Trevor's Reviews > Jesus, Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible & Why We Don't Know About Them

Jesus, Interrupted by Bart D. Ehrman
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's review
Oct 15, 2009

it was amazing
bookshelves: history, religion

Here’s a question for you. How important is it that the Jesus of the Bible and the historical Jesus are more or less the same guy? Or even better, how important is it that the ideas Jesus was trying to spread by his ministry are the same ideas that have come to be followed in the various Christian churches?

There was a time when I would have thought that all Christians would have wanted to answer both of these questions by saying that it was fundamentally important to their faith that what they currently believe as Christians is exactly what the historical Jesus taught. I would have thought that Christians would have developed their ideas about what Christ had to say about the world from the Bible (which, I had always assumed was seen by most Christians as the inspired and inerrant word of God) and that their task, as Christians, would be to come to an increasing understanding of that message by close and intense study.

As Ehrman basically says somewhere in this book – if you truly believe that the Bible is a book that God wrote on how you should live your life it seems a bit strange that you might believe that and not have bothered to go on and read it.

The other side to this is that if the Bible is the inspired word of God then you would not expect there to be any contradictions in it – particularly not in the various tellings of the Jesus story which is presented four times, once in each of the first four books of the New Testament known as the Gospels.

But there are differences between these tellings and some of these are not just differences of passing interest only to the pedant – although, I would have thought that the guy responsible for creating the Universe might have been the world’s worst pedant, myself. No, some of these tellings actually say opposite things, that is, are literally contradictory. And some of the differences have fundamental theological significance.

This is a book that looks at what scholarship is able to tell us about the historical Jesus and what his actions meant in his time and therefore the significance of those actions for him. It also shows how the significance of those actions to him would have been quite different to what those actions have come to signify to us a couple of thousand years later. The short version is that Jesus was an apocalyptic Jew and he and his earliest followers believed that they were living at the end of times and that meant their world was about to end and to end immediately. When they say things like there are people here who will see me return in glory that was meant to be taken literally. Paul believed he would be alive to see the second coming. I would think that for these reasons alone the historical Jesus can hardly be seen as identical with the Christian Jesus.

Large parts of this book look at our earliest texts of the New Testament and then question whether Jesus and his earliest followers actually believed that he was divine and then if he was divine when did he become divine. For John, for example, the last of the gospels to be written, Jesus was with God at the beginning of time as the word that created the universe. For the other three Apostles his literal divinity is never quite so well spelt out and if he was divine at all, then he probably became divine after the resurrection.

There are fascinating questions asked in this book. For example, as Jesus was going to his death was he anxious and upset – as he is depicted in Matthew – or was he pretty well cool, calm and collected as he is depicted in Luke. You know, there is a pretty big difference between these two versions of Jesus’ death which can be summed up by what they say his last words on the cross were: either “My God, my God why hast thou forsaken me” or “Forgive them for they know not what they do.”

The point is that Luke and Matthew were wanting to make very distinct theological points with their tellings of the crucifixion story and they do this by telling very different stories. Ehrman makes it clear that how these contradictions are generally resolved is by having Jesus say both of these lines while he was on the cross and for some reason both Luke and Matthew left out the other one, but this does not go nearly far enough to resolve the many, many contradictions in the two stories. The problem with this way of resolving contradictions in the Bible is that it creates a new text which is different from both of the texts you are using as your source. But the real point here is that this third text you have just created by smashing together the two gospel versions has to be less accurate than either of the gospel versions, not more accurate as we generally assume. We confusedly think that the Bible is one book, whereas it is many books telling somewhat similar stories - this can make us think that the differences are just differences in detail, whereas some of the differences are much deeper than that.

These differences are fundamental and make for quite different ways of looking at Christianity. To focus on one more than the other gives quite a different ‘Christianity’. And I would have thought that Christians would be told about the differences that exist in their gospels and the implications of these differences. But this is another reason why Ehrman has written this book. Although standard Christian scholarship has accepted and studied the contradictions in the Bible for around 150 years and have developed many explanations as to why and how these differences arose – this is virtually never taught either in Church services or (much more surprisingly) in Bible study classes organised by Churches – despite the fact that this is precisely what ministers are taught in seminary.

