The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman, Christian Objections (with Responses)

The Golden Compass

Three objections that Iʼve heard concerning Pullmanʼs “Golden Compass” (the movie), and “His Dark Materials” trilogy:

Objection #1: Catholics object to the authorʼs use of the phrase, “The Magisterium”

Objection #2: Protestants object to the way John Calvin is portrayed in the novels as being connected with “children” being “killed.”

Objection #3: Protestants and Catholics both object to the way “Original Sin” is portrayed as somehow being connected with adolescent sexual awakening.

Objection #1: Catholics object to the authorʼs use of the phrase, “The Magisterium” to depict the governing body on his alternate earth. According to Catholics using such a term is an affront to “The Magisterium” which is defined today as the living teaching authority of the Catholic church. So using such a term to depict the controlling forces of a totalitarian society in Pullmanʼs fiction is a form of bigotry and prejudice.

Response to Objection #1: Even the late Pope John Paul II admitted that the Catholic church had a lot to apologize for over the centuries, including a thirst for political influence, wealth, power, totalitarian-like teachings and activities. Hence the late Pope John Paul II set up a commission to tally up the churchʼs questionable teachings and misdeeds over the centuries, though it remains doubtful that they will ever formally complete such a task. But if anyone wishes to study the question of totalitarianism and the Bible and the church fathers, then a prime example of the type of reasoning employed can be found in/

De Laicis — Saint Robert Bellarmineʼs Treatise on Civil Government by Saint Robert Bellarmine Doctor of the Universal Church.

Just read chapters 18-22:
The Defense of Religion Pertains to the Political Magistracy
It is not Possible for Catholics to be Reconciled with Heretics
The Books of Heretics Should Be Abolished
Can Heretics Condemned by the Church Be Punished with Temporal Penalties and even with Death
The Solution of Difficulties

Bellarmine covers a host of questions any Christian might ask pertaining to how one can interpret the Bible and the church fathers and arrive at something akin to totalitarianism.

Objection #2: Protestants object to the way John Calvin is portrayed in the novels as being connected with “children” being “killed.”

Response to Objection #2: True, the historical John Calvin in our cosmos was not known for killing children willy nilly. And even in Pullmanʼs fiction there is a reason or threat that the Magisterium finds compelling enough to make them conduct experiments on children that lead sometimes to a their deaths—though killing the children is not the object of such experiments which are attempts to find a way to avoid people attracting “dust.”

On the other hand, the historical John Calvin did teach that the disciplining of unruly children was necessary, even unto death. Some modern day Calvinists agree, even unto the death penalty for disobedient children in their mid-teens. See the materials below, beginning with verses from the O.T. that Calvin himself is known to have cited and expounded upon:

He that strikes his father or his mother shall die the death.
-Exodus 21:15

He that curses his father or his mother shall die the death.
-Exodus 21:17

If any man has a son that is stubborn and disobedient, which will not hearken unto the voice of his father, nor the voice of his mother, and they have chastened him [The Hebrew word for “chasten” means literally “chasten with blows.”], and he would not obey them, Then shall his father and his mother take him, and bring him out unto the Elders of his city, and unto the gate of the place where he dwells, And shall say unto the Elders of his city, This our son is stubborn and disobedient, and he will not obey our admonition; he is a glutton, and a drunkard. Then all the men of the city shall stone him with stones unto death: so thou shalt take away evil from among you, that all Israel may hear and fear.
-Deuteronomy 21:18-21

How Children Were Treated At The Height Of Calvinism In Geneva

In 1563, a girl named Genon Bougy, who had insulted her mother by calling her “japa,” was condemned to three days in prison on bread and water, and she had to make a public apology after worship services. In 1566, Damian Mesnier, a child from the village of Genthod, for insulting his mother by calling her “diablesse, hérège, larronne” and by throwing stones at her, was whipped in public and then hanged from the gallows with the rope passed under his arms, as a sign of the death he had deserved, but which was spared him because of his youth. Philippe Deville was beheaded in1568 for having beaten his father and step-mother. Four years later, a 16-year-old child tried to strike his mother, and was also condemned to death; but the sentence was reduced in light of his young age, and he was only banished, after being whipped in public with a rope around his neck. [SOURCE: Jean Picot [Professeur dʼhistoire dans la faculte des lettres de lʼAcademie de cette ville] Histoire de Geneve, Tome Second (Published in Geneva, i.e., A Geneve, Chez Manget et Cherbuliez, Impreimeurs-Libr. 1811) p. 264]

“Girl” (?) Beheaded

A child was whipped for calling his mother a thief and a she-devil (diabless). A girl was beheaded for striking her parents, to vindicate the dignity of the fifth commandment. [SOURCE: Philip Schaff [Professor of Church History in the Union Theological Seminary, New York] Modern Christianity: The Swiss Reformation = Vol. VIII of History of the Christian Church (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmanns, third edition revised, 1910) — Schaff does not footnote the “beheading” incident, though he does provide on that page and the next a few footnotes regarding other incidents of prohibitions and their penalties in Geneva. He also lists the sources he consulted when writing his book (sources are listed at the beginning of each section). In this case, judging by nearby footnotes and by his source list for that particular section, he most likely obtained his information from either the Registers of the Council of Geneva, or, “Amedee Roget: Lʼeglise et lʼetat a Geneve du vivant de Calvin. Etude dʼhistoire politico-ecclesiastique, published in Geneve, 1867 (pp. 92). Compare also his Histoire du people de Geneve depuis la reforme jusquʼa lʼescalade (1536-1602), 1870-1883, 7 vols.”]

[Picot and Schaff do not agree on the gender of the beheaded child, and my first source, Dr. Henry, only mentions that it was a “child,” not specifying its gender. Picotʼs History of Geneva provides the most complete information concerning the incident, including the childʼs name and the date of the beheading. The archives of Geneva are vast and include not only the Registers of the Council and the Registers of the Consistory, but many other records as well (that the Calvin scholar, Robert Kingdon, lists by category in Vol. 1 of his English translation of the Registers of the Consistory). Though massive, the Genevan archives could probably be searched by focusing on the year of the beheading and the childʼs name that Picot has given, and they could probably supply more information, such as the childʼs age when s/he was beheaded. — E.T.B.]

Calvinʼs Teaching On The Execution Of Rebellious Children From Calvinʼs Day To Our Own

The same year that the Libertines were overthrown (1555) and pro-Calvinists ruled Geneva, Calvin preached on the execution of rebellious children in a sermon that advocated it (in order to “remove the evil from among you” as it stated in Deuteronomy). The sermon was recorded (by a secretary in shorthand) and later published and is even available today in English on the internet at a site run by Theonomist Evangelical Christians who are some of Calvinʼs biggest modern day admirers. In his sermon Calvin cited verses from the Bible that taught that parents should both love and discipline their children, advice that you would normally hear in any sermon or read in a Parenting magazine today, with one crucial difference of course, the added Biblical necessity of having some disobedient, parent-dishonoring, rebellious children executed “to remove the evil from among you.”

Also during the 1550s many editions of French Bibles were printed in Geneva that contained notes based on Calvinʼs teachings. In 1560 an English translation of the Bible was published in Geneva, the famous “Geneva Bible.” Like the earlier French Bibles it featured notes that reflected the teachings of Calvin and Calvinism. Each book in the Geneva Bible was preceded by an opening “argument” — for instance the books of Exodus and Deuteronomy were preceded by “arguments” that said the laws revealed to Moses were “temporal and civil ordinances,” “necessary for a commonweal,” and to “govern” His “Church.” And a note in the Geneva Bible, concerning the command in Deuteronomy to execute rebellious children, added: “Which death was also appointed for blasphemers and idolaters: so that to disobey the parents is most horrible.”

Robert Kingdon [a modern day Calvin scholar who not only edited the Registers of the Consistory of Geneva, but also wrote a book about Adultery in Calvinʼs Geneva], noted that during the early 1560s: “We find in the surviving dossiers of Genevan criminal trials a cluster of several cases of adultery punished with the death penalty in 1560 and 1561. That was when the Calvinist Reformation was at its peak… Calvin too, was at the peak of his career, with a new and definitive edition of his masterwork, The Institutes of the Christian Religion, just off the [Genevan] press.”

In 1563, Calvinʼs Commentary on the Five Books of Moses was also published in Geneva and it reiterated what he had previously taught in his sermons in 1555 concerning the necessity of following Godʼs rules of discipline and the necessity of magistrates to obey and enforce Biblical laws, including the execution of rebellious children. It was soon after that when the harsh public disciplinary actions toward children took place. Moreover, during those same years, a string of witches were killed (not a one was banished, all executed, one right on the spot), several adulterers were executed, and a few people even committed suicide rather than face the Consistory. It was Calvinism in its most heightened state of belief and triumph.

In January of 1998 the Rev. William Einwechter composed an article titled, “Stoning Disobedient Children,” that was published in Chalcedon Report. The Reverendʼs article raised some eyebrows in the world of “church and state news” since it advocated the execution of rebellious children who were “in their middle teens [15-17?] or older.” The Reverend responded to his critics in a second article. Both of his articles can be googled easily since they are posted at various websites. I emailed the Reverend, asking him why he chose the “mid-teens” as a cut off point for execution when Exodus mentions executing children twice, once for “cursing” their parents, and once for “striking” their parents, but in neither case does it specify the “age” of “executable” children. In fact in some places the Bible says God himself killed, or commanded his people to execute, infants and pregnant women. Therefore, the “age” of a child does not appear to have played a very large factor when it came to the necessity of removing “evil” from the sight of God:

Their fruit shalt Thou destroy from the earth, and their seed from among the children of men.
- Psalm 21:10

The wicked are estranged from the womb: they go astray as soon as they are born… let every one of them pass away: like the untimely birth of a woman, that they may not see the sun.
- Psalm 58:3,8

As for Israel, their glory shall fly away like a bird, and from the womb, and from the conception… Give them, O Lord: what will Thou give? Give them a miscarrying womb and dry breasts… they shall bear no fruit…
- Hosea 9:11-16

Every living thing on the earth was drowned [which no doubt included pregnant women and babies]… Noah only remained alive, and they that were with him in the ark.
- Genesis 7:23

Thus saith the LORD… Slay both man and woman, infant and suckling.
- 1 Samuel 15:3

Joshua destroyed all that breathed, as the LORD commanded.
- Joshua 10:40

The LORD delivered them before us; and we destroyed the men, and the women, and the little ones.
- Deuteronomy 2:33-34

Kill every male among the little ones.
- Numbers 31:17

The wind of the LORD shall come up from the wilderness, and his spring shall become dry, and… Samaria shall become desolate… they shall fall by the sword: their infants shall be dashed in pieces, and their women with child shall be ripped up.
- Hosea 13:15-16

With thee will I [the LORD] break in pieces the young man and the maid.
- Jeremiah 51:22

Happy shall he be, that taketh and dasheth thy little ones against the stones.
- Psalm 137:9

I added in my email to Rev. Einwechter that Calvinist Christians whose “fear of God” ran deep could cite scriptures like those above and argue for executing rebellious children of a far younger age than he suggested in his article. Apparently the Reverend did not wish to argue the question of “age” any further with me, since he never replied to the second email I sent him.

This subject also brings to mind the related question of the Bibleʼs rules for the disciplining of children:

Chasten thy son while there is hope, and let not thy soul spare for his crying.
- Proverbs 19:18 (The Hebrew word for “chasten” means literally “chasten with blows.”)

The blueness of a wound cleanses away evil: so do stripes the inward parts of the belly.
- Proverbs 20:30 (The Hebrew word translated “stripes” means “beating.”)

Withhold not correction from the child: for if thou beats him with the rod, he shall not die. Thou shalt beat him with the rod, and shall deliver his soul from Sheol.
- Proverbs 23:13-14

As a man chasteneth his son, so the Lord thy God chasteneth thee (with blows).
- Deuteronomy 8:5

For whom the Lord loves he chasteneth, and scourges every son whom he receives.
- Hebrews 12:6 (The Greek word translated “chasteneth,” also means “beating.”)

Objection #3: Protestants and Catholics both object to the way “Original Sin” is portrayed as somehow being connected with adolescent sexual awakening.

Reply to Objection #3: In Pullmanʼs trilogy (His Dark Materials) “dust” is a powerful force, which causes the alethiometer to operate, flows around the Aurora Borealis, passes between parallel universes, and adheres to adult humans (but not to animals and not to juveniles whose daemons have not yet settled into final form). And because it is intimately connected to the changes that take place at puberty, which in the eyes of the Church (in Lyraʼs world) are a manifestation of Original Sin, it is seen by the Church and its Oblation Board as evil; therefore they want to find a way to protect humans from its actions.

“Dust is the embodiment of either Original Sin or the creative energy of humankind, which may be the same thing in Pullmanʼs world.” (Jacobs)

“Dust is only a name for what happens when matter begins to understand itself.” (Pullman, The Subtle Knife)

In “His Dark Materials” trilogy Pullmanʼs interpretation of the garden of Eden tale is that after eating the forbidden fruit Adam and Eve were awakened to full consciousness, curiosity, including sexual curiosity. Pullmanʼs explanation in the story is that “dust” is drawn to humans at the point where childhood turns into early-adulthood/adolescence, and that the moment of awakening [which some Protestants might call the “age of accountability”] is a sort of replay of the awakening of Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden when “their eyes were opened,” and they gained “knowledge.”

For instance In the Genesis story the immediate consequence of eating from the tree of “knowledge of good and evil” was their awareness of being “naked,” and the first action reported after the expulsion from the garden is Adamʼs “knowing“ Eve.
(Genesis 4:1).

[Explanatory note in case someone brings up the “be fruitful and multiply” command in Genesis chapter 1 and uses it to argue that Adam and Eve had sex in Eden before they sinned, and thus sexual awakening had nothing to do with original sin. Genesis 1 which contains the “be fruitful” command is a story that contains evidence of later concerns, even ideas absorbed during the Babylonian exile, and it is more fully monotheistic as well, a later development in Israelite religion. Thus Genesis 1 is a later tale, so whatever it may say about God commanding the first man and woman to “be fruitful and multiply” that appears to be a later embellishment. While the earlier creation story found in Genesis 2-4 has God walking naked in the garden with Adam and Eve who are like children running around naked and doing some gardening—though the garden watered itself it was said from rising mists—and then the couple ate of the forbidden fruit (attaining knowledge—a more adult and mature view of things for the first time) and their eyes were opened and they hide their nakedness in shame and begat children after leaving the garden. Of course even in the later tale of the creation of man and women in which they are commanded to “be fruitful” the metaphor of “fruit” is employed and hearkens back to ancient Near Eastern sexual metaphors, as pointed out by Dr. Ronald A. Veenker (Post-doctoral Fellow, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, Rabbinic Literature (Tannaitic Midrash), Cantillation of Torah, Sumerian Grammar and Syntax, 1977), in his paper presented at The Society of Biblical Literature in 1993, Forbidden Fruit: Ancient Near Eastern Sexual Metaphors.

