The Ring of Fire

The icon of the 'parousia' shows how Christ is both the source of joy and the source of anguish

The icon of the ‘parousia’ shows how Christ is both the source of joy and the source of anguish

Before I begin with assessing the 3rd part of Alex’s critique of Jesus as a Savior, I need to explain the conception of Hell in the Eastern Orthodox tradition. Hell, unfortunately, is depicted to many at a young age as Dante’s Inferno, a place where demons will torture you in gruesome ways beyond description (never mind that Hell was “prepared for the devil and his angels”), a sadistic and malevolent place that makes the worst of human atrocities seem banal. Johnathan Edward’s Sinners in the Hand of an Angry God comes to mind. Of course, many who study theology in any of the three major Christian traditions (Protestant, Catholic, Orthodox) come to realize that hell isn’t an over-amplified version of the Soviet Gulags. Many describe it as the absence of God, but even this is not correct.

Hell, in the Orthodox tradition, is God Himself. God’s grace, or His energies, pours out to all unconditionally at His second coming, and affect each individual depending on the state of their relationship with Him. If a person spent their life living the life of theosis, coming to know God and participating in Him, drawing ever closer into infinity with Him, combating the passions, overcoming sin, learning love, charity, patience, humility, etc, then they experience the fire of God as warmth and joy, one which will continue to deify them for eternity.

Those who have chosen instead to commune with their passions, desires, with anything other than Christ, will experience these same energies as pain, though it is quite literally God’s love that pierces us. We are no longer able to run away from our passions which we have made into our gods, and as they choke us, our own conscience condemns us for having chosen death over Life. It is, as St. Isaac the Syrian says, “the scourge of love” that afflicts us in the afterlife.

For a more robust presentation, as well as its history in Scripture and the Church Fathers, please read this article. With that, let us examine Alex’s piece:

Madoka doesn’t punish those who don’t believe in her or fail to thank her. Jesus sends nonbelievers and sinners to hell

As I mentioned above, Hell is a condition one finds oneself in having rejected Life and communed with sin and death, having made our passions our own god(s). If we are in hell, it is because we have chosen these things instead of Christ, and our reaction to seeing God’s love and grace, the “scourge of love”, is going to hurt. God will return to earth to transform His creation, and He will (and does) love all.

A true savior doesn’t ask for compensation for his/her services.  A savior gives freely without hope of admiration for doing good deeds. And a savior most certainly doesn’t turn right around and slap the ungrateful in the face.  This is why Jesus isn’t a savior at all. He’s a mafia boss offering protection that nobody asked for.  And if you don’t pay your dues, he’ll get back at you another way.

Let’s get one thing clear, theologically: Christ does not need us at all. He doesn’t need us to worship Him, He doesn’t need us to love Him, He doesn’t need us to pray to Him. The Holy Trinity is a communion of Three Persons that are fully within one another and yet distinct: the perfect communion that all men strive towards. God went to the Cross freely and redeemed all of mankind, regardless of whether or not they would accept Him (which is what Pope Francis was trying to say awhile back). There is no compensation for this gift, it is given freely – no works could ever achieve it. Though, I must be clear, I am not advocating Protestantism: while works done outside of Christ can not earn us salvation (i.e., Pelagianism), once we are baptized into Christ and are members of His Body, works are transformed and indeed are salvific (“work out your salvation in fear and trembling”). But at no point does God owe us this. Furthermore, to reiterate, hell is our experience of God when He returns, and He is going to return to save His creation whether we want him to or not.

In contrast, Madoka doesn’t demand any worship whatsoever.  In fact, her circumstances actually make worship impossible because only Homura knows that she ever existed and besides the words of the “prophet” we can never even determine objectively that Homura’s claims are true.

Man’s worship of God is his way of participating in Him, and thus being deified by Him. The effects of worship are going to be for our benefit since, as I just said, God doesn’t need it. One of course may choose not to worship God since love is freely given, but I do put forward that this is the response man has when he truly beholds God’s glory (something no one reading this has probably done). The disciples themselves were dumbfounded when they saw this, Peter telling the Lord that he would be willing to build three tabernacles (and as a theological aside, the light beheld was nothing else than the uncreated energies of God). I’m sure Alex would disagree with me on this, but that his prerogative.

Furthermore, Madoka doesn’t require worship because the metaphysical tradition that is being emulated in the show is Buddhism, in which Karma flows through each person and which there is no central deity that is the ground of being. For me to critique this would to enter into a far larger debate which I have no intentions of doing in these responses.

She did what she did because it was the right thing to do.  This ties in with the secular outlook on why we do good deeds and why Madoka is once again an awesome example of a humanistic hero.  Like Madoka, if we live our lives freely doing good deeds, the only reward we really need is the happiness of knowing that you helped someone out.

Once again, I pointed out in my first post the problems any kind of moral system derived from a physicalist paradigm run into, and that it leads us eventually to moral nihilism (amongst other things). If there is no ontological basis for calling something good, if there really is no ought, then honestly, why should I care? If there is no rational basis for morality, then why give it the time of day? Look, I’ll be blunt, unless this problem can be solved – which I don’t think it can for the physicalist – for one to tout Secular Humanism is just as deluded as believing in an ‘Old Man in the Sky’ who gives us rules to follow [pro-tip, no Christian should believe in this anyways – it’s heresy]. Neither system is based upon reality, which is why I have never understood this New-Athiest obsession with Secular Rights. If naturalism is true, then human rights don’t exist. “You have all these rules [Batman], and you think they’ll save you…”

Christians all too often do their good because they’ve been told that “belief is not enough to save you, good works are needed, too,” and so they help others because it’s been mandated by a higher power.  Or more selfishly they put up a facade of kindness because doing so will reap them rewards in the afterlife.

Yes, many Christians begin fighting against their own self-will, which is inclined to sin, because they know that it is by their works they will be judged. However, doing good deeds to avoid hell has always been seen as the most base way to be saved and betrays a spiritual immaturity in the believer (after all, “perfect love casts out fear”). As one progresses in their relationship with God, one finds oneself doing these acts out of love for one’s neighbor, and a genuine desire to encounter Christ with every person we meet since all are made in God’s image. Do not many children learn not to misbehave first by more corporal forms of punishment, and then slowly out of a love for their parents? The main reason I fear to upset my Mom and Dad is not because of any kind of punishment, but because of the disappointment and grief I would cause them. I love them both, and as such I want to bring joy to them, not the opposite. The fear of God is supposed to become a fear of being away from God because we love Him.1

As for the “facade”, one would think that God could see through this given that He is omniscient. However, from Elder Paisios the Athonite:

Elder, Abba Isaac writes, “No kind of repentance that takes place after the removal of our free will 2 will be a well-spring of joy, nor will it be reckoned for the reward of those who possess it.” How can anyone repent without exercising his own free will?

– One may be forced to repent, having fallen in the eyes of others around him, but such repentance has no humility. This is how I understand it.

Do you mean that there is repentance that is not voluntary?

– Yes, it is compulsory repentance. I ask you to forgive me for some harm I have caused to you so that I may be spared the consequences, but I have not changed inside. A fiendish person will pretend to have repented, and will proceed cunningly, offering prostrations with feigned kindness, to deceive others.