Ehrman’s passion and depth of knowledge always make me want to spend time reading over passages of the Bible and consider the implications of the various differences and emphasises laid by the various authors of the Bible – if he can do that for an atheist, I would imagine he would only have a much stronger effect on a Christian, at least, I would like to imagine that would be the case. But it seems I’m invariably wrong about what interests Christians about their religion. This is another excellent book beautifully written.
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Reading Progress

Finished Reading
October 15, 2009 – Shelved
June 25, 2010 – Shelved as: history
June 25, 2010 – Shelved as: religion

Comments (showing 6-55)

message 55: by Stephen (new)

Stephen Well thought out review, Trevor.

Trevor I really love this guy's books. He proves to me that passion and insight and understanding are what is important in life. I found his God's Problem How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question--Why We Suffer deeply moving.

message 53: by Georg (new)

Georg Great review. This will be my next read. And after that a reread of "How the Bible Fails to Ask For Our Most Important Answer (42)" by Douglas Adams

message 52: by Clif (new) - rated it 5 stars

Clif Hostetler Good review! Your review is way better than the one I wrote for that book. I think I'll go back to my review and amend it by adding a link to your review.

Trevor Thank you both. I've just read your review Clif and thought it was excellent. It even answers the question I had the whole way through this one about why he gave this book this particular title.

message 50: by Eric_W (new) - added it

Eric_W Trevor wrote: "I really love this guy's books. He proves to me that passion and insight and understanding are what is important in life. I found his [book:God's Problem How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most I..."

I've enjoyed his work, also. I assume you know already that he has a Teaching Company course entitled Lost Christianities covering basically the same material of his book of the same name. He's as good a lecturer as writer. Expensive though. I bought a lot of their stuff for the library which made it a lot cheaper for me. :)

Trevor They are going to let us buy Kindles, Eric! I'm trying to resist, but with the Australian dollar so high at the moment I keep thinking not buying one will probably only cost me money. If I do get one it will be all your fault.

message 48: by Eric_W (new) - added it

Eric_W Trevor wrote: "They are going to let us buy Kindles, Eric! I'm trying to resist, but with the Australian dollar so high at the moment I keep thinking not buying one will probably only cost me money. If I do get..."

LOL. You'll love it.

message 47: by Joshua Nomen-Mutatio (last edited Oct 15, 2009 07:00PM) (new)

Joshua Nomen-Mutatio A couple months ago I listened to this debate between Ehrman and this philosopher-theologian/fundamentalist Christian apologist that I can't stand (he's terrible philosopher, he makes absurd arguments, and he has an arrogant, annoying demeanor to top it all off) named William Lane Craig:

Ehrman clearly wins the debate but sometimes I think he was too restrained. He does go for the jugular a few times, though.

Trevor It is on order, Eric...

I'll have a look at the video when I get home tonight MFSO.

message 45: by Eric_W (new) - added it

Eric_W MyFleshSingsOut wrote: "philosopher-theologian/fundamentalist Christian apologist "

There's got to be an oxymoron in there somewhere! Thanks for the link.

Joshua Nomen-Mutatio Eric_W wrote: "MyFleshSingsOut wrote: "philosopher-theologian/fundamentalist Christian apologist "

There's got to be an oxymoron in there somewhere! Thanks for the link."

Ha! Oh, don't worry, William Lane Craig takes care of the contradictions with his ideas.

Trevor I got about half way through the video last night. I found many of Craig's rather nasty debating games simply annoying and struggled to believe that he was not being disingenuous in many of his arguments. But then came his use of probability theory to prove god used supernatural means to raise Jesus from the dead. To imagine you could overcome Hume with such nonsense. I became quite interested when he twice alluded to his stunning refutation of Hume in his opening remarks, but when all he came up with was effectively a restatement of Hume in numbers with only his faith to bolster the numerator I felt very let down.

