Christian Blinders

When a Christian spouts off about all the other evidences and proofs out there that a biblical Jesus existed, other than, that is, the four gospels written by anonymous church-hired writers in the New Testament, demand they kindly provide these proofs.  Are they going to list Josephus or other Roman historians that either did not live during the time of Jesus or did not actually write about him per se, but rather the appearance of the new religion Christianity.

It is largely accepted that the few passages in Josephus that mention Jesus were added in later, as the paragraphs are out of context with the sentences that come before and after.   And even if a historian is found who lived during Jesus’ alleged lifetime and did write about him, all that proves is that a person named Jesus existed.  I believe in that part of the world, it is not an uncommon name.

All I ask for is evidence.  Christianity lost credibility for me when I realized that the bible is not true.  When I figured out that there were verses clearly put into it not because they were god’s teachings but because some religious group wanted to dictate certain laws and rules over the common people, and especially to subjugate certain people, most especially women, as is typical of all man-made, patriarchal religions.

Once I figured out that some verses in the bible couldn’t possibly be from god or god inspired, then all of a sudden the entire book became suspect.  How am I, with my puny little mind, supposed to weed out what is really from god and what isn’t really from god?   Between that and the blatant errors in the bible (god the all powerful can’t smite chariots made of iron?  Hello???), the bible stopped being, in my eyes, anything real.

Some Christians readily admit the bible is nothing more than a fairy tale or myths–legends, etc.  But they still believe.  I fail to see how the religion can have a leg to stand on if the bible is not true, if the story of Adam and Eve and original sin is not true?  Without that story of original sin there ceases to be a need for religion, or god, or saviors.  There ceases to be a need for Christianity.  This is the only reason why the Christian bible still has the old testament included–because they need that all important absurd story of talking snakes and the original sin.

Talk to a Christian, they will tell you about Christian writers who disagree.  Well, no surprise there.  I say, read the testimonials of learned Christians–men and women who went to Seminary and taught this stuff and knew the bible inside out and STILL unconverted–lost their faith–stopped believing.   These are the people I would be interested in hearing from.  Not the people who just say the same things I had to hear over and over and over–repeating the same well worn pages and hi-lighted verses, and ignoring completely the other three quarters of this book.

Before a Christian has the right to tell me their god is good, they need to read the entire bible.  They need to tell me how a good and loving deity does what the god of the old testament does, and answer the illogic of an all knowing god deliberately creating flawed human beings, and then punishing them for being flawed.

Advertisements

Would This Feel Like Heaven?

This is something I often wondered growing up as I did, raised by a very devout Christian widow who…well…let’s just say it was very important to her that her children would go to heaven.   Which is why to this day I have never told my mom I no longer believe, and haven’t believed in what is now three years or more.

If I were to imagine heaven, it would be a place where there are no tears, no sadness, no heartache, no despair, no disappointment, no discouragement, no worry, no regrets, no hunger, no thirst, no loneliness, no yearning for things to be different.  Heaven would be all the best things I could ever imagine, like all the most breathtaking natural beauty the earth could offer, only so much more, the colors so much brighter, the sounds so much sweeter.  The air would be like standing in a grove of lilac trees, or in the center of a greenhouse filled with roses.  All would be so glorious you’d want to stand there forever, drinking it in, content to stay still in that moment forever.

As a Christian I had friends who were not, family who were not.  And it bothered me.  Really really bothered me.  My dad’s cousin Evelyn died, and she was an atheist who told me once to my face she had never sinned.  Because she did not believe in sin–which in her view was a man-made invention that made religion necessary.  So when Evie died, I was very sad.  I didn’t want to think of Evie in hell.  It upset me to think of such a wonderful loving lady in such a horrible place.

I have heard it said that hell is not what the bible describes in a literal sense.  Hell is to be eternally separate from God.  Hell is to be able to gaze across a divide at all the joys of heaven, and not be able to go there, not be able to be among all those happy people, but to be stuck forever and ever in a place apart from God.   That’s what hell is.

Now if I were one of those lucky people who managed to make it into heaven, and I looked across and I could see–or even if I couldn’t see, but I just knew, I had friends or family like Evie, in some other place, and they were suffering.  If I knew that because of choices they made in their life as puny and ignorant mortals they were doomed to be punished forever, unforgiven, to a place of despair, of sadness, of pain, of separation, of never knowing the utter bliss I was getting to enjoy…  Would that be very nice for me?  Would I be in heaven?  Would heaven be a happy paradise for me, if I knew across the divide there were people I knew and cared for, suffering–and doomed by my God to suffer forever?  Would that be a happy thing for me?

The only way I would find Heaven a happy place for me under those circumstances, would be if God made my heart very hard so I wouldn’t care anymore.   So I would regard those friends I once cared for and family I cared for as deserving to languish in agony and despair forever.   They would be like my enemy and I would feel how right it was for them to suffer for eternity while I enjoyed happiness beyond my wildest dreams.

If I had to have my heart hardened for Heaven to be a happy place for me–for me to no longer care about people I once cared for now having to suffer, how much more brittle and hardened would God’s heart have to be, considering he supposedly is merciful and “love” is one of his names?   For him to be merciful and loving by nature, and yet able to condemn billions of souls to eternal torment and still go on his merry way being happy in his paradise despite all that suffering going on….wouldn’t he have to shut his ears and harden his heart and cease to be merciful and loving?

He would no longer be a loving God.  He would no longer be a merciful God.  He’d be a cruel and unforgiving God–by so enforcing an eternal horrible punishment upon mortal beings who did for whatever reason, not jump through the right hoops while they were living, and so now they must suffer forever.

It would be different if the rule book were crystal clear and not subject to this interpretation or that interpretation.  But the rule book is not clear.  There are verses in the bible that contradict other verses.  The bible says Thou Shalt not Kill and yet time and time again God kills, or orders his followers to kill.   There is a verse that says not by works are you saved, but it is a gift from god, and there’s another verse that says good works are just a part of what you must do to have eternal life.  There’s a verse that says you should make it known what good works you do, and another verse that says you should keep it secret, and not boast.

Which verses are the correct ones, and which are not?  Why are there cities placed in the wrong countries in the bible?  Why was there a census mentioned in the bible shortly after Jesus’ birth, but the year is off–there was no census at that time per actual history?

If God’s good news is so important, so critical that the punishment is so horrible indeed for those of us who don’t hear or hear but don’t believe…then why isn’t God’s word perfectly clear?  Wouldn’t God insist on it being absolutely clear?  Without flaw?  Without human tampering?    And if our salvation is so important to God, why does he not simply make his existence fact, rather than keep us all guessing?   In all the world there is not one scrap of non-biblical proof of the existence of God, or Jesus for that matter.   Now if God is real, and if his good news is real, and if our salvation is so important to him, so we don’t end up in hell suffering forever while he, God, is forced to shut his ears and turn his back and never forgive–why isn’t evidence of his existence or Jesus’ existence, as plentiful to find as the bones of dinosaurs are?  Why doesn’t God appear and end the doubting that will ultimately cost so many eternal life?  Or for that matter, why did God make Lucifer in the first place, or human beings so fallable as to be capable of sin and then place them right where he knew his imperfect angel was lying in wait?

Or if God doesn’t want to appear?  If our salvation isn’t worth him revealing himself, why not perform the impossible to prove miracles really do happen?  Like, allowing the amputee who has been praying really hard, to have his lost arm or leg grow back?  Or give the woman who had her eyes gouged out by the chimpanzee, new eyes–regrow them in her head?   If God can do anything, these things would not surpass his power–and would leave very little doubt that the supernatural exists.  And yet he doesn’t.

Anyway, I have digressed and I’m sorry.  My point is, even if I were still a Christian, and even if I did make it into this paradise Christians look forward to.  It wouldn’t be heaven to me because I would know my Aunt Evie was being punished in hell–and she was a really neat lady who does not deserve torment and pain for all eternity.  So heaven would become hell for me,  knowing Evie isn’t there and knowing there’s nothing I can do to appeal to this merciless deaf God to hear her cries of torment and forgive.

That wouldn’t be heaven for me, and that would not be a god I would even want to follow.

Comparison Re. Women/Christian vrs. Islam

This is long but…interesting.   But again my thought is, how much do people of these religions follow the teachings of (or even know about) their holy book?

http://www.twf.org/Library/WomenICJ.html

EVE’S FAULT ?

The three religions agree on one basic fact: Both women and men are created by God, The Creator of the whole universe. However, disagreement starts soon after the creation of the first man, Adam, and the first woman, Eve. The Judaeo-Christian conception of the creation of Adam and Eve is narrated in detail in Genesis 2:4-3:24. God prohibited both of them from eating the fruits of the forbidden tree. The serpent seduced Eve to eat from it and Eve, in turn, seduced Adam to eat with her. When God rebuked Adam for what he did, he put all the blame on Eve, “The woman you put here with me –she gave me some fruit from the tree and I ate it.” Consequently, God said to Eve:

“I will greatly increase your pains in childbearing; with pain you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband and he will rule over you.”

To Adam He said:

“Because you listened to your wife and ate from the tree …. Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life…”

The Islamic conception of the first creation is found in several places in the Quran, for example:

“O Adam dwell with your wife in the Garden and enjoy as you wish but approach not this tree or you run into harm and transgression. Then Satan whispered to them in order to reveal to them their shame that was hidden from them and he said: ‘Your Lord only forbade you this tree lest you become angels or such beings as live forever.’ And he swore to them both that he was their sincere adviser. So by deceit he brought them to their fall: when they tasted the tree their shame became manifest to them and they began to sew together the leaves of the Garden over their bodies. And their Lord called unto them: ‘Did I not forbid you that tree and tell you that Satan was your avowed enemy?’ They said: ‘Our Lord we have wronged our own souls and if You forgive us not and bestow not upon us Your Mercy, we shall certainly be lost’ ” (7:19:23).

A careful look into the two accounts of the story of the Creation reveals some essential differences. The Quran, contrary to the Bible, places equal blame on both Adam and Eve for their mistake. Nowhere in the Quran can one find even the slightest hint that Eve tempted Adam to eat from the tree or even that she had eaten before him. Eve in the Quran is no temptress, no seducer, and no deceiver. Moreover, Eve is not to be blamed for the pains of childbearing. God, according to the Quran, punishes no one for another’s faults. Both Adam and Eve committed a sin and then asked God for forgiveness and He forgave them both.

EVE’S LEGACY

The image of Eve as temptress in the Bible has resulted in an extremely negative impact on women throughout the Judaeo-Christian tradition. All women were believed to have inherited from their mother, the Biblical Eve, both her guilt and her guile. Consequently, they were all untrustworthy, morally inferior, and wicked. Menstruation, pregnancy, and childbearing were considered the just punishment for the eternal guilt of the cursed female sex. In order to appreciate how negative the impact of the Biblical Eve was on all her female descendants we have to look at the writings of some of the most important Jews and Christians of all time. Let us start with the Old Testament and look at excerpts from what is called the Wisdom Literature in which we find:

“I find more bitter than death the woman who is a snare, whose heart is a trap and whose hands are chains. The man who pleases God will escape her, but the sinner she will ensnare….while I was still searching but not finding, I found one upright man among a thousand but not one upright woman among them all” (Ecclesiastes 7:26-28).

In another part of the Hebrew literature which is found in the Catholic Bible we read:

“No wickedness comes anywhere near the wickedness of a woman…..Sin began with a woman and thanks to her we all must die” (Ecclesiasticus 25:19,24).

Jewish Rabbis listed nine curses inflicted on women as a result of the Fall:

“To the woman He gave nine curses and death: the burden of the blood of menstruation and the blood of virginity; the burden of pregnancy; the burden of childbirth; the burden of bringing up the children; her head is covered as one in mourning; she pierces her ear like a permanent slave or slave girl who serves her master; she is not to be believed as a witness; and after everything–death.” 2

To the present day, orthodox Jewish men in their daily morning prayer recite “Blessed be God King of the universe that Thou has not made me a woman.” The women, on the other hand, thank God every morning for “making me according to Thy will.” 3 Another prayer found in many Jewish prayer books: “Praised be God that he has not created me a gentile. Praised be God that he has not created me a woman. Praised be God that he has not created me an ignoramus.” 4

The Biblical Eve has played a far bigger role in Christianity than in Judaism. Her sin has been pivotal to the whole Christian faith because the Christian conception of the reason for the mission of Jesus Christ on Earth stems from Eve’s disobedience to God. She had sinned and then seduced Adam to follow her suit. Consequently, God expelled both of them from Heaven to Earth, which had been cursed because of them. They bequeathed their sin, which had not been forgiven by God, to all their descendants and, thus, all humans are born in sin. In order to purify human beings from their ‘original sin’, God had to sacrifice Jesus, who is considered to be the Son of God, on the cross. Therefore, Eve is responsible for her own mistake, her husband’s sin, the original sin of all humanity, and the death of the Son of God. In other words, one woman acting on her own caused the fall of humanity. 5 What about her daughters? They are sinners like her and have to be treated as such. Listen to the severe tone of St. Paul in the New Testament:

“A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I don’t permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner” (I Timothy 2:11-14).

St. Tertullian was even more blunt than St. Paul, while he was talking to his ‘best beloved sisters’ in the faith, he said: 6

“Do you not know that you are each an Eve? The sentence of God on this sex of yours lives in this age: the guilt must of necessity live too. You are the Devil’s gateway: You are the unsealer of the forbidden tree: You are the first deserter of the divine law: You are she who persuaded him whom the devil was not valiant enough to attack. You destroyed so easily God’s image, man. On account of your desert even the Son of God had to die.”

St. Augustine was faithful to the legacy of his predecessors, he wrote to a friend:

“What is the difference whether it is in a wife or a mother, it is still Eve the temptress that we must beware of in any woman……I fail to see what use woman can be to man, if one excludes the function of bearing children.”

Centuries later, St. Thomas Aquinas still considered women as defective:

“As regards the individual nature, woman is defective and misbegotten, for the active force in the male seed tends to the production of a perfect likeness in the masculine sex; while the production of woman comes from a defect in the active force or from some material indisposition, or even from some external influence.”

Finally, the renowned reformer Martin Luther could not see any benefit from a woman but bringing into the world as many children as possible regardless of any side effects:

“If they become tired or even die, that does not matter. Let them die in childbirth, that’s why they are there”

Again and again all women are denigrated because of the image of Eve the temptress, thanks to the Genesis account. To sum up, the Judaeo-Christian conception of women has been poisoned by the belief in the sinful nature of Eve and her female offspring.

If we now turn our attention to what the Quran has to say about women, we will soon realize that the Islamic conception of women is radically different from the Judaeo-Christian one. Let the Quran speak for itself:

“For Muslim men and women, for believing men and women, for devout men and women, for true men and women, for men and women who are patient, for men and women who humble themselves, for men and women who give in charity, for men and women who fast, for men and women who guard their chastity, and for men and women who engage much in Allah’s praise– For them all has Allah prepared forgiveness and great reward” (33:35).

“The believers, men and women, are protectors, one of another: they enjoin what is just, and forbid what is evil, they observe regular prayers, practise regular charity, and obey Allah and His Messenger. On them will Allah pour His Mercy: for Allah is Exalted in power, Wise” (9:71).

“And their Lord answered them: Truly I will never cause to be lost the work of any of you, Be you a male or female, you are members one of another” (3:195).

“Whoever works evil will not be requited but by the like thereof, and whoever works a righteous deed -whether man or woman- and is a believer- such will enter the Garden of bliss” (40:40).

“Whoever works righteousness, man or woman, and has faith, verily to him/her we will give a new life that is good and pure, and we will bestow on such their reward according to the best of their actions” (16:97).

It is clear that the Quranic view of women is no different than that of men. They, both, are God’s creatures whose sublime goal on earth is to worship their Lord, do righteous deeds, and avoid evil and they, both, will be assessed accordingly. The Quran never mentions that the woman is the devil’s gateway or that she is a deceiver by nature. The Quran, also, never mentions that man is God’s image; all men and all women are his creatures, that is all. According to the Quran, a woman’s role on earth is not limited only to childbirth. She is required to do as many good deeds as any other man is required to do. The Quran never says that no upright women have ever existed. To the contrary, the Quran has instructed all the believers, women as well as men, to follow the example of those ideal women such as the Virgin Mary and the Pharoah’s wife:

“And Allah sets forth, As an example to those who believe, the wife of Pharaoh: Behold she said: ‘O my lord build for me, in nearness to you, a mansion in the Garden, and save me from Pharaoh and his doings and save me from those who do wrong.’ And Mary the daughter of Imran who guarded her chastity and We breathed into her body of Our spirit; and she testified to the truth of the words of her Lord and of His revelations and was one of the devout” (66:11-13).

SHAMEFUL DAUGHTERS ?

In fact, the difference between the Biblical and the Quranic attitude towards the female sex starts as soon as a female is born. For example, the Bible states that the period of the mother’s ritual impurity is twice as long if a girl is born than if a boy is (Lev. 12:2-5). The Catholic Bible states explicitly that:

“The birth of a daughter is a loss” (Ecclesiasticus 22:3).

