Farewell to Midtown Plaza
Why Do Bad Things Happen? updated for atheists (sort of)

Elijah Crashes the Athiest Hall of Fame!

There is this atheist I correspond with (quite a bit, lately) who maintains there have always been atheists, even way back there in ancient times. He gave some examples. [19th comment]

His first was a character who was whining over some personal injustice, as if no godly person ever had to work his way through that. Of Diagoras, the "first atheist," Wikipedia says [2-4-2008] this: “He became an atheist after an incident that happened against him went unpunished by the gods." And that’s all on what formulated his point of view! Apparently he imagined God should be like Santa Claus, making sure nothing bad happens to anyone, and got bummed when life didn’t turn out that way.

This strikes me as thinking neither original nor profound for the man history records as the "first atheist." I swear, at times I am this close to changing my name to Tom Sheepandgoaticus. I'd be taken more seriously in the educated quarters, which, of course, is what I want.

The second atheist on his list fares even worse. On Critias, Wikipedia informs that he was “a leading member of the Thirty Tyrants, and one of the most violent…..Critias was a very dark person in Athenian history. After the fall of Athens to the Spartans, he blacklisted many of its citizens as a leading member of the Thirty Tyrants. Most of his prisoners were executed and their wealth was confiscated. He proved to be a tormented personality, displaying many complexes and much hatred”

Not really the type of guy you want to put in the Atheist Hall of Fame. Who’s next, Hannibal Lector?

The Lector reference, which Moristotle reckoned an "ominous thrust" and which I subsequently withdrew.....after all, was it really very sporting?....should not make one feel sorry for my sparring partner. Believe me, he can give as good as he gets. I'll score a point or two, which he'll graciously acknowledge, and then, while I'm strutting around like Hercule Poirot, he whacks me in the back of the head with a two-by-four!

Besides, it's not easy pulling in ancients to buttress your case. They're unpredictable. You try to make them behave and they just won't do it. Those Hebrews from the OT go through extensive screening before I allow them to set foot on my blog. They invariably have a skeleton or two in their closet.

A little more on Diagoras. He, says Wikipedia, "once threw a wooden image of a god into a fire, remarking that the deity should perform another miracle and save itself." Another source identifies the image as a wooden statue of Hercules, which the hungry atheist used as fuel to boil his turnips!

Of course, this type of occurrence (I realize this is only one of his arrows, not the whole quiver) in no way disparages God, but only a god represented by images. The Bible itself frequently uses the same reasoning.

Their idols are silver and gold,
The work of the hands of earthling man.
  A mouth they have, but they cannot speak;
Eyes they have, but they cannot see;
Ears they have, but they cannot hear.
A nose they have, but they cannot smell.
Hands are theirs, but they cannot feel.
Feet are theirs, but they cannot walk;
They utter no sound with their throat.
Those making them will become just like them,
All those who are trusting in them.
       Ps 115:4-8

But my all-time favorite is a contest set up between Baal (always thought to dwell in statues) and Jehovah (never thought to dwell in statues) and their respective adherents. Elijah dresses a bull for sacrifice, and it is for those priests of Baal to persuade their god to consume the offering! For hours they plead and carry on and slash themselves, but to no avail. At length, Elijah begins to mock:

Call at the top of your voice, for he is a god; for he must be concerned with a matter, and he has excrement and has to go to the privy. Or maybe he is asleep and ought to wake up!    1 Kings 18:27

Elijah, we all know, was not an atheist. He was just a good 'ol boy having some fun at the statue's expense.


Tom Irregardless and Me    No Fake News but Plenty of Hogwash

Defending Jehovah’s Witnesses with style from attacks... in Russia, with the book ‘I Don’t Know Why We Persecute Jehovah’s Witnesses—Searching for the Why’ (free).... and in the West, with the book, 'In the Last of the Last Days: Faith in the Age of Dysfunction'



I always enjoyed the Bible stories where Jehovah challenges other gods. I can imagine the scene where these respected and honored people perform their highly sacred rituals and often humiliate themselves, only to fail. Then Jehovah's servants do some comparitively simple tasks and look what happens!

Such examples can be seen in our day as well. When you look at many religions and pseudo-religions (like Scientology or Wiccans, meaning non-mainstream) have elaborate ceremonies and rituals to perform, but what are the tangible results to the masses? When you look at JW's, yes, there are requirements (meetings 3 times a week, preaching work, assemblies and an annual memorial service), yet compared to others (holidays that are expensive, meaningless services, idol worship, confessions, memorized prayers, etc...) it is simple, meaningful, and has the effect of making happier, more meaningful contributors to society.

As in the days of old, Jehovah's worshippers tend to live quiet, purpose-driven lives and strive to keep it simple, avoiding many of the social problems that others can't seem to avoid. Nobody's perfect, of course, and JW's have their fair share of problems, but what would our world be like if everyone shared a similar philosophy?

In short, simple life, big results. Just like in the past...simple acts, big results.

tom sheepandgoats

Thank you, Screech. That's well put.

Any visitor to a Kingdom Hall cannot help but be struck by the lack of ritual. Meetings are educational in nature....you can prepare for them, and usually participate. Neither does one find the flamboyant preaching of the evangelical church. They are loosely modeled after the Jewish synagogues of NT times (and today?...I'm not sure), rather than the ceremonial structure of most churches today.

The only ceremony of any sort occurs during the Memorial of Christ's death, held once a year.


