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Response From an Apologist

Total Posts:  2890
Joined  02-12-2004
12 November 2006 05:24

Letter to a Maladjusted Misotheist

November 2, 2006

Dear Mr. Harris,

Greetings to you. I am writing to you because I am in possession of your latest work, Letter to a Christan Nation, and I have been asked to deliver a detailed response to it, which I intend to do over the next few days. Before I begin writing you letters in earnest, however, I thought I ought to let you know when the first time was I ever heard of you: I saw your appearance in Brian Flemming's film, The God Who Wasn't There.

Now if you know this, you will understand why, quite frankly, I consider you a non-starter as an ideological opponent, rather than any sort of informed, worthwhile threat. For you see, it is my policy as a defender of the Christian faith to ignore those who show little or no interest in presenting a fair, accurate, and above all informed critique of Christianity.

Your decision to appear in a movie that posits the thesis that Jesus never existed - a position that credentialed, serious historians universally reject - speaks vastly of your lack of critical discernment when it comes to matters of religion. May I ask if you also intend to appear in films endorsing UFOs, the reality of the Bermuda Triangle, and the Loch Ness Monster? It is rather ironic that you critique Christians so readily for believing what they do uncritically, and yet deigned to appear in a film that endorsed such a blatantly counter-consensus position, one rejected by scholars of every religious persuasion; the contrary view endorsed by Flemming is the province of non-scholars. Is this supposed to indicate to us that you are some sort of credible authority to speak against Christianity?

You will not be able to say, "I didn't endorse the film's conclusions." Maybe you did not, but that you aided and abetted such a film and contributed to it does indicate your lack of discernment.

In reviewing your Letter, I find, not surprisingly, more of the same sort of uncritical presentation, and over the next few days I will be going over your book page by page, addressing these matters for the benefit of those who might be lulled into thinking that simply because you have written a book, you are to be taken at face value as an authority on your subject. You are not. You are an expert in neuroscience. Now I do not imagine you would have a great deal of patience with a theologian or a Biblical scholar who wrote a book "debunking" neuroscience, so what on earth gives you the nerve to think that you deserve any credence as someone writing on the Bible and religion?

This all might be well and good if you actually used credible sources to back up your claims, but I see in your bibliography only one relevant source: Bart Ehrman's Misquoting Jesus, which itself has serious problems (there is a general view here with links to more specific reviews). And as we will see, what you derive from there only shows, yet again, how uncritical you are when it comes to this subject.

But enough. Let us proceed to the content of your book, such as it is.

As a summation of what I believe as a Christian, much of what you start with is accurate, although I might query your claim that I believe "all other faiths are mistaken, and profoundly so." (3) If you are saying that I think all other religions are eg, 90-100% in the wrong about what they claim, then that is false. I would say that the degree of error varies according to the religion. But since you haven't been more specific, that's all I can say. You are also certainly right to indicate that it is not possible for both you and I to be right.

Not surprisingly, however, you get in over your head quickly. It may interest you to know that there is a view of hell—held by educated Christians—that does not match the one you apparently have in mind. As I report at http://www.tektonics.org/uz/2muchshame.html:

Is it really fair for one who does not accept Jesus to suffer in Hell forever?

Several authors…have set the pace for a new look at this question by dismantling the old-fashioned conception of Hell as a place of flesh being seared on sizzling grids, of torture devices and of extreme physical pain. In contrast Miller argues—even apparently without recognition of the Biblical world as an honor and shame society—that the components of eternal punishment in the Bible are shame and disgrace. Let's now look at some of his primary points and relate them to our own arguments:

* The 'logic' of hell in the bible is surprisingly simple: You receive back the treatment/effects you gave other agents (including God and yourself) with some kind of multiplier effect. [The bible is full of images of this reciprocity concept: reaping what you sow, being paid back, suffering loss as you had despoiled others, unkindness for unkindness shown, apathy for apathy rendered, 'eye for an eye', proportional judgement, etc] This is suited as well to what we have said of honor debts and shame as a response. You dishonor God; you receive dishonor in return. Appropriately your required response is to acknowledge your own need—in effect, giving up your "honor"—by admitting that you need God's help to pay the debt.

C. S. Lewis wrote a book titled The Great Divorce in which Hell is depicted as a microscopic world that is smaller than a piece of dirt in heaven (though inhabitants do not realize this except by a special "bus trip" to heaven). Within that microscopic world, people constantly get tired of the company of others and move themselves farther and farther out into the "boondocks" away from others. Napoleon is presented as having done this, and two modern travellers who go to his house arrive to find him pacing back and forth muttering over his failures, for which he blames everyone else. Lewis, we think, was on to something here, even though he did not mention an honor-shame dialectic. The person who is ashamed cannot come into the presence of God, but would indeed be driven away from it by the very nature of the dialectic, seeking to get as far away from the presence of the greatest glory and honor as possible. Literally speaking, "Hell" would be a life on the lam—always trying to get yourself further and further from God's holiness, but because God is omnipresent, and because in Him all things move and have their being, never being able to succeed.

An analogy I once used for my Skeptical friend Kyle Gerkin may help: God is like a magnet, and the "polarity" of sinners is all wrong.

* Miller cites sources indicating that the torment of hell is relational in nature and involves banishment from heaven. A source says, though again apparently without knowledge of the Biblical world as agonistic: Mental and physical anguish result from the sorrow and shame of the judgment of being forever relationally excluded from God, heaven, and so forth.

In this sense, someone with greater sins has more to "be ashamed of" than someone with lesser sins. Thus the lesser sinner may perhaps be able to withstand God's omnipresence to a greater degree than a greater sinner; to put it another way, the person who has greater sins finds themselves to run harder, more often, and farther than the person with lesser sins.

* Biblical passages support our thesis: Daniel 12:2 speaks not of everlasting pain, but of disgrace and everlasting contempt. The "weeping and gnashing of teeth" associated with punishment verses "describes a reaction of persons who have been publicly shamed or dishonored" (Malina and Rohrbaugh, Social Science Commentary, 76, emphasis added). Miller says of the passage in Luke, of the beggar Lazarus and the rich man: [The rich man's] "quality of life" is equated to the quality of life that the beggar Lazarus had during his lifetime (e.g. lack of getting all of his basic needs met in community). Note that a beggar was a person of the lowest social status, and therefore one of the most "shamed" individuals.

We may relate this point to that of the doctrine of theosis. Those who belong to God will grow in His grace; but those who reject him will never grow. Like Lewis' Napoleon, this will no doubt be a frustrating and shameful experience; especially if you can look through the window, so to speak, and see others growing. But it will not involve physical pain.

* A reader asked this question: I gathered from your response to Pendragon that the Jeffery Dahmer, who apparently repented before that unfortunate encounter with a mop handle, would be in the “nosebleed section” in heaven. Why would that be if Christ suffered the shame for everyone who is saved? I think the answer here relates to the concept of rewards in heaven as opposed to salvation. The rewards will be rewards of honor; obviously someone like Dahmer isn't going to have a lot of rewards, and nor would an Adolf Hitler who repented on his deathbed. So yes, to say they will be in the "nosebleed section" of heaven would be accurate.

So in conclusion on this tangent: The data would indicate that the primary focus of eternal punishment is the denial of the honor accorded to those who reject God's offer of salvation, and who bear themselves the shame and disgrace Jesus took in their stead. Therefore there is no inequality in the "suffering"—these persons have denied God His ascribed honor; they are denied in turn the honor that is given to human beings, who are created with the intent that they live forever in God's service, reigning with Christ and serving him. They choose rather the shame and disgrace of serving their own interests; they are also shamed in accordance with their deeds (i.e., Hitler obviously has more to be "ashamed of" than, say, a robber baron). By denying their ascribed place in the collective identity of humanity, they are placed outside the boundaries, exactly as they desire to be and to the extent that their deeds demanded.

Now Mr. Harris, knowing your work as I do I don't expect you to present any sort of informed answer to this understanding. Since you are not interested in the truth, you will only make some excuse such as, "Other Christians disagree, so this is more proof that Christianity is false." If so, I would point out to you that the scientific community is hardly united on each and every point, yet I am sure you would not take this as evidence that science is false. If you will, please try to actually engage interpretations and understandings rather than taking the "lazy way out".

You say, The fact that my continuous and public rejection of Christianity does not worry me in the least should suggest to you just how inadequate I think your reasons for being a Christian are. (4) I wouldn't doubt that. However, the fact that you manifest such primitive knowledge of Christianity means that I am not worried in the least about your rejection.

I will say little of your points concerning religious "liberals" and "moderates" since I am neither by your definition (4-5). You are certainly right about the dichotomy that exists between our two positions and the consequences for whoever is in error.

Rather more naive is your statement that "every devout Muslim has the same reasons for being a Muslim that you have for being a Christian." (6) Oh, really? May I ask what exactly you think those "reasons" are and how you arrive at the conclusion that they are the "same" (presumably, you mean, in quality, since it is silly to say that a Christian uses "Mohammed did X" as a reason for being a Christian). You don't explain any of these "reasons," and I certainly do not see you offering any survey of, or answers, to Muslim (or Christian) scholars or apologists. May I ask if in fact you have done any research concerning evidences for these or ANY religious systems? Have you in fact composed an argument promoting the "theft theory" for the body of Jesus? Have you indeed gone through the Koran showing it errs? Have you shown indeed that Moses did not exist as Jews claim? What exactly have you done? As far as can be told, virtually nothing—Letter, which is supposed to be your best foot forward on this account, is a mere 84 pages, and there are works by literally hundreds of religious scholars—all far more qualified than you—that you don't seem to have addressed. By chance, it isn't that you are simply reaching an arrogant conclusion about your own qualifications, is it?

For your information, I am not a Muslim because I have considered arguments for and against Islam and arrived at a rational decision. If you have the nerve, you may wish to check with such sources as the Answering Islam (answering-islam.org) website, so that you may see that there is more to the matter than simply saying from your armchair, "gee, they have reasons too just like you do" or just waving off other people's systems of beliefs as "absurd" (6) without giving any form of argument. That is the method of the bigoted and the lazy who do not have the wherewithal to do any real arguing against truth claims. Is that what you are, Mr. Harris? A lazy bigot?

By the same token, to be fair, Muslims have apologists who have indeed taken the time to fulfill the burden you put on them to prove their beliefs are valid, and it speaks for itself that unlike Answering Islam and others, you feel that it is simply enough to arrogantly dismiss them with a mere word, "absurd" and say that that are "simply not making claims about reality that can be corroborated". The same could be done to you and your beliefs with just as much validity. And it is just as well for me to say, to use your own words (7):

The truth is, you know exactly what it is like to be a Muslims with respect to the beliefs of an atheist. Isn't it obvious that atheists are fooling themselves? Isn't it obvious that anyone who thinks the universe was a cosmic accident has not considered the universe critically? Isn't it obvious that the doctrine of atheism represents a near-perfect barrier to honest inquiry? Yes, these things are obvious.

No, actually, they are not. What is obvious is that you are using sound bites as a substitute for informed argument. The fact is that you are not equipped in any way to answer the truth claims of ANY religion—Muslim, Christian, or otherwise.