When someone goes to tell his sins to a Spiritual Father merely because he is afraid of going to hell, even this is not true repentance. He’s not repenting for his sins, he’s afraid of going to hell!

True repentance means that one is first aware of his sins, is pained by them, asks God for forgiveness, and then goes and confesses them. This is why I always recommend Repentance and Confession together. I never recommend Confession alone.

Notice, for example, what happens when we have an earthquake. You see those who have a good disposition will be moved deeply, they will repent and change their way of life. But the majority of people keep this fear of God only for a short period of time; and when the danger is past, they resume their former sinful life. This is why, when someone told me that there had recently been a very strong earthquake in his hometown, I told him, “It shook you up, but did it really wake you up?” “It woke us up,” he said. Then I said, “Sure, but you’ll go back to sleep again”.3

Back to Alex’s piece:

You should never be compelled to do the right thing because you’re hanging to the edge of a cliff and someone who can save you tells you that you must dedicate your life to your rescuer, otherwise you’re going to get pushed.

Of course, as seen above, this isn’t why Christians should be doing good works either. However, let’s just roll with this for a second: why can’t I do good works for this reason? On what ontological grounds can you show me that this would be wrong? If morality is arbitrary and irrational, then really I could do ‘good’ or ‘bad’ works for whatever reason (or lack of) I want.

Looking at the flip side of the situation, what does it say about the character of the helper if all they’re thinking about is how being nice can be of some benefit?

Note that earlier Alex said there was an innate reward in doing good, which is “the happiness of knowing that you helped someone out.” Couldn’t this be an impediment to good works since it is ultimately striving after a fleeting feeling of self-satisfaction rather than thinking about the other person? Couldn’t, hypothetically, someone do good works solely or largely for these positive feelings about oneself, and thus build up a mental image that “I am a kind, loving person” or “I am charitable and selfless”, etc?

True salvation is given unconditionally and Madoka passes this test where Jesus fails.

True salvation means one is saved from something. Christ, if we follow Him, saves us from the powers of sin and death and transfigures us into loving, righteous, joyful, deified human beings. Quite literally, “ye are gods.” He just won’t do it against our will.

1It is here that I break off with my Protestant bloggers: works are indeed salvific, but only works that are done in synergy with Christ, or works in Christ. In this case, we are co-workers with God in our salvation, and are transformed by His grace that we must cooperate with. This is not Pelagianism, nor is it ‘meritorious’ – it is the classic Christian doctrine of synergy. For more, see: Russel, N. Fellow Workers with God: Orthodox Thinking on Theosis. [amazon] One may also see the article I linked at the beginning of this post.

2Given the context of the passion, I think it is clear that St. Isaac doesn’t mean the removal of “free-will” as a facet of man, or that he literally loses the ability to choose. This becomes clearer by Elder Paisios’s example.

3John Sanidopoulos. Elder Paisios: On True and False Repentance. From Elder Paisios of Mount Athos Spiritual Counsels: “Spiritual Struggle” (vol. 3).

Picture References

Today He Who Hung the Earth Upon the Waters…

This is a response to Alex’s second post in his series on why Madoka is a better savior than Jesus. In this post, Alex says why Madoka’s sacrifice was more true than Christ’s.

Madoka made a true sacrifice in that she actually gave something up, never to reclaim it again.  By contrast, Jesus just had a rough weekend.

Of course this only if we accept this definition of sacrifice (which there is no logically pressing reason to do so). Christ’s sacrifice of His own life was, as I detailed in my last post, to destroy the powers of sin and death that held mankind captive and incapable of being united to the Trinity. As regarding Christ’s “rough weekend,” I would like to quote from Fr. Thomas Hopko in regards to the level of temptation that Christ endured as compared to anyone else:

People sometimes think that Jesus’ temptations were nothing, since He is the divine Son of God. They consider His sufferings as empty gestures, devoid of true pathos and pain, since He is God’s divine Word, the One by whom all things were made. If Jesus of Nazareth is really God’s Son in human flesh, they say, what can it mean that He is tempted and suffers? Isn’t it a joke? And a bad one at that! And if His sufferings consisted in but half a day on a cross, do not thousands and even millions of people suffer much more than He? How many people there must be who would gladly hang on a cross for a few hours in order to free themselves of months, years, and even decades of the most agonizing suffering and pain! And to be raised up for everlasting life but a day and a half later – who wouldn’t wish it? And who wouldn’t endure it?

The Truth is, however, that Jesus’ temptations and sufferings, precisely because He is God’s eternal Son in real human flesh, are incomparably more terrifying and agonizing than those of any “mere man,” and of all “mere men” who ever were or will be. For Jesus is God, experiencing as God in His own human soul and body the rejections of His creatures, the betrayals of His brothers, and the abandonment of His own God and Father on the Cross, for the sake of reconciling all creation with Himself in perfect, unending communion and life. In this sense it is wholly accurate to say that no creaturely mind, of men or of angels, can even begin to imagine the magnitude of the temptations and sufferings of Jesus Christ for the sake of His beloved world. In Him all temptations and all sufferings that ever were or will be are experienced to the boundless infinity of His divine person. His, therefore, are temptations and sufferings which transcend creaturely comprehension. They literally cannot be fathomed. They can hardly even be imagined. They can only be wondered at with speechless adoration and wordless praise: His silence in death can only be met by our silence in awe-inspired amazement!1

One could of course wave this off given that Christ was the God-man, but once again, Christ overcomes temptations flawlessly so that this can be recapitulated into the human nature that He shares with us as Fr. Thomas points out. Christ overcomes temptation so that we can as well, and do so as members of His body, the Church. He does it for our sake, not out of any kind of necessity.

This second point ties in with the first point I made about Jesus’s omnipotence.  Because Jesus always knew that he was going to be brought back to life after dying, his sacrifice wasn’t a real sacrifice.  It would be the equivalent of disciplining a child by taking away a toy for a set amount of time only to replace it with a better one once the lesson had been learned.  It’s nothing but a complete farce.

Alex means to say Jesus’s omniscience, not omnipotence. Either way, the analogy is insufficient since Christ goes to the Cross not to learn any kind of lesson, but to die “for the life of the world” (John 6:51). Not to mention, one would think that the garden of Gethsemane would nevertheless undercut Alex’s point; Christ specifically lets his human nature act out its natural fear of death, but still stays in total submission to the will of His Father (which is the same will as His own divine nature, as there is only one will in the Trinity). Plenty of Christians will say that they know they are supposed to die a martyrs death if called to it, and many also firmly believe in the age and promises to come. Yet, apostasy happens. Why? Because being faced with one’s death is far scarier than theorizing about it.

Madoka didn’t have such a loophole to escape from after she made her wish.  Her sacrifice was real and permanent.  An eternity separated from your loved ones who have forgotten you ever existed is an unbelievable sacrifice fitting of Madoka’s truer selflessness.