Dear Readers of Sheep and Goats, if its author will permit me to address you over his head:

I hope that you will take Tom's talk of scoring points with some sea salt, as I really don't think he and I are engaged in some sort of sporting contest. (If that's what we're doing, I'll have to reassess whether I should participate, because, as you can see from my own post of February 4, at http://moristotle.blogspot.com/2008/02/roar-of-crowd_03.html), I disdain fanatical spectator sports.)

Also note, when you go (if you go) to my post that Tom provides a link for (http://moristotle.blogspot.com/2008/01/religious-advice-for-coping-with.html), that one of my comments there (following his first essay at trashing Diagoras and Critias) informed Tom that I had provided some additional information on ancient atheists in my post of February 2 ("A little ancient history of atheism and evolution," at http://moristotle.blogspot.com/2008/02/little-ancient-history-of-atheism-and.html), and Tom had read it but not seen fit to include the estimable Anaxagoras in his today's post.

Of course, I suppose that any mention he might have made of Anaxagoras would have been deftly taped to a ball that he proceeded to stuff with sleight of hand into the basket behind me. Ah, yes, Sheepandgoaticus is a sly Sophist indeed! But I have to acknowledge the truth that his performance IS more entertaining than football!

Thanks, Tom, very sporting of you to let me address you readers.

tom sheepandgoats

Hey.....wait a minute!! How did Moristotle get in here, addressing my readers [possibly just he and I] over my head??!! Who's blog is this anyway?

Pay no attention to this " Anaxagoras" character M refers to. Or, if you do pay attention, consider also the current [2-5-08] Wikipedia entry about him, which tempers his conclusion. The final two sentences are:

By the theory of minute constituents of things, and his emphasis on mechanical processes in the formation of order, he paved the way for the atomic theory. However, his enunciation of the order that comes from an intelligent mind suggested the theory that nature is the work of design.

Was he an athiest? If so, I suspect he was not "hard-core." More likely agnostic. But as M points out on his blog, it's a little hard to track these obscure Greeks. Little of their writings survived, and most of what is known about them comes from the comments of more well-known ancients.

He didn't attend meetings at the Kingdom Hall, though. That much I'll concede.


Thank you, good and gracious Tom! I hadn't read the Wikipedia entry about Anaxagoras. Your readers might be interested in the entire section (on "Cosmological theory") which concludes with the sentence you quoted [Wikipedia's links omitted, but the link to the entry is http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anaxagoras]:

"All things have existed from the beginning. But originally they existed in infinitesimally small fragments of themselves, endless in number and inextricably combined. All things existed in this mass, but in a confused and indistinguishable form. There were the seeds (spermata) or miniatures of wheat and flesh and gold in the primitive mixture; but these parts, of like nature with their wholes (the homoiomereiai of Aristotle), had to be eliminated from the complex mass before they could receive a definite name and character. Mind arranged the segregation of like from unlike; panta chremata en omou eita nous elthon auta diekosmese. This peculiar thing, called Mind (Nous), was no less illimitable than the chaotic mass, but, unlike the logos of Heraclitus, it stood pure and independent (mounos ef eoutou), a thing of finer texture, alike in all its manifestations and everywhere the same. This subtle agent, possessed of all knowledge and power, is especially seen ruling in all the forms of life.

"Mind causes motion. It rotated the primitive mixture, starting in one corner or point, and gradually extended until it gave distinctness and reality to the aggregates of like parts, working something like a centrifuge, and eventually creating the known cosmos. But even after it had done its best, the original intermixture of things was not wholly overcome. No one thing in the world is ever abruptly separated, as by the blow of an axe, from the rest of things.

"It is noteworthy that Aristotle accuses Anaxagoras of failing to differentiate between nous and psyche, while Socrates (Plato, Phaedo, 98 B) objects that his nous is merely a deus ex machina to which he refuses to attribute design and knowledge. [Note from Moristotle: Socrates seemed to foreshadow Sheepandgoaticus when he says literally that Anaxagoras had introduced a god to "provide a contrived solution to an apparently insoluble difficulty" (to quote Webster's appropriate definition of deus ex machina).]

"Anaxagoras proceeded to give some account of the stages in the process from original chaos to present arrangements. The division into cold mist and warm ether first broke the spell of confusion. With increasing cold, the former gave rise to water, earth and stones. The seeds of life which continued floating in the air were carried down with the rains and produced vegetation. Animals, including man, sprang from the warm and moist clay. If these things be so, then the evidence of the senses must be held in slight esteem. We seem to see things coming into being and passing from it; but reflection tells us that decease and growth only mean a new aggregation (sugkrisis) and disruption (diakrisis). Thus Anaxagoras distrusted the senses, and gave the preference to the conclusions of reflection. Thus he maintained that there must be blackness as well as whiteness in snow; how otherwise could it be turned into dark water?

"Anaxagoras marked a turning-point in the history of philosophy. With him speculation passes from the colonies of Greece to settle at Athens. By the theory of minute constituents of things, and his emphasis on mechanical processes in the formation of order, he paved the way for the atomic theory. However, his enunciation of the order that comes from an intelligent mind suggested the theory that nature is the work of design."

A spirited and inventive philosopher indeed!

Tom Sheepandgoats Harley


That's all very nice, but what does it MEAN?

That writing is such a muddled mess (with the exception of your interjection, of course) that I thought it fitting just to use the last two sentences, which apparently represent the author's conclusions about the man.

Look, I haven't the foggiest what he believed. But to present him unequivocally as an athiest is a bit of a stretch.