As you continue your "you believe" recitation, you are spot on until you say, "You believe that…[the Bible's] contents have stood the test of time so well that it must have been divinely inspired." (7-8) I do? Perhaps this sort of argument is made in Chick tracts, but it isn't made by Christian academia. I suppose (especially given your association with Brian Flemming's film) that I can now fairly say to you as an atheist, "You believe that Jesus didn't exist, that Mithra was a source for the life of Jesus, and that Nazareth didn't exist." Maybe you do believe all this (in which case, you are even less worthy an opponent than I think). Maybe you don't. But in any event, it seems evident that your "you believe" list could stand a little broader data sample. One wonders if your knowledge of Christians extends only as far as what you watched on TBN last week.

And finally, we get to see you at work with Biblical "exegesis". I use the word loosely because it is apparenent from your use of the Bible that to you "exegesis" means "putting an X on a picture of Jesus". In attempting to criticize the moral teachings of the Bible, did it not at least occur to you that they were written to a specific context? And that the modern reader is expected to be a proper disciple, to know the meanings in their contexts, and determine the application for themselves? Is this too hard for you?

Let's look at how you abuse the Bible's teachings. You refer to Proverbs as saying children should be beaten with a rod. The first error you make is in assuming that a proverb is a universal. Do you KNOW what a proverb is, Mr. Harris? Wisdom and proverbial literature was a leading genre of the Ancient Near East. Much of the OT, and parts of the NT, fall into this category. (One of the best-known examples outside the Bible is the Egyptian Wisdom of Amenemope.) Wisdom literature was (and still is!) characterized by language of exclusivity. This is partially attributable to the fact that wisdom/proverbial literature was intended to be short, pithy, and easily memorized. Our modern literature of this type—- for example, the maxims in Poor Richard's Almanac—- can be described similarly. The wisdom genre has changed little over the years from a functional perspective.

Because of these characteristics of proverbial and wisdom literature, the genre has a high rhetorical function and cannot be read as though it were absolute. Much of what is written in the OT, and a good deal in the NT, is subject to these constraints. So for you to say that Proverbs is "straightforward" in advising the use of a rod for discipine is simply idiotic. Material in the Bible that belongs in the proverbial/wisdom genre cannot be read absolutely and used to claim error.

Now this brings up the question you no doubt also wish to implcitly ask, as to whether a beating with a rod is even a fair punishment, ever. Well, let me ask you a question, Mr. Harris, you, as you live in an air-conditioned housing unit, eat three full, healthy meals a day and have vast amounts of leisure time at your disposal: Do you know what it is like to live in a world where anarchy and chaos were constant threats, where life could be stolen from you at any moment? Ancient people did. As a creampuff society, we have lost the realization that for the ancients, education wasn't simply a matter of teaching times tables so we can get a job selling timeshares: Education was a matter of survival, of ensuring that what there was of civilization did not slip over that fine line from order into chaos. Thus all of the Ancient Near Eastern wisdom literature is filled with pithy sayings like this one you cite from Proverbs, along the lines of, "A student's back is his ear." Even as today students had to be taught to want to learn—the only differences are that the options for distraction have become more diversified (i.e., video games, versus, i.e., trips to the prostitute's house), and most of us aren't perceptive enough to see through our society's complexity to know that chaos is just as possible here and now. We don't see a reason to associate severity with education, but if we wait long enough and have enough school shootings, perhaps we will.

So you fail to contextualize Proverbs, and thus err. Now let us consider your next error. You refer to stoning people to death for things like heresy and adultery (8-9). Allow me to explain a few things to you that you are obviously unaware of.

The laws of the Old Testament fall into three categories. First, some laws are universal moral laws. This includes do not steal, do not kill, and others. Some of these are laws that even you agree should be obeyed today, and we will not discuss them further.

Second, some laws are cultural universals. By this we mean laws geared to Israel's culture that have a universal moral law behind them. As an example, Deut. 22:8-9 states, When you build a new house, make a parapet around your roof so that you may not bring the guilt of bloodshed on your house if someone falls from the roof. An ill-informed person like you may say that one would be hard-pressed to find home builders who follow this rule. But actually they do follow the modern equivalent. In ancient Israel, the flat roof of a house would be used for many purposes, such as sleeping, household chores, and entertaining. These chores included drying and storage of produce; even today the roof is used for such things in modern Arab nations. We don't use our roof the same way—the modern equivalent is a balcony. Our builders certainly do make sure that they follow the point of this rule.

Finally, there are ceremonial laws: Instructions for building the Ark of the Covenant, for example, are definitely in this, as are sacrificial laws and dietary laws.

Put simply, you err in your assumption that every single bit of the legal strictures of the Bible are of the first sort: Universal morals. They are not. The Old Testament law is embodied in the book of Deuteronomy. (You cite other books, but the same laws are repeated in Deuteronomy.) The book of Deuteronomy is laid out in the form of an ancient treaty between a king and his vassals. It is in essence a contract between God and Israel. They "signed on" and agreed to enforce the penalties.

Modern Christians believe that we now have a new covenant or contract between Christ and the individual and the believer. The sins are paid for by Christ's blood, and he takes on the punishment for the transgression of those who break God's law and accept his payment. The old covenant and our enmity with it is now abolished (Ephesians 2:15).

Our new contract, so to speak, does not contain specifications of enforcement—that is now considered God's domain, with regard to each individual, on the basis of the new covenant terms. God will judge and punish moral crimes of the sort that are not prohibited by law, not men. Put another way, you are looking at the terms of a contract that was declared null and void some time ago. Christians have no mandate to execute persons who work on the Sabbath. (It is an open question indeed whether God requires observance of a Sabbath today, but that is beside the point of this letter and your claims.) Only those who signed on to the covenant of Deuteronomy did. Your claim that the Bible demands that we must now stome people to death is simply paranoid, misinformed nonsense.

I realize that you quote—in ignorance—Matthew 5:18-19 (10) as some sort of evidence that Jesus would expect us today to stone people who violate the Sabbath, and so on. This simply shows that you do not know how to exegete Matthew 5:18-19 properly: You fail to differentiate between law and judicial penalty. Judicial penalties are not "commandments".

Moving on, I find your appeal to allegedly peaceful religions like Jainism a curious one, for several reasons. First, if we wish to pursue that sort of fallacy, then it is fair to point out (just as readily) that your system—atheism—has been responsible for widepsread torture, death, and atrocity in atheist regimes like Cuba, China, and the former Soviet Union. Second, it is curious that you would cite Jainism's teaching to not do harm, while at the same time listing George Smith's rather amateurish volume, Atheism: The Case Against God, as a source. Smith was quite adamant that passages like Matthew 5:39-41 were poor moral sense, for "such precepts require the obliteration of one's capacity to distinguish the good from the evil." Taking them just as badly out of context, perhaps, one might say the same of the Jainist teachings you cite. May I ask indeed if there is any pleasing atheists?

You mention only briefly the Inquisition and that the teachings of the Bible are "muddled and self-contradictory." [11] Not that you provide any examples, but as it happens, you are once again ignorant: It was not inability to get a clear message from the Bible that allowed the Inquisition. Indeed I wonder just how much you know about the Inquisition, for I am accustomed to atheists who claim that it killed millions of people—more than the number who actually lived in most countries in Europe at the time.

Since you seem to be very adept at not discussing specifics, allow us to enlighten you somewhat using credentialed historians of the Inquisition as sources. Oddly none of these historians seems to think that the Inquisition was enabled by "muddled and self-contradictory" Bible passages, but rather, conclude that the Inquisition was an honest attempt to implement a particular view (not against a contrary one).

Why was there an Inquisition? Stalcup asks the honest question, "How could the leaders of the church reconcile the terror and destruction wrought by the Inquisition with the doctrine of mercy taught by Christ?" The answer she gives is a familiar one—one we have also seen given in answer to such questions as, "Why would a God of love order the Canaanites exterminated?" or "Why does Proverbs teach corporal punishment?" Eventually different forms of the Inquisition grew up in different places for different reasons. But in terms of why and started, the simple answer is that the Inquisition was seen as an instrument of social survival.

Stalcup notes that the Catholic Church (CC) in the Dark Ages "was the one stable institution that provided leadership and order" and quotes historian Bernard Hamilton as saying that "as the sole vehicle of a more civilized tradition in a barbarous world" the CC "became involved in social and political activities which formed no part of its essential mission, but which it alone was qualified to discharge." With the exception of a few Jews and Muslims, all people in Western Europe depended on the CC for meaning and survival. Any undermining of this social construct was a threat to the physical, mental, and spiritual well-being of the whole. (Kamen likewise says of the Spanish variation, "It fulfilled a role…that no other institution fulfilled." [K82])

In this light, enter Catharism—a heresy from the east that taught a spiritual dualism (which made Satan the creator of the material world, and in a reversal of Mormonism, argued that Satan made man, and that God pitied man and gave him a soul!), poverty, vegetarianism, honesty, and abstention. Not a bad mix of principles at the end, but they also managed to nab the Jim Bakkers of the CC of that day and used it as a bludgeon, to the point of calling the CC a tool of Satan "designed to trick Christians into thinking that they had obtained salvation." The Cathars also refused to swear oaths of loyalty, "a stance that had the potential to undermine the authority of both the Catholic Church and the secular government."

By now the average Skeptic is saying, "Why didn't they just leave the Cathars alone?" If the Cathars had left things alone themselves, that may indeed have been the result. But their work was the moral equivalent in that day not of merely protest, but of laying bombs under the Capitol building. As in OT cases we have no perception of how seriously Cathar actions undermined the social order and threatened to cut the links of the chain of survival, as well as (from that view) security in eternal life. The society of this time did not yet have the leisure to allow such powerful dissent and yet still be able to survive. The Inquisition's actions would be excessive today because we have the leisure to tolerate dissent with no threat to our survival—not as yet, at any rate. As European society progressed, there indeed came to be less threat of heretics undermining corporate survival, so naturally the Inquisition process died out.

As time passed and as the Cathars disappeared, the Inquisition spread to other countries and acquired other targets, including, in Spain, Jews and Muslims who had professed to convert, but secretly had not (the former in some cases being denounced by other Jews!—and being targeted not for religious reasons per se, but for social reasons. In Germany it targeted a sect called the Waldenses, and pantheists. Beyond this point we will delve no further into the Inquisition's many manifestations outside of Spain, as it becomes complex enough to write entire books; it is enough to know that the roots of the Inquisition were not as simple as the Skeptics would care to paint it.

Whence the "inquiz" of the Inquisition? Pope Innocent III did try to be nice at first, sending Cistercian monks to the region of France in 1198 where Catharism was getting a foothold. Their mission was to preach to the populace and identify the leaders of the heresy. Obviously one had to "ask around" to find the leaders, hence the "inquis-" in the Inquisition, Part 1.

Catharism made the "inquis-" part a little hard, however. You would no doubt guess that the average Joe wasn't too keen on abstention, poverty, and vegetables, so most "believers" didn't take the official, saving rite to join Catharism until they were on their deathbeds. Meanwhile they still also participated in normal CC services. This made it difficult to discern between almost all Cathars and non-Cathars, so that the movement was more insidious in its spread than it appeared, and also gave the religious officials a tough moral choice, since they considered themselves to be responsible before God for the spiritual well-being of their flock, "answerable before God for the souls" of all in their charge.

