Mobile version

Saturday, February 06, 2016

Sir Thomas Browne: A Fascinating Early Enlightenment Christian

Myth-Buster, Word-Smith, Believer in Tolerance, Forgiveness and Opening Heaven's Gates Wider (but also in the reality and dangers of Witchcraft), Discoverer of Chinks in the Armor of Biblical Infallibility, An Ecclesiastes-Like Preacher of the Vanity of Life with a Few Resemblances to Lucretius the Atheist.

Plato's den or cave refers to a famous allegory about people chained to the wall of a cave all of their lives, facing a blank wall. The people watch shadows projected on the wall from things passing in front of a fire behind them, and they begin to give names to these shadows. The shadows are as close as the prisoners get to viewing reality.

Embryon is roughtly equivalent to our modern word, embryonic, so Browne is noting how little knowledge we have of the afterlife.


We are ignorant of the backparts, or lower side of his Divinity.

My contact with Truth has been so fleeting and my comprehension of its mystery is so incomplete that to rush forth to its defense thus ill-prepared would be a great disservice.

Browne saw too many men who thought they had seized all of truth and who, as a result, not only missed the rightful enjoyment of a partial truth but mistook that part for the whole.

Those have not only depraved understandings, but diseased affections, which cannot enjoy a singularity without an Heresy, or be the Author of an Opinion without they be of a Sect also.

Opinions, even odd opinions, Browne does not condemn, so long as they are recognized for what they are. He recommends that they be held lightly.

The best we can do in view of the gulf fixed between our partial wisdom and the wholeness of the last Day, is to exercise manfully our reason, preserve the honesty of our enquiry, and so fulfill our human obligation even though at last we miss of truth.

We learn today what our better advanced judgments will unteach us tomorrow; and Aristotle does but instruct us, as Plato did him; that is, to confute himself. I have run through all sorts [of philosophies], yet find no rest in any: though our first studies and junior endeavors may style us Peripatetics, Stoics, or Academics [different types of philosophers]; yet I perceive the wisest heads prove, at last, almost all Skeptics, and stand like Janus in the field of knowledge. [Janus the god had two faces that peered in opposite directions at the same time.]

I have one common and authentic Philosophy I learned in Schools, whereby I discourse and satisfy the reason of other men; another more reserved, and drawn from experience, whereby I content my own.

I love to satisfy myself in a mystery, to pursue my reason to an o altitudo [feeling of spiritual exaltation, a Latin phrase that comes from Romans 11:33].

Where I cannot satisfy my reason, I love to humor my fancy.

We carry with us the wonders we seek without us.

Our ends are as obscure as our beginnings.

As reason is a rebel to faith, so passion is a rebel to reason.

Some Christians in Browne's day "declaimed against all Church music," because they felt true worship should be accompanied only by sanctimonious spoken rites or silence. As for Browne:

I do embrace Church music; for even that vulgar Tavern music which makes one merry, another mad, strikes in me a deep fit of devotion, and a profound contemplation of the first Composer [God]. There is something in it of Divinity more than the ear discovers; it is an hieroglyphical [Egyptian hieroglyphs were impossible to read in his day] and shadowed lesson of the whole World, and creatures of God.


Browne's most popular work in his lifetime is the one that is now most neglected, Pseudodoxia Epidemica, a catalogue of "vulgar errors," urban myths of the seventeenth century. Many of these concerned silly things that people believed about animals. Browne was an astute observer of natural history (the author of a Natural History of Norfolk), and well positioned to correct such errors--the of his day.

Browne’s European education exposed him to some of the latest thinking in medical practice, including training in anatomy and dissection – practices that were beginning to challenge and criticize the traditional authoritative works in medicine, such as those by Hippocrates and Galen. This included William Harvey’s discovery of the circulation of the blood, which Browne said was a “discovery I prefer to that of Columbus.” He also kept a menagerie of exotic animals in his home, and he traced the ubiquity of the geometric pattern known as the quincunx through plants, insects and crystals. But his research might be described more accurately as nature poetry than as science, and his greatest delight seemed to be in things that defied categorization.

Is it unlucky to sneeze between midnight and noon? How to account for the "strange and mystical metamorphosis of silkworms;" or, the bizarre phenomenon of children being born with hair all over their bodies? Did Jesus laugh? Did he lie down to eat? What are the diseases associated with the climate of Iceland? What was the likely outcome if you imprison a mole, a toad and a viper together, under glass? (As it happens, the mole prevails.) Do snails have eyes? Early editions of Pseudodoxia Epidemica discuss his dissection of the horns of snails and Browne says that “I am not satisfied that these are eyes," but by the last edition of 1672 he says he now believes, thanks to “the help of exquisite [magnifying] Glasses”, that “those black... spots or globules [are] their eyes.”

He could also pass comfortably from such questions to reflections on magnetism, coral, crystallography, ballistics, porcelain and the human eyelid. He was also obsessed with the medicinal properties and allegorical associations of plants; and had a pioneering determination to test hypotheses by the experimental method, which led him to study the effects of substances like vinegar and saltpeter on frog eggs--the earliest experiments in chemical embryology. He could also write with great verve about why most cultures buried their dead lying down, but some had the bodies standing erect; about the macabre practice of inhaling a dying person’s last breath; and about the even more disturbing one of drinking a loved one’s ashes (a custom revived and adapted by Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones, who claimed to have snorted some of his father’s remains.)

In arguing that the unicorn of myth doesn’t really exist, Browne gleefully transformed the horned white horse into the lowly beetle with gentle irony:
Beside the several places of Scripture mentioning this Animal (which some may well contend to be only meant of the Rhinoceros) we are so far from denying there is any Unicorn at all, that we affirm there are many kinds thereof. We will concede no less then five; that is, the Indian Ox, the Indian Ass, the Rhinoceros, the Oryx, and that which is more eminently termed Monoceros, or Unicornis. Some in the list of fishes; as that described by Olaus, Albertus and others: and some Unicorns we will allow even among Insects; as those four kinds of nasicornous Beetles described by Muffetus.
Browne also dismantled the idea that elephants can’t lie down or don’t have joints: “Herein methinks men much forget themselves, not well considering the absurdity of such assertions.” On the other hand, he did not find it impossible that elephants could write and talk! “That some Elephants have not only written whole sentences... but have also spoken... we do not conceive impossible.” Browne cites "Ælian" who says he saw an elephant's trainer use the elephant's trunk to write Latin letters; presumably Greek is too refined for elephants; while Pliny VIII.6 (English by Holland, VIII.33) says that an elephant has written an entire sentence, which sentence Pliny quotes. Browne also cites "Oppianus and à Costa" who told the story of an elephant who went "Hoo, hoo." Browne even alludes to the tale of Achilles's horse delivering a speech in Homer. See The Iliad xix 404ff "[Achilles's horse] bowed his head till his mane touched the ground and said, 'Dread Achilles, we will indeed save you now, but the day of your death is near, and the blame will not be ours, for it will be heaven and stern fate that will destroy you... it is your doom to fall by the hand of a man and of a god.'"

In regard to the possibility of elephants speaking Browne also alluded briefly to "the Serpent that spoke to Eve," and, "Dogs and Cats that usually speak to Witches."

Speaking of having a soft spot for serpents, Browne defended the possible existence of the basilisk--a hybrid of a serpent and a cockerel:

17th-century depiction of a basilisk with a weasel, by Wenceslas Hollar

Another weird creature whose existence Browne defended was the satyr--men with equine ears and tails. “Their shadowed moralities requite their substantial falsities.” In other words, their role in the myths in which they appear made them too valuable to let go.

Still, aside from his misses, he had a lot of hits. For instance he was able to show that almonds did not prevent drunkenness, and via observations he showed that earwigs have wings, and that flies don’t hum with their mouths. The claim that bear cubs are born as formless lumps and then literally “licked into shape” by their mothers was solemnly disproved. So too was the idea that the root of the mandrake plant screams when it is pulled from the ground.

Browne was driven more by intellectual pleasures than physical ones, for he wrote at the age of 30, while still a bachelor, that he wished “we might procreate like trees, without [physical] conjunction, or that there was a way to perpetuate the world without the trivial and vulgar act of coitus; It is the most foolish act a wise man commits in his life” (which reminds one of Erasmus's saying, "The type of person who devotes himself to the pursuit of wisdom is most unlucky in everything, but above all in begetting children--as if Nature had taken pains, I suspect, to keep the disease of wisdom from spreading too widely among mortals").

Nor did Browne's lively mind seem content with the idea of sleep stealing a large proportion of life: “Half our days we pass in the shadow of the earth, and the brother of death exacteth a third part of our lives.”

As for seeking to obtain a front row seat in heaven by dying a blessed martyr, Browne did not appear eager, not with his lively mind and tolerant personality: "It is a brave act to despise death; but where life is more terrible than death, it is then the truest valor to dare to live."


Browne invented words when no others seemed to do the trick such as “medical,” “suicide,” “exhaustion,” “hallucination,” “coma,” and "prairie" Observing the arrival of exhausted seabirds on the Norfolk coast, Browne was among the first to conclude that annual migration over huge distances must be part of their life cycle (he coined the word “migrant” and even gave several species their now familiar English names). The Oxford English Dictionary concludes that he gave the language 784 new words, and cites him as the first exemplary source for another 1,616. On the other hand, unless you use words like “eleemosynary” in casual conversation, a dictionary might help while reading Browne, not to mention the fact that you have to hack through dense forests of allusion, sentence by tangled sentence. “His prose is decidedly not Hemingway--it can be a workout,” says Stephen Greenblatt of Harvard. “But Browne is like this kind of wonderful half-open secret that runs through modernism.”