I'm grateful that the religious outlooks of Newton, Galileo, Kepler and so forth are well documented. Were they not, I've no doubt that athiests would endeavor to count them as blood brothers. They'd like us to believe that all scientists through the years have leaned athiestic, and it isn't so. Until relatively recently, outright athiesm (in contrast with agnosticm) seems to have been an aberation.

As I've tried to illustrate here
and here


Tom, I agree that Anaxagoras's attempt at cosmological thinking was a bit of a muddle. I'm sorry to have burdened your blog with the whole passage. I should, I suppose, just have quoted "It is noteworthy...while Socrates (Plato, Phaedo, 98 B) objects that his nous is merely a deus ex machina...," so that I could make my point about positing "God" to explain things as being "a contrived solution to an apparently insoluble difficulty."

Which is more or less where I'm coming from (on my own blog) when I ask you:

"How does positing a 'first cause' to explain the existence of apparently designed things actually explain anything? More fairly (and intelligently) a person trying to explain such things might say, 'Hmm, something or some process brought this about; now, what could that be?' [Anaximander] (along, later, with Charles Darwin and Alfred Wallace) came up with an idea. And it wasn't 'God.'"

Also, I don't understand why you put so much store in acknowledging that a person was more likely an agnostic than an atheist. Is an agnostic some kind of believer? I thought you're on record that it "isn't possible" to disbelieve in "God" without an alternative explanation for evolution.

OF COURSE, agnosticism is a safer, more defensible position than either atheism or theism. (Another question of mine you've not answered is how you KNOW? Of course, I've alleged that you simply don't.) The agnostic only has to admit he doesn't know (and won't believe one way or the other); he doesn't have to prove anything but can take potshots at both sides if it amuses him.

For the record, I too admit that I don't really KNOW that there is no god. In my post, "All in or All out," of September 9 (http://moristotle.blogspot.com/2007/09/all-in-or-all-out.html), I went into why I nevertheless decided to give up "Kierkegaard's noble position" [of hanging from the two ledges of faith and disbelief] and grab firmly onto the one of disbelief.

It strikes me now that the "noble position," proximately described as a state of continual doubt, is perhaps essentially the agnostic's position. I guess this safe, unpresupposing position is too tame for the likes of thee and me!

That was somewhat of a joke. I explained on September 9 what my initial motivation was: I really didn't like living in continual doubt over a question that was important to me, however noble such a state might be. I needed to decide the question, and I used the best understanding available to me.

tom sheepandgoats

Do you mean that your crossing over from agnosticsm to atheism was only because you tired of "fence sitting?" That's all? Is that really a supportable reason?

I've no problem with people who concede they do not KNOW something. I think more people should do that. A lot of historical wreckage can be laid at the feet of those who KNEW things.

Agnosticism, admittedly a fence-sitting position, is nonetheless a safe refuge for those who can't quite muster up the presumption to sever ties with God completely, yet who also can't get a satisfying answer on ....why suffering?....why injustice?.....why evil?.....the very matters Diagoras wrestled with and lost.

Jehovah's Witnesses presented me with an understanding clearing up those concerns of Diagoras. Otherwise, I too would likely have found myself an agnostic. This understanding is entirely unattainable through churches, as they deny too many underlying premises.

I've written of this understanding in various posts. Unfortunately, you vomited upon reading one of them. But I'll assume it was my quirky way of presenting it, and not the understanding itself.

I've written about it from other angles, such as here


and even here

Of course, all of it is written with my peculiar style, which some find obnoxious. For a clear explanation without my baggage, one might go to the book What Does the Bible Really Teach, which JWs are likely to have on them when they visit. The correct chapters will be obvious from the table of contents.

So perhaps I have answered your question about how I KNOW what I know. I found the answer to what stymied Diagoras. Of course, I'll readily concede that I don't KNOW it, in the sense of being scientifically proven. It presents to me a framework that appeals to reason, but also involves what might be termed "heart," appreciation, and so forth.

In the final analysis, I think many aspects of life (like heart and appreciation) are not scientifically provable. We're not built that way. Life isn't built that way.


Tom, Thanks for providing an answer to my question about how you know--that you don't really. Since you wrote an earlier draft of your comment (and me an earlier draft of this response), I've made a few "advances" in my thinking about this. I've already "moved on," for example, from my only somewhat facetious statement that Carl Jung might have been the ONLY person who KNEW that god exists.

I remembered over the weekend that there are surely many, many people who feel the same way Jung did. For example, Maliha, who listed for me a number of "ways of knowing" that god exists. These included (for her; I don't endorse the list) intuition, insight, and imagination (but she actually listed four or five more, which I don't remember, except that I vaguely recall her mentioning Einstein's "knowing with his body"). And my distant cousin Vera finds god's existence "obvious," presumably availing herself too of some privileged sixth sense. (The fact that she thinks it is obvious makes her utterly amazed that I deny god's existence; she comforts herself by assuming it's because I'm a man, and women are better able to know such things!) I suspect that there are literally millions of Muslims and millions of Christians who feel that they KNOW god exists. (I suppose there are such Jews as well.) We can only accept that, I think, and classify them as "knowing" theists, despite whatever epistemological reservations you and I might have about their claim. (I toyed with the term "gnostic theist," but "gnostic" has a very special meaning, even a historical one, referring to the early Christians who lost out in the struggle to define what Christianity would become. I'm not an expert on that, obviously; I'll have to re-read Pagels's book on the subject.)

