JR'S Free Thought Pages
Cognitive Dissonance, Reflective Equilibrium, the Duhem Thesis and Religion
By JR, October 2019
He had very few doubts, and when the facts contradicted his views on life, he shut his eyes in disapproval - Hermann Hesse
There are two ways to be fooled. One is to believe what isn't true; the other is to refuse to believe what is true - Soren Kierkegaard
The notion of a supernatural transcendent force that created and controls the universe, determines history and what is right and good - and whose existence is fundamentally beyond reason and generally impervious to logical or empirical verification or refutation - is the simplest, most effortless, facile and yet intellectually and scientifically perplexing idea I can think of.
The mysterious power and absurdity of not only religion, but paranormal and New Age drivel boggle the rational mind and have motivated endless scepticism and scrutiny by the philosophical and scientific communities. One ought to exercise a tempered open-mindedness regarding claims that conflict with science, experience and common sense, but not to the extent one’s brains spill out.
In an age in which so many of the most volatile and seemingly intractable conflicts arise from fundamentalist religious and uncompromising political causes, scientific understanding of how best to deal with these bizarre phenomena has never been more crucial. Authoritarianism, particularly in the form of ultra-conservatism, fascism and religious fanaticism is once again on the rise.
Call it love of group, clan, country or god - or devotion to an idea, ideology or cause - it matters little to most people in the end or to the consequences of acting on these all-too-common doctrinaire beliefs. The religious and ideological rise of “civilizations” and nation states - of larger surges of genetic strangers, including today’s corporate controlled oligarchies dedicated to the capitalist doctrine of neo-liberalism and other “imagined communities” of fictitious kin - seem to depend upon what Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard deemed “power of the preposterous”.  People adhere to the absurdities and inanities of nationalism and patriotism to one’s place of birth as if the random event of one’s birth on some piece of stolen real estate on the planet is of transcendent significance, justifying silly childlike national anthems performed at sporting events, flag waving, “love it or leave it” pledges of allegiance, militaristic bumper stickers displaying “support our troops”, “veteran” licence plates and other inanities. These sorts of obsequious rituals of servility to authority are manifest throughout the Bible as in Abraham’s willingness to slit the throat of his most beloved son to demonstrate his unconditional commitment, devotion and worship of an invisible, supernatural no-name deity, thus making him the world’s greatest culture hero rather than a child abuser, would-be murderer or psychopath.
Humankind’s strongest social attachments and actions, including the capacities for cooperation, empathy and forgiveness and – unfortunately, for killing and allowing oneself to be killed - are born of commitment to causes and courses of action that are ineffable - that is, fundamentally immune to evidence, logical assessment for consistency and scientific/ empirical evaluation for detriment and other consequences. The more materially inexplicable one’s devotion and commitment to a sacred cause; that is, the more unfathomable and even ludicrous, the greater the faith others place in it and the more that faith generates unassailable fanaticism and loyalty.
It should be noted that faith is generally used in a religious context to mean belief without empirical evidence and/or cogency of argument. In fact faith is often belief in the face of counter evidence and counter argument. The religionist has faith in god, heaven and hell but this should not be confused with trust which is belief in a proposition for which there is some evidence but insufficient for assent. Some beliefs ought to be held provisionally, reserving judgement in such cases but for most cases defer to disbelief. In fact there are very few propositions for which there is a balance of evidence for or against.
Friedrich Nietzsche wasn’t kind to the notion of faith, referring to it as delusionary, synonymous with contempt for truth and not wanting to know unpleasant truths that conflict with deeply emotionally held belief. The American philosopher Peter Boghassian’s definition of faith is as good as any I’ve read: (1) Belief without evidence (the commonly accepted criterion already cited) and (2) pretending to know something you don’t know. Why anyone would want to believe anything for which there is precious little or no evidence has always mystified me. Surely for anyone valuing intellectual honesty and survival in our world of widespread deceit, prevarication and exploitive capitalism would want to know the truth, however unpleasant. In dialogues with the religious (which sadly, is most people) I’ve often wondered why people of faith never budge from their positions. I have frequently asked many of the religious door knocking Christian crusaders representing any one of hundreds of denominations, “What would it take to change your mind”?  After all, changing one’s mind is in the face of conflicting evidence is a sign of rationality, a cognitive virtue. This is the point at which they usually decide to give up and leave. It would seem that faith, by its very definition, is impervious to any argument or evidence.