Of course many have rejected and mocked Christ’s sacrifice (as there is no shortage of such in our modern culture), yet God still went to the Cross. Furthermore, Madoka was not entirely forgotten as evidenced by Homura, and still seems to be interacting with the world to some extent, especially in the prevention of creating witches. Technical points, I know, but they evidence that Madoka is not entirely separated, as she has gone to a higher plane of existence (because, as I said in my last post, she is a Bodhisattva).

Furthermore, Christ’s sacrifice was indeed real (at least in the eyes of a Christian). Human nature has been redeemed from death and sin, and can once again be united to its Creator. Whether one accepts this and begins the long path of salvation is another question entirely, but nevertheless the effects of Christ’s death and Resurrection are permanent, even if He is not eternally dead.2 “Behold the Lamb of God…”

The next question you need to ask yourself is, “could I make such a sacrifice given the circumstances?”  If the answer is a quick and casual, “sure, no problem,” it’s probably not a sacrifice.  If you asked me if I’d be willing to be tortured and killed for the sake of every person’s salvation after death and after three days be brought back to life to sit at the right hand of god forever, I’d do it in a heartbeat.  There’s just no question that’s a sweet deal.  In fact, I’d provisionally be willing to stay dead forever for the sake of everyone’s salvation.

No, a sacrifice is a sacrifice regardless of how much one struggles to make it or not. Perhaps you could quip it was a rather easy decision, and thus did not extol much spiritual/mental/emotional effort on your part, but it is nevertheless a sacrifice. Certainly in the Judaic paradigm that Christianity grew out of, Christ’s sacrifice was a sacrifice – in fact it was such a humiliating one to the eyes of most Jews that many could not accept it.

However, there is another thing I would like to respond to; Alex’s question is posed as if Christ were any other human who needed to make a kind of deal. Now, I know Alex realizes that according to Christian doctrine Christ is God, and thus such a situation is absurd: Christ knew He would be going to the Cross before creation even existed. Nevertheless, the unsettling aspect of his example is that it ignores the metaphysics at play, and the differences that sets Christianity apart from Buddhism, or Madokaism, if you will. Alex’s death and resurrection to sit at the right hand of God the Father would of meant nothing metaphysically as humanity would ultimately remain unchanged. Nor would his “provisional…[remaining] dead forever” accomplish “everyone’s salvation” as death would not be conquered. There is an ontological gap between the uncreated God and created humanity, and it is only the Incarnation that bridges it.

However, if you asked me to obliterate myself from having ever existed in order to prevent the suffering of others, I’d have to consider that long and hard because my legacy is something I value highly.  The generous side of me wants to say I’d be willing to make that kind of sacrifice, but my more self-preserving instincts protest that’s too high a price.

At what point does this get subjective? I am sure there would be plenty of people who would nullify their existence to prevent the suffering of others, or something along similar lines. Once again, what really baffles me is the value put on existence in this paradigm. I mentioned in my last post that one of atheism’s key problems, or at least this kind of reductionist atheism, is that values themselves have no ontological referent and are thus just as illogical, and just as “mythological”, as the religions that they are used to criticize. If Alex is nothing more than the assemblage of bio-chemical machinery that has no intrinsic value, then why is the obliteration of one’s existence too high a price? Of course one’s instincts can get in the way, but that should not be much of an issue given what is at stake. Then again, if there is no inherent value to human life, then why even bother saving it? In fact, this is assuming that we even need salvation in the first place, which nature is utterly silent about.

Simply put, she was forced by the logic of her wish to cease her own existence, past, present and future.

Except she did no such thing: though it is implied by the characters in their crying out about such a horrid fate, Madoka still exists at the end of the show, just at a higher state. She has yet to enter Nirvana, if my understanding is correct.

This was a costly sacrifice with tangible repercussions for Madoka that (debatably) were not offset by the benefits that she attained through transcendence.  By contrast, can Jesus’s sacrifice really be called a sacrifice at all?  In order for something to be a sacrifice, you have to lose something, but all Jesus did was die and come back to life stronger than ever.  The only thing that can be argued to be lost was time, but what is three days to an eternal being? 3

Once again, it matters not if Jesus foreknew his Resurrection, it is still a sacrifice. He died that we may live, He gave up his life so that we could have Life. “Christ is Risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and to all those in the tombs, bestowing life!” Christ’s Passion, Crucifixion, and Resurrection completely ontologically changed the entire universe into which suffering, death, despair, and evil have been overcome, and that man can participate in this if he so chooses to. Madoka only eliminates despair insofar as she prevents it coming to its full culmination by the annihilation of the magical girls before they totally succumb. For the girls there is no union with the divine, no overcoming of the passions (especially in the case of Sayaka), no purification, no telos. There is perhaps an afterlife, as implied by Madoka’s final scene with Sayaka, but if indeed the final stage for Madoka and others is the cessation of their existence, for I see no reason as to think why their fate would be any different than her own, then how is that any different than the world we live in now?

The Crucifixion

Today He who hung the earth upon the waters is hung on the tree,
The King of the angels is decked with a crown of thorns.
He who wraps the heavens in clouds is wrapped in the purple of mockery.
He who freed Adam in the Jordan is slapped on the face.
The Bridegroom of the Church is affixed to the Cross with nails.
The Son of the virgin is pierced by a spear.
We worship Thy passion, O Christ.
We worship Thy passion, O Christ.
We worship Thy passion, O Christ.
Show us also Thy glorious resurrection.

1 Fr. Thomas Hopko, The Lenten Spring: Readings For Great Lent. (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1983), 144-45.
2 It is of importance that I include the Resurrection here as well: had Christ not come back from the grave then mankind would still not be able to resurrect themselves. The Resurrection of Christ means that we too may participate in the Resurrection via our baptism into the Church. Had this not happened, then the whole thing would have been a farce. Since the telos of Christianity is theosis, or deification via union with the divine, an eternal death on Christ’s part would be utterly meaningless. Part of the beauty of the Cross is that it is where death itself is destroyed, and that the constant human history of life being swallowed up by death is completely overturned. The selflessness lies in the fact that God did not owe this to humanity, nor was He bound by necessity, but like the act of creation ex nihilo He did it out of His love for man, his philanthropy.
3 If Alex’s definition of sacrifice were the only, then we would not be able to say that Christ even lost time since Christians do not believe in ‘soul sleep,’ or the teaching that our souls are dormant and unaware until the Resurrection.

Picture References


The Problem is Choice, Mr. Anderson…

It is probably premature of me to write a response before the argument is finished, but this morning I saw a post on TWWK’s blog about how Alex of Ashita no Anime is writing a series of posts on why Madoka is better than Jesus as a savior. Needless to say, I knew I would bite before even finishing the first sentence.

Alex begins his argument as such:

Madoka started as a humble human who transcended existence.  Jesus was always a god, which calls into question the logic of his methodology and thereby also the validity of said godhood.

