When I was a guest on Dr. Michael Brown’s nationally syndicated radio show “Line of Fire,” our conversation focused on a chapter in my book Jesus Uncensored, entitled “The Ethnic Cleansing of Judaism in Medieval and Renaissance Art.” Here I show that classical artworks washed out all traces of Judaism in the personae of Jesus, his family, and followers–despite the fact that they were all dedicated practicing Jews throughout their lives. The process of totally Christianizing the Jesus circle placed an artificial wedge between Judaism and Christianity that remained in place for centuries.
As late as the nineteenth century a painting of Jesus and his family by British artist John Everett Millais and another of the twelve-year-old Jesus by German painter Max Liebermann met with public uproar because they were deemed too Jewish . Liebermann repainted his young Jesus, rendering him blond with no indication of his Middle Eastern Jewish ethnicity. He took the Jew out of Jesus, which soothed and pleased the critics.
Surprisingly, that legacy of bristling at Jewish Jesus representations continues to the present day. Here’s what a listener to Michael Brown’s radio show said in response to my interview:
“While I was in high school–a Catholic high school–we had a project to draw in class. I drew a picture of Jesus, but removed his golden locks and blue eyes and replaced them with a more Middle Eastern looking man with thick hair. The teacher lost her mind. All this resulted in a trip to the Dean’s office, as if I offended her. All I heard was ‘why does it matter.’ So I said, ‘You tell me why it matters. I don’t recall too many blond-haired, blue-eyed people from that region of the world.'”
In commentaries and descriptions of exhibits of artworks depicting Jesus, we never hear that these paintings, as magnificent as they are artistically, distort and falsify biblical history. Renaissance artists revolutionized art with the introduction of realism and naturalism over the earlier artificialism and primitivism. Unfortunately, naturalism and realism did not extend to who the figures were naturally and realistically in their actual lives. Art historians with whom I’ve spoken dismiss these criticisms as ignorance about the Renaissance style of contemporizing figures in painting–dressing people in contemporary Renaissance attire and picturing them in Renaissance settings as Northern Europeans in skin tone and physical appearance.
While it is true that this kind of historical distortion was commonplace in Renaissance painting, it does not explain the obliteration of Jesus’ and his family’s true identities or the pictorial conversion of orthodox Jews into latter-day Christians.
Nowhere in these artworks is there a hint of the subjects’ Jewish identities or origins. For example, Bartolome Esteban Murillo‘s sixteenth century painting The Baptism of Christ pictures John the Baptist baptizing Jesus–an act reported in the Gospels (Matthew 3:13-17; Mark 1:9-11; Luke 3:21-23). Curiously, Jesus and John are not dressed in Renaissance attire, but John is holding a crucifix staff, thus telling the viewer that this is a Christian event and a Christian conversion.
Baptism of Christ by wikimedia
The fact is that there was no Christianity at the time of this baptism, nor did John or Jesus have any intention or desire to launch a new religion. Neither Jesus nor John ever heard the word “Christian”; it does not appear in the Gospels, although the term “Jew” appears eighty two-times. Moreover, John only baptized Jews–purifying them with the ancient Jewish practice of baptism for the coming of the Jewish Messiah.
Murillo’s powerful image supports the false conclusion that Christianity was already present. Consider too that the cross was a hated symbol in the time of Jesus and John the Baptist–a reminder of the countless times Jews were brutally crucified by the Romans. Jesus and John would very likely cringe at the image of the cross in this depiction. The cross didn’t become a Christian symbol until the fourth century CE, when it was introduced by the Emperor Constantine on his military banner and shields . No wonder that it didn’t catch on promptly as an endearing Christian symbol.
What has been overlooked by art historians and other apologists is that the pervasive distortions of biblical history in misrepresenting Jesus, his family, and followers established a powerful foundation for anti-Semitism–anti-Semitism by omission. In stripping away Jesus’ Jewish identity these paintings implanted the firm conviction that Jesus was of different ethnicity and religion than the others–the Jews. This conclusion was made even more explicit in paintings like The Tribute Money , by Peter Paul Rubens (1612), and Albrecht Durer’s sixteenth-century Christ Among the Doctors (Pharisees), both of which depict a blond ethereal Jesus in contrast to the dark, menacing and ugly Jews–the others.
If we were to restore the authentic ethnicity of Jesus and others, these painting would be strikingly different, even while preserving the “Renaissance style.” Consider, for example, Michael Pacher’s fifteenth century painting The Marriage of the Virgin, which depicts the marriage ceremony (some say betrothal) of Mary and Joseph. In reality, Mary was a thirteen-year-old Jewish girl from a rural village in Nazareth. Her betrothal and marriage was to Joseph, a working-class Jew originally from Bethlehem. After their marriage they showed their dedication to Judaism by taking the arduous seven-day trip to Jerusalem every year to celebrate the Jewish holidays, particularly the Passover festival (Luke 2:41).
In Pacher’s painting, Mary and Joseph are Christians, with the marriage ceremony performed by a latter-day Christian high church official in a Christian setting. Mary and Joseph’s Jewish identities are erased. Several other Medieval and Renaissance paintings of the marriage also Christianized this Jewish marriage ceremony. Similar misrepresentations of other scenes and events are typical and routine for classical artworks.
Marriage of the Virgin by WIkimedia
In writing about this “ethnic cleansing of Judaism in Medieval and Renaissance art” in Jesus Uncensored I presented a “what if?” that punctuates why artists would not dare to paint a Jewish Jesus:
“Imagine, let’s say, if the painter Raphael presented his patron with a scene of Jesus in a synagogue with a Jewish prayer shawl (tallit), wearing tassels (tstsit), donning phylacteries (tefillin) for morning prayer, and surrounded by other Jewish worshipers in similar attire–with Jesus pictured affectionately kissing his beloved Torah. “Raphael, what have you given me?” the startled patron would surely ask. “Sir,” Raphael would respond, “this is a painting of the authentic Jesus. That’s what Jesus did every morning. Don’t you want to experience the real Jesus?” The patron is unlikely to be impressed and Raphael might then be swiftly turned over to the Inquisition.” (This “what if” image is based on a description in Luke 4:16 of Jesus in a synagogue on the Sabbath.)
