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That "Lam" was some sort of entity summoned by Crowley is a bit of 'common knowledge' in these esoteric online circles, even appearing on the wikipedia page for "grey alien." The idea seems to have originated with Kenneth Grant, but in fact it's probably a stylized self-portrait of Crowley's like many others he produced.

Imagine the following hypothetical movie:

The protagonist is a middle aged white divorcee, whose ex-wife has unjustly poisoned his daughter against him, leaving him with very little to live for. He is very bitter about the state of the modern world, and believes America has gone down the tubes. Finally, he snaps, and with the help of a female accomplice, goes on a cross-country Natural Born Killers type murder spree, mowing down all the people he blames for the deterioration of society. And it's not a dark Oscar bait psychological drama, it's a light-hearted comedy that encourages the audience to cheer on the bloodshed.

First of all, such a movie would almost certainly never be made. Second of all, if by some miracle it was, it would be abundantly clear to everyone that it was shamelessly partisan wish-fulfillment produced by particularly bitter, particularly edgy right-wingers.

In fact, such a movie does exist. It's called God Bless America and it came out in 2011. But no one who saw it when it came out would have mistaken it for a right-wing manifesto; just the opposite, the Bush-era liberalism of the film's creators is so unabashedly on display that it feels like a screed from the other side.

I saw this movie back then when I was in middle school. Most of the politics went over my head, and I enjoyed it on the level that most teenage boys enjoy movies where a lot of people get shot. I rewatched it recently and found it fascinating what a political time capsule it is.

The protagonist, Frank, is exactly as I've described him above. While "middle-aged white man who thinks America sucks now" is a wholly and purely conservative caricature in 2023, the film is almost totally on his side. In the opening scenes, before Frank embarks on his killing spree, he gets to deliver a few author-insert monologues about how society has gone to hell. This scene is pretty interesting. "What happened to America?" is firmly right-coded, but the things Frank is angry about in particular are things that 2000s liberals didn't like. He's ranting about the vulgarity of "gay-bashing" and "xenophobic" radio shock jocks, which he views as emblematic of the decline.

What finally sets him off, is he gets a terminal cancer diagnosis. Since his life already sucks in every other way, he decides to commit suicide, but while he's about to shoot himself in front of his TV, one of those "Sweet 16" reality shows that were big a few years ago comes on, and he finds Chloe, the bratty, spoiled star so annoying that he decides to kill her first. So he tracks her down to her school and murders her, and then goes back home to commit suicide.

However, one of Chloe's classmates, Roxy, who also hated Chloe, witnesses the murder. She follows Frank home and ultimately convinces him that there are so many more people who need to die. So together they embark on their killing spree.

Not all of Roxy and Frank's targets are political (for example, people who won't shut up at the movies, and inconsiderate drivers), but filmmakers' politics come through pretty clearly when they mow down thinly-veiled stand-ins of the Westboro Baptist Church and a thinly-veiled stand-in for Limbaugh/Hannity type conservative commentators.. In the finale, they go down in a blaze of glory while shooting up a thinly-veiled 'American Idol' stand-in show.

This wasn't a monster hit or anything, and as far as I know it got pretty mixed reviews when it came out. But I think it's sort of fascinating in that filmmakers with the same politics, apparently mainstream US liberal, would never make a movie like this today.

The basic premise of likable spree shooters you're supposed to root just wouldn't fly now for one. Which is interesting on its own. Mass shooters have been present in the national consciousness for decades, but this sort of plot feels more taboo than it would have been even a decade ago. Nowadays "spree-shooter" is more likely to suggest in the popular imagination a political extremist, while back then it was more something that people just did because they were nuts or because they had personal grievances at work or school.

Frank's murderous hatred of modern American society and longing for the good old days, even if the specific things he calls out are things liberals think are bad, is much more firmly right-coded now. And some of the specifics, such as railing about consumerism and the shallowness of modern entertainment, have also become more common on the right over the past couple of years.

When Frank kills Chloe, we're supposed to get some cathartic enjoyment out of it, because who doesn't hate reality TV stars? Nowadays with sexual harassment having so much more salience in political discourse, I doubt any director would film a scene where a middle-aged man murders a teenage girl because she's just so vapid and annoying, and portray him as the good guy in the situation.

There are a bunch of jokes through the movie about how Roxy and Frank are totally not fucking, which would be unlikely now for the very same reason.

Watching this movie in the 2020s is a very bizarre experience for me. It was like a time machine. I don't have any more conclusions to draw from this, just that it's interesting how strongly art can reflect culture, and how strange those reflections can look a few years down the line.

The first thing I think when I see it is that I wonder what the endgame is supposed to be. I think that people who have fun saying it usually intend it as some kind of polemic call to men to DO BETTER. I can't help but notice that this often comes coincident with a political framework that generally rejects not just the morality but the pragmatic efficacy of such a posture—but I suppose that by itself doesn't necessarily prove anything. I have an even harder time understanding people who say it with a rightward perspective.

Well I don't mean it in a smug "sucks to be a man!" way. And I consider myself a liberal so I don't mean it in a twitter fash "women should be property!" way. It just seems to me to be the case.

How exactly are we supposed to have healthy family formation in a future where this is true?

We're probably not. But I don't mourn its loss. I don't think the family is some beautiful, mystical union handed down by a beneficent God--it was a jury-rigged institution that persisted because it was the only apparent way to keep civilization from imploding, and was at least tolerable for a plurality of people. My personal experience is that huge numbers of couples, possibly an outright majority, end up resenting each other. I see little reason to think it was different in the past. Modernity is unpleasant in a lot of ways, including the one we're talking about, but it's far from clear to me that it's worse than what it supplanted. "RETVRN to coupling with someone who doesn't really like you all that much but will put up with you and raise a couple of kids" doesn't exactly inspire me. I guess it's 'healthy' insofar as it reproduced the status quo, but was the status quo all that worth reproducing? If that's the best we can aspire to, we might as well just blow the whole thing up.

What I really want to say is something like "wow, with all this porn and sex dolls, women can't just coast into success with men just by having a moist hole anymore"

Well you've phrased it crudely but is it not empirically the case that many men are replacing real-life relationships with porn? And if we really do get hyper-realistic AI companions in the near future, well...