Browne’s belief in witches was linked to his belief in the Devil, which in turn was linked to his belief in God. Browne, called by the prosecution as “a Person of great knowledge” in a 1662 witch trial, rendered his opinion that the two accused women, Amy Duny and Rose Cullender, had indeed enlisted the Devil’s aid to afflict the village children, causing them to swoon, vomit up pins and so forth. Before Lord Chief Justice Hale at St Edmundsbury in 1664 Dr. Browne "was clearly of the opinion that the persons were bewitched; and said that in Denmark there had been lately a great discovery of witches, who used the very same way of afflicting persons by conveying pins into them, and crooked as these pins were, with needles and nails. And his opinion was that the Devil in such cases did work up on the bodies of men and women upon a natural foundation... for he conceived that these swooning fits were natural... but heightened to a great excess by the subtlety of the Devil, co-operating with the malice of these that we term witches, at whose instance he doth these villanies." ["A Psychological Parallel," Matthew Arnold, The Contemporary Review, v.28, Nov. 1876]

Browne added: "I believe that all that use sorcery, incantations and spells are not Witches; I conceive there is a traditional Magic, not learned immediately from the Devil, but at second hand from his Scholars;... Thus I think a great part of Philosophy was at first Witchcraft, which, having afterwards derived to one another, proved but Philosophy, but was indeed no more than the honest affects of Nature; what, invented by us, is Philosophy, learned from him Magic."

Granted, Browne, lived at the beginning of the Enlightenment in an age when the leading chemist, Boyle, was also an alchemist. But Browne looks particularly bad by contrast with another figure at the same witch trial, albeit one whose name is lost to history. This figure--referred to only as an "ingenious person" in the trial record--objected that the allegedly bewitched children might be counterfeiting their symptoms. The objection led the court to perform a sort of proto-scientific experiment, the outcome of which strongly pointed to the innocence of the defendants. Yet owing to the superstitious atmosphere of the trial--an atmosphere that Browne had done his bit to establish--the two women were sent to the gallows anyway.


Browne remained a devoted Church of England Protestant in an epoch fraught with religious controversy and hatred (Catholic versus Protestant and vice versa, Protestant versus Protestant, not to mention the Copernican controversy and witchcraft trials). He was a man of his time in some ways but ahead of the curve in others like his pleas for tolerance, humility, good works over faith. In his work, Religio Medici (roughly, A Doctor’s Faith), Browne attempted to reconcile the religious views of his day (which were still quite conservative compared with today's religious moderates and progressives) with reason. It was published in 1643, just as England was descending into a civil war conducted along Catholic-Protestant fault lines.

Forcible ways make not an end of evil, but leave hatred and malice behind them.

Persecution is a bad and indirect way to plant Religion. [Though he did not feel that way when it came to the persecution of witches and perhaps atheists as well.]

For Browne the great "virtue was charity, without which Faith is a mere notion;" his doctrine was simple:

He that giveth to the poor, lendeth to the Lord: There is more Rhetoric in that one sentence than in a Library of Sermons.

To forgive our enemies is a charming way of revenge, and a short Cæsarean conquest, overcoming without a blow; laying our enemies at our feet, under sorrow, shame, and repentance; leaving our foes our friends, and solicitously inclined to grateful retaliations. Thus to return upon our adversaries is a healing way of revenge; and to do good for evil a soft and melting ultion, a method taught from heaven to keep all smooth on earth. Common forcible ways make not an end of evil, but leave hatred and malice behind them. [Christian Morals, Pt.III, xii]...

I could never divide myself from any man upon the difference of an opinion, or be angry with his judgment for not agreeing with me in that, from which perhaps in a few days I should dissent myself: I have no genius to disputes in religion, and have often thought it wisdom to decline them... In philosophy, where Truth seems double-faced, there is no man more Paradoxical than myself; but in Divinity I love to keep the [orthodox Christian Anglican] Road... As for those wingy Mysteries in Divinity, and airy subtleties in Religion, which have unhinged the brains of better heads, they never stretched the Pia Mater of mine...

I cannot fall out, or condemn a man for an error, or conceive why a difference in opinion should divide an affection: for controversies, disputes, and argumentations, both in philosophy and in divinity, if they meet with discreet and peaceable natures, do not infringe the laws of charity. In all disputes, so much as there is of passion so much there is of nothing to the purpose; for then reason, like a bad hound, spends upon a false scent, and forsakes the question first started. And this is one reason why controversies are never determined: for though they be amply proposed they are scarce at all handled, they do so swell with unnecessary digressions: and the parenthesis on the party is often as large as the main discourse upon the subject...

I can dispense with my hat at the sight of a cross, but scarce with the thought or memory of my Savior... I cannot hear the Ave Maria bell [of the Catholics] without an elevation...

Sectarianism was not the only irrational division repugnant to him; he was as far from racial as from religious bigotry:

I feel not in myself those common antipathies That I can discover in others, those national repugnant-cies do not touch me, nor do I behold with prejudice the French, Italian, Spaniard, or Dutch; but when I find their actions in balance with my countrymen's I know, love, and embrace them in the same degree.

Browne was tolerant in ways that seem a century or two ahead of his time: He emphatically refuted claims that that the left-handed are wicked and Jews are cursed, and he hoped heaven's gates would be opened wider. On the other hand, he maintained orthodox Anglican Christian beliefs about the Devil, witches, Adam and Eve's special creation, a talking serpent, etc. The fallibility of human knowledge was, for him, a strong reason to cling to the faith of his fathers. This kind of skeptically based faith, known as fideism, was shared by Montaigne (in a perhaps more ironic vein), and also by John Updike (ditto).

For my Religion, though there be several circumstances that might persuade the world I have none at all, as the general scandal of my profession [the religious views of well educated people in his day were viewed with greater suspicion, living as he did at the beginning of the Enlightenment when increasing numbers of discomforting questions were being raised by scholars], the natural course of my studies, the indifferency of my behaviour, and discourse in matters of Religion, neither violently defending one, nor with that common ardor and contention opposing another; despite which I... assume the honorable style of a Christian...

Browne appreciates, though rejects, some of the customs of the Catholic religion, and he advocates tolerance. In parts of his writing he implies that he would like to subscribe to the heresy that all souls are at last saved and hence, prefers not to judge Turks and Jews who are called heretics. He accepts church doctrine as the practical course and does not wish to promote fragmentation within the church. He also judged his own soul more harshly than that of others:

The heart of man is the place the devils dwell in; I feel sometimes a hell within myself; Lucifer keeps his court in my breast; Legion is revived in me. There are as many hells as Anaxagoras conceived worlds. There was more than one hell in Magdalene, when there were seven devils; for every devil is an hell unto himself, he holds enough of torture in his own ubi; and needs not the misery of circumference to afflict him: and thus, a distracted conscience here is a shadow or introduction unto hell hereafter. Who can but pity the merciful intention of those hands that do destroy themselves?

No man can justly censure of condemn another, because indeed no man truly knows another. This I perceive in my self; for I am in the dark to all the world, and my nearest friends behold me but in a cloud. Those that know me but superficially, think less of me than I do of my self; those of my near acquaintance think more; God, who truly knows me, knows that I am nothing... Further no man can judge another because no man knows himself; for we censure others but as they disagree from that honour which we fancy laudable in ourselves, and commend others but for that wherein they seem to quadrate and consent with us.

I find there are many pieces in this one fabric of man... a... World of Contraries... Let me be nothing, if within the compass of myself I do not find the battle of... Passion against Reason, Reason against Faith, Faith against the Devil, and my Conscience against all.

Religio Medici is molded on Browne's religious temper not the specific doctrines of his creed. At the end of the book Browne displays conviction without dogmatism. He could envision missing the truth yet still be justified by trusting his life to the God who knows, as he can never hope to know on this earth:

Bless me in this life, with but peace of my Conscience, command of my affections, the love of Thy self and of my dearest friends, and I shall be happy enough to pity Caesar. These are, O Lord, the humble desires of my most reasonable ambition, and all I dare call happiness on earth; wherein I set no rule or limit to thy Hand or Providence. Dispose of me according to the wisdom of They pleasure: Thy will be done, though in my own undoing.

I thank God, and with joy I mention it, I was never afraid of Hell, nor never grew pale at the description of that place; I have so fixed my contemplation on Heaven, that I have almost forgot the Idea of Hell, and am afraid rather to lose the joys of the one than endure the misery of the other; to be deprived of them is a perfect hell, & needs me thinks no addition to complete our afflictions; that terrible term hath never detained me from sin, nor do I owe any good action to the name thereof: I fear God, yet am not afraid of him, his mercies make me ashamed of my sins, before his judgments afraid thereof: these are the forced and secondary method of his wisdom, which he uses but as the last remedy, and upon provocation, a course rather to deter the wicked, than incite the virtuous to his worship. I can hardly think there was ever any scared into Heaven, they go the fairest way to Heaven that would serve God without a Hell, other Mercenaries that crouch unto him in fear of Hell, though they term themselves the servants, are indeed but the slaves of the Almighty...

Some say there is no salvation to those that believe not in Christ... which makes me much apprehend the end of those honest Worthies and Philosophers who died before his Incarnation. It is hard to place those souls in Hell whose worthy lives do teach us virtue on earth...