As it emerged that Man of Steel is being promoted specifically to US Christians to make them even more into Jesus, researchers said it could actually help them understand something about the nature of storytelling.
Professor Henry Brubaker, of the Institute for Studies, said: “Both came down from the heavens and had no Earthly father. Both grew up in small communities. Both wandered in the wilderness before going to the city to begin their ‘mission’. And both performed miraculous acts. Which didn’t happen.
“Because they’re both just stories. Obviously just stories. That are designed to appeal to children.
“Do you want me to start again?”
But Roy Hobbs, a Christian from Ohio, said: “Of course no-one believes Superman is real – at the moment.
“But in 2000 years time my descendants will believe that Krypton existed and that Lois Lane came back from the dead because Superman turned back time by reversing the rotation of the Earth. Why would they question it?”
Professor Brubaker added: “One of the chief arguments put forward to support the idea that Jesus was real is that there are many different versions of the same story.
“Sorry, I got confused.”
Catholics everywhere were flabbergasted when, merely days after celebrating his 85th birthday, Pope Benedict XVI issued a formal statement acknowledging that God probably does not exist. Nevertheless, the Pope assured believers worldwide that they were not without a place to turn for spiritual sustenance. Specifically, he urged every practicing Catholic to get an “imaginary God friend,” which he emphasized will serve virtually the same purpose of what they had previously thought of as a real God.
Since the Pope’s statement, the Vatican has, predictably, been flooded with questions and comments from clergymen, parishioners and even lapsed Catholics who still consider themselves believers. Many chastised the Pope for imposing his own doubts upon devout Catholics.
In a follow-up statement, the Pope stated that his acknowledgement that God probably does not exist is not properly categorized as a “doubt.”
As he explained, “A doubt is thinking that even though the sun has come up every morning of every day in the history of humanity, maybe, for some reason, it won’t rise tomorrow. I don’t have that kind of doubt about God. The God façade is a sham, with no evidence whatsoever to back it up. I couldn’t continue to take part in upholding it. I’ve been living a lie.”
The Pope equated his announcement with the children’s fairy tale in which an innocent but perceptive little boy points out that the naked emperor has no clothes. He emphasized, however, that despite the revolutionary nature of his atheistic message, not much really needed to change for Catholics on a practical, day-to-day level.
“Catholics can talk to and even pray to their imaginary God friend. For me, creating a personal imaginary friend, whom I call God, has been a great source of comfort,” he elaborated. “In fact, my imaginary God friend is just as effective, perhaps even more so, than the ‘God’ I used to believe was real. It’s very common for children to have imaginary friends. Now adult Catholics can have them as well.”
It remains to be seen the effect that the Pope’s statement will have on the unity and vibrancy of the Catholic Church. However, religious leaders of other faiths were delighted at the Pope’s message, anticipating a likely boon to their own religions.
“This is terrific for us,” said Rabbi David Golinkin, head of the Schechter Institute for Jewish Studies. “The Catholic Church was always one-upping the Jewish faith by offering people God plus Jesus. But now we have something they don’t: a real God. People can’t but respond to that. I think we’ll get a lot of new recruits.”
It’s widely acknowledged that Jesus was a thoroughly practicing Jew throughout his life. Anglican Priest Bruce Chilton expressed that conclusion explicitly and concisely in his book “Rabbi Jesus”: “It became clear to me that everything Jesus did was as a Jew, for Jews, and about Jews.”
But what about Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles? It’s generally accepted that Paul was the true founder of a new religion called Christianity. Biblical scholar Gerd Ludemann, author of several books about Jesus and Paul including “Paul: Founder of Christianity,” affirms that “Without Paul there would be no church and no Christianity.” Ludemann adds, “He’s the most decisive person that shaped Christianity as it developed. Without Paul we would have had reformed Judaism … but no Christianity.”
Paul converted Jews and then Gentiles to Jewish Christianity, basing these conversions on his belief in the teachings, resurrection and divinity of Jesus. But powerful evidence within “Acts of the Apostles,” the book of the New Testament that chronicles Paul’s mission, reveals that Paul, like Jesus, remained a dedicated Jew until his execution. In fact, if Paul had simply stated that he was no longer a Jew but the leader of a new religion, he would not have been imprisoned or executed.
During Paul’s last visit to Jerusalem, his appearance and teachings in the Temple in Jerusalem set off a disturbance in which some Jews rioted against him (Acts 21:26-28). He was then charged with blasphemy by the Sanhedrin and would have to stand trial before the Jewish authorities — and face a possible death sentence. The Sanhedrin was able to indict Paul and put him on trial by the special privilege that the Romans gave the Jews. Judaism was a protected religion under the Roman Empire in the time of Jesus and Paul. Jews had their own King (Herod the Great, Herod Antipas and Herod Agrippa). But more important, the Jewish leadership was invested with the right to rule over Jewish affairs. They could bring charges against Jews who violated Jewish laws or who were deemed blasphemous or heretical. That power is why the Sanhedrin was able to indict Jesus. It also explains why the Sanhedrin was able to authorize Paul’s persecutory frenzy to chain and drag back to Jerusalem Jewish followers of Jesus in synagogues as distant as Damascus (Acts 8:3; Acts 9: 1, 2). Although the Sanhedrin could bring charges against Jews and even set the punishment, only the Romans could execute (although that’s not entirely clear since some violators of Jewish law were stoned to death by Jews).
