Thursday, October 31, 2013

Pre-Islamic Arabia and Pagan Foundations of Islam

While many today would consider Islam to be a fiercely monotheist and purist religion absent of all pagan roots an examination of the historical record reveals a much more immediate past with several originally pagan practices still being practiced today under the guise of monotheism. Islam, like many other world religions, was created to unify a disintegrated tribal region for purposes of power and was less a revelation of one god then it was a form of henotheism masquerading as monotheism. We will find that many fundamental Islamic practices such as reverence and prayer toward the Kaaba, the very nature of Allah, and the the Hajj to Mecca all find their way to pagan beginnings.

While other monotheist religions may have been influenced by pagan cults in their beginning the difference in Islam is that these pagan practices continue up until today, arbitrarily without explanation or extensive scriptural support, and these ceremonies have not been purged. This may come as a startling revelation to some, considering the virulent strain of fundamentalist Islam that has risen to prominence in the late twentieth and twenty first century preaching a strict monotheism and intolerance or violence toward those who do not accept the one true god “Allah.”

Pre Islamic History

Doctors Richard Hooker and Richard Hines of Washington State University paint a
compelling image of the landscape of pre-Islamic history. Before the Arabs became unified Arabia proper was comprised of warring tribes bound together by no permanent central government. As no major rivers ran through this region no large permanent cities became viable prospects, with large settlements such as Riyadh only becoming recently possible with modern technology. As a consequence the Arab peoples became nomadic herders of cattle who oversaw the domain of large pastures. For the purposes of this research we will focus on the pastoralist Bedouin tribes which comprise inner Arabia of the Pre-Islamic classical era and when “Arabs” are referenced we are specifically not including Arab kingdoms near the Levant and southern coast such as the Nabataean and Sabean empires.

While at times the Arabs would momentarily unify to raid Persia or the immensely wealthy Yemenite coast they mostly warred amongst each other, especially in the form of caravan raids, for the Arabs were prolific traders, and this was their primary source of wealth.

The commerce these tribes were concerned with was the Indian to Mediterranean trade which passed through Southern Arabia on its way to Byzantium. The Arab tribes served as intermediaries to facilitate such a trade and profited as being couriers of such goods or by simply taking up the warpath and raiding the goods from other tribes which tended to cooperate.

Classical Era

During the time of Mohammed, what has come to be known as the classical era, al-Arabiyya or classical Arabic became widespread and became the language of poetry and culture, allowing for the soon to be transmitted Koran. Muru’a or the Arabic equivalent to the Greek arête and Roman virtus, the virtue of manliness and excellence, was soon hailed as vital to heroic leadership. The cultivation of this virtue in tribal society transformed the Arab people who already had a disposition to war into a formidable expansionary force with a powerful leadership, a framework which would make it easier to equate kinship ties with military hierarchy and allowed for the formation of a sprawling Arab empire in years to come.


Pre-Islamic religious practice was comprised of two principle sources: local animist tradition in the form of grove, rock and meteorite worship as well as veneration of a vast pantheon of gods mainly derived from western Semitic sources, to which the tribes celebrated a form of henotheism locally. When the Quraysh captured Mecca circa 500 C.E. following in the wake of the recent Arab militarization they proclaimed Hubal, the tribal head god who was known to have subordinate to him his goddess daughters al-Lat (cognate to Allatu, the Carthaginian underworld goddess originating from Ereshkigal), al-Uzza, and al-Manat (the same goddesses who famously appear in the “satanic verses” of Sura 53), as lord of the temple city (Occhigrosso 394-397). To the Quraysh this Hubal was often referred to as “Allah” for “Allah” is not a proper name but actually a contraction of “al-” and “-ilah” meaning “the god (Jeffery 85, Brill 302, Peters 3-41).” Even the word “Ilah” has a deeper meaning as “Il” or “Ilah” refers to an even earlier primeval lunar god worshipped by the Arabs which by the time of the Quraysh had become a general name for “god.” According to Carelton Coon “…under Mohammed’s tutelage, the relatively anonymous Ilah became Al-Ilah, The God, or Allâh, the Supreme Being.”

This is not simply a matter of semantics: “Allah” does not mean “God” but “the god,” the first implies that there is a singular god and second meaning implies that this god is a god of prominence amongst others. Allah was not a revelatory name as discovered by Mohammed but instead a common term used by his tribe, and possibly the other tribes of Inner Arabia, to refer to the chief god amongst others.

Following in Semitic tradition many Arabs named their children as “servant” or “slave” of their chief god, the famous Carthaginian “Hannibal” translates to “grace of the Lord (Baal)” (Baal = El) for example. One such named individual was Abd Allah, Mohammed’s own father who died before Mohammed was even born (Andrae 13-30). Numerous others were named after “Allah” before the revelation of Islam occured including such significant figures of Pre-Islamic history such as Quraysh kinsmen Abd-Allah ben Djahsh, Ubayd-Allah, Abd-Allah ben Djudan and the sons of Umar: Abd-Allah and ‘Ubayd-Allah. The presence of such names in the historical record alludes to the notion that “Allah” was worshipped before Mohammed’s time and was in reverence of the god Hubal (Peters 3-41, Brockelmann 8-10).

It can be conjectured that Mohammed chose “Allah” as the “God” of Islam because the name rang true amongst his clansmen (Andrae 13-30) and the other Arab tribes who had come to respect Hubal as the chief god of Mecca, with the passing of time eventually centralizing the cult into the belief that “Allah” had always been the one God. Surely when Mohammed began referring to his new god as “Allah” it must have caused no immediate alarm amongst his Arab brethren as the term was not then used a proper noun but simply a substitute for a name of reverence (similar to the western Semitic Baal which simply means Lord and is not the proper name of the God being identified), in the case of the Quraysh: Hubal. This ingenious use of language was only made possible by a previous event in Pre-Islamic history which made the worship of Hubal familiar to the Arabs visiting Mecca: the conquest of the city by Mohammed’s tribe.

Worship of Stones and Idols

Connected with the worship of Gods was also the worship of stones and idols. When the
Quraysh captured Mecca they installed atop the Kaaba an idol of Hubal, marking him most prominent amongst the reportedly three hundred and sixty god idols of the Cube (Armstrong 11). For the next one hundred and twenty years the cult of Hubal (up until Mohammed’s conquest of Mecca in 620 C.E.) was centralized and Arabs visiting Mecca during the Hajj would have become familiar with the god’s prominent position atop the other lesser deities represented at the holy city. A less likely report made in Sarwar’s Muhammed the Holy Prophet claims that “Amr bin Lahyo bin Harath bin Amr ul-Qais bin Thalaba bin Azd bin Khalan bin Babalyun bin Saba” of Hijaz had placed the Hubal idol even earlier, four hundred years before the birth of Mohammed (Sarwar 18-19). Regardless of who installed the Hubal idol in its prime location at Mecca what is surely known is that the Quraysh named the god chief amongst others. The Quraysh would have expected visiting Arabs to pay special homage to the “Lord” of the city upon their pilgrimage and to respect Hubal as the chief god while within the city. While these provisions did not destroy the polytheism of Arabia it may have reinforced henotheistic notions which would allow for a shift to monotheism to be not as startling as it would have been in past times and would have made Arabs familiar with the name of “Allah,” a phrase which by that time had become synonymous with Hubal.

History shows that as societies become increasingly wealthy, literate and militarily powerful they become increasingly monotheistic, a trend which may have been increasingly apparent in the years approaching Mohammed’s birth as made possible by the economic virtues of the classical Arabic era. Mohammed’s declaration of Shahadah can be interpreted as a final declaration of Hubal’s primacy and his destruction of the idol cults within Mecca during 620 C.E. more of a political showing of power rather than a religious statement. Mohammed’s centralization of the cult can be paralleled with the King Hezekiah’s religious reforms of the seventh century B.C.E., reforms with religious overtures more so designed to increase the monarch’s power from tribal overlord to king proper by means of national ideology (as proposed by Professor Robert Beckford in his Channel 4 documentary Who Wrote The Bible?).

Pagan Roots

While the Islamic god has roots in the worship of the lunar god Hubal so does the
veneration of the Kaaba have ancient pagan roots. The original black stone which the Kaaba was built around to protect was most likely a meteorite connected with the worship of baetyli or sacred stones, a common practice of the pre-Islamic Arabs. As the ancient Arabs primarily worshipped gods representing astrological entities such as the moon, sun and Venus, the principal deity before Hubal being the worship of the lunar goddess al-Lat, these meteorites were considered to be actual pieces of the gods themselves and the places where they landed were considered the most sacred places of ancient Arabia. These places were considered to be areas to which the spirit and material world met, linking the heavens and earth, metaphorically referred to as the Gates of Heaven (Armstrong-2 221). Other Kaaba structures existed during the classical period such as the “red stone”, the deity of the south Arabian city of Ghaiman, and the “white stone” in the Ka’ba of al-Abalat (near the city of Tabala, south of Mecca) (Grunebaum 24). The worship of these stones was not only connected to the worship of primeval lunar gods but also even earlier animist traditions in accordance with the belief in stone fetishes, magical mountains, ponds, groves, special rock formations and “trees of strange growth” to which the Arabs believed were possessed by spirits which afforded them special protection or blessings in war and in economic ventures, according to Grunebaum among others (Brockelmann 8-10, Van Ess 29, Martin 96, Rodinson 16-17).