To be sure, philosophers and other critical thinkers of all persuasions have often tried to explain the paradoxical claim (many unfortunately being ideologically motivated and without sophistication or nuance) that religious faith is a force for good, or more generally since the Enlightenment and Scientific Revolution, that religion is unreasonably irrational, destructive, authoritarian and antithetical to equality, peace and justice. If anything, Evolution teaches that most humans are creatures of passion and that reason itself is primarily instrumental - aimed at personal gain, social victory and political persuasion rather than the pure pursuit of philosophical logic and scientific truth. To insist that persistent rationality is the best means and hope for victory over enduring irrationality, that logic and scientific investigation of fact and evidence could someday dispense with the sacred and end religious conflict and violence defies much that science has taught about our passion driven irrational nature and preference for faith over evidence, delusion over reality. Throughout the history of our species, as for the most intractable conflicts and more rare collective expressions of happiness, utilitarian ethics of conscience, uncontaminated pursuit of truth and logic are pale prospects to replace the strange appeal of ancient pre-scientific religious texts and even post-Enlightenment, post-modernist manifestations of the arcane, irrational, mysterious, spectacular and supernatural.
I feel compelled to point out unfortunate conceptual confusions by some respected humanists such as Yuval Noah Harari, author of Sapiens and Homo Deus, two books I recommend, with one caveat. In both books Harari annoyingly insists on calling any belief system or world view a religion, including secular humanism, all of whom are atheists. To clarify, I will not provide an in-depth argument on why secular humanism is not a religion, although my view is that on any workable definition of religion, secular humanism is clearly not a religion. In fact it is antithetical to and in stark conflict with almost everything religion entails. Secular humanism lacks three critical hallmarks of a religion: (a) belief in a transcendental realm that exists apart from the material universe; (b) epistemological priority given to faith over reason and evidence; and (c) a set of dogmas. Permit me to point out at least one obvious disturbing upshot of conflating humanism with religion. Although this is rarely a problem in other so-called enlightened Western countries other than the United States of Jesus, accepting the classification of secular humanism as a religion can have serious political and social consequences. The claim that secular humanism is a religion has fuelled efforts by right wing religious zealots to put state-mandated prayers and bible readings back in schools, restrict or ban the teaching of evolution, provide funding for religious institutions, restrict or ban contraception and abortion, block same sex-marriage, among other objectives. Although there have been sporadic efforts by the Religious Right to advance these arguments through the courts, for the most part these efforts have been confined to the political realm. Here these arguments have met with occasional, if temporary, success. Examples of recent efforts include proposed legislation in Tennessee that would ban funding of health care facilities that provide abortion on the ground that the morality of abortion is a tenet of secular humanism and proposed legislation in Kansas that would prohibit the state from enforcing sexual orientation anti-discrimination laws on the ground that the immutability of sexual orientation is a doctrine of secular humanism. Such arguments are illogical, factually ungrounded, and legally unhinged. But that’s not the key issue. The issue is that the belief by some that secular humanism is a religion animates repeated attempts to enact regressive legislation and stiffens resistance to church-state separation. Let’s get real; atheism and humanism are not religions and in fact are harsh critics. Humanists assert that the world would be a far better place without religion and that faith is an intellectual vice, not a virtue. Humanists have no authority figures, no gods and no ancient sacred texts such as the Bible and Koran that make pre-scientific claims while holding to Bronze Age world views that cannot be challenged. As some clever atheist once pointed out, “If atheism is a religion then not collecting stamps is a hobby and bald is a hair colour.”
Religion, Cognitive Dissonance and Reflective Equilibrium
Cognitive dissonance is one of the most common psychological and cognitive malfunctions of our modern age and occurs when deeply held beliefs conflict with contradictory evidence, especially scientific theories.