The special status of Jews was first stated in an edict by the Roman Emperor Caesar Augustus in 1 B.C.E. and reaffirmed by Emperor Claudius Augustus in 41 C.E.:
Edict of Roman Emperor Caesar Augustus on Jewish Rights, 1 BCE
Caesar Augustus, pontifex maximus, holding the tribunician power, proclaims: Since the nation of the Jews and Hyrcanus, their high priest, have been found grateful to the people of the Romans, not only in the present but also in the past, and particularly in the time of my father, Caesar, imperator, it seems good to me and to my advisory council, according to the oaths, by the will of the people of the Romans, that the Jews shall use their own customs in accordance with their ancestral law, just as they used to use them in the time of Hyrcanus, the high priest of their highest god; and that their sacred offerings shall be inviolable and shall be sent to Jerusalem and shall be paid to the financial officials of Jerusalem; and that they shall not give sureties for appearance in court on the Sabbath or on the day of preparation before it after the ninth hour. But if anyone is detected stealing their sacred books or their sacred monies, either from a synagogue or from a mens’ apartment, he shall be considered sacrilegious and his property shall be brought into the public treasury of the Romans.
Later, during the ministry of Paul, the Emperor Claudius reconfirmed the special status of Jews:
Edict of Roman Emperor Claudius Augustus on Jewish Rights, 41 CE
Tiberius Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus, pontifex maximus, holding the tribunician power, proclaims: …Therefore it is right that also the Jews, who are in all the world under us, shall maintain their ancestral customs without hindrance and to them I now also command to use this my kindness rather reasonably and not to despise the religious rites of the other nations, but to observe their own laws.
The Romans were tolerant of all religions under their rule as long as adherents obeyed Roman law and paid taxes. While Jews could rule over Jewish matters, they had no jurisdiction over people of other religions. In principle, Roman paganism was an affront to Judaism. But they could do nothing about that other than negotiate with the Romans to mitigate pagan practices in the Temple area and in some public Roman ceremonies.
After his arrest, Paul faced charges of blasphemy: “And after five days Ananias, the high priest, descended with the elders, and with a certain orator named Tertullus, who informed the Governor against Paul” (Acts 24:1).
Paul could only be charged if he were a Jew. After being detained for two years he was brought before the new Roman governor Porcius Festus. The Sanhedrin repeated the charge of blasphemy: “Then the high priest and the chief of the Jews informed him [Festus] against Paul, and besought him” (Acts 25:2). Fearing a trial before the Sanhedrin, Paul invoked his right as a Roman citizen to be tried in Rome. Festus granted Paul his choice: “Hast thou appealed unto CÃ¦sar? Unto CÃ¦sar shalt thou go” (Acts 25:12).
At no time during Paul’s lengthy ordeal did he repudiate Judaism or declare that he represented a new religion. Had he done so, he would have been immediately released — especially since he was a privileged Roman citizen. The Sanhedrin wouldn’t have had any authority over Paul.
After a long treacherous trip that included a shipwreck that almost killed him, Paul arrived in Rome and was put under house arrest. He promptly invited the Jewish leadership of Rome to his residence to explain why he was imprisoned:
“Men and brethren, though I have committed nothing against the people, or customs of our fathers, yet was I delivered prisoner from Jerusalem into the hands of the Romans. Who, when they had examined me, would have let me go, because there was no cause of death in me. But when the Jews spake against it, I was constrained to appeal unto CÃ¦sar; not that I had ought to accuse my nation of. For this cause therefore have I called for you, to see you, and to speak with you: because that for the hope of Israel I am bound with this chain.” (Acts 28: 17-20)
Still, Paul said nothing about a new religion. On the contrary, he presented himself to the Roman Jewish community as a loyal Jew who was being persecuted for his revisionist views. Since the Romans had no quarrel with him, as a Roman citizen, and with the Sanhedrin a continent away, there would be no viable case against Paul — if he had denounced his affiliation to Judaism and declared a new religion. At this point in his life, facing trial and execution for blasphemy against Judaism, didn’t Paul have every reason to sever his tie to Judaism? The Sanhedrin, representing traditional Judaism, sent a clear message by their action against Paul: “We will not accept your beliefs and teachings about Jesus.” Despite this definitive rejection, Paul didn’t choose the obvious way out of the clutches of the Sanhedrin: declaration of a new religion. This strategy never even showed up for discussion. Paul chose to go to his death as a Jew. Why?
Paul’s vision was to make his brand of Judaism — with the recognition of Jesus as the Jewish Messiah — a world religion easily accessible to everyone. He never surrendered that passion. But after his death the accelerating conversion of Gentiles to a movement that began as Jewish Christianity became increasingly distanced from Judaism — and a new religion was launched.
Nevertheless, an understanding of the deep connection to Judaism held by the founders of Christianity should highlight the common ground of Judaism and Christianity and pave the way to reconciliation between the two faiths.
From 1 January 2010, Irish blasphemy law came into being. Blasphemy is a crime punishable by a €25,000 fine. The law defines blasphemy as publishing or uttering matter that is grossly abusive or insulting in relation to matters held sacred by any religion, thereby intentionally causing outrage among a substantial number of adherents of that religion, with some defences permitted.
This law is both silly and dangerous. It is silly because medieval religious laws have no place in a modern secular republic, where the criminal law should protect people and not ideas. And it is dangerous because it incentivises religious outrage, and because Islamic States led by Pakistan are already using the wording of this Irish law to promote new blasphemy laws at UN level.
We believe in the golden rule: that we have a right to be treated justly, and that we have a responsibility to treat other people justly. Blasphemy laws are unjust: they silence people in order to protect ideas. In a civilised society, people have a right to to express and to hear ideas about religion even if other people find those ideas to be outrageous.
Publication of 25 blasphemous quotes
In this context we now publish a list of 25 blasphemous quotes, which have previously been published by or uttered by or attributed to Jesus Christ, Muhammad, Mark Twain, Tom Lehrer, Randy Newman, James Kirkup, Monty Python, Rev Ian Paisley, Conor Cruise O’Brien, Frank Zappa, Salman Rushdie, Bjork, Amanda Donohoe, George Carlin, Paul Woodfull, Jerry Springer the Opera, Tim Minchin, Richard Dawkins, Pope Benedict XVI, Christopher Hitchens, PZ Myers, Ian O’Doherty, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor and Dermot Ahern.
