Athiests tend to regard religion as unimportant (some athiests are actually obessed with religion – but they are a weird minority of athiests), but actually it is very important.
For example Marxism has long used the Heaven-on-Earth promise (it is a lot older than Marxism – indeed it is often called “the oldest heresy”) and the left (the real hard core totalitarian left) still use this method – under such names as the “social gospel”, “liberation theology”, “collective salvation” and on and on.
“Paul you are as paranoid as Glenn Beck” oh no, I am much worse. I have been banging on about this stuff for years – messing up the lives of innocent people by sending them e.mails full of horrors…..
Anyway dear Time magazine (sent to three million people per week) is dominated in the present issue by…..
You guessed it – the Heaven-on-Earth promise. How we must not think of Heaven as up in the sky or after death…. (none of that silly “sword and sandals religious stuff” as a trendy go-ahead vicar said on the BBC radio show “Sunday” describing his new “People’s Passion Play” – no Romans nailing Jesus to the Cross, no it is set in a factory where the noble workers….) – no Heaven is to be here on Earth and is defined as us all working for the common good under the wise guidence of…. all that we need to do is exterminate the Kulaks (sorry I am jumping the gun there – that will be for issues of Time magazine published after the November election).
Time magazine is not run by fringe types – they are well balanced, rational, cong-sons-of-bitches who certainly would not waste time on religion (which, privately, they think is a bunch of fairy stories) if they did not think it was very important.
So how should people who oppose the politics of Time magazine (and the universities and …. the rest of the insitutional left establishment) deal in relation to religion?
For an athiest it is easy – “religion is crap, and the fact the left are using religous arguements (and totally phony, distorted, religous arguments at that) shows how pathetic they are”.
Well that is O.K. for the minority of the world’s population that are athiests – but what about every one else?
Another approach it to declare everything in the Bible true and good – as if it were the Koran which is (supposedly) all the word of God and older than the universe. Rather than the Bible – which was written by lots of different human beings, some good, some bad …. all seeking some insight into God, but comming up with very different ideas (for those who doubt that – compare the Book of Joshua with the Gospels).
Actually the “Fundementalists” started off well – even in the 19th century (before the term “fundementalist” was formally used) it was the hard liners who tended to be most opposed to slavery and the persecution of people on the basis of the color of their skin “a Bible in one hand – but a pistol in the other, and do not forget the account book in their back pocket” was the (perhaps rather cynical) sterotype of the hardcore (rather than the moderate, i.e. corporate welfare supporting) American Republican. Campainging against slavery in the South (very much a religious issue – and a war that really started in “Bleeding Kansas” long before the moderate (i.e. corporate welfare faction) Mr Lincoln was elected President.
Or walking up a dusty road in the town of Tombstone Arizonia. And do not forget the “Vengeance Ride” of Mr Earp after his brothers were shot, in different events, in the back (of course such colourful characters as “Johney Ringo” boasted that they had never had to face any person they killed, as “every man turns his back or goes to sleep sometime” – clearly Mr Ringo was not emotionally crippled by an oppressive sense of morality). Mr Earp had no doubts as to the rightness of his actions – after all this was not a matter of some family feud, for he was but the instrument of the Lord, bringing justice to the evil doers. A hero and benefactor – or Judge Dredd (depending on one’s point of view).
Although the fate of the unarmed Mr Tunstall and that of Mr McSween (who had the Bible and the account book – but no pistol) and of the lawyer who Mrs McSween hired to investigate the killing of her husband (all in the general area of Lincoln County, New Mexico – hence “Lincoln County War”) shows the fate of those who do not find a Mr Earp (and friends – including Doctor Holliday, whose status as an obviously dying man gave him a pass on some of his imoral conduct, although no unarmed man or man who refused to face him had anything to fear from Doctor Holliday, - as Mr Earp admitted we-are-all-sinners and Wyatt certainly admitted he had conduct to repent of ) to come to their aid – although a certain “Billy the Kid” and his “Regulators” did try and even the score.
Interestingly there is a direct connection – for many of the people hired to support the Murphy-Dolan trading monopoly in Lincoln County New Mexico, just happen to turn up in Arizonia and are associated with the “Cowboys” a group of people who (if one wished to put on a positive spin on their activities) specialized in redistributing cattle from people who had too many – and liberating women from their own sexual repression (if need be by active means). All under the wise guidence of “Old Man Clanton” – a type of person that the character Judge Dredd would have no problem in recognising.