It is likely that the Kaaba we know today, the one which houses the black stone, was one of the few if not the only shrines to be constructed out of stone and to which a major cult of worship developed. Mecca would soon come to be known as a holy ground to which warring tribes could meet peacefully and settle their differences (Grunebaum 18), a practice which would lead to regular pilgrimages to the site, visits which eventually become known as the Hajj. The Kaaba is mentioned by several ancient historians including the second century C.E. historian Ptolemy who refers to it as Macoraba, a “south Arabian foundation created around a sanctuary” (Wensinck 318). The first century B.C.E. historian Diodorus Siculus also mentions the Kaaba in his Bibliotheca Historica saying “and a temple has been set-up there, which is very holy and exceedingly revered by all Arabians (Gibbon 223-224).”

While Mecca was considered a sacred site during this ancient period it had more implications as sanctified ground useful for peaceful convergence than it had as a religious temple, the latter implication was brought about with the Quraysh invasion and the primacy of Hubal in an attempt at centralizing the tribe’s regional power (Grunebaum 19). The Quraysh solidified the notion of the Kaaba as a religious temple and also a major spice, leather, jewelry, blacksmithing, textile and perfume (Heck) trading center (Armstrong-2 221-222) which greatly increased the power and prestige of the tribe and organized yearly pilgrimages to the site, formalizing the Hajj into a ritualized custom.

These arbitrary reverences based in pagan superstitions, goddess worship, tribal infighting, idol worship and animism would come to form some of the fundamental rituals of Islam, foundations which were supposedly revealed to Mohammed by the angel Gabriel. In actuality it can conjectured that Mohammed reinvented pagan institutions which had already existed for hundreds or even thousands of years in hopes of creating a seductive, tribally accepted imperial ideology designed to form a strong unifying backbone for the Arab empire to come, to which Mohammed was supremely successful.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Respect for Religion

“Respect” is Religion’s Cover to do what it Wants

How many times have you been in an argument with a theist, either in person or via the Internet, and they’ve at some point spoken the magic words...

“If you’re an atheist that’s fine, but you should respect my beliefs.”

Argh! A nightmare situation! Political correctness is pulling us away; something tells us that for some reason, we have to respect their beliefs. It’s like kryptonite to us; it is their magic umbrella that they whip out the second a little drop of logic wets their heads. Through those words, they can strut about like a triumphant peacock, safe under their respect umbrella, knowing that polite social convention prohibits us from taking further action. Well I am here to pour acid rain on that umbrella, because I don’t think we do have to respect people’s beliefs, and the beauty of this is that most theists agree with me. They just don’t know they do.

Case in point: the Westboro Baptist Church, the largest collection of nutters that Kansas has to offer, is run by possibly the most hated family in the world. At what point do people, Christian or otherwise, stand up and say,

“Yes they think all soldiers are burning in hell, as is Ghandi. Yes they think homosexuals consume faeces, yes they honestly believe that Barack Obama is literally the antichrist but...You have to respect their beliefs.”

No one says that or thinks that! No, we all treat the WBC how they deserve to be treated, and that is with ridicule. However, I will say this about the Westboro Baptist Church, they actually follow the scriptures; they’ve read them, understood them and follow them as much as the law will allow. They are the least hypocritical Christians out there, which goes to show that you’d have to be bananas to actually follow the scriptures.

Do All Cults Deserve Respect?

Nazism is another example; it wasn’t just a political movement, it was an ideology. It could be described as quasi-religious, a belief that the Aryan race was the perfect race and social groups such as homosexuals, Jews, Blacks, Slavs were inferior and needed exterminating. It’s funny, I can’t quite recall Winston Churchill giving a speech on respecting Nazism. As far as I know, almost the entire world was highly critical of Nazism. It just didn’t float our boat. We just weren’t keen on it. I’m sure poor Adolf was heartbroken the second we started persecuting his beliefs. What about the Aztec religion? Should we respect that? What if a load of people suddenly converted to Aztec belief and started sacrificing people to appease the Sun God? Should we respect that? Their religion does say they are allowed to take the beating heart out of someone before killing them by decapitation if the Sun is angry. Who are we to say that is not okay? Is it too much? Who gets to say what acceptable behaviour is?

Don't let Them Guilt You into Leaving them Alone

The reason I bring this up is because religious leaders are hiding behind this invisible shield of undeserved respect whilst enforcing laws that prohibit the movements of non-believers. The situation in Russia is a fine example of this; Putin has managed to take away the rights of LGBT citizens on grounds of religion, and his blasphemy laws restrict any backlash. Islam is carrying out horrendous tortures of women and children on a daily basis under religion’s protective wing. Christians are marching on abortion, trying and successfully managing to make it illegal in places, and falling back on “respect my beliefs” when challenged on it—which only results in desperate women doing desperate things. What makes the Holy Trinity immune to criticism? Why can we challenge Nazism, bizarre cults like Scientology and the WBC, but not Islam? Why is Islam free to do what it wants? Why can’t we point out the flaws in Christianity? In each book of the Holy Trinity there are blatant passages of hate, untruths, and complete bullshit, but for some reason we are to respect that. Both major religions are very clear how they feel about homosexuals yet for some reason I have to respect that? No I don’t respect that...I don’t respect a book that says,

“If a man lies with a male as he lies with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination. They shall surely be put to death. Their blood shall be upon them. (Leviticus 20:13)”

And this little gem from the Qur’ran:

“Slay them wherever ye find them, and drive them out of the places whence they drove you out... If they attack you (there) then slay them. Such is the reward of disbelievers.--2:191”

I don’t have to respect books that promote this. Is there good stuff in the Bible and the Qur’ran? Sure, but there was good stuff in Nazism too. For example, Hitler was very kind to animals. Nazis made the first highway. I liked Nazi attitudes towards the working man, too. But that doesn’t mean I have to respect Nazism, and it doesn’t mean I have to respect the Holy Trinity. A line must be drawn so that religions cannot back people into a corner, hiding safely and offensively behind their phalanx of respect. Too easily and too widely is that formation arranged.

Respect Humanity not Theocracy

We weren’t respecting religion when DOMA was broken as made clear by the Republican response nor were we respecting religion when we stopped burning witches and if we are going to continue to break down the restrictive walls religion has built, we need to do a lot more disrespecting. I am NOT saying we should get out our torches and set fire to churches while chanting “atheism rules!” We need to handle this calmly, rationally and politely. Education and debate; those are the atheist weapons, and it is only with those weapons can we make people see the folly of religion. We need to let the religious in power know they do not have the right to lord their religion over us. If they want to go without sex, alcohol or gambling, that is their choice—but don’t make it so other people have to do the same.

Because there is nothing quite like drunken fornication on a poker table...

Yes you have the right to a belief, and I have the right to criticise it.

Monday, October 28, 2013

What has "God" Done for Mankind?

The Legacy of the Imagined Benefactor

All religion claims that their god embodies "omni" qualities, such as omnipotence and omnipresence and omniscience. So we should see God doing all sorts of things, shouldn’t we? For those who've bought into the delusion, they THINK that they DO see "God's hand" in everything. Oh what a truly confused lot indeed.

The primitive people who first thought up religion saw "God's hand" in everything, too. From volcanic eruptions to lightning strikes, it was all the work of "God" or "the gods" who later dwindled down for most to a single deity. They offered blood and flesh "sacrifices" of beasts and humans alike to appease these gods in the hopes of winning their favor and to stop nature from following its own course. The foolishness of this is something that most of us agree upon now as we are able to look back on our past. But some stubbornly hold to such notions and claim their god has sent destruction by natural disaster to their religious enemies. This is the legacy of death that they have thrust upon their imaginary benefactor. Because of this, when we ask what God has done for mankind, we can answer: "He has brought death and hatred."

If "God is Love", then Ice Cream is a Meteor

The phrase "God is love" is a very popular one. It's on t-shirts and bumper stickers and even up on billboards, but that doesn't make it true in the least. In fact, there are few statements that are LESS TRUE. If we are willing to look critically at the world around us, it is painfully obvious that IF a "god" exists at all, that god either hates us or flat out doesn't give two shits about us. The other alternative is that no god exists at all and the world is a shitty place because WE LET IT BE. And that, my friends, is a hard notion for the religious to swallow, because it means their gods aren't the omnipotent beings they believe them to be.