Now, many would point out that Madoka’s very humanity is a metaphysical impediment to salvation to begin with: how can a mere man save mankind? If one is of the same ontological essence as their savior with no difference, then on what grounds can one human be lifted up as savior over the entire race? Any moral, spiritual, ethical, etc., advancement would have nothing to do with ones ontology, but rather how far one progressed upon a path of those categories, which means the locus of salvation still lies outside of the person. Indeed, Madoka’s own transformation is because of the karmic power of the universe, something that while humans interact with, ultimately lays external to them, and as such it is that karmic power that is the actual saving factor and not Madoka. While Madoka interacted with it on an unprecedented level, metaphysically speaking that could have been granted to whomever since no humans are ontologically different from one another in the Puella universe. This is why Madoka is far more akin to a Bodhisattva than Christ since she herself is not the locus of salvation. While she may certainly help man with their enlightenment (just as the saints help us with deification), she is not the savior. If this debate sounds familiar, its because its what the Catholic missionaries and the Buddhists argued about when Roman Catholicism was introduced to Japan in the 16th century.

Alex continues:

Madoka is a wonderful example of a humanistic hero because if anything in humanism can be called a “commandment” it is the willingness of people to give of themselves for the sake of others.  Although she was just a person, Madoka realized that she possessed the potential to save many.  She gave all of herself willingly and completely for the sake of others with no thought of reciprocation. In a twist of logic that I like to think of as a natural kind of altruistic karma, she received a reward of sorts—a change in her very nature that is at least equivalent to what most people could consider a demigod.

There are multiple ideas going on in this paragraph, some that I even agree with. First, I want to speak on humanism, but specifically from the point of naturalism1 (since humanists are not committed to naturalism, and my critique only affects the latter). I will be using naturalism here as synonymous with physicalism, the philosophical position that only physical objects and systems exist. The logical implication is that metaphysics thus do not exist, and that as such metaphysical claims – most pertinently those of religions – are false. Of course, if one is both a naturalist and a humanist, then the teleological and moral values of humanism seem to be undermined by naturalism since such values are not in and of themselves part of nature. Let me explain.

Since the naturalist is committed to a stance of rejecting metaphysics, it means that all values must have an ontological root within the fabric of nature. In other words, they must exist intrinsically within nature. If not, then moral values are just as illusory as the other metaphysical concepts (i.e., God) that are rejected by the naturalist. Now, there is a distinction I need to make here: the difference between the concept of morality or teleology and the content of those concepts. There is no doubt that the concept of morality can be seen in nature: humans have written countless works on ethics and teleology just as they have about supernatural phenomenon, myths, theology, etc. We can measure the neuron and brain patters that fire off via fMRI scans when we deliberate about such concepts, and we can view the innumerable amount of spiritual artifacts left behind by almost every human civilization. The concept of morality and teleology, just as the concept of God, can no doubt to be said to exist within nature.

But what about the content of those concepts? After all, evolutionary psychology touts that many of our altruistic behaviors and intention-seeking patterns are part of our genetic makeup, things we have inherited from the long history of evolution. We tend to group together and act altruistically because pack-mentality was an aid to our survival and thus the propagation of our genes. Our ancestors sought out purpose and meaning because its what helped them to make sense of their chaotic surroundings and thus survive, or perhaps because its a by-product of consciousness. Hence, we see such moral and teleological values inherit within our species, and have no need to fear of any kind of ‘metaphysical boogiemen’ to force us to face nihilism. To be good is in our genes.

Then again, so is to rape, to steal, to murder, to cheat, to lie, to deceive, to commit infidelity, to do all the common actions that blind us or others from that which is good or beneficiary for the ‘well-being of conscious creatures’.2 Not to mention, our propensity for religious belief and other concepts (i.e., free will) also likely have evolutionary roots (which no Christian would even feel bothered by), but the naturalist rejects these as illusory. Morality and teleology are no different, as evolution does not provide us with ontological truths, but merely survival mechanisms, regardless of their falsity or validity. In order for morality and teleology to exist rationally they have to have a root within nature. Nature mustNietzche say ‘man ought to survive’, ‘man ought to have value’, but of course nature does no such thing. Nature simply is. Values of these sorts are human constructions, but they do not have any actual reality to them, any kind of substance. They are just as fictitious as the metaphysical gods rejected by the naturalist.

One of course could shift into subjectivity: so there is no moral objectivity, so what? I can still choose my own moral system. The problem of determinism aside, subjective ethics suffer from the same problems as objective ethics, or at least if one wants to remain rational (which is the whole drive of the New Atheist movement, after all). We can choose criterion to base our subjective ethics off of: happiness, liberty, well-being, safety, etc., but these suffer from the same critique as above as there is no inherent reason to pick any of these values as they have no ontological root. Thus, even if one builds such a subjective (really, consequentialist) moral system, it could be perfectly consistent, it could even achieve the goals it wishes, but it most certainly is not rational for there is no rational reason to pick any value over another. In fact, one could very well take the most caricatured depiction of hell, (or while I’m at it, the non-caricature of double-predestination!) and say that this is the reason they think Jesus is a better savior than Madoka, or is a better God than any god, and there could be no rational response from the naturalist as all these values are not only subjective, but are just down-right fables.

I know this has been a large tangent for just one sentence, but it is of key importance: if indeed naturalism leads, as I have been hinting, to both moral and teleological (and epistemic) nihlism, then any rational critique given can only be that God is inconsistent with His own system, and nothing more. The real problem for anyone holding this philosophical position is that if values indeed do not have any ontological grounding, then on what grounds do we even value rationality?

Although she was just a person, Madoka realized that she possessed the potential to save many.  She gave all of herself willingly and completely for the sake of others with no thought of reciprocation. In a twist of logic that I like to think of as a natural kind of altruistic karma, she received a reward of sorts—a change in her very nature that is at least equivalent to what most people could consider a demigod.

As I pointed out above it is the karmic power laden within the universe, and not Madoka, that is the locus of salvation. That said, Alex’s statement is still correct since he’s only talking about potential – I’m just reiterating my point. I agree with his next two sentences as the show leaves little room to argue: Madoka’s decision was based upon her love for others and her empathy with their suffering, and her accepting the contract turned into a demigod (Bodhisattva, really). Christians could have recourse to the problem of change and that if one changes it means they are inherently not perfect, but I have a feeling that would mean little to most reading.

Alex then begins his critique of Christ:

Jesus on the other hand started as god and was always a god.  Even having taken human form he was still a god, omniscient and omnipotent.  The incomprehensible process of having to sacrifice himself and come right back begs the question of why he didn’t just set up the system the right way to begin with.  Why create everything just to change it a few thousand years after the beginning of recorded history?  Why have any old testament at all if the current status quo was always going to be the end result?

Alex, of course, is correct in that Christ was still fully divine even after His incarnation. To answer his question as to “Why create everything just to change it a few thousand years after the beginning of recorded history,” one needs recourse to Genesis and the fall of man. It was not God’s intention that man is in the current state he is – broken, fallen, and sick, enslaved to the powers of sin and death – but Adam, so to speak, broke the fast and partook of the knowledge of good and evil before he was ready to. Wait — what?