It's true we all hold there is a number of Elect and many to be saved, yet add up all of the opinions [of different Christians] together [as to who shall be saved and who not], and from the confusion thereof there will be no such thing as salvation, nor shall any one be saved; because first the Church of Rome condemns us; and we [the Church of England] likewise condemns them [the Church of Rome]; the Sub-Reformists and Sectarian Protestants [like the Anabaptists, Separatists, Brownists] sentence the Doctrine of our church as damnable; the Atomist, or Familist believe they alone know the saving truth and denounce other churches and their beliefs. Thus while the mercies of God promise us heaven, our conceits and opinions exclude us from that place. There must be therefore more than one Saint Peter [minding the pearly gates], since particular Churches and Sects usurp the gates of heaven [i.e., claim they alone can guarantee entrance], and turn the key against each other, and thus we go to heaven against each others' wills, conceits and opinions, and with as much lack of charity as ignorance, err I fear in points, not only of our own, but on another's salvation...
NOTE: Atomist, or Familist might be referring to the same sect; or, the first might be referring to Mrs. Atomy or Attaway who was notorious for preaching universalism in Britain in 1644, and the second might be referring to a sect known as the "Family of Love" that started in the Netherlands before it spread to Britain--they believed that true religion consisted of love and charity independently of the form of faith, and that spiritual perfection could be obtained; they also interpreted the Bible not as a book from which to derive doctrines that must be believed but as an allegory of love.

I believe many are saved who to man seem reprobated [i.e., cast off by God, excluded from salvation], and many are reprobated, who in the opinion and sentence of man, stand elected [to gain eternal life]; there will appear at the last day, strange, and unexpected examples, both of his justice and his mercy, and therefore to define either is folly in man...

Now for that other Virtue of Charity, without which Faith is a mere notion, and of no existence, I have ever endeavored to nourish the merciful disposition, and humane inclination I borrowed from my Parents, and regulate it to the written and prescribed Laws of Charity... for I am of a constitution so general, that it consorts, and sympathizes with all things; I have no antipathy, or rather Idiosyncrasy, in diet, humor, air, anything; I wonder not at the French, for their dishes of frogs, snails, and toadstools, nor at the Jews for eating Locusts and Grasshoppers, but when I am among them, I eat what they eat; and I find such meals agree with my stomach as well as theirs; I could digest a Salad gathered in a Churchyard as well as in a Garden. I am not angrily revolted at the presence of a Serpent, Scorpion, Lizard, or Salamander; nor at the sight of a Toad, or Viper, I find in me no desire to take up a stone to destroy them. I feel not in my self those common antipathies that I can discover in others: Those national repugnant-cies do not touch me, nor do I behold with prejudice the French, Italian, Spaniard, or Dutch; but where I find their actions in balance with my Countrymen's, I honor, love, and embrace them in the same degree...

Salvation, which though it be not in our power to bestow, it is in our charity, and pious invocations to desire, if not procure, and further. I cannot contentedly frame a Prayer for my self in particular, without a catalog for my friends, nor request a happiness wherein my sociable disposition doth not desire the fellowship of my neighbor. I never hear the Toll of a passing Bell [which they rang when people died], though in my mirth, without my prayers and best wishes for the departing spirit; I cannot go to cure the body of my Patient, but I forget my profession, and call unto God for his soul; I cannot see one say his Prayers, but in stead of imitating him, I fall into a supplication for him, who perhaps is no more to me than a common nature: and if God hath vouchsafed an ear to my supplications, there are surely many happy that never saw me, and enjoy the blessing of mine unknown devotions. To pray for enemies, that is, for their salvation, is no harsh precept, but the practice of our daily and ordinary devotions...


Browne does not suggest we ignore the writings of authority figures, but rather that we should combine their knowledge with two other ways of finding things out: reason and experiment.

For instance, on the conservative side, Browne concluded that paintings of Adam and Eve were faulty if they depicted the first human couple with navels--because the Bible declared that neither of them came out of a womb, hence neither Adam nor Eve would have had an umbilical cord or a navel.

But on the more moderate/liberal side Browne denied that salamanders live in fire (an urban legend that Augustine had had appealed to in order to defend the idea that the bodies of the damned would not simply go up in smoke in the fires of hell but remain painfully intact forever).

His knowledge of nature also raised questions concerning the story of Noah's ark--because there was no mention in the Bible of species of animals from the Americas, animals that had never been seen before nor mentioned in the Bible. The existence of so many new species were just beginning to come to the attention of European scholars. Surely if the native Americans had from Noah's descendants in the Old World they would have taken with them horses, yet the Europeans who traveled to the Americas found no horses there. "How could there be so many creatures in the Americas that are not found in Europe-Africa-Asia; which seems odd if one believes there was but one Ark and the creatures in it all began their progress together from the mountains of Ararat.” (This question would grow even more problematical after the discovery of Australia and its unique animals. Did several arks, each containing unique species of animals, land in different parts of the world after Noah's Flood?)

Browne was poised between two worlds, the old one of authority and the new one of inquiry, as a scientist he was tempted to find naturalistic explanations for miracles, as a Christian he conquered this temptation "on his knees". He could not, however, curb a persistent tendency to notice inconsistencies and improbabilities in the minutiae of the Bible. He could at times reconcile both reason and revelation: on the relationship of diametric to circumference [2 Chron 4:2] one should "adhere into Archimedes who speaks exactly rather than the Sacred text that speaks largely [in more general less exact terms]." He might protest that he did not question the metamorphosis of Lot's wife into a pillar of salt, "although some conceive that expression metaphorical." He would not deny that Absalom hung by his hair rather than by his neck "though if he had a helmet on I could not conceive it." He did not doubt that Judas hanged himself "though there is much evidence against it." He might declare that the Bible is "a most singular book" and aver that its seeming inconsistencies merely reflect human limitation. Whatever his protestations, the chink in the armor of Scriptural infallibility was revealed, and his questioning intellect aroused. Conscious as he was of human fallibility, he always kept his skepticism circumspect. He teased the sacred texts rather than criticized them. Just as he rejoiced in the natural world so there is no doubting his appetite for and enjoyment of the Bible: "it is one of the hardest books I have met with; I wish there had been more of it." [Samuel Romilly]

Browne also asked, Did Lazarus have a legal right to reclaim his possessions from his heirs after he re-emerged from the grave? Were there rainbows before the Flood?

He chided those who believe that Moses had horns [a common misconception in Browne's day, even seen in paintings of Moses with horns, based on an obscure Hebrew term that scholars today believe referred to the alleged glow around Moses's face after he allegedly met God on a mountaintop], he cautioned against “men vainly interposing their constructions.”

Unusual for a Christian who believed in individual bodily resurrection, Browne questioned what constituted a person's individuality, for he wrote: "Every man is not only himself; there have been many Diogenes, and as many Tymons, though but few of that name; men are lived over again... there was none then, but there hath been some one since that parallels him, and is, as it were, his revived self."


As a Christian, Browne professed to care more about his place in the next life than his reputation in this one. His work, Urn-Burial, is a field guide to earthly oblivion, a poetic compendium of his obsessively collected knowledge about death, decay, burial, cremation, the vanity of monuments, and the cruel brevity of human memory. Even "grave-stones," he wrote, "tell truth scarce forty years," adding, "At my death I mean to take a total adieu of the world, not caring for a Monument, History, or Epitaph, not so much as the bare memory of my name to be found any where." Browne sounds almost fatalistic, but not quite: "We must be content to be as though they had not been, to be found in the Register of God, not in the record of man." Browne recognizes how great our grief is at human loss, as well as our hope to leave something behind that endures on earth. However he also sees that the worst may be remembered longer than the best: "The iniquity of oblivion blindly scatters her poppy, and deals with the memory of men without distinction to merit of perpetuity."

Browne also seemed aware of how his own dark ruminations about leaving nothing behind on earth might lead others to sympathize with atheists. For instance, in a letter to his son he warned of the spiritual dangers of reading the Hellenistic atheist, Lucretius, “There being divers impieties in it.” Oddly enough both Lucretius and Browne took deep pleasure in the peculiarities of the natural world. Both were fascinated by what happens when we dream; both, for different reasons, took a dim view of romantic love and of human pride. (Lucretius: “Some wear themselves to death because they wish a statue or a title.” Browne: “In vain do individuals hope for Immortality, or any patent from oblivion.”)

Browne himself has not yet been forgotten (neither has Lucretius for that matter, whose work nearly became extinct then was rediscovered in the 15th-century, and helped produce the modern world of thought). The most ambitious Browne enterprise in the works is a new edition of his complete writings, commissioned by Oxford University Press and expected to be finished in 2017, the first such edition in more than 80 years.


It was a common insult in Browne's day for Christians of rival denominations or sects to call each other "atheists" for denying each others' denominational or sectarian beliefs. Such a widespread and confusing use of the term went back as far as the days of Rome when Christians were labeled "atheists" because they denied the Roman gods. Browne sought to end such confusion:

"There are many... who, in the eyes of God, are not so perfect martyrs as was the wise heathen, Socrates, who suffered on a fundamental point of religion, the unity of God" [i.e., Socrates was accused of denying the existence of a plurality of the gods of Greece, and instead held to a singular Logos, a unified supreme God]... Nor was the denial of the Providence of God by the philosopher, Epicurus, atheism; Epicurus simply deemed God too majestically "sublime to mind the trivial actions of inferior creatures" like we humans. The belief of Stoic philosophers that life was one long "fatal necessity" that one had to grin and bear is nothing but "an acknowledgment of the immutable Law of God's Will." "The Romans, that erected a Temple to Fortune, acknowledged therein, though in a blinder way, somewhat of Divinity; for in a wise supputation, all things being and end in the Almighty." And those Christian "heretics" and/or Muslims who denied that the Holy Spirit was a distinct person and part of a Trinitarian God, or who denied that Jesus was God, were not atheists either; "for though they deny two persons in the Trinity, they hold, as we do, there is both one God."

Browne pointed out that genuine "atheism" had to be a complete denial of any God whatsoever, which he added, "is the greatest falsity, and to affirm there is no God, the highest lie in Nature." So Brown was as unforgiving of true atheism as he was of witches.