Now maybe this is all just me. I can't relate to anything in the article OP posted because. Maybe because I don't consider myself particularly masculine, so it has never been a source of angst for me. I have never felt this drive for purpose and achievement that is apparently endemic to modern young men. I don't have the yearning for male spaces or brotherhood. I have never once in my life felt the urge to be a husband or a father. I feel less than no desire to ever be anyone's provider and protector, and the relationships I've been in, romantic and platonic, have shown me that the fastest way to make me to resent somebody is to be responsible for their wellbeing, material or emotional.

If you read history, you'll find that religion was extremely central to premoderns' conceptions of the world.

Definitely, but I think in a mostly non-transcendental way.

Horoscopes were read, not just as 'a bit of fun' but as a serious guide to social action. Spells were cast to ward off dangers. Amulets were worn as protection against ailments. Holy relics were venerated and used as sources of magical powers. Belief in the Devil was strong and widespread, as was the corresponding belief that the church had the power to protect against evil: 'People wanted their houses blessed, their fields blessed, their food blessed, their weapons blessed...

Religion was and is for most people, a very functional and indeed, material thing.

As for theology, canon law, universities—very much minority affairs.

Do you truly believe you can reduce the tens of thousands of years humans have spent contemplating God, building great works, fighting massive wars, and the general whole of human experience down to someone's sexual market value?

No, but I think the vast majority of people never did any of those things. I think evopsych is often silly just-so stories, but it seems undeniable humans are largely driven by sex.

Without some larger mission, most men aren't going to be motivated whatsoever. Men need a reason to exist.

For the vast majority of human history the vast majority of men (and women) have been beasts of burden. All this stuff about men needing adventure or heroism elides the fact that only a tiny minority of men have ever been heroes or adventurers. Working as a cashier at Walgreens is not significantly more monotonous or miserable than year-round farmwork.

What has changed significantly in the last century or two for men is that simply surviving childhood and not being a criminal or an imbecile is no longer enough to guarantee a wife and kids. To the extent men used to have any kind of higher “purpose” or “mission” I guess it was that. It’s not like (99% of) premoderns were sitting around philosophizing about Faith and transcendental values. This is not because of feminism or liberalism or atheism (as can be seen by the same issues developing in countries much more conservative than the west) but pretty straightforwardly a consequence of modern industrial civilization, which means individual women no longer have to rely on individual men for economic and physical security. When Jane doesn’t have to choose between starvation and prostitution on the one hand and marrying John on the other, she’s not going to marry John.

Physical and economic security is increasingly provided by ever-smaller groups of ‘specialists’ who keep the lights on and the barbarians out (and who may be mostly men, but are certainly not most men). That goes for all of us of course, which is why nobody knows how to fight or farm anymore.

No amount of social engineering, whether right-wing fantasies of restoring traditional masculinity, or left-wing ideas of building a new positive masculinity or whatever, is going to change that. There’s no cosmic law that says there has to be a solution.

This is getting spicy. Previously, many people explained away Kirkpatrick's denial of any knowledge of reverse-engineering programs by insisting he simply did not have the clearance necessary to check. But during the hearing, Grusch confirmed (though unfortunately he was cut off before he could finish by Congresswoman Foxx going on a mostly unrelated rant) that Kirkpatrick has interviewed some of the same alleged witnesses he has interviewed. Yet Kirkpatrick is on the record as stating that AARO has yet to uncover any verifiable evidence of these reverse-engineering programs. So somebody is lying.

Sure, but if I'm just making up my own ideal eternal existence and deciding to believe in it I don't know if that really counts as 'religious.'

Same. I always hated the idea of living forever, even in paradise. It used to give me panic attacks as a kid. There's an idea that stories about the horror of immortality are just cope because we know we're going to die anyways, so we pretend it's a good thing, but for me it's very real. I have never found the idea of ceasing to exist too frightening (though it's a little creepy), though some people find it utterly terrifying. The only thing that frightens me about death is the possibility that it's not the end.

Depends on whether the idea of life after death makes you feel better. Not so for me.

Yes it was probably Hitler just blowing off of steam, but his disdain for "reactionaries" was very real.

Jesus is crucified. Later, he is taken down and buried in an ordinary grave in a potter’s field. Because he was executed as a criminal, his grave is not marked, making later identification nearly impossible.

Most of his followers scatter. The disciples, Jesus ‘inner circle,’ return to Galilee (it appears that the earliest tradition is that Jesus first appeared to his disciples in Galilee).

A few days later, Mary Magdalene, a woman subject to visionary experiences (she was once possessed by demons), goes to the market. Moving through the crowd, she is sure she sees Jesus’ face among the multitude. She calls out to him, but he is gone.

She goes to her friends, and tell them what she has seen. They don’t really believe her. “Sure, Mary. Go home and get some rest.” But it plants a seed of doubt in some. She’s obviously seeing this—but what if she isn’t?

A few days after this, Peter has his own experience. It’s late at night, and he is grieving the death of his master, wondering if he really threw his life away, if everything Jesus said about the resurrection and the kingdom was false, and if there’s any hope at all. Then, in a flash, there’s Jesus, alive and well, standing a few feet away. Peter knows sometimes shades walk the earth, but this can’t be that, because it’s just so real. He feels like he can reach out and touch him. It’s so vivid. And he remembers what Mary said. In a moment he knows in his heart that Jesus is really here, alive again, standing before him, and he will never doubt it for the rest of his life. Jesus says his name, and tells him not to fear. Peter calls out, “lord, lord!” but Jesus is gone.

He rushes to his friends and tells them what he has seen. They desperately want it to be true. If Jesus is really raised, then he can still be the messiah. And if he’s still the messiah, then the kingdom is still coming, and there’s still hope. And why not? If God can raise all the dead, why can’t he raise his chosen one a little ahead of schedule?

Some can’t bring themselves to believe. They say, “sorry, Peter, you’ve lost it. Jesus is dead. It’s over. We’re going home.” These people disappear from history. But those who remain search the scriptures. And they find it right there in Isaiah, the servant who was crushed for our iniquities, and yet whose day will be prolonged, who will receive a portion with the great. They find it in the psalms; “you will not allow your holy one to see corruption.” It is true! The lord has truly risen and appeared to Simon. Hallelujah!