More than one Church Father has explained Genesis in this light: Adam and Eve, while not fallen, were still child-like in that they were to continue to grow with God, even before the fall (in fact we never stop growing and communing deeper with God since He is by nature infinite). It is not that they were so oblivious as to know not to disobey God (after all, Eve’s first response to the serpent was the recollection of God’s commandment), but rather they were in a constant processes growing with God by participating in God’s grace. Certain Church Fathers even saw that outside of Paradise was chaos. Perhaps this is because God’s plan was that Adam and Eve were to bring those areas into paradise as part of their synergy in working with God, and thereby drawing closer to Him (such a view lends itself nicely to Theistic Evolutionists). Yet, they disobeyed, and when they did such they decided to commune with death rather than Life, non-existence rather than the Source of existence, and thus an ontological rift was made that would affect themselves and the rest of mankind to come. Yet God let this happen since He bestowed man with free-will since love must be given freely for it to be love. If Adam and Eve had no free will, indeed if none of us had free-will, then Christianity would be utterly incomprehensible.

Thus the incarnation of Jesus Christ to heal this rift, to destroy this barrier. One must understand that living in a traditionally Protestant nation, there seems to be a focus on solely Christ’s work on the Cross, with the Resurrection being proof of this work. But in Orthodoxy, Christ’s entire life is salvific, as the incarnation joins the human and divine natures without confusion (meaning the essences do not mix to create a synthesis) under the God-man Jesus Christ, allowing for the human nature to become deified. Christ lives out his life all the way up until adulthood (which encompasses all of adulthood regardless of age) so that he can sanctify each step, so that we may live each of those steps in Him and be healed. The same is true of His being tempted, of His baptism, of His death.

resurrection2Christ’s death sanctifies death so that it can be a gateway to life, so that by dying we can die within Christ. Furthermore, Christ’s death, since he is the Source of Life, destroys the very powers of sin and death, a reality represented in Orthodox icons of the Resurrection in which Christ stands on top of the gates of Hades themselves, lifting Adam and Eve out of their graves, while the saints of the Old Testament look on in awe and wonder. The incarnation then has further implications, as even if Adam and Eve had not fallen there still would have to of been a Theotokos, a God-bearer, as it is only by uniting the two natures that we could be deified.

Looking at Jesus from this perspective makes him seem rather callous for allowing people to suffer death for so long when he could have done something about it sooner and capricious as well for having to go through so many loops to achieve something that the all-powerful creator of the universe could have accomplished by snapping his fingers and being done with it.

The problem, of course, is free-will: it is not that God could not have saved man earlier (in fact he tells the Israel that the coming of the Messiah is delayed because of their sins, if I remember correctly), but it is that man himself is stubborn and resists God. Salvation takes place in time since man himself is a temporal creature, and as such it was not until the ‘coming of time’ (I forget the exact passage, may someone remind me of it?!) that Christ was to be incarnate. He waited until there was one who was the perfect icon of what the nation of Israel was supposed to be, the perfect icon of the Church: The Virgin Mary. It was precisely because the Virgin Mary was perfectly obedient in her entire life, and because she was to be the new Eve, that God chose her to be the Mother of God, the Theotokos. Had Mary declined, Christ would have not of been incarnate. Such a view may scandalize many, but for Orthodox Christians this only makes sense since God calls us to be co-workers in our salvation, taking the grace God gives us and working with Him – just as Adam and Eve were suppose to – and that Mary’s acceptance of her role was the ultimate act of synergy between God and man. Had she denied this role, then she would not have been the living Ark of the Covenant that she is, as her disobedience would be yet another example of the Garden, another example of what Israel constantly was doing: betraying God. Yet, it is precisely because she did accept that God used her to bear the Incarnation.

So the ‘many loops’ are largely set up by ourselves and because of our nature, and one can read more if they study the Patristic understanding of Christ’s life and work on the Cross. St. Athanasius does point out that while God could ‘nod His head’, man would simply continue to fall over and over again. This only makes sense as Adam and Eve now have the knowledge of good and evil, and since God won’t deprive them of their free will, we have a never ending cycle of falling from grace. Furthermore, it is by the incarnation that Christ finally ends this, as he accepts the Holy Spirit at His baptism so that in our baptism we receive the Spirit, our ability to once again not lose this grace since it is secure because of Christ in His human nature.

Alex then proceeds to argue why Madoka is better:

In short, Madoka saw suffering and injustice and upon realizing she had the capability to right this wrong, she was moved to action.  Jesus on the other hand sat on his butt for untold millennia watching the people he claims to love writhe in pain and die without salvation before finally getting around to doing something about it.

Madoka only acted upon this in the last time line, she had told Homura to prevent her from becoming a Magical Girl before (not to mention the multiple times she became a witch, even destroying the earth). This is because, unbeknownst to her, Madoka had to wait for karmic time lines to build up in order for her transformation to occur since it is karma and not herself that is the locus of salvation. Christ, on the other hand, had to deal with what humanity gave Him after humanity had first rejected Him (something that is completely absent in Madoka since it’s based upon Buddhism and not Christianity) and when the time came, He most certainly acted. Humans, unfortunately, tend to be a little recalcitrant.

Update: Cytrus of Yaranakya has made a reply from a Buddhist perspective.

1 I speak on naturalism specifically because of private e-mail exchanges that Alex and I have had in which he has claimed this philosophical position, though the term we used there was ‘physicalism’.
2 The term is from Sam Harris’s The Moral Landscape.

[Review] Atheist Delusions: The Christian Revolution and Its Fashionable Enemies

David Bentley Hart’s book, ‘Atheist Delusions’, should be read by everyone one each side of the current God debate in our time. Hart’s work, which bares a polemical title that he himself did not want, is not an apologetic of the validity of Christian belief, but rather a systemic debunking of the many myths of modernity, specifically those leveraged at Christian belief. The commonly touted (but hardly sustainable) critiques such as Christianity being an impediment to the development of science (including that oft highly misrepresented account of Galileo and the Roman Catholic Church), that it has been the source for countless wars (it has not), etc.

However, the more powerful parts of Hart’s work are in his third and fourth sections where he first details the world of pagan antiquity (filled with its vapid and nihilistic religions with a correspondingly inane culture), and how Christianity completely revolutionized how people saw themselves; personal individuality for all peoples, human rights, the beginning of the end for slavery, and more. The fourth section details the retreat of this paradigm and the uncertain future that society now goes to. Though Hart may seem like a bit of an alarmist in this section (something he is aware of consciously), his critiques and shuddering at some of the moral ideas put forward (systemic infanticide of all children with retardation, selective breeding for the benefit of the human gene pool, etc) are all supported by the works of major philosophers and other intellectual giants of the modern era.

This book, by no means, is likely going to convince someone of Christian truth, but that was never it’s goal. Rather, it is a powerful refutation of ignorance, a destroyer of historical myths that have become all to common, regardless if they are used with an anti-religious polemic driving them or not. That alone makes this book worth reading.

Responding to Samuel Butler — Part 2

This is the continuation of my response to Samuel Butler’s claims about Christianity. In my previous post I showed that the idea of Mithraism being an influence on Christianity was unwarranted. This time I’d like to deal with Samuel’s claims about two Papal quotes:

…Pope Leo X (died 1521) called Christ a “Fable”. Later Pope Paul III expressed similar sentiments.