Ironically enough it was the Cathars, not the CC, who struck the first mortal blow in 1208 when a local noble assassinated one of Innocent's special representatives. Innocent, more than a little peeved, began the Albigensian Crusade and for 20 years scoured the land for Cathars. The common people, however, helped the leading Cathars escape or protected them; at the same time, the Crusade evolved into a political battle that Innocent lost control of. Thus a new tactic was developed—the official "Inquisition" established in 1215. (A similar act helped turn popular sentiment towards the Spanish Inquisition when Christianized Jews assassinated one of the Inquisitors in a cathedral, engendering a reaction one might compare to sentiment against Arabic peoples after the 9/11 bombing.)

What was the process? The simple form was that Christians (or in Spain at one point, Jews) were required to "seek out heretics and deliver them to a special church tribunal for trial." Those convicted would be excommunicated, then handed over to secular authorities for punishment, which was usually "banishment and the confiscation of their property." [18] Note well, not execution, but a punishment that would remove them from the social order they were threatening, though in Spain, execution by burning did become a normal sentence for the unrepentant.

Over the next 25 years the Inquisition worked in France, and followed a typical procedure which was also roughly followed in Spain:

1. One or more inquisitors arrived at a town or village and preached against the heresy.

2. They offered a grace period of 7 to 30 days for heretics to recant and receive a "relatively light penance." At the same time citizens were ordered to turn in any known heretics; refusal to comply would result in excommunication—again, disconnection from the social order, an appropriate reply to one who would assist in undermining the social order upon which everyone's lives depended.

As might be expected, some people abused this system and reported the nosy neighbor (with the loud goat who brayed at 3 AM) as a heretic, just to try and get rid of them. Kamen notes examples of witnesses using the Inquisition to "pay off old scores". The Inquisitors of course didn't use modern legal safeguards, and did accept testimony from others uncritically in a way that would make modern legal experts blanch, but that was the norm for jurisprudence even in secular realms of the day, and still is in some countries. Kamen writes of the Spanish variation: "Judicially, the Inquisition was neither better nor worse than the secular courts," but did hurt itself in the publicity department by not making public its methods. Fear was the product not just of the authority figures, but of one's own neighbors: "The fear generated by the tribunal…usually had its origins in social disharmony." In this light people reported all manner of odd things as "crimes" (i.e., in 1492 in Spain, "not knowing the creed, or eating meat in Lent, were taken as signs of Judaism"; later in the 1560s, eating meat on forbidden days was taken as a sign of Lutheranism!) and testified to alleged offenses some 30 or even 50 years in the past. Blame Christianity? No, blame human nature and incompetence.

3. Blame also eons before the advent of a working legal system. After the grace period anyone suspected of heresy was brought before a tribunal and asked to confess. If the confession did not match what had been reported about them by others, they went to prison where they were advised to think it over. The same was done to those who protested their innocence. Following this various methods were used to gain a confession, including intense interrogations, pleas from family members, and at the extreme end, starvation and torture. Blame Christianity? No—this was the modus operandi for ancient legal systems as far back as Rome, differing only in specifics of application: "To some degree, the Inquisition's use of torture mirrored a trend in the secular judicial system—during the twelfth century, the courts of Europe started to revive the old Roman legal procedures, including the application of torture to extract confessions." [Emphasis added.] Some of this came from Justinian's code, which was in turn derived from earlier pagan law. The CC moreover believed that the eternal soul's fate was of more importance than the body—which runs as a match to what we have observed elsewhere that the short-term destruction of peoples like the Amalekites and Canaanites are understandable in light of the long-term goals of social survival for people as a whole. To the Inquisitors, a few moments of pain on earth was a necessary price for saving someone from eternal torment. Skeptics may claim that their priorities were wrong, but they can't fault them as much for their motives (though again, system abuses in plenty also took place).

4. Once a confession was made, punishment ranged from fasting and prayer (the equal to writing "I will not be a heretic" 100 times) to a brief imprisonment. Those who had committed serious crimes were given life imprisonment (perhaps such as the one who assassinated Innocent's rep). Execution was reserved "for unrepentant or relapsed heretics" under a view that heresy was a form of treason against eternal security. The description given by Strayer and Munro sounds just right from any work by Malina and Rohrbaugh or Crenshaw on survival of society in the ANE or Greco-Roman world:

Heretics destroyed the bonds of society by weakening the basic authority on which all institutions rested; their mere existence brought down the vengeance of heaven on the regions in which they lived. Heresy was a disease which had to be wiped out; the heretic must either be cured or destroyed.

The regular reader will recognize that this very description could have described the Roman attitude towards Christianity as a superstition which broke down loyalty to the Roman gods who kept the world in order. This is not a Christian issue, but a social survival issue and a pattern followed by societies to preserve themselves—until they reach our stage, where a fall is much harder to envision.

What About the Torture? The shame of the Inquisition is the use of torture, and we need not explore the details, but here, human nature trumped and caused the worst of the problems. Torturers were only allowed to torture a prisoner once but got around the rule by "suspending" a torture session until the next day to continue it. On the other hand, compared to methods used by the secular penal system of the day—which included being burned alive for counterfeiting and execution for thievery, and later being disemboweled or boiled to death—the Inquisition wasn't as serious a threat to health and well-being as its secular counterparts. One of its more odious practices was posthumously denouncing persons, publicly burning their exhumed remains, and confiscating their property, leaving their family—even if they were not heretics—destitute. Imprisonment may well have been the most cruel of the Inquisition's penalties: Like in all ancient jails, cells were cramped and unlit, so that prisoners at times could neither lie down nor stand; only a "very tiny minority" [67] of persons withstood such treatment for months or even (up to 30) years without "confessing". [71] (On the other hand, in the Spanish variation, the prisons of the Inquisition were generally—not always—better than those of the secular courts, so that, for example, a friar "made some heretical statements simply in order to be transferred from the prison he was in to that of the Inquisition.")

It is worth noting that there are examples of the church officials wanting to be lenient, and mobs, fearing this leniency, breaking into a prison where Cathars were held and taking matters into their own hands, killing the Cathars themselves! Strayer identifies this as an example of the "feelings of fear and hatred among the mass of the people because [the Cathars] dissociated themselves completely from all the values on which society was based." [41] For a parallel consider Sosthenes the synagogue ruler being beaten, and yes, Joseph Smith! However, where Catharism originally spread in France, the sympathies of the people were with the Cathars. This extreme of "solutions" by the people made it necessary for the church to take responsibility for instituting a uniform solution. The mixed response "was not a situation the Church could responsibly allow to continue."

Kamen reports that the threat of the Spanish Inquisition has been particularly overblown. Without minimizing the atrocities that were committed, it is nevertheless a fact that many Skeptical sites (relying at times on Helen Ellerbee, a notoriously unreliable source) frame the Spanish Inquisition particularly as one might elsewhere frame Mao's Great Leap Forward. Kamen notes that, "Taking into account all the tribunals of Spain up to about 1530, it is unlikely that more than two thousand people were executed for heresy by the Inquisition….for most of its existence that Inquisition was far from being a juggernaut of death either in intention or in capability." By Kamen's estimate, for example, "it would seem that during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries fewer than three people a year were executed in the whole of the Spanish monarchy from Sicily to Peru, certainly a lower rate than in any provincial court of justice in Spain or anywhere else in Europe."This was weighted against people of Jewish and Muslim origin, but let it never be said that the numbers themselves are anything to be flabbergasted about. It is also notable that the impetus for the Inquisition in Spain came first not from the church, but from the king and queen of Spain who asked for an Inquisition to be conducted.

Statistically, over the life of the Spanish Inquisition and in spite of spurts of major use, torture was "used infrequently" and only in cases of heresy; despite possible claims of Skeptics, there was not enough sophistication in the Inquisitors to use torture for the purpose of brainwashing. "A comparison with the cruelty and mutilation common in secular tribunals shows the Inquisition in a relatively favourable light. This in conjunction with the usually good level of prison conditions makes it clear that the tribunal had little interest in cruelty and often attempted to temper justice with mercy." One may as well credit Christianity for making the Inquisition less severe than it would have been had it been conducted by secular authorities addressing the same social fears and concerns! Prison sentences were often not literally observed; a "life sentence" could amount to only 10 years of incarceration and the term could be served at home, in a monastery, or in a hospital when prison space was limited. Kamen also notes that (despite Skeptical desires to see every Spaniard as cowering in fear awaiting a knock at the door from Torquemada himself!) that "over long periods of time and substantial areas of the country, [the Inquisition] quite simply did nothing." "In many Christian communities throughout Spain where internal discord was low and public solidarity high, fear of the Inquisition was virtually absent." A priest in Urgell, Spain in 1632 said that "he didn't recognise the Inquisition and didn't give a fig for it"—and the Inquisition was "unable to take any action against him, nor indeed was it able to impose its authority on the people of that diocese." Resistance was not a matter of fighting off the Pope's armies, but of public cooperation: "Because the information available to inquisitors came not from their own investigations but almost exclusively from members of the public, it was in effect the public that dictated the forms of inquisatorial justice….where [ordinary people] refused to cooperate the tribunal was impotent and incapable of inspiring fear."

So, in conclusion: Blame Christianity for the Inquisition? Hardly. Blame human nature, yet again, which humanists are so proud of, and blame also a propaganda machine that was so effective that "even today it is difficult to separate fact from fiction."

One wonders, Mr. Harris, if you actually know of any of this. I very much doubt it. It looks rather like you are merely repeating standard canards about the Inquisition learned from non-credible sources. But at any rate, even if you are right, the record of your system of belief (again, if we wish to pursue fallacy) is much worse.

You seem to think you have a trump card when you say cite the likes of Luther saying that heretics, etc. should be executed, and then say we may read the Bible differently, but "isn't it amazing that you have succeeded in discerning the true teachings of Christianity, while the most influentuial thinkers in the history of your faith failed?" (12) Well, to put it bluntly, NO. If you were more than a hack you would certainly realize that there is no shortage of criticisms of "influential thinkers" like Luther, Calvin, Aquinas, etc.in Christian literature. You would also be aware that no one expects someone living in medieval Germany, like Luther, to have a full grip on the concept of Ancient Near Eastern suzerainty treaties. The more pointed question is, "Isn't it amazing that you, Sam Harris, are so ignorantly indifferent to finding out the truth that you merely noted (but did not quote) statements from the likes of Luther on burning heretics, and thought that represented the 'last word' on exegeting Scripture, when there are literally hundreds of scholars who have written on the same texts today?" Would you have patience with someone who tried to refute one of your theories about neuroscience by quoting the statement of a contemporary of Isaac Newton?

An even more apparent flaw in your approach is that you seem to think merely citing passages like John 15:6 with no explanation (13)automatically proves bad morality in the Bible. You present no actual argument showing this, you merely present and assume—this is what I call "argument by outrage" (if you like Latin phrases, call it argumentum ad cerebrosus and it runs more or less like this:

  1. You find some event or passage in the Biblical text that you personally find morally offensive.
  2. You merely recounts this passage or event in such a way as to imply that by itself, the event or passage is enough of a moral outrage that there can be no argument or counter to it.