As for verses in the Bible and teachings of theologians and monks in the early church regarding celibacy as an extremely important means for attaining holiness, pleasing God and being in His presence, below are examples. Keep in mind while reading these examples that just because the author of the Song of Songs praised “well favored” women with “breasts like towers,” is no reason to think “the Lord” finds “favor” with them. Heʼs into virginity—into it deeper than any Protestant ever imagined. Take the following heavenly scene:

I heard the voice of harpers harping with their harps: And they sung as it were a new song before the throne [of the Lord]…and no man could learn that song but the hundred and forty and four thousand, which were redeemed from the earth. These are they that were not defiled with women; for they are virgins.
-Revelation 14: 2-4

Why is it important that the 144,000 male harpists not be “defiled” with women? Likewise, why did Moses feel it was important for Israelite men to “come not at their wives” before “meeting the Lord?” (Exodus 19:15,17) What exactly is so bad about having a little nookie before meeting the Lord?

And why did Paul teach: “It is good for a man not to touch a woman [sexually]… Are you loosed from a wife? seek not a wife… The time is short: it remains that they that have wives be as though they had none.” (1 Cor. 7) And finally, why did Jesus say, “Some have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven?” (Mat. 19:12) Whatʼs the lesson behind all this?

There appears to have been some ancient taboo about a woman “spiritually defiling” a man by having sex with him. (I wonder if a single Protestant Christian still believes this or worries about any such biblical lessons? Do they “come not at their wives” before traveling to the annual Southern Baptist Convention? I doubt it.)

Further Teachings From Paul And Other Early Theologians And Monks

It is good for a man not to touch a woman [sexually]… For I would that all men were even as I myself… I say therefore to the unmarried and widows, it is good for them if they abide even as I… But if they cannot contain, let them marry: for it is better to marry than to burn… I suppose therefore that this is good for the present distress, I say, that it is good for a man so to be… Are you loosed from a wife? seek not a wife… The time is short: it remains that they that have wives be as though they had none… He that is unmarried cares for the things that belong to the Lord, how he may please the Lord: But he that is married cares for the things that are of the world, how he may please his wife. There is difference also between a wife and a virgin. The unmarried woman cares for the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and in spirit: but she that is married cares for the things of the world, how she may please her husband. And this I speak for your own profit… that you may attend upon the Lord without distraction.
-1 Corinthians 7:1,7,8-9,26-27,29,32-35

In the first times, it was the duty to use marriage… chiefly for the propagation of the human race. But now, in order to enter upon holy and pure fellowship… they who wish to contract marriage for the sake of children, are to be admonished, that they use rather the larger good of continence. But I am aware of some that murmur, “What if all men should abstain from all sexual intercourse, whence will the human race exist?” Would that all would… Much more speedily would the City of God be filled, and the end of the world hastened. For what else does the Apostle Paul exhort to, when he says, “I would that all were as myself;” or in that passage, “But this I say, brethren, the time is short: it remains that both they who have wives, be as though not having: and they who weep, as though not weeping: and they who rejoice, as though not rejoicing: and they who buy, as though not buying: and they who use this world as though they use it not. For the form of this world is passing away.” (1 Cor. 7:7-8, 29-31) [SOURCE: Saint Augustine (c. 354-430), On the Good of Marriage, Sections 9-10]

In Eden, it would have been possible to beget offspring without foul lust. The sexual organs would have been stimulated into necessary activity by will-power alone, just as the will controls other organs. Then, without being goaded on by the allurement of passion, the husband could have relaxed upon his wifeʼs breasts with complete peace of mind and bodily tranquility, that part of his body not activated by tumultuous passion, but brought into service by the deliberate use of power when the need arose, the seed dispatched into the womb with no loss of his wifeʼs virginity. So, the two sexes could have come together for impregnation and conception by an act of will, rather than by lustful cravings. [SOURCE: Saint Augustine, The City of God, Book 14, Chapter 26]

Nothing so casts down the manly mind from its height as the fondling of women and those bodily contacts that belong to the married state. [SOURCE: Augustine, De Trinitate]

I am aware that some have laid it down that virgins of Christ must not bathe with eunuchs or married women, because the former still have the minds of men and the latter may present the ugly spectacle of swollen [pregnant] bellies. For my part I say that mature girls must not bathe at all, because they ought to blush to see themselves naked.
- Saint Jerome (c. 342-420)

Saint Jerome conquered his carnal visions of dancing maidens by throwing himself in tears before a crucifix, beating his breast with a stone, and fleeing into the desert.
- John Dollison, Pope-Pourri

Saint Bernard of Clairvaux threw himself into half-frozen ponds to free himself from sexual temptation. He also wrote lengthy commentaries on the Bibleʼs Song of Songs (also called “The Song of Solomon”) “to prove it was not about sex”

Edward T. Babinski 12/5/2007

New Book: Philosophers without Gods (nineteen leading philosophers open a window on the inner life of atheism)

Philosophers without gods

Philosophers without Gods: Meditations on Atheism and the Secular Life by Louise M. Antony (Oxford University Press, 2007)

Book Description [from the publisher]
Atheists are frequently demonized as arrogant intellectuals, antagonistic to religion, devoid of moral sentiments, advocates of an “anything goes” lifestyle. Now, in this revealing volume, nineteen leading philosophers open a window on the inner life of atheism, shattering these common stereotypes as they reveal how they came to turn away from religious belief. These highly engaging personal essays capture the marvelous diversity to be found among atheists, providing a portrait that will surprise most readers. Many of the authors, for example, express great affection for particular religious traditions, even as they explain why they cannot, in good conscience, embrace them. None of the contributors dismiss religious belief as stupid or primitive, and several even express regret that they cannot, or can no longer, believe. Perhaps more important, in these reflective pieces, they offer fresh insight into some of the oldest and most difficult problems facing the human mind and spirit. For instance, if God is dead, is everything permitted? Philosophers Without Gods demonstrates convincingly, with arguments that date back to Plato, that morality is independent of the existence of God. Indeed, every writer in this volume adamantly affirms the objectivity of right and wrong. Moreover, they contend that secular life can provide rewards as great and as rich as religious life. A naturalistic understanding of the human condition presents a set of challenges—to pursue our goals without illusions, to act morally without hope of reward—challenges that can impart a lasting value to finite and fragile human lives. Collectively, these essays highlight the richness of atheistic belief—not only as a valid alternative to religion, but as a profoundly fulfilling and moral way of life.

About the Author
Louise M. Antony is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. She is the author of A Mind of Oneʼs Own and Chomsky and His Critics.

Related Works

The Cambridge Companion to Atheism
Cambridge Companions to Philosophy
(published Oct. 2006)
by Michael Martin

Atheists: A Groundbreaking Study of Americaʼs Nonbelievers
by Bruce E. Hunsberger & Bob Altemeyer

Like Rolling Uphill: Realizing The Honesty Of Atheism
by Dianna Narciso

Nothing: Something to Believe in
by Nica Lalli

My Pilgrim Way,
The Case Against God,
Something Understood—An Autobiography,
Who needs the Church? (The 1982 Barclay lectures), all by Gerald Priestland

What I Believe
by Anthony John Patrick Kenny

Works that Contains A Wider Range of Testimonies

Leaving the Fold: Testimonies of Former Fundamentalists
(nearly three dozen testimonies edited by Edward T. Babinski)

Leaving Fundamentalism (to be published Dec. 2007)
(fifteen testimonies edited by philosophy professor, Dr. G. Elijah Dann)

Walking Away from Faith:
Unraveling the Mystery of Belief and Unbelief
by Ruth A. Tucker

Amazing Conversions:
Why Some Turn to Faith & Others Abandon Religion
by Bob Altemeyer & Bruce Hunsberger

The Courage of Conviction [a collection of varied testimonies from the Dalai Lama to Jane Goodall to Billy Graham]
editor Phillip L. Berman

This I Believe [a collection of varied testimonies]
editors Jay Allison & Dan Gediman

What I Believe:
13 Eminent People of Our Time Argue for Their Philosophy of Life
editor Mark Booth

Journeys in belief (Unwin forum, 2)
editor Bernard Dixon

New Book: Leaving Fundamentalism (fifteen testimonies edited by philosophy professor, Dr. G. Elijah Dann)

New Book: Leaving Fundamentalism

Leaving Fundamentalism will be published Dec. 2007 by Laurier University Press. Itʼs editor, professor G. Elijah Dann, is not only a former fundamentalist but also had as his thesis advisor, Gabriel Vahanian. (At Princeton in 1961 Professor Vahanian wrote the ground-breaking book, The Death of God.) After Professor Dannʼs studies in France, he was awarded a predoctoral fellowship from the Center for Philosophy of Religion at the University of Notre Dame. Besides Prof. Dannʼs story (“Confessions of an Ex-fundamentalist”)and a chapter on the history of fundamentalistic types of Christianity, the book includes:

The Slippery Slope of Theology by Jeffrey W. Robbins [an American Continental philosopher of Religion. He received his B.A. from Baylor University (1994), his M.Div. from Brite Divinity School, Texas Christian University (1997), and his Ph.D. in Religion from Syracuse University (2001). His dissertation was entitled “The Problem of Philosophical Theology.” He is the author of two books, Between Faith and Thought, and, In Search of a Non-Dogmatic Theology, and is editor of After the Death of God. Oddly enough Dr. Robbins is not a big fan of Christopher Hitchensʼ recent atheist bestseller, God is Not Great.]

The Jesus Lizard by James Fieser [whose exact identity I am currently checking, but who may be the same “James Fieser” who is author, co-author, and editor of seven textbooks, including Moral Philosophy through the Ages, A Historical Introduction to Philosophy (Oxford University Prss, 2003), Socrates to Sartre and Beyond (McGraw Hill, 2003), and Philosophical Questions (Oxford University Press, 2005), editor of the ten-volume Early Responses to Hume (Thoremmes Press, 1999-2003) and the five-volume Scottish Common Sense Philosophy; and founder and general editor of The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy web site.]

Fantastic Voyage: Surviving Charismatic Fundamentalism by David L. Rattigan [Former Pentecostal and evangelical, as well as one-time associate pastor, Dave is now an openly gay liberal Anglican, and actively involved at lay-level in his local Church of England parish. He has a BA (Hons) in Biblical-Theological Studies. Some excellent online essays by Mr. Rattigan include, “Worldviews, Stories and Why Leaving Fundamentalism Hurts,” “The Bible and Me: Two Friends on a Curious Journey” in which Dave explains how he lost his belief in the inerrancy of the Bible; and, “Do Evangelicals Really Believe in Hell?” Dave also manages (with some friends and co-contributors) a website titled Leaving Fundamentalism “…to aid people making the difficult and often painful journey away from conservative Christianity. It can be a time of confusion, hurt and frustration, but itʼs important to know that you are not making the journey alone. Thousands of others have been right where you are today. The site offers support and encouragement to anyone in the midst of leaving fundamentalism, whether they choose to remain within a Christian tradition or leave Christianity altogether.” Check out the Frequently Asked Questions at Leaving Fundamentalism.]

“More Catholic than thou”: One Manʼs Journey through Roman Catholic Fundamentalism by Andrea Lorenzo Molinari [Ph.D., in Theology (N.T. and Early Christianity), Marquette University; expert on the Nag Hammadi documents; Catholic educator; click on his name for further information]

From There to Here by L. A. Livingston

My Mother, My Church by Margaret Steel

The Ministry Revisited by Keith Dixon

Rapture, Community, and Individualist Hope
by Joseph Simons

Looking Back at Sodom: My Evangelical and Lesbian Testimonies by Julie Rak [Associate Professor of English, University of Alberta; and, Finalist for the 2006 Raymond Klibansky Prize for the Best Book in the Humanities (English Language)]

Life Stages by Jacob Shelley

Inching Along by Beverley Hardy

From Fear to Faith: My Journey into Evangelical Humanism by Glenn A. Robitaille

“Are you a ‘real’ Christian?” by Leia Minaker

The Naked Empress, Queen of Fundamentalism by Anonymous

The Above Book is Being Mentioned on Blogs:

Blog owner of Sub Ratione Dei writes:

One of the essays in Leaving Fundamentalism is by former pastor, David Rattigan, an old college friend from my two year stint at Theological College before I saw the light and got the hell away from the place. Also, he writes very well.

Alexis adds:

I also had a brush with Fundamentalism in the early 90s (and I still have emotional scars). Today I still am a person of faith, but Iʼve found that the (majority of the) fundamentalist/charismatic movement has become so entrenched in the modern Christian church (and divisive to the public discourse) that I stopped going. As a result of my own inquiry, research, and exposure to other spiritual traditions, my faith today is a mixture that most closely resembles Zen Christianity.

Michael Behe's version of Intelligent Design, Retracing Denton's course?

Michael Behe

The Evolution of Beheʼs Views: Francis S. Collins, the head of the Human genome project (who is both a Christian and an evolutionist), critiqued Beheʼs earlier hypothesis (that Behe has since dropped), namely of a “super cell” in the beginning thatʼs frontloaded with excess DNA to be put into use much later as the world evolves. Collins pointed out such a hypothesis did not make sense because if a super cell was indeed filled with tons of information to be used “much later” that information would have to be supernaturally preserved over long periods of time because unused portions of the genome are known to undergo continual mutations.

Behe once wrote, “If random evolution is true, there must have been a large number of transitional forms between the Mesonychid [a whale ancestor] and the ancient whale. Where are they?” Behe assumed such forms would not or could not be found, but three transitional species were identified by paleontologists within a year of that statement.