“You drifted a long way from the Fundementalists, let alone from the Bible (Joseph and so on) Paul”.
Actually I have not really drifted (this world of personal violence and clash of principles is very much a world that the people who wrote the various parts of the Bible would have recognised – pistols and rifles had just replaced swords and spears) and even the language of the time (a form of speaking even among quite ordinary people) was that of the King James Bible (or that of the Geneva Bible and Tyndale’s Bible that came before the King James Bible – although few films of the old West reflect this way of speaking), but for those who can not see that I have not really moved, I will return to a more direct telling….
The direct origin of the word “fundementalist” comes the early 20th century essays on “the fundementals” (the fundementals of the Christian faith) written in opposition to the emerging “Social Gospel” (i.e. either the code for building a wonderful new world, Heaven-on-Earth, or a genocidal lust for power using religious language as a cloak, depending on one’s point of view – and, of course, there are many other views and moderate, or mixed, versions of the Social Gospel).
The supporters of the Social Gospel were quick to point out that the person who paid the costs of producing the “Fundemantals” essays was a rich businessman (rather similar to the old attack about “Bible in one hand, pistol in the other, and do not forget the account book in the back pocket”), but the essays themselves (as opposed to their funding) are harder to dismiss.
Some aspects of them show a dark side (for example their general attitude towards the Roman Catholic Church – not popular, in those days, with traditional Americans), but they were not “anti science” (as one would now expect from the word “fundementalist”.
They did not believe that the world was created in 4004 BC and that humans were made from dust. Indeed, some of the authors of the “Fundementals” were scientists – including evolution supporting biologists.
The objective of the authors was not to take humanity back to the world view of the bronze age.
Their objective was to protect the fundementals of religion. The view of God as a BEING ( a PERSON) – not an abstraction, not as “society”, still less as an Earthly King or President. And the idea of INDIVIDUAL salvation (individual survival after death) rather than collective salvation – they rejected the idea that salvation was creating a wonderful new society that would exist forever. They insisted that salvation was about individual human beings living for ever.
Reject religion if you must – but do not steal religious language (and the very churches themselves) to advance an athiest political agenda – that was the message.
So how do we get from there to the “Monkey Trial” and what modern “Fundematalism” is associated with?
Partly because the cause of fundementalism was taken up by William Jennings Bryan (actually a politician of the left – although a moderate by today’s standards), but also because the mantle of science had been taken up by the Progressives – now “planning” was science, and (please do not forget) this included planning human breeding.
Hunter’s “Civic Biology” (the actual school textbook that was forbidden in the “Monkey Trial”) was full of “scientific racism” and the need to eliminate the inferior (both other races – and inferior members of one’s own race). Oddly enough Hollywood (and so on) leaves this out of the story (they leave other things out also – see Jack Cashill’s “Hoodwinked” for the other side to this and other central stories of modern American culture).
Even in the South (not known for its high regard for blacks and so on) people were shocked that such stuff should be taught at taxpayer expense in the Public Schools – hene the “Monkey Trial”.
However, the fatal turn had already happened before the Monkey Trial – many (not all) “fundementalists” had already accepted the leftist case that a “scientific” world view meant that the state should control everything – from the economy, to human reproduction.
Science (it came to be accepted) means sending the crippled and the retarded to the gas chamber (a mainstream view in “Progressive” circles), even a moderatly “scientific” view meant the foceable sterialization of “Rednecks” (and other people the state declared “retarded”), oddly enough the Supreme Court case that upheld the power of State governments to forceably sterilize people , “Buck V Bell”, was the case that first made some fundementalists have second thoughts about their hostility to Roman Catholics – as the Catholic on the Court, Pierce Butler, was the only Justice to vote against forceable sterilisation.
Science meant the state control of every aspect of human life – the creation of Hell on Earth in the name of Heaven on Earth.
Of course science means none of these things – the physical sciences are naught to do with politics (as F.A. Hayek tried to point out some decades later).