    Or as Glenn Miller has put it, similarly:

      ....an individual's personal moral intuitions, if they run counter to moral intuitions of other experts and peers, may need further analysis and qualification, before they could function plausibly in constructing a logical argument of God's non-existence.

      In other words, the argument that I THINK someone might make about this might look like the following:

      1. The biblical God CANNOT commit any unjust act (Authority: theological tradition)
      2. God ordered the killing of children (Authority: biblical text)
      3. The killing of children can never be a 'just' act, regardless of competing ethical demands in a given situation. (Authority: someone's personal moral intuition)
      4. God, therefore , ordered an 'unjust act'. (authority: substitution of terms)
      5. The ordering of an 'unjust act' is itself an 'unjust act' (authority: not sure—this is somewhat controversial in ethical theory, but I will grant it here for the purposes of illustration)
      6. The biblical God, therefore, committed an unjust act. (authority: substitution of terms)
      7. Therefore, the biblical God CAN commit an unjust act. (authority: from the actual to the possible)

Mr. Harris, simply stating outrage is not a sufficient form of argument. It is merely a substitute for true argument, with the intention to win over the prospective convert by means of tugging on their heartstrings like an orchestral harp. If the reader finds the God of the Bible cruel, unjust, bloodthirsty, etc., as you do, then that is your own personal problem. What must be done—but I have still not seen done by you—is an analysis proving that a given action/directive by God was indeed unfair and/or cruel. No doubt the reason I have not seen you do this is that you are not actually informed enough to make such judgments. Your tendency is simply to assume, "the punishment is undeserved, and can never be justified." Such naivete amounts to all that can be gotten from you. Again as Miller tells us:

  But notice the problem—the whole thing stands or falls on the accuracy of the personal moral intuition in Step 3. It there is no reason to believe it applies WITHOUT EXCEPTION, then our attempt at constructing a hard contradiction this way fails….This, of course, puts the ball back in the individual's court to do one of two things: (1) show that these exceptions do NOT hold… or (2) show that although there ARE legitimate exceptions, there could not be any valid exceptions that would be operative in our biblical case.

  But in any event, someone would still have much, much work to do, to be able to even offer the 'it is a contradiction' position as an argument. Without such work, this objection is simple assertion, unsubstantiated opinion (e.g, 'hunch'?), or emotional statement.

To make your "argument by outrage" more than just an emotional spin-doctoring, you must do more than simply throw quotes around. Mere statement of data on a broad level argues for nothing; a moral hierarchy must be examined and established. Take these two statements:

  * Hitler exterminated 6 million Jews.
  * Blethkorp exterminated 6 million Refrons.

We are rightly filled with moral outrage at the first one. But why? The obvious reason is that we know about Hitler and we know about his Master race schemes; we know about his attempt to seize power; we know from the data that he was morally wrong. The core of your "argument by outrage" is to take something like the second item, however, and shake out the "least common denominator" so that the moral equivalency is made to seem to be the same. However, what if we start defining out the second one so that:

  1. "Blekthorp" is the leader of the Harlanian race, a peaceful people who only wish to be left alone.
  2. The "Refrons" are a predatory and parasitical race—say like Star Trek's Borg—whose only goal is to assimilate others into their culture or destroy those they consider inferior.

Now that we have the context, whence is the "argument by outrage"? I have chosen a clearly extreme illustration, but between these extremes of black and white lie shades of gray which are a combination of black and white. We would suppose that you would agree that the Harlanians have a right to defend themselves. If the Refrons refuse to give up—are willing to fight to the last to achieve their goal—is it a moral outrage that the Harlanians exterminated 6 million of them? How indeed if the total population of Refrons was somewhere around 70 billion and executing 6 million was the only way to get the Refrons to decide that the cost of conquest was too high? Lest you think this a fanciful idea, consider the key parallels to the arguments over whether or not to drop a nuclear bomb on Japan.

One final irony, Mr. Harris. You seem rather pleased by the use of nonviolent protest as a form of social chance, but as we will see in the next letter, you condemn the New Testament for commending slaves to obedience. Such is your ignorance of the social world of the Bible that you fail to recognize that such NT adomitions are an ancient mode of the very sort of non-violent protest and undermining of the social system that Gandhi and King taught! But we will expose that aspect of your lack of education next time. For now, please, if you will, present some actual arguments—not merely unexplained quotes or references. If indeed you are capable of such. And please, learn something both about history (the Inquisition in particular) and about Biblical interpretation.


J. P. Holding

Total Posts:  2890
Joined  02-12-2004
12 November 2006 07:53

November 3, 2006

Dear Mr. Harris,

Today I’d like to talk to you about your lack of education on the topic of slavery (15-19).

In all seriousness, Mr. Harris, has your education in this matter gone past simply slapping open a Bible, seeing the word “slave,” and immediately allowing visions of Kunte Kinte to run through your head?

Please allow us to edcuate you, with the detailed research provided by a friend of mine at http://www.christian-thinktank.com/qnoslave.html—as it seems you need it badly. The following are some relevant excerpts in terms of what you offered in your book. Naturally if you respond, we expect you to do the same level of study as we have—or else, allow us to trump your views on neuroscience simply because we flipped open a copy of The Children’s Pop Up Book of Neurosurgery and check a Wikipedia article. I will add comments in italics to what my friend has written.

Scholars in the ANE have often abandoned the use of the general term ‘slavery’ in descriptions of the many diverse forms of master-servant that are manifest in the ancient world. There are very few ‘true’ slave societies in the world (with Rome and Greek being two of the major ones!), and ancient Israel will be seen to be outside this classification as well (in legislation, not practice).

A recent example of this comes from the discussion of the Hittite culture in [HI:HANEL:1.632]:

“Guterbock refers to ‘slaves in the strict sense,’ apparently referring to chattel slaves such as those of classical antiquity. This characterization may have been valid for house slaves whose master could treat them as he wished when they were at fault, but it is less suitable when they were capable of owning property and could pay betrothal money or fines. The meaning ‘servant’ seems more appropriate, or perhaps the designation ‘semi-free’. It comprises every person who is subject to orders or dependent on another but nonetheless has a certain independence within his own sphere of active.”

Scholars in Cultural Anthropology are sensitive to this as well, and point out that New World slavery was quite unique, historically:

“Scholars do not agree on a definition of “slavery.” The term has been used at various times for a wide range of institutions, including plantation slavery, forced labor, the drudgery of factories and sweatshops, child labor, semivoluntary prostitution, bride-price marriage, child adoption for payment, and paid-for surrogate motherhood. Somewhere within this range, the literal meaning of “slavery” shifts into metaphorical meaning, but it is not entirely clear at what point. A similar problem arises when we look at other cultures. The reason is that the term “Slavery” is evocative rather than analytical, calling to mind a loose bundle of diagnostic features. These features are mainly derived from the most recent direct Western experience with slavery, that of the southern United States, the Caribbean, and Latin America. The present Western image of slavery has been haphazardly constructed out of the representations of that experience in nineteenth-century abolitionist literature, and later novels, textbooks, and films…From a global cross-cultural and historical perspective, however, New World slavery was a unique conjunction of features…In brief, most varieties of slavery did not exhibit the three elements that were dominant in the New World: slaves as property and commodities; their use exclusively as labor; and their lack of freedom…” [NS:ECA:4:1190f]

Generally, in the ANE, these ‘fuzzy’ boundaries obtain as well. “Slavery” is a very relative word in our time period, and we have to be very carefully in no auto-associating it with more ‘vivid’ New World examples. For example, in the West we would never say that the American President’s Cabinet members were his ‘slaves’, but this term would have been applied to them in the ANE kingdoms. And, in the ANE, even though children/family could be bought and sold, they were never actually referred to as ‘slaves’—the property aspect (for such transactions) did NOT define explicitly the notion of ‘slavery’:

“Freedom in the ancient Near East was a relative, not an absolute state, as the ambiguity of the term for “slave” in all the region’s languages illustrates. “Slave” could be used to refer to a subordinate in the social ladder. Thus the subjects of a king were called his “slaves,” even though they were free citizens. The king himself, if a vassal, was the “slave” of his emperor; kings, emperors, and commoners alike were “slaves” of the gods. Even a social inferior, when addressing a social superior, referred to himself out of politeness as “your slave.” There were, moreover, a plethora of servile conditions that were not regarded as slavery, such as son, daughter, wife, serf, or human pledge.” [HI:HANEL:1.40]...

With these points in mind, Mr. Harris, your simplicity in merely quoting verses that mention “slaves” is appalling. Let us now find out what, in the Old Testament to start with, the word “slave” REALLY meant:

“The word >ebed, however, denoted not only actual slaves occupied in production or in the household but also persons in subordinate positions (mainly subordinate with regard to the king and his higher officials). Thus the term >ebed is sometimes translated as “servant.” Besides, the term was used as a sign of servility in reference to oneself when addressing persons of higher rank. Finally, the same term was also used in the figurative meaning “the slave (or servant) of God.” Thus, the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, prophets, David, Solomon and other kings are regularly called slaves of Yahweh (Exod 32:13; Lev 25:55; 1 Sam 3:9; Ezra 9:11, etc.). Similarly, all the subjects of Israel and Judah are called slaves of their kings, including even wives, sons, and brothers of the latter (1 Sam 17:8; 29:3; 2 Sam 19:5, etc.; cf. also Gen 27:37; 32:4). Addressing Moses and prophets, the Israelites called themselves their slaves (Num 32:25; 1 Sam 12:19, etc.). Ruth refers to herself as a slave girl of her relative Boaz (Ruth 3:9). Being a vassal of the Philistine king Achish, David called himself his slave (1 Sam 28:2). It is natural that the same vague and inexplicitly formulated social terminology characteristic of the ANE is also used in the Bible in relation to the subjects of foreign rulers. For example, courtiers of an Aramean ruler or the soldiers of the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar II were considered slaves of their monarchs (2 Kgs 6:11; 24:10–11). It is natural that kings of Judah depending on more powerful rulers of neighboring countries were considered their slaves. Thus, Ahaz is referred to as a slave of the Assyrian king Tiglath-pileser III (2 Kgs 16:7). In modern translations of the Bible >ebed/doulos and several other similar terms are rendered “slave” as well as “servant,” “attendant,” etc. Such translations, however, might create some confusion and give the incorrect impression that special terms for the designation of servants and slaves are attested in the Bible…However, selecting the proper meaning from such a broad metaphorical application of the term designating a general dependence rarely presents great difficulty. For example, Abimelech, king of Gerar, called up his slaves and told them his dream (Gen 20:8). Apparently, these “slaves” were royal courtiers and officials. Abraham gathered 318 of his slaves, born in his household, in order to recover his kinsman Lot who had been captured by Chedorlaomer and three Mesopotamian kings (Gen 14:14). At least, a part of these persons constituted freeborn members of Abraham’s family. Upon ascending the throne of Judah, Amaziah executed his slaves who had murdered his father, the former king (2 Chr 25:3). These slaves were certainly royal dignitaries. When Josiah, king of Judah, had been killed at Megiddo, his body was taken in a chariot to Jerusalem by his slaves (2 Kgs 23:30). It is quite evident that these slaves were royal soldiers. In a number of cases, however, the interpretation of the actual meaning of the ambiguous >ebed may be disputed. For instance, the steward of Abraham’s household who was in charge of all his possessions is called his slave (Gen 24:2). His status can only conjecturally be interpreted as an indication of actual slavery and, of course, he could have been a freeborn person.” [ABD, s.v. “Slavery, Old Testament”]

In the ANE, legal systems divided ‘slaves’ into different categories, and prioritized interventions (social intervention has costs, remember, and scarce resources in the ANE had to be allocated to optimize their effect on social/community survival) around these categories:

“In determining who should benefit from their intervention, the legal systems drew two important distinctions: between debt and chattel slaves, and between native and foreign slaves. The authorities intervened first and foremost to protect the former category of each—citizens who had fallen on hard times and had been forced into slavery by debt or famine.” [HI:HANEL:1,42]

In the OT case, we will see a similar interest: most legislation will be about Hebrew (“native”) individuals who, for reasons of debt/famine, sell themselves into short-term slavery (“debt slaves”). Accordingly, we will examine this class of ‘slaves’ first (native, debt).