Joshua Nomen-Mutatio To be honest, eventually I just started skipping ahead to Ehrman's bits when I watched/listened to it. I didn't feel so bad about this because I've heard Craig's desperate "reasoning" about these issues before. After a certain point they just start repeating themselves and Ehrman's voice gets higher pitched with (completely understandable) exasperation.

It's kind of scary watching what appears to be an otherwise sane person just hang onto an insane idea so brazenly and without self-awareness. Even if his probability theory were remotely sound, this still wouldn't give slightest reason to take the resurrection to be historical fact. WLC certainly waits a good long while to pull out the faith card, that's for sure. There's another video of him that I think should be played before all of his talks and debates to show what his true opinions are about the use of reason:

The clincher is around :26 to 1:30

So why even debate the facts at all then, William? Seriously, what a ridiculous position to espouse as if it has intellectual merit.

message 41: by C. (new)

C. Excellent review, as always! I love the way your reviews give enough of a summary of the content of the book so that you know what it's about - could even skip reading it if you wanted to - but somehow they always leave me wanting to know more, that is, wanting to actually read the book.

To answer your initial question, I see Jesus as being like Shakespeare. Just a label, a concept. The potential difference between his original ideas and contemporary Christianity don't matter at all to me. That said, I'm actually an atheist, so I don't know how much my opinion counts, but I think this is how I would feel if I was a Christian too.

Trevor Thanks Choupette. I'm an atheist too, but I completely agree with you, for what it is worth. Whenever I hear that the history of Christianity is an error I figure there must have been something much more appealing about the error than the original idea or the original wouldn't have been left behind.

message 39: by Whitaker (new)

Whitaker Great review, Trevor. And thanks for alerting me to this book. I'd read Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why and loved it.

As for what interests Christians, here's a little anecdote that is highly depressing. I was telling a otherwise very intelligent Christian about Misquoting Jesus when she burst out that it was all lies, and that there was a conspiracy of evil people out there who were out to destroy Christianity. When I pointed out that a lot of the inaccuracies had first been picked up by devout Victorians, her response was, "And have you seen these writings," implying that all the evidence had been fabricated.

I don't think she's unusual. A lot of fundamentalist types tend to close themselves off in a little bubble with the view that anything outside the bubble comes from the devil.

message 38: by Trevor (last edited Oct 20, 2009 01:46PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Trevor It is an odd thing Whitaker, if he was saying, 'you must read the Gospels of Satan, they are the only true Gospels' I could see that religious people would object. But he is saying read John and then read Matthew and compare and contrast the 'facts' presented in each. Obviously I think it is sad if the only book you ever read is the Bible, I guess that goes without saying, but if you aren't prepared to even 'read' the Bible, that is a thousand times worse.

I think you are right about the bubbles - I think that it is human nature to want to snug ourselves into little bubbles and the real advantage of sites like this one is that there are so many people with pins. And for that we should all be truly grateful.

Sorry, a slight digression. I was chatting with my uncle the other day, a religious man of a particularly petulent protestant persuasion, and it was quite cold outside which, when this fact was mentioned in our conversation it started him off on how much nonsense global warming is. I was a bit taken aback by this and my father said something about the science and my uncle replied he knew nothing of the science, but that he didn't trust Al Gore. His argument, then, could be summarised as, "I know nothing about this topic, I want to know nothing about it, but in my ignorance I've decided that people who talk about global warming are clearly wrong and self-interested because today it is a little unseasonably cold outside." I find this stuff incredibly sad. The idea of living a life under such mental constraints is worse than any hell I could dream up. Give me Dante any day.

message 37: by Kristen (new) - added it

Kristen Trevor wrote: "our conversation it started him off on how much nonsense global warming is. I was a bit taken aback by this and my father said something about the science and my uncle replied he knew nothing of the science, but that he didn't trust Al Gore..."