So those who believe Peter (who is not lying, or deceiving anyone, but himself believes with all his heart) become the first Christians.

And the rest is history.

The primary objection is that the disciples just wouldn’t be that gullible, wouldn’t believe on such flimsy evidence, like a single, fleeting vision of a single man. This is also an objection that has been made by Christian apologists such as NT Wright and Mike Licona. On that I simply disagree. I don't think we can know the minds and psychologies of the disciples well enough to say what would or would not have been convincing to them. These men were not necessarily hard-nosed rationalist skeptics, they were men who had followed a charismatic prophet hoping he truly heralded the kingdom of God, and whose hopes had just been brutally dashed, and who may very well have been desperate for any slender reason to believe that they hadn’t followed Jesus for years in vain (think the Millerites on the morrow of the Great Disappointment).

So where do the elaborate stories in the gospels come from?

Imagine this:

A third generation Christian (someone who was converted by someone who was converted by the apostles) is preaching. He says, “and Jesus was raised from the dead by God, and he appeared to his disciples.”

One of his listeners asks, “wow, he appeared to all of them?”


“At the same time?”


Ten, twenty, thirty years later, after these stories have circulated and grown, ‘Matthew’ sits down with a copy of the gospel of Mark in front of him, intending to write his own, better gospel. He goes line by line, changing or tweaking things he doesn’t like. Then he gets to the end. Mark has no resurrection appearances, and this is entirely unsatisfying to ‘Matthew.’ He has to write some. He knows Jesus appeared to the disciples in Galilee, but he’s unsure of the details. So he puts pen to paper and exercises his imagination…

You can say, “this is all speculation,” which is fair, but two points:

First, the only alternative to some speculation is simply to take the gospels entirely at face value (something that should not be done with any historical document). But if we are trying to prove or disprove the resurrection, than we cannot assume what we’re trying to prove, that the gospels are reliable historical accounts.

Second, I think there is some evidence that the accounts in the gospels are not faithful recollections of the original appearances. There are little inconsistencies like the number of women at the tomb, at what time they went, if there were guards, but most importantly, the gospels can't even agree where the appearances took place.

According to Luke, Jesus first appears to the disciples in Jerusalem, where he comes among them and lets them touch him to see he is not a ghost. He eventually takes them out to Bethany, from where he ascends to Heaven. There are no appearances in Galilee. In fact, Luke rules out appearances in Galilee, because Jesus explicitly tells the disciples to stay in Jerusalem until they are “clothed with power” (Pentecost).

Matthew has the women go to the tomb, where Jesus and an angel tell them to tell the disciples to go to Galilee, where they will see Jesus. They do, and they see him on a mountain there, and he delivers the great commission. No appearances in Jerusalem.

John is almost identical to Luke, except he doesn’t include the ascension, and adds an appearance in Galilee, at the sea of Tiberias.

Now yes, they can be reconciled if you try hard enough. You can say that Matthew and Luke have simply cut out the appearances in Jerusalem and Galilee, respectively.

But it’s a convoluted reading, IMO. The apologetic would have it that the women were told to tell the disciples to go to Galilee, and then Jesus appeared to the disciples in Jerusalem, and then they went to Galilee and saw him on the mountain, and then they went back to fishing for a little while, and then they went back to Jerusalem, and then finally Jesus ascended to Heaven.

And it raises some questions:

Why even tell the women to tell the disciples to go to Galilee if you're just going to appear to them here in Jerusalem first? Why not tell them yourself? Why would Matthew and Luke almost surgically cut out the Jerusalem and Galilee appearances, respectively? What's the point of that? When the disciples go to the mountain in Galilee and see Jesus, "some doubt." This makes sense if this is his first appearance, but if he appeared to them earlier in Jerusalem? What are they doubting? They just had lunch with him a few days ago. While Matthew doesn’t explicitly state that Jesus left the disciples immediately after the Galilee mountain appearance, it’s strongly implied, since this is where Jesus gives the Great Commission, and finishes with the assurance that he is “with them always, even to the end of the age.” It comes across as a strangely final thing to say if Jesus then went back to Jerusalem and hung out with them for a few more weeks. Furthermore, the Sea of Tiberias appearance in John is identified as the third time Jesus has appeared to the disciples, so it has to be after the Great Commission, if the Jerusalem appearances took place first, and then the mountain appearance in Galilee. So Peter and friends have already been told to go and “make disciples of all nations.” What the hell are you doing fishing?

IMO Occam’s razor cuts in favor of the explanation that these accounts are so different because Matthew, Luke, and John knew the tradition that Jesus appeared to the disciples, but either did not know the specifics, or decided the specifics weren’t exciting enough, and spiced them up. Either way, the gospel stories of Jesus eating fish and letting the disciples touch his wounds may not be accurate depictions of the Christophanies that sparked the movement.


The portion of 1 Corinthians is usually considered to antedate the writing of the epistle by a good measure, so that limits the measure of corruption.

It predates Paul's letter, of course, but by how much is pretty hard to say. I'd guess it probably wasn't composed a week before, and probably more than a year, but beyond that, who knows? Sometimes you'll see people confidently say things like "the creed dates to within six months of the crucifixion" which is just bizarre; there's no way anybody could possibly know that. Not to mention, Paul is clearly adding to the creed, since obviously when it was handed down to Paul it didn't include the appearance to Paul. So what else has he added to it? And who else added to it before him?

In any case, it seems less likely that he would put in such a thing when there were no people saying as much—why even bring it up, then?

Well, precisely to preempt that objection. It wouldn't take much for the author of the gospel to think, 'huh, what if people say the body was stolen?'

I'm inclined to push it earlier, since Acts ends abruptly, but I get that that's not the scholarly consensus.

It's possible. I tend to think both 'liberal' and 'conservative' scholars have a bad tendency to overstate the weight and quality of the evidence on dating one way or the other. IMO getting more specific than "after the crucifixion, before AD 100" is pretty tenuous. Nevertheless, even if you wanted to posit some super early date like AD 40 (earlier than even the most conservative critics are generally willing to go), I think ten years is more than enough time for legend to grow up.

What do you think of Genesis 3, or maybe Job 1-2?