In Darwinʼs Black Box, Behe posited that genes for modern complex biochemical systems, such as blood clotting, might have been “designed billions of years ago and have been passed down to the present… but not ‘turned on’.” This is known to be genetically impossible because genes that arenʼt used will degenerate, but there it was in print. And Beheʼs argument against the evolution of flagella and the immune system have been dismantled in detail and new evidence continues to emerge, yet the same old assertions for design reappear here as if they were uncontested.

Behe now admits in his latest book, The Edge of Evolution, that almost the entire edifice of evolutionary theory is true: evolution, natural selection, common ancestry. His one novel claim is that the genetic variation that fuels natural selection–mutation–is produced not by random changes in DNA, as evolutionists maintain, but by an Intelligent Designer, The Great Mutator.

Beheʼs current situation reminds me of a similar situation in the past that the true father of the I.D. movement, Michael Denton, got himself into. After he wrote his first anti-evolutionary book, Evolution: A Theory in Crisis, he was praised by the folks at Access Research Network (editors of the flagstaff I.D. publication, Origins & Design), and became a member of the Discovery Institute. Then Denton admitted in an interview that he had not even known about the fossil evidence of inbetween species, like mammal-like reptiles. He also wrote his book before the various genome identification projects had taken off. Dentonʼs views were altered significantly by the time he wrote his second book, Natureʼs Destiny, in which he admitted that the genetic distance between species even between humans and chimpanzees was relatively small (as I like to point out, that genetic distance between humans and chimps is smaller than the genetic distance between near identical sibling species of fruit flies), and so Denton now accepts that evolution has taken place. He also had his name removed as a member of the Discovery Institute.

Christian and biologist, Ken Miller, responds to Behe

The continuing dismemberment of Behe (Links to reviews of his new book)

Pushing Behe over the edge

Malaria according to Nat. Geog. (& Behe)

Behe blows it

Silence over Beheʼs book

We don’t have an intelligent designer (ID), we have a bungling consistent evolver (BCE). Or maybe an adaptive changer (AC). In fact, what we have in the most economical interpretation is, of course, evolution.
—Lisa Randall, physicist

Moral Objectivity, Victor Reppert, Edward T. Babinski

Moral Objectivity

Dear Victor Reppert

I enjoyed reading your discussion at your blog on moral objectivity, along with comments left by others.

Is it me, or are you asking more philosophical questions concerning moral objectivity than you have in the past? Asking questions and analyzing the answers (interminably so, especially when such questions are large overarching ones) appears to be what philosophy does best.

On the question of “moral objectivity,” I think that the most objective thing any of us can say with anything near certainty as fellow philosophical debaters is that we each like being liked and hate being hated.

We certainly like having our particular thoughts appreciated by others. And we are a bit perturbed when others donʼt “get” what weʼre saying, so we continue trying to communicate our views in ways we hope others might understand.

I also assume each of us generally prefers not having lives nor property taken from them, and generally prefer not being abused either psychologically nor physically.

I also assume that when one person has something in common with another, be it a love of a game (chess, golf, soccer), a song, the sight of a sunset/sunrise, a philosophical point of view concerning the big questions, or a religion, that liking the same thing tends to bring people together and increase their joys.

Therefore, Iʼm not sure that “objectivity” is necessarily what I am primarily after, nor what most people are primarily after.

But I will say that there is a marvelous article in this weekʼs Discover about animals with feelings. One anecdote from the article involved a magpie (freshly deceased from an accident with a car) that lay by the side of the road surrounded by four live magpies that went up and pecked gently at it, then two flew off and came back with some tufts of grass in their beaks and laid it beside the dead magpie. Then they stood beside it for a while until one by one the four magpies flew off.

This anecdote sparked my own memory of another one that I read in a turn of the century book titled Mutual Aid by the Russian evolutionist, Kropotkin (his theory of evolution emphasized the benefits of mutual aid & cooperation). Kropotkin cited Australian naturalists and farmers who observed the way parrots cooperated to denude a farmerʼs field of crops. The parrots sent out scouts, then rallied the other birds, and they would swoop down quickly and devour the crops, but sometimes some of them got shot, and rather than simply fly off altogether the birds “comrades” (remember, this is a Russian biologist speaking) would squawk in a fashion of bereavement, trying to remain as long as possible fluttering near the fallen friend and group member.

I also have read stories about the intelligence of crows, even their sense of humor. One naturalist mentioned seeing three crows on a wire, and one of them slipped, seemingly intentionally, and held himself upside down by one claw, which apparently amused the others. (Iʼd also read about experiments and anedcotes involving birds with amazing memories and vocabularies, even speaking and acting in ways one would consider appropriate for brief human-to-human exchanges.)

Elephants and llamas were some of the other animals mentioned in the Discover piece that reacted strongly to the death of members of their own species. Elephants have come back a year later to the spot where another elephant has died (as seen on Animal Planet) and they react strongly to the bones. I also recall reading in a Jan Goodall book about a young chimp (fully grown, not a baby) reacting so strongly to the death of his mother, that he simply climbed a tree and wouldnʼt come down and eat until he himself had died, apparently of grief.

The works of Frans de Waal (a famed primatologist), contain some touching stories about the compassionate behaviors of primates, notably of the most peace loving chimp species, the bonobo. When Frans took his own baby son (who was sitting in a forward facing harness strapped round Fransʼs chest) to visit some chimps at a zoo where Frans had gotten to know the chimps well, a mother chimp with her own young one saw Frans holding his baby up to the viewing glass, and the mother took her own babyʼs arms and twisted her baby around in a single movement so it was facing outward, and held her baby up to the glass so that the two babies could eye each other. Frans and the mother chimp also exchanged glances. Frans mentioned a case of a female photographing chimps on their little chimp island that had a moat around it. They were bonobos, a female dominated society, and food had just been given them, and they were portioning it out amongst themselves. The photographer wanted to get a shot but the chimps had their backs to the camera and were facing the food that had been delivered instead of facing the moat with the photographer on the other side, so the photographer started to wave her hands and scream and jump up and down to get the attention of the chimps. The other chimps looked round, except one who was suspicious and didnʼt turn around. So the female photographer continued waving her hands and shouting until finally that last female chimp turned around, and tossed the photographer a handful of food! The chimp apparently thought she was being asked to share her food! And well, she did.

In another case Iʼve read about, Washoe the chimp was on a chimp island with other chimps, one of which climbed the fence and started wadding out into the moat surrounding the island (chimps canʼt swim, they sink, their bodies are denser than human beings since they have far less body fat). This chimp started to flail around in the water, drowning. Washoe saw this, clamored over the fence, and held onto some tall grass with one hand while extending the other to the drowning chimp, who was saved.

Meanwhile Robert Hauser (Harvard prof and author of Moral Minds) has asked a lot of people a lot of tough moral questions and found out how similar their responses were across the board regardless of whether the person was religious or not.

I have responded to the question of “moral objectivity” elsewhere on Victor Reppertʼs Dangerous Idea blog, and cited statements by philosophers and primatologists from Mary Midgley to Frans de Waal to Einstein. Anyone can view my responses by clicking here and here and here and here.
Edward T. Babinski

Flat Earth? Flood Geology? Young-Earth? Steve Hays & Edward T. Babinski discuss Steve Austin, Kurt Wise, Henry Morris & Henry Gee

Flat Earth and Ancient Hebrew Cosmology

Steve Hays of Triablogue is a young-earth creationist with whom Iʼve been having a bit of a discussion since I too used to be a young-earth creationist. In his blog entry, “Babel, Babble, & Babinski,” he told me that he read John Waltonʼs NIV Application Commentary On Genesis (2002) in which Walton pointed out that “Moses used architectural metaphors [in the creation story of Genesis, chapter 1] to foreshadow the tabernacle. That would also fit with the literary unity and intertextuality of the Pentateuch.” Therefore, the flat-earth creation account in Genesis 1 is an accommodation to Mosesʼs “flat-tent” view of the cosmos—strictly metaphorically speaking that is.

Hays also stated, “Iʼm more concerned with exegeting Scripture than exegeting Steve Austin.” (Austin is a Ph.D. geologist who is a formal member-teacher at the Institute for Creation Research, a young-earth organization).

Hays ended his blog entry with mention of the pro-evolutionary geologist Dr. Henry Gee, “who has documented at length that the fossil records is not a continuous sequence frozen in rock, but discontinuous data-points which are rearranged into a continuous sequence by a value-laden reconstruction of the record that is enormously underdetermined by the actual state of the evidence. A thousand theoretical interpolations to every isolated bone fragment. Of course, Gee isnʼt trying to undermine evolution. Rather, like so many others, heʼs trying to retrofit the theory. But to clear the ground for cladistics, he must slash and burn phenetics [=the phylogenetic ancestor-descent trees involving arrows showing which fossilized creature descended from which other fossilized ancestor], and itʼs quite a spectacle to see how little is left over after his scorched earth policy. So now we have another outbreak of the Darwin Wars.”

My response follows on those three topics that Hays raised:

Steve Austin, Kurt Wise, Henry Morris, The Genesis Flub

I brought up Steve Austin and Kurt Wise because they are two of the most prominent young-earth creationists in the entire U.S. who have also published a lot since the 1970s in creationist books and magazines. They are also among the few young-earth creationists in the world with Ph.D.s in geology and paleontology, repsectively. (Henry Morris who wrote The Genesis Flood and founded The Institute for Creation Research [ICR] only has a Ph.D. in hydrology.) I say “few” because I once checked the ICR and Answers in Genesis lists of young-earth creationists who work for both institutes and who had advanced degrees, and I counted only about 8 scientists there with Ph.D.s in geology, and no Ph.D.s in paleontology other than Wise. And they both agreed that Morrisʼs attempt in The Genesis Flood to cite the Lewis Mount Overthrust (the largest such “reversal of fossil layers” found anywhere in the world) as not a genuine overthrust, was a failure.

Yet it was Henry Morrisʼs book, The Genesis Flood, along with the founding of ICR, that is credited at ICR as being Godʼs means to bring back Flood Geology (from the grave in which it had lain since Christian geologists of the 1800s had proven it to be indefensible). Unfortunately for Morris, his book has since been thoroughly discredited, and found to consist of unchecked folk science tales, strung together with faulty photos, and mistaken geological assertions. If thatʼs the book that “God used” to give “Flood geology” a recharge (and “the book that God used to get Ken Ham [of Answers in Genesis and the Creation Science museum in the U.S.] in creation ministry”) then it seems more like the devilʼs book, full of lies spoken in Godʼs name to embarrass the Christian faith. At least thatʼs what some of my old-earth creationist friends might say. And since then, creationists have continued to back down from a host of ridiculous assertions that formerly were touted as disproving modern geology. Just read the Answers in Genesis online piece, “Arguments We Think Creationists Should Not Use.” Instead, modern young-earth creationism tries to invent accommodations with modern geological evidence of an old-earth. It does not try to disprove it like it once did. Both ICR and Answers in Genesis admit that the search for “pre-Flood” human remains and artifacts or any new startling evidence of a young-cosmos, is probably hopeless: “Where are all the human fossils?” by Don Batten (editor), Ken Ham, Jonathan Sarfati, and Carl Wieland. The final line of that article is classic: “When God pronounced judgment on the world, He said, ‘I will destroy [blot out] man whom I have created from the face of the earth’ (Gen. 6:7). Perhaps the lack of pre-flood human fossils is part of the fulfillment of this judgment?”

Or perhaps God just didnʼt want to supply young-earth creationists with the evidence they so desperately crave?

And what about the new “Creation Museum” museum opening soon in the U.S. with its exhibits of humans alongside dinosaurs? The folks who built that museum admit that pre-flood human fossils have not been discovered, but they built exhibitions showing humans alongside dinosaurs. How scientific of them!

And speaking of the age of the earth what about the evidence of an old-earth from a variety of sources like Lake Suigetsu, Ice Cores, The Greenriver formation and what about the way radiometric dating has been done on individual varve layers, individual ice layers, individual tree rings (in three known series of tree rings that each stretch back in time at least 10,000 years), individual sections of sea floor that arose via the expanding molten rifts from the center of the Atlantic as it continues to spread—and in each case the processes of lake varves forming, ice layers forming, tree rings growing, and sea floors spreading, continue to take place today at known rates of formation that show agreement with the radiometric dating of individual portions of older sections of those formation? What are the odds that a load of coincidences would match up? See here and here and here. And my own story, here.

John Walton And His NIV Application Commentary On Genesis

Walton admits in his commentary that the ancient Hebrews, and the author of Genesis, assumed a flat cosmos and a solid firmament.

Whether or not one also assumes that the creation story in Genesis may be interpreted as a metaphor of the tabernacle-tent spoken of in Exodus is another question. Such a view of the cosmos as a house or tent (built flatly and on a firm foundation) does not lay outside of ancient near eastern assumptions in general, for instance note the ‘wall-ring’ representations of the firmament lying above a flat earth in ancient Egyptian iconography, or ancient mestopotamian cosmologies in general.

And more importantly, the lack of any insight into how the cosmos is truly shaped, means that the ancients wrote and assumed things on par with the pre-scientific knowledge of their day, and not a sign that one can cite that Genesis demonstrates in was composed via special inspiration.

Henry Gee, Creationism, And I.D.

Lastly, about Henry Gee. Creationists and I.D.ists donʼt understand correctly what heʼs saying, as Gee himself has complained about numerous times, even directly to creationists and I.D.ists. I have some of his correspondence with them from 2006. Heʼs describing the difficulties of dating the exact chronological order of fossils that lay relatively close together in the geological record, and advocating a greater use of cladistics to aid in determining the order of relationships in such cases. (Note: The way evolution works is that populations split from one another, then the more robust sections of a population grow more numerous and more widely established in different places round the world, which increases the odds of the new speciesʼs fossilization, but by the time the new species has spread far and wide enough to increase its chances of being fossilized, it is not likely to simply be the direct descendant of species that precede it in the fossil record, but a cousin. Hence, Geeʼs complaint about the drawing of direct lines between species in textbooks. The actual evolutionary lines of descent are more complex, and what we have are the fossils of the most robust cousin species that were living during certain overlapping eras.)

Henry Geeʼs Response

Henry Gee (henrygee) wrote,
@ 2006-06-12 22:43:00:
“I have become somewhat irked lately at the way that some creationists continue to attribute beliefs to me to which I do not subscribe. For example, creationists of the ‘intelligent design’ tendency have used my book Deep Time (sold in the US as In Search of Deep Time) to suggest that whereas I donʼt support their views, my own work somehow legitimizes them… even though I have explicitly refuted this attempt at hijack, many years ago.