Immediately I should point out that even if the two men here did indeed claim that Christianity was a fable, this does not lead logically to the falsification of Christianity. There are probably many people who will promote an ideology, whether it be secular or religious, who in the back rooms laugh and scoff at the very ideas that they promulgate, reaping their own benefits from doing so. For instance, let’s pretend that President Obama’s recent support for same-sex marriage was not based on his own convictions, but because he wanted the ‘gay vote’ and that secretly he found the idea morally incorrect.1 Now let’s pretend that after his election this was somehow leaked out to the public. Would the LGBTQ movement feel as though their position was now incorrect since an authority figure had lied to them? Of course not. It is no difference for Christianity – not to mention that there are multiple bodies within Christendom that do not agree with the jurisdictional claims of the Pope and would eagerly use such quotes to discredit the claims of the Church of Rome.

In fact, this is exactly what happened in the case of Pope Leo X. The quotations that are famously attributed to him: “How well we know what a profitable superstition this fable of Christ has been for us,”, and “What profit has not that fable of Christ brought us,” were from the works of John Bale, a sixteenth century artist whose works attacked the Church of Rome since he had joined the Protestant movement. The full quotation is from his work Pageant of the Popes on page 179: “For on a time when a cardinal Bembus did move a question out of the Gospel, the Pope gave him a very contemptuous answer saying: All ages can testify enough how profitable that fable of Christ hath been to us and our company.”2

As for the Pope Paul III, Samuel explains further in his video on YouTube that the Pope said, “’Jesus never existed,’ adding that he was ‘no other than the sun, adored in it’s Mithraic sect…’”.3 Now I can’t find the source for this quote after a quick search. That being said, seeing as the quote once again relies off of the false notion of Mithraic influence on Christianity, even if Pope Paul III did utter these words, which I doubt, it would mean absolutely nothing to the validity or invalidity of Christianity.

My last post in this series will deal with Samuel’s accusation of Moses, though don’t expect that one for awhile as it will probably take more research and I eagerly want to get back to my work on the Shroud of Turin.


1 A rather polemical and charged example, but I think it gets my point across. And, no, I don’t actually think this is what Obama is doing – I’m fairly certain he wholeheartedly supports those claims and is not doing it to obtain the voters of a certain demographic that, let’s be honest, he probably had to begin with.

2 Getting to the Source of Alleged Quotes by Christians. The Divine Evidence. Retrieved 8/13/12.

3 Beyond All Religion, Narrated. Samuel Butler. Retrieved 8/13/12.

Responding to Samuel Butler — Part 1

When I was an atheist and attending undergrad, I use to go to the Freethinkers club on campus. I originally did this as a place to find like-minded people – it was little more than to go and say, ‘hey, let’s make fun of Christianity!’ Freethinkers, nevertheless, became a very important to me for multiple reasons. However, there’s one criticism that I’d like to focus on now. One of the disconcerting things that I found while in Freethinkers was that a lot of my athiest compatriots seemed to be so convinced that there was no God that they generally did not deal with apologetics beyond creationism (obviously this was not the case for everyone, though). I remember one meeting when we were discussing what topics to cover in the coming year I purposefully listed off a bunch of names and arguments one can find on the internet: the Kalam Cosmological Argument by William Lane Craig, the Tautological Argument, Alvin Plantiga’s Modal Ontological Argument, etc. The response I got was a blank face followed by one poignant question: “What is that?”

This criticism, which is really one lambasting ignorance, is not limited solely to atheists. Many Christians, unfortunately, are horribly misinformed on science, particularly on the subjects of evolution and sexuality. What aggravates me a bit more from the atheist camp though is that they are supposed to be skeptics, people who will pursue a thought or question to its logical conclusion, checking all possible answers, and then double-checking them, and then triple-checking them. However, why is it then that I find something like this:

Christianity was invented by Emperor Constantine, for political purposes, based upon the myth of Mithra, a Persian savior god born on December 25, son of a virgin. Mithra performed miracles and was later crucified. Pope Leo X (died 1521) called Christ a “Fable”. Later Pope Paul III expressed similar sentiments. Moses is based on the Sumerian life and legends of Sargon I, King of Akkad, “set in a basket of rushes and “cast into the river”. Egyptians kept exhausting hieroglyphic records. There is a complete absence of any record of Moses leading over 600,000 men, women and children away from Pharaoh’s army.

This comes from Samuel Butler, a Freethinker whose been posting on the college’s Freethinkers group on FaceBook. Now, please don’t misunderstand me, Samuel doesn’t strike me as a bad or unintelligent person. In fact when a friend and I both responded to one of his claims (which we both found overreaching) his response was one of thankfulness that we could have an exchange of ideas without feeling pressured one way or another. That, in and of itself, is a very commendable. However, the above paragraph is not. Let’s begin:

Christianity was invented by Emperor Constantine, for political purposes, based upon the myth of Mithra, a Persian savior god born on December 25th, son of a virgin.

I’m assuming that what Samuel means is that he adapted Christianity for political purposes, and meshed it with Mithraism so that it would be more palatable (or something along those lines). No matter what way you spin it, St. Constantine (yes, Saint, as he is in the Orthodox Church) didn’t invent Christianity as the Church had existed since Pentecost. I need not point any further than the Gospel accounts, the epistles of St. Paul, and the writings of all the Ante-Nicean Fathers (St. Ignatius of Antioch, St. Polycarp of Smyrna, St. Justin Martyr, St. Irenaeus of Lyons, the didache, St. Cyprian, etc) to show a whole Tradition of Christianity long before St. Constantine’s conversion.1Hence my assumption why Samuel’s meaning was that Constantine adapted it, or perhaps invented it in the sense of creating his own Christianity based upon what already existed.But even then, what did Constantine change? Samuel’s contention can be found on the Christianity page of his blog:

Christianity is a copycat religion created by Emperor Constantine (for political purposes) based upon a myth (The Persian savior god Mithra, crucified 600 B.C. ? 400 B.C.?), which was based on other similar myths, all the way back to Chrishna of India (a mythical god that some claim was “crucified” or violently died around 1200 B.C.). There were 16 mythical crucifixions before Christ. The belief in the crucifixion of Gods was prevalent in various oriental or heathen countries long prior to the reported crucifixion of Christ. Of the 16 crucifixions, most were born of a virgin and about half of them on December 25th.

There were too many religions in Rome in 325 A.D. A Council was called in an endeavor to amalgamate the many religions of the Roman Empire into one. Christianity plagiarized older myths and legends historicized to suit the Roman Catholic Church while combining the numerous religions existing at the time (Krishna, Horus, Mithraism, Osirian, Isis, and many other mystery religions). For unity and to stop all the conflicts between the numerous religions, Christianity was INVENTED.