I haven't yet written about this (on my own blog, that is), but I plan too. (This is probably the first draft [smile].)

By the way, do you know of any Jehovah's Witnesses (some you've met down at Kingdom Hall perhaps) who think that they too KNOW?

My deciding for atheism was of course not motivated primarily to avoid having to sit any longer on an uncomfortable fence, although I can't deny that that had something to do with it (since I said as much in my post of September 9). The point was, though, that I wasn't so much SITTING on the fence as HANGING PRECARIOUSLY toward one side of it. I was far from evenly divided in my inclinations to the two alternatives, belief and unbelief. And I realized (as I think I tried to express in that post) that I had been sort of "carrying" a belief in god, in the sense of supporting a cause that I really felt, way, way down inside, was lost. What happened in the months preceding September 9 was that I got in touch with that deep-down feeling and, with the help of Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens (and Thomas Paine and Bertrand Russell, and probably even with Richard Dawkins as summarized by yourself--isn't that ironic?), was able at last to release myself from the burden of empty faith.

In my Saturday's post, "Agnostic = theistically neutral" (http://moristotle.blogspot.com/2008/02/agnostic-theistically-neutral.html), I indicated that I will address the reasons I believe that there is no god. But another "advance" in my thinking about this (I did a lot of thinking this weekend as I raked leaves, cut oat grass, took down an ailing magnolia tree, and made two trips to the landfill) was that I realizated that I first have to define what it is I say doesn't exist. At the moment, I envision that as a post unto itself.

tom sheepandgoats

"Thanks for providing an answer to my question about how you know--that you don't really."

I don't accept your premise that the only way to know something is to know it because science declares it proven. It's not as if science has never let us down. I would expand the definition more Maliha-like, though I agree, this causes problems of "standardization"....how do I know what you know?

"do you know of any Jehovah's Witnesses (some you've met down at Kingdom Hall perhaps) who think that they too KNOW?"

Since we are all on the same team, we don't really challenge each other's beliefs as an atheist might so I can't really answer your question. I suspect relationships with God fall as a bell curve. It may even be that, as we are all different, God presents himself to each one differently, "adjusting" himself to our makeup. But that is pure guesswork on my part.


Tom, just a couple of small adjustments, if I might:

Your assumption that my test of knowledge is that "science declares it proven" is of course too limited. We ordinary people all know a lot of things that science isn't involved in at all.

It was in that ordinary sense that I thought you had agreed you didn't know that god exists any more than I know it.

And when I asked about your friends down at Kingdom Hall, I certainly didn't have in mind that you "challenge each other's beliefs." Don't you ever just discuss it in a neutral way, for the sake of understanding and appreciating each other? Apparently not, if I may take your response as an answer.

Of course, your idea that "God presents himself to each one differently, 'adjusting' himself to our makeup" is mighty convenient for you! Smacks a bit of some Creationists' position that god put all of those bones in the ground just to give the ILLUSION that the Earth is older than 6,000 years (or whatever the exact number is).

tom sheepandgoats

No, we have a misunderstanding. I took your "KNOW" to mean scientifically provable. Apparantly that's not how you intended it.

Thinking of some of the analogies our people (and me) might use. we "know" in the sense that you know that the sun will rise tomorrow. Of course, you don't "really" know it until it happens.

Or you know in the same way that you know you love a certain person.

You "know" because there's several paths of knowing, for example the logical, the intuitive, the appreciative & some of the others Maliha would throw in, and you've gotten them to all agree.

Many atheists, perhaps not yourself, present science as the end-all and know-all, the only true way of "knowing." This is especially true with the new-fangled field of "evolutionary psychology," in which intangibles such as love and appreciation are thought to be qualities explainable by science

I do not agree that all things are reduceable to science. Many athiests do.


Tom, I meant "KNOW" as being OBJECTIVE, in the sense that other people "in their right mind" (we need some test to exclude the incompetent) can know it too and we can all agree on it. Knowledge that god exists or doesn't exist doesn't seem to be objective in that way; in fact, I think that that statement itself is an example of something objectively known: people generally agree that it is so (that "knowledge" of god is not objective knowledge) and acknowledge that Tom and Moristotle can have a fine time discussing whether god exists and what the myth of the Garden of Eden means, if they want to, but, unless they agree on a standard of knowledge, they'll likely never agree on those matters. And what I just said about the Garden of Eden is a case in point. You believe there really were two "first people," Adam and Eve, and Eve really conversed with a snake, etc. I think it's a myth and can bear numerous interpretations, including a way of understanding the birth of consciousness in the human species.

Science, of course, is sort of the "queen of knowing" when it comes to objective knowledge. The principle of repeatable experiments, for example.

I'm not sure what you meant when you said that some people believe that "all things are reduceable [sic] to science." Do you mean, for example, that they believe that, in principle, there's a materialistic explanation for consciousness, so that "reducible to science" suggests that science is a way (if not THE way) to discover the materialistic explanation?

tom sheepandgoats

When I first encountered Jehovah’s Witnesses 30+ years ago, I was astounded to think I had found people who actually believed in Adam and Eve. I had always thought that only the dumbest of the rednecks believed that way. The only reason I did not reject their message out of hand was that it sounded so good, there was no monetary and only minimal time cost in investigating, and the people themselves struck me as so decent that I suppose I was curious as to what made them that way.