This is the only real "burden" of atheism. It calls for one to take full responsibility for their actions. There is no guiding hand to lay the blame upon and no "divine" plan that relieves us of our obligation to act humanely and justly to all people. But it's a "burden" and a "blessing" as well, because it also means that we get to own all the pride in our own achievements as well. There is no guilt associated with that pride for us because we know there is no “sin” to trouble our mind. Religious people do not get to enjoy taking pride in their own accomplishments because according to their various doctrines all “glory” belongs to their god. They fail to see that this idea that God gets all the glory is like a father whose son does all the hard work on a science fair project and wins first prize, but then his dad comes over and says “Since I put my penis in your mother’s vagina a few years ago and that made you, now everything that you do that is note-worthy and a wonderful accomplishment belongs to me. So hand over the trophy, you little snot-nosed brat.” The worst part of that idea is the fact that God is an absentee parent, like a father who walked out on his family years ago… BUT HE STILL EXPECTS TO BE INVITED TO THANKSGIVING DINER! Ask anyone who’s had a parent walk out on them how they feel about that idea and I’m sure you’ll get an earful.

God is Present in all Things all the Time, it just SEEMS like he isn’t there at all…

This is the religious argument for a case that God exists:

. First, ASSUME that God does exist because someone wrote a book once.
. Secondly, ASSUME that although God exists, he isn’t big on making flamboyant
. Third, when confronted with the idea that your holy book says that God used to be very active in the lives of humanity but seems suspiciously absent now, state that God does what he wants so they should just shut up.
. Fourth, when confronted with the idea that God is portrayed in their holy books as a genocidal, narcissistic asshole, who is the epitome of hubris, tell them that they are just humans and can’t understand “God’s will.” He exists outside of the physical world, so we can’t judge him by human standards.

If none of that makes sense to you, that’s why you’re an atheist. It all falls apart at the point where you must first ASSUME that God exists. If God is all-powerful as they claim, I shouldn’t need to ASSUME a damn thing. As an atheist I make NO assumptions about such things. I evaluate ALL situations using logic and reason to make a rational decision. I look to science to provide answers as to HOW we got here and where we’re heading, not WHY we are here because that is an existential and philosophical question which honestly has a different answer for each of us. But when it comes to knowing HOW science is the only place that offers any real substantial truth on the matter.

The sun is not the work of God, it’s a nuclear reactor sitting in the void of space expending light and heat during the chemical process of converting various gases into fuel energy in order to continue its own “life-cycle.” If I believed it was just the work of God, then I would have to also believe that the melanoma that UV rays can cause IS ALSO the work of God. But that would also leave us looking to God for a cure to that cancer, and NOTHING would come from that except death. It is not any great accomplishment to seem invisible, and if God chooses to appear invisible, then we may as well consider that God non-existent whether that is true or not. Why? Because we can’t rely on that invisible being to do anything to help us.

What has God Done for YOU Lately?

So the most important question we can ask ourselves is, “What has God done for me lately?” And unless you can say that God literally came into a plane that was crashing and spirited you straight into your living room unharmed, the HONEST answer to that question is NOTHING. “God” does nothing. It is all up to you to do for yourself. If you are unhappy, don’t pray about it, go do something about it. Take an introspective look inside yourself and identify what it is making you unhappy and change that thing. Sure, you might need to seek some outside help to do that, but the idea of an invisible fairy in the sky making it all better is just a silly idea.

In the end, I can give all the same old arguments that we as atheists give against God and religion. I can list all the similarities between all religious myths and their commonality. I can point out the great harm that is facilitated by religion. But most of that has already been stated time and again and it quite often fails to sway the most devout of believers. So what I want to offer, and what I want anyone who reads this to take away from it is this:

I don’t care if you are religious or not. I don’t want to destroy anyone’s faith. I simply want everyone to understand that if we want to thrive and succeed as a species, we have to ALL start putting humanity first. Because the only being we can count on to be there and do for us is ourselves.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Ten Common Myths About Atheists

1) Atheists Believe Everything Came From Nothing

Many theists believe there was once nothing, and then there was something—the universe—created by their god. And so they ask, “But if there is no god then how can something come from nothing?”

This question has been asked for thousands of years, but now Quantum physics has provided a basis for some atheists, such as Lawrence Krauss, to indeed believe the universe comes from “nothing.” But Krauss doesn’t speak for all atheists and he speaks of a very different kind of “nothing,” the kind where virtual particles are created from borrowed energy inside a vacuum. This is not even remotely close to what theists mean by the term “nothing.”

When asked about the universe, most atheists simply stop somewhere along the lines of “the evidence suggests the universe began expanding approximately 13.77 billion years ago.” Beyond that I’m fine with “I don’t know.” I don’t need to know. I do not believe the universe came from “nothing” in the way theists use the word or in the way Krauss uses the word. I don‘t think there’s enough evidence to reach a conclusion yet and I‘m fine with that. I’ve never met an atheist who believed everything comes from “nothing“ in the way theists use the word and in my experience, only a minority subscribe to the theory Krauss puts forward. Theists may believe the universe sprang from nothing, but they then have the burden of proving there was ever “nothing” and that “something” requires any gods at all.

2) Atheists Have No Morals

Humans are social beings, and as such we have morals. Some theists say atheists have no reason to be moral since we don’t believe in a god to instruct or punish us. This claim seems rather disingenuous when one considers that most theists who say this wouldn’t become immoral deviants overnight if they suddenly stopped believing in a god.

Studies have shown our morals are a product of multiple factors. The Milgram experiment shows authority plays a major role. The Stanford prison experiment showed the same, but also displayed the role of social hierarchy. The “good or evil” puppet test for babies suggests we are all born with a basic sense of fairness, justice, and unfortunately, bigotry. Human morality is too complex to be explained by religion or lack of it.

Millions of atheists across the globe live moral lives every day. Some don’t. Neither do some believers. There are atheist charities and atheist criminals. There are religious charities and religious hate groups. Religious people and atheists can both behave morally or immorally because of—or wholly independent of—their religious beliefs. One doesn’t necessarily lead to the other. Studies have shown the basis of human morality is present even before we’re exposed to religion.

3) Atheists Have No Meaning of Life

Even if humanity survives the next 5 billion years on this planet, the sun will balloon into a red giant, boil and possibly devour the earth before exploding and blasting out through the cosmos. The universe will continue to expand at an increasing rate, and eventually the force of gravity will be too weak for any new stars or planets to form. The universe will whither and die.

Some theists consider this and think without belief in an afterlife, nothing really matters in this life. Believing in an afterlife can influence one’s meaning of life, but a meaning of life doesn’t require belief in an afterlife. Some theists refer to Nietzsche’s nihilism as if Nietzsche were the be-all and end-all of existentialist philosophy. But humans generally define our meaning in the moments we enjoy and the goals we set. This was probably best articulated by Albert Camus in The Myth of Sisyphus.

I enjoy every moment I spend with my daughter, and one of my goals is to be a good father. I enjoy art, and one of my goals is to read, hear and see more of it. I like a large, hot cup of coffee while watching the dim glow of morning just before dawn. I love the serenity of canoeing on a sunny day and the soft crunch of fresh snow beneath my feet. I enjoy my friends and my family. Atheism does give life meaning because as an atheist, I understand this is the only life I’ve got.

4) There Are No Atheists in Foxholes

Yes there are. They even have a website. Nonetheless there persists among some this belief that atheism is generally disingenuous and that everyone cries out to “God” in times of need. This claim highlights a conflicting epistemology between the theist who is basing beliefs in part on fear and need, and the those of us who determine beliefs based on facts and evidence.

Their assumption also implies that when a theist cries out “Oh God,” they are literally trying to talk to “God.” I have several religious family and friends who say “Oh God” in all sorts of scenarios but are rarely actually trying to carry on a conversation with The Almighty. Even a theist saying “Oh God” in a foxhole is most likely not actually expecting divine intervention. The phrase is generally used in the same way as “Oh Shit,” which generally doesn’t involve any reference to actual shit. Even so, there are millions of people who’ve encountered life threatening situations and didn’t cry out about god, shit or anything else.

5) Atheists Just Hate God

About as much as we hate unicorns. Theists tend to make this claim when atheists assert moral opinions about supposed deeds of their deity. “How can you have opinions about something you don’t believe in?” The same way we form opinions about Darth Vader, Willy Wonka or the Wicked Witch of the West—according to their role within the story. It doesn’t matter if the story involves a Sith killing all the Jedi kids or a god killing a nation’s first born.

Just repeating the claim back usually gets the point across. Do Christians “hate” Allah? Do Muslims “hate” Jesus? Do Jews “hate” the FSM? Not believing in a particular religion is not dependent on a negative opinion of that religion’s deity or messiah figure. It’s simply the result of not being convinced because the burden of proof has not been met. I personally think Buddha and Lao Tzu both had great things to say, but I’m not a Buddhist or a Taoist.