“I pointed this out recently to creationist Jonathan Witt at ID The Future and as a result have had a civil and gentlemanly email exchange with him (and by extension his colleague Jonathan Wells, who has also quoted from my book).”

See also this discussion at the Quote Mine Project of the use that creationists/I.D.ists have tried to make of some Gee quotations.

C. S. Lewis Resources… Pro And Con

  1. Christians Who Praise C. S. Lewisʼs Writings
  2. Christians (Lying To The Right of Lewisʼs Views) Who Criticize Lewisʼs Presentation of Christianity & Liberal Ideas
  3. Admiring Readers of C. S. Lewis Who Later Left Christianity
  4. Critiques of C. S. Lewisʼs Arguments
  5. C. S. Lewis: Provocative, Poignant, & Profound Words

C. S. Lewis Time Magazine
  1. Christians Who Praise C. S. Lewisʼs Writings

    (Forgive the shortness of part 1., there are nearly 1 & 1/2 million hits for “C. S. Lewis” on the web, and the vast majority of them are from people who praise his writings. So, I shall name a few fairly prominent representatives who have praised Lewis recently.)

    • Josh McDowell — Author of Evidence That Demands a Verdict, apologist/evangelist for Campus Crusade

    • Rev. N.T. Wright — Anglican Bishop of Durham, England, and author of scholarly and popular books, most recently, Simply Christian. Wrightʼs address, Simply Lewis, was delivered at the annual meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature in mid-­November, 2006, and besides praise, it contains a few paragraphs critical of some aspects of Lewisʼs argumentation, especially Lewisʼs Lord, Lunatic or Liar argument.

    • Dr. Francis Collins — Head of The Human Genome Project, and author of The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief. See his debt to Lewis here and here.

    • Tom Tarrants — Raised Southern Baptist, became KKK terrorist, read the Bible in prison and converted to Christianity, now head of the C. S. Lewis Institute in Washington, D.C.

  2. Christians (Lying To The Right of Lewisʼs Views) Who Criticize Lewisʼs Presentation of Christianity & Liberal Ideas

  3. Admiring Readers of C. S. Lewis Who Later Left Christianity

    • “J Milton” [a pseudonym], and his brief testimony, Paradise Lost — posted Thursday, October 26, 2006 — “I… came to the Christian faith via more of an intellectual, mystical path… through the writings of John Milton, Edmund Spenser, C.S. Lewis, and the spiritualist and mystic Renaissance man known as William Blake… If you havenʼt read Paradise Lost, I highly encourage you to do so. It truly is wonderful… as is the Faerie Queene by Edmund Spenser as well as Lewisʼ Narnia series… they all create mythological worlds on top of the bible, and in my mind, make it all come to life… I still believe in the ethereal plane, sans any man-applied dogma. John Milton will always mean something to me and Paradise Lost will always have a place in my heart… [But I am a] freethinker… exchristian.”

    • Valerie Tarico — Psychologist, author, graduate of Wheaton College, her favorite Christian author during her Evangelical years was C. S. Lewis (Wheaton College features one of the most impressive collections of “Lewisiana” in the world). Chapters of her book about leaving the fold were published on Her blog. Chapters of her book can also be found here, here, and here.

    • Edward T. Babinski — If It Wasnʼt For Agnosticism I Wouldnʼt Know What to Believe, a chapter in Leaving the Fold: Testimonies of Former Fundamentalists.

    • Ken Daniels — From Missionary Bible Translator to Agnostic (2003)

      Mentions his earnest love of Lewisʼs writings, and how they saved him from apostatizing even earlier than he eventually did. He also mentions having read my own book, Leaving the Fold, mentioned directly above. Later, Ken expanded his testimony into a full length book thatʼs available free online, Why I Believed: Reflections of a Former Missionary.

    • John Stephen Ku — Philosophy PhD student, Started Fall 2002, U of Mich. — C. S. Lewis and the Search for Rational Religion: A Memoir — a memoir that is no longer on web, but which might still be on the Way Back Machineʼs Internet Archive.

    • Kendall Hobbs — Why I Am No Longer a Christian (2003)

    • Dr. Robert M. Price — Former campus minister, now a theologian with two PhDs and an author, wrote in Beyond Born Again, “…C. S. Lewisʼs The Screwtape Letters considerably advanced my progress in piety,” though later Price would leave the fold.

    • A cold and broken alleluia: How did a former minister become an atheist?

    • Chris Hallquist — College student. Read The Screwtape Letters a month before becoming an atheist, see his blog entry, How I Became an Atheist [Oddly enough, Chris seems to have read the same passage in The Screwtape Letters that the ex-minister did in the testimony directly above this one, and that passage influenced both of them to become atheists.]

    • Posted by Hawk on August 17, 1999 at 18:23:55:
      “I [was raised Christian, but] shrugged off Christianity around age 16 after a teacher told me that Moses created monotheism. David Koresh was running around claiming to be divine about the same time, so I figured Jesus was some nut like Koresh. I got real into philosophy in general, and I am an engineering student, so I have taken plenty of science classes, but I never got into creationism or philosophy of religion. I was never a serious Christian as a kid, so when I read Pascalʼs ‘Thoughts,’ I decided to give church a try. Well I was 19 1/2, and the places here on campus were nothing like any church I had ever been to. I read C.S. Lewis, William Lane Craig, Schaeffer, Geisler, Moreland and all those guys. I became converted. Unfortunately, I read up on atheistic arguments and evolution, for the purpose of crushing the atheists on this board with my arguments. I lost faith finally a few months ago. I guess I am sort of a donʼt know donʼt care agnostic right now, who just enjoys studying religion. My religious time only lasted about 3 years.”

  4. Critiques of C. S. Lewisʼs Arguments

    • Philosopher John Beversluis composed in 1985 what has become the leading (and perhaps only) book-length critique of the apologetics arguments of C. S. Lewis, a book that also includes Lewisʼs replies to letters Beversluis wrote him. The book is titled, C. S. Lewis and the Search for Rational Religion, and a revised and updated edition appeared in 2007 — In it Beversluis critically yet sympathetically examines Lewisʼs “case for Christianity,” including Lewisʼs “argument from desire” — the “inconsolable longing” that he interpreted as a pointer to a higher reality; his moral argument for the existence of a Power behind the moral law; his contention that reason cannot be adequately explained in naturalistic terms; and his solution to the Problem of Evil. In addition, Beversluis considers issues in the philosophy of religion that developed late in Lewisʼs life. He concludes with a discussion of Lewisʼs crisis of faith after the death of his wife. Finally, in this second edition, Beversluis replies to critics of the first edition. {250pp, July 2007; Prometheus Books }

      Joe Edward Barnhard (philosophy professor, author and a former Christian whose testimony appears in Leaving the Fold: Testimonies of Former Fundamentalists), has an article online titled, “The Relativity of Biblical Ethics” that includes quotations from a few of C. S. Lewisʼs letters to John Beversluis. [at the site, located here, scroll down the page till you get to Barnhardʼs article]

    • Francis Collins, the theistic evolutionist author of books about God and science, and who heads the Human Genome project, employs C. S. Lewisʼs argument concerning the miracle of morality. Collinsʼs Lewisian argument is critiqued here.

    • C.S. Lewis, Instinct, and the Moral Law — Discusses an argument by C.S. Lewis that aimed to show that we must believe in God because nothing else could explain the high levels of intersubjective agreement on moral issues we(apparently) observe.
      Source: Philosophy Carnival #33

    • N. F. Gier — author of God, Reason, and the Evangelicals (University Press of America, 1987), chapter 10, Theological Ethics

    • Dr. Robert M. Price on C. S. Lewisʼs arguments — Google Robert Price (or Robert M. Price) and C. S. Lewis together to find where Price mentions and critiques statements by C. S. Lewis for instance, Lewisʼs misunderstanding of Hume is mentioned in Priceʼs article, Glenn Miller on Miracles.

    • Jack D. Lenzo “The Jackal” (Murrieta, CA USA), in his review of The Born Again Skepticʼs Guide To The Bible by Ruth Hurmence Green (raised Methodist): “Iʼve read much of CS Lewis and considered him the ‘thinking manʼs’ proponent to Christianity. After reading ‘The Book of Ruth (Hurmence),’ I feel logically duped by Lewisʼ Mere Christianity. Ruth sets it straight using the Bible itself. A divinely inspired book should not have to use subtle logic employed by Lewis. I wonder what he would say to Ruthʼs clear, dead on approach that he hasnʼt said about Freud? Hmmm…”

    • Edward T. Babinski on C. S. Lewisʼs views:

  5. C. S. Lewis: Provocative, Poignant, & Profound Words

“The Blasphemy of the Holy Spirit” AKA “The Blasphemy Challenge”

Blasphemy Challenge

Am I taking the “Blasphemy Challenge?” (google the phrase, see what you get).
I strongly suspect itʼs not necessary, because, “Blasphemy Challenges” aside, isnʼt it a major Protestant view that people are simply damned if they reach the age of accountability and donʼt convert? No need to do anything, the damnation of everybody simply “is,” unless they convert and say they believe, and believe it too. Some Protestants and Catholics still even defend the centuries old Christian notion of “infant damnation,” i.e., if a newborn is not baptized and dies it goes straight to hell; again no need to “blaspheme” in order to be damned. And Catholics, whose church membership is about as large as that of all Protestant denominations put together (according to, believe that even if you are baptized and confirmed (when you reach the age of accountability, though Catholics donʼt call it that), you can still be damned if you die with a single “mortal sin” on your soul that hasnʼt been confessed and repented. Even the Protestants who believe that you “canʼt lose your salvation,” or that the righteous are “predestined” to receive saving grace and hence canʼt be damned, even those folks have difficulties convincing themselves sometimes that they indeed display all the proper and convincing “signs” of being one of the “eternally chosen,” and hence even Calvinists can experience dark doubts that they might not be among the chosen since in the end it is God choice to save or damn whomever. Therefore there is plenty of damning going on according to various Christianities (or fear of not being among the righteous) without even the need to commit “blasphemy.”

But letʼs look at the verses themselves, as found in the earliest Gospel, Mark (upon which the two later Gospels, Matthew and Luke were built literarily speaking):

“He [Jesus] had healed many, so that those with diseases were pushing forward to touch him. Whenever the evil[a] spirits saw him, they fell down before him and cried out, ‘You are the Son of God.’ But he gave them strict orders not to tell who he was. […] the teachers of the law who came down from Jerusalem said, ’He is possessed by Beelzebub! By the prince of demons he is driving out demons.’ So Jesus called them and spoke to them in parables: ’How can Satan drive out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand. And if Satan opposes himself and is divided, he cannot stand; his end has come. In fact, no one can enter a strong manʼs house and carry off his possessions unless he first ties up the strong man. Then he can rob his house. I tell you the truth, all the sins and blasphemies of men will be forgiven them. But whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; he is guilty of an eternal sin.’ He said this because they were saying, ‘He has an evil spirit.’” (Mark, chapter 3)

J.P. Holding quotes James D. G. Dunn (not an inerrantist) who points out that the “blasphemy of the Holy Spirit” referred to people who claimed Jesus was possessed, and that Dunnʼs interpretation was this one:

“…the beneficial effect of [Jesusʼ] exorcisms was so self-evidently of God and wrought by his Spirit, that to attribute it to Satan was the worse kind of perversity — deliberately to confuse the Spirit of God with the power of Satan was to turn oneʼs back on God and his forgiveness (Mark 3:29)” [Dunn].

Itʼs too bad that Jesus didnʼt have the knack of expressing himself as precisely as Dunn does above, putting each of his sayings in such clear theological perspective. It also appears to me that Dunn might be going beyond what Mark 3 says by adding perhaps an overly elaborate theologically driven explanation, though note that even the author of the Markan Gospel felt that the saying about “an unforgivable sin” needed a bit of commentary, so he followed it with his little explanation, ‘He [Jesus] said this because they were saying ’He has an evil spirit.’”

Personally I prefer concentrating on the other passages of Jesus above, in which Jesus asks whether a person accused of having an evil spirit would go around casting out evil in others? I agree that doesnʼt make sense, because why or how would Satan cast out Satan? Itʼs also self evident that “a house divided against itself cannot stand.” Those sorts of points are all thatʼs needed to be said in a case of somebody accusing somebody else of casting out Satan via Satanʼs own power. Itʼs like pointing out, how can I be evil if Iʼm helping other people, and even casting away evil?

But Jesus (or whomever wrote or spoke the words above, since I doubt every word attributed to Jesus in the Gospels must necessarily have been spoken by him) went farther than just making the self evident points about why evil would cast out evil, and perhaps later the line was added about the “blasphemy of the Holy Spirit” being “unforgivable.”

In fact, the New Interpreterʼs Bible raised a similar question:

“The ‘unpardonable sin’ saying of 12:31-32 came from Jesus in the form of an absolute and universal pronouncement of forgiveness to the ‘sons of men,’ but in subsequent modifications the exception of ‘blasphemy of the Holy Spirit’ was added and ‘sons of men’ became the Christological title ‘Son of Man.’” [See endnote #1]

Another question is based on the recognition that Luke-Acts [which were composed after both Mark and Matthew] separates the story about Jesusʼ exorcisms from his declaration concerning “the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit.” The author of Luke-Acts appears to have separated the exorcism story from the declaration for a theological reason, namely to broaden the notion of what “the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit “ meant, by no longer limiting it as the Gospels of Mark and Matthew did to Jesusʼ miracle working ability being confused with the power of “Satan.” According to the author of Luke-Acts the “blasphemy of the Holy Spirit” now refers to rejecting any spirit-filled or God-filled message, and is no longer connected with blaming Jesusʼ miracle-working powers on “Satan.” See Luke 12:9-12:

“And I say to you, everyone who confesses Me before men, the Son of Man shall confess him also before the angels of God; but he who denies Me before men shall be denied before the angels of God. And everyone who will speak a word against the Son of Man, it shall be forgiven him; but he who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit, it shall not be forgiven him. And when they bring you before the synagogues and the rulers and the authorities, do not become anxious about how or what you should speak in your defense, or what you should say; for the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say.” (Luke 12:9-12. See also Acts 5:1-4 in which Ananias “lies to the Holy Ghost” holds back some money from the church, and dies.)