The forerunner of “cognitive dissonance theory” was social psychologist Leon Festinger. In his groundbreaking research on the all-too-common cognitive malfunction, he focused on the crucial problem which captures the predicament of phenomena of religious dogmatism and rigid adherence to political and economic ideologies. These are beliefs for which one has a strong emotional attachment and perhaps even a lifetime of devotion to a particular religion, ideology of world view – usually those of their parents or culture.
Suppose, for example, an individual believes something with his whole heart such as the bible as the word of god, creationism or the prevailing global socio-economic ideology called neo-liberalism. Suppose he is then presented with unequivocal, incontrovertible and undeniable evidence that his belief is wrong. What will happen? The individual will more often than not emerge, not only unshaken by the conflicting revelations, but even more convinced of the truth of his beliefs than ever before. Indeed, he may even show a new dedication and commitment about convincing and converting others.
This profound insight, that confrontation with contrary evidence may actually augment and accentuate the conviction and enthusiasm of a true believer, was explained as a response to the cognitive dissonance evoked by a disconfirmation of strongly held beliefs. The thesis that humans are more rationalizing than rational has spawned widespread scholarship and research projects and one that gets little respect in areas such as economics, to cite one important example. Cognitive dissonance and the responses it provokes goes well beyond the work in the philosophy of science that is often considered under the rubric of “Duhem’s thesis”, in that the former prompts response mechanisms to emotional mortification, whereas the latter sketches the myriad ways in which auxiliary hypotheses may be invoked in order to mitigate the threat of disconfirmation. Philosophy of science reveals the ways in which it may be rational to discount contrary evidence; but the social psychology of cognitive dissonance reveals just how elastic the concept of rationality can be in society.
Festinger and his colleagues illustrated these lessons in his first book (1957) by reporting the vicissitudes of a group of Midwesterners resembling End Times Christians they called “The Seekers” who conceived and developed a belief that they would be rescued by flying saucers on a specific date in 1954, prior to a great flood coming to engulf their community. Festinger documents in great detail the hour-by-hour reactions of the Seekers as the date of their rescue came and went with no spaceships arriving and no flood welling up to swallow their homes. At first, the Seekers withdrew from representatives of the media seeking to rebuke them for their failed prophecies, but soon reversed their stance, welcoming all opportunities to expound and elaborate upon their revised and expanded faith. A minority of their group did resign from the group, but Festinger notes that they tended to be not fully committed tangential members of the group before the crisis. Predominantly, the Seekers never renounced their challenged doctrines. At least in the short run, the cult leaders tended to intensify their proselytizing, so long as they were able to maintain interaction with a coterie of fellow disciples.
In light of the above narrative, presume, like most Christians, you believe in the inerrancy of the bible. Second, suppose you also think the source of all morality (follow the link) comes from the Christian god.  Third, suppose you maintain that it is immoral to intentionally kill children.
Then finally, if you are one of the few Christian who actually have read the bible in its entirety, you read the following in Exodus 21:17: “He that curseth his father or his mother shall surely be put to death.” A similar passage appears in the New Testament: “For God commanded, saying, Honour thy father and mother: and, He that curseth father or mother, let him die the death” – Matthew 15:4. These are just two of many other statements throughout the Old and New Testament that fly in the face of generally accepted ethical imperatives such as the Golden Rule, abhorrence for killing, slavery, injustice, war, persecution and genocide.  The stance most people of faith take - whether religious or secular - is to ignore the evidence refuting one or more of their beliefs, dig in their heels and engage in delusionary cognitive dissonance often combined with conformation bias and a host of other common logical errors and fallacies.
But if you consider yourself a rational person and are concerned about the coherence and veracity of your beliefs, you now have limited options at your disposal. Essentially there are three. First, you could admit that the Bible is not infallible, and that God may not have said what, for example, Exodus and Matthew attribute to Him. Second, you could abandon the idea that the source of all morality comes from God, and instead appeal to conscience and turn to the thorny proposition that human beings may decide on their own whether or not gods behave ethically. Finally, you could come to the conclusion that it is acceptable to kill children who disrespect their elders. In considering any of these options, and adjusting your set of beliefs about morality, divinity and children’s behaviour, you have engaged in modifying your beliefs by - at least in the ethical realm - what philosophers call “reflective equilibrium”.
