The devil’s in the details.

(This is part 7 of my, a non-believerโ€™s, reaction to The Alpha Course, an introductory course into Christianity. The beginning is here, and the previous entry, part 6, is here.)

(Update: I just read Stephen Butterfield’s reaction to this night’s topic — if you have to read just one, read his! It’s much better written and entertaining, and the core of our reactions are almost identical!)

(Update 2: I just discovered my iPhone’s WordPress app renamed my blog post the same as a previous post. I just fixed it. Sorry for any confusion.)

Was thrown for a bit of a loop at first: we were supposed to do the section on the Holy Spirit this night, but evidently the two-part Spirit section is being saved for the “retreat” this weekend. This night we discussed Ol’ Scratch, El Diablo, Mr. Mephisto, Dick Cheney, or, the devil.

Before I get into mocking, er, critiquing this night, a word about this weekend’s retreat. I’m looking forward to, in this extended and casual setting, to maybe get into some real discussions with people. I hope so. On the other hand, being a weekend in which people have to drive for 2 hours and spend half a weekend out in the quasi-woods, I have this slight guilt-pang that makes me not want to ruin anyone’s weekend by being a caster of doubt and skepticism. (In a moment, you’ll see why after this night, that lack of desire to spread guilt is increased.)

Which leads me back to the difference I see between Alpha host Nicky Gumbel and the fellow classmates. I have no problem saying that Nicky seems like one of the nicest fellows you could meet, and I would love to spend a day with him. But make no mistake, he’s the enemy. He’s a promulgator of bad reasoning, uncritical credulity, logical fallacies, and out and out lies. Yes, lies. You can’t be as steeped in Christian apologetics as he obviously is, and not have encountered factual contradictions to the things he’s telling earnest listeners as truth. For example, using Tacitus, Josephus, etc. as “contemporary sources” for the historical events of the gospels, when that’s demonstrably, factually not true.

Now, I don’t put him in the same category of liar and deceiver as most televangelists, TV psychics, and the like — people who are outright scamming others with full knowledge of the untruth of what they’re doing and don’t care. Nicky is one of the believing liars. He has a good heart, he believes what he’s saying, his ends are sincerely selfless. But he uses selective reasoning, rationalization, selective memory, cognitive biases, and cognitive dissonance to just brush aside the information that contradicts what he wants to be true.

And worse, he’s teaching scores of others to do the same.

In contrast, the people he’s preaching to, the people in the congregation in his videos, the people in my class, are innocents. They aren’t apologists who, presumably, are familiar with the counter-apologetics, with religious history, with anthropology, ancient history, biblical exegesis, etc. They’re everyday people who were raised to, if not outright believe Christianity as true, to at least respect the concept and imbue it and its teachers with a position of authority that makes you prone to accepting what they say about it uncritically.

And, more and more as the weeks progress, I’m respecting my classmates more. I still feel sorry (hopefully not in an elitist, sanctimonious way) for them and their belief, but the more I learn about what and how they believe, I have hope. I’ll explain more about this later in the post.

The subject of this session was: How Can I Resist Evil? (It’s funny: earlier that day I read an article that pointed out five things people think is in the Bible, that aren’t — at least not the way people think — including Satan and hell.) Nicky starts out with the claim that it’s easier for people to believe in the devil than it is for them to belive in God. Evidently, because there’s so much pain and suffering in the world, that the evidence is just too clear in favor of the devil’s existance. (Huh. So, what’s that say about the quality and non-hiddenness of evidence for God?)

Nicky makes a lot of claims actually, and I have a diatribe perculating, so I think I’ll try to just state his “arguments” and make a brief reaction, then do a comprehensive summation and reaction.

Nicky (heh, “Old Nick” is an nickname for the devil) says we can know the devil is real because… the Bible says so. Yeeaahh. The Bible also says unicorns and leviathans are real, that representative numbers of all the animals in the world could fit on a boat, people once lived for centuries, etc. etc. ad nauseum. Sorry, I need something a little bit more than the Bible’s claim that something exists.

Another reason to believe in the devil is because Christian through the ages believed in him. *sigh* Christians through the ages have also believed in transubstantiation, but you don’t see me believing the cracker turns into the very literal body of Christ after you eat it. (Yuck!)

