39] "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence" was first coined by sociologist Marcello Truzzi (1935-2003), but made famous by Carl Sagan (1934-1996). I think it's an excellent point.

[40] A phrase coined by Debater and sceptic, Matt Dillahunty.

[41] A belief, doctrine or way of thinking that is accepted as true or correct.

[42] St Irenaeus, 130/40-202 CE, was Bishop of Lyon, and a highly influential theologian and apologist.

[43] An ancient belief that dates back to at least 3000 BCE in its earliest forms, (but was routinely appropriated in subsequent cultures), that the North, South, East and westerly winds represent mythical or spiritual beings.

[44] Pliny The Younger, 62-113 CE and Tacitus 56-120 CE. Both were Roman authors and historians who were contemporaries.

[45] Discipleship and evangelism student on 'Operation Year', not a school student from my later career.

[46] Hamlet, Act 1 Scene 3. This advice forms part of a longer speech given by Polonius to Hamlet before he goes off to university. While this footnote is a digression, I should point out that I am using the phrase as it is often used today, to mean being true to one's values, rather than sacrificing them for the sake of comfort or fitting in, or any other reason. That's not exactly the original meaning of the phrase, and neither is it given by a pleasant character, as Polonius is a rather pompous, hypocritical and thoughtless character and it's ironic that he should give good advice, but I hope you understand my meaning.

[47] This kind of argument is known as the Straw man fallacy, by which a person's argument is altered or distorted in some way to weaken it

[48] Hebrews 11:1

[49] Hebrews 11:6

[50] 2 Corinthians 4:18

[51] 2 Corinthians 5:7

[52] Isaiah 29:14 The actual context of this verse is God punishing his people for going through the motions of worshipping him but not really believing (Vs.13) which kind of contradicts Blaize pascal and his ridiculous wager. It seems, if you don't believe, God isn't a fan, even though belief isn't a choice.

[53] Proverbs 1:7

[54] Proverbs 9:10

[55] Exodus 20:1-7 & Deuteronomy 5:6-11

[56] Matthew 12:28-32, Mark 3:28-29, Luke 12:8-10, Hebrews 6:4-6 & 10:26-31. Blasphemy, according to the gospels is to deny the works of Jesus as being the work of the Holy Spirit – to not believe -and this is an unforgivable, eternal sin. The writer of Hebrews builds on this idea and turns it on anyone who once believed, but no longer believes. The threats for me not believing are unambiguous; God will have his vengeance on me. Nice. His own Bible led me to unbelief, but that's somehow my fault and God counts it as an unforgivable sin, so I am doomed to burn forever in hell. I would be terrified if I actually believed any of it.

[57] Verse 21

[58] Genesis 11:1-9

[59] With the exception of the Buddhist concept of Anatta or Anatman, which means No Self. It's the notion that the idea of an eternal unchanging self (soul) is a delusion. It's predicted on the ideas that absolutely nothing stays the same but is always changing, and that everything is connected. It's too complicated to explain properly here, but it makes a lot of sense, and, to date, actually fits perfectly with our modern, scientific understanding of reality.

[60] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2802370/ This is just one example.

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