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The "Accident of Birth"

Where people were born at determines their religion. I’ve read a lot of conversion to Christianity stories (I was born a default Christian), and they all seem to have this element. Bible Scholar Bart Ehrman, former preacher John Loftus, Kenneth Daniels, users on FRDB such as OneInFundiville, christ on a stick, and many others all had some point in their life when they felt like something was “missing”. Some sort of hole in their soul.

Then, they turned to Christianity.

Mostly because they wanted what they saw other “real” Christians had. The friendship, community, fellowship… whatever it is. Just like they shared that common feeling of longing and turned to Christianity, the reasons that they deconverted from Christianity was the desire for “truth”.

I noticed that pattern though: conversion to Christianity was due to sociological, community centered needs. For brotherhood, fellowship, etc. To fill a hole that they felt that they had. All of that is subjective. All of that is emotion driven. Placing subjectivity above all else.

The reason they turned away from Christianity was because of a switch – they started valuing objectivity instead of subjectivity. They wanted to know if Christianity was true objectively; as in “true regardless of how I personally feel about it – without any biases“.

Which is pretty much the point of John Loftus’ “Accident of Birth”. The reason for every single conversion to Christianity story I’ve read is that they simply latched on to their surrounding culture’s popular “hole-filling” meme. If any of the above people had been born in Saudi Arabia, then they wouldn’t have turned to Christianity, they’d have had Muslim parents and Muslim friends and turned to Islam. If they had been born in Utah with Mormon friends and Mormon parents, they’d be Mormons. Born in South America they’d be ardent Catholics. Born in Israel, they’d have turned to Judaism. India? Hinduism. Japan? Buddhism. Africa? Ad nauseum.

Ever since the time of Revelation, every despot or slave that has attained to power, be he violent or ignoble, has made it his first aim and his final purpose to destroy our law, and to vitiate our religion, by means of the sword, by violence, or by brute force, such as Amalek, Sisera, Sennacherib, Nebuchadnezzar, Titus [Jewish-Roman war of 70 CE], Hadrian [Bar-Kochba Revolt of 133 CE], may their bones be ground to dust, and others like them.

[…]

The second class consists of the most intelligent and educated among the nations, such as the Syrians, Persians, and Greeks. These also endeavor to demolish our law and to vitiate it by means of arguments which they invent, and by means of controversies which they institute. After that there arose a new sect which combined the two methods, namely, conquest and controversy, into one, because it believed that this procedure would be more effective in wiping out every trace of the Jewish nation and religion. The first one to have adopted this plan was Jesus the Nazarene, may his bones be ground to dust.

[…] He impelled people to believe that he was a prophet sent by God to clarify perplexities in the Torah, and that he was the Messiah that was predicted by each and every seer. He interpreted the Torah and its precepts in such a fashion as to lead to their total annulment, to the abolition of all its commandments and to the violation of its prohibitions. The sages, of blessed memory, having become aware of his plans before his reputation spread among our people, meted out fitting punishment to him.

Daniel had already alluded to him when he presaged the downfall of a wicked one and a heretic among the Jews who would endeavor to destroy the Law, claim prophecy for himself, make pretenses to miracles, and allege that he is the Messiah, as it is written, “Also the children of the impudent among thy people shall make bold to claim prophecy, but they shall fall.” (Daniel 11:14).

The first to take up this course was Jesus the Nazarene, may his bones be ground to dust. He was of Israel. Later, arose a madman who followed his example since he had paved the way for him. However, he added a further object, namely to seek dominion and complete submission to himself; and what he has established is well known.

– Moses Maimonides, Letter to Yemen c. 1100 CE

Moses Maimonides expresses his disdain over Jesus and Mohammad (called “the madman”). Though, this is only Maimonides’ view of Jesus and Mohammad, and not the view of all Jews.

In blasphemy indeed are those that say that God is Christ the son of Mary. Say: “Who then hath the least power against God, if His will were to destroy Christ the son of Mary, his mother, and all every – one that is on the earth? For to God belongeth the dominion of the heavens and the earth, and all that is between. He createth what He pleaseth. For God hath power over all things.”[Qur’an 5:17]

And because of their saying: We slew the Messiah, Jesus son of Mary, Allah’s messenger — they slew him not nor crucified him, but it appeared so unto them [Quran 4:155 – 159]

116. And behold! Allah will say: “O Jesus the son of Mary! Didst thou say unto men, worship me and my mother as gods in derogation of Allah?” He will say: “Glory to Thee! Never could I say what I had no right (to say). Had I said such a thing, thou wouldst indeed have known it. Thou knowest what is in my heart, Thou I know not what is in Thine. For Thou knowest in full all that is hidden.[Surah 5:116]

Quran 2:113 “The Jews said that the Christians follow nothing (i.e. are not on the right religion); and the Christians said that the Jews follow nothing(i.e. are not on the right religion); though they both recite the Scripture. Like unto their word, said (the pagans) who know not. Allah will judge between them on the Day of the Resurrection about that wherein they have been differing.”