“The blasphemy against the Holy Spirit here [in Luke] is the rejection of the Spirit-taught witnesses who confess the Son of Man before men.” (Mark Horne, “Blasphemy Against the Holy Spirit?” [online])

“In Markʼs context, then, the sin against the Holy Sprit involves deliberately shutting oneʼs eyes to the light and consequently calling good evil; [but] in Luke it is irretrievable apostasy.” (Bruce, F. F. The Hard sayings of Jesus. Illinois: InterVarsity Press; 1983, p.93).

So the author of Luke-Acts appears to have sought to broaden the definition of the “blasphemy of the Holy Spirit.”

Another question to ask about such a statement is whether or not it was born of ancient Near Eastern hyperbole (or exaggeration)? There is plenty of hyperbole in the O.T. and N.T. like “plucking out your eye and cutting off your hand” rather than “sinning” with them, and going to hell with both of them left intact, “because itʼs better to enter heaven with one eye or one hand rather than be cast into hell.” Thatʼs hyperbole. So are the lines about having to “hate” parents and brothers and sisters in order to be a disciple. (I wonʼt go into why such hyperbole sounds offensive, including the line about “letting the dead bury the dead” when one disciple asked to return home for the funeral of a relative). Psalm. 51 is hyperbole too, a psalm about the sin of adultery—In that psalm its author declares that he was “a sinner from the womb.” Note that the psalm is about personally debasing oneself before ones God [Yahweh] in order to gain forgiveness, like cringing before an ancient Near Eastern potentate or monarch, whipping yourself to show them how sorry you are, “I was bad! Iʼm sorry, I was so bad, um, that I was a sinner even from, the womb!” Hyperbole. Exaggeration. So if you consider that the line about a sin being “unforgivable” might be the result of the ancient Near Eastern love of hyperbole, then Jesus (or whomever came up with the “unforgivable blasphemy” line) might have been adding to points already made about how stupid a person is to believe that helping people and casting away demons comes from being possessed by evil. In other words, to assume such a thing is unforgivably stupid, and maybe not literally unforgivable, but certainly hyperbolically so. And as I said above, such a saying might also be the result of someone other than Jesus pondering the story and trying to sum up a message theologically. Or it might be the result of a misinterpretation of the phrase “son of man,” as the Interpreterʼs Bible pointed out above.

Trouble is we didnʼt live back then, and our “sources” cannot be proven to be inerrant recordings, certainly not tape recordings or videos. So we are left pondering questions of authenticity, change, varying interpretations over time. As for the meanings of the words we possess in the different Gospels, their interpretation raises further questions. Though we can study the language from a distance and know what the literal meaning of words were back then, we canʼt be certain concerning the poetic or rhetorical or hyperbolic meanings or intentions of written words for that culture or that audience at that time and in that instance. Itʼs tough enough trying to understand how to take some of the sentences people send each other in emails today during a discussion.

I would also add that some scholars view the Gospel of Mark (the earliest written Gospel) as not teaching that Jesus was God, but rather an adopted “Son” of God at his baptism (with which the Markan Gospel begins, i.e., citing a psalm at Jesusʼ baptism that was recited at the enthronement of Hebrew Kings that said, “You are my son, this day have I begotten you,” or adopted you to be my “son”). So what if the earliest view among the first Gospel writerʼs community was that Jesus was chosen and empowered by God, but not God, and hence, “all manner of words spoken against the son of man [Jesus]” would be forgivable because he simply was not God, but Godʼs chosen adopted vice-regent, chosen at baptism, not birth. But in contrast to the “Son of Man,” the “Holy Spirit” was indeed God. Such an interpretation of the saying is yet another one that makes sense for scholars who argue that Mark, the earliest Gospel, was based on an “adoptionist” Christology.

Lastly, if you believe that Jesus was part of a “Trinity” and all parts of the “Trinity” were equal parts of one whole God, then why make words spoken against Jesus forgivable, but words spoken against the Holy Spirit of God “unforgivable?” Can you really get away with blaspheming some parts of the Trinity but not others? (Or was Jesus, according to the author of the earliest Gospel, not as much “God” as the “Holy Spirit?”)

Letʼs just say that the verse about an “unforgivable” sin has caused even the most devout believing Christians restlessness and worry over the centuries. Some have feared quite deeply that they might have committed a sin that damns them for all eternity, especially when the “unforgivable” sin is interpreted as broadly as it is in Luke-Acts as ignoring or not listening to the “Holy Spirit of God” as spoken through even a human prophet. (See what I wrote above about the “blasphemy of the Holy Spirit” according to Luke-Acts.)

Such talk of an “unforgivable sin” creates fear that some sort of sin exists out there that is not defined very clearly, or defined differently in different Gospels. A sin worse than “all the sins and blasphemies of men,” as Jesus said about it in Mark 3, and that such a sin can “never be forgiven.” All Christians would probably like to be able to read in the Bible exactly what the unforgivable sin is in order to calm their fears, but the verses in Mark 3 (not to mention the verses in Luke-Acts) are not as clear in explaining themselves as the interpretations from Dunn and J.P. Holding are. I havenʼt checked the history of interpretation of those verses over the centuries by learned Christians but I bet thereʼs a book written by a theologian who has made such a comparison. And I bet interpretations have differed.

At any rate, if the verse means what J. P. Holding (quoting Dunn) says it does, then is it speaking about people who reject Holdingʼs and Dunnʼs Nicean/Chalcedonian/Trinitarian Christian theology? That doesnʼt sound right either, because Jesus wasnʼt speaking to an audience that knew of such orthodox creedal statements, but instead was speaking to an audience that merely knew, say, “The Lordʼs Prayer,” which even Jews can pray today. [See endnote #2 for J. P. Holdingʼs take.]

I also wonder what “sin” I am committing if I say “to hell with the whole question?” Who cares what the author of Mark wrote? Iʼm going to live my life based on everything I have learned during my life, and admit that there will always be things I donʼt know and that I honestly donʼt feel right dogmatizing so clearly about them all, especially things beyond death, in another supernatural realm, beyond touch and sight, etc. The world and ancient books no longer seem as clear to me exegetically as they once did when I was a born again Bible believing (and later, tongue-speaking) Christian.


#1 The author of the interpretation I cited is E. Boring (Brite Divinity School, Texas Christian University) who writes on Matthew from a mainline critical perspective, affirming Matthewʼs use of Mark, Q and M. He believes that Matthew was written by an anonymous author around 90 CE, presumably in Antioch. (See, The New Interpreterʼs Bible. Vol. 8: General Articles on the New Testament; The Gospel of Matthew; The Gospel of Mark. Edited by Leander E. Keck et al. Nashville: Abingdon, 1995.)

#2 Below is a statement by J.P. Holding at Tektonics about the Blasphemy Challenge from his Whazzup! page:

December 11, 2006
Iʼll be improving some files in the Classics collection today, and we also have an anti-blog note. The self-alleged “Rational Response Squad” (aka Fundy Atheists on the Run) has now launched a program in which they give away 1001 copies of The God Who Wasnʼt There to anyone making a video of themselves, posted on “YouTube” (the video version of Wikipedia, to the extent that it is an exercise in unrestrained anarchy), blaspheming the Holy Spirit. Of course their understanding of what that means is as primtive as Flemmingʼs was (they need only make a video of themselves saying they are not Christians; it is not necessary to say specifically, “I deny the Holy Spirit”), but in any event, itʼs nice to see that the crew there has finally grown up a little, so that they are now in their terrible twos. May we suggest for their next feat they ask their readers to post videos of themselves crying for their blankies.

A rational response to the film, Amazing Grace—releasing this weekend

Amazing Grace

Dear Christian Friend,

Thank you for your invitation [reproduced at the end of this email] to see the movie releasing this weekend, titled, “Amazing Grace,” about the part played by a Christian in the abolition of slavery in Great Britain. Like you I hope such a film will inspire others to become more socially and politically active. (Of course there are many stories round the world of peopleʼs actions that have inspired others to help their fellow human beings, and I endorse pretty much all of them that have value in that respect, regardless of religious or non-religious content.) On the other hand Iʼm also reminded of how films of all sorts, produced by all kinds of people, also tend to leave a lot out. Speaking of which, I have much to add concerning the “God and slavery” issue, even concerning the abolition of slavery in Britain, Wilberforce, John Newton (the former slave trader who wrote “Amazing Grace”—the song whose title was also used as the name of the upcoming film), and Americaʼs “Holy War,” the Civil War, which proved that relying on the Bible and Biblical theologians to decide moral questions (such as the question of slavery) was not enough.

Firstly, John Newton…

“Editorʼs Bookshelf: Amazing Myths, How Strange the Sound: An interview with Steve Turner, the author of Amazing Grace: The Story of Americaʼs Most Beloved Song” by David Neff, Christianity Today, March 31, 2003)

John Newton was a pastor and author of “Amazing Grace” and “Glorious Things of Thee Are Spoken.”…

INTERVIEWER: What mythology did you yourself hold that you discovered was wrong when you did your research?

TURNER: I think I just knew the basic skeleton of this story. I knew Newton was a slave trader, I knew that he had been in a storm, and I knew heʼd written a song. I didnʼt really know the sequence in which that happened. Arlo Guthrie tells the story on stage that Newton was transporting slaves and the storm hit the boat, he was converted on the spot, changed his mind about slavery, took the slaves back to Africa, released them, came back to England, and wrote the song. That would be nice. That would be the way weʼd like to write the story. But the fact is that he took years and years before he came to the abolition position. And he never captained a slave ship until after he became a Christian. All his life as a slave captain was actually post-conversion.

The majority of Christians were in favor of the slave trade. The ship owner that he worked for had a pew in the church in Liverpool. It was not uncommon at all for prominent Anglicans to also be involved in the slave trade. And it made me wonder, what things are we involved in that we think are fine but in centuries to come people will think, How could they possibly have done that? […]

Newtonʼs tender ship captainʼs letters that he sent home to his beloved Mary showed complete lack of concern for the African families he was breaking up. A telling passage from one letter cites “the three greatest blessings of which human nature is capable” as “religion, liberty, and love.” But referring to those he had helped to enslave, he wrote, “I believe… that they have no words among them expressive of these engaging ideas: from whence I infer that the ideas themselves have no place in their minds.”

When it came to denouncing the slave trade, Newton would not commit himself publicly until the mid-1780s—nearly 30 years after the issue was first broached in Parliament, 20 years after the Countess of Huntingdon began campaigning for equal treatment of the races, and 14 years after John Wesley wrote his Thoughts on Slavery.

Secondly, The Abolition Of Slavery In Britain And The U.S.

By the late middle ages, the slave trade was a most lucrative business. Protestant England was just as guilty in condoning and promoting the slave trade as were the Catholic countries. In fact one particularly devout trader, one Captain Hawkins, actually named one of his ships “Jesus” and regularly preached the love of Christianity to his crew and human cargo. When slavery was finally banished from England it was due to the influence of secular law and the decision was opposed by the church hierarchy… It is not a coincidence that the freedom of the slaves across the world occurred at the same time that the church was losing its stranglehold on the state.

Jon Nelson, “Christianity, Racism and Slavery” [online] The Atheist Alliance Web Center

It is certainly true that the campaign against slavery and the slave trade was greatly strengthened by [some] Christian [individuals], including the Evangelical layman William Wilberforce in England and the Unitarian minister William Ellery Channing in America. But Christianity, like other great world religions, lived comfortably with slavery for many centuries, and slavery was endorsed in the New Testament. So what was different for antislavery Christians like Wilberforce and Channing? There had been no discovery of new sacred scriptures, and neither Wilberforce nor Channing claimed to have received any supernatural revelations. Rather the eighteenth century has seen a widespread increase in rationality and humanitarianism, which led others—for instance, Adam Smith, Jeremy Bentham, and Richard Brinsley Sheridan [and Thomas Paine in America]—also to oppose slavery, on grounds having nothing to do with religion. Lord Mansfield, the author of the decision in Somersettʼs Case, which ended slavery in England (though not its colonies), was no more than conventionally religious, and his decision did not mention religious arguments. Although Wilberforce was the instigator of the campaign against the slave trade in the 1790s, this movement had essential support from many in Parliament like Fox and Pitt, who were not known for their piety. As far as I can tell, the moral tone of religion benefited more from the spirit of the times than the spirit of the times benefited from religion.

Where religion did make a difference, it was more in support of slavery than in opposition to it. Arguments from scripture were used in Parliament to defend the slave trade.

Steven Weinberg, “A Designer Universe?” New York Review of Books, Oct. 21, 1999

It is impossible for any well-informed Christian to deny that the abolition movement in North America was most steadily and bitterly opposed by the religious bodies in the various States. Henry Wilson, in his Rise and Fall of the Slave Power in America; Samuel J. May, in his Recollections of the Anti-Slavery Conflict; and J. Greenleaf Whittier, in his poems, alike are witnesses that the Bible and pulpit, the Church and its great influence, were used against abolition and in favor of the slave-owner.

I know that Christians in the present day often declare that Christianity had a large share in bringing about the abolition of slavery, and this because men professing Christianity were abolitionists. I plead that these so-called Christian abolitionists were men and women whose humanity, recognizing freedom for all, was in this in direct conflict with Christianityʼs [teachings concerning the subjugation of slaves to their masters].

It is not yet fifty years since the European Christian powers jointly agreed to abolish the slave trade. What of the effect of Christianity on these powers in the centuries that had preceded? The Christian heretic, Condorcet, pleaded powerfully for freedom for slaves whilst Christian France was still slave-holding. For many centuries Christian Spain and Christian Portugal held slaves. Puerto Rico freedom is not of long date: and Cuban emancipation is even yet newer. It was a Christian King, Charles V, and a Christian friar, who founded in Spanish America the slave trade between the Old World and the New. For some 1800 years, almost, Christians kept slaves, bought slaves, sold slaves, bred slaves, stole slaves. Pious Bristol and godly Liverpool less than 100 years ago openly grew rich on the traffic. During the ninth century Greek Christians sold slaves to the Saracens. In the eleventh century prostitutes were publicly sold as slaves in Rome, and the profit went to the Church.