And finally we should believe in the devil because of, “reason.” (Iiiirronny!) This goes back to the claim that the suffering in the world makes the devil self-evident. First, yeah, there’s metric assloads of horrific suffering in the world, no argument there! But how do you get from the existance of suffering to “devil diddit!”? You need need to show steps B, C, and D if you’re going to get from A to E. The suffering in the world could just as easily be from Vishnu, of the opening of Pandora’s Box, or a collection of bad karma, or, maybe, I know this is like a wiiild and crazy speculation, but maybe it could also simply be because that’s the way the world happens to work. But, more on that later.

What’s the devil’s goal? Why, to destroy us, of course! Why? Er, because God loves us? Uhm, more on that in the final summary as well.

What are the tactics the devil uses to destroy us? Well, one of the biggies is doubt! No surprise there. Tell people that you have to believe the dogma, claim that faith (belief without good evidence), is the highest of virtues, and that doubt is a tactic of the forces of evil — and you don’t want to fall prey to he forces of evil, do you?! It’s a very devious, insidious, and effective, maintaining-of-belief tactic religion uses. Er, that is, that cults and Christianity uses, at least. Buddhism, for example, actively promotes doubt in its tennents. Buddhism teaches to not take anything it teaches on face-value, on faith. Buddhism teaches you to “kill the Buddha.” But virulent religions that desire more and more followers, universally venerate faith and vilify doubt. And here Nicky continues to promote that meme.

(Again, one of the reasons I resist speaking up in class — more so now than ever. I have no respect whatsoever for the religion, but I respect the people, and I don’t feel comfortable putting them in the uncomfortable position of dealing with the viscious cycle of doubt and guilt that my challenges and questions may induce. A blog is one thing: it’s impersonal and voluntary — you have to come here and choose to read it. At the meeting, I’d be imposing myself upon them. However, after this small group session, I have (as I said), more respect and a little less fear. But we’ll get to that.)

Then Nicky claims that God didn’t want us to know evil. That, too, will come in the summary.

He says that God gave us all things to enjoy (in the pre-Fall existance). Hmm, except free will, if we have no knowledge of good and evil. But that will be addressed in the main rebuttal, also.

Nicky states that the prohibitions God gave us is actually very small. Oh? There are over 600 Laws of Moses and just over half of those are what are called “negative commandments,” which means commands to not do something. Sounds like a pretty hefty list to me. (Examples of the “positive commendments,” rules to do something, include such superior moral commands like selling your daughter to her rapist if she’s unbetrothed, and stoning her if she is married or engaged and no one heard her cry out. After all, just because her attacker may have had a knife at her throat, doesn’t mean she may not have liked it and thus needs to be killed, right, God?)

Here’s a good one: Next Nicky talks about how at the root of the evil that was done in the Garden, the real negative result, was a “break in the trust and friendship” between God and human. I dunno, I think a pretty significant result is the supposed switch from paradise to now a world of perdition, disease, disasters, and man’s cruelty toward man that magically resulted from eating the fruit. The cursing of all humanity for millennia because of the error of two people. That seems pretty significant. And this trust and friendship thing? Yeah, that’s coming up, as well.

The main tactic the devil uses, according to Nicky? Putting thoughts in your head! That’s right. Oh, having thoughts of doing naughty things isn’t itself a sin, according to Nicky (guess he’s never read Matthew 5:28, “But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart“), but the thought is what gets us to sinning, so the devil has just planted the seed. Thus the devil is responsible for doubt and temptation — the first is a threat to belief in something that may be absurd if you think about it, and the second is something that all humans have. What a setup!

I guess that’s really all the devil has left to be able to do: create thoughts. After all, God already has the murder, rape, genocide, all taken care of on his own. God, through smiting, floods, commands to slaughter towns and cities, angel of death killing Egypt’s first-borns, etc., is responsible for at least 2.5 million deaths and as many as 25 million. The devil? 10, which was the result of a bet he had with God. So, God, giving Job as much reason as possible to reject him, is as responsible for those as well.