6) Atheists Just Don’t Want to Submit to God

Well, one would first need to provide reason for believing there is anything to submit to. Lacking belief in deities doesn’t mean one doesn’t want to submit to what they don’t believe in. Like number 5, the point can be made rather easily by simply repeating this back to the theist. Does the Christian lack belief in Allah just because she doesn’t want to wear a hijab? Do non Catholics lack belief in Catholicism simply because they don’t want to submit to the Pope? Do Muslims lack belief Jesus was the embodiment of “God” simply because they want to continue justifying child marriages with the actions of their so-called prophet?

7) Atheists Are Angry

There once was a time when challenging religion was considered taboo. Some would like to hold on to that standard to save their religion from scrutiny. Those days are over, but that doesn‘t mean being skeptical of religion means skeptics are angry.

Being confrontational does not equate to anger. If someone told you Elvis was spotted buying T-shirts at K-Mart, their claims would be analyzed, scrutinized, debunked and in most cases, outright laughed at. I see no reason why it should be any different for religious claims.

8) Atheists Are Responsible for the Worst Atrocities in History

Stalin, Pol Pot and Mao were all atheists, so atheism must be responsible for the mass executions during said reigns—or so the accusation goes. This statement is usually a retort to blaming Christianity for the Crusades or Islam for terrorism. The fact of the matter is there have been Christians, atheists, Muslims and many others of different beliefs and non beliefs who have committed multiple atrocities throughout history. But there have also been some of the kindest deeds in history performed by people of all kinds of belief and non belief.

Stalin, Pol Pot and Mao did not execute people in the name of atheism, but rather for simply not submitting to them as if they were gods themselves. There is a long list of atheist politicians who never committed atrocities. Claiming atheism would lead to disastrous atrocities like those witnessed in the early Soviet Union is a hasty generalization fallacy which ignores all the good deeds of decent atheist politicians throughout time.

9) Atheists Are Guilty of “Scientism”

It must be difficult holding beliefs which cannot be justified with evidence. This leads some theists to conclude atheists all subscribe to “scientism.” This term is meant as an insult against skeptics for daring to ask for evidence when confronted with extraordinary claims.

Scientism is a philosophy which holds that science is the ultimate truth, and that science is the only way to truth. But preferring science to superstition doesn’t mean science is always correct. Scientists are humans and can make mistakes like anyone else. However, the methodology of science does work. That doesn’t mean science is the only way to truth. It just means it’s an effective method of attaining natural truths.

Many atheists are equally skeptical of science and religion. My first assignment in my college statistics class was to find three examples of misused data in the media. This same task had been given to each class for over a decade and no two people ever turned in the same three examples. I have also studied philosophy, including philosophy of science, and so I understand science can be wrong. I have yet to meet an atheist who believes scientists are infallible.

10) Atheists Are All Rational and Logical

This is one I hear mostly from other atheists. Some atheists like to consider themselves more rational than theists and ask why we should call ourselves atheists at all, as opposed to calling ourselves rationalists or some other such term.

But all atheists are not rational. Atheism is simply the lack of belief in deities. There are atheists who believe in homeopathy, ancient aliens, 911 conspiracy theories and a host of other completely irrational ideas unsupported by any stretch of logic. Just because someone arrived at the rational non belief in deities does not mean they are rational about everything else.

5 Things That Believers Can Do, But Atheists Can’t

Atheists actually miss out on a lot of activities that religious believers can participate in. Let’s go through the list, and see what you think.

1. Child Molestation

If you read the news at all, you will have seen country after country finally recognize that many Catholic priests abused, molested and in some cases raped children. This was often done over a protracted period of time. Very few of the individuals involved have been jailed (oftentimes because of an applicable statute of limitations), although many Catholic dioceses have had to pay some significant settlements, usually on an out-of-court basis. All too often, the offenders were not turned over to the police nor were the crimes admitted, even though these crimes were known to the higher authorities within the church. In some cases, repeat offenders were just transferred from one position into another. The senior authorities who were responsible for the cover-ups have, up until now, escaped justice altogether.

Fundamentalist groups often follow strict observance of physical punishment for children. These are the “spare the rod, spoil the child” types. Many Christians consider it their duty to apply corporal discipline to children. Some consider this practice to be imbued by the taint of “original sin.” Every year, we see reports of children brutalized under this doctrine (although some parents are being prosecuted now, if the harm is too egregious).

Jews and Muslims also ritually mutilate their sons’ bodies through the practice of circumcision. If an atheist sliced off the ear tips of their children, on the basis that kids never properly wash their ears, what would be the response? Just because someone claims that their god told them more than 1,000 years ago to mutilate their son’s penis, that makes it ok? We even allow Orthodox Jews to perform a ritual that involves the mohel, a “professional” practitioner of the circumcision ritual, to draw blood from the newly circumcised child by using his mouth. I can’t see an atheist putting his mouth on a 8 day old boy’s penis and not going to jail.

2. Animal Cruelty

It goes by the ritual name of being kosher or halal. Under this practice, an animal is slaughtered by slitting its throat so as to allow its heart to continue to pump the blood out of its body before it dies. Both Islam and Judaism prohibit their followers from consuming blood, so this is probably the underlying “reason” for the practice. Most developed countries require that the animal be stunned before being slaughtered, but give an exception to slaughter houses established for these “religious” practices.

I have read many apologist arguments that this is somehow not a cruel practice and that the animal dies very quickly. But this has never been supported by any independent study. I have seen animals slaughtered this way. It’s not fast. It doesn’t matter how sharp the knife is (which some authors contest is a critical factor in their support of this practice), the animal either dies from blood loss or asphyxiation if the windpipe has been fully severed. It is prima facie more cruel that stunning the animal first before killing it. If atheists killed animals this way, in most countries it would be illegal and we’d go to jail.

3. Practicing Medicine Without a License

Don’t you just love all the faith healers out there? Claiming to heal the sick,
claiming to throw out the demons whose presence caused you to miss that last promotion opportunity? The amazing thing is that if you are not healed, it’s not the preacher’s fault. God didn’t find you worthy of a cure. But then they don’t get “paid” to heal, they just accept donations...

If an atheist had a new “cure” for a medical condition and tried to sell it without going through the normal procedures for approving pharmaceutical products or medical practices—procedures designed to prove that they are safe and effective before they can be administered to the public—they would go to jail, or be sued, or fined for false advertising.

4. People Respect Your Opinions Without Evidence

Isn’t it wonderful how believers can justify a position they have on the basis that they are being guided by their faith? It would be rude to challenge them on this; after all, they have a “personal relationship” with their favorite god. Does this mean God leaves you voice mails on your phone? Maybe you’re his “friend” on Facebook? Why are they not worried about climate change? Because we are in the “end times.” How do they know this? Because of the “signs” that they interpret to be in accord with something someone wrote ages ago. Never mind that they have been wrong about this numerous times in the past.

How about evolution? No, they have creationism and intelligent design. Any evidence for this, like a new species just popping into existence recently? How about the great global flood? Any evidence at all? Archeology, astronomy, geology, biogenetics, and paleontology have conclusively demonstrated that:

1. The universe, earth and animal life were not created in 7 days;

2. Water did not predate the creation of the universe and the earth;

3. There was no global flood;

4. There was no exodus of the Hebrews from Egypt (or wandering in the desert for 40 years);

5. The Hebrews didn’t conquer Canaan, they were Canaanites already themselves, they spoke a Canaanite language, and originally worshipped El, a Canaanite god;

6. The moon never split in two;

7. There was no iron-using civilization in America with millions of people fighting huge battles before the advent of the Europeans;

8. and so on and so forth.

Yet when faced with a complete lack of evidence, religious believers expect others to “respect” their beliefs about these things and not laugh at them. Apparently, if you’re a believer, having faith is all about being able to believe the most patently ridiculous things, and not be criticized or ridiculed for it. There is no such thing as a peer-reviewed paper in religion. Anyone can interpret the holy books anyway they want, and there is no way to prove them wrong. If an atheist wants people to believe in something, they need evidence to back it up and any test results must be capable of duplication.

5. You Get to Take Things That Aren’t Yours, Because God Gave It to You

The whole state of Israel falls into this category, and not just the illegal occupation of the lands outside the 1967 borders. In every other context, invading another country, taking their land, and then putting your own people on it, is considered to be ethnic cleansing. It was ethnic cleansing when the Serbs and Croats did it to each other and to the Bosnians. It was ethnic cleansing when the Germans settled people in occupied Poland, Ukraine and Russia in WWII. The action is always the same—you kill the original owners, or drive them away, or make them afraid to stay. Any who remain lose their land rights to the new preferred settlers and usually get stuck in a sort of ghetto (like the Palestinian refugee camps now, or the limits on Palestinian building in occupied territories).