I guess Genesis 3 is an exception now that I think about it insofar as it includes a non-human enemy of God, but the serpent is not a fallen angel or a god, he is...a snake. He loses his legs for telling the woman about the fruit. 'The Satan' (here it is a title, not a name) in Job is not God's enemy; he's a member of the Heavenly court who comes among the other "sons of God" to present himself before Yahweh. His job (ha) appears to be to test the faith of human beings, but he is not presented as an evil figure. The story of Lucifer the rebel angel doesn't really appear anywhere in the 66 books of the Bible.

The Matthew 16 and Mark 8 is immediately followed by the transfiguration.

Ehhhh, I'm familiar with this argument but I think it's weak. In both gospels Jesus clarifies what he means by the coming of the kingdom--"the Son of Man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay everyone for what has been done" This clearly was not fulfilled during the transfiguration. Not to mention saying, "some here will not taste death" is a weird thing to say about something that's going to happen next week. Nobody tasted death by next week.


Is right wing a pagan, lusty, fertile creed, accepting of female promiscuity? Is it a Catholic, keep sex in the marriage bed, creed? Is it it a pagan, lusty, honor creed, with female promiscuity leading to lethal violence?

An interesting note on this point: later Hitler claimed he regretted helping Franco in the Spanish Civil War, and even said they should have helped the 'reds' instead, because they had idealism and vitality and could have made good National Socialists, while Franco and his crew were just a bunch of ossified reactionaries who would never amount to anything. He even excused the leftist attacks on the clergy and church-burnings in Republican Spain as understandable considering how the church had "oppressed the people" for centuries.

What would be uncommon, I would certainly assume, would be a group hallucination. Paul, the synoptics, John, all testify that he appeared to the twelve (well, to the eleven). Do you think that didn't happen, and they misremembered or misconveyed?

I don’t think there were ever any group hallucinations. I think initially probably one or two or three people had (individual) visions of the risen Jesus, and the more spectacular stories in the gospels are the result of legendary accretion and invention years later. I have a sort of pet theory about what might have happened on/after Good Friday that I can share if you want (I started to write it out here but it got too long), though of course it is just speculation.

But for now, to see how an initially not-particularly-remarkable experience can snowball in memory (even something that took place before dozens of witnesses, even in the memories of those witnesses themselves), consider the ‘transfiguration of Brigham Young.’ To be very brief, this was an event in which Brigham Young supposedly demonstrated his right to succeed Joseph Smith as LDS prophet by giving a speech before the ‘saints’ at a camp meeting. While speaking before them, he was supernaturally transfigured so that he was identical to Joseph in speech and appearance.

The problem is that the earliest accounts, from weeks or months after the event, don’t mention this wonder. They talk about Young's speech, but with regards to the supposed miracle, they at most talk about “the mantle of the prophet” falling upon Young, or say that he appeared to take on Joseph’s mannerisms.

But within a few years/decades, dozens of people claimed to have witnessed firsthand the marvelous transformation. Some claimed only that the voice of Joseph came out of Brigham’s mouth, but many claimed that he literally took on the features of Joseph, a few even that a glowing light shone out from his face.

I don’t think any of these people were lying; I think over the years, they genuinely came to believe they had seen this miracle.

It's supported, though, by hostile testimony—the claim in response was that the body was stolen, not that he was never buried there.

Well, that’s what Matthew says the claim was. Was that what people in Jerusalem the morning after Easter Sunday were actually saying? Did anyone in the early months even care enough to dispute Christian claims? Maybe. Or maybe not. There’s no actual Jewish or pagan polemic against Christianity until Census 200 years later.

(Also, I'm not sure what mechanism would cause that to originate, if you both think that early Christians, including the twelve, were sincere, and the gospels are old.)

Depends on what you mean by “old.” I think they were written after AD 60. Thirty years, even twenty or ten, is more than enough time for stories and rumors to circulate and grow. “Jesus was buried” (Paul) easily becomes, “Jesus was buried in a fancy rock-cut tomb,” (Mark) easily becomes, “Jesus was buried in a fancy rock-cut tomb and the governor even set a watch on it!” (Matthew)

else it doesn't give Jesus an opportunity to walk out the tomb.

You’re assuming he has to. Elsewhere in the gospels the risen Jesus can teleport and walk through walls. Matthew may have even believed Jesus was assumed directly from the tomb up to Heaven. The rock seems to have been rolled away as much for the benefit of the witnesses as anything (“come and see the place where he was laid”).

Accomodation seems adequate for the other one.

I disagree. You can accommodate anything, but the more accommodations you have to swallow the less convincing the whole thing becomes. After I certain point for me, it becomes easier to just say the authors were wrong about things.

There's a little more than nothing, for eternal life or a resurrection.

There are a few verses here and there that look maybe-sort of resurrection-like if you squint, but I maintain the single verse in Daniel is the only clear articulation of this doctrine in the whole OT, which I think is surprising.

Yahweh's also responsible for everything in the new testament.

Yes but also no. From the NT down to the present day there is a tension between affirming that Yahweh is sovereign over everything but that also somehow, the evil spirits are genuinely his enemies and fighting against him in some real sense. The tension doesn’t exist in the OT. See the “lying spirit” Yahweh uses to deceive Ahab in 1 Kings 22 or the “evil spirit” he sends to torment Saul in 1 Samuel 16. These spirits aren't rebellious or anything like that, they’re just members of Yahweh’s heavenly court that do his “dirty work.” In the OT (with the exception of a few vague references to the defeat of the chaos monsters in primordial history, Yahweh’s enemies are always human).

Not especially familiar with Daniel.

The problem is mainly with the prophecy of the “King of the North” in Daniel 11. I didn’t want this post to be too long, but I can go into detail if you want.

well, it explicitly says a thousand years is like a day, so it internally moderates.

Jesus’ claims that “the generation” of his disciples would not pass away before the fulfillment of all things (Matthew 24, Mark 13, Luke 21). He says some of his disciples will not “taste death” before the Son of Man comes (Matthew 16, Mark 9). In the olivet discourse he explicitly places the final judgment following the destruction of Jerusalem. Paul says that the time is so short that those who are married should live as unmarried, those who are mourning as if they were not, etc. (1 Corinthians 7). He also refers to himself and his generation as those “upon whom the ends of the ages have come” (1 Corinthians 10). The entire Book of Revelation is a promise that God is going to destroy the Roman Empire. Once you see the imminent apocalypticism in the NT IMO it’s hard to unsee it. It’s everywhere. John saying that “already the axe is at the root of the tree,” the epistles referring to their time as “the last days,” the periodic admonitions in Revelation that these are things “which must soon come to pass.”