In contrast to this shocking statement, boys receive special praise:

“A man who educates his son will be the envy of his enemy.” (Ecclesiasticus 30:3)

Jewish Rabbis made it an obligation on Jewish men to produce offspring in order to propagate the race. At the same time, they did not hide their clear preference for male children : “It is well for those whose children are male but ill for those whose are female”, “At the birth of a boy, all are joyful…at the birth of a girl all are sorrowful”, and “When a boy comes into the world, peace comes into the world… When a girl comes, nothing comes.”7

A daughter is considered a painful burden, a potential source of shame to her father:

“Your daughter is headstrong? Keep a sharp look-out that she does not make you the laughing stock of your enemies, the talk of the town, the object of common gossip, and put you to public shame” (Ecclesiasticus 42:11).

“Keep a headstrong daughter under firm control, or she will abuse any indulgence she receives. Keep a strict watch on her shameless eye, do not be surprised if she disgraces you” (Ecclesiasticus 26:10-11).

It was this very same idea of treating daughters as sources of shame that led the pagan Arabs, before the advent of Islam, to practice female infanticide. The Quran severely condemned this heinous practice:

“When news is brought to one of them of the birth of a female child, his face darkens and he is filled with inward grief. With shame does he hide himself from his people because of the bad news he has had! Shall he retain her on contempt or bury her in the dust? Ah! what an evil they decide on?” (16:59).

It has to be mentioned that this sinister crime would have never stopped in Arabia were it not for the power of the scathing terms the Quran used to condemn this practice (16:59, 43:17, 81:8-9). The Quran, moreover, makes no distinction between boys and girls. In contrast to the Bible, the Quran considers the birth of a female as a gift and a blessing from God, the same as the birth of a male. The Quran even mentions the gift of the female birth first:

” To Allah belongs the dominion of the heavens and the earth. He creates what He wills. He bestows female children to whomever He wills and bestows male children to whomever He wills” (42:49).

In order to wipe out all the traces of female infanticide in the nascent Muslim society, Prophet Muhammad promised those who were blessed with daughters of a great reward if they would bring them up kindly:

“He who is involved in bringing up daughters, and accords benevolent treatment towards them, they will be protection for him against Hell-Fire” (Bukhari and Muslim).

“Whoever maintains two girls till they attain maturity, he and I will come on the Resurrection Day like this; and he joined his fingers” (Muslim).

FEMALE EDUCATION ?

The difference between the Biblical and the Quranic conceptions of women is not limited to the newly born female, it extends far beyond that. Let us compare their attitudes towards a female trying to learn her religion. The heart of Judaism is the Torah, the law. However, according to the Talmud, “women are exempt from the study of the Torah.” Some Jewish Rabbis firmly declared “Let the words of Torah rather be destroyed by fire than imparted to women”, and “Whoever teaches his daughter Torah is as though he taught her obscenity”8

The attitude of St. Paul in the New Testament is not brighter:

“As in all the congregations of the saints, women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission as the law says. If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church.” (I Corinthians 14:34-35)

How can a woman learn if she is not allowed to speak? How can a woman grow intellectually if she is obliged to be in a state of full submission? How can she broaden her horizons if her one and only source of information is her husband at home?

Now, to be fair, we should ask: is the Quranic position any different? One short story narrated in the Quran sums its position up concisely. Khawlah was a Muslim woman whose husband Aws pronounced this statement at a moment of anger: “You are to me as the back of my mother.” This was held by pagan Arabs to be a statement of divorce which freed the husband from any conjugal responsibility but did not leave the wife free to leave the husband’s home or to marry another man. Having heard these words from her husband, Khawlah was in a miserable situation. She went straight to the Prophet of Islam to plead her case. The Prophet was of the opinion that she should be patient since there seemed to be no way out. Khawla kept arguing with the Prophet in an attempt to save her suspended marriage. Shortly, the Quran intervened; Khawla’s plea was accepted. The divine verdict abolished this iniquitous custom. One full chapter (Chapter 58) of the Quran whose title is “Almujadilah” or “The woman who is arguing” was named after this incident:

“Allah has heard and accepted the statement of the woman who pleads with you (the Prophet) concerning her husband and carries her complaint to Allah, and Allah hears the arguments between both of you for Allah hears and sees all things….” (58:1).

A woman in the Quranic conception has the right to argue even with the Prophet of Islam himself. No one has the right to instruct her to be silent. She is under no obligation to consider her husband the one and only reference in matters of law and religion.

UNCLEAN IMPURE WOMAN ?

Jewish laws and regulations concerning menstruating women are extremely restrictive. The Old Testament considers any menstruating woman as unclean and impure. Moreover, her impurity “infects” others as well. Anyone or anything she touches becomes unclean for a day:

“When a woman has her regular flow of blood, the impurity of her monthly period will last seven days, and anyone who touches her will be unclean till evening. Anything she lies on during her period will be unclean, and anything she sits on will be unclean. Whoever touches her bed must wash his clothes and bathe with water, and he will be unclean till evening. Whoever touches anything she sits on must wash his clothes and bathe with water, and he will be unclean till evening. Whether it is the bed or anything she was sitting on, when anyone touches it, he will be unclean till evening” (Lev. 15:19-23).

Due to her “contaminating” nature, a menstruating woman was sometimes “banished” in order to avoid any possibility of any contact with her. She was sent to a special house called “the house of uncleanness” for the whole period of her impurity. 9 The Talmud considers a menstruating woman “fatal” even without any physical contact:

“Our Rabbis taught:….if a menstruant woman passes between two (men), if it is at the beginning of her menses she will slay one of them, and if it is at the end of her menses she will cause strife between them” (bPes. 111a.)

Furthermore, the husband of a menstruous woman was forbidden to enter the synagogue if he had been made unclean by her even by the dust under her feet. A priest whose wife, daughter, or mother was menstruating could not recite priestly blessing in the synagogue. 10 No wonder many Jewish women still refer to menstruation as “the curse.” 11

Islam does not consider a menstruating woman to possess any kind of “contagious uncleanness”. She is neither “untouchable” nor “cursed.” She practises her normal life with only one restriction: A married couple are not allowed to have sexual intercourse during the period of menstruation. Any other physical contact between them is permissible. A menstruating woman is exempted from some rituals such as daily prayers and fasting during her period.

BEARING WITNESS

Another issue in which the Quran and the Bible disagree is the issue of women bearing witness. It is true that the Quran has instructed the believers dealing in financial transactions to get two male witnesses or one male and two females (2:282). However, it is also true that the Quran in other situations accepts the testimony of a woman as equal to that of a man. In fact the woman’s testimony can even invalidate the man’s. If a man accuses his wife of unchastity, he is required by the Quran to solemnly swear five times as evidence of the wife’s guilt. If the wife denies and swears similarly five times, she is not considered guilty and in either case the marriage is dissolved (24:6-11).

On the other hand, women were not allowed to bear witness in early Jewish society. 12 The Rabbis counted women’s not being able to bear witness among the nine curses inflicted upon all women because of the Fall (see the “Eve’s Legacy” section). Women in today’s Israel are not allowed to give evidence in Rabbinical courts. 13 The Rabbis justify why women cannot bear witness by citing Genesis 18:9-16, where it is stated that Sara, Abraham’s wife had lied. The Rabbis use this incident as evidence that women are unqualified to bear witness. It should be noted here that this story narrated in Genesis 18:9-16 has been mentioned more than once in the Quran without any hint of any lies by Sara (11:69-74, 51:24-30). In the Christian West, both ecclesiastical and civil law debarred women from giving testimony until late last century. 14

If a man accuses his wife of unchastity, her testimony will not be considered at all according to the Bible. The accused wife has to be subjected to a trial by ordeal. In this trial, the wife faces a complex and humiliating ritual which was supposed to prove her guilt or innocence (Num. 5:11-31). If she is found guilty after this ordeal, she will be sentenced to death. If she is found not guilty, her husband will be innocent of any wrongdoing.

Besides, if a man takes a woman as a wife and then accuses her of not being a virgin, her own testimony will not count. Her parents had to bring evidence of her virginity before the elders of the town. If the parents could not prove the innocence of their daughter, she would be stoned to death on her father’s doorsteps. If the parents were able to prove her innocence, the husband would only be fined one hundred shekels of silver and he could not divorce his wife as long as he lived:

“If a man takes a wife and, after lying with her, dislikes her and slanders her and gives her a bad name, saying, ‘I married this woman, but when I approached her, I did not find proof of her virginity,’ then the girl’s father and mother shall bring proof that she was a virgin to the town elders at the gate. The girl’s father will say to the elders, ‘I gave my daughter in marriage to this man, but he dislikes her. Now he has slandered her and said I did not find your daughter to be a virgin. But here is the proof of my daughter’s virginity.’ Then her parents shall display the cloth before the elders of the town, and the elders shall take the man and punish him. They shall fine him a hundred shekels of silver and give them to the girl’s father, because this man has given an Israelite virgin a bad name. She shall continue to be his wife; he must not divorce her as long as he lives. If, however, the charge is true and no proof of the girl’s virginity can be found, she shall be brought to the door of her father’s house and there the men of the town shall stone her to death. She has done a disgraceful thing in Israel by being promiscuous while still in her father’s house. You must purge the evil from among you.” (Deuteronomy 22:13-21)

ADULTERY

Adultery is considered a sin in all religions. The Bible decrees the death sentence for both the adulterer and the adulteress (Lev. 20:10). Islam also equally punishes both the adulterer and the adulteress (24:2). However, the Quranic definition of adultery is very different from the Biblical definition. Adultery, according to the Quran, is the involvement of a married man or a married woman in an extramarital affair. The Bible only considers the extramarital affair of a married woman as adultery (Leviticus 20:10, Deuteronomy 22:22, Proverbs 6:20-7:27).

“If a man is found sleeping with another man’s wife, both the man who slept with her and the woman must die. You must purge the evil from Israel” (Deut. 22:22).

“If a man commits adultery with another man’s wife both the adulterer and the adulteress must be put to death” (Lev. 20:10).

According to the Biblical definition, if a married man sleeps with an unmarried woman, this is not considered a crime at all. The married man who has extramarital affairs with unmarried women is not an adulterer and the unmarried women involved with him are not adulteresses. The crime of adultery is committed only when a man, whether married or single, sleeps with a married woman. In this case the man is considered adulterer, even if he is not married, and the woman is considered adulteress. In short, adultery is any illicit sexual intercourse involving a married woman. The extramarital affair of a married man is not per se a crime in the Bible. Why is the dual moral standard? According to Encyclopaedia Judaica, the wife was considered to be the husband’s possession and adultery constituted a violation of the husband’s exclusive right to her; the wife as the husband’s possession had no such right to him. 15 That is, if a man had sexual intercourse with a married woman, he would be violating the property of another man and, thus, he should be punished.

To the present day in Israel, if a married man indulges in an extramarital affair with an unmarried woman, his children by that woman are considered legitimate. But, if a married woman has an affair with another man, whether married or not married, her children by that man are not only illegitimate but they are considered bastards and are forbidden to marry any other Jews except converts and other bastards. This ban is handed down to the children’s descendants for 10 generations until the taint of adultery is presumably weakened. 16

The Quran, on the other hand, never considers any woman to be the possession of any man. The Quran eloquently describes the relationship between the spouses by saying:

” And among His signs is that He created for you mates from among yourselves, that you may dwell in tranquillity with them and He has put love and mercy between your hearts: verily in that are signs for those who reflect” (30:21).

This is the Quranic conception of marriage: love, mercy, and tranquillity, not possession and double standards.

VOWS

According to the Bible, a man must fulfil any vows he might make to God. He must not break his word. On the other hand, a woman’s vow is not necessarily binding on her. It has to be approved by her father, if she is living in his house, or by her husband, if she is married. If a father/husband does not endorse his daughter’s/wife’s vows, all pledges made by her become null and void:

“But if her father forbids her when he hears about it, none of her vows or the pledges by which she obligated herself will stand ….Her husband may confirm or nullify any vow she makes or any sworn pledge to deny herself” (Num. 30:2-15)

Why is it that a woman’s word is not binding per se ? The answer is simple: because she is owned by her father, before marriage, or by her husband after marriage. The father’s control over his daughter was absolute to the extent that, should he wish, he could sell her! It is indicated in the writings of the Rabbis that: “The man may sell his daughter, but the woman may not sell her daughter; the man may betroth his daughter, but the woman may not betroth her daughter.” 17 The Rabbinic literature also indicates that marriage represents the transfer of control from the father to the husband: “betrothal, making a woman the sacrosanct possession–the inviolable property– of the husband…” Obviously, if the woman is considered to be the property of someone else, she cannot make any pledges that her owner does not approve of.

It is of interest to note that this Biblical instruction concerning women’s vows has had negative repercussions on Judaeo-Christian women till early in this century. A married woman in the Western world had no legal status. No act of hers was of any legal value. Her husband could repudiate any contract, bargain, or deal she had made. Women in the West (the largest heir of the Judaeo-Christian legacy) were held unable to make a binding contract because they were practically owned by someone else. Western women had suffered for almost two thousand years because of the Biblical attitude towards women’s position vis-à-vis their fathers and husbands. 18

In Islam, the vow of every Muslim, male or female, is binding on him/her. No one has the power to repudiate the pledges of anyone else. Failure to keep a solemn oath, made by a man or a woman, has to be expiated as indicated in the Quran:

“He [God] will call you to account for your deliberate oaths: for expiation, feed ten indigent persons, on a scale of the average for the food of your families; Or clothe them; or give a slave his freedom. If that is beyond your means, fast for three days. That is the expiation for the oaths you have sworn. But keep your oaths” (5:89).

Companions of the Prophet Muhammad, men and women, used to present their oath of allegiance to him personally. Women, as well as men, would independently come to him and pledge their oaths:

“O Prophet, When believing women come to you to make a covenant with you that they will not associate in worship anything with God, nor steal, nor fornicate, nor kill their own children, nor slander anyone, nor disobey you in any just matter, then make a covenant with them and pray to God for the forgiveness of their sins. Indeed God is Forgiving and most Merciful” (60:12).

A man could not swear the oath on behalf of his daughter or his wife. Nor could a man repudiate the oath made by any of his female relatives.

WIFE’S PROPERTY ?

The three religions share an unshakeable belief in the importance of marriage and family life. They also agree on the leadership of the husband over the family. Nevertheless, blatant differences do exist among the three religions with respect to the limits of this leadership. The Judaeo-Christian tradition, unlike Islam, virtually extends the leadership of the husband into ownership of his wife.