Religious teachings had never made any sense to me, so when I encountered a group offered some answers, it seemed worth my time to investigate. I found a body of teaching that fit together seamlessly and explained the human condition as it is now, how it got to be that way, what prospects the future holds, how did death originate, why is there evil and suffering, and how to live now with a sense of fulfillment, and so forth. Moreover, there didn’t seem to be anything in modern thinking that made impossible the Adam & Eve story. It merely seemed unlikely. I assure you, I too would have thought of it as myth (as I previously had) if going along with it had not made possible the understanding of so many things.

I expressed some of this is a previous post. If memory serves, you didn’t like it:


Precisely where this falls on the spectrum of “knowing” I will leave to you to decide, but perhaps you will agree it is more objective than subjective. Now, upon becoming witnesses of Jehovah, people look for God’s direction in their lives, and they generally cultivate praying, and this adds to their “knowing,” to greater or lesser degree. But these latter things are highly subjective. Moreover, other explanations exist from, say, psychology, so that I wouldn’t be able or indeed be inclined to argue much with whatever you might point out on these matters.

Does that answer your question? I guess, at root, our knowledge is “objective,” I believe in contrast to most other faiths. But most individuals supplement it with subjective factors.


Tom, I re-read the post your comment links to. Indeed, I had read it before. It still reads like the slickest, smoothest con I've practically ever seen. No reflection on you, for I accept that you (and your JW cohorts) really believe what you're saying.

Of course, on my view, it doesn't make any real difference, I mean to what happens after death. Of course, it affects how you all spend your time (for example, attending meetings at the Kingdom Hall).

But what I believe affects how I spend MY time too. Works the same for everybody.

So, good on you, my friend, despite all!


Tom, I've gone to watchtower.org two or three times lately to try to "get inside the JW mind," but I haven't been able to crack an opening, so to speak. Because I respect you, your morals, your intelligence, your evaluation of things, I of course want (and need) to understand how you can believe what you believe about God and Adam and Eve, etc. (Reminds me of what Russell said about how to "read philosophy": attempt to understand how the philosopher who propounded it could understand it, which involves getting inside the philosopher's head in some, necessarily imaginative, way.)

Unfortunately, I'm finding the "armor" in which JW clothes itself to be (for me, at any rate) virtually impenetrable. I mean, it's like a closed system in which you sort of have to accept the whole cloth, I can't find a cuff or a button that reasonably appeals to me and with which I might start to explore other parts of the fabric. (I just now invented that analogy, so I don't know how well it holds up.)

Well, one aspect does seem at least somewhat reasonable, however. I get the impression, not only from your example, but also from the website, that the JW "ethic" for "the good life" is wholesome and certainly not to be dismissed out of hand. (I say, for the most part. I'm by no means endorsing it altogether--and don't even comprehend it altogether in order to do so competently.) But since I draw a very sharp distinction between ethics (or morality) and religion, judging that religion (and "God") are not essential for morality (you yourself acknowledge that atheists can be good people), JW's laudatory ethic says nothing to me about the truth or falsehood of its metaphysic. To paraphrase (I'm sure all three of) the authors Harris, Hitchens, and Dawkins (not to mention Russell and no doubt many others): The beneficial effects claimed to flow from various religious beliefs are no evidence at all for the truth of those beliefs (except possibly in some William Jamesean pragmatic sense, but even there, I would argue, the same benefits can be derived "extra-religiously").

I've often thought that a very similar thing could be said about LDS (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints). I've observed Mormon families, and their children are models of good and respectful behavior. While this speaks well, certainly, of the Mormon ethic, its proves nothing about the truth of its metaphysical claims about "God," the afterlife, or whatever.

I record these observation simply as thoughts along the way toward trying to understand JW's appeal to people whom I respect. I hope I will have further thoughts (that is, make some actual progress toward understanding it).

tom sheepandgoats


Since you like the JW ethics and since you are critical of religion, a possible "cuff" might be found in a combination of the two.

Jesus, whatever else people may attach to him, is widely regarded as a moral person.

He also said things about the religion of his time very analagous to what the Dawkins-Harris-Hitchings trinity says about that of ours.

For example:

“Not everyone saying to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter into the kingdom of the heavens, but the one doing the will of my Father who is in the heavens will. Many will say to me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and expel demons in your name, and perform many powerful works in your name?’ And yet then I will confess to them: I never knew you! Get away from me, you workers of lawlessness. matt 7:21-23


The scribes and the Pharisees [religious leaders of the day] have seated themselves in the seat of Moses.  Therefore all the things they tell you, do and observe, but do not do according to their deeds, for they say but do not perform.  They bind up heavy loads and put them upon the shoulders of men, but they themselves are not willing to budge them with their finger.  All the works they do they do to be viewed by men; for they broaden the [scripture-containing] cases that they wear as safeguards, and enlarge the fringes [of their garments].  They like the most prominent place at evening meals and the front seats in the synagogues,  and the greetings in the marketplaces and to be called Rabbi by men. Matt 23:2-7

or other excerpts from chapter 23, which you should read it their entirety if this interests you:

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because you give the tenth of the mint and the dill and the cumin, but you have disregarded the weightier matters of the Law, namely, justice and mercy and faithfulness. vs 23

....you resemble whitewashed graves, which outwardly indeed appear beautiful but inside are full of dead men’s bones and of every sort of uncleanness.  In that way you also, outwardly indeed, appear righteous to men, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness. vs 27

Might that be an acceptable "button" (yes, I do like the analogy) to make an investigation?