It is said that William Wilberforce, the famed British abolitionist, was a Christian. But at any rate his Christianity was strongly diluted with unbelief [in the literal words of the Old Testament]. As an abolitionist he did not believe Leviticus 25: 44-6; he must have rejected Exodus 21: 2-6; he could not have accepted the many permissions and injunctions by the Bible deity to his chosen people to capture and hold slaves. In the House of Commons on 18th February, 1796, Wilberforce reminded that Christian assembly that infidel and anarchic France had already given liberty to its African slaves, whilst Christian and monarchic England was “obstinately continuing a system of cruelty and injustice.” Wilberforce, whilst advocating the abolition of slavery, found the whole influence of the English Court, and the great weight of the Episcopal Bench, against him. George III, a most Christian king, regarded abolition theories with abhorrence, and the Christian House of Lords was utterly opposed to granting freedom to the slave …

When William Lloyd Garrison, the pure-minded and most earnest abolitionist, delivered his first anti-slavery address in Boston, Massachusetts, the only building he could obtain, in which to speak, was the infidel hall owned by Abner Kneeland, the “infidel” editor of the Boston Investigator, who had been sent to jail for blasphemy. Every Christian sect had in turn refused Mr. Lloyd Garrison the use of the buildings they controlled. Lloyd Garrison told me himself how honored deacons of a Christian Church joined in an actual attempt to hang him. [Garrison, like the most radical abolitionist Quakers of his era, was deeply religious yet also deeply distrustful of churches and their ecclesiastical organizations, perhaps because the churchmen of his day thought that it was more important for the government to forbid all mail deliveries on “Sunday” than to forbid slavery. Garrison himself found out later in life that he agreed with much of the reasoning of the “infidel” Thomas Paine, regarding both Paineʼs questioning of institutionalized religion and of the Bible. Garrison later embraced the “natural religion” of Paine—one rejecting miracles, mysteries, and ecclesiastical hierarchies, and insisting on total separation of church and state.—Susan Jacoby, Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism]

When abolition was advocated in the United States in 1790 the representative from South Carolina was able to plead that the Southern clergy did not condemn either slavery or the slave trade, and Mr. Jackson, the representative from Georgia, pleaded that “from Genesis to Revelation” the Bible remained favorable to slavery.

Elias Hicks, the brave Abolitionist Quaker, was denounced as an atheist. And, less than twenty years ago a Hicksite Quaker was expelled from one of the Southern American Legislatures, because of the reputed irreligion of abolitionist Quakers.

When the “Fugitive Slave Law” was under discussion in North America [a law that demanded all runaway slaves be returned to their masters who then got to punish them grievously for escaping], large numbers of Northern clergymen of nearly every denomination were found ready to defend this infamous law.

Samuel James May, the famous Northern abolitionist, was driven from the pulpit as irreligious, solely because of his attacks on slave-holding. Northern clergymen tried to induce “silver tongued” Wendell Phillips to abandon his advocacy of abolition. Southern pulpits rang with praises for the murderous attack on Charles Sumner. The slayers of Elijah Lovejoy were highly reputed Christian men.

The Christian historian, Guizot, notwithstanding that he tries to claim that the Church exerted its influence to restrain slavery, says (European Civilization, Vol. 1., p.110)” “It has often been repeated that the abolition of slavery among modem people is entirely due to Christians. That, I think, is saying too much. Slavery existed for a long period in the heart of Christian society, without its being particularly astonished or irritated. A multitude of causes, and a great development in other ideas and principles of civilization, were necessary for the abolition of this iniquity of all iniquities.” My contention is that this “great development in other ideas and principles of civilization” was long retarded by governments in which the Christian Church was dominant. The men who advocated liberty were imprisoned, racked, and burned, so long as the Church was strong enough to be merciless.

The Rev. Francis Minton, Rector of Middlewich, in his recent earnest volume [Capital and Wages, p.19] on the struggles of labor, admits that “a few centuries ago slavery was acknowledged throughout Christendom to have the divine sanction… Neither the exact cause, nor the precise time of the decline of the belief in the righteousness of slavery, can be defined. It was doubtless due to a combination of causes, one probably being as indirect as the recognition of the greater economy of free labor. With the decline of the religious belief in the divine sanction and righteousness of slavery, its abolition took place.”

The institution of slavery was actually existent in Christian Scotland in the seventeenth century, where the white coal workers and salt workers of East Lothian were chattels, as were their Negro brethren in the Southern States thirty years since; they “went to those who succeeded to the property of the works, and they could be sold, bartered, or pawned.” [Perversion of Scotland, p.197.] “There is,” says J. M. Robertson, “no trace that the Protestant clergy of Scotland ever raised a voice against the slavery which grew up before their eyes. And it was not until 1799, after republican and irreligious France had set the example, that it was legally abolished.”

Charles Bradlaugh, Humanityʼs Gain From Unbelief (1889 & 1929) [online]

The Second Great Awakening [a Christian revival movement], beginning around 1800 in America, is sometimes cited as an important causative factor in the abolitionist movement that followed… The implication here is that Christianity was at the heart of the movement to free the slaves… If so, why didnʼt the abolitionist movement begin after the First Great Awakening? Did that movementʼs leaders, George Whitfield and Jonathan Edwards, cry out in indignation against human bondage? They did not. [Whitfield even considered slavery a blessing.] Was the anti-slavery banner raised in the colonies as a result of this re-awakening of Christian sentiment? It was not. Slavery was not eliminated in this country [nor in England, nor in France] until after secularism had attained an ideological foothold. Certainly, many of the leaders of the abolitionist movement were religious. But, although they most likely were not aware of it, they were acting on humanistic impulses [rather than on the basis of Biblical teachings].

Jon Nelson, “Christianity, Slavery, and Abolitionism” [online] The Atheist Alliance Web Center

English North Americans embraced slavery because they were Christians, not in spite of it…In the 1700s, defenders of slavery among men of the cloth were far more numerous than opponents…The involvement of northern denominations and congregations [in the anti-slavery movement] was virtually nonexistent. It is not an exaggeration to assert that the clergyman or church member who marched with the abolitionists did so in spite of his denominational connection, not because of it. The antislavery movement [in both the U.S. and in Britain] owed much of its impetus to the efforts of individuals [who were often considered radicals or fanatics by their own denominations]…Harriet Beecher Stoweʼs enormously popular anti-slavery novel, Uncle Tomʼs Cabin (1852) was written in reaction to her denominationʼs acquiescence to the practice of slavery.

Forrest G. Wood, The Arrogance of Faith: Christianity and Race in America from the Colonial Era to the Twentieth

By the mid-1800s not one of the major Christian denominations [in America] other than the Quakers held a strong anti-slavery position.

Donald B. Gibson, “Faith, Doubt and Apostasy,” Frederick Douglass: New Literary and Historical Essays, ed. Eric J. Sundquist Gibson

Now that the blight of slavery has been removed, or at least ameliorated from human society, the church predictably steps in and takes the credit. In the righteous tones of the morally duplicitous, they claim that their faith was the motivating factor, that the slave owners werenʼt “real” Christians, that the entire history of slavery only proves their contention that humans are inherently evil. Their unquestioning flocks, already convinced of Christianityʼs merits, nod their heads in obsequious agreement… Americans today view slavery as a most grievous wrong. Unfortunately, few of them recognize that the Bible they revere is at best ambiguous and at worst openly supportive of the institution.

Jon Nelson, “Christianity, Slavery, and Abolitionism” [online] The Atheist Alliance Web Center

Quakers & Unitarians (Two Sects That Other Christians Despised) As Well As Deists (Considered “Infidels”), Were The Earliest Americans Opposed To Slavery

1688—The Quakers in Pennsylvania sign an anti-slavery resolution, making them the first and only Christian denomination in the entire Western Hemisphere to make a formal protest against slavery.

1730s-1770s—Benjamin Franklin (Deist) first lets his anti-slavery views be known.

1775 (March 8)—Thomas Paine (a Deist) writes, “African Slavery in America,” published in Postscript to the Pennsylvania Journal and the Weekly Advertiser, Philadelphia, denouncing slavery and calling for its end (ones of Paineʼs earliest published writings).

1775 (Six weeks later)—The “Society for Promoting the Abolition of Slavery” is formed in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania by Quakers and Deists. Thomas Paine (Deist) was a founding member, and Benjamin Franklin (Deist) became its president.

1775—John Adams (Unitarian), proposes a “Declaration of Independence.” He also suggests that congress appoint Thomas Jefferson (Deist) to write the draft. Adams serves as one of the editors. A lifelong opponent of slavery, Adams did not protest when congress cut Jeffersonʼs condemnation of slavery from the Declaration. Both believed the cause of independence was more important. Adams later wrote in a letter to Timothy Pickering: “I was delighted with itʼs [the Declarationʼs] high tone and the flights of oratory with which it abounded, especially that concerning negro slavery, which, though I knew his [Jeffersonʼs] Southern brethren would never suffer to pass in Congress, I certainly never would oppose.”

1776 (January)—Thomas Paine (Deist) publishes Common Sense after which sentiment begins to build in the Continental Congress for a complete break with England.

1776 (Sept. 28)—Pennsylvania adopts a constitution. While it appears that Benjamin Franklin (Deist), as well as George Bryan and James Cannon were the principal authors of the new constitution, others such as George Clymer, Timothy Matlack and even Thomas Paine (Deist) might have been involved in its creation.

1777—Vermontʼs Constitution is composed, modeled after that of Pennsylvaniaʼs that was written by Benjamin Franklin (Deist). One of the most notable features of Vermontʼs bill of rights was the conditional abolition of slavery (the conditions were that men could be held to be a “servant, slave or apprentice” until age 21, and women until age 18).

1780 (March)—Thomas Paine (Deist) drafts and the Pennsylvania Assembly passes “The Act for the Gradual Abolition of Slavery”: “Every Negro and Mulatto child born within the State after the passing of the Act would be free upon reaching age twenty-eight. When released from slavery, they were to receive the same freedom, dues and other privileges such as tools of their trade,” as servants bound by indenture for four years.

1780—Massachusetts Constitution declares that all men are free and equal at birth, but it took a judicial decision in 1783 to interpret this as “abolishing slavery.”

1784 Rhode Island and Connecticut enact gradual emancipation.

1799 New York adopts gradual emancipation.

1804 New Jersey adopts gradual emancipation.

Information assembled by E.T.B. See also, “Slavery in Early America: What the Founders Wrote, Said, and Did” [online]

Thirdly, The Bible And Slavery

Throughout the Bible slavery is as cheerfully and leniently assumed as are royalty, poverty, and female submission to males. In the English Bible there is frequent mention, especially in the parables of Jesus, to “servants.” The Greek word is generally “slaves.” Jesus talks about them as coolly as we talk about our housemaids or nurses. Naturally, he would say that we must love them; we must love all men (unless they reject our religious beliefs). But there is not a syllable of condemnation of the institution of slavery.

According to Jesus “fornication” is a shuddering thing; but the slavery of fifty or sixty million human beings is not a matter for strong language. Paul approves the institution of slavery in just the same way.—He is in fact worse than Jesus. He saw slaves all over the Greco-Roman world and never said a word of protest.

Joseph McCabe, “Christianity and Slavery,” The Story of Religious Controversy, Chapter XIX

The Bible says that all the patriarchs had slaves. Abraham, “the friend of God,” and “the father of the faithful,” bought slaves from Haran (Gen. 12:50), included them in his property list (Gen. 12:16, 24:35-36), and willed them to his son Isaac (Gen. 26:13-14). What is more, Scripture says God blessed Abraham by multiplying his slaves (Gen. 24:355). In Abrahamʼs household Sarah was set over the slave, Hagar. After Hagar ran away the angel told her, “return to your mistress and submit to her.” (Gen. 16:9)

The Bible even depicts the “Lord” making his own ministers slaveholders. Numbers, chapter 31, says that the Hebrews slew all the Midianites with the exception of Midianite female virgins whom the Hebrews “kept for themselves…,” and, “the booty that remained from the spoil, which the [Hebrew] men of war had plundered included…16,000 human beings [i.e., the female virgins] from whom the Lordʼs tribute was 32 persons. And Moses gave the tribute which was the Lordʼs offering to Eleazar the priest, just as the Lord had commanded Moses… And from the sons of Israelʼs half, Moses took one out of every fifty, both of man [i.e., the female virgins] and animals, and gave them to the Levites [the priestly tribe]… just as the Lord had commanded Moses.”

At Godʼs command Joshua took slaves (Josh 9:23), as did David (1 Kings 8:2,6) and Solomon (1 Kings 9:20-21). Likewise, Job whom the Bible calls “blameless and upright,” was “a great slaveholder” (Job 1:15-17; 3:19; 4:18; 7:2; 31:13; 42:8)…Slavery is twice mentioned in the Ten Commandments (the 4th and 10th), but not as a sin. [“Thou shalt not covet thy neighborʼs wife, or his male slave, or his female slave.” Exodus 20:17]

How long must a person remain enslaved? Genesis, chapter nine, says that Noah laid a curse on one of his sonsʼ sons making him [and his childrenʼs children] “a slave of slaves… forever.” And Leviticus 25:44-46, says, “You may acquire male and female slaves from the nations that are around you. Then too, out of the sons of the sojourners who live as aliens among you… they also may become your possession. You may even bequeath them to your sons after you, to inherit as a possession forever [i.e., the slaveʼs children would be born into slavery along with their childrenʼs children, forever].” So, slaves acquired from “foreign” nations could be treated as “possessions…forever;” also, enemies taken in war. Moreover, the second Psalm in the Bible (which scholars believe was sung at the coronation of Hebrew kings) proclaims, “Ask of me [the Lord], and I shall give thee the heathen for thine inheritance [as slaves], and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession. Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron; thou shalt dash them in pieces like a potterʼs vessel.”

There were a few exceptions to “everlasting slavery.” If the slave was a Hebrew owned by a fellow Hebrew the master allegedly had to offer him his freedom after “seven years.” Though there is not a single penalty mentioned in the Bible should the master detain his slave longer than that period or refuse to offer him his freedom. Neither does such an offer appear to apply to female slaves. Furthermore, if a Hebrew slave chose to remain with his master after being offered his freedom, then the “Lord” told his people to “bore holes in the ears” of that slave to mark him as his masterʼs possession “forever.” So you had better speak up clearly and without hesitation the first time your master offered you your freedom because there was no Biblical provision for changing your mind at a later date. Complicating such decisions was the fact that masters often gave their slaves wives so they could produce children, yet the wife and children remained the masterʼs “possessions.” (Exodus 21:4-6)

The Bible also apparently allowed for a creditor to enslave his debtor or his debtorʼs children for the redemption of the debt (2 Kings 4:1); and children could be sold into slavery by their parents (Exodus 21:7; Isaiah 50:1). So sayeth “the word of the Lord.”