The concept of reflective equilibrium, although not the expression, was introduced by Nelson Goodman in a well-known book published in 1955, Fact, Fiction, and Forecast. Goodman however was not merely concerned with morality, but rather with the epistemic validity and integrity of one’s reasoning, both inductive and deductive. Goodman’s proposal was that we justify our rules of inference based on how those rules perform when compared with a range of instances of what we believe are correct conclusions. In other words, if occasionally an inferential rule yields unacceptable results, we may decide to discard that rule, no matter how it may have seemed like a sound idea beforehand.
The most well-known application of the principle of reflective equilibrium and subsequent use of the expression is revealed in John Rawls’ highly influential A Theory of Justice (1971). Rawls proposed applying Goodman’s approach by invoking the principle of coherence in making adjustments to our sometimes conflicting moral beliefs, just as in the case of the bible and impertinent children cited above. Whether or not one agrees with the outcome of Rawls’ analysis and argument in favour of justice as fairness, the reflective equilibrium approach should be compelling to anyone seriously interested in considering the coherence of their own beliefs.
The Duhem Thesis
A similar approach had already been used in the philosophy of science by theoretical physicist Pierre Duhem, as a way to debunk the common idea that science is about the direct empirical testing of theories. In a book published in 1908, La Théorie Physique, Duhem pointed out that if there is a conflict between a theory and the empirical evidence, one does not necessarily automatically reject the theory, because scientific theories are complex statements which include many ancillary conditions and sub-theories (the Duhem Thesis). The existence of a disagreement between theory and evidence tells us that something is wrong, but not what. It could indeed be that the core theory – for example, the Copernican idea of a Sun-centered solar system – ought to be rejected. But it could also be that some adjustment to the theory would resolve the discrepancy, for example, as Kepler had modified Copernicus’ theory to claim that the planets go around the Sun following elliptical, not circular, orbits. Indeed, it may even be the case that the data is wrong, because of a malfunction or error in the instrumentation. This was one of the plausible objections raised by critics of Galileo, since his telescope had been largely untested. There could also be human error in the interpretation of data.
Duhem’s thesis was largely unknown in the scientific and philosophical literature until it was mentioned by W.V.O. Quine in his landmark 1953 paper, Two Dogmas of Empiricism. In this paper, Quine extended Duhem’s thesis, arguing that whenever there is a discrepancy in our understanding of the world, to account for the discrepancy one could potentially change any of the interconnected statements that constitute that understanding. Famously, Quine held that even logic itself may have to be altered if it turned out that there were enough problems caused by its application. This sounds disturbing to the intellect but there a whole field of paraconsistent logic that does exactly that, to account for classical paradoxes like Bertrand Russell’s famous self-referential problem concerning sets which are not members of themselves.
The online Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy summarizes the Duhem-Quine thesis in this manner: “(a) since empirical statements are interconnected, they cannot be singly disconfirmed; and (b), if we wish to hold a particular statement true, we can always adjust another statement.” The entry goes on to say that, ironically, Duhem would probably agree with sub-thesis (a) but reject sub-thesis (b). Be that as it may, both theses together form yet another application of reflective equilibrium – only an equilibrium that is constrained not just by our beliefs, but also by our methods (both scientific and logically-inferential ones), and further, by the way the world happens to be.