And, don't worry. I don't for one moment mistake your investigative nature for evidence that I have "reeled in a big one." :)


Ha, even if you did "reel me in," you would by no means have gotten a big one. I'm very small fry.

I agree that Jesus is indeed widely regarded as a moral person, but I'm afraid that would be more accurately described as "uncritically regarded" as such. Even in the quotations you supply, I object to his "doing the will of my Father who is in the heavens." This assumes that men need divine guidance to know what is good. And, of course, I believe there is neither Father nor heaven to provide it anyway.

The good, recent atheist authors I've studied were not uncritical. The only point of theirs that I'm remembering at the moment was Jesus's ill treatment of his own biological family and his advice for his followers to do likewise.

While Garry Wills attempted (in his book WHAT JESUS MEANT) to "apologize" for this and other questionable moral stances of Jesus (apologize in the sense of rationalize them and overcome objections), his apology wasn't convincing.

It occurs to me that Thomas Jefferson did find in the example of Jesus a button or cuff to hold onto. THE JEFFERSON BIBLE is what's left after Jefferson excised the parts of the New Testament he found morally and theologically repugnant. But I believe that some of the things that he excised included various of Jesus's own teachings.


My contemporary Stephen Mitchell (that is, he was also born in 1943), has translated many works, including GILGAMESH, THE BHAGAVAD GITA, TAO TE CHING, selected stories from GENESIS, THE BOOK OF JOB, selections from THE BOOK OF PSALMS, and selected poetry and prose of Rainer Maria Rilke. In fact, I prefer his translation of Rilke to all others with which I'm familiar.

Mitchell, too, cobbled together his own selection of THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO JESUS (Harper Perennial 1993). He accomplished this not only because he knows many languages and can write well, but also because he has the moral wherewithal to see what of Jesus should be recommended and what should not.

In general, our ability to evaluate injunctions recommended by holy books (and alleged to have come down from on high) rests on our own prior moral sense, developed by means of natural selection through the process of evolution.

I'm reminded of the conundrum proposed by Plato in THE REPUBLIC: In order for the governed to assent to the rule of a philosopher king, they must be able to evaluate the king as to his fitness as a philosopher.

tom sheepandgoats

".....Even in the quotations you supply, I object to his "doing the will of my Father who is in the heavens." This assumes that men need divine guidance to know what is good....."

You must think collectively. Most people are good in their own eyes. And yet collectively the planet is a disaster. Do you think “good” includes getting along with each other? Or resolving conflicts amicably? Do you think we need guidance in those areas? If not, what do you think we do need?

It seems reasonable to me that if you peruse atheist works critical of Jesus and likewise works from guys like Wills defending him, and draw conclusions from those works that you should as a prerequisite read the gospel accounts themselves…the four histories of Jesus’ words and deeds. It’s a rather modest endeavor when compared to the studying of Plato or Aristotle. I continue to think that , if you are still looking for a “hook” to get into the thinking of JWs, that Jesus life course is a good place to start, since we claim to base everything on that life. One of the books JWs have takes every word and deed of his from any of the four gospels and puts them into one chronological account. Perhaps more importantly, it reviews only what is in the four gospels, and not modern day context, in reconstructing the man and his deeds.

I wrote the above comment before reading your most recent. Your friend's work sounds intriguing. I'd be curious to compare the two.


Tom, you surely know (haven't I told you?) that I have indeed read the four gospels, a number of times more than once. Been there, done that, same old same old.

"You must think collectively"?...Ah, you think the solution is a totalitarian regime? Everyone down to the Kingdom Hall on a rigid schedule? Well, if that's what "God" intends, and "He" is great, then I suppose that's what will happen by and by. I hope you enjoy it as much as you imagine you will. By the way, isn't one of the tenets of the Jehovah's Witnesses that only a few tens of thousands of your elect will actually enjoy this regime, with the rest serving as some sort of serfs or zoological entertainment? Nice system, for the appropriately believing.

tom sheepandgoats

Oh, come now. YOU said totalitarian regime, not I. YOU said everyone on a rigid schedule, not I.

The trouble with being right in your own eyes and bristling at the mere thought of being corrected, is that the ones you disagree with don't acquiesce. Surely you've noticed that. They just don't roll over and die. They bristle just as forcefully in favor of their OWN point of view. Why do you think global warming is not resolved by now, or racism, or poverty, or arms control? You don't think some or all of these things will someday be our undoing if we don't learn to deal with them more effectively than we do now?

So although you were incensed at my question, you did not answer it.

"Do you think “good” includes getting along with each other? Or resolving conflicts amicably? Do you think we need guidance in those areas? If not, what do you think we do need?"


Tom, sorry that my previous comment got you to bristling. I thought the comment was rather mild and factual.

I may have used the word "totalitarian," but it fits. Maybe the schedule for worship wouldn't be terribly rigid, depending on the extent to which "God" is "Jehovah" rather than "Allah." I frankly don't know how punctual Jehovah's Witnesses are when it comes to congregating at Kingdom Hall, but the Mohamedans seem pretty regular in prostrating themselves to pray toward Mecca.

Yes, of course it would be good if we got along with one another, good if we resolved our conflicts amicably. And of course some of us need guidance, but there's no god to provide it. We're going to have to guide one another. I think it will not be easy to guide those who insist on taking THEIR guidance from an ancient text, especially when the texts are diverse and their various adherents are similarly insistent.

The social, cultural, and other problems you mention may very well be our undoing; there is no god to save us from them.

tom sheepandgoats

Totalitarian does not fit, at least not as the word it used today. It implies a stifling of personality and scuttling of our identity.