The Jewish tradition regarding the husband’s role towards his wife stems from the conception that he owns her as he owns his slave. 19 This conception has been the reason behind the double standard in the laws of adultery and behind the husband’s ability to annul his wife’s vows. This conception has also been responsible for denying the wife any control over her property or her earnings. As soon as a Jewish woman got married, she completely lost any control over her property and earnings to her husband. Jewish Rabbis asserted the husband’s right to his wife’s property as a corollary of his possession of her: “Since one has come into the possession of the woman does it not follow that he should come into the possession of her property too?”, and “Since he has acquired the woman should he not acquire also her property?” 20 Thus, marriage caused the richest woman to become practically penniless. The Talmud describes the financial situation of a wife as follows:

“How can a woman have anything; whatever is hers belongs to her husband? What is his is his and what is hers is also his…… Her earnings and what she may find in the streets are also his. The household articles, even the crumbs of bread on the table, are his. Should she invite a guest to her house and feed him, she would be stealing from her husband…” (San. 71a, Git. 62a)

The fact of the matter is that the property of a Jewish female was meant to attract suitors. A Jewish family would assign their daughter a share of her father’s estate to be used as a dowry in case of marriage. It was this dowry that made Jewish daughters an unwelcome burden to their fathers. The father had to raise his daughter for years and then prepare for her marriage by providing a large dowry. Thus, a girl in a Jewish family was a liability and no asset. 21 This liability explains why the birth of a daughter was not celebrated with joy in the old Jewish society (see the “Shameful Daughters?” section). The dowry was the wedding gift presented to the groom under terms of tenancy. The husband would act as the practical owner of the dowry but he could not sell it. The bride would lose any control over the dowry at the moment of marriage. Moreover, she was expected to work after marriage and all her earnings had to go to her husband in return for her maintenance which was his obligation. She could regain her property only in two cases: divorce or her husband’s death. Should she die first, he would inherit her property. In the case of the husband’s death, the wife could regain her pre-marital property but she was not entitled to inherit any share in her deceased husband’s own property. It has to be added that the groom also had to present a marriage gift to his bride, yet again he was the practical owner of this gift as long as they were married. 22

Christianity, until recently, has followed the same Jewish tradition. Both religious and civil authorities in the Christian Roman Empire (after Constantine) required a property agreement as a condition for recognizing the marriage. Families offered their daughters increasing dowries and, as a result, men tended to marry earlier while families postponed their daughters’ marriages until later than had been customary. 23 Under Canon law, a wife was entitled to restitution of her dowry if the marriage was annulled unless she was guilty of adultery. In this case, she forfeited her right to the dowry which remained in her husband’s hands. 24 Under Canon and civil law a married woman in Christian Europe and America had lost her property rights until late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. For example, women’s rights under English law were compiled and published in 1632. These ‘rights’ included: “That which the husband hath is his own. That which the wife hath is the husband’s.” 25 The wife not only lost her property upon marriage, she lost her personality as well. No act of her was of legal value. Her husband could repudiate any sale or gift made by her as being of no binding legal value. The person with whom she had any contract was held as a criminal for participating in a fraud. Moreover, she could not sue or be sued in her own name, nor could she sue her own husband. 26 A married woman was practically treated as an infant in the eyes of the law. The wife simply belonged to her husband and therefore she lost her property, her legal personality, and her family name. 27

Islam, since the seventh century C.E., has granted married women the independent personality which the Judaeo-Christian West had deprived them until very recently. In Islam, the bride and her family are under no obligation whatsoever to present a gift to the groom. The girl in a Muslim family is no liability. A woman is so dignified by Islam that she does not need to present gifts in order to attract potential husbands. It is the groom who must present the bride with a marriage gift. This gift is considered her property and neither the groom nor the bride’s family have any share in or control over it. In some Muslim societies today, a marriage gift of a hundred thousand dollars in diamonds is not unusual. 28 The bride retains her marriage gifts even if she is later divorced. The husband is not allowed any share in his wife’s property except what she offers him with her free consent. 29 The Quran has stated its position on this issue quite clearly:

“And give the women (on marriage) their dower as a free gift; but if they, Of their own good pleasure, remit any part of it to you, take it and enjoy it with right good cheer” (4:4)

The wife’s property and earnings are under her full control and for her use alone since her, and the children’s, maintenance is her husband’s responsibility. 30 No matter how rich the wife might be, she is not obliged to act as a co-provider for the family unless she herself voluntarily chooses to do so. Spouses do inherit from one another. Moreover, a married woman in Islam retains her independent legal personality and her family name. 31 An American judge once commented on the rights of Muslim women saying: ” A Muslim girl may marry ten times, but her individuality is not absorbed by that of her various husbands. She is a solar planet with a name and legal personality of her own.” 32

DIVORCE

The three religions have remarkable differences in their attitudes towards divorce. Christianity abhors divorce altogether. The New Testament unequivocally advocates the indissolubility of marriage. It is attributed to Jesus to have said, “But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, causes her to become adulteress, and anyone who marries the divorced woman commits adultery” (Matthew 5:32). This uncompromising ideal is, without a doubt, unrealistic. It assumes a state of moral perfection that human societies have never achieved. When a couple realizes that their married life is beyond repair, a ban on divorce will not do them any good. Forcing ill-mated couples to remain together against their wills is neither effective nor reasonable. No wonder the whole Christian world has been obliged to sanction divorce.

Judaism, on the other hand, allows divorce even without any cause. The Old Testament gives the husband the right to divorce his wife even if he just dislikes her:

“If a man marries a woman who becomes displeasing to him because he finds something indecent about her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce, gives it to her and sends her from his house, and if after she leaves his house she becomes the wife of another man, and her second husband dislikes her and writes her a certificate of divorce, gives it to her and sends her from his house, or if he dies, then her first husband, who divorced her, is not allowed to marry her again after she has been defiled” (Deut. 24:1-4).

The above verses have caused some considerable debate among Jewish scholars because of their disagreement over the interpretation of the words “displeasing”, “indecency”, and “dislikes” mentioned in the verses. The Talmud records their different opinions:

“The school of Shammai held that a man should not divorce his wife unless he has found her guilty of some sexual misconduct, while the school of Hillel say he may divorce her even if she has merely spoiled a dish for him. Rabbi Akiba says he may divorce her even if he simply finds another woman more beautiful than she” (Gittin 90a-b).

The New Testament follows the Shammaites opinion while Jewish law has followed the opinion of the Hillelites and R. Akiba. 33 Since the Hillelites view prevailed, it became the unbroken tradition of Jewish law to give the husband freedom to divorce his wife without any cause at all. The Old Testament not only gives the husband the right to divorce his “displeasing” wife, it considers divorcing a “bad wife” an obligation:

“A bad wife brings humiliation, downcast looks, and a wounded heart. Slack of hand and weak of knee is the man whose wife fails to make him happy. Woman is the origin of sin, and it is through her that we all die. Do not leave a leaky cistern to drip or allow a bad wife to say what she likes. If she does not accept your control, divorce her and send her away” (Ecclesiasticus 25:25).

The Talmud has recorded several specific actions by wives which obliged their husbands to divorce them: “If she ate in the street, if she drank greedily in the street, if she suckled in the street, in every case Rabbi Meir says that she must leave her husband” (Git. 89a). The Talmud has also made it mandatory to divorce a barren wife (who bore no children in a period of ten years): “Our Rabbis taught: If a man took a wife and lived with her for ten years and she bore no child, he shall divorce her” (Yeb. 64a).

Wives, on the other hand, cannot initiate divorce under Jewish law. A Jewish wife, however, could claim the right to a divorce before a Jewish court provided that a strong reason exists. Very few grounds are provided for the wife to make a claim for a divorce. These grounds include: A husband with physical defects or skin disease, a husband not fulfilling his conjugal responsibilities, etc. The Court might support the wife’s claim to a divorce but it cannot dissolve the marriage. Only the husband can dissolve the marriage by giving his wife a bill of divorce. The Court could scourge, fine, imprison, and excommunicate him to force him to deliver the necessary bill of divorce to his wife. However, if the husband is stubborn enough, he can refuse to grant his wife a divorce and keep her tied to him indefinitely. Worse still, he can desert her without granting her a divorce and leave her unmarried and undivorced. He can marry another woman or even live with any single woman out of wedlock and have children from her (these children are considered legitimate under Jewish law). The deserted wife, on the other hand, cannot marry any other man since she is still legally married and she cannot live with any other man because she will be considered an adulteress and her children from this union will be illegitimate for ten generations. A woman in such a position is called an agunah (chained woman). 34 In the United States today there are approximately 1000 to 1500 Jewish women who are agunot (plural for agunah), while in Israel their number might be as high as 16000. Husbands may extort thousands of dollars from their trapped wives in exchange for a Jewish divorce. 35

Islam occupies the middle ground between Christianity and Judaism with respect to divorce. Marriage in Islam is a sanctified bond that should not be broken except for compelling reasons. Couples are instructed to pursue all possible remedies whenever their marriages are in danger. Divorce is not to be resorted to except when there is no other way out. In a nutshell, Islam recognizes divorce, yet it discourages it by all means. Let us focus on the recognition side first. Islam does recognize the right of both partners to end their matrimonial relationship. Islam gives the husband the right for Talaq (divorce). Moreover, Islam, unlike Judaism, grants the wife the right to dissolve the marriage through what is known as Khula’. 36 If the husband dissolves the marriage by divorcing his wife, he cannot retrieve any of the marriage gifts he has given her. The Quran explicitly prohibits the divorcing husbands from taking back their marriage gifts no matter how expensive or valuable these gifts might be:

“But if you decide to take one wife in place of another, even if you had given the latter a whole treasure for dower, take not the least bit of it back; Would you take it by slander and a manifest wrong?” (4:20).

In the case of the wife choosing to end the marriage, she may return the marriage gifts to her husband. Returning the marriage gifts in this case is a fair compensation for the husband who is keen to keep his wife while she chooses to leave him. The Quran has instructed Muslim men not to take back any of the gifts they have given to their wives except in the case of the wife choosing to dissolve the marriage:

“It is not lawful for you (Men) to take back any of your gifts except when both parties fear that they would be unable to keep the limits ordained by Allah. There is no blame on either of them if she give something for her freedom. These are the limits ordained by Allah so do not transgress them” (2:229).

Also, a woman came to the Prophet Muhammad seeking the dissolution of her marriage, she told the Prophet that she did not have any complaints against her husband’s character or manners. Her only problem was that she honestly did not like him to the extent of not being able to live with him any longer. The Prophet asked her: “Would you give him his garden (the marriage gift he had given her) back?” she said: “Yes”. The Prophet then instructed the man to take back his garden and accept the dissolution of the marriage (Bukhari).

In some cases, A Muslim wife might be willing to keep her marriage but find herself obliged to claim for a divorce because of some compelling reasons such as: Cruelty of the husband, desertion without a reason, a husband not fulfilling his conjugal responsibilities, etc. In these cases the Muslim court dissolves the marriage. 37

In short, Islam has offered the Muslim woman some unequalled rights: she can end the marriage through Khula’ and she can sue for a divorce. A Muslim wife can never become chained by a recalcitrant husband. It was these rights that enticed Jewish women who lived in the early Islamic societies of the seventh century C.E. to seek to obtain bills of divorce from their Jewish husbands in Muslim courts. The Rabbis declared these bills null and void. In order to end this practice, the Rabbis gave new rights and privileges to Jewish women in an attempt to weaken the appeal of the Muslim courts. Jewish women living in Christian countries were not offered any similar privileges since the Roman law of divorce practiced there was no more attractive than the Jewish law. 38

Let us now focus our attention on how Islam discourages divorce. The Prophet of Islam told the believers that:

“among all the permitted acts, divorce is the most hateful to God” (Abu Dawood).

A Muslim man should not divorce his wife just because he dislikes her. The Quran instructs Muslim men to be kind to their wives even in cases of lukewarm emotions or feelings of dislike:

“Live with them (your wives) on a footing of kindness and equity. If you dislike them it may be that you dislike something in which Allah has placed a great deal of good” (4:19).

Prophet Muhammad gave a similar instruction:

” A believing man must not hate a believing woman. If he dislikes one of her traits he will be pleased with another” (Muslim).

The Prophet has also emphasized that the best Muslims are those who are best to their wives:

“The believers who show the most perfect faith are those who have the best character and the best of you are those who are best to their wives” (Tirmidthi).

However, Islam is a practical religion and it does recognize that there are circumstances in which a marriage becomes on the verge of collapsing. In such cases, a mere advice of kindness or self restraint is no viable solution. So, what to do in order to save a marriage in these cases? The Quran offers some practical advice for the spouse (husband or wife) whose partner (wife or husband) is the wrongdoer. For the husband whose wife’s ill-conduct is threatening the marriage, the Quran gives four types of advice as detailed in the following verses:

“As to those women on whose part you fear disloyalty and ill-conduct, (1) Admonish them, (2) refuse to share their beds, (3) beat them; but if they return to obedience seek not against them means of annoyance: For Allah is Most High, Great. (4) If you fear a break between them, appoint two arbiters, one from his family and the other from hers; If they wish for peace, Allah will cause their reconciliation” (4:34-35).

The first three are to be tried first. If they fail, then the help of the families concerned should be sought. It has to be noted, in the light of the above verses, that beating the rebellious wife is a temporary measure that is resorted to as third in line in cases of extreme necessity in hopes that it might remedy the wrongdoing of the wife. If it does, the husband is not allowed by any means to continue any annoyance to the wife as explicitly mentioned in the verse. If it does not, the husband is still not allowed to use this measure any longer and the final avenue of the family-assisted reconciliation has to be explored.

Prophet Muhammad has instructed Muslim husbands that they should not have recourse to these measures except in extreme cases such as open lewdness committed by the wife. Even in these cases the punishment should be slight and if the wife desists, the husband is not permitted to irritate her:

“In case they are guilty of open lewdness you may leave them alone in their beds and inflict slight punishment. If they are obedient to you, do not seek against them any means of annoyance” (Tirmidthi)

Furthermore, the Prophet of Islam has condemned any unjustifiable beating. Some Muslim wives complained to him that their husbands had beaten them. Hearing that, the Prophet categorically stated that:

“Those who do so (beat their wives) are not the best among you” (Abu Dawood).

It has to be remembered at this point that the Prophet has also said:

“The best of you is he who is best to his family, and I am the best among you to my family” (Tirmidthi).

The Prophet advised one Muslim woman, whose name was Fatimah bint Qais, not to marry a man because the man was known for beating women:

“I went to the Prophet and said: Abul Jahm and Mu’awiah have proposed to marry me. The Prophet (by way of advice) said: As to Mu’awiah he is very poor and Abul Jahm is accustomed to beating women” (Muslim).

It has to be noted that the Talmud sanctions wife beating as chastisement for the purpose of discipline. 39 The husband is not restricted to the extreme cases such as those of open lewdness. He is allowed to beat his wife even if she just refuses to do her house work. Moreover, he is not limited only to the use of light punishment. He is permitted to break his wife’s stubbornness by the lash or by starving her. 40

For the wife whose husband’s ill-conduct is the cause for the marriage’s near collapse, the Quran offers the following advice:

“If a wife fears cruelty or desertion on her husband’s part, there is no blame on them if they arrange an amicable settlement between themselves; and such settlement is best” (4:128).

In this case, the wife is advised to seek reconciliation with her husband (with or without family assistance). It is notable that the Quran is not advising the wife to resort to the two measures of abstention from sex and beating. The reason for this disparity might be to protect the wife from a violent physical reaction by her already misbehaving husband. Such a violent physical reaction will do both the wife and the marriage more harm than good. Some Muslim scholars have suggested that the court can apply these measures against the husband on the wife’s behalf. That is, the court first admonishes the rebellious husband, then forbids him his wife’s bed, and finally executes a symbolic beating. 41

To sum up, Islam offers Muslim married couples much viable advice to save their marriages in cases of trouble and tension. If one of the partners is jeopardizing the matrimonial relationship, the other partner is advised by the Quran to do whatever possible and effective in order to save this sacred bond. If all the measures fail, Islam allows the partners to separate peacefully and amicably.

MOTHERS

The Old Testament in several places commands kind and considerate treatment of the parents and condemns those who dishonor them. For example, “If anyone curses his father or mother, he must be put to death” (Lev. 20:9) and “A wise man brings joy to his father but a foolish man despises his mother” (Proverbs 15:20). Although honoring the father alone is mentioned in some places, e.g. “A wise man heeds his father’s instruction” (Proverbs 13:1), the mother alone is never mentioned. Moreover, there is no special emphasis on treating the mother kindly as a sign of appreciation of her great suffering in childbearing and suckling. Besides, mothers do not inherit at all from their children while fathers do. 42

It is difficult to speak of the New Testament as a scripture that calls for honoring the mother. To the contrary, one gets the impression that the New Testament considers kind treatment of mothers as an impediment on the way to God. According to the New Testament, one cannot become a good Christian worthy of becoming a disciple of Christ unless he hates his mother. It is attributed to Jesus to have said:

“If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters–yes, even his own life–he can not be my disciple” (Luke 14:26).

Furthermore, the New Testament depicts a picture of Jesus as indifferent to, or even disrespectful of, his own mother. For example, when she had come looking for him while he was preaching to a crowd, he did not care to go out to see her:

“Then Jesus’ mother and brothers arrived. Standing outside, they sent someone to call him. A crowd was sitting around him and they told him, ‘Your mother and brothers are outside looking for you.’ ‘Who are my mother and my brothers?’ he asked. Then he looked at those seated in a circle around him and said,’ Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.’ ” (Mark 3:31-35)

One might argue that Jesus was trying to teach his audience an important lesson that religious ties are no less important than family ties. However, he could have taught his listeners the same lesson without showing such absolute indifference to his mother. The same disrespectful attitude is depicted when he refused to endorse a statement made by a member of his audience blessing his mother’s role in giving birth to him and nursing him:

“As Jesus was saying these things, a woman in the crowd called out, ‘Blessed is the mother who gave you birth and nursed you.’ He replied, ‘Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it.’ ” (Luke 11:27-28)

If a mother with the stature of the virgin Mary had been treated with such discourtesy, as depicted in the New Testament, by a son of the stature of Jesus Christ, then how should an average Christian mother be treated by her average Christian sons?

In Islam, the honor, respect, and esteem attached to motherhood is unparalleled. The Quran places the importance of kindness to parents as second only to worshipping God Almighty:

“Your Lord has decreed that you worship none but Him, And that you be kind to parents. Whether one or both of them attain old age in your life, Say not to them a word of contempt, nor repel them, But address them in terms of honor. And out of kindness, Lower to them the wing of humility, and say: ‘My Lord! bestow on them Your Mercy as they Cherished me in childhood’ ” (17:23-24).

The Quran in several other places puts special emphasis on the mother’s great role in giving birth and nursing:

“And We have enjoined on man to be good to his parents: In travail upon travail did his mother bear him and in two years was his weaning. Show gratitude to Me and to your parents” (31:14).

The very special place of mothers in Islam has been eloquently described by Prophet Muhammad:

“A man asked the Prophet: ‘Whom should I honor most?’ The Prophet replied: ‘Your mother’. ‘And who comes next?’ asked the man. The Prophet replied: ‘Your mother’. ‘And who comes next?’ asked the man. The Prophet replied: ‘Your mother!’. ‘And who comes next?’ asked the man. The Prophet replied: ‘Your father'” (Bukhari and Muslim).