The idea of reflective equilibrium is one of the most powerful in philosophy, and indeed embodies a quintessentially philosophical approach to problems of all kinds. The on-going adjustment of one’s views is also applicable in everyday life, of course, and so can be used to introduce non-philosophers to what it means to think philosophically. The crucial thing to remember is that the equilibrium is not meant to be static. New evidence and new ideas constantly enter the system, and a wise person keeps adjusting their beliefs accordingly. The religious might want to dare trying it. It can be a refreshingly liberating exercise. For example, I’m open (just a tiny opening however) to the existence of supernatural entities such as gods, angels and ghosts. But keep in mind Carl Sagan’s famous dictum that “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence”. I would add an important ancillary, attributed to Christopher Hitchens and others: “Anything which can be asserted without evidence can be rejected without evidence.” But once unjustified, primarily supernatural beliefs have been inculcated at an early age and continually reinforced, they become internalized over time and highly resistance to challenge or ultimate rejection or even modification. The fallacy of “sunk cost” often sets in whereby after a lifetime of investment in effort, time, money and dedication to like-minded cohorts such as in a system of strongly held emotionally charged beliefs such as in one of the literally hundreds of Christian church denominations. Over time the true believer becomes impervious to rational challenges to any of those beliefs. This fallacy is related to loss aversion and status quo confirmation and many other cognitive biases.
Consider creationism. Along with the global warming issue and parental fear of vaccination, the fact that a majority of the primarily Christian American public denies evolutionary, paleontological and cosmological science and actually thinks a particular omnipotent god created humans and all life on earth in near historical times has caused scientists to wonder just what is so wrong with the thinking of so many people as creationism has been used as a classic example of mass antiscientific thinking. As of this year forty percent of U.S. adults hold to a strictly creationist view of human origins, believing that God created them in their present form within roughly the past 10,000 years. However, more Americans continue to think that humans evolved over millions of years either with God's guidance (33%) or, increasingly, without God's involvement at all (22%) and most Americans believe in the ill-defined concepts of heaven (72%) and hell (58%). Shocking, isn’t it? The widespread adherence to supernatural phenomena, the paranormal and other pseudoscientific hooey is disturbing in a country deemed to be founded on Enlightenment principle as more American belief in horoscopes than they do Evolutionary Theory, the cornerstone of modern biology. In the last decade, progress has been made in understanding the psycho-sociology of belief in creationism and other pseudoscientific mumbo jumbo. Irrational beliefs and holding to the supernatural and paranormal beliefs can flourish only in a deeply dysfunctional deceitful society.
In other words, better societies result in mass acceptance of science, including evolution, without which modern biology, including advances in medicine, would not exist. Yet getting the word out is proving disturbingly difficult, even attempts at introducing logic and critical thinking programs into the schools. I have had personal experience with this as conservative influences, primarily the churches, appallingly have sufficient political power  in our so-called “democracies” to block these important programs. So the endless debates about why creationism is a problem and what to do about it continue to dominate the national conversation and pro-creationist opinion remains rock steady - although the numbers of those who favour evolution without a god is slowly increasing along with the general increase of non-believers.
 Belief, logic, reason and life in general are plagued by contingencies, fallacies and absurdities of various kinds. The 19th Century Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard investigated these all-too-common, all-too-human distressing phenomena of existential angst. Some people discuss “death after life” while others entertain the nonsensical self-contradiction of “life after death”. These are indeed absurdities, yet they are conceptual absurdities – the sorts of thing, including self-contradiction, that clearly cannot exist. For the purposes of this paper I will focus not on the more voluminous study of epistemological error and absurdity, but rather on moral absurdities – occurrences, events, dilemmas and states of affairs that should not exist, but do. These are the sorts of absurdities which deeply concerned 20th Century French existentialists like Jean Paul Sartre and Albert Camus, but also earlier Russian literary predecessors such as Dostoevsky and Tolstoy.
Graphic examples of moral absurdity are the accounts provided by Holocaust survivors such as Primo Levi, Viktor Frankl and Elie Wiesel. Primo Levi was a Jewish Italian partisan and chemist who was captured and taken to Auschwitz in early 1944. His writings are fascinating and profound; start with Survival in Auschwitz and The Reawakening and proceed from there. Levi was a non-believing secular Jewish humanist but Wiesel and Frankl were practising Jewish theists. Frankl was a Viennese Jew who prayed in a Catholic cathedral in Vienna for guidance in deciding whether to leave his parents and take his new bride to the US to escape the Nazis. His prayer was (at least to him) “answered” when his father presented him with a passage of the Decalogue taken from the synagogue he had helped to dismantle earlier that day in order to avoid desecration by the Nazis. It read: ‘Honour your mother and father’. Frankl accordingly chose to stay in Vienna in the hope of protecting his parents. Since he was a physician and physicians were often extended more consideration than the average Jew. Both his wife and both parents, however, were sent to the gas chambers soon thereafter. Frankl nevertheless maintained his faith, believing that God had spoken to him on that fateful day considered it a sacred duty to be followed. Most interesting are the metaphysical positions these three men took following their horrific traumatic experiences, witnessing hate, starvation, sadism and death, in addition to facing the prospect of their own demise each day. To my mind Pimo Levi’s account was the most honest, but one must read the works of all three of these remarkable men to make up your own mind.