Lastly, Browne echoed a prediction made by Bishop Berkeley, one that not everyone would have forecast in the mid-1600s, namely that "America will be the seat of the fifth empire."
0 Read More »

Saturday, January 30, 2016

God's Mixed Messages: Youth Pastor Killed by Lightning Strike (My Christian Daily 2016-01-23)

0 Read More »

Look at the Cosmos, and Compare that with what Christian Apologists Claim to Know for Sure

Do Christian apologists provide definitive answers to questions about the cosmos and humanity's place in it? The questions are obvious and based on known scientific data.

Leaving aside for a second the question of God whom the vast majority do not claim to have seen, let's look at the fascinating cosmos we can see. It may not only be weird but "weirder than we can imagine" (to quote J. B. S. Haldane). And it appears like we do not come into the cosmos so much as come out of it. In fact complexity appears to be how the cosmos flows, click here.

That being said, it appears like the cosmos might also be viewed as an immense experiment with all this matter and energy in constant flux, shaken endlessly--with incessant birth and death going on in teensy portions of the cosmos like on the quaking surface of our particular rock hurtling through space. Incessant life and death, evolution and extinction, even major extinction events, with the odds of another major asteroid strike or super volcano eruption increasing over time, along with the inevitable aging and inflation of our sun's diameter whose solar wind will destabilize our moon's orbit causing it to approach the earth too close and explode, raining death from above, an inevitable extinction event.

What I am saying is that the cosmos gives with one hand and takes with the other. At best it is in equilibrium with life and death, evolution and extinction. And it appears that if one wanted to reject the idea of a cosmos weirder than we can imagine but instead wished to posit some transcendent God or Demi urge for its origin, then it appears that about the best one could come up with on the basis of what we know is a Tinkerer of some sort. Judging by all the extinction events, both massive and continual and inevitable in the future, one might even wonder how many cosmoses of different types and sizes this Tinkerer might have tried out before setting up this experiment with this much matter and energy roiling about for billions of years.

As for the human species, it just arrived on the scene in the last cosmic second, and could conceivably be snuffed out the next, and the stars could go on burning for eons more. In fact I read two articles recently that said the cosmos has yet to reach its maximum number of either stars or planets yet!

Or, conversely, if humanity does survive longer than a cosmic blip and our species gets off the cradle planet and starts spreading throughout the cosmos what will humans look like a billion years in the future? Will those humans look back at us a bit like we look back at Australopithecus? How might genetic and cyber technologies alter our species, or the environmental pressures of having to survive on different planets? Will we use new technologies to uplift other species to human-like levels of sentience, or even find ways to join our sentience with theirs? What will AI be like in future? Maybe humanity is a stepping stone to some future silicon based life forms, or advanced sentient non human species? And so we might be here merely to pass along the torch.

Of course if something like the Carrington Event (massive solar storm from 1859) occurs and a solar flare explodes the world's transformers (luckily the only danger was to telegraph lines back then), our present electronic-based civilization might crumble, since we couldn't possibly swap out all the exploded bits and get all the electronics back online even for water pumping or refrigeration in over a year. Same thing if the super volcano in Yosemite erupts, or antibiotic-resistant microbes continue to evolve.

Does any Christian apologist really imagine he has definitive answers to all such questions, very real questions too, since new stars and planets are indeed continuing to form, and by all astronomical data they have enough fuel to continue to burn for billions of years should humanity take a tumble back toward barbarism or even extinction. Heck, humanity might even evolve into something less cerebral and more ape like. That appears to be yet another possibility.
Read More »

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Christian Theology is All Over the Map. Part 2. How Can One Gain Eternal Life? The Synoptic Road to Salvation vs. The Roman Road to Salvation

Many conservative Christians stress the necessity of holding specific beliefs rather than doing and acting certain ways toward others (perhaps because many Christians are taught that holding the right beliefs about God and Jesus and what Jesus accomplished on the cross is what assures them that God will forgive them regardless of their actions, so actions are of lesser consequence than right belief). Some passages in the New Testament appear to present the same view that belief trumps actions when it comes to salvation:
"Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned."
Mark 16:16

"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life."
John 3:16

"...that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved."
Romans 10:9-10
Romans 10 contains passages that some Christians have even nicknamed, "The Roman Road to Salvation."

But looked at another way, one can't help but note that Mark 16:16 is not found in the earliest manuscripts of the Gospel of Mark but is part of what textual critics agree is a later added ending. While John 3:16 (from the famous "ye must be born again" dialogue) is a similarly dubious saying attributed to the historical Jesus. To see the case against its historical authenticity click here. As for Paul, he admits he never met the historical Jesus of Nazareth, the one depicted in the synoptic Gospels. Even Paul's interpretation of the meaning of Jesus's bloody death butts head with that found in Luke-Acts (See Part 1 of this series).

Give such questions, shouldn't one look deeper at how Jesus answered the question, "How Can I Inherit Eternal Life?" as seen in the synoptic Gospels (Mark, Matthew and Luke)? In the synoptics Jesus's main teaching and concern was "repent for the kingdom of God is at hand." That was "the Gospel." And in the synoptics you can't fail to notice that Jesus does little to try and get people to agree with specific beliefs "about" himself in order to gain eternal life. Jesus is depicted in the synoptics as advocating an approach to gaining eternal life that did not require outward showy religious displays or numerous rules, nor did he place major value on temple worship and blood sacrifices, instead he laid great stress on one's relationships with others, as in his "Sermon on the Mount" Matt. chapters 5-7.
"In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets." Matt. 7:12
Several times in the synoptics Jesus tells people to "love God" and concentrate on storing up "heavenly treasures" by "loving others," and to "follow Jesus" in that respect:
“Good teacher,” one person asked [Jesus], “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honor your father and mother.’” “Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.” Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth. Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!"
Mark 10
Or there is the version in Matthew:
“Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?” “Why do you ask me about what is good? Jesus replied. "There is only One Who is good. If you want to enter life, keep the commandments.” “Which ones?” he inquired. Jesus replied, “‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, honor your father and mother,’ and ‘love your neighbor as yourself.’” “All these I have kept,” the young man said. “What do I still lack?” Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
Matthew 19
There is also a Lukan version:
“Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘You shall not commit adultery, you shall not murder, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, honor your father and mother.’” “All these I have kept since I was a boy,” he said. When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
Luke 18
There is this additional teaching about how to gain eternal life that is also found in the synoptics:
"'The most important one [commandment],' answered Jesus, 'is this: Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one, Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these.' 'Well said, teacher,' the man replied. 'You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but him. To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.' When Jesus saw that he had answered wisely, he said to him, "You are not far from the kingdom of God.'"
Mark 12

"A lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, 'Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?' He [Jesus] said to him, 'What is written in the law? How do you read?' And he answered, 'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.' And he [Jesus] said to him, 'You have answered right; do this, and you will live.'
Luke 10:25-28
Such teachings emphasize "doing" in relation to "how to gain eternal life." This is not to say that Paul in Romans, nor the author of the Gospel of John, lack similar sayings, for they wrote:
"[God] will render to every man according to his deeds, to them who by patient continuance in well doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, eternal life...."
Romans 2:6,7

"And shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation."
John 5
But, unlike the synoptics, Paul and the author of the fourth Gospel also have interpretations of who Jesus was that they tie up with their salvation messages:
"He who believes not [that Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world] is damned already."
John 3

"For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth... the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe... whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood..."
Romans 1:18; 3:22,25
But is blood sacrifice necessary for salvation? Jesus in the synoptics did not seem to think so when he instructed people to pray like this for forgiveness:
"Father... forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors."Matt. 6:12

"Father... forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us." Luke 11:4
Jesus in the synoptics taught that people who forgave the debts/sins of others would be forgiven by God without need of a blood sacrifice.

To sum matters up once again, as previously noted, Jesus is depicted as saying in Matthew:
"in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets."
Matthew 7:12
If that sums up the Law and the Prophets, what need is there for much more to be said?

Or consider the parable of The Good Samaritan found in Luke, that ends, "Go and do likewise." Luke 10

Go and do. Doing is the main thing. Along with God's direct and ample forgiveness regardless of one's specific beliefs "about" Jesus. In fact according to the Gospel of Luke one of the two thieve's on the cross next to Jesus called Jesus "a man," but Jesus still promised him paradise.

Read More »

Christian Theology is All Over the Map. Part 1. Must Christians believe that Jesus's bloody death had atoning power?

According to the author of Luke-Acts, Christians might not have to believe in the doctrine known as "the atonement." In fact, "There is at present no satisfactory consensus reached regarding the presentation of the death of Jesus in Luke-Acts. Many models have been proposed, but none seem to deal adequately with all that is going on in Luke-Acts." See, the diversity of opinion in The Atonement in Lucan Theology in Recent Discussion Some argue that the Lucan Jesus is presented as an innocent martyr, righteous, or lowly man, or that Jesus's death was simply a means toward resurrection.

For instance in the Gospel of Luke the author mentions that John the Baptist gave his people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of sins because of God's tender mercy Luke 1:76-78; adding that the Baptist preached a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins Luke 3:2-4; and the Gospel of Luke ends the same way, by stating that "repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his [Jesus's] name to all nations" Luke 24:46-48, but nothing about the atoning power of Jesus's blood sacrifice. (Same with the prayer Jesus taught others to pray per Matthew and Luke, the "Our Father," that mentions God granting forgiveness to those who forgive others, i.e., without God requiring a blood sacrifice before forgiving sins.)

Scholars point out that the author of Luke-Acts neglected to reproduce crucial verses found in Mark//Matthew that describe Jesus' death as a "ransom." Luke reproduces much of Mark in his gospel, including material from immediately before and immediately after the passage below, but omits this particular passage:
"For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many."
Mark 10:45//Matt 20:28
Also, Luke 22:19-20 says "And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, 'This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.' In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, 'This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.'" But some manuscripts only have "And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, 'This is my body.'" that is, they lack the bit about a "new covenant in my blood poured out for you."