Sadly I don't think that view is so uncommon. I routinely hear my co-worker drone on about how "global warming was invented by Al Gore so that the UN can take over the world . . . somehow (also 9-11 was a controlled explosion perpetrated by the Democrats, but I supposes that's another topic.) I tend to avoid discussing such matters with him but when I do point out that every reputable scientist in the world agrees the only response I get back is "then why is it cold out today?" In my experience, it's best just to smile and slowly back away.

Trevor The last time the world heated up it caused an ice age across Europe. It would be nice if we could live in a really, really simple world - but unfortunately, we just don't. I understand that this is troubling for some people, but to me it seems so much less troubling than believing the UN are going to take over the world or the Democrats organised 9-11 (and this at a time when they were struggling to organise a piss-up in a brewery). I used to think that people believed this sort of thing because it was so much easier to follow than the 'real' story - but actually, the mental handstands that are required to believe half of these things take at least as much effort as following the science.

message 35: by Kristen (new) - added it

Kristen With the Internet I think it's become easier for people like that to surround themselves with like-minded opinions and to avoid anything resembling reality.

Once, For a week I humored him, each day he brought in a new source denying climate change and each day (within about 2 minutes) I would completely demolish his source (showing that they were funded by the coal industry or whatever.) The last straw was when he gave me some blog supporting his position . . . written by a 17 year old high school student, after that I told him clearly he wasn't even trying anymore and that I was done.

Funny thing is, even he voted for Obama because Sarah Palin 'scared the shit' out of him.

message 34: by Whitaker (last edited Oct 21, 2009 06:25PM) (new)

Whitaker Kristen wrote: "With the Internet I think it's become easier for people like that to surround themselves with like-minded opinions and to avoid anything resembling reality."

Heh, there's this whole theory now that the Internet promotes extremism. I'm not kidding. It's like mixing only with like. It promotes insularity.

Trevor wrote: "I find this stuff incredibly sad. The idea of living a life under such mental constraints is worse than any hell I could dream up."

Amen and hallelujah to that! :-D

Actually, it drives me mental.

message 33: by Kristen (new) - added it

Kristen Whitaker wrote: "Heh, there's this whole theory now that the Internet promotes extremism. I'm not kidding. It's like mixing only with like. It promotes insularity. ..."

Yes, I think that's probably true. . . and if you need proof of that: ;-)

message 32: by Paul (new)

Paul Bryant Although standard Christian scholarship has accepted and studied the contradictions in the Bible for around 150 years and have developed many explanations as to why and how these differences arose – this is virtually never taught either in Church services or (much more surprisingly) in Bible study classes organised by Churches – despite the fact that this is precisely what ministers are taught in seminary.

You put your finger on something very important here. This is not unique to Christianity, in all major religions you will get a sophisticated educated elite priesthood and an uneducated unsophisticated laity. Church of England bishops are famous for often dismissing all the supernatural elements of the Jesus story (no virgin birth, no miracles, sometimes they even go so far as to say no resurrection). But they don't breathe a word of this to the congregation. I understand that sophisticated buddhists in a similar way have jettisoned literal rebirth as a belief but the laity continue to believe. So the people to put on trial here are the dishonest priests, who allow their flocks to continue with all these beliefs they themselves now find infantile.
I don't myself find the differences between the gospels problematic and I don't think the majority of Christians think that the Bible is the unerring inspired word of God anymore, surely that's a fundamentalist minority? (I hope). I think the majority view is that the Bible was written by various men who were inspired in turn by God & therefore yes, there may well be a few cock-ups in there, but no big deal, you have to look at the big picture.
As for the Church not following what Jesus preached, the guy to put in the spotlight is my namesake. I think it was St Paul who changed the focus of early Christianity very succesfully from being a socially radical proto-communist millenarian sect into a mystical mystery cult, so that Christianity was no longer about what Jesus SAID but about what he WAS.
And finally : "particularly petulent protestant persuasion" - nice one.

Gabriel Patriarca I'm reading this and my jaw is constantly dropping. That bit about the virgin birth plus all those forced plots to make it look like prophecies were been fulfilled is remarkable.