 There are 10,000 distinct world religions that have been recognized, with less than one-third of all religious believers practicing some form of Christianity. Moreover, there are over 33,000 diverse forms of Christianity worldwide, with 2,000 variations in the United States of Jesus alone. In addition to being popular (and in many cases growing) some of these Christian sects are bizarre and downright bat shit crazy such as Pentecostalism (talking snakes and “speaking in tongues” anyone?), Amish, Church of Christ, Mormonism, Jehovah Witnesses, Christian Science (isn’t that an oxymoron?) and Church of the Invisible Flying Pink Unicorn (just kidding – or am I?) often obsessed with certain passages of scripture.
 I don’t claim to be a biblical scholar but I did read the Bible (KJV) cover to cover many years ago which from my personal experience is something most Christians I have known have not done. There were many features of the bible I found rather strange: the most glaring were (a) there was not a single word in praise of the intellect, rational thought, logic, appeal to evidence or humour; and (b) repeated passages about submission to a vindictive arrogant ruthless deity and the infliction of persecution, pogroms, torture, violence, genocide and infinite horrific torturous pain and suffering in a place called Hell for heretics and non-believers (the stark options were “believe or burn”).
One of most sordid biblical passages that justified the torturous deaths of countless sceptics, intellectuals and scientists is Leviticus 24:16 which maintains that “He that that blasphemeth the name of the LORD, he shall surely be put to death, and all the congregation shall certainly stone him: as well the stranger, as he that is born in the land, when he blasphemeth the name of the LORD, shall be put to death”. But women although third class marginalized members of Christian culture, were not excluded from persecution as blasphemers, as Hypatia, head of the famous Library of Alexandria, was beaten to death c 415 CE following the incineration of the library which contained hundreds of thousands of works of the classical word, many of which were lost forever. The list is long, including Giordano Bruno (burned at the stake) and Galileo who escaped death but was imprisoned and tortured for several years. The Catholic Inquisition burned anyone who challenged orthodoxy and burned “witches” according to their vague incoherent definition. But Protestants were no more “civilized” than Catholics as physician Michael Servetus who discovered that the heart was the source of blood flowing to the lungs and other organs and back. In 1533 Servetus was burned in John Calvin’s Geneva for his blasphemous anti-Christian science in addition to doubting the Trinity and other silly church dogmas. In several Islamic countries such as Saudi Arabia which is a willing ally of the US military-industrial complex, punishes its people for blasphemy that involve public beheadings.
Consider a few passages, certainly not any cherry picked by Christian preachers and proselytizers that support my contention that the Christian God is a psychopathic misogynist, moral degenerate and blood lust tyrant. To confirm, simply dust off and pull out that moth balled bible you’ve never read and consider passages such as these:
Exodus 20: 5: ”You must not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the fathers’ sin, to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me”
Exodus 34:14” You are never to bow down to another god because Yahweh, being jealous by nature, is a jealous God.
Some of the most cruel and sordid will be found be found in the sad story of Lot - Genesis 19:15-23, Genesis 19:6-8, Genesis 19:26, Genesis 19:34. If that story unsettles you, there’s much more – and worse. Consider this short list: Numbers 31:1-18, Deuteronomy 13:6-11, Deuteronomy 20:13-17, Deuteronomy 21:12-13, Deuteronomy 22:23-24, 2 Samuel 12:11-12, Zechariah 14, Leviticus 21:9, Deuteronomy 25:11-12), Leviticus 12:5, Leviticus 24:16, 1 Timothy 2:11-14, 1 Corinthians 11:8-9.