Despite these quotes being abusive and insulting in relation to matters held sacred by various religions, we unreservedly support the right of these people to have published or uttered them, and we unreservedly support the right of any Irish citizen to make comparable statements about matters held sacred by any religion without fear of being criminalised, and without having to prove to a court that a reasonable person would find any particular value in the statement.
Campaign begins to repeal the Irish blasphemy law
We ask Fianna Fail and the Green Party to repeal their anachronistic blasphemy law, as part of the revision of the Defamation Act that is included within the Act. We ask them to hold a referendum to remove the reference to blasphemy from the Irish Constitution.
We also ask all TDs and Senators to support a referendum to remove references to God from the Irish Constitution, including the clauses that prevent atheists from being appointed as President of Ireland or as a Judge without swearing a religious oath asking God to direct them in their work.
If you run a website, blog or other media publication, please feel free to republish this statement and the list of quotes yourself, in order to show your support for the campaign to repeal the Irish blasphemy law and to promote a rational, ethical, secular Ireland.
List of 25 Blasphemous Quotes Published by Atheist Ireland
1. Jesus Christ, when asked if he was the son of God, in Matthew 26:64: “Thou hast said: nevertheless I say unto you, Hereafter shall ye see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven.” According to the Christian Bible, the Jewish chief priests and elders and council deemed this statement by Jesus to be blasphemous, and they sentenced Jesus to death for saying it.
2. Jesus Christ, talking to Jews about their God, in John 8:44: “Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him.” This is one of several chapters in the Christian Bible that can give a scriptural foundation to Christian anti-Semitism. The first part of John 8, the story of “whoever is without sin cast the first stone”, was not in the original version, but was added centuries later. The original John 8 is a debate between Jesus and some Jews. In brief, Jesus calls the Jews who disbelieve him sons of the Devil, the Jews try to stone him, and Jesus runs away and hides.
3. Muhammad, quoted in Hadith of Bukhari, Vol 1 Book 8 Hadith 427: “May Allah curse the Jews and Christians for they built the places of worship at the graves of their prophets.” This quote is attributed to Muhammad on his death-bed as a warning to Muslims not to copy this practice of the Jews and Christians. It is one of several passages in the Koran and in Hadith that can give a scriptural foundation to Islamic anti-Semitism, including the assertion in Sura 5:60 that Allah cursed Jews and turned some of them into apes and swine.
4. Mark Twain, describing the Christian Bible in Letters from the Earth, 1909: “Also it has another name – The Word of God. For the Christian thinks every word of it was dictated by God. It is full of interest. It has noble poetry in it; and some clever fables; and some blood-drenched history; and some good morals; and a wealth of obscenity; and upwards of a thousand lies… But you notice that when the Lord God of Heaven and Earth, adored Father of Man, goes to war, there is no limit. He is totally without mercy – he, who is called the Fountain of Mercy. He slays, slays, slays! All the men, all the beasts, all the boys, all the babies; also all the women and all the girls, except those that have not been deflowered. He makes no distinction between innocent and guilty… What the insane Father required was blood and misery; he was indifferent as to who furnished it.” Twain’s book was published posthumously in 1939. His daughter, Clara Clemens, at first objected to it being published, but later changed her mind in 1960 when she believed that public opinion had grown more tolerant of the expression of such ideas. That was half a century before Fianna Fail and the Green Party imposed a new blasphemy law on the people of Ireland.
5. Tom Lehrer, The Vatican Rag, 1963: “Get in line in that processional, step into that small confessional. There, the guy who’s got religion’ll tell you if your sin’s original. If it is, try playing it safer, drink the wine and chew the wafer. Two, four, six, eight, time to transubstantiate!”
6. Randy Newman, God’s Song, 1972: “And the Lord said: I burn down your cities – how blind you must be. I take from you your children, and you say how blessed are we. You all must be crazy to put your faith in me. That’s why I love mankind.”
7. James Kirkup, The Love That Dares to Speak its Name, 1976: “While they prepared the tomb I kept guard over him. His mother and the Magdalen had gone to fetch clean linen to shroud his nakedness. I was alone with him… I laid my lips around the tip of that great cock, the instrument of our salvation, our eternal joy. The shaft, still throbbed, anointed with death’s final ejaculation.” This extract is from a poem that led to the last successful blasphemy prosecution in Britain, when Denis Lemon was given a suspended prison sentence after he published it in the now-defunct magazine Gay News. In 2002, a public reading of the poem, on the steps of St. Martin-in-the-Fields church in Trafalgar Square, failed to lead to any prosecution. In 2008, the British Parliament abolished the common law offences of blasphemy and blasphemous libel.
8. Matthias, son of Deuteronomy of Gath, in Monty Python’s Life of Brian, 1979: “Look, I had a lovely supper, and all I said to my wife was that piece of halibut was good enough for Jehovah.”
9. Rev Ian Paisley MEP to the Pope in the European Parliament, 1988: “I denounce you as the Antichrist.” Paisley’s website describes the Antichrist as being “a liar, the true son of the father of lies, the original liar from the beginning… he will imitate Christ, a diabolical imitation, Satan transformed into an angel of light, which will deceive the world.”
10. Conor Cruise O’Brien, 1989: “In the last century the Arab thinker Jamal al-Afghani wrote: ‘Every Muslim is sick and his only remedy is in the Koran.’ Unfortunately the sickness gets worse the more the remedy is taken.”
11. Frank Zappa, 1989: “If you want to get together in any exclusive situation and have people love you, fine – but to hang all this desperate sociology on the idea of The Cloud-Guy who has The Big Book, who knows if you’ve been bad or good – and cares about any of it – to hang it all on that, folks, is the chimpanzee part of the brain working.”
12. Salman Rushdie, 1990: “The idea of the sacred is quite simply one of the most conservative notions in any culture, because it seeks to turn other ideas – uncertainty, progress, change – into crimes.” In 1989, Ayatollah Khomeini of Iran issued a fatwa ordering Muslims to kill Rushdie because of blasphemous passages in Rushdie’s novel The Satanic Verses.