I wonder how is it possible for people to know about all this and still keep been christians. The only reasonable explanation I have is they have too much of an emotional attachment to it.

Trevor I'm constantly surprised by how few Christians know anything about this stuff at all. We live in an age when church leaders say things like, Jesus wants you to be rich! or were 'Christians' are happy to kill children seeking asylum, and if not literally shoot them, as in the US, then lock them in indefinite detention on an island, like in Australia. Even the most cursory knowledge of 'the Jesus story', you would think, would make such actions 'troubling' for someone calling themselves a Christian - but apparently not.

Gabriel Patriarca Trevor wrote: "I'm constantly surprised by how few Christians know anything about this stuff at all. We live in an age when church leaders say things like, Jesus wants you to be rich! or were 'Christians' are ha..."

Yes, but think of the few people who actually learn this and keep been christians. Bart himself states that this knowledge is not enough to deconvert some people from christianity. I just don't understand why this is.

Between all the Forgery, fake author attributtions, lack of eyewitness, adulterations, forcerd prophecy fulfillments, discrepancies and history mistakes!

It just has too much trouble to keep been honest about believing this thing is a message from God for me. I can't see this belief going together with intellectual honesty. Is it cognitive dissonance, maybe? I just don't get it.

Trevor Oh, I have no trouble with that. I think this would come under 'revealed truth' rather than necessary 'rational truth'. I believe some conversion experiences are people's most powerful emotional experiences in their lives. Rationalism could hardly compete with such an experience. From what I can gather it is like falling in love, and God knows, none of us fall in love for anything like rational reasons. Forgery, fake attributions, adulterations, forced prophecy fulfilments - that's just the start of it when we fall in love... As someone said recently - I really can't remember where I read this, but really do which I could - there is no point having a belief in something you can 'know' - faith demands you believe in what is almost impossible to believe, otherwise it is knowledge - and that isn't the same thing at all. I can see that is an intellectual cope out, but not being someone who has 'received the gift of revelation' I can also see it is easier for me to mock than to seek to understand.

message 27: by Nathan (new)

Nathan Hi Trevor, that faith without (any!) knowledge topic, that's about every letter Soren Kierkegaard ever wrote. Did you read something by him? I myself try to believe in Jesus as God, and I would continue with believing if his indisputable mummy would be found, 5 more Gospels written by (truly) his own followers would be unveiled, depicting him as a sinful, lustful, stupid man. Absurd faith is the only kind of faith.

Trevor But this is also why I can't do that kind of faith - Jonathan. I can hear people say this stuff, but I find it virtually impossible to believe they really mean it. I've just learnt not to expect to believe it and not to assume they are taking the piss when they say it. Something that requires much more effort than I would like to admit.

message 25: by Nathan (last edited Jan 05, 2015 03:15PM) (new)

Nathan Well, I try, I am not capable. Actually, I'm not sure I would like to apply this absurd faith to the case of Jesus godliness, I'm just convinced of the absolute necessity of this faith mechanism itself (to be applied to anything?), and believing in Jesus would be great practice to torment my thinking abilities, since obviously the gospels are full of nonsense. Dead machinations can choose the most likely truths, you need life to choose the unlikely and impossible.

Trevor Not sure I understand that, but I did read a very little Kierkegaard at university - I decided he had nothing to tell me at the time. But I was raised Atheist, so was unlikely to be troubled by the same issues he was.

message 23: by Nathan (new)

Nathan His concluding unscientific postscript makes these issues quite clear, I think. Besides, it's THE philosophical masterpiece of the 19th century (even better than Hegel and Schopenhauer, whom I love too!).

Gabriel Patriarca Well, followimg this way of thinking, someone can just believe anything, right? I mean religion or a delusion... Anything.

Trevor Looking at the world's religions and the variety of beliefs that would seem to be pretty much the case. I suspect there must be some basis for revealed truth to be 'truth' rather than 'delusion' - but you would be better discussing that with Jonathan than me, I suspect. I don't pretend to understand.

message 20: by Nathan (last edited Nov 18, 2015 02:48PM) (new)

Nathan ...