Among the few precepts of Islam which Muslims still faithfully observe to the present day is the considerate treatment of mothers. The honor that Muslim mothers receive from their sons and daughters is exemplary. The intensely warm relations between Muslim mothers and their children and the deep respect with which Muslim men approach their mothers usually amaze Westerners. 43

FEMALE INHERITANCE ?

One of the most important differences between the Quran and the Bible is their attitude towards female inheritance of the property of a deceased relative. The Biblical attitude has been succinctly described by Rabbi Epstein: “The continuous and unbroken tradition since the Biblical days gives the female members of the household, wife and daughters, no right of succession to the family estate. In the more primitive scheme of succession, the female members of the family were considered part of the estate and as remote from the legal personality of an heir as the slave. Whereas by Mosaic enactment the daughters were admitted to succession in the event of no male issue remained, the wife was not recognized as heir even in such conditions.” 44 Why were the female members of the family considered part of the family estate? Rabbi Epstein has the answer: “They are owned –before marriage, by the father; after marriage, by the husband.” 45

The Biblical rules of inheritance are outlined in Numbers 27:1-11. A wife is given no share in her husband’s estate, while he is her first heir, even before her sons. A daughter can inherit only if no male heirs exist. A mother is not an heir at all while the father is. Widows and daughters, in case male children remained, were at the mercy of the male heirs for provision. That is why widows and orphan girls were among the most destitute members of the Jewish society.

Christianity has followed suit for long time. Both the ecclesiastical and civil laws of Christendom barred daughters from sharing with their brothers in the father’s patrimony. Besides, wives were deprived of any inheritance rights. These iniquitous laws survived till late in the last century46.

Among the pagan Arabs before Islam, inheritance rights were confined exclusively to the male relatives. The Quran abolished all these unjust customs and gave all the female relatives inheritance shares:

“From what is left by parents and those nearest related there is a share for men and a share for women, whether the property be small or large –a determinate share” (4:7).

Muslim mothers, wives, daughters, and sisters had received inheritance rights thirteen hundred years before Europe recognized that these rights even existed. The division of inheritance is a vast subject with an enormous amount of details (4:7,11,12,176). The general rule is that the female share is half the male’s except the cases in which the mother receives equal share to that of the father. This general rule if taken in isolation from other legislations concerning men and women may seem unfair. In order to understand the rationale behind this rule, one must take into account the fact that the financial obligations of men in Islam far exceed those of women (see the “Wife’s property?” section). A bridegroom must provide his bride with a marriage gift. This gift becomes her exclusive property and remains so even if she is later divorced. The bride is under no obligation to present any gifts to her groom. Moreover, the Muslim husband is charged with the maintenance of his wife and children. The wife, on the other hand, is not obliged to help him in this regard. Her property and earnings are for her use alone except what she may voluntarily offer her husband. Besides, one has to realize that Islam vehemently advocates family life. It strongly encourages youth to get married, discourages divorce, and does not regard celibacy as a virtue. Therefore, in a truly Islamic society, family life is the norm and single life is the rare exception. That is, almost all marriage-aged women and men are married in an Islamic society. In light of these facts, one would appreciate that Muslim men, in general, have greater financial burdens than Muslim women and thus inheritance rules are meant to offset this imbalance so that the society lives free of all gender or class wars. After a simple comparison between the financial rights and duties of Muslim women, one British Muslim woman has concluded that Islam has treated women not only fairly but generously. 47

PLIGHT OF WIDOWS

Because of the fact that the Old Testament recognized no inheritance rights to them, widows were among the most vulnerable of the Jewish population. The male relatives who inherited all of a woman’s deceased husband’s estate were to provide for her from that estate. However, widows had no way to ensure this provision was carried out, and lived on the mercy of others. Therefore, widows were among the lowest classes in ancient Israel and widowhood was considered a symbol of great degradation (Isaiah 54:4). But the plight of a widow in the Biblical tradition extended even beyond her exclusion from her husband’s property. According to Genesis 38, a childless widow must marry her husband’s brother, even if he is already married, so that he can produce offspring for his dead brother, thus ensuring his brother’s name will not die out.

“Then Judah said to Onan, ‘Lie with your brother’s wife and fulfill your duty to her as a brother-in-law to produce offspring for your brother’ ” (Genesis 38:8).

The widow’s consent to this marriage is not required. The widow is treated as part of her deceased husband’s property whose main function is to ensure her husband’s posterity. This Biblical law is still practiced in today’s Israel. 48 A childless widow in Israel is bequeathed to her husband’s brother. If the brother is too young to marry, she has to wait until he comes of age. Should the deceased husband’s brother refuse to marry her, she is set free and can then marry any man of her choice. It is not an uncommon phenomenon in Israel that widows are subjected to blackmail by their brothers-in-law in order to gain their freedom.

The pagan Arabs before Islam had similar practices. A widow was considered a part of her husband’s property to be inherited by his male heirs and she was, usually, given in marriage to the deceased man’s eldest son from another wife. The Quran scathingly attacked and abolished this degrading custom:

“And marry not women whom your fathers married–Except what is past– it was shameful, odious, and abominable custom indeed” (4:22).

Widows and divorced women were so looked down upon in the Biblical tradition that the high priest could not marry a widow, a divorced woman, or a prostitute:

“The woman he (the high priest) marries must be a virgin. He must not marry a widow, a divorced woman, or a woman defiled by prostitution, but only a virgin from his own people, so he will not defile his offspring among his people” (Lev. 21:13-15)

In Israel today, a descendant of the Cohen caste (the high priests of the days of the Temple) cannot marry a divorcee, a widow, or a prostitute. 49 In the Jewish legislation, a woman who has been widowed three times with all the three husbands dying of natural causes is considered ‘fatal’ and forbidden to marry again. 50 The Quran, on the other hand, recognizes neither castes nor fatal persons. Widows and divorcees have the freedom to marry whomever they choose. There is no stigma attached to divorce or widowhood in the Quran:

“When you divorce women and they fulfil their terms [three menstruation periods] either take them back on equitable terms or set them free on equitable terms; But do not take them back to injure them or to take undue advantage, If anyone does that, he wrongs his own soul. Do not treat Allah’s signs as a jest” (2:231).

“If any of you die and leave widows behind, they shall wait four months and ten days. When they have fulfilled their term, there is no blame on you if they dispose of themselves in a just manner” (2:234).

“Those of you who die and leave widows should bequeath for their widows a year’s maintenance and residence. But if they [the widows] leave (the residence) there is no blame on you for what they justly do with themselves” (2:240).

POLYGAMY

Let us now tackle the important question of polygamy. Polygamy is a very ancient practice found in many human societies. The Bible did not condemn polygamy. To the contrary, the Old Testament and Rabbinic writings frequently attest to the legality of polygamy. King Solomon is said to have had 700 wives and 300 concubines (1 Kings 11:3) Also, king David is said to have had many wives and concubines (2 Samuel 5:13). The Old Testament does have some injunctions on how to distribute the property of a man among his sons from different wives (Deut. 22:7). The only restriction on polygamy is a ban on taking a wife’s sister as a rival wife (Lev. 18:18). The Talmud advises a maximum of four wives. 51 European Jews continued to practice polygamy until the sixteenth century. Oriental Jews regularly practiced polygamy until they arrived in Israel where it is forbidden under civil law. However, under religious law which overrides civil law in such cases, it is permissible. 52

What about the New Testament? According to Father Eugene Hillman in his insightful book, Polygamy reconsidered, “Nowhere in the New Testament is there any explicit commandment that marriage should be monogamous or any explicit commandment forbidding polygamy.” 53 Moreover, Jesus has not spoken against polygamy though it was practiced by the Jews of his society. Father Hillman stresses the fact that the Church in Rome banned polygamy in order to conform to the Greco-Roman culture (which prescribed only one legal wife while tolerating concubinage and prostitution). He cited St. Augustine, “Now indeed in our time, and in keeping with Roman custom, it is no longer allowed to take another wife.” 54 African churches and African Christians often remind their European brothers that the Church’s ban on polygamy is a cultural tradition and not an authentic Christian injunction.

The Quran, too, allowed polygamy, but not without restrictions:

“If you fear that you shall not be able to deal justly with the orphans, marry women of your choice, two or three or four; but if you fear that you shall not be able to deal justly with them, then only one” (4:3).

The Quran, contrary to the Bible, limited the maximum number of wives to four under the strict condition of treating the wives equally and justly. It should not be understood that the Quran is exhorting the believers to practice polygamy, or that polygamy is considered as an ideal. In other words, the Quran has “tolerated” or “allowed” polygamy, and no more, but why? Why is polygamy permissible ? The answer is simple: there are places and times in which there are compelling social and moral reasons for polygamy. As the above Quranic verse indicates, the issue of polygamy in Islam cannot be understood apart from community obligations towards orphans and widows. Islam as a universal religion suitable for all places and all times could not ignore these compelling obligations.

In most human societies, females outnumber males. In the U.S. there are, at least, eight million more women than men. In a country like Guinea there are 122 females for every 100 males. In Tanzania, there are 95.1 males per 100 females. 55 What should a society do towards such unbalanced sex ratios? There are various solutions, some might suggest celibacy, others would prefer female infanticide (which does happen in some societies in the world today !). Others may think the only outlet is that the society should tolerate all manners of sexual permissiveness: prostitution, sex out of wedlock, homosexuality, etc. For other societies , like most African societies today, the most honorable outlet is to allow polygamous marriage as a culturally accepted and socially respected institution. The point that is often misunderstood in the West is that women in other cultures do not necessarily look at polygamy as a sign of women’s degradation. For example, many young African brides , whether Christians or Muslims or otherwise, would prefer to marry a married man who has already proved himself to be a responsible husband. Many African wives urge their husbands to get a second wife so that they do not feel lonely. 56 A survey of over six thousand women, ranging in age from 15 to 59, conducted in the second largest city in Nigeria showed that 60 percent of these women would be pleased if their husbands took another wife. Only 23 percent expressed anger at the idea of sharing with another wife. Seventy-six percent of the women in a survey conducted in Kenya viewed polygamy positively. In a survey undertaken in rural Kenya, 25 out of 27 women considered polygamy to be better than monogamy. These women felt polygamy can be a happy and beneficial experience if the co-wives cooperate with each other. 57 Polygamy in most African societies is such a respectable institution that some Protestant churches are becoming more tolerant of it. A bishop of the Anglican Church in Kenya declared that, “Although monogamy may be ideal for the expression of love between husband and wife, the church should consider that in certain cultures polygyny is socially acceptable and that the belief that polygyny is contrary to Christianity is no longer tenable.” 58 After a careful study of African polygamy, Reverend David Gitari of the Anglican Church has concluded that polygamy, as ideally practiced, is more Christian than divorce and remarriage as far as the abandoned wives and children are concerned. 59 I personally know of some highly educated African wives who, despite having lived in the West for many years, do not have any objections against polygamy. One of them, who lives in the U.S., solemnly exhorts her husband to get a second wife to help her in raising the kids.

The problem of the unbalanced sex ratios becomes truly problematic at times of war. Native American Indian tribes used to suffer highly unbalanced sex ratios after wartime losses. Women in these tribes, who in fact enjoyed a fairly high status, accepted polygamy as the best protection against indulgence in indecent activities. European settlers, without offering any other alternative, condemned this Indian polygamy as ‘uncivilised’. 60 After the second world war, there were 7,300,000 more women than men in Germany (3.3 million of them were widows). There were 100 men aged 20 to 30 for every 167 women in that age group. 61 Many of these women needed a man not only as a companion but also as a provider for the household in a time of unprecedented misery and hardship. The soldiers of the victorious Allied Armies exploited these women’s vulnerability. Many young girls and widows had liaisons with members of the occupying forces. Many American and British soldiers paid for their pleasures in cigarettes, chocolate, and bread. Children were overjoyed at the gifts these strangers brought. A 10 year old boy on hearing of such gifts from other children wished from all his heart for an ‘Englishman’ for his mother so that she need not go hungry any longer. 62 We have to ask our own conscience at this point: What is more dignifying to a woman? An accepted and respected second wife as in the native Indians’ approach, or a virtual prostitute as in the ‘civilised’ Allies approach? In other words, what is more dignifying to a woman, the Quranic prescription or the theology based on the culture of the Roman Empire?

It is interesting to note that in an international youth conference held in Munich in 1948 the problem of the highly unbalanced sex ratio in Germany was discussed. When it became clear that no solution could be agreed upon, some participants suggested polygamy. The initial reaction of the gathering was a mixture of shock and disgust. However, after a careful study of the proposal, the participants agreed that it was the only possible solution. Consequently, polygamy was included among the conference final recommendations. 63

The world today possesses more weapons of mass destruction than ever before and the European churches might, sooner or later, be obliged to accept polygamy as the only way out. Father Hillman has thoughtfully recognized this fact, “It is quite conceivable that these genocidal techniques (nuclear, biological, chemical..) could produce so drastic an imbalance among the sexes that plural marriage would become a necessary means of survival….Then contrary to previous custom and law, an overriding natural and moral inclination might arise in favour of polygamy. In such a situation, theologians and church leaders would quickly produce weighty reasons and biblical texts to justify a new conception of marriage.” 64

To the present day, polygamy continues to be a viable solution to some of the social ills of modern societies. The communal obligations that the Quran mentions in association with the permission of polygamy are more visible at present in some Western societies than in Africa. For example, In the United States today, there is a severe gender crisis in the black community. One out of every twenty young black males may die before reaching the age of 21. For those between 20 and 35 years of age, homicide is the leading cause of death. 65 Besides, many young black males are unemployed, in jail, or on dope. 66 As a result, one in four black women, at age 40, has never married, as compared with one in ten white women. 67 Moreover, many young black females become single mothers before the age of 20 and find themselves in need of providers. The end result of these tragic circumstances is that an increasing number of black women are engaged in what is called ‘man-sharing’. 68 That is, many of these hapless single black women are involved in affairs with married men. The wives are often unaware of the fact that other women are ‘sharing’ their husbands with them. Some observers of the crisis of man-sharing in the African American community strongly recommend consensual polygamy as a temporary answer to the shortage of black males until more comprehensive reforms in the American society at large are undertaken. 69 By consensual polygamy they mean a polygamy that is sanctioned by the community and to which all the parties involved have agreed, as opposed to the usually secret man-sharing which is detrimental both to the wife and to the community in general. The problem of man-sharing in the African American community was the topic of a panel discussion held at Temple University in Philadelphia on January 27, 1993. 70 Some of the speakers recommended polygamy as one potential remedy for the crisis. They also suggested that polygamy should not be banned by law, particularly in a society that tolerates prostitution and mistresses. The comment of one woman from the audience that African Americans needed to learn from Africa where polygamy was responsibly practiced elicited enthusiastic applause.

Philip Kilbride, an American anthropologist of Roman Catholic heritage, in his provocative book, Plural marriage for our time, proposes polygamy as a solution to some of the ills of the American society at large. He argues that plural marriage may serve as a potential alternative for divorce in many cases in order to obviate the damaging impact of divorce on many children. He maintains that many divorces are caused by the rampant extramarital affairs in the American society. According to Kilbride, ending an extramarital affair in a polygamous marriage, rather than in a divorce, is better for the children, “Children would be better served if family augmentation rather than only separation and dissolution were seen as options.” Moreover, he suggests that other groups will also benefit from plural marriage such as: elderly women who face a chronic shortage of men and the African Americans who are involved in man-sharing. 71

In 1987, a poll conducted by the student newspaper at the university of California at Berkeley asked the students whether they agreed that men should be allowed by law to have more than one wife in response to a perceived shortage of male marriage candidates in California. Almost all of the students polled approved of the idea. One female student even stated that a polyganous marriage would fulfil her emotional and physical needs while giving her greater freedom than a monogamous union. 72 In fact, this same argument is also used by the few remaining fundamentalist Mormon women who still practice polygamy in the U.S. They believe that polygamy is an ideal way for a woman to have both a career and children since the wives help each other care for the children. 73

It has to be added that polygamy in Islam is a matter of mutual consent. No one can force a woman to marry a married man. Besides, the wife has the right to stipulate that her husband must not marry any other woman as a second wife. 74 The Bible, on the other hand, sometimes resorts to forcible polygamy. A childless widow must marry her husband’s brother, even if he is already married (see the “Plight of Widows” section),regardless of her consent (Genesis 38:8-10).

It should be noted that in many Muslim societies today the practice of polygamy is rare since the gap between the numbers of both sexes is not huge. One can, safely, say that the rate of polygamous marriages in the Muslim world is much less than the rate of extramarital affairs in the West. In other words, men in the Muslim world today are far more strictly monogamous than men in the Western world.