However, if one accepts the leftist idea that science does mean all these things…. then the reaction of some “fundementalists” (then and now) is only to be expected.
Science is crap, screw science – not in these words of course (the prestige of science is too high for that), but at base.
Almost needless to say this reaction by religious people is utterly self defeating – because it gives up human reason in the name of morality (thus undermining both). It makes the religious people who take this position look utterly absurd – and it makes morality (as well as religion) look absurd.
And one can not even read the Bible with human reason asleep – no matter how religious someone may be. Unless one is content to simply declare that anything in the Bible is good by definition (the Islamic view of the Koran) – which both concedes human reason to athiesm (which means that someone can not be religious and rational at the same time) – and is also absurd in its own terms, as the various parts of the Bible present DIFFERENT opinions (obviously different opinions – unless, of course, one sends one’s reason to sleep so that one does not notice the differences between, say, the Book of Joshua and the Gospels – or even different parts of the Old Testament or different parts of the New Testament compared to each other – for example Saint Paul’s justification by faith is followed by James, brother of Jesus, argueing for justification by works “Faith is like that: if good works do not go with it, it is quite dead”).
“Are we finally getting on to Joesph” – yes I am, but all the above is relevant.
The story of Joesph is well known – he was a nice man who stored food of seven years of good harvests and fed the people in the seven years of bad harvests.
There are debates about Joseph – but they are over absurd things such as whether the Hebrew really means “long sleeved coat” not “coat of many colours”.
But what does the Bible actually say about Joseph?
If one reads a modern English translation of the Bible (i.e. one reads something that can be clearly understood by people used to speaking modern English – for example the Jerusalem Bible, such as the 1960s translation, edited by Alexander Jones, that I have in front of me) then a rather different picture of Joseph appears.
First of all how did Joseph get the grain that he stored? See Genesis 41.
Joseph imposed (the the power of Pharaoh) a tax of one fifth of all production in the seven years (note – even in good years a tax of 20% will absorb all of surplus a primitive farm produces – the stuff that is not needed for consumption in the present year). Could not people have stored their own food – or sold it to wholesalers who could do so?
“Oh you are just being an ideological libertarian – the government had to do the job, and the main point of the story is that Joesph gave food to the starving Egyptions”.
Sorry, but that is bullcrap.
Joesph did not “give” anyting to the Egyptions he had robbed (sorry “taxed”).
He gave food to his relatives (including those who had sold him to slavery) all of his people he invited to Egypt – to be fed (and their animals to be fed) at the expense of the Egyptions (it is hardly an act of charity to give people stuff that actually does not belong to you – that belongs to the people you have looted).
“But that is a minor matter Paul – there were not many of Joseph’s people, not in comparison to the very large numbers of Egyptions”.
Well we are not sure how many of Joesph’s people there actually were… but that still misses the main point.
See Genesis 47 (again in the Jerusalem translation – so we can actually understand what is being said).
When the Egyptions (the Egyyptions Joseph had looted, sorry taxed, by the power of Pharaoh) begged that Joseph “give us bread” Joseph did not “give” them anything.
First he took all their livestock in return for bread (their livestock being their independence). Then (when the had eaten that bread) Joseph had them hand over all their land to Pharaoh in return for food (their own grain – that Joseph, or rather Pharaoh’s soldiers, had looted from them). According to the Jerusalem Bible they then became “serfs” on what had been their own land, according to the King James Bible they became “servants” of Pharaoh. All the land came under Pharaoh – with the exception of the land that belonged to the Temples (the Temple priests of Egypt’s traditional Gods) who had not been taxed – and had somehow managed to store food for the bad years (I thought that only the state was able to do that?). Of course the texts actually have the people being made to beg Joseph to take their land away and make them the toys of Pharoah (the whole thing is utterly vile – once independent people reduced to cattle).
“None of it happened anyway Paul” – not the point. Perhaps it is all a “fairy story” (or perhaps it is not) – but the point is that Joseph (like Joshua and so many other leading characters in the Bible) is “very naughty” – or, in more blunt language, an evil man. For it is evil to tax people to starvation and then make them beg you to take away their livestock (their wealth) and then their land, and then their freedom – in return for the food you took from them (by force) in the first place.
So how should this be dealt with?