Bart Ehrman in 'The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture') makes a compelling case for why the shorter reading is the original. And note that this is the only passage in Luke that suggests Jesus' shed blood had magical atoning power.

Similar to the case found in the Gospel of Luke only a single passage in Acts suggests Jesus' shed blood has atoning power:
"Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood." Acts 20:28
That is the only verse in Acts that suggests that Jesus' shed blood has atoning power, and much like the verse in Luke, there is a good case to be made that these words were not part of the original.

Without Luke 22:19b-20 and Acts 20:28 there is no concept of blood atonement in Luke-Acts. When Jesus died, according to Luke, it wasn't in place of sinners or on their behalf, instead, one need only repent and be baptized in most cases, to accept God's direct mercy.

So if one need only repent and be baptized what is the cross about according to Luke-Acts?

Let's have a look at the preaching of Peter and Paul in Acts.

Peter preaches the following in Acts 2, Jesus was a man sent by God. We know he was sent by God because of the miracles. According to God's plan he was killed. God raised him to life. God made him Lord and Messiah. God gave him the Holy Spirit, which he now pours out on his followers. In order to get the Spirit you need to repent and be baptized in Jesus's name. Peter's message is that forgiveness comes through repentance and baptism and then you get the Holy Spirit.

In Acts 3, Peter preaches that forgiveness comes through repentance and baptism isn't mentioned.

In Acts 4, Peter's message to the Sanhedrin is that salvation is found in Jesus, but this appears linked to his exalted current status, not to his death.

In Acts 5, Peter's words suggest that God exalted Jesus the role of savior after his resurrection, so it was neither the death or resurrection that has saving power, but rather Jesus's current exalted status.

In Acts 7 Stephen's preaching does not include a 'gospel' message, but it is clear that it is the power of the risen Jesus that matters.

In Acts 8, the topic is how you get the Holy Spirit. Again, this seems to be the objective of preaching in Acts.

In Acts 10, Peter preaches to Cornelius, informing him that what God did to Jesus after his ascension is what matters, and believing in the risen Jesus is the way to receive the Holy Spirit.

In Acts 13 Paul preaches the same message, namely that Jesus was a good man, wrongly killed, vindicated by God, raised, and then made Son of God and Savior.

In Acts 17 Paul basically repeats his message in Acts 13.

The preaching of the apostles in Acts repeats the same basic message, Jesus was a good man, wrongly killed. He was vindicated by God and raised from the dead. He became the Son of God and Savior. He can forgive the sins of the repentant and send the Holy Spirit.

Therefore, scholars have noted that a blood atonement is not the major focus of preaching in Acts. It might not be the focus at all in fact if two questionable passages that mention the "blood" are later additions, as textual scholars suspect they are.

The gospel message in Luke-Acts is this: repent, be baptized in the name of Jesus and receive the Holy Spirit.

To add to the above case, note that Luke 19:19ff (NASB), talks about "salvation" coming to Zaccheus after he repents and returns ill gotten gains. This understanding of salvation precedes Jesus' death on the cross, and as in every other case mentioned differs from the traditional Christian view that "without shedding of blood there can be no forgiveness of sins." It also differs from the story of the rich young man in which Jesus told him to give away all of his possessions that he might have treasure in heaven and how difficult it was for a rich man to enter heaven, since Zachaeus only gives away half of what he owns, not all, and still, "salvation" is his. Here's the story in Luke 19:
He [Jesus] entered Jericho and was passing through. 2 And there was a man called by the name of Zaccheus; he was a chief tax collector and he was rich. 3 Zaccheus was trying to see who Jesus was, and was unable because of the crowd, for he was small in stature. [The Greek is ambiguous as to whether or not Zaccheus or Jesus was "small in stature," though the former is probably meant, though if the latter is meant, it would be the only time in the New Testament where some description of the physical Jesus is presented. Though like I said, it is probably just talking about Zaccheus.] 4 So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree in order to see Him, for He was about to pass through that way. 5 When Jesus came to the place, He looked up and said to him, “Zaccheus, hurry and come down, for today I must stay at your house.” 6 And he hurried and came down and received Him gladly. 7 When they saw it, they all began to grumble, saying, “He has gone to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.” 8 Zaccheus stopped and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, half of my possessions I will give to the poor, and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will give back four times as much.” 9 And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he, too, is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.”
Nor does the passage demonstrate that everyone is "lost," nor do these other Gospel passages:
"And when Jesus heard it, he said to them, 'Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.' Mark 2:17

"But when he heard it, he said, 'Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, "I desire mercy, and not sacrifice."' For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners." Matthew 9.12-13

"And Jesus answered them, Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.'" Luke 5:31-32
In fact Jesus in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke does not say everyone's heart is evil and wicked above all things, but rather states:
"A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him." Matthew 12:35

"A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of." Luke 6:45
Jesus also says to "love God with all your heart" which seems impossible if the heart can will only evil choices and is desperately wicked in everyone at all times.

Moreover, the Bible is a big book and you can find passages that put forth the notion that God does not require blood atonement sacrifices because sometimes grain sacrifices are fine, but even more to the point are passages where God directly forgives people who repent. Such passages state outright that repentance and doing good takes the utmost precedence above all types of sacrifices, so at best atonement sacrifices are secondary in God's eyes:
"For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings." Hosea 6:6

"He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God." Micah 6:8

"Hear the word of the Lord, you rulers of Sodom; listen to the instruction of our God, you people of Gomorrah! “The multitude of your sacrifices--what are they to me?” says the Lord. 'I have more than enough of burnt offerings, of rams and the fat of fattened animals; I have no pleasure in the blood of bulls and lambs and goats. When you come to appear before me, who has asked this of you, this trampling of my courts? Stop bringing meaningless offerings! Your incense is detestable to me. New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations—I cannot bear your worthless assemblies. Your New Moon feasts and your appointed festivals I hate with all my being. They have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them. When you spread out your hands in prayer, I hide my eyes from you; even when you offer many prayers, I am not listening. Your hands are full of blood!'" Isaiah 1:10-15

"Hear, you earth: I am bringing disaster on this people, the fruit of their schemes, because they have not listened to my words and have rejected my law. What do I care about incense from Sheba or sweet calamus from a distant land? Your burnt offerings are not acceptable; your sacrifices do not please me.” Jeremiah 6:19-21
Or, to quote Jesus himself...
"In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets."
Matthew 7:12
That's it. Sounds pretty straightforward, not like the the merry-go-round of questions Christian theologians continue to debate, involving questions like, "Do I have enough faith, love, devotion, correct beliefs, etc." How much and how fervently and exactly what must I believe in order to be saved? How many doubts and questions can I continue to harbor and remain "saved?" etc. Also see Part 2 of this series.
Read More »

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Agnosticism compared with Religion (or compared with any other fully formed belief system)

I figure there are many good people in every mass movement or belief system, but that systems requiring the highest levels of conformity tend to create difficulties for people with questions like myself, and that people devoted to sustaining each system will employ plenty of rationalizations to convince themselves of its purity and truth and never consider that the evidence may be lacking or ambiguous in many cases.

I am sure any apologetically minded Christian could produce a list of their favorite books defending their Protestant, Catholic, Pentecostal or other beliefs, and questioning every other point of view. But why didn't God show everyone the truth and keep Christians together? Why so many divisions and questions rather than agreed upon answers? I guess Satan is blinding everybody on all sides. Or as Benjamin Franklin once put it (without reference to Satan):
"Every other sect supposes itself in possession of the truth, and that those who differ are so far in the wrong. Like a man travelling in foggy weather they see those at a distance before them wrapped up in a fog, as well as those behind them, and also people in the fields on each side; but near them, all appears clear, though in truth they are as much in the fog as any of them."
Personally, I tend to think of humans as primates with the tendency to leap on bandwagons and follow alpha males/females. I also agree with Eric Hoffer when it comes to humans' desires to join their egos to mass movements, whether such mass movements be Christian, Muslim, fascist or communist. Hoffer's works contain some brilliant insights into the similar psychological drives that animate adherents of mass movements. As he put it, "The less justified a man is in claiming excellence for his own self, the more ready is he to claim all excellence for his nation, his religion, his race or his holy cause." For more quotations click here.

And to expand upon Franklin's "they are as much in the fog as any of them" story, one need only read the testimonies of those who questioned and/or left Protestantism (click here) or Catholicism (click here) after being devoted to one or the other for decades.

Or one can read books by others who have found that like all mass movements that become institutionalized, the larger the institution the more willing it seems to make deals with the devil to retain its institutionalized existence, i.e., in the case of Catholicism such deals have been made with fascist rulers, or to keep silent concerning abuses perpetrated by members of the institution, or even deals with bankers and the Mafia, etc. (click here).

I also find that people who idolize figures in history or who idolize institutions usually don't know very much about them, or aren't willing to look at what's swept under the rug so to speak, including Jesus's and Paul's apocalyptic soon final judgment predictions and cult-like teachings. Check out the new book, The Bad Jesus: The Ethics of New Testament Ethics (click here).

And check out my posts on the characteristics of Paul that strike me as indicative of cult-like behavior (click here and here).

Not to mention my older piece, The Lowdown of God's Showdown (click here).