Hebrew ‘slavery’ (i.e., a Hebrew ‘servant’ of a Hebrew ‘master’; we will do foreigners next) occurs in a very specific socio-economic-religious context, and only actually makes sense (in its structure) in that context. Like the ANE, the context is a constant struggle for economic stability. The Mosaic law contains numerous initiatives designed to preclude someone having to consider voluntary slavery as an option:

“Pentateuchal prescriptions are meant to mitigate the causes of and need for such bondservice. Resident aliens, orphans and widows are not to be abused, oppressed or deprived of justice. When money is lent to the poor, they are not to be charged interest. (Elsewhere in the ancient Near East exorbitant interest rates on loans were the chief cause of people being sold into slavery).” [OT:DictOT5, s.v. “Slavery”]

To put it in a way you will hopefully understand, Mr. Harris, Old Testament slavery was indentured servitude—putting yourself in debt to another and working to pay it off, just like you do with your credit cards today. Therefore, what you fail to realize is that the daughter “sold” in Exodus 21:7-11 is entering into a POSITIVE situation:

1. The first thing to note is that commentators do not see this as a ‘despicable’, ‘mercenary’ act on the part of a cold-hearted father. Rather, it was an exigency taken by a dad in protection and provision for his daughter (generally thought to be under extreme duress):

· “Lagas-Girsu legal texts show children being sold into slavery, and this led the texts’ editor to posit a weak family bond. If, as seems likely, the parents were choosing life over death for their children, one does not need to doubt their devotion to the children.” [OT:LIANE, 35]

· “While this legal right of parents was more than likely subject to abuse, its practice resulted from poverty and debt that threatened the survival of the household. Thus the selling of children was one means of payment of debt by an impoverished household, at the same time providing a new household for the poor offspring.” [OT:FAI, 196]

· “Female slaves were treated differently. Many times female slaves were concubines or secondary wives (cf. Gen. 16:3; 22:24; 30:3, 9; 36:12; Jud. 8:31; 9:18). Some Hebrew fathers thought it more advantageous for their daughters to become concubines of well-to-do neighbors than to become the wives of men in their own social class.” [BBC, at Ex 21.3ff]

· “In the ancient world, a father, driven by poverty, might sell his daughter into a well-to-do family in order to ensure her future security. The sale presupposes marriage to the master or his son. Documents recording legal arrangements of this kind have survived from Nuzi. The Torah stipulates that the girl must be treated as a free woman; should the designated husband take an additional wife, he is still obligated to support her. A breach of faith gains her her freedom, and the master receives no compensation for the purchase price.” [JPStorah, Ex 21]

2. Secondly, commentators are quick to point out that this ‘selling’ isn’t real slavery—its very, very different from ‘regular’ slavery transactions. [This case is different than the debt-slave situation, in that (1) it is done by the father for a dependent daughter, rather than an independent self-selling female; (2) it is about marriage and childbearing, instead of simple domestic service labor, and is therefore exempt from the must-wait-six-years provision—indeed release would not have to wait nearly that long at all [the ‘master’ would know very soon if he was not pleased with the bride-to-be]; (3) has multiple exit conditions; and (4) has additional protections and guarantees in it]:

· “Older views held that Mesopotamian marriage was basically a commercial arrangement in which the groom purchased the bride, and it is true that extant texts are interested in the economic relations that were being forged by the new union. But it is not helpful to see marriage as purchase because the bride’s family too usually presented gifts to the groom’s family; instead, marriage seems more a change in status for both parties, like adoption.” [OT:LIANE, 52]

· “The provisions here stipulated for such a woman make it very likely that she was not sold into slavery for general purposes, but only as a bride, and therefore with provisions restricting her owner-husband concerning her welfare if he should become dissatisfied with the union. … Such an interpretation makes clear why the provisions for such a slave-bride are given in sequence to the “guiding principles” for the protection of the male temporary slave: the slave-bride had special rights, too, and if they were violated, she too could go free. [WBC]

· “The Hebrew term ‘amah used here, does not mean a slave girl in the usual sense, since her status is quite different from that of the male slave. The following laws safeguard her rights and protect her from sexual exploitation.” [JPStorah, Ex 21]

· “In the ancient world, a father, driven by poverty, might sell his daughter into a well-to-do family in order to ensure her future security. The sale presupposes marriage to the master or his son. …The Torah stipulates that the girl must be treated as a free woman; should the designated husband take an additional wife, he is still obligated to support her.” [JPStorah, Ex 21]

3. The odd mixture of ‘slave’ words and ‘marriage’ words designate this individual as a ‘concubine’. Concubines in the ancient world were essentially wives whose offspring were not automatically in the inheritance/succession line. They had all the legal rights of wives, but they had typically originated in a state of slavery. They were subordinate to freeborn-wives (if there were any in the household), and their offspring could be successors ONLY IF the offspring were legally ‘adopted’ or publicly acclaimed by the owner. They could be legally ‘promoted’ to full wife status (in the ANE).

· “In Assyria a man could raise a concubine to the status of a wife.” [OT:DLAM, 136]

· “The ancient law of Ex 21:7-11 allows an Israelite father who is poor or in debt to sell his daughter to be the slave-concubine of a master or his son. She is not freed in the seventh year like the male slaves. If her master is not satisfied, he may resell her to her family, but may not sell her to a stranger. If he takes another wife, he must leave intact all the rights of the first. If he intends her to be his son’s wife, he must treat her as a daughter of the family.” [AI:1, 86]

· “This restriction was the result of the owner’s having been faithless to her, that is, he had not lived up to the agreement made with her household, that she would be his concubine. In addition, if the buyer purchased the woman to be a concubine for his son, then she was to treated as a daughter. And if the buyer took another woman for his wife, he could not reduce his concubine’s conjugal rights, food, or clothing.” [OT:FAI, 196]

· “In addition to the regular wife or wives, a man might also have one or more secondary wives or concubines who would bear children for him. The most explicit statement prescribing a husband’s behavior toward a wife occurs in Exodus 21:7-11. This text concerns a concubine, to be sure, but according to the rabbinic principle of qal wa-homer (what applies in a minor case will also apply in a major case), one may assume that husbands were to treat their wives with even greater dignity. Because of uncertainties in the meanings of the three critical words in verse 10, there is some question concerning the obligations placed upon the man. However, on the analogy of extrabiblical formulas, seer, kesut and ona are best understood as ‘food,’ ‘clothing’ and ‘ointment/oil’, respectively. These specific expressions capture the man’s general responsibility to provide peace, permanence and security for his wives.” [HI:MFBW, 48]

· “Exodus 21:7-11 specifically seeks to regulate cases involving Israelite women/girls who were sold by their fathers as female slaves (amot), presumably because of debt. Many commentators assume that this sale envisions marriage to the master or to his son, but the absence of marriage or divorce terminology in the passage suggests the purpose of the sale was concubinage. The regulation safeguards the woman’s rights in two respects. First, the purchaser may not treat her as an ordinary slave. If she proves not to please him, and he does not fulfill his contractual obligation to treat her as his own concubine, or assign her to his son, he may not treat her as an ordinary slave woman. Because he has failed to grant her the protection available to concubines through motherhood, she retains the right to redemption by her father. Second, the purchaser may not sell her to a foreigner, that is a non-Israelite, and thereby render her irredeemable because foreigners would not recognize her rights under Israelite law.” [HI:MFBW, 60]

[Note: one of the two main purposes of concubinage (the other being to provide an heir in a barren marriage)—an economically very expensive expedient in the ancient world—was to keep the family from falling below ‘critical mass’. The mortality rate was so high (“as many as one in two children did not survive to the age of five” [OT:FAI:19]), and the labor demand was so high, that additional means of renewal (other than just the single-wife of the ideal) were sometimes necessary:

· “Those labor requirements in early Israel were especially intense for several reasons: cropping patterns, with their seasonal demands for many hands to do certain sowing or harvesting tasks within a relatively short window of environmental opportunity; sporadic needs for terrace maintenance and land clearing; a constant set of time-consuming daily procedures for tending to livestock, securing water, and transforming food products to comestibles. The number of persons needed for the family, as the primary, self-sufficient economic unit, to perform the myriad tasks in a regime with critical labor-intensive periods was greater than a nuclear family could supply. Extended or compound families were essential for survival.” [OT:FAI, 18]

· “Concubines are women without dowry who include among their duties providing children to the family. Childbearing was an important function in the ancient world, where survival of the family, and often survival at all, was tenuous at best. ” [BBC, at Gen 35.21ff]

· “A concubine was a true wife, though of secondary rank. This is indicated, for example, by the references to a concubine’s “husband” (Jud 19:3), the “father-in-law” (Jud 19:4), “son-in-law” (Jud 19:5). Thus, the concubine was not a kept mistress, and did not cohabit with a man unless married to him. The institution itself is an offshoot of polygamy.” [TWOT, s.v. concubine/pilgsh]]

4. This focus on the wife-aspect of this process leads commentators to understand this passage to be about protections for the woman, over and above the protections afforded a male slave, and there were many ‘exit clauses’ for the woman—to full family membership, or to freedom:

· “When a daughter was sold into slavery by her father, this was intended both as a payment of debt and as a way of obtaining a husband for her without a dowry. She has more rights than a male in the sense that she can be freed from slavery if her master does not provide her with food, clothing and marital rights. [BBC, Exodus]

· “Female slaves were treated differently. Many times female slaves were concubines or secondary wives (cf. Gen. 16:3; 22:24; 30:3, 9; 36:12; Jud. 8:31; 9:18). Some Hebrew fathers thought it more advantageous for their daughters to become concubines of well-to-do neighbors than to become the wives of men in their own social class. If a daughter who became a servant was not pleasing to her master she was to be redeemed by a near kinsman (cf. Lev. 25:47-54) but never sold to foreigners (Ex. 21:8); she could also redeem herself. If she married her master’s son she was to be given family status (v. 9). If the master married someone else he was required to provide his servant with three essentials: food, clothing, and shelter. [BBC, at Ex 21.3ff]