Here Mohammad, writing the dictates of Allah himself, expresses his views, or Allah’s views, of Jesus. According to the divinely inspired book that most of the Middle East follows – and that 1 billion Muslims follow – calling Jesus Allah himself is blasphemy. Jesus himself says in the Quran that he is not Allah.

Consequently, Muslims are somewhat “docetic” (from the Greek δοκεω::dokeo – to seem) since they say that Jesus only “appeared” to be crucified and thus never actually died, and was taken directly up to heaven. [Quran 4:155 – 159 posted above]

As for Mormonism, Joseph Smith, Jr., founded the Latter Day Saint movement. He told his associates and family that he had located a buried book of golden plates written by ancient American prophets (“reformed Egyptian”). Smith said the Angel Moroni, who was the guardian of these plates, had directed him to these writings and that his mission was to publish a translation of this book which he expected would revolutionize Christian thought. This work, published in 1830 as the Book of Mormon, served as a foundation for Smith’s small Church of Christ.

This is basic, sacred, unquestionable truth for millions of Mormons.

A vision given to Joseph Smith the Prophet and Sidney Rigdon, at Hiram, Ohio, February 16, 1832. Prefacing his record of this vision the Prophet wrote: “Upon my return from Amherst conference, I resumed the translation of the Scriptures. From sundry revelations which had been received, it was apparent that many important points touching the salvation of man had been taken from the Bible, or lost before it was compiled. It appeared self-evident from what truths were left, that if God rewarded every one according to the deeds done in the body, the term ‘Heaven,’ as intended for the Saints’ eternal home, must include more kingdoms than one. Accordingly, while translating St. John’s Gospel, myself and Elder Rigdon saw the following vision.” It was after the Prophet had translated John 5:29 that this vision was given
– Doctrine and Covenants, 76

Joseph Smith then reveals that there’s more than one heaven that people get sent to according to their deeds on Earth. The Celestial Heaven, the Terrestial Heaven, and the Telestial Heaven – in descending order of awesomeness.

The Celestial Kingdom will be the residence of those who have been righteous, accepted the teachings of Jesus Christ, and made and lived up to all of the required ordinances and covenants during their mortal lives. It will also be the residence of those individuals that accepted and received the ordinances and covenants in the post-mortal spirit world (Doctrine and Covenants 137:5-9). All children who die before the age of eight automatically inherit the celestial kingdom.(Doctrine and Covenants 137:10). The celestial kingdom will also be the permanent residence of God the Father and Jesus Christ (Doctrine and Covenants 76:62).

The Terrestial Kingdom is the second heaven. According to Doctrine and Covenants section 76, those who will inhabit the terrestrial kingdom include those who lived respectably but “were blinded by the craftiness of men” and thus rejected the fullness of the gospel of Jesus Christ when it was presented to them during their mortal lives (Doctrine and Covenants 76:75). It also includes persons who rejected the “testimony of Jesus in the flesh, but afterwards received it” in the spirit world(Doctrine and Covenants 76:74) and those who “are not valiant in the testimony of Jesus” after having received it (Doctrine and Covenants 76:79).

The Telestial Kingdom is the third heaven. According to Doctrine and Covenants section 76, those who will inhabit the telestial kingdom include those “who received not the gospel of Christ, nor the testimony of Jesus” (Doctrine and Covenants 76:82). It also includes “liars, and sorcerers, and adulterers, and whoremongers, and whosoever loves and makes a lie”(Doctrine and Covenants 76:103). Because of their refusal to accept Jesus as their Savior, these individuals will suffer in hell for their sins for 1000 years during the millennial reign of Christ (Doctrine and Covenants 76:84, 105-106). After the 1000 years, the individuals in hell will be resurrected and receive an immortal physical body and be assigned to the telestial kingdom (Doctrine and Covenants 88:100-101).

In Doctrine and Covenants 1:30, the LDS Church is the “only true and living church upon the face of the whole Earth”.

So which religion is “right”? Depends on where and when you were born…

A Letter to a Friend Regarding The Age of Reason by Thomas Paine. Paris, May 12, 1797

In your letter of the twentieth of March, you give me several quotations from the Bible, which you call the Word of God, to show me that my opinions on religion are wrong, and I could give you as many, from the same book to show that yours are not right; consequently, then, the Bible decides nothing, because it decides any way, and every way, one chooses to make it.

But by what authority do you call the Bible the Word of God? for this is the first point to be settled. It is not your calling it so that makes it so, any more than the Mahometans calling the Koran the Word of God makes the Koran to be so. The Popish Councils of Nice and Laodicea, about 350 years after the time the person called Jesus Christ is said to have lived, voted the books that now compose what is called the New Testament to be the Word of God. This was done by yeas and nays, as we now vote a law.