13. Bjork, 1995: “I do not believe in religion, but if I had to choose one it would be Buddhism. It seems more livable, closer to men… I’ve been reading about reincarnation, and the Buddhists say we come back as animals and they refer to them as lesser beings. Well, animals aren’t lesser beings, they’re just like us. So I say fuck the Buddhists.”
14. Amanda Donohoe on her role in the Ken Russell movie Lair of the White Worm, 1995: “Spitting on Christ was a great deal of fun. I can’t embrace a male god who has persecuted female sexuality throughout the ages, and that persecution still goes on today all over the world.”
15. George Carlin, 1999: “Religion easily has the greatest bullshit story ever told. Think about it. Religion has actually convinced people that there’s an invisible man living in the sky who watches everything you do, every minute of every day. And the invisible man has a special list of ten things he does not want you to do. And if you do any of these ten things, he has a special place, full of fire and smoke and burning and torture and anguish, where he will send you to live and suffer and burn and choke and scream and cry forever and ever ’til the end of time! But He loves you. He loves you, and He needs money! He always needs money! He’s all-powerful, all-perfect, all-knowing, and all-wise, somehow just can’t handle money! Religion takes in billions of dollars, they pay no taxes, and they always need a little more. Now, talk about a good bullshit story. Holy Shit!”
16. Paul Woodfull as Ding Dong Denny O’Reilly, The Ballad of Jaysus Christ, 2000: “He said me ma’s a virgin and sure no one disagreed, Cause they knew a lad who walks on water’s handy with his feet… Jaysus oh Jaysus, as cool as bleedin’ ice, With all the scrubbers in Israel he could not be enticed, Jaysus oh Jaysus, it’s funny you never rode, Cause it’s you I do be shoutin’ for each time I shoot me load.”
17. Jesus Christ, in Jerry Springer The Opera, 2003: “Actually, I’m a bit gay.” In 2005, the Christian Institute tried to bring a prosecution against the BBC for screening Jerry Springer the Opera, but the UK courts refused to issue a summons.
18. Tim Minchin, Ten-foot Cock and a Few Hundred Virgins, 2005: “So you’re gonna live in paradise, With a ten-foot cock and a few hundred virgins, So you’re gonna sacrifice your life, For a shot at the greener grass, And when the Lord comes down with his shiny rod of judgment, He’s gonna kick my heathen ass.”
19. Richard Dawkins in The God Delusion, 2006: “The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.” In 2007 Turkish publisher Erol Karaaslan was charged with the crime of insulting believers for publishing a Turkish translation of The God Delusion. He was acquitted in 2008, but another charge was brought in 2009. Karaaslan told the court that “it is a right to criticise religions and beliefs as part of the freedom of thought and expression.”
20. Pope Benedict XVI quoting a 14th century Byzantine emperor, 2006: “Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached.” This statement has already led to both outrage and condemnation of the outrage. The Organisation of the Islamic Conference, the world’s largest Muslim body, said it was a “character assassination of the prophet Muhammad”. The Malaysian Prime Minister said that “the Pope must not take lightly the spread of outrage that has been created.” Pakistan’s foreign Ministry spokesperson said that “anyone who describes Islam as a religion as intolerant encourages violence”. The European Commission said that “reactions which are disproportionate and which are tantamount to rejecting freedom of speech are unacceptable.”
21. Christopher Hitchens in God is not Great, 2007: “There is some question as to whether Islam is a separate religion at all… Islam when examined is not much more than a rather obvious and ill-arranged set of plagiarisms, helping itself from earlier books and traditions as occasion appeared to require… It makes immense claims for itself, invokes prostrate submission or ‘surrender’ as a maxim to its adherents, and demands deference and respect from nonbelievers into the bargain. There is nothing-absolutely nothing-in its teachings that can even begin to justify such arrogance and presumption.”
22. PZ Myers, on the Roman Catholic communion host, 2008: “You would not believe how many people are writing to me, insisting that these horrible little crackers (they look like flattened bits of styrofoam) are literally pieces of their god, and that this omnipotent being who created the universe can actually be seriously harmed by some third-rate liberal intellectual at a third-rate university… However, inspired by an old woodcut of Jews stabbing the host, I thought of a simple, quick thing to do: I pierced it with a rusty nail (I hope Jesus’s tetanus shots are up to date). And then I simply threw it in the trash, followed by the classic, decorative items of trash cans everywhere, old coffeegrounds and a banana peel.”
23. Ian O’Doherty, 2009: “(If defamation of religion was illegal) it would be a crime for me to say that the notion of transubstantiation is so ridiculous that even a small child should be able to see the insanity and utter physical impossibility of a piece of bread and some wine somehow taking on corporeal form. It would be a crime for me to say that Islam is a backward desert superstition that has no place in modern, enlightened Europe and it would be a crime to point out that Jewish settlers in Israel who believe they have a God given right to take the land are, frankly, mad. All the above assertions will, no doubt, offend someone or other.”
24. Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, 2009: “Whether a person is atheist or any other, there is in fact in my view something not totally human if they leave out the transcendent… we call it God… I think that if you leave that out you are not fully human.” Because atheism is not a religion, the Irish blasphemy law does not protect atheists from abusive and insulting statements about their fundamental beliefs. While atheists are not seeking such protection, we include the statement here to point out that it is discriminatory that this law does not hold all citizens equal.
25. Dermot Ahern, Irish Minister for Justice, introducing his blasphemy law at an Oireachtas Justice Committee meeting, 2009, and referring to comments made about him personally: “They are blasphemous.” Deputy Pat Rabbitte replied: “Given the Minister’s self-image, it could very well be that we are blaspheming,” and Minister Ahern replied: “Deputy Rabbitte says that I am close to the baby Jesus, I am so pure.” So here we have an Irish Justice Minister joking about himself being blasphemed, at a parliamentary Justice Committee discussing his own blasphemy law, that could make his own jokes illegal.