Should we simply declare that any actions that the Bible implies are good are good – by definition (the Islamic or Calivinist view)?
Should we “interpret” away the actions – the-Bible-does-not-mean-what-it-says. For example, Joshua did not really attack towns (the people of which had done nothing to him or his folk) and murder everyone in these towns – down to the babies.
If we “interpret” away anything we do not like – then there is no stopping place before the “liberal” “Social Gospel” – with everything in religion “interpreted” to mean a political agenda (with no “sword and sandals religious stuff” as the trendy go-ahead vicar on the BBC show would put it).
There is another alternative.
That we judge the people in the Bible by the same standards we judge everyone else. Regardless of “historical stage” (as Carl Menger showed in the “Errors of Historicism” and the general “War of Method” between the Austrian School and the German “Historical School” to talk of “historical stages” is meaningless in terms of the basic principles of economics – and it is also meaningless in terms of aggression against the weak and helpless being bad, not good).
That the laws of right and wrong are not one thing among men and anther among “elves and dwarves”, and that a man should judge conduct “in the golden wood” by the same standards he would use “in his own house” (Tolkien of course).
If people in the Bible do terrible things we should say they are terrible things, and if the people who wrote those parts of the Bible say they were good things (or imply they were) – they were WRONG.
“But how can people judge these things?” – try reading all the “not relevant” stuff above again.
People do know the difference between right and wrong – and they can (with a great effort) choose to turn away from what is wrong and do what is right (or die trying).
Of course an athiest can do this, but there is nothing against religion in doing so – in using one’s reason, and making the choice to act justly. To oppose those who do evil (yes “evil doers”), to protect the weak and helpless (rather than feed on them like a wolf feeding on sheep), even at the cost of one’s own life. To repent of the bad things that one has done – and to make that repentance real by ones actions. For morality is based on choice – and a forced choice is not a “choice”, in moral terms, at all.
None of the above is “showing contempt for religion”.
On the contrary – it is ignoring or “explaining away” (it-was-a-different-time or the-author-of-this-part-of-Bible-does-not-mean-what-he-says) the wickedness of many figures in the Bible, that shows contempt for religion.
For example, if the author or authors of (for example) Deuteronomy were capable of seeing that it was wrong to keep someone enslved for more than six years (which they were) then they were capable of seeing that it was wrong to keep someone enslaved at all. And regardless of whether the person was a Hebrew or not (for God made Hebrew and non Hebrew a like).
And if the author or authors of Deuteronomy were capable of seeing that it was wrong to murder the population of a town that surrenders (which they were), then they were capable of seeing that it was also wrong to set the population of such a town to forced labour. And they were also capable of seeing that it makes no moral difference whatever whether the town is in area of land given to you by God – “not spareing the life of any living thing” (for fear they will teach you about their customs and way of life – however terrible these customs may be) is still a contemptable crime. Or is not the killer of women and children (down to the babies) not a coward as well as a murderer? And how strong can the faith of someone be, if he fears what a child will tell him? Indeed fears it so much that he murders the child, to prevent the child speaking to him.
The just man is someone who stands in defence of a defeated enemy – who protects the helpless from murder. Even if has to create a wall of dead bodies from his own side around the helpless.
“By the way” this is exactly the road of reasoning that that both the Jewish authors of Talmud and the Christian Scholastic theologians (and philosophers) trod. The picture of the “rightious” (the just) that emerges in their reasoning (emerges, is NOT created by them) is very different from Joshua or Joesph (in Jewish teaching it is not rightious to take people’s food by force and then give it back to them in return for first their livestock, then their land, and their freedom itself).
Deuteronomy was not written by God – indeed as Jews and Christians have always accepted, only a tiny part of the Bible is the direct word of God. So to treat the words of the human authors of Deuteronomy, and so much else, as if they were the word of God (0r to explain them away) is showing contempt for human reason and morality itself – and for the creator of both.
And so with Joshua, and so with Joseph.
This is what matters – the ability to judge (judge justly) the conduct of people on one’s own side. In the past and in the present and in the future. To see the flaws (the crimes) even in great men (such as David and Soloman) and to refuse to ignore evil deeds, or to explain them away, or to pretend they are good deeds.
What does not matter is whether Joseph had a coat of many colours or a long sleeved coat.