Yes, there are apologetic answers to all of these problems, but I don’t find any of them particularly convincing, and again IMO the simplest answer with the greatest explanatory power is that Jesus and the early church expected the speedy wrap-up of history, and they were wrong. I actually think the famous “one day as a thousand years” line in 2 Peter, represents a very early example of apologetics on this precise issue. The author says that people have been mocking Christians, asking them, “where is the promise of his coming?” This of course would not have happened unless Christians were preaching the parousia as something in the imminent future, and now the author has to explain why that has not come about, hence the “thousand years” apologetic.

IMO this makes the constant promises of “soon” and “very near” and “at the door” throughout the NT meaningless. Okay, well that’s not human time, it’s God’s time. So why say it? Why this sense of urgency? Might as well have said “not very soon,” “pretty far away” and “it’s gonna be a while.” This would have been significantly less misleading to 1st century Christians, who presumably thought “soon” meant “soon.”

Monotheism is different.

More and more I think “monotheism” and “polytheism” are not especially useful categories.

In Assyria, Assur was called “God beyond gods,” “the lord of all lands” who “fashioned the vault of heaven and earth.” Enlil in Sumeria is called “the god of all the foreign lands” who “alone is exalted.” In Egypt Amun is “lord of the thrones of the earth, the oldest existence, ancient of heaven” and “the one, maker of all that is.” Even Zeus, who is often thought of as being simply a guy on a mountaintop with superpowers, was often viewed in a much more exalted way. See Cleanthes’ hymn to Zeus written 300 years before Christ, which calls him “ever omnipotent,” and says that “the whole universe” obeys him and “all the works of nature” happen by the power of his thunderbolt. “Not a single thing that is done on earth happens” without him and it is even said that man “bears his likeness.” Yet the religions of the Greeks, the Sumerians, the Assyrians, and the Egyptians, are never considered “monotheistic,” while Israelite religion is, although this is the exact same sort of language that is regularly applied to Yahweh in the Old Testament. It’s not supposed to be rigorous theology, it’s just “praise language,” a way to say “my god is great.”

“I am that I am” is a strange passage. It might be more like “I will be who I will be,” not a philosophical statement of divine self-sufficiency but a deflection; “none of your business what my name is.”

The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach by Mike Licona.

No, my hypothesis is that a few of Jesus' disciples had grief hallucinations (hallucinations of dead loved ones in otherwise mentally healthy individuals are extremely common, particularly when that loved one has died a sudden and violent death--in a large group of people, it would be strange if some of them didn't have grief hallucinations) that caused them to believe Jesus had been raised. These were not collective experiences. IMO there's little reason to think all twelve disciples had Christophanies, let alone all at the same time. If, say, Peter had a post-mortem vision of the risen Jesus and managed to convince a few other people, that would be enough to get the ball rolling. I think the stories in the gospels about Jesus sitting down to eat with the disciples in group settings and letting Thomas stick his fingers in his wounds are probably later embellishments.

Yeah, I've heard the suggestion at some point that it's referring to Israel. Penal substitution seems clear enough to me in the passage that I can't see how that would make sense.

I've never really thought Isaiah 53 was especially evocative of crucifixion to begin with. It talks about someone being "crushed" and "pierced," but that right there encompasses just about all of the ways you could be violently killed in the ancient world. I think the passages could just as easily apply to anyone who has ever been unjustly murdered.

This is a good point. My impression, though, is that while a suffering and resurrecting Messiah is latent in the Jewish scriptures, it wasn't something that they were particularly aware of. Like, I don't think modern Jews really talk about that, even though it seems like it's in there, though of course some of that could be out of opposition to and distinguishing themselves from Christianity.

There are some early Jewish non-Christian messianic interpretations of the servant songs, so it wasn't entirely novel. To make this argument you'd have to thread the needle between "it's clear enough that we should be amazed at the prophetic powers of Isaiah" and "the prophecy is vague enough that someone like Peter or John couldn't have applied it to Jesus." I think it's extremely plausible that members of a small Jewish sect whose teacher has just been brutally executed would "search the scriptures" (the NT explicitly says they did this) and find this passage in Isaiah that talks about a righteous servant of God being unjustly killed, and decide it applies to their teacher.

Since Paul actually was in Jerusalem sometimes, interacting with the apostles, even if only briefly, it seems unlikely to me that they would have deceived him only in this point—you'd have to assume an earlier conspiracy.

The main option in competition, to me, would seem to be the one arguing that the disciples stole the body.

I don't think there was ever a conspiracy. I think Jesus was crucified, and some of his hardcore followers had visions of him after his death (hardly uncommon). Because Jesus had primed them to expect the general resurrection and the kingdom of God any day now, they interpreted these visions according to that framework, as proof that Jesus had been raised. This allowed them to maintain their belief that Jesus was the messiah (despite this having been apparently, and brutally, disconfirmed by his execution), and the kingdom and the resurrection were still coming. In fact, Jesus' resurrection was proof of the imminent general resurrection (that's why Paul calls him "first fruits"). Thus the movement's greatest failure was transmogrified into its greatest victory.

I don't think the story of Joseph of Arimathea's empty tomb is necessarily historical. Even in the gospels themselves you can see the story of the burial growing in the telling. In Mark the women get to the tomb and find the stone has already been rolled back, and an angel tells them Jesus has gone ahead to Galilee. In Matthew, they get there in time to see the action for themselves, the earthquake and the angel coming down from heaven and the terror of the guards (there are no guards in Mark). There's no reason to think the process of legendary accretion was not already going on prior to Mark's gospel. Most people who died--particularly criminals--were buried in ordinary graves in the earth, and IMO that's probably what happened to Jesus.

It should have to be exactly 0 or negative, or the size of the reward or penalty will be enough to overcome any finite benefit or penalty.