· “The expectation of seventh-year release was denied to women… Though an owner may be unhappy with a female slave he has bought for himself, he is to permit her to be freed by the payment of a price, apparently by her family, or he is to make provision for her to remain within his own family, perhaps as a daughter-in-law. Despite his own dissatisfaction with her, he has no right to sell her to “a strange family”, a family unknown to her, perhaps even one outside the covenant community of Israel. If he keeps her within his own family, yet takes another woman as his own wife or concubine, he is not to deny her the basic rights which his purchase of her for himself guaranteed in the first place. … If the owner refuses to provide the female slave with these fundamental rights, he waives his claim of possession, and she is free to go her own way. The provisions here stipulated for such a woman make it very likely that she was not sold into slavery for general purposes, but only as a bride, and therefore with provisions restricting her owner-husband concerning her welfare if he should become dissatisfied with the union. Mendelsohn has cited Nuzian sale contracts which almost exactly parallel the Exodus provisions. Such an interpretation makes clear why the provisions for such a slavebride are given in sequence to the “guiding principles” for the protection of the male temporary slave: the slave-bride had special rights, too, and if they were violated, she too could go free. [WBC]

· “In addition to the regular wife or wives, a man might also have one or more secondary wives or concubines who would bear children for him. The most explicit statement prescribing a husband’s behavior toward a wife occurs in Exodus 21:7-11. This text concerns a concubine, to be sure, but according to the rabbinic principle of qal wa-homer (what applies in a minor case will also apply in a major case), one may assume that husbands were to treat their wives with even greater dignity. Because of uncertainties in the meanings of the three critical words in verse 10, there is some question concerning the obligations placed upon the man. However, on the analogy of extrabiblical formulas, seer, kesut and ona are best understood as ‘food,’ ‘clothing’ and ‘ointment/oil’, respectively. These specific expressions capture the man’s general responsibility to provide peace, permanence and security for his wives.” [HI:MFBW, 48]

· “The regulation safeguards the woman’s rights in two respects. First, the purchaser may not treat her as an ordinary slave. If she proves not to please him, and he does not fulfill his contractual obligation to treat her as his own concubine, or assign her to his son, he may not treat her as an ordinary slave woman. Because he has failed to grant her the protection available to concubines through motherhood, she retains the right to redemption by her father. Second, the purchaser may not sell her to a foreigner, that is a non-Israelite, and thereby render her irredeemable because foreigners would not recognize her rights under Israelite law.” [HI:MFBW, 60]

· “The Hebrew term ‘amah used here, does not mean a slave girl in the usual sense, since her status is quite different from that of the male slave. The following laws safeguard her rights and protect her from sexual exploitation.” [JPStorah, Ex 21]

· “In the ancient world, a father, driven by poverty, might sell his daughter into a well-to-do family in order to ensure her future security. … The Torah stipulates that the girl must be treated as a free woman; should the designated husband take an additional wife, he is still obligated to support her.” [JPStorah, Ex 21]

· “The ‘amah’ of the Book of the Covenant (Exod. 21:7-10) is an Israelite woman sold for this status by her father. If the buyer has designated her for his son, she is treated like any other daughter in-law, becomes a wife, and is not freed in the seventh year. If the man for whom she was acquired as a wife did not want her, he could “redeem her” to another family but he could not sell her, for his not marrying her was considered a betrayal. If he married another woman, he had to keep providing for his ‘amah; if not, she would go free.” [HI:HALOT:2:1008]

· “The ancient law of Ex 21:7-11 allows an Israelite father who is poor or in debt to sell his daughter to be the slave-concubine of a master or his son. She is not freed in the seventh year like the male slaves. If her master is not satisfied, he may resell her to her family, but may not sell her to a stranger. If he takes another wife, he must leave intact all the rights of the first. If he intends her to be his son’s wife, he must treat her as a daughter of the family.” [AI:1, 86]

· “This restriction was the result of the owner’s having been faithless to her, that is, he had not lived up to the agreement made with her household, that she would be his concubine. In addition, if the buyer purchased the woman to be a concubine for his son, then she was to treated as a daughter. And if the buyer took another woman for his wife, he could not reduce his concubine’s conjugal rights, food, or clothing.” [OT:FAI, 196]

So, this passage is hardly ‘negative’: it provides an escape from poverty for a young woman, security and protection (and upward social mobility) in the house of a better place, and all the basic legal rights of a wife.

Mr. Harris, in light of these details provided from scholars of the ancient world, is it not rather obvious that your treatment of this subject is appallingly ignorant?

One last point on OT slavery. You note that the OT permits slaves to be beaten. Once again, I will allow my friend to educate you:

The above prescription is hugely instructive, in comparison to the ANE: In some ANE codes, a master could literally put out the eyes of his slaves![HI:HANEL, e.g., at Mari, 1:383; at Nuzi, 1:586]. This represents a MASSIVE departure from ‘conventional morality’ of the day!

And the above prescription is also instructive, in comparison to today: whereas typical insurance programs will pay 50% of maximum disability for ‘loss of a single eye’, they pay nothing for the loss of a tooth…(smile). But in the OT, there was a huge “disincentive” to strike one’s slave in the face! [Legitimate community punishments were by rods, on the back. Facial blows were considered culpable.] The ANE, however, did NOT have the same ‘respect’ for the face of slaves—besides eye-gouging, they resorted to branding, cutting of the ears, mutilating the nose, etc—IN THE LAW CODES!. These practices are NOT in Israel’s law codes, and they are implied to be prohibited by the focus on penalties for striking the face.

And this passage is noted as being ‘oddly humanitarian’:

“In the case of bodily injury to slaves, whose status does not qualify them for equal compensation, the owner whose abuse results in the loss of an eye or a tooth is to free that slave, a remarkably humanitarian provision directed at cruelty and sadism in a slave-owner.” [WBC]

The law allowed disciplinary rod-beating for a servant (Ex 21.20f), apparently under the same conditions as that for free men:

If men quarrel and one hits the other with a stone or with his fist and he does not die but is confined to bed, 19 the one who struck the blow will not be held responsible if the other gets up and walks around outside with his staff; however, he must pay the injured man for the loss of his time and see that he is completely healed. If a man beats his male or female slave with a rod and the slave dies as a direct result, he must be punished, 21 but he is not to be punished if the slave gets up after a day or two, since the slave is his property (ksph—“silver”; not the normal word(s) for property, btw).

Free men could likewise be punished by the legal system by rod-beating (Deut 25.1-3; Prov 10.13; 26.3), as could rebellious older sons (Prov 13.24; 22.15; 23.13). Beating by rod (shevet) is the same act/instrument ( flogging (2 Sam 7.14; Ps 89.32). This verse is in parallel to verses 18-19. If two people fight but no one dies, the aggressor is punished by having to ‘retributively’ pay (out of his own money—“silver”, ksph) for the victim’s lost economic time and medical expenses. If it is a person’s slave and this occurs, there is no (additional) economic payment—the lost productivity and medical expenses of the wounded servant are (punitive economic) loss alone. There was no other punishment for the actual damage done to the free-person in 18-19, and the slave seems to be treated in the same fashion. Thus, the ‘property’ attribute doesn’t seem to suggest any real difference in ethical treatment of injury against a servant….

You next go on to quote passages from the NT about slavery, and while slavery of this sort was more like American slavery, as we noted above, you fail to see—again, because you lack any serious education in the matter, beyond what you glean from other sources as amateurish as yourself—how the admonitions of Ephesians and 1 Timothy about to the “nonviolent resistance” of the modern Gandhi and King. Again, from my own source, which utilizes the scholarship you do not:

The Biblical emphasis on new creation in Christ (via identification with His death) would argue for removal of many ethnic, social, or cultural ‘barriers’ between people. This is quite clear in Paul. The unity in Christ obliterated social/ethic/gender barriers:

There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Gal 3.28)

Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all. (Col 3.11)

These were contrary to much of his Pharisaical upbringing (esp. as regards Gentile and women!), but even the slave class was despised within first-century Judaism [ Cohen, Everyman’s Talmud, Dutton:949, p.203]:

“Nevertheless, the slave class was despised and credited with certain faults. Slaves were generally supposed to be lazy. ‘Ten measures of sleep descended into the world; slaves took nine of them and the rest of mankind one’ (Kid. 49b); ‘A slave is not worth the food of his stomach’ (B.K. 97a). They were untrustworthy: ‘There is not faithfulness in slaves’ (B.M. 86b). Their moral standard was low: ‘The more maidservants the more lewdness, the more menservants the more robbery’ (Aboth II.8); and ‘A slave prefers a dissolute life with female slaves (to a regular marriage)’ (Git. 13a).”

Do you see that, Mr. Harris? Paul’s words to slaves amount to Gandhi telling his subjects not to rebel, in accordance with what was believed at them, but to behave. So do you now wish to reject Gandhi as a source of moral inspiration?

o The biblical element of covenant loyalty would argue that both master and slave would be held accountable to their sides of the relationship—to their responsibilities to one another.

This was clear from some of the above passages, in which masters were supposed to provide what is ‘right and fair’ to the slave, and the slave was supposed to follow the owner’s instructions faithfully and without deceit.

o The biblical motif of Christ as Lord over all elements of created existent would argue that all relationships would be transformed somehow by His Lordship.

This is definitely the case, because Paul centers each aspect of the slave-owner relationship around their individual accountability to the Lord:

Slaves, be obedient to those who are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in the sincerity of your heart, as to Christ; 6 not by way of eyeservice, as men-pleasers, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart. 7 With good will render service, as to the Lord, and not to men, 8 knowing that whatever good thing each one does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether slave or free. 9 And, masters, do the same things to them, and give up threatening, knowing that both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no partiality with Him. (Eph 6.5ff)

Slaves, in all things obey those who are your masters on earth, not with external service, as those who merely please men, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord. 23 Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men; 24 knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve. 25 For he who does wrong will receive the consequences of the wrong which he has done, and that without partiality. 4.1 Masters, grant to your slaves justice and fairness, (NIV: Masters, provide your slaves with what is right and fair) knowing that you too have a Master in heaven. (Col 3.22ff)

As you can see, Mr. Harris, the Christian response to slavery was one that would subtly undermine the institution, as a King would. An instant “Malcolm X” type reaction, which seems to be what you think ought to be in the NT, would have resulted in something actually bad:

o Given the complex situation, we would NOT expect blanket commands to ‘free the slaves’, if for no other reason than that infanticide-rescued infant slaves and aged/infirm/sick slaves would become critically destitute. [We might expect a general encouragement away from a slave system, though.]

We do find statements that ‘move’ the church away from general slave-system orientation:

1. Paul explicitly denounces slave-trading, which would have restricted the supply of slaves to Christian households [1 Tim 1.9-10]

2. Paul tells free people to NOT become slaves [1 Cor 7.23]

3. Paul tells slaves to become free, if they can [1 Cor 7.21]

4. Paul encourages Philemon to ‘free’ Onesimus in that epistle [verse 21]

But the historical situation was too complex to issue such a blanket ‘free them all’ statement:

o Many slaves were still in infancy or childhood, rescued from infant exposure/abandonment.

o Many slaves were acquired in infancy or childhood, with life-care being provided by owner.

o Many slaves were aged or sick, without means to live in ‘freedom’.

o The social relief systems of the Empire would have been inadequate to care for these needy people. [Later, the emperor Julian will lament about this—that it is only the Christian community that provides welfare services to the needy of the world.]

o There were known legal limits to manumission (and probably others), some before an owner’s death and some at death.

o There was a growing body of legislation and intellectual support for amelioration of the slave’s conditions, and the trendlines were very favorable to the slave:

“The cruel views of Cato, who advised to work the slaves, like beasts of burden, to death rather than allow them to become old and unprofitable, gave way to the milder and humane views of Seneca, Pliny, and Plutarch, who very nearly approach the apostolic teaching.” [Schaff]

Do you notice that, Mr. Harris? The NT views on slavery are actually above those of the pagan moralists of the same day.