The great irony of Christianity is that it consists of too many schisms to mention, including conservative, moderate, liberal spectrums of differences within each major denomination, yet "Christianity" or rather "Christianities" claims more supernatural advantages than any other movement on earth. Believers claim to possess the only inspired writings on earth, and a prayer hotline by which they may ask and receive guidance from God to lead them into all truth, and a new heart implanted inside them via divine favor=grace. Yet they have come up with countless schisms and centuries of defending intolerant and even in some cases unscientific points of view. I am not saying religion has not also done good, nor should believers deny that non-Christian doctors, inventors and politicians have also done good. You don't have to be a Christian to do good. My point is that Christians claim humongous supernatural advantages over every other mass movement and belief system, yet when you look at the history of Christianity it is the history of schisms too numerous to mention.

And for over 1000 years when a devout Christian (or a large majority of Christians) ruled over a city, country or nation, they instituted laws against blasphemy, heresy, witchcraft, etc., and continued to do so for centuries, from the days of the Christian Roman Emperors that later of whom wound up declaring in their famous book of law that all non-Trinitarians were "demented" and that the Emperor would punish them and destroy their writings, all the way to the days of the Reformation when the same was still occurring.

Augustine of Hippo set forth the principle of Cognite Intrare ("Compel them to enter," based on Luke 14:23). Cognite Intrare would be used throughout the Middle Ages to justify the Church's suppression of dissent and oppression of difference (click here).

Christian persecution of pagans--exceeded the pagan persecution of early Christians (click here)

Christian persecution of fellow Christians--exceeded the pagan persecution of early Christians (click here)

Reformation Christian persecution of fellow Christians--exceeded the pagan persecution of early Christians (click here)

Christian persecution of American Indians--exceeded the pagan persecution of early Christians (click here)

Decrees of Christian Emperors against non-Trinitarians (click here and scroll to bottom of blogpost)

Protestant and Catholic defenses of the necessity of persecuting heretics, blasphemers, infidels, etc. (click here)

Life is confusing enough, and features enough daily disappointments and pains, and requires enough time and work obtaining necessities to exist or thrive (not to mention that we humans can seemingly get sidetracked or addicted to nearly any idea, behaviors or items, due to our large brains) that I figure most people are apt to lend their allegiance to all sorts of mass movements and belief systems. But to imagine a God tossing us primates into a place of eternal punishment--without even giving us a second chance after we have finally been shown a literal heaven, hell and angels after we have died, and without even lending a supernatural hand to heal the scars left on our psyches from life on earth, or without even lending a hand to to glue together into more meaningful focus our broken scattered painful memories from life on earth, and after only allowing each of us this brief stint of a few decades years of life or less in a "fallen" cosmos--makes little sense to me. Everlasting punishment makes little sense. What does make sense to me is to honestly admit that things we don’t know are things we don’t know, and that confusing or ambiguous evidence is confusing or ambiguous evidence, i.e., without trying to make excuses to fill in such blanks or hazy knowledge with fully formed religious or philosophical belief systems.
Read More »

Friday, January 01, 2016

Miracles by Craig S. Keener, book review part 1 -- "Inability to walk?" No. "Cured?" Only temporarily. Keener's failure to try & make a famed critic of Gospel miracles look foolish.


Craig S. Keener wrote in his book, Miracles: The Credibility of the New Testament Accounts (2 Volume Set), Baker Academic, 2011:
David Friedrich Strauss (1808-74) [author of The Life of Jesus Critically Examined] explained early Christian miracle stories as myths depicted as history... Interestingly, Strauss did hear of contemporary miracle claims involving Lutheran pastor Johann Christoph Blumhardt, and a friend of his found himself cured of inability to walk after visiting Blumhardt. Consistent with his worldview, however, Strauss apparently dismissed the friend’s cure as psychosomatic.
Keener makes it sound like Strauss's friend was incapable of walking, i.e., "inability to walk." But no source I checked said that, not even Ising's book that Keener cited as his primary source. So Keener provides a perfect example of miracle enhancement in his summary retelling, or at the very least he has left it to his readers to imagine a worst case scenario of someone with no ability to walk. But that was not the case at all as we will see. Nor did the "cure" last.

The friend of D. F. Strauss who visited Blumhardt was the German romantic poet and pastor, Eduard Morike, see photo below. All three men knew each other in their youth.

According to the book by Ising that Keener footnotes, "Morike can walk only with difficulty." He did not lack the ability to walk. Ising also adds:
Morike was planning on a treatment by “magnetizing”–that is, the stroking of hands on the head with inducement to hypnotic sleep, otherwise known as “mesmerizing,” a form of hypnotism to help relieve pain. Blumhardt told Morike that magnetizing was harmful. Later that evening, when Blumhardt accompanies Morike to his lodging Morike says that he senses more strength in his body than usual. Blumhardt smiles. “There is something special in the Mottlingen air; he should remain with Blumhardt here; no where else will he find it better.” The weakness in his backbone that is seen as the cause of his walking difficulties disappears. Morike leaves Mottlingen and Blumhardt to visit hot springs in Bad Teinach for his rhematic pain but returns once again to see Blumhardt, and reports to Wilhelm Hartlaub that now he is able to go on mountain hikes in burning heat. But his improvement does not last. In Feb. 1850 rhematic complaints reappear; in June 1850 he tries a Mergentheim water cure to relieve arthritic pains in his feet and legs. SOURCE: Johann Christoph Blumhardt, Life and Work: A New Biography by Dieter Ising and Monty Ledford
Another scholarly source tells the story this way:
[Eduard] Morike had back pain and limb numbness. At the end of his weekend with his old friend pastor Blumhardt he received a parting prayer and laying on of hands and soon exuded such energy that physicians believed Morike a healthy man for nearly a year. The two friends, however, viewed the healing less a "miracle" than a "gift" symbolizing Morike's return to faith after a period of doubt...

The cure stories at [Blumhardt's church] are not extraordinary for their pronouncement of miraculous causes, located as they are in a century of ecstatic camp meetings, urban revivals and Marian apparitions...

[The accounts of healings at Blumhardt's church] illuminate... the significance that each of the actors [in the healing stories] attached to the rituals before participating in them. Blumhardt and his penitents approached the confession expecting a profound religious experience. Hence, while there are reports of laymen who expected a sensation that never arrived, there are none to my knowledge of those who were caught unaware...

Blumhardt's miracles... bolstered the devotion of thousands to the promises of the revival while planting seeds of interest in thousands more, the majority never cured of anything... [And] the exodus of pilgrims from neighboring villages brought the ire of fellow pastors, and stern admonitions... from the consistory in Stuttgart who ordered Blumhardt "to direct the foreigners to the means of edification that are available in their hometowns."

SOURCE: Daniel Kohler, "Pilgrimage of Protestants: Miracles and Religious Community in J. C. Blumhardt's Wurttemberg, 1840-1880," a chapter in Die Gegenwart Gottes in der Modernen Gesellschaft: Transzendenz und Religiose Vergemeinschaftung in Deutschland / The Presence of God in Modern Society: Transcendence and Religious Community in Germany (German) 2006 by Michael Geyer, Lucian Holscher
Another source notes that "His [Morike's] health never improved sufficiently to allow him more than a few hours of productivity for weeks or months at a time... His own illness caused him constant pain, and his death on June 4, 1875 was not unexpected." In context the source reads:
[Morike] was subject to rheumatic pains and eye trouble, and in 1823 we hear of an undefined 'weakness in the chest.' Today we could venture the hypothesis that he was suffering from the aftereffects of scarlet fever, but at his time medicine was not advanced enough to make such a diagnosis... Patiently he tried to show her that it would be wiser to wait for a parish in a climate beneficial to his health [in the mid 1800s there was no pollution control but plenty of smoke stacks spewing black smoke as industrialization took off as well as a lack of proper sanitation in cities making people not want to take a deep breath due to the stink, nor were houses easily climate controlled but still employed fire or coal burning systems and lacked air conditioning, so moving to a different clime could indeed aid a person's health]... In the meantime, the old struggle with his poor health and his antipathy to preaching also continued in these outwardly idyllic years... In November 1842, his superiors gave him the choice of either doing his work without help or going into retirement on a very low pension. Morike chose retirement; and at thirty-nine he moved with his sister to the spa of Schwabisch-Hall to take the [therapeutic/healing] waters and then at that end of 1844, when the climate still proved too harsh, to Bad Mergentheim... [he was] a poet whose nerves reacted to the slightest change in atmosphere, which he so beautifully depicted in his poetry... It seems tragic, then, that he gained his freedom too late to enjoy it, since his health never improved sufficiently to allow him more than a few hours of productivity for weeks or months at a time... Morke married Margarete November 25, 1851, after they had known each other for seven years. The courtship [that began around 1854] put an end to the two years' silence of Morike's poetic genius just after his retirement. The years after 1845 were very fruitful ones for the poet... But his happy home life began to show signs of strain as the poet and his wife became older. Gretchen had always been a very sensitive person and took her illnesses just as seriously as the poet took his... His own illness caused him constant pain, and his death on June 4, 1875 was not unexpected. SOURCE: Eduard Morike by Helga Slessarev, University of Cincinnati (New York: Twayne Publishers 1970)
Also, as Ising admits, Blumhardt "does not cover up the fact that there are disappointments; not everybody experiences healing. Among these are people with 'black star' [cataracts] or those with congenital blindness or deafness... his prayer also seems ineffective for his mother-in-law."

Is it any surprise that D. F. Strauss was not impressed when he heard of Morike's "cure" at Blumfeldt's church?

Morike at the time of his temporary "healing" was also engaged to a young lady he was excited about marrying, so Strauss added in a letter that it was probably not Blumhardt who cured Morike but “the god of love [Cupid], who alone clearly delivered [Morike]...”