I think it's clear this breaks down somewhere. Guess what: God has decreed that if you don't paint your car pink, right now, you're going to Hell. I'm guessing you're not going to paint your car pink, probably because you know I just made it up for the sake of the argument, and you have absolutely no reason to believe it's true. Sure, it could be true. You can't 100% for sure prove it's not true. But clearly there is some minimum standard of evidence a threat of infinite torture has to meet before it is going to motivate us. So the question is whether Christianity (or Islam, or anything else) meets that standard.

Could you expand on your four main points?

  1. I gave one example here of how I think the New Testament assumes a false cosmology. I also think fundamentalists are quite right that the Bible teaches humans and all animal life were created in their present-day forms a couple thousand years ago. This was the nearly-unanimous opinion of all interpreters up until the modern period. To be a bit glib, I think theistic evolutionists and old-earth creationists are coping. IMO you can accept the Biblical account, or the theory of evolution and the old age of the universe, but not both.

  2. With regards to inconsistencies in the scriptures, there's petty gotcha stuff like "aha! Matthew says Judas hanged himself, but Luke says he burst open and his guts spilled out!" but one thing that was really jarring to me was how vastly different the worldviews of the old and new testaments are. The New Testament is entirely concerned with resurrection and everlasting life. That's the whole point of the NT. The OT not only is not concerned with these things, it doesn't even have the concepts. With the exception of a single verse in Daniel (the latest book in the OT), there is no resurrection or afterlife in the Hebrew Bible. When you're dead, you're dead. There is no everlasting life, no hellfire, no heavenly bliss. Yahweh blesses and curses in this life. Your reward, if you're faithful, will be earthly prosperity and children to carry on your name. On the Christian view the resurrection and eternal life are the entire point of God's plan of history, but you'd never know that from the OT. There was some 19th century theologian who admitted that, going off of all the minutiae on ritual purity in the OT and the complete lack of information about the afterlife, one was forced to conclude that "Jehovah was more concerned with the hind parts of the Jews than with their souls." There is also, in the OT, no hint that God has some kind of cosmic enemy who is ultimately responsible for all the evil in the world. Satan does not exist for the authors of the OT (neither the serpent in Genesis nor 'the Satan' in Job are equivalent to the evil adversary from the NT). In the OT, Yahweh is generally responsible for everything, good and evil. There aren't any demons in the OT. The few times that 'evil spirits' appear, they are servants of Yahweh, not his enemies. In fact in literature from the intertestamental period you can chart the slow development of most of these doctrines, which IMO is much more consistent with an entirely human set of ideas slowly evolving and changing in response to shifting cultural conditions than it is with divine revelation.

  3. IMO the two most egregious examples are Jesus' and the early Christians expectation that the end was imminent, within a few decades at most, something that was clearly falsified by the end of the first century, and the similar prophecies of Daniel, a few centuries earlier, who very clearly predicted that God would supernaturally destroy Antiochus Epiphanes, and this would be immediately followed by the general resurrection and the end of the age, which also obviously didn't happen.

  4. I'm running out of characters but basically, Yahweh is a thoroughly typical god of the ancient Levant, often practically indistinguishable from Ba'al or El or Chemosh. He seems to have begun as a type of the Syrian storm god, same as Ba'al Hadad, though admittedly that far back sources get sparse. Later philosophers and theologians would impose Greek philosophical concepts like aseity, immutability, immateriality, and so on on the Biblical deity, but very little of that is actually there unless you read it in. Yahweh is a thoroughly human god, with thoroughly human passions and appetites. Like the other gods, he even eats sacrifices as his "food" (see Leviticus 21:6). If we say that Ba'al and Chemosh aren't real, it seems like special pleading to say that Yahweh is real and is also the God of the whole universe, despite the fact that he looks just like all the other gods people were worshipping in that time and place.

One last thing that doesn't neatly fit into these categories but was perhaps my single most shocking discovery when I first started looking into this stuff: so much of modern Christian theology is premised on a particular reading of Genesis 2-3, but when you actually read those chapters with fresh eyes and set aside several millennia's worth of Christian and Jewish interpretation, the classic Sunday school story of "the fall" simply isn't there. In brief; there is no indication Adam and Eve were ever created immortal, the serpent is not a fallen angel but simply an ordinary, if particularly crafty, "beast of the field" (the story doubles as an etiology for why snakes have no legs), there is no hint of anything like "original sin" (nor is there anywhere else in the OT), and most strikingly to me at least, the plain reading of the story is that the serpent tells the truth about the Tree of Knowledge.

I looked into eucharistic miracles a while back. The chain of sources inevitably bottoms out in Catholic publications. While they are often touted as having been examined by pathologists, the only one in which I've ever seen an actual research paper detailing methods and findings (rather than simply an assurance that the miracle has been authenticated by qualified persons) was the miracle of Lanciano, and in that case all that could be confirmed was that it was an actual piece of a human heart, not that it had ever been a host. Nor was it miraculously preserved, but completely desiccated.

The new Aeithist line of argument as popularized by guys like Harris and Dawkins typically goes that Jesus didn't exist and if he did he was a nobody who was executed without fanfare.

I would never argue Jesus didn't exist. He did. But he was a nobody executed without fanfare. That's not new atheism, that's the gospels. That's the whole point of the gospels. The meek preacher squashed unceremoniously by the pagan tyrants is actually the conquering king of Heaven.

The events described in the Gospel were a story made up by Paul and the rise of the cult of Christianity can be attributed entirely to him.

I don't know whose position this is, but it's not mine, and it's not that of any halfway well-informed skeptic I'm familiar with. The story told by the gospels is probably broadly true. Jesus really was a 1st century apocalyptic prophet and faith healer who roamed the Judean countryside building up a following. He really did preach the coming judgment of God and the need for repentance and right-living. He really did butt heads with rival sects and local religious leaders. He really did carry out faith healings. He really did go up with his disciples to Jerusalem for passover (probably expecting the imminent inauguration of the kingdom). He really did cause a disturbance at the temple, which resulted in his arrest. He really was executed by Pontius Pilate. Some of his disciples really did have experiences that convinced them Jesus had been raised from the dead and exalted to Heaven. Where I differ is that I don't think the best explanation for these facts is that Jesus actually did rise from the dead.

If christ was crucified and his followers were willing to face execution themselves over the claim that he'd been resurrected just how much more do you need?