But when the Jews did it to the local Muslims (and some Christians too) at the time of the formation of Israel and subsequently, it wasn’t (and still isn’t) considered ethnic cleansing by much of the world–especially in the US. They are just going back to their “promised land” (even though the land promised by YHWH in the Hebrew Torah is different than the land occupied by Israel today). Never mind that the Egyptians controlled it on and off before the two small kingdoms of Israel and Judea ever existed. Never mind that it has been the property of many other nation-states over the course of recorded history. God gave it to them, so they are entitled to it.

Manifest Destiny

The American concept of “manifest destiny” falls somewhat into this category too. Although no one at the time said overtly that the Christian God had given the land to them, much of the writing during that time had heavy religious overtones. The Christian European settlers were more “entitled” to the land than were the Native American peoples, who were also heathens. There was also no small amount of racism in this as well. The same is true for the period of the Spanish and Portuguese conquests of South America, and the English occupation of Australia, Canada and New Zealand. Many of the horrors that were visited upon the local peoples were justified in the name of religion—a religion which was deemed superior to the beliefs of the native peoples, whose conversion (often forcibly) into Christianity was considered part of the divine plan.

I do not see atheists having any chance of being able to take over territory as their new “homeland” to save themselves from possible persecution by others, nor to be allowed to forcibly convert religious believers. One thing the Jews, Christians and Muslims can all agree on is that they don’t like atheists.

God-Men: Atheism & The Cults of Personality

One of the first things you might want to say while on a first date with an atheist is “but weren't Stalin, Mao and Hitler atheists?” It may be an attempt to direct his or her attention to a seemingly significant quandary, or it may be that atheism is a turn-off and you just don't want to spend the remaining twenty minutes until the meal is served learning more about the person or that branch of philosophy. Knowing that this question is not just for casual conversations but also raised in major debates, this particular individual will choose to eat a cold meal rather than let you score a debate point.

Atheism is an acknowledgment that there is no evidence for the existence of any god, deity or theistic being of any kind. While this is used mainly to apply to men who claimed to be gods several thousand years ago, it is not a static observation. Atheism is as much against the “cults of personality” that men like Hitler, Stalin, Mao and scores of others created. If you call yourself an “atheist,” that does not mean that you have the freedom to replace Jesus and Muhammad with your own good self.
Hitler the Deliverer

Adolf Hitler was not an atheist. He often criticized Christianity as being too “weak” for his taste, but that doesn't make him an atheist, because that is not what atheism is about, is it? By the same token, he spoke of Islam as the only religion he truly admired, and mused about how the German people would have been the natural leaders of the “Ummah” (Muslim world) had they adopted the religion of Muhammad. Hitler hated Hinduism because of the polytheism, idol worship and "inferior" race of its adherents, and rejected suggestions about bringing back the old pagan Germanic gods, as they had been clearly “defeated” by the religion of Christ. Notice that none of the reasons included the words “There is no evidence...”

Hitler believed in God, but in varying degrees throughout his life. When Hitler narrowly escaped death in the trenches during the First World War, he believed he had been saved by God in order to fulfill a greater purpose. From the 1920s, Hitler's speeches often included clear references to doing “God's work.” The Nazi SS took an oath to Hitler and God. Hitler's first political pact was made with the Roman Catholic Church, which agreed not to stand in the way of Hitler's dismantling of the Catholic Center Party (one of the key conservative parties in Germany) and permitted Catholic priests to lead a weekly prayer for the Fuhrer directly from the pew, in turn for Catholic Church monopoly over schooling in Germany. Hitler had revealed his secret plan for the destruction of the Jewish people to the Mufti of Jerusalem, Haji Amin al-Husseini, before he did to other senior Nazi party confidantes. He enlisted the Mufti's help to recruit thousands of Bosnian Muslim soldiers into the German army and even the Waffen SS. No atheist worth his or her name would ever contemplate making any pacts, let alone indulge in such sinister scheming as Hitler allowed himself to make with the leaders of multiple religions.

Hitler was not a follower, he was a leader—of a cult of personality. He wanted the German people and sympathizers of his cause everywhere to believe in him as a “godlike” figure. That would be his only failing if he were trying to qualify as a sincere believer in Christ or Muhammad—he wanted their spot. He had no quarrel with organized religions that agreed to serve his purpose. He sought to inspire the kind of loyalty that ultimately led us to witness young German boys and girls manning artillery in the roads of Berlin against the vicious Red Army. Defeats were never his fault—he could not be wrong. When it was clear that he could not win, he refused to allow the Germans to surrender and save their lives—he was prepared to sacrifice the entire German nation before himself or his ideology. They were too “sinful” and weak to deserve to live, if they could not defeat the forces of international Jewry...

Decades after the Holocaust, so many eccentric and bigoted pseudo-historians and politicians try to argue that Hitler “didn't know” about the Holocaust, and that he didn't really want to start a global war. Today, men and women of reason have the same problem with the believers of Muhammad, who argue their Prophet was a man of peace even though the Qur'an, like Mein Kampf, directly and repeatedly contradicts any such claim.

Stalin and The Holy Trinity

The Communists came to power in Russia with a searing vengeance, killing millions for ridiculous reasons. However, their opposition to organized religion was from the perspective of it helping keep the royal family and nobility in power for centuries at the expense of Russia's impoverished masses. It is true that under Stalin, many thousands of churches were ransacked, icons and Bibles destroyed, but that was the same fate that native religions suffered at the hands of Christianity and Islam when they came into town. Vladimir of the Kievan Rus ordered his pagan people to convert to the creed of the “Prince of Peace,” or risk being killed. Already, the Communists were merely following the footsteps of the faithful.

Josef Stalin had a difficult situation to handle when he came to power. With Lenin dead, the next most charismatic politician in the party was Leon Trotsky, and Stalin had only come to power by forging an “alliance” against Trotsky. After dispatching his political opponents, Stalin still had to overcome his lack of charisma and popularity in comparison to Lenin and Trotsky. To cement his power, he created a cult that you will find sounds very familiar…

First, he made Lenin the creator of this invincible State and party—Lenin's wisdom and leadership were unparalleled, and he insisted that he was right about everything. His body was preserved in a mausoleum and on display forever, allowing the masses to visit their Lord, to feel his “eternal presence” for generations in as mystical a sense as possible. Stalin was humble enough never to challenge Lenin directly, and settled for merely being his successor (historians have revealed that Lenin did not, in fact, trust Stalin at all and did not anoint him the successor). Lenin was dead, so his aura was effectively “ethereal.” As his chosen successor, Comrade Stalin was the righteous leader. To be loyal to Stalin was to honor Lenin, and to question him was treason with Lenin. The Party, certainly “omnipresent” and under totalitarian decrees, “omniscient” as well, was the spirit of Lenin's ideals and of the nation. It was all across Russia, and every patriotic Russian should aspire to be a part of it. The party controlled everything—from personal life to the economy to war and revolution. It was both the establishment and the revolutionary force all at once.

Thus, Stalin effectively replaced “The Father, The Son & The Holy Spirit” with “Lenin, Stalin & The Communist Party.” This system did not fail him during his lifetime, and allowed him to send millions of his own people—the Russians and Georgians and the other enslaved nationalities—to horrible slavery-until-death. The world outside Communism was already explained as inherently decadent and corrupt, but Stalin would decide when the time was right to take the righteous cause abroad with all the power of the State. The Communists had their own eschatology—when the whole world would be surrendered unto the one, true ideology and state of being—and their organs of international collusion to spread their effective “holy war” abroad. In the meantime, non-existent production surpluses and bumper crop yields were announced in miraculous terms to the overwhelmed public as irrefutable evidence of the correctness of the leader's way. A “counter-revolutionary” enemy was created, of course, to explain those cases of Russians rebelling against these absurd lies.

When lay Catholics publicly state their belief that Pope John Paul II “did not know” about the Catholic clergy abusing children, it reminds us of the many Russians who survived the Gulags and testified that when the police came for them, in the dead of night or even broad daylight, they genuinely believed that Stalin “did not know” what the State's police was doing. Stalin was still "right," even if you were being sent to your death, for how could anyone, in the Soviet mind, imagine replacing the scion of Lenin? “Stalin still loves you”—oh yes, and large numbers of young Russians are still convinced Stalin was a great leader, even though no single individual in history has been responsible for killing as many Russian people.