Billy Graham, the eminent Christian evangelist has recognized this fact: “Christianity cannot compromise on the question of polygamy. If present-day Christianity cannot do so, it is to its own detriment. Islam has permitted polygamy as a solution to social ills and has allowed a certain degree of latitude to human nature but only within the strictly defined framework of the law. Christian countries make a great show of monogamy, but actually they practice polygamy. No one is unaware of the part mistresses play in Western society. In this respect Islam is a fundamentally honest religion, and permits a Muslim to marry a second wife if he must, but strictly forbids all clandestine amatory associations in order to safeguard the moral probity of the community.” 75

It is of interest to note that many, non-Muslim as well as Muslim, countries in the world today have outlawed polygamy. Taking a second wife, even with the free consent of the first wife, is a violation of the law. On the other hand, cheating on the wife, without her knowledge or consent, is perfectly legitimate as far as the law is concerned! What is the legal wisdom behind such a contradiction? Is the law designed to reward deception and punish honesty? It is one of the unfathomable paradoxes of our modern ‘civilised’ world.

THE VEIL

Finally, let us shed some light on what is considered in the West as the greatest symbol of women’s oppression and servitude, the veil or the head cover. Is it true that there is no such thing as the veil in the Judaeo-Christian tradition? Let us set the record straight. According to Rabbi Dr. Menachem M. Brayer (Professor of Biblical Literature at Yeshiva University) in his book, The Jewish woman in Rabbinic literature, it was the custom of Jewish women to go out in public with a head covering which, sometimes, even covered the whole face leaving one eye free. 76 He quotes some famous ancient Rabbis saying,” It is not like the daughters of Israel to walk out with heads uncovered” and “Cursed be the man who lets the hair of his wife be seen….a woman who exposes her hair for self-adornment brings poverty.” Rabbinic law forbids the recitation of blessings or prayers in the presence of a bareheaded married woman since uncovering the woman’s hair is considered “nudity”.77 Dr. Brayer also mentions that “During the Tannaitic period the Jewish woman’s failure to cover her head was considered an affront to her modesty. When her head was uncovered she might be fined four hundred zuzim for this offense.” Dr. Brayer also explains that veil of the Jewish woman was not always considered a sign of modesty. Sometimes, the veil symbolized a state of distinction and luxury rather than modesty. The veil personified the dignity and superiority of noble women. It also represented a woman’s inaccessibility as a sanctified possession of her husband. 78

The veil signified a woman’s self-respect and social status. Women of lower classes would often wear the veil to give the impression of a higher standing. The fact that the veil was the sign of nobility was the reason why prostitutes were not permitted to cover their hair in the old Jewish society. However, prostitutes often wore a special headscarf in order to look respectable. 79 Jewish women in Europe continued to wear veils until the nineteenth century when their lives became more intermingled with the surrounding secular culture. The external pressures of the European life in the nineteenth century forced many of them to go out bare-headed. Some Jewish women found it more convenient to replace their traditional veil with a wig as another form of hair covering. Today, most pious Jewish women do not cover their hair except in the synagogue. 80 Some of them, such as the Hasidic sects, still use the wig. 81

What about the Christian tradition? It is well known that Catholic Nuns have been covering their heads for hundreds of years, but that is not all. St. Paul in the New Testament made some very interesting statements about the veil:

“Now I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God. Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonours his head. And every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonours her head – it is just as though her head were shaved. If a woman does not cover her head, she should have her hair cut off; and if it is a disgrace for a woman to have her hair cut off or shaved off, she should cover her head. A man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but the woman is the glory of man. For man did not come from woman, but woman from man; neither was man created for woman, but woman for man. For this reason, and because of the angels, the woman ought to have a sign of authority on her head” (I Corinthians 11:3-10).

St. Paul’s rationale for veiling women is that the veil represents a sign of the authority of the man, who is the image and glory of God, over the woman who was created from and for man. St. Tertullian in his famous treatise ‘On The Veiling Of Virgins’ wrote, “Young women, you wear your veils out on the streets, so you should wear them in the church, you wear them when you are among strangers, then wear them among your brothers…” Among the Canon laws of the Catholic church today, there is a law that requires women to cover their heads in church. 82 Some Christian denominations, such as the Amish and the Mennonites for example, keep their women veiled to the present day. The reason for the veil, as offered by their Church leaders, is that “The head covering is a symbol of woman’s subjection to the man and to God”, which is the same logic introduced by St. Paul in the New Testament. 83

From all the above evidence, it is obvious that Islam did not invent the head cover. However, Islam did endorse it. The Quran urges the believing men and women to lower their gaze and guard their modesty and then urges the believing women to extend their head covers to cover the neck and the bosom:

“Say to the believing men that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty……And say to the believing women that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty; that they should not display their beauty and ornaments except what ordinarily appear thereof; that they should draw their veils over their bosoms….” (24:30,31).

The Quran is quite clear that the veil is essential for modesty, but why is modesty important? The Quran is still clear:

“O Prophet, tell your wives and daughters and the believing women that they should cast their outer garments over their bodies (when abroad) so that they should be known and not molested” (33:59).

This is the whole point, modesty is prescribed to protect women from molestation or simply, modesty is protection. Thus, the only purpose of the veil in Islam is protection. The Islamic veil, unlike the veil of the Christian tradition, is not a sign of man’s authority over woman nor is it a sign of woman’s subjection to man. The Islamic veil, unlike the veil in the Jewish tradition, is not a sign of luxury and distinction of some noble married women. The Islamic veil is only a sign of modesty with the purpose of protecting women, all women. The Islamic philosophy is that it is always better to be safe than sorry. In fact, the Quran is so concerned with protecting women’s bodies and women’s reputation that a man who dares to falsely accuse a woman of unchastity will be severely punished:

“And those who launch a charge against chaste women, and produce not four witnesses (to support their allegations)- Flog them with eighty stripes; and reject their evidence ever after: for such men are wicked transgressors” (24:4)

Compare this strict Quranic attitude with the extremely lax punishment for rape in the Bible:

” If a man happens to meet a virgin who is not pledged to be married and rapes her and they are discovered, he shall pay the girl’s father fifty shekels of silver. He must marry the girl, for he has violated her. He can never divorce her as long as he lives” (Deut. 22:28-30)

One must ask a simple question here, who is really punished? The man who only paid a fine for rape, or the girl who is forced to marry the man who raped her and live with him until he dies? Another question that also should be asked is this: which is more protective of women, the Quranic strict attitude or the Biblical lax attitude?

Some people, especially in the West, would tend to ridicule the whole argument of modesty for protection. Their argument is that the best protection is the spread of education, civilised behaviour, and self restraint. We would say: fine but not enough. If ‘civilization’ is enough protection, then why is it that women in North America dare not walk alone in a dark street – or even across an empty parking lot ? If Education is the solution, then why is it that a respected university like Queen’s has a ‘walk home service’ mainly for female students on campus? If self restraint is the answer, then why are cases of sexual harassment in the workplace reported on the news media every day? A sample of those accused of sexual harassment, in the last few years, includes: Navy officers, Managers, University professors, Senators, Supreme Court Justices, and the President of the United States! I could not believe my eyes when I read the following statistics, written in a pamphlet issued by the Dean of Women’s office at Queen’s University:

  • In Canada, a woman is sexually assaulted every 6 minutes,
  • 1 in 3 women in Canada will be sexually assaulted at some time in their lives,
  • 1 in 4 women are at the risk of rape or attempted rape in her lifetime,
  • 1 in 8 women will be sexually assaulted while attending college or university, and
  • A study found 60% of Canadian university-aged males said they would commit sexual assault if they were certain they wouldn’t get caught.

Something is fundamentally wrong in the society we live in. A radical change in the society’s life style and culture is absolutely necessary. A culture of modesty is badly needed, modesty in dress, in speech, and in manners of both men and women. Otherwise, the grim statistics will grow even worse day after day and, unfortunately, women alone will be paying the price. Actually, we all suffer but as K. Gibran has said, “…for the person who receives the blows is not like the one who counts them.” 84 Therefore, a society like France which expels young women from schools because of their modest dress is, in the end, simply harming itself.

It is one of the great ironies of our world today that the very same headscarf revered as a sign of ‘holiness’ when worn for the purpose of showing the authority of man by Catholic Nuns, is reviled as a sign of ‘oppression’ when worn for the purpose of protection by Muslim women.

What Is Wrong With This Picture?

Some glaring problems with our society (meaning the good ol USA).

1.  Unequal treatment (the rich get tax breaks the rest of us do not).

2.  Failure to care for our elderly and worse, now it looks like Social Security is under threat of extinction too.  What is an older person who has worked hard their whole life to contribute to this society, to do when he/she can no longer work?  How is an elderly person supposed to survive without a job and please don’t tell me a retiree plan because people are living longer and cost of living keeps going up. I already know there is no way in hell my retirement plan will keep me from having to live in a cardboard box.  What kind of nation doesn’t care for it’s sick or elderly?  Inquiring minds really want to know. And hey, what about all the money I paid into Social Security…involuntarily…since age 15? Or is theft committed against me by my government somehow just…okay?

3.  Failure to care for the sick or injured poor.  Do we really grant care for our fellow humans, only if they’re the priviledged few?  Say I have no insurance or I do have insurance but I can’t afford to have much so any kind of illness or injury involving an inpatient stay will put me in huge debt for the rest of my life–which likely might not be very long if I have any kind of health problem that can be aggravated by the tremendous stress huge bills I can’t possibly afford will cause.

4.  Short sightedness re. the failing environment and not making this a priority.  Let’s see.  Every year the tornados and hurricanes and weird weather at all the wrong times, keep getting worse. People are dying because there are tornados now where there shouldn’t be or really big tornados where once really big tornados were rare.  Entire towns or cities are being wiped out.    So come on!  How much longer do we go on blindly pretending global warming doesn’t exist?   Is knocking down more trees and more deforestation a good response to this disaster?  Killing even more of the struggling natural world we have left?  Or hey, how about pouring more crap into our oceans–see how well that solves the problem?

5.  Obesity among the growing poor and increasing medical costs as a result.    Ever notice how the cheaper food at the grocery store is always the stuff they say is bad for you?  Canned food.  Processed food.  Stuff loaded with tons of salt, sugars, or stuff impossible to pronounce.  But hey, if it’s all you can afford you’re going to buy it right?  It’s that or walk around hungry because anyone notice the price of  produce lately?   Fruits. Grains.  Nuts?  The stuff that’s good for you?  So does it follow that the more poor people we have, the more obesity we will have (and more overweight poor people unable to afford decent healthcare) as the price of the healthy food climbs ever higher–which it will, too, guarantee, as the number of farms decrease, and the percentage of acreage available for farming becomes less and less and of course the natural habitat left becomes less and less as we humans go right on wearing blinders. After all, God will one day just fix everything, yes?

6.  Uncle Sam or someone/something else?  I don’t know but it sure seems to me we haven’t had an independent thinker as president since Bill Clinton, who I personally think did one hell of a good job. How sad that he was impeached for being a sleeze.  Last time I checked it wasn’t a person’s religion or morality I was voting for to run my country or make things right.  I could care less if my president has the morals of a gutter rat so long as he/she gets the job done.   Considering how we thanked Bill Clinton for getting our deficit down to practically nill–the humiliation we put that man through, it seems to me we deserve the substandard leadership we’ve had in the White House ever since. 

Does it matter who we vote for, really?   We put a Democrat in office–he wants to pander to the Left and abandon all those lofty dreams of yes we can he preached before being elected.  We put a Republican in office–again the left has its way, because money talks and money rules and I’m sorry but I think government has become its own special interest group regardless of who we put at the helm.   And that’s another thing.  Is there a point to voting anymore?   When a president can lose the popular vote–and still be elected?  What is the point?  I live in Washington State and every four years I hear the victor’s name announced before all MY state’s votes are counted.  How is this going to make me feel there’s any point–or any say re. what happens to my country that, I’m sorry, I’m beginning not to recognize anymore?

7.  Since when is discrimination RIGHT?     And yet it is, isn’t it?  My Bank of America branch here in Seattle is managed by a hispanic person.  Is it mere coincidence that every last person I see working at this bank is either Asian, or hispanic, or black?  In the last four or more years I have not seen one white person working there.   And at the restaurant where I work my second job, all the cooks, all the dishwashers–they’re all hispanic.  Without exception.  And if I complete a job application at Walmart or Fred Meyer, the application will specifically ask if I’m of hispanic heritage.  Uh, why?  If I say yes I am, will I have a better chance at getting the job?   If yes, um…why?  Seeing only hispanics working at Mexican restaurants and only Asians working at Asian restaurants.  Isn’t this discrimination against anyone else who isn’t of that heritage?  Why is this permitable?  Or how about those places that only hire you if you’re good looking or young?  I know of a restaurant that only hires young women for hostesses.  Pretty young women.  Isn’t this discrimination?  And why is this okay?

Why is it okay that we only see attractive news reporters and sports reporters on TV?   What if a really ugly woman wanted to be a sports reporter?  Or hey, how about an obese one?  Would she remotely have a chance?  And isn’t this discrimination?  I remember sitting at a bar once and the men near me were commenting on how the female sports reporter had put on some weight.  Think this would be something they’d notice if said reporter was a man?

And speaking of… in the US where there should be an equal opportunity for all to obtain their dreams if they have enough gumption for it, how come single people can’t be president? It really seems to me you have to have a spouse, don’t you?  There has to be a First Lady, after all, or hey, maybe someday, a First Man?   And have you noticed lately the emphasis on our president’s religion?  People wondering if he’s a Muslim or not?  What about this?  What if he was?  Are only Christians allowed to be president? Can an atheist be president?  Or a Hindu?  Or a Wiccan?  Or is the seat of the presidency reserved for a Christian butt only?  Again, I’d really like to know.  Because this too seems like discrimination.  I’m a single atheist woman who doesn’t look like Sarah Palin, and my chances of being president–absolutely NILL!  

So that’s all.  Just feeling like having a rant.  There’s so much more I could list and maybe I will later, that I see wrong with this culture, and also how we look at the world.  When I was in HS I wrote an essay on why I thought human beings will ultimately be the cause of their own extinction.  My belief in this hasn’t changed.  In fact it’s only grown stronger.   And mostly because we tolerate double standards and walk around with blinders on.

Bible Morality or…????

http://freethoughtnation.com/contributing-writers/74-barbara-g-walker/649-bible-morality-or-depravity.html

 

Found the below on “FreeThought Nation” website:

Wednesday, 08 February 2012 16:40 Barbara G. Walker Contributing Writers Barbara G. Walker
E-mail Print PDF

(Following are biblical verses compiled by independent comparative religion scholar and Freethought Nation guestwriter Barbara G. Walker, concerning the supposed “morality” of the Bible. The paraphrases and commentary are Barbara’s, while the original verses are linked. For more of Barbara’s Bible investigations, see MAN MADE GOD, especially the section on Bible Studies.)

BIBLE MORALITY (King James Version)

Compiled by Barbara G. Walker, author of Man Made God, et al.

1. KILLING.  (As in “Thou shalt not”…???)

The biblical god personally kills a total of 371,186 people, not counting his slaughter of every living thing in Genesis 7. The biblical god also orders the killing of a total of 1,862,265.