“At the opposite end of the spectrum were slaves who worked as agricultural laborers. To be sure, the age of “plantation slavery” and Spartacus’ revolt belonged to the distant past, and it is not true that Roman society was based on slavery.” [HPL:55)

Even abuse of slaves was frowned upon (and legislated against) and deplored, as when Pliny the Elder speaks of the cruelty of Vedius Pollio in the manner of execution of condemned slave criminals, or when Seneca describes the beating of a slave by a master for a simple sneeze. These were NOT accepted practices of the time, and it is simply false to assert that owners had complete authority over their slaves.

o Had Paul somehow been able to get the Empire to free the ‘slaves’, the economic and social chaos would have been unimaginable. The sheer size of the slave population was immense. (“At the end of the first century BC the servile population of the Roman heartland lay, according the modern estimates, in the order of two to three millions, representing 33-40 per cent of the total population.” [SASAR:29f])

From a practical standpoint alone, it would have been impossible to have issued some unilateral emancipation command to the Christian community.

With that, Mr. Harris, it should become clear that it is YOU who are more like the slaveowners of the Americas than anyone else here—inasmuch as you roughly and indifferently decontextualize the Bible in order to make it support what you want it to say. But your crimes do not end there, as it happens. You truly fudge when you dismiss the fact that abolitionists used the Bible against slavery, by saying that “[p]eople have been cherry-picking the Bible” to support their views for the longest time—ironic, since that is exactly what YOU have done by ignoring the defining contexts! You apparently wish to ignore the fact that there was a vast abolitionist literature on this subject—we have quite a collection of materials at http://www.tektonics.org/classics/slaverevolt.html that you may wish to peruse. Perhaps you might teach yourself what Southern slaveholders did not: That the Bible does NOT support slavery of the form held in the Americas, and in fact, completely undermines it—unless you do something that slaveholders did do, which is redefine black persons as non-persons (perhaps you have heard of the Dred Scott case?). In contrast, the New Testament fully humanizes slaves by making them equals to their masters in Christ. Do you really think the system held in place by pagan Rome could survive that kind of thing for long? It didn’t. And so it is that the Bible instructs doing what you say needs to be done: “recognize that slaves are human beings like himself”—and what a shame that you are so blinded by your hatred of religion that you can’t even see this or don’t care to.

I’ll be back next week with a letter on your take on the Ten Commandments.


J. P. Holding

November 6, 2006

Dear Mr. Harris,

I have a busy week ahead of me, but I do have time to address one of your shorter sections, on the Ten Commandments (19-23).

To begin, I would like to mention that I am not one of those sorts who is particular about seeing the Ten Commandments posted in classrooms and such. Frankly I think the problems with our educational system run much more deeply than that can address. I also would tend not to take your word about the influences of Christianity on the founding of America. You are, after all, not a historian of any sort. I would ask what response you might have to a study such as the one found at http://members.aol.com/jasonte2/reason.htm which shows that the matter is certainly more complex than your pointing out that “God” is not mentioned in the Constitution.

I would also note as a prelude your rather ignorant statement that the Ten Commandments must have been important because they are the only part of the Bible “the creator of the universe felt the need to physically write them himself.”

Mr. Harris, let me introduce you to a new word: graphocentrism. This is the bigoted belief that writing as a form of communcation is somehow superior to other forms, particularly orality. While you were not making any particular issue of the matter, it is well to point out this out because it indicates further your level of bigotedness. Ancient literacy was no higher than 10 percent at any given time, so the primary method of communication was oral. Memory capabilities were correspondingly much stronger, so that it can not be said that oral transmission was unreliable, or that because something was important, it “ought to have been written down”. No one in ancient society would share this modern sentiment. Indeed something written was trusted LESS than something spoken, and for good reasons. (For a full overview of the ancient view of writing as a less-trusted “supplement” to orality, see Tony Lentz, Orality and Literacy in Hellenic Greece.)

The point being, that your attempt to somehow read the 10 Cs as more important because God wrote them Himself is an absurdity.

Beyond that, your breezy dismissal of commandments 1-4 as having “nothing whatsoever to do with morality” hardly does any justice to the far more complex matter of whether indeed God is necessary for morality. This is not my area of expertise, so I will simply prove your inadequacy in this matter with referral to more complex arguments by others found at http://www.christiancadre.org/topics/cosarg.html under the heading, “The Moral Arguments.” When you have finished with those, we can talk.

Your similar dismissal of 5-9 on the basis that, though moral, “it is questionable how many human beings ever” did refrained from the acts described “because of them,” is, may I say, idiotic in the extreme. Do you suppose them that all state and federal statutes ought to be repealed, because it is obvious that human beings are not obeying them? Isn’t it just as obvious that we don’t need statutes or laws, or that the Code of Hammurabi and the Roman Ten Tables, are useless because we have “obvious biological reasons” to obey these rules anyway? (They don’t seem terribly obvious in light of the existence of a growing prison population.) Are you indeed that naive?

I have no trust in your claim that “moral emotions” precede any exposure to laws—first, because you forget the factor of parenting which exposes children to moral laws learned from other sources; second, your appeal to things like “primate behavior” leaves you wide open to the question of whether animal behavior is an appropriate model (perhaps you would like to have a wife or girlfriend who learned morals from “black widow spiders”?—why limit it to primates?). I very much doubt that people who want the 10 C’s posted in a courtroom or classroom are of the naive persuasion that they will act as a magical talisman reforming behavior; though it seems that your own wish to ensure that they are NEVER posted betrays your own fear that they will have some sort of effect, which means that you are in essence refuting yourself by your own advocacy.

I note your further bigoted comment that “the creator of the universe could think of no more human concerns more pressing and durable than the coveting of servants and livestock.” First of all, Mr. Harris, to the world in which these were first written, “servants and livestock” were the components of survival. They did not have a 7-11 on every corner from which they could procure donuts, Mr. Harris. A single cow could literally be a family’s key to staying alive. Second, are you going to deny that covetousness is a serious moral problem? You have played a semantic game by picking from the command the objects of the order, when the real issue is the act being forbidden. Check Commandment #9 for a hint as to what your problem is.

I am wondering as well of your complaint that God does not give us “the freedom to follow the commandments we like and neglect the rest.” Goodness, Mr. Harris, do you know of a government that does that with their laws? I believe that is called “anarchy”. Do not even attempt to cloud the issue by saying we can vote on laws—in that case, the majority is still not giving the minority “freedom” to pick and choose. You also say that God doesn’t tell us we can relax the penalties, and in so doing further prove your lack of qualification to speak on this subject. As noted in Hillers’ Covenant: The History of a Biblical Idea:

  ..(T)here is no evidence that any collection of Near Eastern laws functioned as a written code that was applied by a strict method of exegesis to individual cases. As far as we can tell, these bodies of laws served educational purposes and gave expression to what was regarded as just in typical cases, but they left considerable latitude to local courts for determining the right in individual suits. They aided local courts without controlling them

In other words, Mr. Harris, it was within the context-function of a law code at the time of the 10 C’s writing that relaxing penalties was permitted at the discretion of local courts. Please correct your ignorance before you speak on this matter again.

One final word. You appeal once again to the morals of the Jains, but I would note again that you own cited source, George Smith, has indicated the moral inferiority of such commands as the one you so admire, pointing out that they turn people into doormats. You ask us to imagine how the world would be different if the Bible contained the same precepts. In fact, it does, but because of your ignorance of the meaning of the texts (as in your treatment of slavery above) you miss it—and any lack of clarity is the result of your own obvious refusal to look into the texts with any depth.


J. P. Holding

Dear Mr. Harris,

I’d like to diverge from the subject of your book for a moment, in part because it is on a topic I am not particularly informed in—stem cell research and such—and so, because I do not wish to be like you and simply mouth off about things I don’t understand, I have called in some outside expertise for consultation. While that is in the offing, however, I would like to note an especially interesting item by a gentleman named Vox Day, which is found here. It seems to me that he has you spot on as “the sad-faced slapstick and pratfall guy” of the unholy trinity of yourself, Dawkins, and Dennett. Day is also quite perceptive to have noted that your “ignorance is profound”—I can testify to that based even on what we have seen so far. But I will let Day have his say about errors in your prior book, The End of Faith, for example:

  After painting a clichéd portrait of an Islamic bus bomber, [Harris] writes: ‘‘Why is it so easy, then, so trivially easy – you-could-almost-bet-your-life-on-it easy – to guess the young man’s religion?’‘

  It is easy, so trivially easy – one-finds-oneself-cringing-at-the-punctuation easy – to display Harris’ superficiality. Having already rejected Pascal’s Wager, the hapless Harris seems prone to staking his life on foolish bets since he has apparently never heard of the Tamil Tigers, ‘‘an adamantly secular group with Hindu roots’’ that University of Chicago professor Edward Pape, the author of “Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism,’’ describes as ‘‘the leading purveyors of suicide attacks over the last two decades.’‘

Of course, it’s understandable that such a deeply profound public intellectual like Harris would never have heard of this obscure little group, since they don’t blow up buses in global media centers, they merely assassinate prime ministers of the world’s second most populous nation.

There is much more Mr. Day has to offer, but I will let readers enjoy that for themselves. However, I do find Mr. Day’s conclusion agreeable when he says that you have “a real shot at replacing Scott Adams as the leading American comic of the 21st century.”


J. P. Holding

Total Posts:  1382
Joined  22-01-2005
12 November 2006 08:51

Look sir, no one in his right mind would want to debate with you and a common-sense approach as Sam Harris takes in his critique of theism is aimed at the common, believing theist not at some kind of scholastic, catholic apologist gone mad, i.e., you.  It is quite obvious from your long-winded put down of what you call Harris’s unsophistication and his poor reasoning, that you will go to any length to defend your religion.  You are waaayyyyy beyond the capacity to appreciate any kind of common sense.

The Letter to a Christian Nation and The End of Faith, were not meant for the ten in a billion spectacular text-spinners such as yourself.  No, I think Sam’s audience and the target for his well reasoned attacks are the other 999,999,990 in a billion theists who inhabit this planet. Theists who realize that the Inquisition was evidence that what is acceptable and sanctioned by religion can sometimes be horrific and inhuman - Sam is appealing to that kind of common sense.

I haven’t read part two of your reply but I can almost guess what you have to say about slavery . . .  more Orwellian double-speak.  It’s actually a good life, the life of a slave (and you should know!).


Total Posts:  1284
Joined  21-12-2004
12 November 2006 10:19

JP, I’ve been familiar with your web site for quite some time.  You are, or try to be, to Christian apology what AIG and CRI are to creationism.  Like them, you use doublespeak, quotes out-of-context, half-truths and just plain lies to comfort your flock and keep them in the corral.