Consider these equally vile excerpts from the Good Book:
Exodus 32:27 - After seeing the golden calf, God commanded the Levites, “Each man strap a sword to his side. Go back and forth through the camp from one end to the other, each killing his brother and friend and neighbour.” Three thousand were slaughtered, and God was pleased.
Numbers 15:32-36 - A man gathered sticks for a fire on the Sabbath. By God’s command, he was stoned to death.
Numbers 16:27-33 – The men were rebellious, so God caused the earth to open and swallow up the men, wives and children.
Numbers 25:9 - A plague from God killed 24,000. Judges 7:19-25 – Under God’s direction, Gideon’s army defeated the Midianites. They killed and decapitated their princes and delivered the heads to Gideon.
Judges 11:29-39 - Jephthah cooked his beloved daughter on an altar as a sacrifice to God for giving him victory in battle.
1 Samuel 6:19 – Some of the men of Beth Shemesh looked into the Ark of the Covenant. God killed all seventy of them.
1 Samuel 15:7-8 – God commanded Saul to attack the Amalekites and “totally destroy everything that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys.”
2 Samuel 6:6-7 – The oxen carrying the Ark of God stumbled and Uzzah reached out to steady it. God punished his “irreverent act” by killing him where he stood.
1 Kings 13:15-24 – A prophet lied to a man, telling him it was fine to eat bread and drink water in a place the Lord had previously told him not to. The deceived man ate and drank there. God sent a lion to kill him, “and his body was thrown down on the road.”
2 Chronicles 13:17 – God delivered the Israelites to Abijah and Judah--500,000 enemy dead.
Ezekiel 20:26 – Israel rebelled, and God’s punishment was sobering. “I let them become defiled through their gifts- the sacrifice of every firstborn- that I might fill them with horror so they would know that I am the Lord.”
Anyone remember “Joshua at the Battle of Jericho” and the song lyrics from their Sunday school classes? I can’t remember these being mentioned:
Joshua 7:19-26: Ai conquered. Achan’s sons, daughters, cattle, donkeys, sheep and possessions were taken to the Valley of Achor where they were stoned and burned.
Joshua 8:22-25: 12,000 men and women were slaughtered
Joshua 10:10-27: all of the Gibeonites killed
Joshua 10:28: all in Makkedah killed
Joshua 10:30: all of the city of Libnah was “put to the sword”
Joshua 10:32-33: all in Lachish killed
Joshua 10:34-35: all in Eglon killed
Joshua 10:36-37: killed the king of Hebron, its villages and every citizen. “They left no survivors”
Joshua 10:38-39: all of Debir killed
Joshua 11:6: God commanded Joshua to defeat the enemy at the Waters of Merom. “You are to hamstring their horses” (a horrific act of animal cruelty) “and burn their chariots”
Some are not only extremely violent, but very strange indeed; consider:
1 Samuel 18:25-27 explained how David gave King Saul a dowry of 200 Philistine foreskins to earn the hand of Saul’s daughter, Michal, in marriage. Deuteronomy 23:1 instructed that “No one whose testicles are crushed or whose male organ is cut off shall enter the assembly of the Lord.” Genesis 38:8-10 had God telling a guy named Onan to have sex with his brother’s wife in order to produce a child, and when Onan instead pulled out and ejaculated on the ground, God killed him. Deuteronomy 25:11-12 dictated that, if a man was in a fight with another man and his wife intervened by seizing the opponent by his genitals, the woman’s hand was to be hacked off at the wrist. Foreskins? Testicals? Semen? Genitals? For an ostensibly omnipotent, omniscient and a perfectly moral creator and master of the universe, the Xian God seemed to have a rather unhealthy obsession with the male genitals.