Gabriel Patriarca I'll be honest to you, Jonathan, I'm having a hard time just understanding what you meant in your last comment. Maybe you are getting way too philosophical, or maybe I had to be way smarter to understand this kind of love or faith. Both ideas seem absurd to me, since it is meant to everyone.

message 18: by Gabriel (last edited Jan 07, 2015 08:59PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Gabriel Patriarca Jonathan wrote: "Offcourse the statement 'knowledge is the road to truth' is itself a belief, since it can't be supported by knowledge itself. On the other hand, all the world's religions and belief systems (I'll i..."

I think I got it after reading it a couple times.

There are 3 groups.

Two of them are atheists and religious who care about rationality and what is true or false in the universe. These groups don't want to live a delusion.

And there is a third group, to which you aspire, which doesn't care what is true or false and doesn't care if their world-view is a delusion or not. Is that right?

And why would this kind of view, which doesn't care what is true or false, be pushed inevitably to love? It seems to me all we can assert from this kind of thinking is it aspires to self-righteousness and close-minds. It is a mindset that doesn't change regardeless of the arguments or evidence it is presented with. We'd most likely be stuck without changes or even improvements in any area to witch we apply this kind of thinking. Why would religion have a different treatment?

message 17: by Nathan (last edited Nov 18, 2015 02:48PM) (new)

Nathan ...

message 16: by Nathan (last edited Nov 18, 2015 02:49PM) (new)

Nathan ...

Gabriel Patriarca Well, this is food for thought. I'll let what you said sink-in before answearing. Thanks.

Trevor I'm not sure I completely follow the argument that we are all delusional by necessity - but be that as it may, I think that my main concern in the world is people who are very certain - and so, I find evangelicals, say Dawkins or Duane Gish, often quite terrifying. Apparently, Dawkins has come out today blaming all of Islam for what has happened in Paris - and this is the best our representative of rationalism can come up with? I don't necessarily want to be a connoisseur of human foolishness - sitting in judgement of others and pointing and laughing - what is much more interesting is to try to understand what living such a life might mean - standing in the shoes of those different from us.

I've become much more interested in sociology lately, and as such think that most of what we do is culturally decided, rather than rational, but that too often we think that the 'cultural arbitrary' we live by is actually totally rational and therefore the only possible way one should live a life. It would be nice if there was a religion that not only taught humility, but actually expected it to be practiced by its followers too. But so few followers of any religion seem capable of such. I can in no way endorse what has just happened in Paris - it is beyond any justification or even comprehension - but I do wonder, after seeing some of the offending cartoons what possible joy people got out of producing that stuff. It is so clearly designed to do nothing other than insult people. Sure, I remember being in early adolescence and randomly insulting people and that this was 'cool' - but it is hard for me to believe grown adults find that shit still amusing. I'm not saying one should shoot people who haven't grown up, far from it, but going out of your way to insult people seems more than a little tragic to me. And I probably would enjoy the joke much more if some of the drawings didn't look quite so much like Nazi propaganda. If that is really the 'left' in France, God help us.

A lot of Dawkins's views sound too much like Eugenics to me, so they have the smell of death about them already. His stuff on Downes Syndrome children, his views on women, and his sheer bloody arrogance just get right up my nose. Like many Christians and Muslims and Jews would rather not be associated with other 'representatives' of their creed, so, I find I'm an atheist that struggles with the views of some other atheists. But the bottom line, I think, is that seeking to humbly understand others seems a hell of a lot better than merely mocking them. I think I would prefer a humble Christian to a self-righteous Atheist any day. I would certainly prefer someone who works to relieve suffering in the world to a smartarse that points and laughs.

In the words of that great sage, Mr Bennett, from Pride and Prejudice:

"For what do we live, but to make sport for our neighbours, and laugh at them in our turn?"

We are all foolish, if not actually fools. Some humility in the world could go a long way.

Gabriel Patriarca What did Dawkins say about women, Trevor?