Gen 22:2 – God accepts human sacrifices (including that of Jesus, later).
Ex 12:29 – God kills all the firstborn in the land of Egypt.
Ex 15:3 – God is a god of war.
Ex 21:15, 17 – Anyone who strikes or curses a parent must be killed.
Ex 22:18 – Every witch must be killed.
Ex 22:19, 20 – You must kill anyone who “lieth with a beast,” or who worships any god other than Yahweh.
Ex 31:15 – Anyone who works on the Sabbath must be killed.
Lev 20:10, 13, 27 – You must kill adulterers, homosexuals, wizards and spirit mediums.
Lev 21:9 – Any priest’s daughter who fornicates must be burned alive.
Lev 24:16 – Blasphemers must be killed.
Num 16:27-33 – God caused the whole tribe of Korah — men, women, and children — to be buried alive.
Num 21:3 – God caused the destruction of all the Canaanites.
Numbers 31: The slaugher of the MidianitesNum 31:7-35 – God orders Moses to kill the Midianites, making sure to slaughter not only the men but also the boys and females, except for the 32,000 virgin girls.
Deut 3:4 – God is pleased that his warriors destroyed 60 cities.
Deut 7:16 – You must kill all the people God delivers into your hands, and “thine eye shall have no pity upon them.”
Deut 13:5 – Any prophet or “dreamer of dreams,” who serves another god, must be killed.
Deut 13:6-9 – If your brother, son, daughter, wife, or friend tempts you to worship other gods, “thou shalt surely kill him.”
Deut 13:13-15 – If the people of any city worship other gods, you must slaughter them all, including their cattle.
Deut 17:5 – Any man or woman who worships other deities of sun, moon or stars must be stoned to death.
Deut 18:20 – False prophets must be killed.
Deut 20:16-17 – God commands complete destruction of all Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites, and “thou shalt save alive nothing that breatheth.”
Deut 22:21 – A bride found not to be a virgin must be stoned to death.
Deut 22:22 – Adulterers must be killed.
Deut 22:23-24 – A girl who is raped within city limits, and fails to cry out, must be killed.
Deut 28:22-28 – If you don’t obey God’s commandments, he will punish you with consumption, fever, extreme burning, blasting, mildew, hemorrhoids, the scab, the itch, the botch of Egypt, etc., as well as “madness, and blindness, and astonishment of heart.”
Josh 6:21 – God’s warriors destroyed Jericho and killed every man, woman, child, and domestic animal.
Josh 8:25 – God’s warriors killed 12,000 people in the city of Ai.
Josh 19:47 – The children of Dan wanted more room, so they destroyed the whole population of Leshen and took their territory.
Judges 1:17-18 – Judah and Simeon utterly destroyed the populations of Zephath, Gaza, Askelon and Ekron.
Judges 11:39 – In accord with God’s law, Jephthah was forced to burn his virgin daughter to death as a sacrifice.
Judges 15:15 – God enables Samson to kill 1,000 men with the jawbone of an ass.
Judges 20:46 – At Gibeah, Benjamin’s men killed 25,000 people and burned every town.
1 Sam 6:19 – God kills 50,070 people for trying to peek into the Ark.
1 Sam 15:3 – God commands the destruction of Amalek: “Slay both men and women, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass.”
2 Sam 6:7 – God kills Uzzah for touching the Ark, even though he was trying to save it from falling off its oxcart.
1 Kings 18:40 – God commands the slaughter of “prophets of Baal”.
1 Kings 20:36 –  Because a man didn’t “obey the voice of the Lord,” a lion was sent to kill him.
2 Kings 2:24 – God sent bears to tear apart 42 children for making fun of Elisha’s bald head.
2 Kings 10:25 – God commands the killing of a multitude in the temple of Baal.
2 Kings 19:35 – God’s angel killed 185,000 Assyrians in a single night.
1 Chron 21:14 – God kills 70,000 Israelites with a pestilence.
2 Chron 15:13 – Any man or woman who refuses to “seek the Lord God of Israel” must be killed.
Job 1:15-19 – God arranges the killing of Job’s children, servants and animals.
Isa 13:16 – God promises that all the Babylonians’ children will be “dashed to pieces before their eyes;” their wives will be raped.
Isa 45:7 – God says “I create evil.”
Jer 48:10 – Killing for God is mandatory; God curses anyone who “keepeth back his sword from blood.”
Jer 50:21 – God commands that the people of Merathaim and Pekod be “utterly destroyed.”
Ezek 9:5-7 – God calls for purging in Jerusalem: “let not your eye spare, neither have ye pity: slay utterly old and young, both maids and little children, and women… fill the courts with the slain.”
Ezek 35:8 – God promises to fill the mountains, hills, valleys and rivers with slain men.
Hosea 13:16 – God promises to have Samaritan infants dashed to pieces, and pregnant women will have their bellies slashed open.
Nahum 1:2 – God is jealous, full of vengeance and wrath.
Zeph 1:3 – God threatens to destroy everything, man and beast, birds and fishes.
Zeph 1:18 – “The whole land shall be devoured by the fire of his jealousy.”
Zeph 3:6 – God brags that he has destroyed many nations.
Zech 13:3 – A false prophet must be killed by his father and mother.

2. RAPE

Ex 21:7-8 – A father may sell his daughter to be a “maidservant” (or sex slave) who must “please her master.”
Num 31:7, 18 – God orders his warriors to kill every living thing in a captured city, except the virgin girls, who are to be raped and turned into sex slaves.
Deut 21:11-12 – If a warrior likes the look of a female war captive, he can take her to be one of his “wives.”
Deut 22:28-29 – A man who rapes a virgin may take her for a wife if he pays her father 50 shekels of silver. (Yet, a bride found not to be a virgin must be stoned to death – Deut 22:20-21).
Judges 5:30 – The spoils of war include “a damsel or two” for every man.
Judges 21:12-23 –  God’s warriors killed all the inhabitants of Jabeshgilead except for 400 virgin girls, who were taken as slaves. If there are not enough girls to go around, God’s warriors may raid neighboring towns for more to rape.

3. SLAVERY

Gen 9:25 – God cursed Ham, son of Noah, with perpetual slavery for the crime of seeing his father naked.  (Ham was formerly considered the ancestor of all “blacks.”)
Ex 21:4 – A male slave may marry and have children, and may go free after six years; but his family remains the property (or hostages?) of his master.
Ex 21:7 – A man may sell his daughter as a sex slave.
Ex 21:20-21 – A man may be punished for beating a male or female slave
to death, but if the victim survives the beating for a few days, then
there is no penalty.
Lev 19:20 – When a man has sex with a female slave (or “bondmaid”), SHE must be scourged.
Eph 6:5 – Paul says slaves must obey their masters “with fear and trembling.”
Titus 2:9 – Paul says slaves must obey and please their masters.
1 Tim 6:1 – Paul says slaves must “count their masters worthy of all honor.”

4. WAS JESUS ETHICAL?

Matt 5:28-32 – Jesus says marriage to a divorcee is adultery; and a man who ogles a woman has already committed adultery; and that you must cut off your hand or pluck out your eye if it offends.
Matt 6:19-34 – Jesus says don’t save any money and don’t plan ahead.
Matt 8:32 – Having no regard for private property, Jesus destroys a herd of someone else’s pigs.
Matt 10:34 – Jesus says he brings not peace on earth but “a sword.”
Matt 19:12 – Jesus says the best way for a man to be sure of getting into heaven is to have himself castrated.
Mark 11:13 – Jesus destroys a fig tree for not bearing figs out of season.
Mark 14:4-7 – Jesus says it is more important to anoint him with precious ointment than to give to the poor, who will always be here. (Why not just get rid of poverty?)
Mark 16:18 – Jesus says anyone who believes in him can play with venomous snakes or drink poison without harm. (This act has been often tried, with rather unsatisfactory results.)
Luke 12:47-48 – Jesus says it is permissible to whip slaves.
Luke 14:26 – Jesus says no man can be his disciple unless he hates his parents, siblings, wife, children, and himself as well.
Luke 19:27 – In telling a parable, Jesus insinuates that anyone who denies his rulership must be killed.
John 15:6 – Jesus says anyone who doesn’t believe in him must be burned.
Acts 5:5-10 –  Ananias and his wife Sapphira were killed for withholding money from the church.
2 John 1:10-11 – A Christian is forbidden to offer hospitality to a non-Christian, not even to wish him “Godspeed” on parting.

5. WOMEN IN THE NEW TESTAMENT

1 Cor 11:3-10 – Women are inferior “because man was not created for woman, but woman was created for man.”  Every woman “while praying or prophesying” must have her head covered “because of the angels,” meaning the spirits (it used to be believed that women’s hair attracts spirits).
1 Cor 14:34-35 – Women must not speak in church, which is a shame for them to do. If they want to ask questions, they must learn from their husbands at home.
Eph 5:22 – Wives must submit to their husbands as they would to God.
1 Tim 2:11-15 – A woman must not teach, or hold authority over a man, but must “learn in silence with all subjection,” because “Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression.”  (So, being gullible is the original sin.)
1 Tim 5:9 – Paul says the only women acceptable by the council of elders are devout, monogamous women over the age of sixty.

6. SILLINESS

Gen 1:11-19 – God made all green plants on the third day of creation, but neglected to supply the sun (on which both plants and “days” depend) until the fourth day.
Gen 6:6-7 – Because a few people displeased him, God “repented” having made the world, and decided to destroy all life on earth.
Lev 11:5-6 – God thinks rabbits are cud-chewing animals.
Deut 22:5 – All cross-dressers, or women who wear pants, are “abominations.”
Deut 25:11-12 – A woman who seizes a man’s genitals, even to defend her husband from an attacker, must have her hand cut off.
Deut 33:17 – God believes in unicorns.
Matt 5:22 – Jesus says anyone who calls another “fool” will go to hell, but then he does it himself (Matt 23:17).
1 Tim 2:9 – Christian women are forbidden to braid their hair or wear jewelry.
James 5:14-15 – Prayer by the elders of the church is the only sure cure for sickness.  (Christian Science, anyone?)

Which version of the Ten Commandments do you prefer from God’s inerrant Word?  Exodus 20, Exodus 34, Deuteronomy 5 or Deuteronomy 27?

The Bible & Seeing What You Want To See

Ever wonder what passages in the bible Hitler highlighted?   He was very serious about doing God’s work, and from what I read the German church regarded him as the embodiment of the holy spirit on Earth; they supported him.   So I suppose Hitler had a bible, and just like every other believer, went through and highlighted the verses he chose to believe as a way to justify it in his mind, he was doing God’s work.  Imagine his surprise when he died and found himself in hell.  For indeed if such a place did exist, he would be there, as would all people who did hurtful things to others and got away with it…which is probably why hell was dreamed up to begin with.

I had someone send me a link to some Christian website in response to my post where I listed a few contradictions of the bible.   Well, of course.  For every fifty verses I find describing wholesale slaughter and destruction ordered by or performed by God, the same few New Testament verses about how loving and merciful this god is, will be dredged up.   And that’s fine.  As someone else pointed out, it’s pointless and a waste of energy to try to argue or talk someone out of belief in myths.  I know it because for years people tried to point out the illogic to me.  I was only able to wake up to the non-highlighted bits in my bible, at my own time.  When my mind and heart were ready to see, I saw.

But it is interesting that the same book can contain verses commanding us to beat children with rods and stone our sons for being disobedient, can also create all these known interpretations of it like the Catholic interpretation, Presbyterian, Baptist, Protestant, Four Square, Lutheran, etc, etc., etc.   It just seems to me if God’s important message was so hugely important, it would be very clear, and only interpretable one way–the right way.  If our salvation was so important to God, why be so mysterious about it?   Why whisper it in our ears rather than thunder it across the skies?   Free will only works if we have choices, and I’m sorry but the vehicle God uses to get his good news across, is vague, contradictory, erroneous, misleading, and subject to being taken as a justification for good OR evil and everything in-between too.  If the message was so important to God that we hear it, if our salvation was so important to this loving God, I would think he’d make a point to be a lot clearer about it than this.  

Once upon a time hundreds of people died for daring to open the Ark of the Covenant.  Well, what about all these re-translated, mistranslated, translated into modern-speak versions of the bible from the original Hebrew?  God doesn’t mind his sacred word changed, deleted or rewritten?   And example– “the word interpreted as “virgin” in the bible is actually “young woman,” and yet everyone accepts the belief now that Mary was a virgin, and Jesus seeded in her womb by God.   In no place in the bible is Mary described as a virgin.  She’s described as a young woman.    This is a blunder that the church has been aware of for centuries and yet chooses to keep intact in the bible because so many people now accept this as part of the story as fact–conveniently used as evidence of Jesus’ heavenly origins.

Is the bible fact?  Did the disciples actually exist?   Did the disciples write the bible or some anonymous writers hired by the early Roman church and hiding behind fictionous pen names to give them credibility.   

I personally am amazed I dedicated thirty plus years of my life to something without first checking out how the book the whole religion is founded on, came to be.  In retrospect it seems it should have been my first undertaking.  Investigation.  Is it TRUE?   Before I dedicate my life to it.

 

 

Why do Jews Reject the Christian dogma of the


Virgin Birth?
(The Second Jewish Book Of Why)
(By Alfred Kolatch 1985)

    Based on Isaiah 7:14, Christians claim that the birth of Jesus was predicted long before the event. The verse reads, “Behold, the alma shall conceive and bear a son and shall call him Immanuel [literally, ‘God is with us’].” Although the Hebrew word alma literally means “young woman,” when the Gospel of Matthew (1:23) cites the verse from Isaiah, it translates Alma as “Virgin.” This translation is useful in supporting the contention that the miraculous birth of Jesus was predicted in the Old Testament.

   Jewish scholars reject the idea of the Virgin Birth because, they point out, in Isaiah 7:14 the word Alma is part of the Hebrew phrase ha-alma hara, meaning “the alma is pregnant.” Since the present tense is used, it is clear that the young woman was already pregnant and hence not a virgin. This being the case, the verse cannot be cited as a prediction of the future.

    Jewish scholars, supported by many Christian scholars, have also noted that the word alma in Isaiah 7:14 cannot mean “virgin” because elsewhere when the Bible wants to specify “virgin,” it uses the Hebrew word betula.

    When the Revised Standard Version of the Bible was issued in 1952, the words “young woman,” not the word “Virgin, were used for alma in its translation of Isaiah 7:14. This upset the Fundamentalist Christian community, which maintains that alma in Isaiah refers to the mother of Jesus, who conceived miraculously, without cohabitation with a man. These Fundamentalists expressed their vehement opposition to the new translation by holding burnings of the Revised Edition of the Bible.

Dear Theologian

This is from my favorite chapter in Dan Barker’s book, “Losing Faith in Faith.”   I found it online and thought I’d repost it here.  It’s long, but this chapter alone unraveled the last fraying strands of faith for me:

 

Losing Faith In Faith: From Preacher To Atheist by Dan Barker
Chapter 19


Dear Theologian

Dear Theologian,

I have a few questions, and I thought you would be the right person to ask. It gets tough sometimes, sitting up here in heaven with no one to talk to. I mean really talk to. I can always converse with the angels, of course, but since they don’t have free will, and since I created every thought in their submissive minds, they are not very stimulating conversationalists.

Of course, I can talk with my son Jesus and with the “third person” of our holy trinity, the Holy Spirit, but since we are all the same, there is nothing we can learn from each other. There are no well-placed repartees in the Godhead. We all know what the others know. We can’t exactly play chess. Jesus sometimes calls me “Father,” and that feels good, but since he and I are the same age and have the same powers, it doesn’t mean much.

You are educated. You have examined philosophy and world religions, and you have a degree which makes you qualified to carry on a discussion with someone at my level–not that I can’t talk with anyone, even with the uneducated believers who fill the churches and flatter me with endless petitions, but you know how it is. Sometimes we all crave interaction with a respected colleague. You have read the scholars. You have written papers and published books about me, and you know me better than anyone else.

It might surprise you to think that I have some questions. No, not rhetorical questions aimed at teaching spiritual lessons, but some real, honest-to-God inquiries. This should not shock you because, after all, I created you in my image. Your inquisitiveness is an inheritance from me. You would say that love, for example, is a reflection of my nature within yourself, wouldn’t you? Since questioning is healthy, it also comes from me.

Somebody once said that we should prove all things, and hold fast that which is good. My first question is this:

Where did I come from?

I find myself sitting up here in heaven, and I look around and notice that there is nothing else besides myself and the objects that I have created. I don’t see any other creatures competing with me, nor do I notice anything above myself that might have created me, unless it is playing hide-and-seek. In any event, as far as I know (and I supposedly know everything), there is nothing else but me in-three-persons and my creations. I have always existed, you say. I did not create myself, because if I did, then I would be greater than myself.

So where did I come from?

I know how you approach that question regarding your own existence. You notice that nature, especially the human mind, displays evidence of intricate design. You have never observed such design apart from a designer. You argue that human beings must have had a creator, and you will find no disagreement from me.

Then, what about me? Like you, I observe that my mind is complex and intricate. It is much more complex than your mind, otherwise I couldn’t have created your mind. My personality displays evidence of organization and purpose. Sometimes I surprise myself at how wise I am. If you think your existence is evidence of a designer, then what do you think about my existence? Am I not wonderful? Do I not function in an orderly manner? My mind is not a random jumble of disconnected thoughts; it displays what you would call evidence of design. If you need a designer, then why don’t I?

You might think such a question is blasphemy, but to me there is no such crime. I can ask any question I want, and I think this is a fair one. If you say that everything needs a designer and then say that not everything (Me) needs a designer, aren’t you contradicting yourself? By excluding me from the argument, aren’t you bringing your conclusion into your argument? Isn’t that circular reasoning? I am not saying I disagree with your conclusion; how could I? I’m just wondering why it is proper for you to infer a designer while it is not proper for me.

If you are saying that I don’t need to ask where I came from because I am perfect and omniscient while humans are fallible, then you don’t need the design argument at all, do you? You have already assumed that I exist. You can make such an assumption, of course, and I would not deny you the freedom. Such a priori and circular reasoning might be helpful or comforting to you, but it does me little good. It doesn’t help me figure out where I came from.

You say that I am eternally existent, and I suppose I would have no objection if I knew what it meant. It is hard for me to conceive of eternal existence. I just can’t remember back that far. It would take me an eternity to remember back to eternity, leaving me no time to do anything else, so it is impossible for me to confirm if I existed forever. And even if it is true, why is eternal greater than temporal? Is a long sermon greater than a short sermon? What does “greater” mean? Are fat people greater than thin people, or old greater than young?

You think it is important that I have always existed. I’ll take your word for it, for now. My question is not with the duration of my existence, but with the origin of my existence. I don’t see how being eternal solves the problem. I still want to know where I came from.

I can only imagine one possible answer, and I would appreciate your reaction. I know that I exist. I know that I could not have created myself. I also know that there is no higher God who could have created me. Since I can’t look above myself, then perhaps I should look below myself for a creator. Perhaps–this is speculative, so bear with me–perhaps you created me.

Don’t be shocked. I mean to flatter you. Since I contain evidence of design, and since I see no other place where such design could originate, I am forced to look for a designer, or designers, in nature itself. You are a part of nature. You are intelligent–that is what your readers say. Why should I not find the answer to my question in you? Help me out on this.