All of us in this country have learned to conform to traffic laws: stop, yield, merge, speed zone, and so forth. We don't carry on about how "totalitarian" it all is. We don't worry that we are compromising our identity in complying. We just do it without fuss, for we realize the practical benefit.

Similar point with regard to punctuality. Sure, it has it's place. Yet every responsible person today has learned to be punctual in their work life, family life, social life. What's one more thing? It's not that big of a deal.


From Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary (1977):

"totalitarian ... of or relating to centralized control by an autocratic leader or hierarchy: AUTHORITARIAN, DICTATORIAL ... subordination of the individual ... strict control of all aspects of life...."

The autocratic leader in your global vision would I assume be the jealous, often petty, sometimes exceedingly cruel god of the Bible. (I know you have your own sanitized version of god; I'm just going by the text and reading it without tinted glasses.)

Good point about most people's conforming to practically beneficial regulations (and being punctual about it; I'll ignore the fact that every system has cheaters). But counterpoint is that congregating at Kingdom Hall or throwing oneself down to pray toward Mecca appeals to few as having any benefit, practical or otherwise.

Of course, I believe it makes no difference outside our diverting discourse. By whatever definition, there is no X that corresponds to the deity of theocratic totalitarianism. The theocracies favored by Islamists, for example, wouldn't be ruled by non-existent "Allah" but by the imams and ayatollahs who wield power over the lesser Mohamedans.

Hmm, Jehovah's Witnesses' being such nice, non-political guys, who among THEM would wield the actual power in the world state you envision?

tom sheepandgoats

As defined by the Webster's Dictionary, "totalitarianism" does not fit Jehovah's Witnesses at all. "Strict control of all aspects of life"....are you kidding me? In many ways, your workplace "controls" more aspects of your life. And your marriage. The self-limiting belief that this life is all there is likewise "controls" people to a great extent.

"I'm just going by the text and reading it without tinted glasses".....What you are reading, IMO, is too much Dawkins, for you to have swallowed such rubbish.

"The autocratic leader in your global vision would I assume be the jealous, often petty, sometimes exceedingly cruel god of the Bible" ....You know what they say about assuming things.

You acknowledged 2 comments ago: "The social, cultural, and other problems you mention may very well be our undoing" How's THAT for "cruel?" It's certainly not much of a gift to pass on to the children and grandchildren. No wonder the younger generation has so little regard for the old!

Is there anything so terrible about reaching for a solution? If it involves focusing more on our responsibilities than our rights, is that really the end of the world? Especially, when not doing so may well result in "the end of the world," as you acknowledged.

"But counterpoint is that congregating at Kingdom Hall ....appeals to few as having any benefit, practical or otherwise"....That's why we don't require it of them. If we do it ourselves, it is because we have discerned that "benefit, practical or otherwise" does lie in that direction.


Good morning, Tom. I'm glad it's the weekend. Good on you to overflowing cup.

I seemed more correct than I realized about the limited appeal of congregating at Kingdom Hall: you indicate that even some Jehovah's Witnesses choose not to do so.

You switch from the indictment of "God" as cruel to indicting those (apparently not Jehovah's Witnesses) who pass bad things "on to the children and grandchildren." This refrain that man is also cruel seems to concede the point that "God" indeed is cruel (so what's so bad about that?).

But maybe you don't concede it, for you swat an arrow at Dawkins as though to kill the messenger of such insight. Of course, even if you succeeded in killing all such messengers, the message would survive. I've been assuming that you know the Bible thoroughly (since you quote it often and extensively), but perhaps (given what "they" say about assuming things) you DON'T KNOW the passages that depict "God" as jealous, petty, cruel, etc. It might do you good to become familiar with them. If you have trouble finding them, you might consult Paine's AGE OF REASON, Russell's WHY I AM NOT A CHRISTIAN, or the recent books of Harris, Hitchens, and Dawkins that we've talked about occasionally. (Of course, you'll need to remove your tinted glasses as you peruse the passages.)

Tom, there is NOTHING "terrible about reaching for a solution." Do you really (and willfully) think that I'm against seeking solutions? As for "focusing more on our responsibilities than our rights," I hope that my life speaks eloquently enough about that to deserve mentioning on my tombstone. You seem to imagine that I consider such a focus as "the end of the world." I am quite at a loss to understand how you have come to see me in that light. (I suspect that you don't see me that way at all but simply got your rhetoric jumbled and tripped yourself up.)

I characterized the global state of your apocalyptic vision as "totalitarian." You say the term doesn't fit Jehovah's Witnesses, seeming to imply that indeed the apocalyptic state will be modeled on Jehovah's Witnesses (and, therefore, it would NOT be totalitarian). Is that your reasoning? I'd thought that the model for your visionary regime would be that of the Garden of Eden, with "God" in charge and all humans dutifully refraining from eating of the fruit or hobnobbing with snakes.

Maybe the key here is that the phrase "all humans" doesn't actually include everybody but, for a start, excludes all non-believers? I did mention a comment or two back that the humans who chose not to go along with "God" might serve as serfs or zoological entertainment for those who did go along, but you didn't acknowledge or answer it. (I also asked in that comment whether it's true that Jehovah's Witnesses believe that there will be a precise number of individuals "saved," or is that just another of those urban legends?)

To end as I began: Tom, good on you.

tom sheepandgoats

"I did mention a comment or two back that the humans who chose not to go along with "God" might serve as serfs or zoological entertainment for those who did go along, but you didn't acknowledge or answer it."