Finally, as a bonus, Micheal Martin, Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs, opposing attempts by Islamic States to make defamation of religion a crime at UN level, 2009: “We believe that the concept of defamation of religion is not consistent with the promotion and protection of human rights. It can be used to justify arbitrary limitations on, or the denial of, freedom of expression. Indeed, Ireland considers that freedom of expression is a key and inherent element in the manifestation of freedom of thought and conscience and as such is complementary to freedom of religion or belief.” Just months after Minister Martin made this comment, his colleague Dermot Ahern introduced Ireland’s new blasphemy law.
It’s not enough to point out that our political system is completely corrupted by money, including money from coal and oil and nukes and gas. Of course it is. And if we had direct democracy, polls suggest we would be investing in green energy. But saying the right thing to a pollster on a phone or in a focus group is hardly the extent of what one ought sensibly to do when the fate of the world is at stake.
Nor do we get a complete explanation by recognizing that our communications system is in bed with our political system, cooperatively pushing lies about our climate and our budget (defunding wars and billionaires is not an option, so there’s just no money for new ideas, sorry). Of course. But when the planet’s climate is being destroyed for all future generations, most of which will therefore not exist, the only sensible course of action is to drop everything and nonviolently overthrow any system of corruption that is carrying out the destruction.
Why don’t we?
Misinformation is a surface-level explanation. Why do people choose to accept obvious misinformation?
Here’s one reason: They’ve already chosen to accept other obvious misinformation to which they are deeply and passionately attached and which requires this additional self-deception. The beliefs involved correlate with poor education, so government choices to fund fossil fuels and highways and prisons and Hamid Karzai rather than schools certainly contribute. But perhaps we should confront the misinformation directly, even while pursuing the creation of an education system worthy of a civilized country.
According to a Newsweek poll, 40 percent of people in the United States believe the world will end with a battle between Jesus Christ and the Antichrist. And overwhelmingly those who believe that, also believe that natural disaster and violence are signs of the approach of the glorious battle — so much so that 22 percent in the U.S. believe the world will end in their lifetime. This would logically mean that concern for the world of their great great grandchildren makes no sense at all and should be dismissed from their minds. In fact, a recent study found that belief in the “second coming” reduces support for strong governmental action on climate change by 20 percent.
Apart from the corruption of money, whenever you have 40 percent of Americans believing something stupid, the forces of gerrymandering in the House, disproportionate representation of small states in the Senate, the Senate filibuster, the winner-take-all two-party system that shuts many voices out of the media and debates and ballots while allowing Democrats to get elected purely on the qualification of not being Republicans, and a communications system that mainstreams Republican beliefs almost guarantees that the 40-percent view will control the government.
Senator James Inhofe, a Republican from Oklahoma (a state whose citizens get 10 times the representation in the Senate that Californians do — if one can accuse Diane Feinstein of representing anyone), says that only God could possibly change the climate, and we should stop being so arrogant — as if taking $1.4 million in campaign “contributions” from fossil-fuel profiteers and imagining that your positions are purely determined by your access to an all-powerful being who runs the universe on behalf of the 30 percent of the world raised on the same fairy tales as you isn’t an arrogant belief.
Another senator who claims to be a theist but not of the Inhofe-Shimkus variety, publicly denounced an unnamed colleague this week for pushing the don’t-worry-God-is-on-the-job line in a recent meeting.
When a large portion of the population believes that catastrophe is a good thing, rather than a bad thing, and wars are celebrated and crises bring excitement and solidarity to our lives, the influence is toxic. Of the 40 percent who believe Jesus is on his way, some no doubt believe it more than others, allow it to shape more of their other beliefs and actions. Of the other 60 percent, some are no doubt influenced to varying degrees by the armageddonists.
Belief in theism itself reaches as much as 80 percent in the United States and includes strong activists for sustainable policies, including some who passionately proselytize using the argument that only theism can save us from our apathy in the face of global warming. And there is no question that our most dedicated peace and justice activists include some strong religious believers. But theism is essentially the belief that some more powerful being is running the show. Perhaps the armageddonists haven’t really found a solution to the problem of evil (“If there is a God, he’ll have to beg forgiveness from me,” said a prisoner in a Nazi camp), but the non-armageddonist theists have never found a logical solution to the problem of free will, either. Theists can go either way and all make as little sense as each other. But they must all of necessity promote the notion that a more powerful being is in charge.
And where does that belief show up to damaging effect? In our politics it shows up primarily as an attitude toward presidents. While President Obama has spent five years working diligently to destroy our natural environment for all time to come, the largest block of those concerned about global warming have spent their time telling each other to trust in Him, that he works in mysterious ways, that he is up against the Evil One and must be allowed time to succeed in his battle. You see, the problem with theism is not that some of its spin-off beliefs succeed in an undemocratic system. The problem is that theism is anti-democratic at its core. It moves us away from relying on ourselves. It teaches us to rely on someone supposedly better than we. And the same 80 percent or so also believe in something called heaven, which renders real life far less significant even for those generations that get to experience it.
This, in turn, fuels a belief in optimism. We are all told to be optimists regardless of the facts, as if it were a personal lifestyle choice. Combine that with a belief that everything is part of a secret master plan, and you’ve got a recipe for submissive acceptance. I’ve had great activists tell me that everything will work out for the best, either because that keeps them going, or because they’ve learned that saying anything else earns them fewer speaking invitations. Hardcore optimism is compatible with active engagement. But the net effect is almost certainly a contribution to apathy.
I wish it were needless to say that I am not advocating the equally dumb position of willful pessimism. I’m proposing the unpopular position of taking the facts as they come, acting accordingly, and acting cautiously when it comes to the fate of generations as yet unborn — even if that caution requires huge sacrifices.