Read More »

Friday, December 11, 2015

Why Abiogenesis Is Not Inconceivable

The exact origin of the first self-replicating chemicals remains a mystery, yet there is plenty of evidence from geology and cosmology that organic chemicals form naturally in space, and on some planets and moons and probably inside the watery heart of comets, as well as having formed on the ancient earth. There is also evidence that the earliest fossils are from single-celled organisms. But we don't have fossils that allow us a peek at the internal structures of the earliest replicating cell-like organisms. Which leaves us with a far wider range of hypotheses.

But let me add that the cosmos contains over two hundred billion known galaxies, with the recent discovery of even fainter ones adding to that number. And if the inflation model is true then there are more galaxies out there that we can't see, lying further out in the darkness than the ones we can see. And this cosmos of hundreds of billions of known galaxies is in perpetual motion, energies and atoms mixing and remixing in far more "experiments" than any origin of life lab. So who knows what mixes might not lead to what?

The cosmos itself is a great mystery since we have nothing to compare it to, and since it seems to naturally lead to more complexity and differentiation as it cools down from the Big Bang. As the cosmos cooled, hydrogen and helium atoms formed, and stars, and then as the stars aged they turned those two basic elements into all the rest, and this occurred naturally, as even creationists admit. So given elements naturally forming from simpler more basic elements, and then with further cooling those elements attaching to one another in simple organic molecular forms, why would anyone be averse to trying to discover how some of those organic molecules might have formed self-replicating chains of molecules?

We even know from experiments that a small chain of RNA can replicate itself given some organic building blocks and a little zinc as a catalyst, no proteins needed, happens naturally.

Let me add that the odds of one PARTICULAR self-replicating molecule forming (like creationists and I.D.ists calculate, such as a particular arrangement of RNA or DNA or a particular protein like hemoglobin) has much less to do with the odds of some self-replicating molecules forming somewhere via some natural interactions in a cosmos as huge as this one--the latter appears to defy calculation.

Also, the question of whether we are alone in the cosmos, or whether life of a simple sort exists elsewhere, or whether intelligent life exists elsewhere, are all good questions to which we don't know the answer. But then, our species has barely just arrived on the cosmic scene, and we remain on the cradle planet, we haven't investigated the rest of our own solar system let alone the galaxy and the cosmos.

Also, our telescopes are viewing galaxies and planets from the cosmic past, i.e., we are looking at the light from galaxies that began its journey to our planet millions to billions of years ago. So we can't see what is happening NOW on the vast majority of galaxies and planets out there. We can't even see planets outside of those circling stars nearest our own star in this one tiny portion of this one galaxy.

Also, astronomers note that the cosmos has not yet reached its maximum of stars and planets! Stars and planets are still forming! And there will be more of them in the future than at present. So we can't say what will be going on or not going on then.

Stellar nurseries in some portions of the cosmos are still pumping out stars. Stars will continue being born (and then reborn from the remnants of exploded stars) for tens of billions of years to come. Will the human species still be around tens of billions of years to come? If it survives then will it survive in the same form as it is now? It seems a real possibility that the human species may become extinct with so much energy and matter continually moving around. I can easily imagine a cosmos without humans--with stars burning silently for tens of billions of years as even creationists admit is the lifetime of stars since even creationist astronomers admit the evidence of fusion taking place inside stars is clear, and such a process would take a couple billion years to complete for the majority of stars.

And the lifetime of black holes is a hundred billion years or more since they decay via emitting tiny amounts of Hawking radiation.

Also, a "huge" amount of "non-biotic organic materials" covering the whole earth is not necessary according to some hypotheses, only the gradual accumulation of some biotic materials in some regions of the earth. One such hypothesis is based on the fact that tiny holes form in rocks deep undersea near thermal vents. Beyond the tiny holes are hollowed out regions within the rock where organic materials can accumulate in two-dimensional fashion clinging to the inside of the hollowed out rock.

Matthew Pocock adds, "Personally I'm liking the thermal vent idea. Some of the core chemistry of the cell is suspiciously similar to that within the matrix of the rock in these vents."

And see this fascinating video

The Origin of Life - Abiogenesis - Dr. Jack Szostak
Read More »

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Christians Say the Damnedest Things... about Hell and Faith

Augustine of Hippo Refuting Heretic


Augustine was the first Christian theologian to write a biblical defense of the view that the lost will suffer forever in hell. If you’re familiar with the way that previous church fathers – even those who believed in eternal torment – wrote, you’ll recognize that this is something new. This was almost a systematic case for eternal torment, and due to its length (compared with anything that had come before) and Augustine’s major influence, it became the standard. It took some time for dissenters to again be heard with any significant volume against this backdrop. See Augustine's City of God (written soon after the year 410) Book 21.

The New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia repeats some of Augustine's arguments when it points out:
The Holy Bible is quite explicit in teaching the eternity of the pains of hell. The torments of the damned shall last forever and ever (Revelation 14:11; 19:3; 20:10). They are everlasting just as are the joys of heaven (Matthew 25:46). Of Judas, Christ says: "it were better for him, if that man had not been born" (Matthew 26:24). But this would not have been true if Judas was ever to be released from hell and admitted to eternal happiness. Again, God says of the damned: "Their worm shall not die, and their fire shall not be quenched" (Isaiah 66:24; Mark 9:43, 45, 47). The fire of hell is repeatedly called eternal and unquenchable. The wrath of God abideth on the damned (John 3:36); they are vessels of Divine wrath (Romans 9:22); they shall not possess the Kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 6:10; Galatians 5:21), etc.

But Augustine went even further. He taught that the memories of the redeemed in the future kingdom of God will be not only supernaturally maintained but enhanced such that they retain all the knowledge of their past sufferings on earth as well as knowledge of the eternal sufferings of the lost in hell, because only by carrying such knowledge around with them for eternity can they truly appreciate what their own salvation means.

To quote Augustine,
...their intellectual knowledge, which shall be great, shall keep them acquainted not only with their own past woes, but with the eternal sufferings of the lost. For if they were not to know that they had been miserable, how could they, as the Psalmist says, forever sing the mercies of God? (Psalm 89:1)... Those who shall be in torment shall not know what is going on within in the joy of the Lord; but they who shall enter into that joy shall know what is going on outside in the outer darkness.

Later Christian writers would expand on Augustine's point but it was now new. In The Apocalypse of Peter the saved witness the torments of the damned. In the Gospel of Nicodemus, those about to be rescued watch Christ throw the wicked into the pit, Tartarus. Earlier still, there were passages in the Bible that depict something similar. You can skip to the end of this post to read them.

Thomas Aquinas would later argue, based on similar premises, to a conclusion similar to Augustine's. Keep in mind such a view became one of the hallmarks of Christianity as supported by some of Christianity's leading thinkers as we will see below.


Triumph of St Thomas Aquinas [center] over the Heretics


According to Aquinas the blessed will not pity the unhappiness of the damned. For we choose to have compassion when we wish the suffering of others to stop, and so when we do not wish their suffering to stop, we have no such compassion. Since it is impossible to stop the suffering of the damned, and because it would in any case be contrary to Divine justice, the blessed will have no compassion for them.

Aquinas goes even further, arguing via logical propositions that we will see the damned suffering and we will rejoice:
Nothing should be denied the blessed that belongs to the perfection of their beatitude. Now everything is known the more for being compared with its contrary, because when contraries are placed beside one another they become more conspicuous. Wherefore in order that the happiness of the saints may be more delightful to them and that they may render more copious thanks to God for it, they are allowed to see perfectly the sufferings of the damned... The saints will rejoice in the punishment of the wicked, by considering therein the order of Divine justice and their own deliverance, which will fill them with joy. And thus the Divine justice and their own deliverance will be the direct cause of the joy of the blessed: while the punishment of the damned will cause it indirectly.


Martin Luther admitted that he could not comprehend how this God can be merciful and just who displays so much wrath and iniquity and added that God's goodness appears hidden, hence the need for faith of the highest degree:
God hides his eternal goodness and mercy under eternal wrath, his righteousness under iniquity. This is the highest degree of faith, to believe him merciful when he saves so few and damns so many, and to believe him righteous when by his own will he makes us necessarily damnable, so that he seems, according to Erasmus, to delight in the torments of the wretched and to be worthy of hatred rather than of love. If, then, I could by any means comprehend how this God can be merciful and just who displays so much wrath and iniquity, there would be no need of faith. As it is, since that cannot be comprehended, there is room for the exercise of faith when such things are preached and published, just as when God kills, the faith of life is exercised in death.
The Bondage of the Will, 1525
Luther praised the love of God that might even damn him to hell, and declared in The Bondage of the Will, “God himself does evil through those who are evil.”
Martin E. Marty, Martin Luther: A Life

I again ask how it is that the fall of Adam involves so many nations with their infant children in eternal death without remedy unless that it so seemed meet to God? Here the most loquacious tongues must be dumb. The decree, I admit, is, dreadful; and yet it is impossible to deny that God foreknow what the end of man was to be before he made him, and foreknew, because he had so ordained by his decree. Should any one here inveigh against the prescience of God, he does it rashly and unadvisedly. For why, pray, should it be made a charge against the heavenly Judge, that he was not ignorant of what was to happen? Thus, if there is any just or plausible complaint, it must be directed against predestination.
Institutes of the Christian Religion Book 3, Sec. 23, 7

Speaking of this passage, nineteenth century Reformed theologian, Dr. H. J. Van Dyke, admitted:
Now let us be candid with ourselves, and even with our opponents. Historic Calvinism does include what Calvin himself calls the horribile decretum, that by the election and predestination of God many nations, with their infant children, are irretrievably doomed to eternal death
Variations within Calvinism, pp.39-40