Of course, if you made me, then I could not have made you, I think. The reason that I think I made you is because you made me to think I made you. You have often said that a Creator can put thoughts in your mind. Isn’t it possible that you have put thoughts in my mind, and now here we are, both of us, wondering where we each came from?

Some of you have said that the answer to this whole question is just a mystery that only God understands. Well, thanks a lot. The buck stops here. On the one hand you use logic to try to prove my existence, but on the other hand, when logic hits a dead end, you abandon it and invoke “faith” and “mystery.” Those words might be useful to you as place-holders for facts or truth, but they don’t translate to anything meaningful as far as I am concerned. You can pretend that “mystery” signifies something terribly important, but to me it simply means you don’t know.

Some of you assert that I did not “come” from anywhere. I just exist. However, I have also heard you say that nothing comes from nothing. You can’t have it both ways. I either exist or I don’t. What was it that caused me to exist, as opposed to not existing at all? If I don’t need a cause, then why do you? Since I am not happy to say that this is a mystery, I must accept the only explanation that makes sense. You created me.

Is that such a terrible idea? I know that you think many other gods were created by humans: Zeus, Thor, Mercury, Elvis. You recognize that such deities originate in human desire, need, or fear. If the blessed beliefs of those billions of individuals can be dismissed as products of culture, then why can’t yours? The Persians created Mithra, the Jews created Yahweh, and you created me. If I am wrong about this, please straighten me out.

My second question is this:

What’s it all about?

Maybe I made myself, maybe some other god made me, maybe you made me–let’s put that aside for now. I’m here now. Why am I here? Many of you look up to me for purpose in life, and I have often stated that your purpose in life is to please me. (Read Revelation 4:11) If your purpose is to please me, what is my purpose? To please myself? Is that all there is to life?

If I exist for my own pleasure, then this is selfish. It makes it look as if I created you merely to have some living toys to play with. Isn’t there some principle that I can look up to? Something to admire, adore, and worship? Am I consigned for eternity to sit here and amuse myself with the worship of others? Or to worship myself? What’s the point?

I have read your writings on the meaning of life, and don’t misunderstand me, they make sense in the theological context of human religious goals, even if they don’t have much practicality in the real world. Many of you feel that your purpose in life is to achieve perfection. Since you humans fall way short of perfection, by your own admission (and I agree), then self improvement provides you with a quest. It gives you something to do. Someday you hope to be as perfect as you think I am. But since I am already perfect, by definition, then I don’t need such a purpose. I’m just sort of hanging out, I guess.

Yet I still wonder why I’m here. It feels good to exist. It feels great to be perfect. But it gives me nothing to do. I created the universe with all kinds of natural laws that govern everything from quarks to galactic clusters, and it runs okay on its own. I had to make these laws, otherwise I would be involved with a lot of repetitive busy work, such as pulling light rays through space, yanking falling objects down to the earth, sticking atoms together to build molecules, and a trillion other boring tasks more worthy of a slave than a master. You have discovered most of those laws, and might be on the verge of putting the whole picture together, and once you have done that you will know what I know: that there is nothing in the universe for me to do. It’s boring up here.

I could create more universes and more laws, but what’s the point? I’ve already done universes. Creation is like sneezing or writing short stories; it just comes out of me. I could go on an orgy of creation. Create, create, create. After a while a person can get sick of the same thing, like when you eat a whole box of chocolates and discover that the last piece doesn’t taste as good as the first. Once you have had ten children, do you need twenty? (I’m asking you, not the pope.) If more is better, then I am obligated to continue until I have fathered an infinite number of children, and an endless number of universes. If I must compel myself, then I am a slave.

Many of you assert that it is inappropriate to seek purpose within yourself, that it must come from outside. I feel the same way. I can’t merely assign purpose to myself. If I did, then I would have to look for my reasons. I would have to come up with an account of why I chose one purpose over another, and if such reasons came from within myself I would be caught in a loop of self-justified rationalizations. Since I have no Higher Power of my own, then I have no purpose. Nothing to live for. It is all meaningless.

Sure, I can bestow meaning on you–pleasing me, achieving perfection, whatever–and perhaps that is all that concerns you; but doesn’t it bother you, just a little, that the source of meaning for your life has no source of its own? And if this is true, then isn’t it also true that ultimately you have no meaning for yourself either? If it makes you happy to demand an external reference point on which to hang your meaningfulness, why would you deny the same to me? I also want to be happy, and I want to find that happiness in something other than myself. Is that a sin?

On the other hand, if you think I have the right and the freedom to find happiness in myself and in the things I created, then why should you not have the same right? You, whom I created in my image?

I know that some of you have proposed a solution to this problem. You call it “love.” You think I am lonely up here, and that I created humans to satisfy my longing for a relationship with something that is not myself. Of course, this will never work because it is impossible for me to create something that is not part of myself, but let’s say that I try anyway. Let’s say that I create this mechanism called “free will,” which imparts to humans a choice. If I give you the freedom (though this is stretching the word because there is nothing outside of my power) not to love me, then if some of you, a few of you, even one of you chooses to love me, I have gained something I might not have had. I have gained a relationship with someone who could have chosen otherwise. This is called love, you say.

This is a great idea, on paper. In real life, however, it turns out that millions, billions of people have chosen not to love me, and that I have to do something with these infidels. I can’t just un-create them. If I simply destroy all the unbelievers, I may as well have created only believers in the first place. Since I am omniscient, I would know in advance which of my creations would have a tendency to choose me, and this would produce no conflict with free will since those who would not have chosen me would have been eliminated simply by not having been created in the first place. (I could call it Supernatural Selection.) This seems much more compassionate than hell.

You can’t have a love relationship with someone who is not your equal. If you humans don’t have a guaranteed eternal soul, like myself, then you are worthless as companions. If I can’t respect your right to exist independently, and your right to choose something other than me, then I couldn’t love those of you who do choose me. I would have to find a place for all those billions of eternal souls who reject me, whatever their reasons might be. Let’s call it “hell,” a place that is not-God, not-me. I would have to create this inferno, otherwise neither I nor the unbelievers could escape each other. Let’s ignore the technicalities of how I could manage to create hell, and then separate it from myself, apart from whom nothing else exists. (It’s not as though I could create something and then simply throw it away–there is no cosmic trash heap.) The point is that since I am supposedly perfect, this place of exile must be something that is the opposite. It must be ultimate evil, pain, darkness, and torment.

If I created hell, then I don’t like myself.

If I did create a hell, then it certainly would not be smart to advertise that fact. How would I know if people were claiming to love me for my own sake, or simply to avoid punishment? How can I expect someone to love me who is afraid of me in the first place? The threat of eternal torment might scare some people into obedience, but it does nothing to inspire love. If you treated me with threats and intimidations, I would have to reconsider my admiration for your character.

How would you feel if you had brought some children into the world knowing that they were going to be tormented eternally in a place you built for them? Could you live with yourself? Wouldn’t it have been better not to have brought them into the world in the first place?

I know that some of you feel that hell is just a metaphor. Do you feel the same way about heaven?

Anyway, this whole love argument is wrong. Since I am perfect, I don’t lack anything. I can’t be lonely. I don’t need to be loved. I don’t even want to be loved because to want is to lack. To submit to the potential of giving and receiving love is to admit that I can be hurt by those who choose not to love me. If you can hurt me, I am not perfect. If I can’t be hurt, I can’t love. If I ignore or erase those who do not love me, sending them off to hell or oblivion, then my love is not sincere. If all I am doing is throwing the dice of “free will” and simply reaping the harvest of those who choose to love me, then I am a selfish monster. If you played such games with people’s lives, I would call you insensitive, conceited, insecure, selfish and manipulative.

I know you have tried to get me off the hook. You explain that Yours Truly is not responsible for the sufferings of unbelievers because rejection of God is their choice, not mine. They had a corrupt human nature, you explain. Well, who gave them their human nature? If certain humans decide to do wrong, where do they get the impulse? If you think it came from Satan, who created Satan? And why would some humans be susceptible to Satan in the first place? Who created that susceptibility? If Satan was created perfect, and then fell, where did the flaw of perdition come from? If I am perfect, then how in God’s name did I end up creating something that would not choose perfection? Someone once said that a good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit.

Here is the title for your next theological tome: Was Eve Perfect? If she was, she would not have taken the fruit. If she wasn’t, I created imperfection.

Maybe you think all of this gives me a purpose–putting Humpty Dumpty back together–but it actually gives me a headache. (If you won’t permit me a simple headache, then how can you allow me the pain of lost love?) I could not live with myself if I thought my actions were causing harm to others. Well, I shouldn’t say that. Since I think you created me, I suppose I should let you tell me what I could live with. If you think it is consistent with my character to tolerate love and vengeance concurrently, then I have no choice. If you are my creator, then I could spout tenderness out of one side of my mouth and brutality out of the other. I could dance with my lover on the bones of my errant children, and pretend to enjoy it. I would be very human indeed.

I have a thousand more questions, but I hope you will allow me one more:

How do I decide what is right and wrong?

I don’t know how I got here, but I’m here. Let’s just say that my purpose is to make good people out of my creations. Let’s say that I am to help you learn how to be perfect like me, and that the best way is for you to act just like me, or like I want you to act. You goal is to become little mirrors of myself. Won’t that be splendid? I’ll give you rules or principles, and you try to follow them. This may or may not be meaningful, but it will keep us both busy. I suppose that from your point of view this would be terribly meaningful, since you think I have the power to reward and punish.

I know that some of you Protestant theologians think that I give rewards not for good deeds, but simply for believing in my son Jesus who paid the punishment for your bad deeds. Well, Jesus spent only about thirty-six hours of an eternal life sentence in hell and is now back up here in ultimate coziness with me. Talk about a wrist-slap! He was not paroled for good behavior–he was simply released. (He had connections.) If my righteous judgment demanded absolute satisfaction, then Jesus should have paid the price in full, don’t you think?

Beyond that, it is entirely incomprehensible to me why you think I would accept the blood of one individual for the crime of another. Is that fair? Is that justice? If you commit a felony, does the law allow your brother to serve the jail sentence for you? If someone burglarized your home, would you think justice was served if a friend bought you new furniture? Do you really think that I am such a bloodthirsty dictator that I will be content with the death of anyone for the crime of another? And are you so disrespectful of justice that you would happily accept a stand-in for your crimes? What about personal responsibility? It is tough to open my arms to welcome believers into heaven who have avoided the rap for their own actions. Something is way out of kilter here.

But let’s ignore these objections. Let’s assume that Jesus and I worked it all out and that evil will be punished and good rewarded. How do I know the difference? You are insisting that I not consult any rule book. You are asking me to be the Final Authority. I must simply decide, and you must trust my decision. Am I free to decide whatever I want?

Suppose I decide that I would like you to honor me with a day of my own. I like the number seven, I don’t know why, maybe because it is the first useless number. (You never sing any hymns to me in 7/4 time.) Let’s divide the calendar into groups of seven days and call them weeks. For harmony, I’ll divide each lunar phase into roughly seven days. The last day of the week–or maybe the first day, I don’t care–I’ll set aside for myself. Let’s call it the Sabbath. This all feels good, so I suppose it is the right thing to do. I’ll make a law ordering you to observe the Sabbath, and if you do it then I will pronounce you good people. In fact, I’ll make it one of my Big Ten Commandments, and I’ll order your execution if you disobey. This all makes perfect sense, I don’t know why.

Help me out here. How am I supposed to choose what is moral? Since I can’t consult any authority, the thing to do, it appears, is to pick randomly. Actions will become right or wrong simply because I declare them to be so. If I whimsically say that you should not make any graven or molten images of “anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth,” then that is that. If I decide that murder is right and compassion is wrong, you will have to accept it.

Is that all there is to it? I just decide, willy-nilly, what is right and what is wrong? Or worse, I decide based on whatever makes me feel good? I have read in some of your literature that you denounce such self-centered attitudes.

Some of you say that since I am perfect, I can’t make any mistakes. Whatever I choose to be right or wrong will be in accordance with my nature, and since I am perfect, then my choices will be perfect. In any event, my choices will certainly be better than your choices, you feel. But what does “perfect” mean? If my nature is “perfect” (whatever it means), then I am living up to a standard. If I am living up to a standard, then I am not God. If perfection means something all by itself, apart from me, then I am constrained to follow its path. If, on the other hand, perfection is defined simply as conformity to my nature, then it doesn’t mean anything. My nature can be what it wants, and perfection will be defined accordingly. Do you see the problem here? If “perfection” equals “God,” then it is just a synonym for myself, and we can do away with the word. We could do away with either word, take your pick.

If I am perfect, then there are certain things that I cannot do. If I am not free to feel envy, lust, or malice, for example, then I am not omnipotent. I cannot be more powerful than you if you can feel and do things that I cannot.

Additionally, if you feel that God is perfect, by nature, what does “nature” mean? The word is used to describe the way things are or act in nature, and since you think I am above nature, you must mean something else, something like “character,” or “attributes.” To have a nature or character means to be one way and not another. It means that there are limits. Why am I one way and not another? How did it get decided that my nature would be what it is? If my “nature” is clearly defined, then I am limited. I am not God. If my nature has no limits, as some of you suggest, then I have no nature at all, and to say that God has such-and-such a nature is meaningless. In fact, if I have no limits, then I have no identity; and if I have no identity, then I do not exist.

Who am I?

This brings me back to the conundrum: if I don’t know who I am, then how can I decide what is right? Do I just poke around in myself until I come up with something?

There is one course I could pursue, and some of you have suggested this for yourselves. I could base my pronouncements on what is best for you humans. You people have physical bodies that bump around in a physical world. I could determine those actions that are healthy and beneficial for material beings in a material environment. I could make morality something material: something that is relative to human life, not to my whims. I could declare (by conclusion, not by edict) that harming human life is bad, and that helping or enhancing human life is good. This would be like providing an operation manual for something I designed and manufactured. It would require me to know all about human nature and the environment in which you humans live, and to communicate these ideas to you.

This makes a lot of sense, but it changes my task from one of determining morality to one of communicating morality. If morality is discovered in nature, then you don’t need me, except maybe to prod you along. I saw to it that you have capable minds with the ability to reason and do science. There is nothing mysterious about studying how humans interact with nature and with each other, and you should be able to come up with your own set of rules. Some of you tried this millennia before Moses. Even if your rules contradict mine, I couldn’t claim any higher authority than you. At least you would be able to give reasons for your rules, which I can only do by submitting to science myself.

If morality is defined by how human beings exist in nature, then you don’t need me at all. I am off the hook! From what I have read, most of you have your feet on the ground with no help from me. I could hand down some stone tablets containing what I think is right and wrong, but it would still be up to you to see if they work in the real world. I think we all agree that grounded reason is better than the whim of an ungrounded deity.

This is a wonderful approach, but what bothers me is that while this may help you know what is moral in your environment, it doesn’t help me much. I don’t have an environment. I’m out here flapping in the breeze. I envy you.

Nor does the humanistic approach help those of you who want morality to be rooted in something absolute, outside of yourselves. It must be frightening for you who need an anchor to realize that there is no bottom to the ocean. Well, it’s frightening for me also. I don’t have an anchor of my own. That’s why I’m asking for your help.

Thank you for reading my letter, and for letting me impose on your busy schedule. Please answer at your convenience. I have all the time in the world.

Sincerely,

Yours Truly


Testimony Against… (Dan Barker’s story)


I Just Lost Faith In Faith

This was my first article for Freethought Today. It ran in the June 1984 issue.

Religion is a powerful thing. Few can resist its charms and few can truly break its embrace. It is the siren who entices the wandering traveler with songs of love and desire and, once successful, turns a mind into stone. It is a Venus fly trap. Its attraction is like that of drugs to an addict who, wishing to be free and happy, becomes trapped and miserable.

But the saddest part of the dependency is the fact that most participants are willing victims. They think they are happy. They believe religion has kept its promises and have no desire to search elsewhere. They are deeply in love with their faith and have been blinded by that love–blinded to the point of unquestioning sacrifice.

I know this is true because I was one of Christ’s disciples for over nineteen years, and my subsequent self-excision was/is traumatically painful.

My Dad was a professional musician during the 1940’s. At one of his concerts he met a female vocalist and, as things go, they went (lucky for me). They got married and, when I was a toddler, they both found true religion. Dad threw away his collection of original Glenn Miller recordings (ouch!), turned his back on his former “sinful” life and enrolled in seminary to become a minister. He didn’t finish because of the strong demands of raising three boys. But he lived his faith through his family and through lay ministry in local churches.

My folks’ spirituality was so strong that they often found it hard to find a church that met their needs. So we church-hopped for many years. I can’t remember all the churches, but we were Baptists, Methodists, Nazarenes, Assemblies of God, Pentecostals, fundamentalist, evangelical, “Bible-believing” and charismatic.

For a number of years we formed a family musical team and ministered in many Southern California churches–nothing fantastic–Dad played trombone and preached, Mom sang solos, I played piano, my brothers tooted various instruments and we all joined in singing those famous gospel harmonies. It was a neat experience for us kids. My childhood was filled with love, fun and purpose. I felt truly fortunate to have been born into the “truth” and at the age of fifteen I committed myself to a lifetime of Christian ministry.

