Re: [asa] Re: (religious memes?)

From: David Campbell <>
Date: Wed Sep 02 2009 - 17:14:22 EDT

> Dr. Campbell said:
> "The atheism meme seems to overlap with a lot of human sacrifice, too,
> though in the form of guillotines, genocide, gulags, etc. rather than
> on a physical altar."
> I think it is a shame to blame genocide on atheism just as it is to blame the Crusades on Christianity.  Both atheism and Christianity have been used to instigate evil, but they have also both been used to instigate good.<

True; my point was that atheism's record is, if anything, worse than
religion's, but that largely reflects the fact that the atheistic
governments (not merely "don't care what you believe, as long as you
pay your taxes") have almost all been totalitarian regimes and have
generally been modern enough to have the technology to more
effectively get at everyone. It's possible that lacking the
restraints imposed by religion contributes to the poor humans rights
records of atheistic regimes, but there are plenty of dictators who
use religious rhetoric, too.

More fundamentally, this tends towards the error of the consequent.
Whether we like the results of something is not a reliable guide to
whether it is true.

> Even the Hebres sacrificed to a false god (Azazel, the god of the desert), in Lev. 16:8,10,26.  Translating Azazel as 'scapegoat' is a work of obfuscation, I think.  I think the MSG is more clear on this one:<

Not exactly. First, it was not exactly sacrifice-the goat was sent
out into the wilderness, as a symbol of the banishing of sins, not
killed. Before sending out, it was presented to God, which doesn't
fit well with seeing it as presented to some other god. However, it
is possible that the goat was envisioned as taking the sin out into
the wilderness to the haunts of evil spirits, rather than mere
banishment. Nevertheless, carrying the community's sins out doesn't
seem like it would be considered a sacrifice to some evil spirit of
the wilderness; it seems more analagous to the idea of the devil
snatching away some particular reprobate. There's also the
difficulty of knowing whether a word usage retains its original pagan
overtones or not. Canaanite mythology had Rahab and Leviathan as
primordial chaos monsters, serious threats to the gods. Rahab in the
OT is mostly a derisive designation for Egypt, purportedly powerful
but ineffectual. (Although one is tempted to speculate that one might
name a three-year old or so after a chaos monster, Rahab of Jericho is
not the same word). Leviathan in the OT is a mere creature, imposing
to humans but not to God. There is use of the old gods versus
monsters imagery in Psalms, but it is used to portray God as the
sovereign and creator of all. Thus, Rahab and Leviathan seem to have
no more pagan significance within the Bible usage than our names of
the days of the week or months have for us. For spirits in the
wilderness, it's less clear. I believe at least one of the words that
seems to designate a sinister spirit of wilderness or ruins is now
used for a rather spookily-voiced owl, but whether the same call was
identified by the name in the OT and if so, what the Israelites
thought made it, is far from clear.

Now of course, they did sacrifice to false gods throughout most of
their history (the exiles from Jerusalem seem to have learned their
lesson, but not those who ran off to Egypt), but this is consistently
condemned by the Bible.

> Murray Hogg said:
> "I reckon that sacrifice (or more broadly, offerings to the gods) is one of those intrinsically religious things that humans do - like prayer, worship, fasting, etc."
> Just because it is our nature doesn't make it right.  It is also our nature to be superstitious, and science has rid us of a lot of superstition.  Can we really know God's will be reading omens?  They did that in the OT and NT, but we don't do it now (actually, some still do, like those who propose "putting out a fleece" OT style, but in a figurative way, not literal, though still using it as an omen).<

More generally, what is the exact null hypothesis and alternatives?
You're sounding a bit like the idle speculations of the "Jesus
seminar" in which things that sounded Jewish or Christian were
rejected from the NT. In reality, Jesus, being a Jew who claimed to
be reforming and restoring Judaism ought to have a number of points in
common with Judaism. Likewise, given that Christianity sprang up from
His teaching, there should be reasons for Christianity traceable to
Jesus. Of course it's true that passages that are somewhat
uncomfortable for Christianity, yet are preserved by Christians in the
Bible, seem quite likely to have been preserved because they were
undeniably authentic, but rejection of anything that is comfortable
for Christianity is not reasonable.

God, in communicating with humans, must do so in ways that are
comprehensible. Thus, we should expect the Bible to draw a good deal
on common custom and ritual of the ancient Near East, while
repudiating the religious systems of the surrounding nations. Many of
the odd random-seeming laws in the Pentateuch are actually banning
pagan rituals. For example, later Jews on whom the original meaning
was lost took not boiling a kid in its mother's milk as a ban on
cheeseburgers, but in reality it's preventing someone from perfoming a
pagan ritual under pretense of cuisine. A similar usage can be seen
in modern missionaries encouraging a tribe to make up their own hymns
using traditional secular tunes, while avoiding the old religious
ones. There's no reason to expect Judaism to appear as if it were
something totally foreign in comparison to surrounding cultures, and
in fact Jesus Himself asserted that the Law contained accommodation to
the state of the people.

Presumably He also designed us to be able to understand the
communication. In a fallen state, we are likely to go for some
garbled version of what worship ought to be. A modern analogue would
be the way that occult practice sometimes mimics standard religious
practice, or the degrading of a religious event such as Mardi Gras
(starting as "last chance to party before Lent", now transmuted to
"party"). The secularization of Christmas, Thanksgiving, Easter (Holy
Week events sponsored by a major beer company in Venezuela had nothing
to do with the week being holy), etc. likewise in no way implies the
original events did not happen.

Dr. David Campbell
425 Scientific Collections
University of Alabama
"I think of my happy condition, surrounded by acres of clams"
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Received on Wed Sep 2 17:14:52 2009

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