In similar fashion Calvin wrote:[When it comes to God's honor] He banishes all those human affections which soften our hearts; that he commands paternal love and all the benevolent feelings between brothers, relations, and friends to cease; in a word, that He almost deprives men of their nature in order that nothing may hinder their holy zeal. Why is so implacable a severity exacted but that we may know that God is defrauded of His honor, unless the piety that is due to Him be preferred to all human duties, and that when His glory is to be asserted, humanity must be almost obliterated from our memories? SOURCE
God makes plain that the false prophet is to be stoned without mercy. We are to crush beneath our heel all affections of nature when His honor is involved.
Calvin's comment on Deuteronomy 13
Let us also learn that nothing is less consistent than to punish heavily the crimes whereby mortals are injured, whilst we connive at the impious errors or sacrilegious modes of worship whereby the majesty of God is violated.
Calvin's comment on Exodus 32:29
One should forget all mankind when His glory is in question. God does not even allow whole towns and populations to be spared, but will have the walls razed and the memory of the inhabitants destroyed and all things ruined as a sign of His utter detestation, lest the contagion spread.
Defense of Orthodox Faith against the Prodigious Errors of the Spaniard Michael Servetus, published in early 1554


Quote from Jonathan Edwards' The Life of David Brainerd about a woman's depth of faith:
This woman has discovered a very sweet and heavenly frame of mind... Discovering an unusual joy and satisfaction in her countenance... I inquired into the reason of it [and] she replied that God had made her feel that 'twas right for him to do what he pleased with all things; and that 'twould be right if he should cast her husband and son both into hell; and she saw 'twas so right for God to do what he pleased with them, that she could not but rejoice if God should send them into hell, though 'twas apparent she loved them dearly.
More great words of faith:
You that have godly parents... You will see them with a holy joyfulness in their countenances, and with songs in their mouths. When they shall see you turned away and beginning to enter into the great furnace, and shall see how you shrink at it, and hear how you shriek and cry out; yet they will not be at all grieved for you, but at the same time you will hear from them renewed praises and hallelujahs for the true and righteous judgments of God, in so dealing with you... After they shall have seen you lie in hell thousands of years, and your torment shall yet continue without any rest, day or night; they will not begin to pity you then; they will praise God, that his justice appears in the eternity of your misery... singing the more joyful for the glorious justice of God which they behold in your eternal condemnation. [The last sentence was from earlier in the same essay].
Jonathan Edwards,"The Ungodly Warned"
When the saints in glory... shall see how miserable others of their fellow-creatures are, who were naturally in the same circumstances with themselves; when they shall see the smoke of their torment, and the raging of the flames of their burning, and hear their dolorous shrieks and cries, and consider that they [the saints] in the mean time are in the most blissful state and shall surely be in it to all eternity; how will they rejoice!
Jonathan Edwards 1834, sec. II)


Thy hand shall on rebellious kings
A fiery tempest pour,
While we beneath thy shelt'ring wings
Thy just revenge adore.
[Book 1 Hymn 42]

There endless crowds of sinners lie,
And darkness makes their chains;
Tortured with keen despair they cry,
Yet wait for fiercer pains.
Not all their anguish and their blood
For their old guilt atones,
Nor the compassion of a God
Shall hearken to their groans.
[Book 2, Hymn 2]

Lord, I ascribe it to thy grace,
And not to chance as others do,
That I was born of Christian race,
And not a heathen, or a Jew.
[Divine and Moral Songs, Song 6, Praise for the Gospel]


What a spectacle.when the world.and its many products, shall be consumed in one great flame! How vast a spectacle then bursts upon the eye! What there excites my admiration? What my derision? Which sight gives me joy?... as I see... illustrious monarchs... groaning in the lowest darkness, fire consumes them! Poets trembling before the judgment-seat of.Christ! I shall hear the tragedians, louder-voiced in their own calamity; view the dissolving flame; behold wrestlers, not in their gymnasia, but tossing in the fiery billows... What inquisitor or priest in his munificence will bestow on you the favor of seeing and exulting in such things as these? Yet even now we in a measure have them by faith in the picturings of imagination.
[De Spectaculis, Chapter XXX]

Once [a soul] is condemned by God, then God's friends agree in God's judgment and condemnation. For all eternity they will not have a kind thought for this wretch. Rather they will be satisfied to see him in the flames as a victim of God's justice. ("The just shall rejoice when he shall see the revenge . . ." Psalm 57:11) They will abhor him. A mother will look from paradise upon her own condemned son without being moved, as though she had never known him.
"The Pains of Hell," Ignatian Spiritual Exercises, consisting of thirty-five meditations from The Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius as explained by St. Anthony Mary Claret. St. Claret's "explanations" were written in Spanish in the late 1800's.

What will it be like for a mother in heaven who sees her son burning in hell? She will glorify the justice of God.
Catholic Truth Society pamphlet from the late 1960s, part of a catechismal teaching [cited in an essay by the English poet, Stevie Smith, "Some Impediments to Christian Commitment"]

THOMAS BOSTON [Scottish preacher]
God shall not pity them but laugh at their calamity. The righteous company in heaven shall rejoice in the execution of God's judgment, and shall sing while the smoke riseth up for ever.
The goodness as well as the happiness of the blessed will be confirmed and advanced by reflections naturally arising from this view of the misery which some shall undergo, which seems to be a good reason for the creation of those beings who shall be finally miserable, and for the continuation of them in their miserable existence.
[De Origine Mali, 1702]


For centuries, Christians believed that the heavenly few would see and even rejoice at the sight of hell's multitude being eternally tortured. As Paul Johnson pointed out in A History of Christianity, "This displeasing notion was advanced and defended with great tenacity over several centuries, and was one of the points Catholics and orthodox Calvinists had in common."

This "abominable fancy" (as it came to be named) was based on various Bible verses:

The righteous shall rejoice when he sees the vengeance.
Psalm 58:10

Let the wicked perish at the presence of God.But let the righteous.rejoice before God: yea, let them exceedingly rejoice.
Psalm 68:2-3,22-23

In Isaiah 30:31-33 a human sacrifice takes place (the "man" who is killed represents the nation of Assyria), and the act is accompanied by festival songs, gladness of heart, the sound of the flute, tambourines and lyres. Moreover, "the Lord" performs the sacrifice.

And they shall go forth, and look upon the carcasses of the men that have transgressed against me.
Isaiah 66:24

A man suffering in "Hades" sees another man luxuriating in "Abraham's bosom," and vice versa.
Luke, chapter 16

Ye shall see Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, and all the prophets, in the kingdom of God, and you yourselves thrust out.
Luke 13:28

They shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels, and in the presence of the Lamb: And the smoke of their torment shall ascend up forever and ever.Rejoice over her, thou heaven, and ye holy apostles and prophets; for God hath avenged you on her. And again they said, Alleluia. And her smoke rose up for ever and ever.
Revelation 14:9-11; 18:20, 19:3

Having such "inspired" verses behind it, this teaching did not grow out of favor with orthodox Christian theologians until the age of the Enlightenment when, for instance, Thomas Burnet punctured it with a prick of irony, "What a theater of providence this is: by far the greatest part of the human race burning in flames forever and ever. Oh what a spectacle on the stage, worthy of an audience of God and angels! And then to delight the ear, while this unhappy crowd fills heaven and earth with wailing and howling, you have a truly divine harmony." [De Statu Mortuorum & Resurgentium Tractatus, 1720]

But even today the idea is defended even with enthusiasm as in Trevor C. Johnson's thesis, SEEING HELL, which is online here, composed for his master's degree in Biblical Studies at Reformed Theological Seminary in 2004. It should be noted that his doctrinal beliefs no matter how dark they may appear to some, do not seem to interfere with his desire to love and help others. Johnson is a loving and faithful Christian missionary, husband, and parent who serves some poor villagers in a potentially dangerous mission field. Trevor and I have shared emails of a pleasant nature since he contacted me first after finding some references to "the abominable fancy" in my book, Leaving the Fold: Testimonies of Former Fundamentalists.

I would like some Evangelical Christian apologists on the web who disagree with the views I have cited from Christian leaders to read Johnson's master's thesis which is now online (and also offered at where some Christian readers awarded it four out of five stars) and ponder why the Holy Spirit allowed the most prominent figures in Christendom to come up with such conclusions even after praying to the Holy Spirit who is supposed to lead Christians into all truth. And think of the consequences of such teachings being held so prominently by so many Christians for so long.

Positive amazon reviews of SEEING HELL:

By M. Pierceon
The author leads the reader through a systematic analysis of views expressed by past and present religious figures regarding his subject, and then applies Holy Writ in a convincing manner. The book persuaded me that hell is visible from heaven, and that the glory of a holy God is thereby magnified. Not for the squeamish, or for those whose god is a jolly rendition of Santa Claus.

By Ronald Miller Sr.
Don't leave earth without reading. A side of God's glory you probably haven't heard. Excellent for believers & Non-believers,Biblically sound, Answers the tough "God" questions, page turner, describes attributes of God and His rational, How God has glory from those in Hell, Doctrine of Grace, What heaven will be like, Why the sight of the saints in heaven will include hell, comprehensive research, evidenced in over 200 footnotes, Joy in seeing those in hell!

By Peggion
This fellow presents a compelling case that those in heaven will be able to see those in hell and vise versa. My granddaughter recently told me her fellowship group was discussing this concept and I decided to research it. Trevor Johnson's work was one of the first I came across, and I found it to be a compelling, well researched, and carefully presented case. He presents both Biblical and historical evidence for his theses. I highly recommend this book.

By Richard O. Tailleferon
The author turns to the Scriptures revealing what the Bible has to say concerning heaven and hell, and whether the saints will behold hell, and the wicked will behold heaven. The author demonstrates the Bible clearly reveals that the saints shall view the wicked in hell and glorify God for their salvation, while those in hell will see the saints in heaven adding to their torment.


READ Heaven and Hell in Christian Thought at The Stanford Online Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Read More »