Trevor There were a couple of articles in the Guardian last year on the topic Gabriel - this was the main one:

Gabriel Patriarca That was weird, Trevor. Very unlike him. Maybe he isn't as consistent as I held him to be.

About the Paris accident, I read his twit and I saw nothing wrong with it. He's not generalizing, just calling the attention to the obvious. Not all islamic people are dangerous, but we know which religion those killers have. We should not treat all religions the same, some have dangerous ideas, others don't.

Trevor Except you can't know someone's religion by the fact they kill. You might want to look up Timothy McVeigh - bomb murderer, 168 people killed, over 600 injured - Christian. Or Anders Behring Breivik, bomb and gun murderer, who killed 77 people - also Christian. There is a thing in sociology - when someone is one of 'us' their evil actions are seen as aberrant and not to be understood as part of the normal behaviour of 'our' group, when they are one of 'them' their actions are understood as typical of 'their kind'. This twisted logic is the basis of all of our xenophobia and it needs to be guarded against and outed at all times. Dawkins is making murder typical of all Muslims - which is utter rubbish, but also standard xenophobia. Harris went so far this year to join the cheer squad for Israel for its attacks on Gaza that left over 2000 people dead - mostly children. For him to have the gall to talk about the 'moral landscape' is actually sickening. To almost quote Jesus, we seem to have no trouble noticing the mote in everyone else's eyes, but we can completely ignore the beam in our own.

message 9: by Gabriel (last edited Jan 10, 2015 12:45PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Gabriel Patriarca I think christianity is also dangerous. It's just a little more domesticated, in general. But it still has the occasional bite. There may be historical and cultural reasons for it, but islam isn't as domesticated as we can obviously see more aggressivness made by the name of their religion than christians or Jews do for theirs.

Take jainism or budhism, for example. It is a lot harder for someone to justify any act of aggressivness using their teachings.

I know you are trying to avoid bias, Trevor, but we cannot treat all religions the same, they are dangerous in different magnitudes.

Trevor This attached clip is hardly ever seen in the West, but is constantly shown in the Middle East, It shows how Christians are prepared to allow half a million Iraqi children die to make a kind of point.

They are right to fear us in the Middle East - we have repeatedly shown a capacity to kill hundreds of thousands without qualm or disquiet. We barely register their lives as human and we treat them accordingly, we slaughter them with impunity and we then even have the audacity to call them barbaric - a brief glance at the recent history of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, largely created by the West for other geopolitical reasons, ought to be enough to make us pause before we claim Islam is more dangerous than Christianity. I, for one, would much rather be living in the west under the 'constant fear' of 'terrorism', than living in Iraq under the protection of the west - with friends like us, you really don't need enemies. If you are prepared to trade places, I'm sure there are lots of Iraqis who would jump at the chance. Gabriel, you really should read Blowback: The Costs and Consequences of American Empire - it is the first of three very disturbing books that should be compulsory reading.

Most of our moral judgments are very much situated in our own social understandings - being able to see outside of those social understandings is the first step towards any hope of rationality.

By the way, the Buddhists in Sri Lanka have had no trouble at all in killing lots and lots of Tamils, in fact, they seem to have made a bit of a sport of it. The people of Nankin might wonder about how hard it was for the Japanese Buddhists during the second world war to brutally murder so many of them, hardly seems to have troubled the Japanese conscience at all, though, from what I can gather - their brutality was legendary.

I'm not asking us to treat all religions the same, as the religion of all of the dominant colonial powers, no religion can compare to Christianity in brutality or the suffering it has caused, this should be self-evident - I'm just asking us to be a little self reflective, if we are sickened by terrorism, perhaps we should stop engaging in it, as Noam Chomsky likes to say.

Gabriel Patriarca I will obviously benefit from your reading advices and I admit I have a lot to learn from you.