Ah, Mithra, we meet again. You see, the final nail in the coffin that made me leave my theistic agnosticism and embrace atheism was when I saw a YouTube video about Mithra. I instantly believed this and embraced my new found lack of belief in a deity. Of course, it only took me a few google searches later to find out that the idea that Mithraism influenced Christianity (not to mention all these other pagan gods listed) was a load of bunk that no scholar – regardless of their religious beliefs – took seriously. So what does Butler claim specifically on his website?:

His birth in a grotto was attended by magi who followed a star from the East. They brought “gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh” and the newborn baby was adored by shepherds. ____, one of a trinity, stood on a rock, the emblem of the foundation of his religion, and was anointed with honey. After a last supper with Helios and 11 other companions, ____ was crucified on a cross, bound in linen, placed in a rock tomb and rose on the third day or around 25 March (the full moon at the spring equinox, a time now called Easter after the Babylonian goddess Ishtar). The fiery destruction of the universe was a major doctrine of ______ism-a time in which _____ promised to return in person to Earth and save deserving souls. Devotees of ____ partook in a sacred communion banquet of bread and wine.

Archeologists have found as many as 718 monuments or statues of ____ at Ostia (near Rome-Author) and close to 300 in Rome. A ____ shrine was uncovered under St. Paul’s cathedral.____ was a god, a son of a god, born of a virgin on December 25.”

In other words Mithra was:

  • Was revered by three magi who brought him gifts (identical to those brought to Christ)
  • Was born on December 25th by a virgin
  • Was a member of a trinity
  • Had a last supper and death identical to Christ’s
  • Was resurrected at the same date that Easter is now celebrated
  • Was to return to earth to save the faithful while the rest would perish
  • Was a son of God
  • Had miscellaneous archeological claims that I’m far less interested in

One by one, shall we? Note that I am taking practically all of this information from Patrick Holding’s page on this very subject. I will cite the specific sources when possible, but otherwise it can be found there. I highly recommend that you read the web-page (scroll down to the end if you want the systematic debunking) as it is far more in depth than this here.

Was revered by three magi who brought him gifts (identical to those brought to Christ)

Not exactly. While there were indeed three shepherds at Mithra’s birth, they were direct witnesses to it as opposed to the shepherds in the Gospel accounts who were told by an angel. Furthermore, they helped Mithra during his birth by pulling him out of the rock that he was being born by. The shepherds did give gifts to Mithra, but they weren’t identical to those given to Christ but instead offered parts of their own flock for a feast. However, the internal contradiction of this story was that Mithra’s birth took place before the creation of man – even though three shepherds somehow helped him out of a rock.3The first evidence for this tale also post-dates the New Testament by a century.4

Was born on December 25thby a virgin

As I had just mentioned in the last claim, Mithra was born of a rock, not of a virgin.5 As for his birth on December 25th, there needs to be a bit of an explanation for this.

As Holding aptly points out, the New Testament never gives and exact date for the birth of Christ and the celebration of Christ’s nativity on December 25th far post-dated the Apostolic times.6 As such, Mithra wouldn’t have had a direct influence at all on the formation of Christianity. So why then was December 25th chosen for Christ’s birthday? While David Withun has given an apologetic for the date, claiming that the Christians actually had it first, commentators have pointed out that the texts he uses aren’t sufficient to establish what he’s arguing. I would like to provide a different explanation.

In his book, The Winter Pascha, Fr. Thomas Hopko does admit that Christianity purposefully chose the same date that was used for Sol Invictus, or the Nativity of the Invincible Sun. The Church was not doing this in any sense to claim that pagans took the date from them, nor were they saying that this was the historical date of Christ’s birth. It was put on the same day to show that Christ was the “True Sun” and that pagans had inappropriately worship the sun. The hymn of the Nativity in the Orthodox Church served as an attack on their view:

Your Nativity, O Christ our God

Has shown to the world the light of wisdom

For by it those who worshiped the stars

Were taught by a star to adore You,

The Sun of Righteousness,

And to know You, the Orient from on high.

O Lord, glory to You!7

Thus the influence here is of no real consequence, and doesn’t show at all that Christianity was invented. This was a theological response to paganism, not a pagan influence on the dogma of the Church.

Was a member of a trinity

This is true of Iranian Mithraism but not Roman Mithraism8 (which is what Christianity would have been borrowing from in its days of formulation). Even then, this seems to be tri-theism9 which is a far cry from Trinitarianism.

Had a last supper and death identical to Christ’s

These claims are also both false. As for the last supper, the claim was made by Godwin and was supposedly from one of the Persian Mithraic texts (not the Roman ones), but it’s actual source was from a medieval text.10 Hardly prior to the birth of Christianity.

As for being crucified, this is absolutely false. Mithra went to fight a bull and slayed it, but at no point was he killed. There is no recorded death of Mithra whatsoever, and the Christian references to it far post-date the early Church, making such a ‘plagiarism’ unfeasible.11

Was resurrected at the same date that Easter is now celebrated

Mithra, having never died, could never have been resurrected12 (not to mention that resurrection in Christian terminology was completely different than from contemporary pagans who scoffed at the idea of a bodily resurrection).13

Was to return to earth to save the faithful while the rest would perish

While this seems to be true, the eschaton here is different from that of Christianity’s.14 Not to mention this may be from the non-Roman Mithra who had little to almost no connection with the Roman one (note this last point is conjecture as Cumon simply assumes there is a continuity between the two – something later scholars disagreed with – and as such doesn’t seem to make a distinction between the two in his book).15

Was a son of God

While it seems, from a brief look, that the Persian Mithra was indeed the son of Ahura Mazda,16 this is not parallel to how the Son is the son of the Father since this kind of Mithraism was incredibly Platonic.17 I believe that quoting Holding here will be of good use:

We have several titles here, and yes, though I searched through the works of Mithraic scholars, I found none of these applied to Mithra, other than the role of mediator (not, though, in the sense of a mediator between God and man because of sin, but as a mediator between Zoroaster’s good and evil gods; we have seen the “sun” identification, but never that title) — not even the new ones were ever listed by the Mithraic scholars.18

Last Thoughts

As for the sixteen crucified saviors trope, it’s been refuted elsewhere, and I will not be going over it in this post. As for pagan parallels at large, James Patrick Holding has a whole slew of articles that systematically shows this to be false. Samuel goes on to talk about Eusebius and the canonization of the Gospels, but his argument relies off of the use of Christian-pagan syncretism. Since such plagiarizing seems to be unfounded, the argument fails nevertheless. In my next post on this series, I will be discussing the two Papal quotes. Also, once again if I have offended anyone in this post (as I know, especially at the beginning, my tone was a little harsh) I apologize and ask for your forgiveness.


1 A Tradition that is remarkably in agreement in all major points of doctrine: the liturgical priesthood, the reality of the Eucharist and Baptism, Scripture and Tradition, the two natures of Christ, the Trinity, etc. While their language may not have always been as develop as the subsequent councils (for instance you will not see nearly as articulate a definition of the Trinity in the Apostolic Fathers as you will in those from Nicea onwards, i.e., Basil the Great, Gregory the Theologian, Gregory of Nyssa, Athanasius the Great, etc), the basic ideas are still there.