My commitment lasted nineteen years. It gave my life a feeling of purpose, destiny and fulfillment. I spent years trekking across Mexico in missionary work–small villages, jungles, deserts, large arenas, radio, television, parks, prisons and street meetings. I spent more years in traveling evangelism across the United States preaching and singing in churches, on street corners, house-to-house witnessing, college campuses and wherever an audience could be found.

I was a “doer of the word and not a hearer only.” I went to a Christian college, majored in Religion/Philosophy, became ordained and served in a pastoral capacity in three California churches. I personally led many people to Jesus Christ, and encouraged many young people to consider full-time Christian service.

I served for a while as librarian for Kathryn Kuhlman’s Los Angeles choir, observing the “miracles” first-hand. I was even instrumental in a few healings myself.

For a number of years I directed the “King’s Children,” a local Christian music group that performed quite extensively including a brief term of hosting a local Christian television show.

For fifteen years I worked with Manuel Bonilla, the leading Christian recording artist in the Spanish-speaking world. I was his main producer/arranger, and working with him gave me the opportunity to learn the skills to produce many more Christian albums, including some of my own.

I have written more than a hundred Christian songs which are either published or recorded by various artists, and two of my children’s musicals continue to be best sellers around the world. (“Mary Had A Little Lamb,” a Christmas musical, and “His Fleece Was White as Snow,” for Easter, both published and distributed by Manna Music. You can see the religious symbolism: Christ, the unspotted lamb of god who became the final sacrifice for sin.)

I could go on listing my Christian accomplishments, but I think you can see that I was very serious about my faith, and that I am quite capable of analyzing religion from the inside out.

Last Friday evening I directed a bible study in my own home. I opened it to all comers and announced that I would welcome all points of view with the purpose of examining the documents with skepticism rather than faith. The eight people who arrived (to my astonishment) were Christians who had been informed of my present atheistic stance and were curious about my intentions. My closest ally was my brother, a theistic agnostic [Darrell is now an activist freethinker]. One fellow, a theologian, informed me that his purpose in coming was to convert me back to the faith. (He failed.)

It was a fun, lively evening and much information was exchanged, but I noticed something interesting. They were more concerned about me and my atheism than they were about the bible. The discussion kept coming around to an analysis of my conversion from the faith. They were intrigued that someone who had been so strongly religious could so radically “stray” and not be ashamed. They kept probing for some deep psychological cause, some hidden disappointment, secret bitterness, temptation or pride. They were like spiritual doctors trying to remove a tumor or blinding cataract.

One fellow suggested I had been blinded by Satan–the Devil being so intimidated by my strong Christian witness that he needed to neutralize the enemy, get me out of commission. That was very flattering, but it misses the point.

The point here is that the merits of an argument do not depend on the character of the speaker. All arguments should be weighed for their own sake, based on their own evidences and logical consistencies.

Before the bible study even commenced one fellow said, “Dan, tell us what caused you to lose your faith.” So I told them.

I did not lose my faith, I gave it up purposely. The motivation that drove me into the ministry is the same that drove me out. I have always wanted to know. Even as a child I fervently pursued truth. I was rarely content to accept things without examination, and my examinations were intense. I was a thirsty learner, a good student, and a good minister because of that drive. I always took things apart and put them back together again.

Since I was taught and believed Christianity was the answer, the only hope for “man,” I dedicated myself to understanding all I possibly could. I devoured every book, every sermon, and the bible. I prayed, fasted and obeyed biblical teaching. I decided that I would lean my whole weight upon the truth of scripture. This attitude, I am sure, gave the impression that I was a notch above, that I could be trusted as a Christian authority and leader. Christians, eager for substantiation, gladly allowed me to assume a place of leadership and I took it as confirmation of my holy calling.

But my mind did not go to sleep. In my thirst for knowledge I did not limit myself to Christian authors but curiously desired to understand the reasoning behind nonChristian thinking. I figured the only way to truly grasp a subject was to look at it from all sides. If I had limited myself to Christian books I would probably still be a Christian today. I read philosophy, theology, science and psychology. I studied evolution and natural history. I read Bertrand Russell, Thomas Paine, Ayn Rand, John Dewey and others. At first I laughed at these worldly thinkers, but I eventually started discovering some disturbing facts–facts that discredited Christianity. I tried to ignore these facts because they did not integrate with my religious world view.

For years I went through an intense inner conflict. On the one hand I was happy with the direction and fulfillment of my Christian life; on the other hand I had intellectual doubts. Faith and reason began a war within me. And it kept escalating. I would cry out to God for answers, and none would come. Like the battered wife who clings to hope, I kept trusting that God would someday come through. He never did.

The only proposed answer was faith, and I gradually grew to dislike the smell of that word. I finally realized that faith is a cop-out, a defeat–an admission that the truths of religion are unknowable through evidence and reason. It is only undemonstrable assertions that require the suspension of reason, and weak ideas that require faith. I just lost faith in faith. Biblical contradictions became more and more discrepant, apologist arguments more and more absurd and, when I finally discarded faith, things became more and more clear.

But don’t imagine that was an easy process. It was like tearing my whole frame of reality to pieces, ripping to shreds the fabric of meaning and hope, betraying the values of existence. It hurt. And it hurt bad. It was like spitting on my mother, or like throwing one of my children out a window. It was sacrilege. All of my bases for thinking and values had to be restructured. Add to that inner conflict the outer conflict of reputation and you have a destabilizing war. Did I really want to discard the respect I had so carefully built over many years with so many important people?

I can understand why people cling to their faith. Faith is comforting. It provides many “answers” to life’s riddles. My Christian life was quite positive and I really see no external/cultural reason why I should have rejected it. I continue to share many of the same Christian values I was taught (though I would no longer call them “Christian”–they are my values); and many of my close friends are decent Christian individuals whom I love and respect.

Christians feel deeply that their way of life is the best possible. They feel their attitude toward the rest of the world is one of love. That’s how I felt. I couldn’t understand why people would be critical of Christianity unless they were inwardly motivated by “worldly” Satanic influences. I pretended to love all individuals while hating the “sin” that was in them, like Christ supposedly did. (We were taught that Christ was the most loving example.)

It was a mystery to me how anyone could be blind to the truths of the Gospel. After all, don’t we all want love, peace, happiness, hope and meaning in life? Christ was the only answer, I believed, and I figured all nonChristians must be driven by other things, like greed, lust, evil pride, hate and jealousy. I took the media’s caricature of the world’s situation as evidence of that fact. For me to grow into one of those godless creatures was almost impossible, and I resisted all the way. (I have since discovered that ethics has nothing to do with religion, at least not in positive correlation.)

There was no specific turning point for me. I one day just realized that I was no longer a Christian, and a few months later I mustered the nerve to advertise that fact. That was last January, six months ago. Since then I have been bombarded by all my caring friends and relatives. I appreciate their concern and I sincerely wish to keep a dialogue open.

As an example, while I was typing this article I received a long distance call from a former Christian friend who had heard about my “defection.” It is hard to handle calls like that. She was stunned, and I am certain that she is at this very moment in prayer for me, or calling others to join in prayer. I love this person, I respect her and do not wish to cause any undue harm. She told me that she had read an article I wrote to my local paper. (How it got to her area is a mystery.) I understand her concern and sympathize with her since I know exactly what she is thinking.

I was a preacher for many years, and I guess it hasn’t all rubbed off. I would wish to influence others who may be struggling like I did–influence them to have the guts to think. To think deliberately and clearly. To take no fact without critical examination and to remain open to honest inquiry, wherever it leads.


Freewill Argument for the Nonexistence of God

The Freewill Argument
for the Nonexistence of God

By Dan Barker

This article in Farsi.

The Christian God is defined as a personal being who knows everything. According to Christians, personal beings have free will.

In order to have free will, you must have more than one option, each of which is avoidable. This means that before you make a choice, there must be a state of uncertainty during a period of potential: you cannot know the future. Even if you think you can predict your decision, if you claim to have free will, you must admit the potential (if not the desire) to change your mind before the decision is final.

A being who knows everything can have no “state of uncertainty.” It knows its choices in advance. This means that it has no potential to avoid its choices, and therefore lacks free will. Since a being that lacks free will is not a personal being, a personal being who knows everything cannot exist.

Therefore, the Christian God does not exist.


Some people deny that humans have free will; but all Christians claim that God himself, “in three persons,” is a free personal agent, so the argument holds.

Others will object that God, being all-powerful, can change his mind. But if he does, then he did not know the future in the first place. If he truly knows the future, then the future is fixed and not even God can change it. If he changes his mind anyway, then his knowledge was limited. You can’t have it both ways: no being can be omniscient and omnipotent at the same time.

A more subtle objection is that God “knows” what he is going to do because he always acts in accordance with his nature, which does not diminish his free agency. God might claim, for example, that he will not tell a lie tomorrow–because he always tells the truth. God could choose outside of his nature, but he never does.

But what does “nature of God” mean? To have a nature is to have limits. The “nature” that restricts humans is our physical environment and our genetics; but the “nature” of a supernatural being must be something else. It is inappropriate to say that the “nature” of a being without limits bears the same relationship to the topic of free will that human nature does.

Free will requires having more than one option, a desire to choose, freedom to choose (lack of obstacles), power to accomplish the choice (strength and aptitude), and the potential to avoid the option. “Strength and aptitude” puts a limit on what any person is “free” to do. No human has the free will to run a one-minute mile, without mechanical aid. We are free to try, but we will fail. All of our choices, and our desires as well, are limited by our nature; yet we can still claim free will (those of us who do) because we don’t know our future choices.

If God always acts in accordance with his nature (whatever that means), then he still must have more than one viable option that does not contradict his nature if he is to claim free will. Otherwise, he is a slave to his nature, like a robot, and not a free personal agent.

What would the word “option” mean to a being who created all options?

Some say that “free will” with God does not mean what it means with humans. But how are we to understand this? What conditions of free will would a Christian scrap in order to craft a “free agency” for God? Multiple options? Desire? Freedom? Power? Potential to avoid?

Perhaps desire could be jettisoned. Desire implies a lack, and a perfect being should lack nothing. But it would be a very strange “person” with no needs or desires. Desire is what prompts a choice in the first place. It also contributes to assessing whether the decision was reasonable. Without desire, choices are willy-nilly, and not true decisions at all. Besides, the biblical god expressed many desires.

No objection saves the Christian God: he does not exist. Perhaps a more modest deity can be imagined: one that is not both personal and all-knowing, both all-knowing and all-powerful, both perfect and free. But until a god is defined coherently, and then proven to exist with evidence and sound reasoning, it is sensible not to think that such a being exists.


Dan Barker is PR Director of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, and author of Losing Faith In Faith: From Preacher To Atheist.

Losing Faith In Faith by former minister Dan Barker

I have this book, and in fact Mr. Barker’s writings, along with others, have given me the key to unlocking my chains.  One of my favorite bits in his book, “Losing Faith in Faith,” I found online and thought I’d post below:


Dear Believer

The following open letter was reprinted from Losing Faith in Faith (1992).

by Dan Barker


D
ear Believer,

You asked me to consider Christianity as the answer for my life. I have done that. I consider it untrue, repugnant, and harmful.

You expect me to believe Jesus was born of a virgin impregnated by a ghost? Do you believe all the crazy tales of ancient religions? Julius Caesar was reportedly born of a virgin; Roman historian Seutonius said Augustus bodily rose to heaven when he died; and Buddha was supposedly born speaking. You don’t believe all that, do you? Why do you expect me to swallow the fables of Christianity?

I find it incredible that you ask me to believe that the earth was created in six literal days; women come from a man’s rib; a snake, a donkey, and a burning bush spoke human language; the entire world was flooded, covering the mountains to drown evil; all animal species, millions of them, rode on one boat; language variations stem from the tower of Babel; Moses had a magic wand; the Nile turned to blood; a stick turned into a snake; witches, wizards, and sorcerers really exist; food rained from the sky for 40 years; people were cured by the sight of a brass serpent; the sun stood still to help Joshua win a battle, and it went backward for King Hezekiah; men survived unaided in a fiery furnace; a detached hand floated in the air and wrote on a wall; men followed a star which directed them to a particular house; Jesus walked on water unaided; fish and bread magically multiplied to feed the hungry; water instantly turned into wine; mental illness is caused by demons; a “devil” with wings exists who causes evil; people were healed by stepping into a pool agitated by angels; disembodied voiced spoke from the sky; Jesus vanished and later materialized from thin air; people were healed by Peter’s shadow; angels broke people out of jail; a fiery lake of eternal torment awaits unbelievers under the earth … while there is life-after-death in a city which is 1,500 miles cubed, with mansions and food, for Christians only.

If you believe these stories, then you are the one with the problem, not me. These myths violate natural law, contradict science, and fail to correspond with reality or logic. If you can’t see that, then you can’t separate truth from fantasy. It doesn’t matter how many people accept delusions inflicted by “holy” men; a widely held lie is still a lie. If you are so gullible, then you are like the child who believes the older brother who says there is a monster in the hallway. But there is nothing to be afraid of; go turn on the light and look for yourself.

If Christianity were simply untrue I would not be too concerned. Santa is untrue, but it is a harmless myth which people outgrow. But Christianity, besides being false, is also abhorrent. It amazes me that you claim to love the god of the bible, a hateful, arrogant, sexist, cruel being who can’t tolerate criticism. I would not want to live in the same neighborhood with such a creature!

The biblical god is a macho male warrior. Though he said “Thou shalt not kill,” he ordered death for all opposition, wholesale drowning and mass exterminations; punishes offspring to the fourth generation (Ex. 20:5); ordered pregnant women and children to be ripped up (Hos. 13:16); demands animal and human blood to appease his angry vanity; is partial to one race of people; judges women to be inferior to men; is a sadist who created a hell to torture unbelievers; created evil (Is. 45:7); discriminated against the handicapped (Lev. 21:18-23); ordered virgins to be kept as spoils of war (Num. 31:15-18, Deut. 21:11-14); spread dung on people’s faces (Mal. 2:3); sent bears to devour 42 children who teased a prophet (II Kings 2:23-24); punishes people with snakes, dogs, dragons, drunkenness, swords, arrows, axes, fire, famine, and infanticide; and said fathers should eat their sons (Ez. 5:10). Is that nice? Would you want to live next door to such a person?

And Jesus is a chip off the old block. He said, “I and my father are one,” and he upheld “every jot and tittle” of the Old Testament law. Mt. 5:18 He preached the same old judgment: vengeance and death, wrath and distress, hell and torture for all nonconformists. He believed in demons, angels and spirits. He never denounced the subjugation of slaves or women. Women were excluded as disciples and as guests at his heavenly table. Except for hell he introduced nothing new to ethics or philosophy. He was disrespectful of his mother and brothers; he said we should hate our parents and desert our families. Mt. 10:35-36, Lk. 14:26 (So much for “Christian family life.”) He denounced anger, but was often angry himself. Mt. 5:22, Mk. 3:5 He called people “fools” (Mt. 23:17,19), “serpents,” and “white sepulchers,” though he warned that such language puts you in danger of hellfire. Mt. 5:22 He said “Think not that I am come to send peace on earth. I came not to send peace, but a sword.” Mt. 10:34 (So much for “Peace on Earth.”) He irrationally cursed and withered a fig tree for being barren out of season. Mt. 21:19 He mandated burning unbelievers. Jn. 15:6 (The Church has complied with relish.) He stole a horse. Lk. 19:30-33 He told people to cut off hands, feet, eyes and sexual organs. Mt. 5:29-30, 19:12 You want me to accept Jesus, but I think I’ll pick my own friend, thank you.

One of Jesus’s many contradictions was saying good works should be seen, and not seen. Mt. 5:16, 6:1-4 One of his mistakes was saying that the mustard plant has the smallest seed. Mt. 13:31-32 The writers of Matthew and Luke could not even get his genealogy straight, contradicting the Old Testament, and giving Jesus two discrepant lines through Joseph, his non-father!

I also find Christianity to be morally repugnant. The concepts of original sin, depravity, substitutionary forgiveness, intolerance, eternal punishment, and humble worship are all beneath the dignity of intelligent human beings and conflict with the values of kindness and reason. They are barbaric ideas for primitive cultures cowering in fear and ignorance.

Finally, Christianity is harmful. More people have been killed in the name of a god than for any other reason. The Church has a shameful, bloody history of Crusades, Inquisitions, witch-burnings, heresy trials, American colonial intolerance, disrespect of indigenous traditions (such as American Indians), support of slavery, and oppression of women. Modern “fruits” of religion include the Jonestown massacre, the callous fraud of “faith healers,” recent wars and ethnic cleansing, and fighting in Northern Ireland. Religion also poses a danger to mental health, damaging self-respect, personal responsibility, and clarity of thought.

Do you see why I do not respect the biblical message? It is an insulting bag of nonsense. You have every right to torment yourself with such insanity — but leave me out of it. I have better things to do with my life.