Perhaps it's forgivable—one of the key traits of religion is that the prevalence of reality (or if you like, “evil”) rarely disturbs the description of “all powerful and all-knowing” that is bestowed upon their God or Allah or whatever. Did you defeat your addiction to alcohol or drugs? God or Allah helped you do that. Why are children still starving to death in Somalia and Sudan? Its God's or Allah's plan to “test the faith” of their parents. Jesus or the Mahdi is going to come to put an end to all of that because Satan and disbelief is responsible for all of that. A perpetual, irrational hope via the suspension of reality is offered for the lack of answers. In most cases, human beings have taken it. Nobody asks why beating the addiction woes of a handful of people was deemed more important for the deity or savior or leader than the life-and-death struggle of millions of emaciated children. So—a bumper crop or high industrial yield achieved by farmers or workers? Credit to Stalin! Police picks me up in the middle of the night to be taken to be starved and worked to death—Stalin can't have known. Stalin still loves me.
Mao and the Emperor's Cult

China is one of the rare nations to be spared the scourge of Abrahamic religion, so perhaps the atheist argument is finally dented in the case of Mao? Yes, there was no deep-rooted superstition about a “Holy Trinity” to take advantage of. In fact, it was much simpler—Mao could have it all, with the Cult of the Emperor.

Since the days of the first Emperor of China, Qin Shi Huangdi, the monarch has been considered the “Son of Heaven.” The Forbidden City of the Imperial Palace is more than just a palace or city. It was planned and placed in such a way as to serve as the portal connecting the Emperor on Earth to Heaven. A totalitarian system of governance has been in place in China since Qin Shi Huangdi's chief advisor, Li Si devised “Legalism,” which made laws about everything, including the personal lives of individual Chinese. Li Si presided over a bonfire where thousands of books and manuscripts were thrown into the fire, and only the creed of the Emperor and his achievements were left. People were made expendable to the Emperor, and it was their duty just to serve him; millions are believed to have died working on the Emperor's “Great Wall,” the construction of Beijing and the Forbidden City and the various Emperor's mausoleums, so the experience of dying in process of the “Great Leap Forward” or the Cultural Revolution or any other disastrous Maoist schemes was not a new experience. The stars and signs were consulted when choosing the concubine the Emperor slept with that night, for it was not merely “sex” but a “holy act” that would have consequences for the health of the empire.

As if that wasn't enough, the serving clergy of this particular faith could not simply vow celibacy. They were castrated and made into eunuchs, for no male could live in the Forbidden City or stay beyond the hours of daylight. Concubines were murdered en masse if there was suspicion of sexual indiscretion, even with eunuchs, for they were not allowed to have relations with any man except and after the Emperor. Sound familiar, Muslims? Perhaps you have read the special Qur'anic verse warning you to stay away from Muhammad's widows, as they are not “ordinary” women… No problems with having four wives and sex slaves, but just not Muhammad's “possessions.”

Bumper crops and victories in war were directly ascribed to the Emperor's greatness. Defeats and depression were not reported. The “sinful” generals, eunuchs and other officials were immediately put to death, as they had failed the Emperor, not that the Emperor's orders were conceivably wrong. So what was it that Mao did differently—using the term “Chairman?”

The Kims and the 21st Century

Ultimately, neither Hitler nor Stalin or Mao were able to get past death. That is, until Kim Il-Sung. When the founder of the North Korean State died in 1994, his “death” was explained as a state of “sleep.” The Korean Communists had no difficulty invoking Korean religious mythology by telling the public of how “heavenly cranes,” who had descended to earth to collect Kim Il-Sung to take him to Heaven, were forced into a conference when confronted by the wailing Korean people, who could not stand losing their Great Leader. After long deliberations, they decided to leave the Great Leader in a state of “sleep” in his mausoleum on earth. The Korean Worker's Party immediately declared him the “Eternal President” of the state. Take your time to realize that North Korea's official equivalent to President Barack Obama is a corpse that ceased to live 19 years ago, but will continue in that post long after Mr. Obama has departed from the White House...

If Kim Il-Sung was not supposed to be “divine,” how else could one claim that he decided the measurements of the benches that were constructed for college students to use? Or that he personally wrote not mere “Little Red Books,” but entire textbooks about engineering, mathematics and other deeply technical subjects?

No Moral Dilemma Here

I wonder what will be the response of the theists to being informed that one of their core retorts (its not an “argument,” which implies that some thought has gone into it) against atheism has fallen apart. Clearly, none of these apples ever fell far from the tree. The Hitler cult used the creeds of Christ and Muhammad as well as the pagan Germanic belief systems, and Stalin designed his expressly on the Christian Trinity. Chairman Mao used China's oldest religious order that had never really died, and Korean mythology came swiftly to deify the Marxist-Leninist patriarch of North Korea. How any sane man or woman could ever imagine that any of these individuals were ever “atheists” can never be explained unless you are willing to admit that many people cannot identify hypocrisy even when it is taking place right before their very eyes.

Atheism is an arm of reason—it is not possible for it to co-exist with any ideology, organization or individual that suppresses free speech and thought, the very instruments that led to the inception of atheism. It is perhaps the refusal of atheism to become a political ideology that seeks to wed itself to the institutions of power, to “baptize” despots and mass murderers into its pantheon of heroes, that makes it difficult for large segments of the human population to take it seriously. After all, the Spanish Conquistadors were heroes of the Catholic Church, as were the “Ghazis” (Holy Warriors) that were Timur, Mahmud of Ghazni, Nadir Shah, to Islam, despite the fact that their cumulative kill total exceeds fifty million. Even though the Churches and Muslim Ulama have been consecrating the “divine right to rule” of single families over millions of people for several millennia, it is supposed to be a “Christian ethos” that has sustained American democracy for two hundred years. Let's even take it down the ladder – the Democratic and Republican parties enjoy massive loyalty and followings, despite the repeated cases of corruption, incompetence and bigotry that have prevailed in their activities and leaders for generations. Not for the believer in Camelot are John F. Kennedy's marital infidelities, the Bay of Pigs invasion or his mob connections; nor for the Reagan loyalist any mention of Iran-Contra...

Perhaps the cold reason of atheism is just too dull for these adventurous souls that find greater “peace” in lying down in unquestioning obedience for their Christ, their Allah and their respective rulers. Maybe it's easier than bothering to raise their voice to ask an odd question now and again. Too appealing to the human mind is the journey to “eternal happiness” and “peace,” which has inexplicably led us through repeated wars and holocausts; only when reason triumphs will the peace be deposited, but there is a lot for the forces of reason to overcome first. In the end, atheism just isn't hypocritical enough to entice the unquestioning masses...

Friday, October 25, 2013

Horus Manure: Debunking the Jesus/Horus Connection

Many atheists, neo-pagans, and other disbelievers of Christianity claim the story of Jesus Christ was borrowed from earlier mythologies. In recent years, a claim has been making the rounds that Jesus is based on the Egyptian god, Horus.

Who was Horus?

Horus is one of the oldest recorded deities in the ancient Egyptian religion. Often depicted as a falcon or a man with a falcon head, Horus was believed to be the god of the sun and of war. Initially he appeared as a local god, but over time the ancient Egyptians came to believe the reigning pharaoh was a manifestation of Horus (cf. Encyclopedia Britannica, “Horus”).

What about Jesus?

The skeptical claims being made about Jesus are not always the same. In some versions he was a persuasive teacher whose followers later attempted to deify him by adopting aspects of earlier god-figures, while in others he is merely an amalgamation of myths and never really existed at all. Both versions attempt to provide evidence that the Gospel accounts of the life of Christ are rip-offs.

In the 2008 documentary film Religulous (whose name is a combination of religion andridiculous), erstwhile comedian and political commentator Bill Maher confronts an unprepared Christian with this claim. Here is part of their interaction.

Bill Maher: But the Jesus story wasn’t original.
Christian man: How so?
Maher: Written in 1280 B.C., the
Book of the Dead describes a God, Horus. Horus is the son of the god Osiris, born to a virgin mother. He was baptized in a river by Anup the Baptizer who was later beheaded. Like Jesus, Horus was tempted while alone in the desert, healed the sick, the blind, cast out demons, and walked on water. He raised Asar from the dead. “Asar” translates to “Lazarus.” Oh, yeah, he also had twelve disciples. Yes, Horus was crucified first, and after three days, two women announced Horus, the savior of humanity, had been resurrected.
Maher is only repeating things that are and believed by many people today. Similar claims are made in movies such as Zeitgeist and Religulous and in pseudo-academic books such as Christ in Egypt: The Jesus-Horus Connection and Pagan Origins of the Christ Myth.

Often Christians are not prepared for this type of encounter, and some are even swayed by this line of argumentation. Maher’s tirade provides a good summary of the claims, so let’s deconstruct it, one line at a time.

Written in 1280 BC, the Book of the Dead describes a God, Horus.

In fact, there are many “books of the dead.” But there is no single, official Book of the Dead. The books are collections of ancient Egyptian spells that were believed to help the deceased on their journey to the afterlife.

The title Book of the Dead comes from an Arabic label referring to the fact that the books were mostly found with mummies (cf. The Oxford Guide to Egyptian Mythology, “Funerary Literature”). Some of these texts contain vignettes depicting the god Horus, but they don’t tell us much about him.