2 Butler, Samuel. CHRISTIANITY. Retrieved August, 2012.

3 Cumon, Franz. The Mysteries of Mythra. Republished 2007 by Forgotten Books. pp. 83-4

4 Holding, James P. Mithraism. Not an influence on Christianity. Retrieved August, 2012.

5 Cumon, Franz. The Mysteries of Mythra. Republished 2007 by Forgotten Books. pp. 83

6 Holding, James P. Mithraism. Not an influence on Christianity. Retrieved August, 2012.

7 Hopko, Thomas. The Winter Pascha. New York: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1997. pp. 119-20

8 Mitra. Retrieved August, 2012.

9 Ahura. Retrieved August, 2012.

10 Vermaseren, M. J. Mithras the Secret God. New York: Barnes and Noble, 1963.

11 Holding, James P. Mithraism. Not an influence on Christianity. Retrieved August, 2012.

12 Ibid.

13 cf. N. T. Wright The Resurrection of the Son of God. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2003.

14 Cumon, Franz. The Mysteries of Mythra. Republished 2007 by Forgotten Books. pp. 90

15 Holding, James P. Mithraism. Not an influence on Christianity. Retrieved August, 2012.

16 Mithra. Retrieved August, 2012.

17 Holding, James P. Mithraism. Not an influence on Christianity. Retrieved August, 2012.

18 Ibid.

You Can Do It Your Own Way, If It’s Done Just How I Say

– Eye of the Beholder’ by Metallica

(This is a re-posting from my old blog.)


James Hetfield from Metallica circa the Black Album era. Image found at

I’ve mentioned before to those that I know how as an atheist I had reached the conclusions of both existential and moral nihilism. While I should get around to how I arrived at those conclusions at some point (and further justify them as I no doubt did not consult literature when deciding such things) what I had never considered was epistemic nihilism; I had always assumed the existence of the material universe as philosophy seemed to be utterly useless without such an axiomatic belief. Of course, any theist who would have criticized me on taking that on faith would be completely right in their assertion.

More importantly, and relevant to this sketch,[1] is the fact that I was a determinist in my view on free-will. This resulted from the philosophy class I took as a freshman, coupled with some of the science on the subject I had recalled from my high school psychology class which showed how decisions were made in the sub-conscious before being relayed to the conscious. The more I reflected on the matter, the more sense it made to me as an atheist; if I was the result of physical/material processes that functioned off of cause-and-effect, then that means every thought, action, etc, that I had was also the result of cause-and-effect and not a ‘choice’. I, after all, wasn’t a human being made in the image of God, but a biochemical machine.

But I never took the denial of free-will out to its full implications.[2] To review: physicalist atheism[3] seemed to lead to determinism since nature works via cause-and-effect. While quantum mechanics seems to contradict this, there are two important points. Firstly, quantum mechanics functions at such a micro level that it probably has no effect on macro-level systems such as the will. Secondly, even if this is not the case, quantum mechanics shows the universe to be at a level of randomness and chaos. This is in no way synonymous with free-will as all it would mean is that our choices are either determined by the antecedent state of the universe or are completely random.

If, then, we are the products of causality, this means our very beliefs, or lack thereof, are not the result of conscious deliberation and weighing of the facts. Nor are they the result of critical thinking or skepticism. They are the result of the antecedent state of the universe and nothing more. I was an atheist and am now a Christian because I had no choice but to be such things. The Christian who apostatizes because he feels that his religion is irrational is not doing so for rational reasons but because he had no choice but to become an atheist.

The one retort may be that while this is all true, atheists may have more accurately perceived the world around them, they have created a better mental model. At this point I will quote from an article by R. M. Manion:

Then,” I said, “if the mental models of a thing correspond to knowledge and the assessment of those models correspond to reason, we would have a paradigm for the evolution of knowledge and reason. We already have mechanical representations of this in artificial intelligence systems. We have robots that identify objects in a room from video input and make a sufficient analysis of these models to navigate around the room. If we set up an experiment where robots that ran into objects disappeared while those that successfully avoided objects reproduced with minor changes in their programming, we would eventually evolve a collection of robots with an astute knowledge of their environment and ability to assess and navigate it. In like manner, man has evolved the ability to form extremely detailed and accurate models of his sensory input of the world and to make sophisticated analysis of that data. Hence, man has evolved knowledge and reason. True, this system is still deterministic, and man is still a part of the natural system he has come to know. But, he knows it none the less. It is a case of nature knowing itself. A sort of feed back loop, or self-diagnostic routine.”[4]

After pointing out the inherent dualistic language of the above, the second character of the dialogue gives the reason as to why such a feedback loop does not do us any good:

The robots know nothing. Simply, the ones set up to avoid obstacles, avoid obstacles, the ones that don’t, don’t. Can we say that water flows to the ocean because it knows the way? Does water that finds its’ way to the ocean know something that other water doesn’t? You see, water simply does what nature would have it do. So the robots do what their environment, sensory apparatus, and programs would have them do. Their actions are caused. They cause nothing. In like manner we believe what nature would have us believe. We do nothing. We are the repository of certain thoughts. I do not create my beliefs. I am simply a repository of belief. All of it, my beliefs, my thoughts, my reasons, even the language by which I try to explain them, are simply acts of nature.”[5]

To transpose this, the Christian is a Christian because he was set up to be that way. The atheist is an atheist because he was set up to be that way. Their very deliberations, thoughts, analysis of evidence, and their very perception of evidence is all programmed. At no point can a person somehow transcend nature and peer behind its curtain to try and see whether or not its lying to us, because by adhering to physicalism we have already thrown any kind of transcendence out the door. There is nothing but the physical – that is it.

Ultimately, this leads one to an epistemic nihilism, or that we cannot know anything. The previous quote gets at the heart of the matter, that “we are the repository of certain thoughts…I am simply a repository of belief. All of it…are simply acts of nature.” The issue is that nature is everything in the physicalist worldview; it is the Alpha and Omega of this brand of atheism. But the problem is that non-physicalists exist, or rather, that there are differing claims about existence. The universe is the only source of information, but it has somehow has given contradictory answers, and we have no way of knowing which one is right. Hence, we cannot know anything – epistemic nihilism.[6]

The rest of the dialogue goes on to talk about the self-refuting nature of such a stance, but I am not going to do that here; this sketch was rather to bring out physicalism in regards to free-will to its logical conclusion. Again, given the rough nature of any sketch it is open to being easily criticized, but I do invite any criticism or thoughts as long as the tone is appropriate. Oh, and read the article mentioned; it is better than anything I could type out here.

  1. [1] I keep saying that my works are sketches because of their very unpolished nature. My current job prevents me from sinking too much research and time into anything, especially as the job is rounding its last leg. Thankfully, I will be able to devote more time to my writings once its finished.
  2. [2] I should mention now that this is merely a hackneyed version of a brilliant article posted over at Energetic Processions on metaphysical naturalism and its moral and epistemic implications. I highly suggest that one reads it in its entirety and read the comments section at the bottom of the post.
  3. [3] The view that there is no God and that only physical systems exist.
  4. [4] R. M. Manion, The Other Side: Metaphysics and Meaning. November, 1993. retrieved 5/7/2012.
  5. [5] Ibid.
  6. [6] Needless to say, while I could (and probably should) go on to comment on morality and purpose, if one agrees with this conclusion then such essays are rendered rather superfluous; if we cannot have knowledge, then there is no way to ascertain morality or purpose.