There is an endless supply of biblical passages that demonstrate unequivocally that the god of the bible is not only a mean-spirited asshole, but full blown psychopath. Although the Christian god is perfect and infallible, he created very many incredibly stupid and physically deformed humans and yet condemned them to eternal damnation. Consider this uplifting god rant:
Leviticus 21:16-24: The Lord spoke to Moses: “Tell Aaron: None of your descendants throughout your generations who have physical defects is to come near to present the food of his God. No man who has any defect is to come near: no man who is blind, lame, facially disfigured, or deformed; no man who has a broken foot or hand, or who is a hunchback or a dwarf, or who has an eye defect, a festering rash, scabs, or a crushed testicle. No descendant of Aaron the priest who has a defect is to come near to present the fire offerings to the Lord. He has a defect and is not to come near to present the food of his God. He may eat the food of his God from what is especially holy as well as from what is holy. But because he has a defect, he must not go near the curtain or approach the altar. He is not to desecrate my sanctuaries, for I am Yahweh who sets them apart.”
Moses said this to Aaron, his sons and all the Israelites.
The loving god of both the Old and New Testament also practiced and supported not only plunder of the natural environment and all its life forms, but human slavery. Because it totally makes sense to have one group of your perfect human creation enslave another group and his earthly greedy capitalist exploiters gleefully took this advice.
Exodus 21:1-6: “These are the ordinances that you must set before them: “When you buy a Hebrew slave, he is to serve for six years; then in the seventh he is to leave as a free man without paying anything If he arrives alone, he is to leave alone; if he arrives with a wife, his wife is to leave with him. If his master gives him a wife and she bears him sons or daughters, the wife and her children belong to her master, and the man must leave alone. “But if the slave declares: ‘I love my master, my wife, and my children; I do not want to leave as a free man,’ his master is to bring him to the judges and then bring him to the door or doorpost. His master must pierce his ear with an awl and he will serve his master for life.
Here he gives instructions regarding slaves to the Israelites:
Leviticus 25:44-46: “Your male and female slaves are to be from the nations around you; you may purchase male and female slaves. You may also purchase them from the foreigners staying with you, or from their families living among you—those born in your land. These may become your property. You may leave them to your sons after you to inherit as property; you can make them slaves for life. But concerning your brothers, the Israelites, you must not rule over one another harshly.”
Exodus 21:7-9:“When a man sells his daughter as a slave, she is not to leave as the male slaves do. If she is displeasing to her master, who chose her for himself, then he must let her be redeemed. He has no right to sell her to foreigners because he has acted treacherously toward her. Or if he chooses her for his son, he must deal with her according to the customary treatment of daughters. “
There’s much more manipulation, maiming, murder and mayhem in this vile book; but you get my drift.
 As Oxford evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins rightly pointed out in The God Delusion, “The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.” Consider two uplifting biblical passage from the Christian psychopath in the sky.
Psalm 137:9 Happy is he who takes your little ones and dashes them against the rocks.
Deuteronomy 19:21You must not show pity: life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, and foot for foot.
[5} Money is often cited in as the “root of all evil”, but surely power, in all its worldly manifestations, is the true source of evil, especially in our global capitalist dystopias in which greed, exploitation and power rule, all legitimized by a loathsome economic dogma referred to as neo-liberalism. Generally widely known is Lord Acton’s famous quote “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely”. This maxim is a truism and if you mention it to anyone in a casual conversation, they will invariably agree with it. There is the power of the power of religion and the power of the corporatist state, both of which are hierarchical systems that wield power and control over the vast masses of people. Anyone such as anti-capitalists, environmentalists, peace and anti-war activists or anyone revealing the truth about surveillance, blatant lies, rampant corruption and war profiteering (such as Julian Assange or Edward Snowden) are deemed enemies of the corporatist state. In the United States, for example, three multi-billionaires have more wealth than half the population and one-tenth of 1% have more wealth than the bottom 90%. This wealth translates into incredible political power and ironically, even though the statement “money is the root of all evil” has its sources in the bible, and ironically (or not) the vast majority of mostly conservative Christians embrace the capitalist system (the so-called “prosperity gospel” is cutting edge Christianity these days) that permits such gross levels of economic inequality and almost unlimited power over our ersatz democracies.