Our information about Horus comes from a variety of archaeological sources. What we do know from the most recent scholarship on the subject is that there were many variations of the story, each of them popularized at different times and places throughout the 5,000-year span of ancient Egyptian history.

Egyptologists recognize the possibility that these differences may have been understood as aspects or facets of the same divine persona, but they nevertheless refer to them as distinct Horus-gods (cf. The Oxford Guide to Egyptian Mythology, “Horus”).

Part of the problem with the “Jesus is Horus” claim is that in order to find items that even partially fit the life story of Jesus, advocates of the view must cherry-pick bits of myth from different epochs of Egyptian history.

This is possible today because modern archaeology has given us extensive knowledge of Egypt’s religious beliefs and how they changed over time, making it possible to cite one detail from this version of a story and another from that.

But the early Christians, even if they had wanted to base the Gospels on the Horus myths, would have had no way to do so.

They might have known what was believed about Horus in the Egypt of their day, but they would have had no access to the endless variations of the stories that laid buried in the sands until archaeologists started digging them up in the 1800s.

Horus is the son of the god Osiris, born to a virgin mother.

The mother of Horus was believed to be the goddess Isis. Her husband, the god Osiris, was killed by his enemy Seth, the god of the desert, and later dismembered. Isis managed to retrieve all of Osiris’s body parts except for his phallus, which was thrown into the Nile and eaten by catfish. (I’m not making this up). Isis used her goddess powers to temporarily resurrect Osiris and fashion a golden phallus. She was then impregnated, and Horus was conceived. However this story may be classified, it is not a virgin birth.

He was baptized in a river by Anup the Baptizer, who was later beheaded.

There is no character named Anup the Baptizer in ancient Egyptian mythology. This is the concoction of a 19th-century English poet and amateur Egyptologist by the name of Gerald Massey. Massey is the author of several books on the subject of Egyptology; however, professional Egyptologists have largely ignored his work. In fact, his writing is held in such low regard in archaeological circles that it is difficult to find references to him in reputable modern publications.

In the book Christ in Egypt: The Horus-Jesus Connection (Stellar House Publishing, 2009), author D. M. Murdoch, drawing heavily from Gerald Massey, identifies “Anup the Baptizer” as the Egyptian god Anubis. Murdoch then attempts to illustrate parallels between Anubis and John the Baptist.

Some evidence exists in Egyptian tomb paintings and sculptures to support the idea that a ritual washing was done during the coronation of Pharaohs, but it is always depicted as having been done by the gods. This indicates that it may have been understood as a spiritual event that likely never happened in reality (cf. Alan Gardiner, “The Baptism of Pharaoh,” The Journal of Egyptian Archaeology, vol. 36). This happened only to kings (if it happened to them at all), and one searches in vain to find depictions of Horus being ritually washed by Anubis.

Like Jesus, Horus was tempted while alone in the desert.

The companion guide to the film Zeitgeist outlines the basis for this claim by explaining, “As does Satan with Jesus, Set (aka Seth) attempts to kill Horus. Set is the ‘god of the desert’ who battles Horus, while Jesus is tempted in the desert by Satan” (p. 23).

Doing battle with the “god of the desert” is not the same as being tempted while alone in the desert; and according to the Gospel accounts, Satan did not attempt to kill Jesus there (cf. Matt. 4, Mark 1:12-13, Luke 4:1-13).

The relationship between Horus and Seth in the ancient Egyptian religion was quite different than the relationship between Jesus and Satan. While Seth and Horus were often at odds with each other, it was believed that their reconciliation was what allowed the pharaohs to rule over a unified country. It was believed that the pharaoh was a “Horus reconciled to Seth, or a gentleman in whom the spirit of disorder had been integrated” (The Oxford Guide to Egyptian Mythology, “Seth”). In stark contrast, there is never any reconciliation between Jesus and Satan in Scripture.

Healed the sick, the blind, cast out demons, and walked on water.

The Metternich Stella, a monument from the 4th century B.C., tells a story in which Horus is poisoned by Seth and brought back to life by the god Thoth at the request of his mother, Isis. The ancient Egyptians used the spell described on this monument to cure people. It was believed that the spirit of Horus would dwell within the sick, and they would be cured the same way he was. This spiritual indwelling is a far cry from the physical healing ministry of Christ. Horus did not travel the countryside laying his hands on sick people and restoring them to health.

He raised Asar from the dead. “Asar” translates to “Lazarus.”

The name Osirus is a Greek transliteration of the Egyptian name Asar. As I mentioned earlier, Osirus is the father of Horus, and, according to the myth, he was killed by Seth and briefly brought back to life by Isis in order to conceive Horus. It was not Horus who raised “Asar” from the dead. It was his mother.

The name Lazarus is actually derived from the Hebrew word Eleazar meaning “God has helped.” This name was common among the Jews of Jesus’ time. In fact, two figures in the New Testament bear this name (cf. John 11, Luke 16:19-31).

Oh, yeah, he also had twelve disciples.

Again, this claim finds its origin in the work of Gerald Massey (Ancient Egypt: The Light of the World, book 12), which points to a mural depicting “the twelve who reap the harvest.” But Horus does not appear in the mural.

In the various Horus myths, there are indications of the four “Sons of Horus,” or six semi-gods, who followed him, and at times there were various numbers of human followers, but they never add up to twelve. Only Massey arrives at this number, and he does so only by referencing the mural with no Horus on it.

Yes, Horus was crucified first.

In many of the books and on the websites that attempt to make this connection, it is often pointed out that there are several ancient depictions of Horus standing with his arms spread in cruciform. One can only answer this with a heartfelt “So what?” A depiction of a person standing with his arms spread is not unusual, nor is it evidence that the story of a crucified savior predates that of Jesus Christ.

We do have extensive evidence from extra-biblical sources that the Romans around the time of Christ practiced crucifixion as a form of capital punishment. Not only that, but we have in the Bible actual eyewitness accounts of Jesus’ crucifixion. On the other hand, there is no historical evidence at all to suggest that the ancient Egyptians made use of this type of punishment.

And after three days, two women announced Horus, the savior of humanity, had been resurrected.

As I explained before, the story of the child Horus dying and being brought back to life is described on the Metternich Stella, which in no way resembles the sacrificial death of Jesus. Christ did not die as a child, only to be brought back to life because his grieving mother went to the animal-headed god of magic.

The mythology surrounding Horus is closely tied with the pharaohs, because they were believed to be Horus in life and Osirus in death. With the succession of pharaohs over the centuries came new variations on the myth. Sometimes Horus was believed to be the god of the sky, and at other times he was believed to be the god of war, at other times both; but he was never described as a “savior of humanity.”

Combating the never-ending list of parallels

If you do an Internet search on this subject, you will come across lists of supposed parallels between Jesus and Horus that are much longer than Bill Maher’s filmic litany. What they all have in common is that they do not cite their sources.

Should you encounter people who try to challenge you with these claims, ask them to explain where it is they got their information. Many times you will find that they originate with Gerald Massey or one of his contemporaries. Sometimes they have been repeated and expanded on by others. But these claims have little or no connection to the facts.

You should challenge the person making the claim to produce a primary source or a statement from a scholarly secondary source that has a footnote that can be checked. Then make sure the sources being quoted come from scholars with a Ph.D. in a relevant field, such as a person who teaches Egyptology at the university level.

Due to the mass of misinformation on the Internet and in print on this subject, it is important to respond to these claims using credible sources. Fortunately, there are many good books on Egypt and Egyptology in print. But there are also bad ones, so make sure to verify the author’s credentials before purchasing them.

The study of ancient Egypt has come a long way since its beginning in the 1800s, and new discoveries are being made even today that improve upon our understanding of the subject. It’s safe to say they will do nothing to bolster the alleged Jesus-Horus connection.

The Horus mythology developed over a period of 5,000 years, and as a result it can be a complex subject to tackle. But you don’t have to be an Egyptologist to answer all of these claims. You just need to know where to look for the answers—and to be aware of the claims’ flawed sources.

Atheism is Not a Religion

This is a refrain I’m hearing a lot from religious apologists – atheism is a religion. Also its equally fallacious siblings, science is a religion and evolution is a religion. It’s a sign of their desperation that the best argument they have is not that atheism is wrong, or that god does exist (supported by evidence of course), but that atheism is a religion too. A strange argument for a religious person to make on the face of it. Is it supposed to strengthen the atheist’s position or weaken the theist’s one? In reality it’s a sign they have run out of arguments.

Still, this argument is widely made, and so it needs to be addressed. Atheism (and here I mean the so-called “weak atheism” that does not claim proof that god does not exist), is just the lack of god-belief – nothing more and nothing less. And as someone once said, if atheism is a religion, not collecting stamps is a hobby.