There are other powerful forces weighing against action as well. There is our love of technology, including our fantasies about inventing our way out of catastrophe, colonizing other planets, re-creating species. Maybe our senator friend is onto something after all when he points to arrogance. There is also greed, including our fear that living sustainably would involve living with less of the materialistic crap that currently clutters our lives and fuels our obesity. There is also the con job continuously played on us by our government that persuades so many of us that we are powerless to effect change. It’s not enough to believe that the world is being destroyed and that we humans are on our own with the plants and the other animals, if we’ve fallen for the biggest scam governments pull on their people, the lie that says they pay no attention to us. History teaches the opposite. People’s influence on their governments is much more powerful than we usually imagine. It’s weakened primarily by people’s failure to do anything. Impotence is a self-fulfilling loop. Those longing for the end of the world are far from alone in imagining that we don’t have the power to make the world over ourselves. Nonetheless, among the things we should be doing right now is explaining to our neighbors that Jesus isn’t coming back.
* EDL= English defense league
“How dreadful are the curses which Mohammedanism (Islam) lays on its votaries (devoted followers)! Besides the fanatical frenzy, which is as dangerous in a man as hydrophobia (rabies) in a dog, there is this fearful fatalistic apathy. The effects are apparent in many countries. Improvident habits, slovenly systems of agriculture, sluggish methods of commerce, and insecurity of property exist wherever the followers of the Prophet rule or live. A degraded sensualism deprives this life of its grace and refinement; the next of its dignity and sanctity. The fact that in Mohammedan law every woman must belong to some man as his absolute property – either as a child, a wife, or a concubine – must delay the final extinction of slavery until the faith of Islam has ceased to be a great power among men. Individual Moslems may show splendid qualities. Thousands become the brave and loyal soldiers of the Queen; all know how to die; but the influence of the religion paralyses the social development of those who follow it. No stronger retrograde force exists in the world. Far from being moribund, Mohammedanism is a militant and proselytizing faith. It has already spread throughout Central Africa, raising fearless warriors at every step; and were it not that Christianity is sheltered in the strong arms of science – the science against which it had vainly struggled – the civilization of modern Europe might fall, as fell the civilization of ancient Rome”.
via Jesus and Mo.
via Jesus and Mo.
There is still plenty of ire left in Ireland as campaigners ready themselves for another summer of action against Shell and their plans to despoil the coast of County Mayo with a new gas pipeline. The project is already a decade late and three times over budget; pretty impressive for a small community fighting one of the biggest multinationals in the world.
However three times over budget suggest a hell of a lot of drinking by Jesus lads the Garda drinks delivery system is believed to have run up an massive overtime bill and you will pay for it once again.
I really enjoy Jesus and Mo. It a series of funny cartoon strips featuring the two characters – Jesus and Mohamed. It’s totally irreverent and of course heretical, but at the same time it isn’t mean in any way and isn’t on any kind of soap box trying to insult these major religions. Its just a bit silly, lighthearted, and very funny
via Jesus and Mo.
There are those who scoff at the school boy, calling him frivolous and shallow. Yet it was the school boy who said, Faith is believing what you know ain’t so.–Mark Twain, Following the Equator, “Pudd’nhead Wilson‘s Calendar”
No faith dies because it is unreasonable, but only because the instincts which it has satisfied find more complete and permanent gratification in other directions. –Amy E. Tanner, Studies in Spiritism(1910)
Faith is a non-rational belief in some proposition. A non-rational belief is one that is contrary to the sum of the evidence for that belief. A belief is contrary to the sum of the evidence if there is overwhelming evidence against the belief, e.g., that the earth is flat, hollow, or is the center of the universe. A belief is also contrary to the sum of the evidence if the evidence seems equal both for and against the belief, yet one commits to one of the two or more equally supported propositions.
A common misconception regarding faith—or perhaps it is an intentional attempt at disinformation and obscurantism—is made by Christian apologists, such as Dr. Richard Spencer, who wrote the following:
A statement like “There is no god, and there can’t be a god; everything evolved from purely natural processes” cannot be supported by the scientific method and is a statement of faith, not science (Richard Spencer, Ph.D., associate professor of electrical and computer engineering at UC Davis and faculty adviser to the Christian Student Union. Quoted in The Davis Enterprise, Jan. 22, 1999).
The error or deception here is to imply that anything that is not a scientific statement, i.e., one supported by evidence marshaled forth the way scientists do in support of their scientific claims, is a matter of faith. To use ‘faith’ in such a broad way is to strip it of any theological significance the term might otherwise have.
Such a conception of faith treats belief in all non-empirical statements as acts of faith. Thus, belief in the external world, belief in the law of causality, or belief in the fundamental principles of logic, such as the principle of contradiction or the law of the excluded middle, would be acts of faith on this view. There seems to be something profoundly deceptive and misleading about lumping together as acts of faith such things as belief in the Virgin birth and belief in the existence of an external world or in the principle of contradiction. Such a view trivializes religious faith by putting all non-empirical claims in the same category as religious faith. In fact, it would be more appropriate to put religious faith in the same category as belief in superstitions, fairy tales, and delusions.
Physicist Bob Park explains this difference in a way even the most devious casuist should understand. The Oxford Concise English Dictionary, he notes, gives two distinct meanings for faith:
“1) complete trust or confidence, and 2) strong belief in a religion based on spiritual conviction rather than proof.” A scientist’s “faith” is built on experimental proof. The two meanings of the word “faith,” therefore, are not only different, they are exact opposites.*
There are reasons for trusting science and there are reasons for religious convictions, but the reasons for our trust in science are called evidence and the reasons for our religious convictions all reduce to hope. William James, a scientist and a man of faith, understood this distinction well. In his essay “The Will to Believe,” James opines that the evidence for a god and an afterlife equals the evidence for non-belief and that his hope is for survival of the soul. In science when the evidence is equal for two opposing propositions, James argued, we should suspend judgment until the scales are tipped to one side or the other. We don’t make a leap of faith in such cases, hoping our favored hypothesis is true. When we do give our assent to one scientific hypothesis over another it is because the evidence compels it, not because we hope it is true.
an erroneous view of faith
If we examine Dr. Spencer’s claims, the error of his conflation of two senses of ‘faith’ should become obvious. He claims that the statement ‘there is no god and there can’t be a god; everything evolved from purely natural processes’ is a statement of faith. There are three distinct statements here. One, ‘there is no god’. Two, ‘there can’t be a god’. And three, ‘everything evolved from purely natural processes’. Dr. Spencer implies that each of these claims is on par with such statements as ‘there is a god’, ‘Jesus is our lord and savior’, ‘Jesus’s mother was a virgin’, ‘a piece of bread may have the substance of Jesus’s physical body and blood’, ‘The God of Abraham is one being but three persons’, and the like.