How much punishment could a master employ to discipline their slaves and ensure their obedience? The Bible tells us that a master may beat his slave within an inch of the slaveʼs life or within “a day or two” of their life: “If a man strikes his male or female slave with a rod and he dies at his hand, he shall be punished. If, however, the slave survives a day or two (before dying), no vengeance shall be taken; for the slave is his masterʼs money.” (Ex. 21:20-21) In line with such pearls of wisdom an early Christian Council, The Council of Elvira (c. 305), prescribed that any Christian mistress who beat her slave to death without premeditation was merely to be punished with five years of penance. 1 Peter 2:18-20 teaches that the Christian who is a slave should “patiently endure” even harsh unjust punishments in order to “find favor with God.”

Letʼs sum up. According to the Bible, anyone who has enough money to buy another human being is “worthy of all honor” (1 Tim. 6:1) in the eyes of the one who has been purchased. Secondly, slaves should seek to fulfill the “will of God” by obediently serving their masters (Eph. 6:5-6). Thirdly, slaves who endured “suffering” (including unjust suffering”) were “acceptable of God” (1 Peter 2:18-20). So if slaves do not find their masters “worthy of all honor,” but “disobey” their masters, and refuse to “endure sufferings” imposed by their masters, such behavior displeases not only man, but God as well. Even Jesus, in his parables, took for granted that a master had the right to discipline his disobedient slaves: “The slave who knew his masterʼs will, but did not do it, was beaten with many stripes.” (Luke 12:47)

Every book in the Bible takes the existence of slavery for granted from Genesis to Revelation. Revelation 6:15; 13:16 & 19:18 take for granted the existence of “free men” and “slaves” (verse 18:13 even takes for granted the existence of both “slaves” and “chariots,” which is odd for a book some believe to be a “vision of the future”). At any rate, it is far from clear that the Bible is “against slavery.” And thatʼs putting it mildly.


Fourthly, The Civil War (Americaʼs “Holy War”)

In the United States disputes over slavery brought Presbyterians, Methodists, and Baptists to schism by 1845, and encouraged the fratricidal Civil War that finally resolved that crisis. One of the chief ironies of the conflict over slavery was the confrontation of Americaʼs largest Protestant denominations with the hitherto unthinkable idea that the Bible could be divided against itself. But divided it had been by intractable theological, political, and economic forces. Never again would the Bible completely recover its traditional authority in American culture.

Stephen A. Marini, “Slavery and the Bible,” The Oxford Guide to Ideas & Issues of the Bible, ed. by Bruce Metzger and Michael D. Coogan (Oxford University Press, 2001)

Jefferson Davis And The Southʼs View Of Slavery As Established And Sanctioned By God

Jefferson Davis, the leader of the South during the American Civil War, boasted, “It [slavery] was established by decree of Almighty God… it is sanctioned in the Bible, in both Testaments, from Genesis to Revelation… it has existed in all ages, has been found among the people of the highest civilization, and in nations of the highest proficiency in the arts… Let the gentleman go to Revelation to learn the decree of God—let him go to the Bible… I said that slavery was sanctioned in the Bible, authorized, regulated, and recognized from Genesis to Revelation…Slavery existed then in the earliest ages, and among the chosen people of God; and in Revelation we are told that it shall exist till the end of time shall come [Rev. 6:15; 13:16; 19:18]. You find it in the Old and New Testaments—in the prophecies, psalms, and the epistles of Paul; you find it recognized, sanctioned everywhere.”
- Dunbar Rowland, Jefferson Davis, Vol. 1

Davisʼs defenses of slavery are legion, as in his speech to Congress in 1848, “If slavery be a sin, it is not yours. It does not rest on your action for its origin, on your consent for its existence. It is a common law right to property in the service of man; its origin was Divine decree.” After 1856, Davis reiterated in most of his public speeches that he was “tired” of apologies for “our institution.” “African slavery, as it exists in the United States, is a moral, a social, and a political blessing.”
- William E. Dodd, Jefferson Davis

After being elected President of the Confederacy, Jefferson Davis said, “My own convictions as to Negro slavery are strong. It has its evils and abuses…We recognize the Negro as God and Godʼs Book and Godʼs Laws, in nature, tell us to recognize him—our inferior, fitted expressly for servitude…You cannot transform the Negro into anything one-tenth as useful or as good as what slavery enables them to be.”
- Kenneth C. Davis, Donʼt Know Much About the Civil War: Everything You Need to Know About Americaʼs Greatest Conflict But Never Learned]

The Bible is a book in comparison with which all others in my eyes are of minor importance; and which in all my perplexities and distresses has never failed to give me light and strength.
- Robert E. Lee, Leader of the Confederate Army of the South

When the Confederate states drew up their constitution, they added something that the colonial founders had voted to leave out, namely, an invocation of the Deity. The Southʼs proud new constitution began: “We, the people…invoking the favor and guidance of Almighty God…”
- E.T.B. [See, Charles Robert Lee, Jr., The Confederate Constitutions]

Southern clergymen and politicians argued that the South was more “Christian” than the North, it was the “Redeemer Nation.”
- Charles Wilson, Baptized in Blood, 1980

With secession and the outbreak of the Civil War, Southern clergymen boldly proclaimed that the Confederacy had replaced the United States as Godʼs chosen nation.
- Mitchell Snay, Gospel of Disunion: Religion and Separatism in the Antebellum South]

Our [Christian] denominations [in the South] are few, harmonious, pretty much united among themselves [especially on the issue of slavery—E.T.B.], and pursue their avocations in humble peace…Few of the remarkable ‘isms’ of the present day have taken root among us. We have been so irreverent as to laugh at Mormonism and Millerism, which have created such [religious] commotions farther North; and modern prophets have no honor in our country. Shakers, Dunkers, Socialists, and the like, keep themselves afar off. You may attribute this to our domestic Slavery if you choose [the slaves being taught what to believe only by members of the “few, harmonious” Southern churches—E.T.B.]. I believe you would do so justly. There is no material here [in the South] for such characters [from the North] to operate upon… A people [like we Southerners] whose men are proverbially brave, intellectual and hospitable, and whose women are unaffectedly chaste, devoted to domestic life, and happy in it, can neither be degraded nor demoralized, whatever their institutions may be. My decided opinion is, that our system of Slavery contributes largely to the development and culture of these high and noble qualities.
- James Henry Hammond, South Carolinian politician, cited by Drew Gilpin Faust, ed., The Ideology of Slavery: Proslavery Thought in the Antebellum South, 1830-1860 (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1981), Chapter IV, “James Henry Hammond: Letter to an English Abolitionist,” pp.180, 181, 183, 184]

A Slaveʼs View Of Slavery In The South

We have men sold to build churches, women sold to support the gospel, and babes sold to purchase Bibles for the poor heathen, all for the glory of God and the good of souls. The slave auctioneerʼs bell and the church-going bell chime in with each other, and the bitter cries of the heart-broken slave are drowned in the religious shouts of his pious master. Revivals of religion and revivals of the slave trade go hand in hand.

Were I to be again reduced to the chains of slavery, next to the enslavement, I should regard being the slave of a religious master the greatest calamity that could befall me. For of all slaveholders with whom I have ever met, religious slaveholders are the worst. I have ever found them the meanest and basest, the most cruel and cowardly, of all others.

It was my unhappy lot to belong to a religious slaveholder. He always managed to have one or more of his slaves to whip every Monday morning.

In August, 1832, my master attended a Methodist camp-meeting and there experienced religion. He prayed morning, noon, and night. He very soon distinguished himself among his brethren, and was made a class leader and exhorter.

I have seen him tie up a lame young woman, and whip her with a heavy cowskin whip upon her naked shoulders, causing the warm red blood to drip; and, in justification of the bloody deed, he would quote the passage of Scripture, “He who knoweth the masterʼs will, and doeth it not, shall be beaten with many stripes.” (Luke 12:47)

I prayed for freedom twenty years, but received no answer until I prayed with my legs.

Frederick Douglass, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass: An American Slave

Frederick Douglass Was Not The Only Witness To Testify That Christians Were The Cruelest Slaveholders

Henry Bibb… lists six “professors of religion” who sold him to other “professors of religion.” (One of Bibbʼs owners was a deacon in the Baptist church, who employed whips, chains, stocks, and thumbscrews to “discipline” his slaves.) Harriet Jacobs, in her narrative, informs us that her tormenting owner was the worse for being converted. Mrs. Joseph Smith, testifying before the American Freedmenʼs Inquiry Commission in 1863 tells why Christian slaveholders were the worst owners: “Well, it is something like this—the Christians will oppress you more.”

Donald B. Gibson, “Faith, Doubt and Apostasy,” Frederick Douglass: New Literary and Historical Essays, ed. Eric J. Sundquist Gibson

Letter Written By A Slave To A Minister Who Had Preached At That Slaveʼs Plantation

I want you to tell me the reason you always preach to the white folks and keep your back to us. If God sent you to preach to sinners did He direct you to keep your face to the white folks constantly? Or is it because they give you money? If this is the cause we are the very persons who labor for this money but it is handed to you by our masters. Did God tell you to make your meeting houses just large enough to hold the white folks and let the Black people stand in the sun and rain as the brooks in the field? We are charged with inattention. It is impossible for us to pay good attention with this chance. In fact, some of us scarcely think we are preached to at all. Money appears to be the object. We are carried to market and sold to the highest bidder never once inquiring whether sold to a heathen or Christian. If the question was put, “Did you sell to a Christian?” what would be the answer, “I canʼt tell what he was, he gave me my price, thatʼs all I was interested in?” Is that the way to heaven? If it is, there will be a good many who go there. If not, their chance of getting there will be bad for there can be many witnesses against them.

Blacks in Bondage: Letters of American Slaves, ed., Robert S. Starobin

It is not uncharacteristic in the study of race relations that the catechisms, as instruments of control, revealed more about the thinking of the slaveholding society and its clerical leaders than they did about the slaves.
- Forrest G. Wood, The Arrogance of Faith: Christianity and Race in America from the Colonial Era to the Twentieth

Woodʼs book explodes the myth that most slaves became Christians: figures were closer to 10%, roughly the same percentage of the free population that attended church regularly. Another false legend exposed here is that northern churches aided and encouraged efforts to free the slaves: many abolitionists broke away from the mainstream churches because they would not provide assistance to escaped slaves. Northern churches considered slavery a political issue rather than a moral one so as not to offend their southern affiliates. “Spiritual” music was anything but: Allowed to sing only religious music, slaves often composed songs that were outwardly biblical, but that were actually coded messages for the underground railroad. Subjugation of all “inferior” races was an integral part of Manifest Destiny. The author contends that since the few freethinkers were not organized, they had no say in the slavery issue. His research is incomplete: Thomas Paine almost single-handedly abolished slavery in Pennsylvania, the first state where it was outlawed, in 1780. In fact, when did the other northern churches abolish slavery? You wonʼt find that answer in this book. Most of the material deals with slavery in the United States during the antebellum period, which is probably the authorʼs special field of study. He spends only a few pages on the genocide of the Native Americans, and almost totally ignores slavery in the Spanish settlements.
- John Rush (Austin, Texas) reviewer of Woodʼs book at

African slaves were allowed to organize churches as a surrogate for earthly freedom. White churches were organized in order to make certain that the rights of property [including the masterʼs right to own his slave] were respected and that the numerous religious taboos in the New and Old Testaments would be enforced, if necessary, by civil law.

Gore Vidal, “(The Great Unmentionable) Monotheism and its Discontents,” essay

Before the South seceded politically from the North, she seceded religiously. The three largest Christian denominations in the South, the Methodists, Baptists and Presbyterians, seceded from their northern brethren to form separate “Southern” denominations, each founded on the Biblical right (of laymen and ministers) to own slaves.


The Old School (Presbyterian) General Assembly report of 1845 concluded that slavery was based on “some of the plainest declarations of the Word of God.” Those who took this position were conservative evangelicals. Among their number were the best conservative theologians and exegetes of their day, including, Robert Dabney, James Thornwell and the great Charles Hodge of Princeton—fathers of twentieth century evangelicalism and of the modern expression of the doctrine of Biblical inerrancy. No one can really appreciate how certain these evangelicals were that the Bible endorsed slavery, or of the vehemence of their argumentation unless something from their writings is read.

Kevin Giles, “The Biblical Argument for Slavery,” The Evangelical Quarterly, Vol. 66, No. 1, 1994

The Clergy Played A Pivotal Role In Promoting Secession

Southern clergymen spoke openly and enthusiastically on behalf of disunion… Denominational groups across the South officially endorsed secession and conferred blessings on the new Southern nation. Influential denominational papers from the Mississippi Baptist to the Southern Episcopalian, the Southern Presbyterian and the South Western Baptist, agreed that secession “must be effected at any cost, regardless of consequences,” and “secession was the only consistent position that Southern freemen or Christians could occupy.” (One amusing anecdote tells how a prominent member of a Southern Presbyterian church told his pastor that he would quit the church if the pastor did not pray for the Union. Unmoved by this threat, the pastor replied that “our church does not believe in praying for the dead!”)

Meanwhile, Northern clergymen blamed their Southern counterparts for “inflaming passions,” “adding a feeling of religious fanaticism” to the secessionist controversy, and also blamed them for being “the strongest obstacle in the way of preserving the Union.” In this way, the Northern clergy contributed to the belief in an irrepressible conflict, and aroused the same kind of political passions they were condemning in their Southern brethren.

One Southern sermon that had “a powerful influence in converting Southern sentiments to secession,” and which was republished in several Southern newspapers and distributed in tens of thousands of individual copies, was Reverend Benjamin B. Palmerʼs sermon, “Slavery a Divine Trust: Duty of the South to Preserve and Perpetuate It,” delivered soon after Lincolnʼs election in 1860. According to Palmer that election had brought “one issue before us” which had created a crisis that called forth the guidance of the clergy. That issue was “slavery.” Palmer insisted that “the South defended the cause of all religion and truth…We defend the cause of God and religion,” while abolitionism was “undeniably atheistic.” Palmer was incensed at the platform of Lincolnʼs political party that promised to constrain the practice of slavery within certain geographical limits instead of allowing it to expand into Americaʼs Western territories. Therefore, the South had to secede in order to protect its providential trust of slavery.