That really ought to end the discussion right there. Clearly, a mere lack of belief in something cannot be a religion. In addition, atheism has no sacred texts, no tenets, no ceremonies. Even theists making this argument must know all that. So they must have something else in mind when they trot this one out, but what is it? What are they really thinking? Well, if you look at various definitions of religion, the only things that could possibly apply to atheism would be something like this:

6. Something one believes in and follows devotedly

or this:

4. A cause, principle, or activity pursued with zeal or conscientious devotion.

Obviously I don’t know if that’s what they mean – I don’t read minds. But I can’t see what else it could be. They must be referring to certain activities of atheists – writing books and blogs, financing bus ads, joining atheist groups, etc. They think atheists are “religious in their atheism” as one person put it to me – the word “religious” being used here colloquially to mean something felt very strongly, or followed enthusiastically. But this definition of religion is so broad that virtually anything people enjoy doing very much, or follow strongly or obsessively, is a religion. It’s a definition of religion that is so broad that it’s meaningless. In reality, most of the things that people follow enthusiastically, are just hobbies. And ironically, although not collecting stamps is not a hobby, getting involved in atheist activities (writing books and blogs, attending atheist meetings) might well be a hobby for some people. But it is a hobby, not a religion.
What Is Religion?

I’m sure that argument won’t convince all theists to abandon this rhetorical trope they love so much. To really address the argument, we have to define religion, and then see if atheism fits the definition. While I don’t think I can define religion completely, I think I can state the minimum that religion has to have to still be a religion. And it seems to me that there is one thing at least that is common to all religions. It’s this. In my view, religion at a minimum, has to have the following characteristic:

Religion must include something you have to accept on faith – that is, without evidence commensurate with the extraordinary nature of the belief.

Most religions will include other things too, but they must require faith. Of course, not all things that require faith are religions, but all religions must require faith.

The minimum definition covers all the religions I’m familiar with. For example, it includes any religion that involves belief in god or gods – something you have to believe in without evidence. Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism… all require you to believe in god or gods as a minimum, without evidence. The minimum definition would also include religions that don’t require belief in god, but require faith in other things. For example, I believe it would include Buddhism, which (for example) includes the belief that living beings go through a succession of lifetimes and rebirth. It would also include Scientology – no evidence for Xenu, that I’m aware of. Maybe you can think of some actual religions that would be excluded, but I haven’t been able to so far.

So religion requires belief without evidence. And by that definition atheism cannot possibly be a religion because atheists do not have to believe in anything to be an atheist – either with or without evidence. QED.

Now, some religious people may say, “but that’s not my definition of religion”. To which I say, OK, then give me your definition. Give me your definition of religion, that doesn’t require belief without evidence, that includes your religion, the others I named, and atheism. And it needs to be better than the two dictionary definitions I cited above. Give me that definition. Because here’s the thing. The problems I have with religions are:

They are not based on fact or on any reasonable evidence commensurate with the claims they make. In many cases, the claims they make are plainly absurd and are actually contradicted by the evidence.
Religious proponents demand respect, and adherence to their delusions by others. This despite (1) above.
Those are the aspects of religion that I object to. Clearly atheism doesn’t fit 1 (or 2) above, so it is nothing like any of the religions I object to. If your religion does not require belief without faith, then I probably wouldn’t have a problem with it. Assuming, of course, all the tenets of your religion are actually backed up by evidence extraordinary enough for the extraordinary claims your religion makes. But they never do.

In my view, theists will have their work cut out to deny this minimum requirement for religion. Come on – they even refer to their religion as “my faith”.

Evidence and Extraordinary Evidence

Some religious people will claim that their religious beliefs are backed by evidence. This is where it gets tricky, because many religious people genuinely believe their religion is rational and backed by evidence. For example, one Christian I debated cited that the evidence Christianity was real, was (and I quote), “the resurrection of Christ”. Of course, the resurrection of Christ, if it had actually happened, would be pretty good evidence for Christianity. But, unfortunately, there is no good evidence for the resurrection. Certainly, nothing close to the extraordinary evidence we would need to accept this extraordinary claim.

Extraordinary Claims

This needs explaining in more detail. Why do extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence? Well, all claims require exactly the same amount of evidence, it’s just that most "ordinary" claims are already backed by extraordinary evidence that you don’t think about. When we say “extraordinary claims”, what we actually mean are claims that do not already have evidence supporting them, or sometimes claims that have extraordinary evidence against them. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence because they usually contradict claims that are backed by extraordinary evidence.

So why is Jesus’ resurrection an extraordinary claim, and why is the Bible not extraordinary evidence for it? Well, the resurrection goes against all the evidence we have that people do not come back to life, spontaneously, after two days of being dead. Modern medicine can bring people back from what would have been considered in earlier years to be “dead”, but not after 2 days of being dead with no modern life support to keep the vital organs working. In fact, it is probably reasonably safe to say it has been proven beyond a reasonable doubt that people cannot come back to life after being dead for two days without modern life support. So, extraordinary claim it is.

On the other hand, the evidence we are offered in support of this extraordinary claim consists only of accounts written decades after the event, by people who were not there when the events described were purported to have occurred. We are offered nothing but hearsay anecdotes from superstitious people with a clear reason for wanting others to think the story true. This is hardly acceptable evidence to counteract the fact that this never happens. Christians might ask, what evidence would an atheist accept for such an extraordinary claim? And in reality, it is hard to imagine that there could possibly be any evidence good enough for us to accept the resurrection as true. Christians may claim that this is unfair, or that we are closed minded, but the fact that you are unlikely to find extraordinary evidence for this event 2,000 years after the fact, is hardly the non-believer’s fault. The real question, considering the weakness of the evidence, and the wildly extraordinary nature of the claim, is why would anyone believe any of it in the first place? The truth is, they accept it on faith. In fact, the acceptance of this story on faith alone is usually considered to be essential to the true believer. And although that was just Christianity, the same lack of evidence, and belief based on faith alone, applies to the claims of all the other religions that I’m familiar with.

Religions require belief in extraordinary claims without anything close to the extraordinary evidence that is required. Atheism requires no belief in anything. The contrast couldn’t be clearer.

But the believer has one final shot – one last desperate rhetorical item to fling at the atheist. Here we go.

More Faith To Be An Atheist?

The final argument many religious apologists throw into the mix is it takes more faith to be an atheist than it does to believe in god. That certainly took me by surprise the first time I heard it. I think what they’re trying to say is this. Atheists think matter just appeared out of nowhere, that something came out of nothing. But where did the matter come from? To think that matter appeared out of nowhere requires more faith than to think a creator made everything. Why is there something rather than nothing? To think that matter just appeared by itself, requires faith.

Atheists don’t think matter came out of nowhere. Atheists say we don’t know where matter came from; we don’t know why there is something rather than nothing. Maybe one day we’ll know, or maybe we won’t. But we don’t know now. Theists are exactly the same. They don’t know either, but the difference is they make up an explanation (god). But it’s just a made up explanation – they have no reason to suppose it’s true, other than that they just like it.

And it’s a useless explanation. Unless they know something about this “God” – how he created everything; why he created it; what he’s likely to do next - it’s a lack of an explanation. It’s just a placeholder until a real explanation comes along. Except that the theist won’t be open to the real explanation when and if science is able to provide one. The god placeholder prevents investigation into any real tentative explanations. The theist who says god created everything, is the one with the faith – faith that “god” is the explanation and that no other is possible. The atheist is content to say “we don’t know”. For now, anyway. And it’s obvious that saying “we don’t know,” requires no faith. That may be a hard thing to do for people who want all the answers, but it certainly isn’t religion.

One last thing. Some theists have responded to the “if atheism is a religion, not collecting stamps is a hobby” argument by pointing out that non stamp collectors (aphilatelists?) don’t write books or blogs about not collecting stamps, don’t post anti stamp collecting ads on buses, don't ridicule stamp collectors, etc. This is meant to demonstrate that the “stamp collecting” analogy is weak. It actually demonstrates that the analogy is very good, since it highlights one of the main problems atheists have with many religious people.

Here’s the thing they are missing, and the real problem most atheists have with religion. If stamp collectors demanded that people who don’t collect stamps obey their stamp collecting rules, started wars with groups who collected slightly different types of stamps, denied non-stamp collectors rights or discriminated against them, bullied them in school, claimed you had to collect stamps to be a suitable person to run for public office, tried to get stamp collecting taught in schools as science in opposition to real science, demanded that people be killed for printing cartoons that made fun of stamp collectors, claimed that non-stamp collectors lacked moral judgment, made up ridiculous straw man positions they claimed non-stamp collectors took, and then argued against those straw men positions etc etc, - then non-stamp collectors probably would criticize stamp collectors in the way atheists criticize many religious people. And with good reason. Not collecting stamps would still not be a hobby. Or a religion.