No support among biblical scholars for a non-existent Christ?  Malarkey!  Would you please cite a competent archaeologist who has knowledge of a settlement at Nazareth that was existent in the early first century?  Oh, and while you’re at it, could you produce a single Christian writer prior to Eusebius who quotes the Testimonium Flavianum?  That’s right, none of them do.  The passage is obviously forged (probably by Eusebius), and was known to be such as early as the 18th century.  It has only been in the last hundred years that desperate apologists, such as yourself, have reopened the “debate” and tried to redefine the passage as authentic.

The main problem you have, other then credibility, is that you don’t speak for all of the 34,000 different Christian sects.  You would like us to forget about the fundies who take every single word of the bible as absolute literal fact, wouldn’t you?  And yet you criticize those who lump all of you together in one pot don’t you? 

Well, you are in one pot, whether you like it or not, and the inquisition was just as much an expression of Christianity as the folks who protest at military funerals.

By the way, why is Wikepedia about to delete your bio page?

Total Posts:  2890
Joined  02-12-2004
12 November 2006 12:34

you my dearman ...are an ass.

can i get an AMEN?


Total Posts:  1284
Joined  21-12-2004
12 November 2006 13:46

And I’m not the only one who thinks you’re a jerk:

Total Posts:  630
Joined  06-02-2005
12 November 2006 15:13

JP, evening,
I have but one question. You criticise Sam for his disbelief based on a poor “understanding” of the Bible. Do you, as well, criticise those who believe based on an even more superficial treatment of the same book? Do Christians who do not “understand” the book as you do have any rational basis of belief?


Total Posts:  412
Joined  06-03-2006
12 November 2006 17:29

[quote author=“Anonymous”]Not surprisingly, however, you get in over your head quickly. It may interest you to know that there is a view of hell—held by educated Christians—that does not match the one you apparently have in mind. As I report at http://www.tektonics.org/uz/2muchshame.html:

So on the one hand we have the view of hell held by those who claim to have spoken with god in ancient times and the view of hell held by educated christians in nowadays. Well, stupee, if the ancient people were wrong then the whole christianity is wrong, that means yours too. Or are you a new breed of priests that hijack old concept to gain a little power? You know, just like ancient christians hijacked the concept of “Word” from the greeks in order to “sell” their god, you are hijacking Jesus in oder to “sell” a new hell. You should be ashamed of yourself now, not in the after life.

Total Posts:  1038
Joined  22-12-2005
12 November 2006 18:41

Welcome, Turkey.  TheChamp sometimes gets weary spewing his ridiculous lies all over the place.  He needs your help trying to keep us all as stupid as you are.

Please expand a bit more on the circumstances under which it’s ok to specifically target and murder little children.  And then tell us all about the evils of moral relativism.

Total Posts:  7
Joined  03-11-2006
13 November 2006 04:01

I was originally confused as to why Turkel had so many personal attacks, wrote with such convoluted prose, and would go off on tangents for so long that I forgot what he was replying to. After reading most of http://the-anointed-one.com/ (especially the links to Till’s various and comprehensive replies on http://theskepticalreview.com/jftill/articles-idx.html), Turkel’s style of posting makes a lot more sense. He appears to have some serious issues that go way beyond religion.

Traces Elk
Traces Elk
Total Posts:  5591
Joined  27-09-2006
13 November 2006 04:19
[quote author=“liquidsun”]He appears to have some serious issues that go way beyond religion.

That may be, but how he gets any traction from reasoned atheistic responses is beyond me. All the traction he gets is from theistic responses.

In the country of the bland, the one odd man is king.

Total Posts:  18
Joined  21-10-2006
13 November 2006 05:28

A parody of J.P. Holding

(From the-anointed-one.com)

The Practice of Mother Goose Apologetics

Hey Diddle Diddle

The opening line of this rhyme is indicative of an oral tradition as its source. Oftentimes in preliterate societies, stories were told in large social gatherings. Because these societies lacked writing, certain professional storytellers, or bards, were commissioned to memorize the stories of these cultures. Opening lines were often made to be memorable to aid the storyteller in recalling the lines that follow. (See Cooper, P.J., Collins, R., & Saxby, M., The Power of Story, Melbourne, Macmillan Education,1994.)

The Cat and the Fiddle

Nothing here suggests, as the skeptics claim, that the cat actually is playing the fiddle in this line. What we have here is a simple combination of two unrelated subjects. This is no different than saying, “the sun and the moon.” Both may be heavenly objects, but both are clearly different from one another. There is no implication in the phrase, “the sun and the moon,” that each of these objects is in direct relation to one another. Clearly the moon is a satellite of the earth. It is composed mainly of rock. The sun, on the other hand, is not a satellite of the earth. In fact, the earth orbits the sun. The moon does not orbit the sun, it orbits the earth. The sun is composed of gases, not rock. It is a nuclear furnace. It is not cold and “dead” like the moon. So you see, those later artistic depictions of a cat playing a fiddle, based upon this line of the rhyme, are false. Therefore critics who claim, based on this line, that the story of “Hey Diddle Diddle” is somehow unscientific, unhistorical, and false are simply blowing smoke. Their argument is based on a misunderstanding of the text.

The Cow Jumped Over the Moon

Now, for many Mother Goose apologists, this line causes the most difficulty. It shouldn’t however. The moon is receding from the earth at roughly 4cm per year. What that means is that the moon was much closer to the earth in the past. Now, accounting for the gravitational pull of the earth, no one is certain that this gravitational pull has remained constant over time. If a skeptic tells you that gravity has had approximately the same pull on objects on the earth 4 billion years ago as it does today, ask them, “Were you there?” (See Ken Ham’s “Were You There?” essay. http://www.icr.org/pubs/btg-a/btg-010a.htm) They have no way of measuring the gravitational pull of the earth in the distant past than they do of proving that pond scum somehow evolved into men. No one was there to witness these things so their “guesses” are as good as anybody else’s.


So, if the moon were much closer to the earth in the past, it is possible that a cow—in an environment that had much less gravitational pull than we experience today—could have jumped over it. In fact, if the moon were closer in the past, and if the gravitational pull of the earth was lower, then the moon’s own gravitational pull could have helped the cow make the leap necessary to clear the lunar surface. There is nothing in the above passage that is completely impossible once the facts are considered.

The Little Dog Laughed To See Such Sport

Of course everyone has seen a dog pant in the summer. Many people have noted how, when they do this, the dog appears to be “smiling” and “laughing.” It is likely that if the moon were closer to the earth in the past then its reflective surface could have heated the earth to a higher temperature than it is today. If this were the case, which seems very likely, then of course a dog witnessing the jumping of the cow over the moon would have been in close enough proximity to the event to have been effected by the increased heat being generated by the reflective surface of the moon. Someone seeing this could easily say that the little dog was “laughing.”

And the Dish Ran Away With the Spoon

This line is likely a later interpolation of the original text. This can be seen by the fact that the word “and” is used to introduce the line. In ancient literature, “and” rarely preceded a line that would close a narrative. Therefore, this is indicative of a later scribal addition in order to “close out” the tale when it reached its written form. As a matter of fact, in some ancient copies of this text, this last line is missing. I think it would be fair to say that the scribe may have included this line since it rhymes with the second line preceding it (i.e. “moon” and “spoon”).

However, it may also have been an original line insofar as it does nicely rhyme and close out the poem. But if this is true, how could a dish run away with a spoon? What are the physical characteristics of a dish or a spoon that would allow it the ability of mobility? Like the skeptics who critique the cat and the fiddle, too much is being read into the text. There is no mention of “legs,” what most people assume are required for running. In fact, later artistic depictions of this line usually show a dish and a spoon complete with legs running away from the action of the cow, dog and cat. In these depictions also are full faces on the dish and the spoon! Sometimes you will even find illustrations showing the moon with a face! Now, I ask you, where in the text does one find warrant to depict these objects in such a way? Clearly the skeptics have been sloppy in their research into the literal understanding of this text and thus this is indicative of their poor critical thinking skills! They have swallowed hook, line and sinker, the later artistic representations of these passages and have not allowed the passages to speak for themselves!

Clearly, dishes and spoons do not have legs. How, then, could a dish “run away” with a spoon? Easy, once you understand basic physics. Let me make this as simple as possible. When a meal has been eaten on a dish (for what other use could there be for a dish?), utensils are oftentimes left on the plate. If left out long enough, residual food on the plate can harden. Anyone who owns a dish and a spoon, and who has left the spoon on the plate after a meal allowing the residual food to harden will attest, the spoon frequently becomes stuck to the plate. Plates are also round. What happens if you set a plate on edge? It rolls, of course! I think you can see where I’m going with this! Clearly, if this line was not a later interpolation in the text by a scribe, then what likely occurred was when the cow jumped over the moon the effects of her leaping could have tipped over a dish that had had a spoon stuck to it after the residual food had hardened on the plate. Because the plate would have probably toppled onto its side, the natural effects of gravity (even at its reduced state) would have pulled the plate down to a lower elevation. Anyone witnessing this could have mistaken (or poetically expressed) that this effect was actually a dish running away with a spoon. Obviously, there is no problem with understanding this line when it is read in context, when basic physics are consulted, and when preconceived ideas are abandoned for the facts.

Total Posts:  2890
Joined  02-12-2004
21 November 2006 09:19

Hmmm… I have yet to see an educated, intelligent response to any of the arguments put forth by Mr. Holding. What I have seen are Ad Hominem attacks but nothing substantive. Yet again more proof of the intellectual bankruptcy of the atheist worldview. You really are petulant children throwing a temper tantrum.
Oh, CanZen It seems to me that you are claiming that Sam Harris’s “common sense” approach aimed at “common” theists is simply another way of saying that he wrote for idiots. Hmmm… Maybe that is because only an idiot would be convinced by his juvenile arguments. That’s a good marketing approach but I would not hold my breath for reasoning, educated, well read theist with proper critical thinking skills to be swayed by his fluff. I would love for one atheist, just one, to write a book with something even closely resembling a solid argument for his atheism or against Christian theism. Alas I fear that day will never come.

Disciplined thought is far more superior and preferable to Free Thought.

Total Posts:  754
Joined  16-08-2006
21 November 2006 09:37

[quote author=“Corte”]Hmmm… I have yet to see an educated, intelligent response to any of the arguments put forth by Mr. Holding.

You obviously didn’t read hampsteadpete’s reply very carefully then.

Total Posts:  8839
Joined  20-10-2006
21 November 2006 09:44

There is no reasoned or disciplined discussion with people who only want to tell you why you’re wrong.  There is more peace when we do not engage closed minds such as Mr. Holding and Corte.  They only want a fight.

Traces Elk
Traces Elk
Total Posts:  5591
Joined  27-09-2006
21 November 2006 09:52

[quote author=“Corte”]Hmmm… I have yet to see an educated, intelligent response to any of the arguments put forth by Mr. Holding..

You know, Corte, when the human race is about to go extinct, it is going to be difficult for the last remaining human families and tribes to explain it, if science is not part of their toolbox. Apparently, making science a part of the toolbox seems like a bad idea to you. And no wonder, look how badly it casts the light beneath which the ejaculations of your priests are read.

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