The devil plants doubt; God has psalms praising him for the heads of the children of his enemies being dashed against the rocks, and God’s warriors cutting open the wombs of his enemies’ pregnant women (Psalm 137). The devil creates thoughts; God uses bears to slaughter a group of children who had the audacity to call one of his prophets “baldy” (2 Kings 2). The devil tempts; God praises a man who offers up his daughters to a mob to be raped, and uses their virginity as a selling point no less (Lot).

It’s no wonder the early Gnostic Christians saw God as the evil enemy and Jesus as salvation from God!

OK, stay tuned for the upcoming response to small group; right now, a comprehensive response to the devil’s and God’s actions in the Garden and what’s evil.

(First note that this supposes a literal Garden of Eden and all. Which Nicky obviously believes. If there were no Garden and actual Adam and Eve, then the Christian has a lot more ‘splainin to do in regards to why there’s sin and suffering in the world and God doesn’t do a thing about it.)

So, God creates the universe ex nihilo, out of nothing. Then, what’s he doing with a big ol’ Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil? What use has he for it? And moreover, what’s he doing planting it in the middle of his favorite creation’s playground just to tell them No Touchee!? Think about that. That’s like if I were to place a loaded gun in the middle of a kid’s playroom and said, “I’m going to just leave that right there. Don’t touch it, it’ll kill you,” and then walk away. Should I be shocked and amazed to come back and find the children have played with it and accidentally killed each other? Should I be praised for my wisdom for having done such a thing?

Nicky refered to a break in trust and friendship in the Grden. I wonder, is this god even to be trusted in the first place if he’s going to put a Tree of Knowledge in the Garden with quite literally no other purpose than to tempt his innocent children? Gasp! Temptation? That’s the devil’s job! Well, logically, God had to have created the devil if he created everything, so yeah, deception and temptation’s within God’s bag of tricks.

We can stop there and already quite clearly put the responsibility of The Fall on this God’s shoulders. But we can go on….

Let’s say you told a child not to do something, but they did it anyway. What would your reaction be? If you’re moral, ethical, sane, you might be stern with them and give them something of a reasonable punishment, like take a toy away or, if you’re really corporal, give them a smack on the rear. Would you, say, kick them out on the street where there are known killers and pedophiles lurking, give then a kick in the stomach on the way out, and then do the same to all your other children who had nothing to do with the the first child’s disobedience?

No? You’d consider someone who did that psychotic? Well, that’s essentially what God did to Adam and Eve and all their decendents for disobeying him. Eat of the Tree that has no business being there except to tempt you? Why, it’s disease, death, disasters, and all the horrors humanity can come up with for you and your entire species! (And then, when for some strange reason, things didn’t improve, he decides to fix it all by mass genociding the entire world save for a family of…more humans. Wiisse!)

Then, for somehow, God loses his omniscience and has no idea where Adam and Eve are and why they’re hiding. Unless… he’s being snarky and deceptive and acting like he has no idea where they are and why. But more important, his all-knowingness seems to prevent him from knowing beforehand that the kids are going to eat of the Tree? You kind of want to find some way to justify that, yes, God is all-knowing…except he didn’t see that coming! But then, you have a Tree that has no reason to exist in the first place, set in paradise instead of off on another planet somewhere. This God must then either be utterly lacking in any foresight whatsoever, or a complete moron. Or…he planned it all so that he can kick the kids to the curb and blame a serpent.

Speaking of blame, think about this for a moment: Before the eating of the Fruit, the kids de facto had no knowledge of good and evil, right? They were as innocent and naieve as imaginable. So, could they then have possibly known (knowledge!) that is was wrong (evil!) to disobey God? If they were incapable of conceiving of doing wrong, they literally had no idea that what they were doing was bad. And yet, this god smite-kicks them and all of humanity in the teeth for doing something they had no idea was evil when they did it. Psycho!

Here’s something else to think about: God created paradise on Earth before the temptation-fruit we ate. No death, no suffering, all animals vegitarian, presumably. So… why can’t he do that again now? Instead of torture killing himself/his son in a gruesome sado-masochistic blood-worshiping death as an act of forgiving humanity (??!!), why not just snap godly fingers and say, “For I so love the world, all is forgiven! Back to earthly paradise for all!” But instead, we all still live on a world of death and disease and disasters and cruelty. This claim of “free will” is BS, because (putting aside the fact that a god that is omniscient must mean we live in a deterministic universe and thus free will is entirely an illusion), God initially created a paradise where humans had no ability to know of good and evil, effectively eliminating true free will. According to Nicky, God gifted us paradise and intended for us to live pre-Fall. So, logically, any claim that we have to have a deadly world and total free will is meaningless as the opposite was what God originally created and wanted.