Something that isn't one or two members of Jesus' religious movement with every incentive to believe and propagate this saying, "trust me bro."

The argument from martyrdom is weak. There's little evidence that anyone was particularly interested in hunting down Christians in the early years. Frankly it hardly matters to me, since I don't think the disciples were lying, I think they genuinely believed Jesus had been raised.

and even if it was can you point to a specific line within The New Testament that would be falsified by the earth revolving around the sun rather than vice versa?

A good demonstration of the cosmology of the NT is the story of the ascension. Jesus rises from the dead, and then he spends forty days with his disciples, before returning to Heaven. When the time comes for him to leave, he floats into the sky until a cloud takes him out of sight.

Most modern Christians, at least those who have given the matter any thought, will tell you that Heaven is not a place within the 3-D universe. It's maybe a parallel universe, or not a spatio-temporal location at all, but rather a kind of experience, or state of being. I believe the Catholic position is that Heaven is simply the experience of the human soul contemplating the presence of God.

On this model, there's no immediate reason why Jesus should float into the sky to get to Heaven. You can come up with reasons why he would return to Heaven that way, but it's not obvious why going into the sky should get one closer to a parallel universe, or the beatific vision, or whatever you like. If you step into the shoes of an educated first-century writer like Luke, then the reason Jesus floats into the sky is obvious. That's how you get to Heaven. It's past the air (the first Heaven) and past the stars and moon (second Heaven). The throne room of God is in the "third Heaven", a concept directly from Ptolemaic cosmology (Paul references it by name in 2 Corinthians 12:2 - 4). It's distant and glorious, but also a place with a definite spatio-temporal location, so Jesus can go there in his physical, flesh and blood body.

Of course, you can reconcile this with the modern understanding that celestial spheres don't exist. William Lane Craig for example, says that Jesus was "accommodating" the disciples. In other words, being God, he knew that Greek cosmology was false, and you don't have to float into the sky to get to Heaven, but because his disciples had the standard contemporary view of the cosmos, floating into the sky was the best way for him to get across to them that he was going back to Heaven. But this is just adding epicycles (a particularly appropriate term here), when a far simpler and more parsimonious explanation is available: this isn't something that actually happened, and the reason it fits so neatly into the Ptolemaic universe and so awkwardly into ours is because Luke, who wrote this story down, wrongly believed in celestial spheres.

The obvious rejoinders are that something clearly happened at the temple in Jerusalem in the opening years of the 1st century that went on to have major social and political ramifications throughout the empire

Okay. But so what?

Accordingly, complaints about how the main body of the Gospel account seem to have been written 50 - 100 years after the fact (IE precisely when the original events described would have been passing from living memory into legend) come across as something like an isolated demand for rigor.

It is the opposite. Historians rely on biographers of Alexander for information about his career, while rejecting the claims of those same biographers that he was a son of Zeus or that his armies were led through the deserts by snakes. The claims of Caesar’s biographers that he crossed the Rubicon are accepted, but not the claims that they were encouraged by the apparition of a goddess. It is apologists who insist that, unlike every other historical document, the gospels must be taken as all or nothing. If we accept that Jesus lived and was crucified, we must also accept his miracles and resurrection.

Likewise claims that "The Hebrew/Christian scriptures teach empirically false things about the world." or that "The scriptures are internally inconsistent" tend to be grossly overstated and rely on selective quoting so without specific examples such claims really are worth engaging with.

The New Testament implicitly and explicitly relies on falsified Aristotelian cosmology, to give one example. I can elaborate if you want.

I've been talking about Christianity in the past few days a lot more than I have in a while but I saw your comment and it activated my old debate-bro instincts and I couldn't resist.

The actual philosophical question of whether God exists never really interested me that much. I actually don't particularly care whether God exists, unless he inspired a religion with books and prophets that dictates how I should live. Then I care. So for discussions like this, I'm usually happy to grant the existence of God for the sake of argument and move on to discussing Christianity in particular.

his is especially the case since descriptions of what took place were written hundreds of years beforehand—see Isaiah 52:13 through to the end of Isaiah 53.

Leaving aside the long debate over whether the 'suffering servant' is in fact a single messianic figure, a corporate representative, or something else Isaiah 53 is something of a double-edged sword for apologists. On the one hand, a very popular apologetic, popularized especially by NT Wright in recent years (and which I think is bad for other reasons, but I digress), goes like this: "first century Jews had no concept of a dying and rising messiah. So the story of the resurrection is not something the disciples would make up or come to believe in a million years unless they actually experienced it. Therefore, the best explanation for the disciples' belief in the resurrection is that it really took place." On the other hand, Christians want to claim that Isaiah clearly prophesied the death and resurrection of Jesus centuries earlier. But if the scriptures contained a clear and unambiguous prediction of a messiah that would die and be resurrected, then one need not posit a genuine resurrection to account for the belief of the earliest Christians that their teacher, after his brutal execution by the state, was raised from the dead. It's right there in the prophets. If Isaiah says the messiah will die and be raised, and Jesus is the messiah, then Jesus was raised from the dead. QED.

The gospels and epistles are also better than average for ancient historical texts in some other respects—they're written not too long after the death of Jesus, within the lifetime of those who knew him when he was alive.

True. But the synoptics also all plagiarize each other, so they aren't independent sources. Mark and Luke were not eyewitnesses, by tradition. The Gospel of Matthew draws heavily from the gospel of Mark, so genuine Matthean authorship can be discounted, since it makes no sense that a man who walked with Jesus and personally saw him raised from the dead would plagiarize the account of someone who did not (even the call of Matthew itself in gMatthew is cribbed from Mark!). John was also an eyewitness by tradition, but even if he doesn't know the synoptics (and some think he does), then you have at best two independent sources for the most incredible event in all of human history, and both of them from authors who would have every reason to believe this incredible claim, and who clearly have a vested interest in getting you to believe it, and only one of them even potentially from an eyewitness. It's not like there's any hostile testimony to the resurrection.

Paul, at one point, refers to 500 people who witnessed Christ after his death.

I've never understood this apologetic. The appearance to the 500 appears exactly once in the New Testament: right here, in Paul's letter to the Corinthians. There's no elaboration, we're not told who these 500 were, the circumstances of the supposed appearance, or anything at all, either here or anywhere else. It's a single throwaway reference. For all I know Paul made this up. Or the person he got it from did.