The statement ‘there cannot be a god’ is not an empirical statement. Anyone who would make such a claim would make it by arguing that a particular concept of god contains contradictions and is, therefore, meaningless. For example, to believe that ‘some squares are circular’ is a logical contradiction. Circles and squares are defined so as to imply that circles can’t be square and squares can’t be circular. James Rachels, for one, has argued that god is impossible, but at best his argument shows that the concepts of an all-powerful god and one who demands worship from his creations are contradictory. The concept of worship, Rachels argues, is inconsistent with the God of Abraham (AG) concept.
Rachels makes an argument. Some find it convincing; others don’t. But it seems that his belief is not an act of faith in the same sense that it is an act of faith to belief in the Incarnation, the trinity,transubstantiation, or the virgin birth. The first three articles of faith are on par with believing in round squares. They require belief in logical contradictions. Virgin births, we now know, are possible, but the technology for the implantation of fertilized eggs did not exist two thousand years ago. The belief in the Virgin birth entails the belief that AG miraculously impregnated Mary with himself. Such a belief defies experience but not logic. The Virgin birth is conceivable (to make a bad pun), unlike the Trinity.
All arguments regarding these articles of faith are quite distinct from Rachel’s argument. To defend these articles of faith, the best one can hope for is to show that they cannot be shown to be false. However, the consequence of arguing that logical contradictions may nevertheless be true, seems undesirable. Such a defense requires the abandonment of the very logical principles required to make any argument and is therefore self-annihilating. The fact that arguments such as Rachel’s and those defending articles of religious faith are not empirical or resolvable by scientific methods hardly makes them equally matters of faith.
The statement ‘there is no god’ is quite different from the claim that there can’t be a god. The latter makes a claim regarding possibility; the former is an actuality or existential claim. I doubt that there are many theologians or Christian apologists who would claim that all their faith amounts to is a belief in the possibility of this or that. One can believe there is no god because there can’t be a god, but one might also disbelieve–i.e., reject as untrue—the existense of any god while admitting the possibility of AG or any other god. Disbelief in gods is analogous to disbelief in Bigfoot, the Loch Ness Monster, Santa Claus, or the Easter Bunny. Yet, those who believe in Bigfoot and Nessie, for example, aren’t known for claiming they believe out of faith. To say you have faith in Bigfoot or faith in Nessie sounds ludicrous. Believers in Bigfoot think there is good evidence for their belief. Disbelievers argue that the evidence is not strong at all and does not deserve assent to the proposition that Bigfoot exists. Disbelievers in Bigfoot do not disbelieve as an act of faith; they disbelieve because the evidence is not persuasive. Belief in a god, on the other hand, could be either an act of faith or a belief based on conclusions from evidence and argument. If the theistic belief is an act of faith then the one holding the belief either thinks the evidence against belief outweighs or equals the evidence for belief, or the belief is held without regard for evidence at all. Otherwise, the belief is not an act of faith but of belief that the evidence is stronger forbelief than against.
Another scientist, physicist Paul Davies, represents another kind of deceptive misconception of faith: that science and religion are equally grounded in ‘faith’. Here is how he puts it:
…science has its own faith-based belief system. All science proceeds on the assumption that nature is ordered in a rational and intelligible way. You couldn’t be a scientist if you thought the universe was a meaningless jumble of odds and ends haphazardly juxtaposed. When physicists probe to a deeper level of subatomic structure, or astronomers extend the reach of their instruments, they expect to encounter additional elegant mathematical order. And so far this faith has been justified. (“Taking Science on Faith,”New York Times, Nov. 24, 2007)
The claim that the assumptions of science are of the same kind as the belief in the trinity, the virgin birth, or the existence of God is as wrong as Dr. Spencer’s belief that the claim that ‘everything evolved from natural processes’ is an act of faith. Davies uses ‘faith’ to refer to beliefs that are uncertain or can’t be proved to be necessarily true, but that is not the essential characteristic of religious faith. We can’t prove that it is necessarily true that the laws of nature won’t change drastically tomorrow, but that doesn’t make the countless instances of experienced order and pattern by countless individuals of no evidential importance. Assuming that invisible green angels move objects to appear as if gravity were real is not on par with assuming there are laws of nature. Neither can be proved to be necessarily true but the latter is backed by evidence in support of it. To lump evidence-based belief with beliefs not based on any evidence as both being faith-based is absurd.
If the only alternatives are that everything evolved from either supernatural or natural forces, and one is unconvinced by the arguments and evidence presented by those who believe in supernatural forces, then logically the only reasonable belief is that everything evolved from natural forces. Only if the evidence supporting a supernatural being were superior or equal to the evidence and arguments against such a belief, would belief that everything evolved from natural forces be a matter of faith.
Those of us who are atheists and believe that everything evolved from natural forces nearly universally maintain that theists and supernaturalists have a very weak case for their belief, weaker even than the case for Bigfoot, Nessie, the Tooth Fairy, or Santa Claus. But, more important, we are convinced by the overwhelming nature of the evidence that natural forces have brought about the universe as we know it. Thus, our disbelief in a supernatural creator is not an act of faith, and therefore, not non-rational as are those of theists and Christian apologists. However, if Christian apologists insist on claiming that science is faith-based or that their version of Christianity and the rejections of their views are equally acts of faith, I will insist that the apologists have a non-rational faith, while their opponents have a rational faith. Though I think it would be less dishonest and less misleading to admit that atheists and naturalists do not base their beliefs on faith in any sense close to that ofreligious faith.