“If God is willing to prevent evil, but is not able to
Then He is not omnipotent.

If He is able, but not willing
Then He is malevolent.

If He is both able and willing
Then whence cometh evil?

If He is neither able nor willing
Then why call Him God?”

~ Epicurus

Imagine, if you will, you are a squire to a Medieval lord, owner of a huge tract of land, with many villages of poor peasants who toil in the fields, wanting nothing more than to live a peaceful life. Say you approach the lord, exclaiming, “My lord, there are marauders in your land! Thieves and killers, riding through and doing evil to your people!” And the lord waves you off and replies, “Let them do as they will, they have that right.” What would you think?

You reply, “But my lord, you are the lord and protector of your lands; why do you let this evil ride about unchecked?” The lord sits on his throne and shrugs. You continue, “And my lord, you have the largest army of footmen, soldiers, and knights in all the kingdom! They can surely eliminate the evil threat at your command.” But the lord says nothing. “We know exactly where they are, the marauders, my lord. It would be nothing for you to have them eliminated, and free your land from this plague of murder and rape and theft!” But the lord says, “I know all that, but it’s important to me to let my subjects do what they will.”

What would you think of this ruler? Who could easily eliminate the criminal element in his land and protect the people, but choses to do nothing? This is the metaphor for the all-powerful god that allows the supposed devil and demons to run as they will through the Earth, doing their evil and resulting in horrible cruelty and suffering, when God could eliminate it with a thought. Like it already once was pre-Fall. What, really, is so great about “free will” that it’s better for the murderer and rapist and molester and terrorist to be able to exert their free will upon innocent victims, when it’s unnecessary? And not even what was originally intended and set up?!

Well, I guess that does it. In summary: Human nature to be tempted is from the devil, doubting belief is from the devil, yet the biblical god is the most evil, cruel, illogical, unreasonable, psychopathic, blood-thirsty, manipulative, deceptive being even written about. I say, you want to resist evil? Avoid the Bible!

Small Group

I was a little disappointed. This session I was really geared up to discuss in class and bring up some questions and… participate. But for pretty much the entire time they talked about Santa (not Satan), the tooth fairy, Halloween, and finally, materialism. (The point being made in the last few minutes of the session that maybe materialism is evil. Amen!)

But here’s the good part: One of the facillitators did start trying to ask questions from the book, and asked something like, “Do you believe occult items like Tarot cards, astrology, Quija boards, are evil and from the devil,” or something like that. And almost immediately, and more than a couple of people, responded, “No.” Including one woman who I was pretty sure would have said they did believe so. From what I can tell, most people in there don’t believe the same as Nicky and most fundamentsalists that demons and the devil acts upon you by using these evil occult objects. Not that any of them ever would use a Quija board, but they just don’t think the devil’s lurking about in such a way. I love Methodists. ๐Ÿ™‚

It was good to see that faithful Christians that don’t believe in all the “spiritual warfare” rhetoric. That gives me hope, and gives me respect for them. As my wife said at the close of the meeting, “You’re accountable for your own actions — don’t blame evil forces.” I love her! ๐Ÿ™‚

The only other serious, and on-topic-ish, topic that was brought up, was concern about when a kid discovers parents have been lying about Santa Claus, will they also then doubt Jesus? (Well, according to a lot of atheists who used to be believers — yeah.) I don’t think I caught what explanation anyone came up with as to why Santa is different from Jesus. Something about Santa is a lie parents tell kids expecting the kid to find out, while… Jesus is a… not-lie? parents tell kids expecting them to…not find out isn’t real? That makes all the difference, I guess. Whether or not the parent is expecting the kid to catch the lie or not, if I heard right.

Well, that’s pretty much it. This weekend is the retreat. Pray for me to make it out alive. ๐Ÿ˜‰