But this us and them that you said, I don't even identify with that. I didn't kill or condone nobody's death. So I kind of take offense when you include me in that kind of 'us'. I don't identify with christianity either, and I don't sympathize with it's history of lies, deaths, killings and religion persecutions. I'm actually sad a lot of different cultures and mythology were lost by it's demonizing everyone else attitude. Maybe it's easier for me to not having this sense of belonging for living in a third world country. But the fact that it is located in the west does nothing for me to fell like "from this tribe".

But I gotta admit christianiry has gone a long way and became a lot more domesticated in today's world. It also helps the kind o person Jesus were, a jewish hip against violence. While Mohamed was a conquerer. I don't wanna get to much into it but you gotta admit there is a difference there.

Also, there is a difference for killing by the name of a religion and the killing for political or psychological reasons. The examples you gave didn't make this distinction. They intersect some times, but not always.

And see that I spoke about using the teaching to justify the atrocities. We can try to make it using Jainism, for example, but we are not gonna succeed. And it will be a lot harder using buddhism teachings than using the Coran or the bible, for example.

What you said is sensible. This tribal feeling of "us versus them" and not seeing our faults as bad as theirs. It actually influences our behaviours and I'll take your advice in reading more about it. But I think you are taking that a bit too far, we can look at the whole picture with the access of information we have today. And you gotta admit it is easier for someone who doesn't belong to any of the religions to look at them like that.

I'm just afraid that in worring about being tolerant too much, we end up letting dangerous ideas go uncriticized.

Trevor Sorry, I didn't mean to blame you or to make you responsible for the atrocities committed by the west, or rather, I do, but not in the way you think. Those atrocities, though, have been committed in our name and too often accompanied by our silence. While I don't believe we can hold people responsible for acts that are done by a small group claiming to act on behalf of all Muslims, say, I do think that we in the west would be much more moral if we took responsibility for what is done by our governments in our name.

You are right, I don't make the distinction between murder that is done in the name of religion and murder that is done in the name of state terror - obviously, the latter is much, much worse on any scale one would like to measure it. Take the Albright quote above as an instance, where else could one find such a flippant disregard for human life? Where else would the effective murder of half a million children be shrugged off quite so casually? Why would it be unreasonable for someone in the Middle East to view that as proof of the hideous disregard for human life that is typical of all Christians? Because they should know better? That this is just the sort of crazy shit they should expect from the US, and so not take it so personally? And certainly they shouldn't blame everyone in the west for these actions? If I were them, I guess I would struggle with these interpretations.

Christianity hasn't come a long way - our need to use Christianity as a rallying call and to justify our actions has diminished, that's all. I would rather atrocities stopped, no matter whose name they are done in, but ultimately, and as an example of the simplest of moral dictates, I must be held morally responsible for stuff I have some power to stop. As someone who is a citizen of Australia the actions of my government are something I have some stake in - if my inaction allows my government to bomb Iraq, then I must take some responsibility for that action of my government.

While a small proportion of the world's population maintains control over the vast majority of the world's resource - I believe the figures for the US are that the US has 5% of the world's population but consumes 20% of the worlds resource - such inequity will need to be maintained by force. The propaganda war will paint our atrocities which are actually committed in defence of the indefensible as glorious victories to make the world a better and more democratic place, while the actions of those we dispossess will continue to be shown as the most unimaginable acts of cruel and barbaric sects hell bent on the mindless destruction of our noble way of life. But this should be first understood as the propaganda it almost invariably is. That in no way means I endorse ISIS or other crazy murderous fiends, but we need to take action where we can have the most effect, and that is where we are most responsible and have the most power. Invariably, that is against the actions of 'our side'.

The native populations of the Americas were destroyed in the loving name of Jesus. His 'turn the other cheek' advice had as much impact then as it did with Bush in his wars based on lies and also the occasional nod toward Jesus. It seems to me that one can make of any religion just about anything one wants to. I know Harris makes a lot of Jainism in his End of Faith, but other than what he has to say about it, I know nothing else. It would be nice to think there was one religion in the world that couldn't be corrupted by power - but a quick glance at what Christianity REQUIRES from its followers and then a look at what they actually do in practice, can't really leave much room for hope.

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