The way it was phrased, Moristotle, I didn't realize it was a serious question. It seemed that you were just lobbing an insult. I may address it in a future post.

If society does indeed self-destruct from one of the ills we spoke of, that will surely be a powerful indictment of its individuals. They will have been guilty of focusing, not on their responsibilities to co-exist and resolve problems, but on their rights to not let anyone tell them what to do. And the kids and grandkids who suffer the consequences of "my way or the highway" thinking will have ample reason to curse their elders.

That's what I meant by "rights and responsibilities." I didn't mean it as a "personal" indictment. You know that by now.


Dear Tom, I surely meant no insult. I was just following your argument (as I understand it). The world order of your vision seems to be modeled on the Garden of Eden, where "God" is in charge. That god appears to be autocratic. And, because non-believers and others who "don't go along" seem to be unwelcome there, I just wondered what happens to them. In Soviet Russia such dissidents were often consigned to psychiatric wards (thinly disquised political prisons). I suggested "serfs" as a sort of stand-in for that; I admit that "zoological entertainment" was a bit whimsical, but only a little bit; such an alternative is easily imaginable in the mythical world of Genesis. The bottom line seems to be that the regime of the Garden is uniformity of thought, children ruled by a parent. In a word (in this necessarily political context), totalitarian.

"God" also appears (from a number of depictions of "him" in the Bible) to be jealous, petty, cruel, etc. My earlier references to that god as "sicko" (a word I adopted from your own reference to a human being) was no insult either, although you seem to have taken it that way, for you have not replied either to my pointing out that the Bible does so depict this god. (I believe that you did say, though, that you might reply someday.)

As I said, I didn't think that you could really be indicting me personally on the subject of irresponsible behavior, but your reference to responsibility immediately followed the sentence, "Is there anything so terrible about reaching for a solution?" which I could only read as implying that I had something against reaching for a solution, and strongly implied that the rest of the paragraph applied to me as well.

I can't agree with what you say in the sentences, "If society does indeed self-destruct from one of the ills we spoke of, that will surely be a powerful indictment of its individuals. They will have been guilty of focusing, not on their responsibilities to co-exist and resolve problems, but on their rights to not let anyone tell them what to do." While it is natural for adults not to want to be "told what to do" and some people will go to extremes not to work with others, failure to SUCCESSFULLY resolve the problems we alluded to can come even to the people who work together in good faith (and work hard) to try to resolve them.

My statement a few comments back that efforts might fail was intended as an acknowledgment that the problems are serious and difficult. Just the over-population problem (perhaps the most significant single problem of all) is catastrophic.

How do we get from here (having these serious problems) to there (having solutions) by means of adopting the Jehovah's Witnesses view that we should (apparently) all believe that "God" exists, see ourselves as no more than children, and submit to "God's" telling us (by some means or other) what to do, and that we should undeviatingly do what we are told?

The application of this "solution" can't go anywhere in practice. Are Mohamedans going to give up Allah and follow Jehovah? Are the mainstream Christian denominations that consider Mormons not even Christian (and I don't know how they regard Jehovah's Witnesses) going to change what they're doing? Are scientists (the majority of whom don't even believe that god exists) going to stop trying to understand the world and how things work (in order that they might make an adult contribution to solving problems) going to start spending their evenings down at Kingdom Hall?

tom sheepandgoats


Intriguing viewpoints and questions, to be sure, but I just can't keep up with it. I'm moving on to my next post (re Plato), which may be my last for awhile about the Greeks. It does address a few of the points you raise, and perhaps, if you wish, we can attach any new observations or some of the old to that post.

Interesting that you should mention dissidents in Soviet Russia. That figures in to my present post, in a way that may surprise you.

As always, you keep me jumping. (smile)



Fair enough, my friend. I'm not sure I'd want to continue this conversation either, if I were you [smile].

Much of the day yesterday I had a warm current of sympathetic feeling for you flowing through my spirit. While our earnest and generally respectful interchange itself might account for this, I think it might have been prompted YESTERDAY because my wife and I the night before had watched a movie adaptation of a novel we both read five or six years ago, WHEN NIETZSCHE WEPT (by the Palo Alto psychiatrist, Irvin D. Yalom). Its major characters--Nietzsche, Dr. Josef Breuer, Mrs. Breuer, Sigmund Freud (Breuer's protege), Bertha Pappenheim (a hysteric patient of Breuer referred to as "Anna O."), and Lou Andreas-Salomé--are real persons from 1880's Vienna. Lou Salomé prevails on Breuer to take Nietzsche on as a patient to treat his severe migraine headaches and try to slip in some psychiatric therapy at the same time (through "the talking cure"). In order to do the latter, Breuer has to resort to an arrangement whereby Nietzsche treats Breuer's despair in the same way, quid pro quo. (Breuer is having his sort of mid-life crisis: where has my life gone? have I ever really gained my freedom?) It's a beautiful, humane story, and when the men take their leave (portrayed touchingly on film with Armand Assante as Nietzsche and Ben Cross as Breuer), they embrace in love and mutual regard. Anyway, in the bonus material Assante answers the interviewer's question, "Why did Nietzsche weep?" by saying that Nietzsche had come to realize that everything was an illusion. (The follow-up question was how did Assante relate to that, and he said, well, he'd always known it was illusion.)

I think the current that flowed through me was warmed by my own sense of this illusion. In not many years we'll both be dead....

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