When Union armies reached Reverend Palmerʼs home state, a Union general placed a price on his head, because as some said, the Reverend had done more than “any other non-combatant in the South to promote rebellion.” Thomas R. R. Cobb, an official of the Confederate government, summed up religionʼs contribution to the fervor and ferment of those times with these words, “This revolution (the secessionist cause) has been accomplished mainly by the Churches.”

Mitchell Snay, Gospel of Disunion (See also Edward R. Crowtherʼs Southern Evangelists and the Coming of the Civil War)

The Southern Presbyterian Church resolved in 1864 (while the Civil War was still being fought): “We hesitate not to affirm that it is the peculiar mission of the Southern Church to conserve the institution of slavery, and to make it a blessing both to master and slave.” The Church also insisted that it was “unscriptural and fanatical” and “one of the most pernicious heresies of modern times” to accept the dogma that slavery was inherently sinful. At least one slave responded to such theological resolutions with one of his own: “If slavery ainʼt a sin, then nothing is.”


To judge by the hundreds of sermons and specially composed church prayers that have survived on both sides, ministers were among the most fanatical of the combatants from beginning to end. The churches played a major role in dividing the nation, and it may be that the splits in the churches made a final split in the nation possible. In the North, such a charge was often willingly accepted. Granville Moddy, a Northern Methodist, boasted in 1861, “We are charged with having brought about the present contest. I believe it is true we did bring it about, and I glory in it, for it is a wreath of glory round our brow.”

Southern clergymen did not make the same boast but of all the various elements in the South they did the most to make a secessionist state of mind possible. Southern clergymen were particularly responsible for prolonging the increasingly futile struggle. Both sides claimed vast numbers of “conversions” among their troops and a tremendous increase in churchgoing and “prayerfulness” as a result of the fighting.
- Paul Johnson, A History of the American People

Other “results of the fighting” that clergymen were not nearly as boastful about included tremendous outbreaks of syphilis and gonorrhea among both northern and southern troops who took time out from their fighting and prayers to visit women who attended to the troopsʼ less than holy concerns.
- E.T.B.

The Crusades aside, Civil War armies were perhaps the most religious in history. Troops who were not especially religious prior to the war often found comfort in religion when faced with the horrific reality of combat. Those who had held strong religious beliefs before they went into battle usually found their faith strengthened. One southerner reflected that “we are feeble instruments in the hands of the Supreme Power,” while his northern counterpart believed that he was “under the same protecting aegis of the Almighty here as elsewhere…It matters not, then,” he concluded, “where I may be the God of nature extends his protecting wing over me.”

Religion, specifically the Protestant religion, went to the very heart of the American experience in the nineteenth century. Both northerners and southerners were used to expressing themselves via religious metaphors and Scriptural allusions. Once war broke out, both sides saw themselves as Christian armies, and the war itself served to reinforce this.

The Confederate soldier, in particular, was encouraged to equate the cause of the Confederacy with the cause of Christ, by the efforts of religious journals such as The Army and Navy Messenger and The Soldierʼs Friend, many of which began publication after 1863. The Messenger advised southern troops as late as 1864 that the Confederacy was “fighting not only for our country but our God. This identity inspires our hope and establishes our confidence. It has become for us a holy war, and each fearful and bloody battle an act of awful and solemn worship.” In the same year, The Soldierʼs Paper reminded its readership, “The blood of martyrs was the seed of the Church, the blood of our heroes is the seed of liberty.” According to the Mississippi Messenger, the Civil War was no more nor less than “…the ordering of Godʼs Providence, which forbids the permanent union of heterogeneous nations.” The southern soldier responded to such arguments, and took them to heart. Even after the fall of Atlanta, an artillery lieutenant from Alabama could not “believe that our Father in Heaven intends that we shall be subjugated by such a race of people as the Yankees.”

Northern soldiers too, were encouraged to find Scriptural justification for the Union cause, particularly over the matter of slavery. After Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, Julia Ward Howe composed the words to the “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” which was set to the tune of “John Brownʼs Body.” Union troops needed little encouragement to sing “Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord,” nor to reassure themselves that as Christ, “died to make men holy, let us die to make men free / While God is marching on.”

Susan-Mary Grant, “For God and Country: Why Men Joined Up For the US Civil War,” History Today, Vol. 50, No. 7, July 2000, p.24-25

Hundreds of thousands of soldiers died in the Civil War, more than the combined number of all the American soldiers who died in every other war from the Revolutionary War through two World Wars, right up to the Gulf War against Iraq. (Admittedly, diarrhea killed more Civil War soldiers than were killed in battle. But then, influenza killed more World War I soldiers than were killed in battle.) Neither is there any doubt among historians that religion played a more pervasive and intimate role in heightening disagreements and animosities during the Civil War than in those others.


The Civil War as a Religious War: It can be argued that the Civil War was as much theological as it was political. The split between northern and southern churches may have precipitated political secession—once religious leaders stopped trying to work together, political leaders didnʼt bother. Ministers signed up for war in larger numbers, especially in the South. All the officers in one Texas regiment were, apparently, Methodist preachers. Religious propaganda drove war fever and inspired confidence in ultimate victory.

Ham and the Christian Defense of Slavery: The primary focus of those using Christianity to defend slavery and segregation was the story of Noah, specifically the part where his son Ham is cursed to serve his brothers. This story long functioned as a model for Christians to insist that God meant Africans to be marked as the servants of others because they are descended from Ham. Secondary was the story of the Tower of Babel as a model for Godʼs desire to separate people generally rather than have them united in common cause and purpose.

Slavery, Christian Honor, and Social Order: The concepts of honor and social order have been integral to Southern Christianity and Southern defenses of slavery. Honor meant protecting oneʼs personal image. It didnʼt matter, for example, if one was honest or dishonest, but it did matter that no one said you were dishonest. Black Africans, as descendants of Ham, were seen as lacking honor and therefore deserving of slavery. Maintaining social order meant preserving traditional structures of authority: men over women, whites over blacks.

Southern Christianity and Liberty: Southern slave owners had little interest in general liberty or maintaining a democratic republic. Their ideals were founded upon patriarchy, timocracy, and authoritarianism — not liberty, democracy, or other values people tend to take for granted today. In effect, Christianity constituted an important basis for anti-democratic movements in the South designed to deny liberty to large numbers of people, primarily (though not solely) slaves.

Christianity as a Source of Weakness in the South: Early on, Christianity was a powerful force for inspiration and national cohesion in the Confederacy. Over time, however, the quick and expected victory failed to materialize. This was a problem for both sides, but the North had a stronger nationalistic sense of self which helped see them through; the South lacked this and thus the failures on the battlefield translated into religious despair. This, in turn, sapped the Southʼs morale and prevented them from persevering.

Religious Reconstruction after the Civil War: Southerners decided that they lost because they were impure of heart rather than because slavery was an unmitigated evil — to admit that they lost because they had been wrong all along would have bee too large a blow to their sense of self and their self-identification as Southerners. They had to have been right; therefore, their loss must be attributed to other reasons. Many argued that God was chastising them in order to prepare them for some higher and more glorious purpose in the future.

Statesʼ Rights, Guilt, and Manufactured Victory: Southern secession was based upon a defense of slavery as a religious necessity and as a basic way of life. Guilt over slavery always lurked in the background, though, and losing the war made it even more difficult to face. Instead of facing it, however, Southerners claimed that they only fought for statesʼ rights and personal honor, both of which “survived.” This allowed Southern Christians to claim victory without having to deal with the moral implications of going to war over slavery.

White Supremacy and Christian Supremacy: For Southerners, maintaining separate churches was necessary to hold on to who they really were. Churches were a primary vehicle for transmitting cultural as well as religious identity. Through the churches Southerners transmitted to their children ideals about slavery, the inequality of the races, the righteousness of secession, the evil and tainted gospel preached by Northerners, and so forth. Except for the overt racism and defense of slavery, the situation today remains strikingly similar.

Christianity and the Civil Rights Movement: Although the South lost the Civil War, White Supremacy remained an important component of Christian teaching for the next century. White Christian churches taught that slavery was a just institution, as were Jim Crow laws and segregation; that white Christianity remained the last, best hope for western civilization; and that white Christians had a mandate to exercise dominion over the world — and especially the darker races who were little more than children.

Southern Christianity and Christian Nationalism in Modern America: There has been discussion of the “southernization of American society,” an argument that many basic premises and principles from Southern culture have become integrated into the rest of American culture. Included with this are appeals to racism and ethnic demagoguery, militaristic patriotism, and extreme political localism.

A parallel development, or perhaps the primary underlying development, has been the “southernization” of American Christianity. Although mainline Protestant Christianity has grown more liberal, tolerant, and open in recent decades, they have also been declining in influence. During this same time conservative evangelical and fundamentalist churches have been growing in size and power.

Christian Nationalism in America is largely a consequence of the spread of Southern Christianity. Southern Christianity has long been more conservative, evangelical, fundamentalist, militaristic, and nationalistic than churches elsewhere in the nation. As these attitudes have spread, they have transformed Christian churches that were once more liberal, especially where issues like feminism, the ordination of female clergy, and homosexuality have been concerned.

Southern Christianity holds firm to a male-dominated church situated in a male-dominated society, hyper-patriotism which is inextricably linked to traditional Christianity, hostility towards homosexuality and any divergence from traditional gender roles, opposition to sexual license and liberty, and the defense of traditional privileges for males, Christians, and at times even whites. All of this is gradually being incorporated into American Christianity generally, transforming not just American churches but also American culture and politics as well.

Austin Cline, “Christianity in the Confederate South: Southern Nationalism and Christianity”

Ed: Below Is A Copy Of The Invitation I Recʼd That Prompted My Response Above (Note: The Invitation Was Sent To Me On Request Since I Asked To Be Sent Updates From This Group, But I Suspect Many People Other Than Myself Have Received Invitations This Week To Go See This Film)

This weekend an extremely important film is opening, Amazing Grace. (If youʼre not already familiar with it, donʼt let the title throw you.)

With an excellent cast, a top-notch veteran director, and produced bt the same folks who brought us The Chronicles of Narnia, this is a film that needs to be seen. It especially needs to be seen by young people, as will become clear as the story progresses. A friend who is involved with the project told me that this is not a “feel good” movie; it is a movie that makes you want to go out and do something that makes a difference.

One Manʼs Courage and Perseverance
by Johnny Price of the Caleb Group

Two-hundred years ago this month a milestone event, in the course of a momentous campaign, took place in England. The Abolition Act of 1807 passed both the House of Lords and the House of Commons. The slave trade was abolished in Britain. However, slavery was not abolished; only the slave trade. It would be another twenty-six years before the abolition of slavery. It had taken twenty years to get rid of this nationally sanctioned, highly lucrative business enterprise.

Forty-six years. A professional lifetime. For forty-six years one man, William Wilberforce, led the fight against the trafficking of human flesh.

Since the 1600s, schooners would return from Africa with hundreds of black men and women lying on their sides in the holds of the ships, their chests pressed against the backs of those in front of them; their feet on the heads of those in the next row.

Not all who were taken from their villages would make it to the large ships; the old and sick and disabled were shot or clubbed to death. Not all who made it to the ships were immediately sent below; first the crew got their pick of the women. Then each day thereafter the lower decks were opened and the dead or nearly dead were thrown overboard. In 1783 Englandʼs high court had maintained that slaves were only “goods and chattels,” the chief justice observing that it was “exactly as if horses had been thrown overboard”.

Wilberforce, from Hull, England, elected to the House of Commons a month after turning twenty-one, had served for seven years when a combination of increasing social awareness and spiritual maturity led him to write down this realization: “God Almighty has set before me two great objects, the suppression of the Slave Trade and the reformation of manners.” These “two great objects” were inseparable, symbiotic. “The reformation of manners” (having nothing to do with how one folded oneʼs napkin) had everything to do with the moral character of the nation: a nation whose morality permitted slavery needed reformation. The existence of the slave trade was, in return, moral poison seeping continually into the hearts of the citizens.

For forty-six years, Wilberforce recruited like-minded men and women to work with him. He needed them. The opposition was fierce and came from various fronts. Some were worried about the economy; Lord Penryhn, fretted that this was a trade on which “two thirds of the commerce of this country depended”. Other members of Parliament were shocked that Christian politicians had the audacity to press for religiously based reforms in the political realm. “Things have come to a pretty pass when religion is allowed to invade private life” said Lord Melbourne.

James Boswell made his contempt known through a rather snide verse:

Go, W- with narrow skull,
Go home and preach away at Hull.
No longer in the Senate cackle
In strains that suit the tabernacle;
I hate your little wittling sneer,
Your pert and self sufficient leer.
Mischief to trade sits on your lip,
Insects will knaw the noblest ship.
Go, W-, begone for shame,
Thou dwarf with big resounding name.

Forty-six years of investigations, speeches, debates, proposals, hopeful signs, deep disappointments, partial successes, setbacks, boycotts, prayers, ridicule. Forty-six years of perseverance.

Of course people of character are multi-faceted. Their passions move them in a variety of directions, usually simultaneously. (It is those with little or no character who are shallow, one dimensional, and boring. It was Simone Weil who pointed out that only in literature are evil people really interesting.)

Wilberforce also worked for the reform of the brutal and inequitable penal system. (Crimes such as stealing rabbits and cutting down trees, whether committed by men, women or children, were punishable by hanging.) A great lover of animals he helped establish the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Until his marriage in 1797, he regularly gave away a quarter of his income to the poor. He paid the bills for people who were in prison as a result of the harsh debt laws, securing their releases. When, in 1801, the war with France and poor crops resulted in widespread hunger, Wilberforce gave away 3000 pounds more than his income.

But always at the forefront was his commitment to the abolition of slavery. For forty-six years.

On July 26, 1833, the Bill for the Abolition of Slavery passed its third reading in the House of Commons. Emancipation was finally secured. William Wilberforce was on his deathbed. When told the news he sank back on his pillow, smiled and said, “Thank God that I should live to witness a day in which England is willing to give up twenty millions sterling for the abolition of slavery!”

Three days later he died.