Pascal's wager is formidable, for one.

I think Pascal's Wager is defanged by the internal diversity of Christianity. While the old joke about there being tens of thousands of Christian denominations each damning all the others to Hell is an exaggeration, it's directionally correct. Getting a Catholic to admit it nowadays is like pulling teeth, but it remains dogma that there is no salvation outside the church, and while there are carveouts in some cases for invincible ignorance and things like that, few of those caveats would apply to the vast majority of modern protestants, so the teaching of the RCC remains that the great majority of modern protestants are gonna burn. Conversely, a number of Protestant confessions clearly anathematize the RCC, and a number even expressly identify the Papacy as the Antichrist. And there are plenty of low-church baptist types who think catholics are demon-worshipping idolaters. And then there are plenty of protestants that think plenty of other protestants are going to hell. And then there are protestants who don't think anybody is going to hell (either universalist or annihilationist). You could say being a Christian of some kind is still better than being a non-believer, but since there are Christians who don't think non-believers necessarily go to hell, I'm not sure it really increases your chances all that much. Then there's Islam...

My reasons for rejecting the truth of Christianity were not that I think miracles are prima facie impossible, or even necessarily impossible, but boil down mostly to three main points:

  1. The Hebrew/Christian scriptures teach empirically false things about the world.
  2. The scriptures are internally inconsistent, both on matters of plain facts and broader theological and philosophical questions.
  3. The scriptures contain clearly falsified prophesies.
  4. The scriptures are exactly the scriptures we would expect their authors, as human beings of their time and place, to produce. Positing divine inspiration is unparsimonious and unnecessary.

I can elaborate on any of these, because I do enjoy talking about this stuff, but I won't make this comment any longer.

I find people who are unable to fathom how an intelligent person could be a Christian have often never engaged with any Christian apologetics, and often don't even really know any Christians in real life. I think Christianity is false, but I don't think you have to be stupid or willfully ignorant to believe in it.

Yeah, but we should be concerned with people's political and ideological positions relative to the time they lived in. Someone who was a radical in one period might be a conservative in another.

"Unitarianism" was so called because it denied the Trinity and the deity of Christ. Most fundamentalists today would consider 19th century Unitarians hellbound heretics, let alone their contemporaries. They also tended to put a premium on human reason rather than revelation, and many denied miracles, the infallibility of scripture, etc. It was a very much an 'enlightened' flavor of Christianity, to the extent it was Christianity at all.

I've seen the argument made (though I don't recall where) that one of the central tensions when thinking about Christianity is that much of the writings about Jesus in the Gospels, and the immediate social movement around Jesus, were expecting an immediate end of the world and Apocalypse, and thus insist on a kind of intense radicalism that is wholly unsustainable in any kind of longer lived community.

I think this is pretty unambiguously true, but it includes Paul, who apparently expected the end to come very shortly, and said things like:

I mean, brothers and sisters, the appointed time has grown short; from now on, let even those who have wives be as though they had none, and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no possessions, and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. For the present form of this world is passing away.

He also suggested people not even get married, and only grudgingly sanctioned marriage as a necessary evil to prevent "burning with lust," hardly conducive to family formation.

He may or may not have mellowed out later, depending on whether you believe all of the letters attributed to him were written by him.

I do agree this is a fundamental problem at the heart of Christianity though. It is a faith that was never. meant to be a civilizational faith which has been jury-rigged into just that. All it really takes is for someone to look around at all the kings and princes, and then look at the New Testament, and say, "hey, wait a minute, this isn't what Jesus taught!"

The French Revolution emerged from a very different sort of Christian society. Faith appears to have been far less personal and far more communal in nature, with enforcement being top-down rather than bottom-up.

I would question whether there's really a relevant distinction. The peasants in the Vendée who revolted against the republican government certainly seemed to have a very deep personal affection for their king and their Christ.

To my knowledge, the Revolution's leadership were uniformly militant atheists, or else hiding their faith very, very deep.

They were mostly not Christians, but they were also mostly not atheists. Robespierre was opposed to atheism. The 'cult of reason' never really had state sponsorship and died out pretty quick.

The Revolution's social goals were extremely broad, perhaps unlimited.

There were so many factions that referring to the goals of "the Revolution" is almost meaningless. People couldn't agree what "the Revolution" meant. It could span from people who just wanted a few constitutional guarantees from the king to people like Babeuf who were essentially proto-communists. But even the more radical Jacobins at the height of the Terror would probably sit on the conservative end of a European social democratic party today, by their political positions.

Given their faith in human reason and scientific insight, the Revolution felt no need to limit the power of government,

Rather than blaming the centralization of the Republic on its founders' faith in human reason, I would note that France had been centralizing her government and smashing competing power centers for centuries under the Bourbon kings. That's what absolutism was all about. The revolutionaries simply continued, and maybe expedited, a process that had been ongoing for a long time. IMO centralization of government is inevitable in an industrializing world.

I think you significantly underrate the extent to which the ideals of social equality and universal brotherhood are based on Christianity. Most of the stuff conservative Christians like, property, patriarchy, patriotism, tradition, family, virtue, sexual continence, aren't actually Christian. That's not to say they're anti-Christian (though I would argue some of them might be), but that none of those values owe anything to Christianity. They are identified with Christianity in the present day, because western society was Christian for so long, to the extent that a lot of leftists end up agreeing and saying, "and that's a bad thing!" and then wrongly lionizing pre-Christian pagan societies as bastions of tolerance and libertinism. But those values existed long before Christianity, and continued to exist in societies that never Christianized. On the other hand, the ideas that all men are brothers, or that everyone has something fundamental in them that makes them equal by virtue of being human, or that there is virtue in being the oppressed rather than the oppressor, are all Christian in origin. That's not to say that Christianity must have necessarily produced the enlightenment, but the enlightenment would certainly have never existed without Christianity. A reactionary Christian may say that Jesus didn't mean social equality, or he didn't mean we all have to be brothers this side of heaven, but the surest way for a reactionary to make certain the revolution never rears its ugly head again is to junk the cross. Otherwise it's always going to be just a matter of time before someone comes along and interprets--wrongly or otherwise--the sermon on the mount to mean "to each according to his need" all over again.