The Pharisees of the second temple, after the Jews returned from captivity in Babylon, did the same by the books that now compose the Old Testament, and this is all the authority there is, which to me is no authority at all. I am as capable of judging for myself as they were, and I think more so, because, as they made a living by their religion, they had a self-interest in the vote they gave.

You may have an opinion that a man is inspired, but you cannot prove it, nor can you have any proof of it yourself, because you cannot see into his mind in order to know how he comes by his thoughts; and the same is the case with the word revelation. There can be no evidence of such a thing, for you can no more prove revelation than you can prove what another man dreams of, neither can he prove it himself.

It is often said in the Bible that God spake unto Moses, but how do you know that God spake unto Moses? Because, you will say, the Bible says so. The Koran says, that God spake unto Mahomet, do you believe that too? No.

Why not? Because, you will say, you do not believe it; and so because you do, and because you don’t is all the reason you can give for believing or disbelieving except that you will say that Mahomet was an impostor. And how do you know Moses was not an impostor?

For my own part, I believe that all are impostors who pretend to hold verbal communication with the Deity. It is the way by which the world has been imposed upon; but if you think otherwise you have the same right to your opinion that I have to mine, and must answer for it in the same manner. But all this does not settle the point, whether the Bible be the Word of God, or not. It is therefore necessary to go a step further. The case then is: –

You form your opinion of God from the account given of Him in the Bible; and I form my opinion of the Bible from the wisdom and goodness of God manifested in the structure of the universe, and in all works of creation. The result in these two cases will be, that you, by taking the Bible for your standard, will have a bad opinion of God; and I, by taking God for my standard, shall have a bad opinion of the Bible.

The Bible represents God to be a changeable, passionate, vindictive being; making a world and then drowning it, afterwards repenting of what he had done, and promising not to do so again. Setting one nation to cut the throats of another, and stopping the course of the sun till the butchery should be done. But the works of God in the creation preach to us another doctrine. In that vast volume we see nothing to give us the idea of a changeable, passionate, vindictive God; everything we there behold impresses us with a contrary idea – that of unchangeableness and of eternal order, harmony, and goodness.

The sun and the seasons return at their appointed time, and everything in the creation claims that God is unchangeable. Now, which am I to believe, a book that any impostor might make and call the Word of God, or the creation itself which none but an Almighty Power could make? For the Bible says one thing, and the creation says the contrary. The Bible represents God with all the passions of a mortal, and the creation proclaims him with all the attributes of a God.

It is from the Bible that man has learned cruelty, rapine, and murder; for the belief of a cruel God makes a cruel man. That bloodthirsty man, called the prophet Samuel, makes God to say, (I Sam. xv. 3) `Now go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not, but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass.’

That Samuel or some other impostor might say this, is what, at this distance of time, can neither be proved nor disproved, but in my opinion it is blasphemy to say, or to believe, that God said it. All our ideas of the justice and goodness of God revolt at the impious cruelty of the Bible. It is not a God, just and good, but a devil, under the name of God, that the Bible describes.

What makes this pretended order to destroy the Amalekites appear the worse, is the reason given for it. The Amalekites, four hundred years before, according to the account in Exodus xvii. (but which has the appearance of fable from the magical account it gives of Moses holding up his hands), had opposed the Israelites coming into their country, and this the Amalekites had a right to do, because the Israelites were the invaders, as the Spaniards were the invaders of Mexico. This opposition by the Amalekites, at that time, is given as a reason, that the men, women, infants and sucklings, sheep and oxen, camels and asses, that were born four hundred years afterward, should be put to death; and to complete the horror, Samuel hewed Agag, the chief of the Amalekites, in pieces, as you would hew a stick of wood. I will bestow a few observations on this case.

In the first place, nobody knows who the author, or writer, of the book of Samuel was, and, therefore, the fact itself has no other proof than anonymous or hearsay evidence, which is no evidence at all. In the second place, this anonymous book says, that this slaughter was done by the express command of God: but all our ideas of the justice and goodness of God give the lie to the book, and as I never will believe any book that ascribes cruelty and injustice to God, I therefore reject the Bible as unworthy of credit.

As I have now given you my reasons for believing that the Bible is not the Word of God, that it is a falsehood, I have a right to ask you your reasons for believing the contrary; but I know you can give me none, except that you were educated to believe the Bible; and as the Turks give the same reason for believing the Koran, it is evident that education makes all the difference, and that reason and truth have nothing to do in the case.

You believe in the Bible from the accident of birth, and the Turks believe in the Koran from the same accident, and each calls the other infidel. But leaving the prejudice of education out of the case, the unprejudiced truth is, that all are infidels who believe falsely of God, whether they draw their creed from the Bible, or from the Koran, from the Old Testament, or from the New.

When you have examined the Bible with the attention that I have done (for I do not think you know much about it), and permit yourself to have just ideas of God, you will most probably believe as I do. But I wish you to know that this answer to your letter is not written for the purpose of changing your opinion. It is written to satisfy you, and some other friends whom I esteem, that my disbelief of the Bible is founded on a pure and religious belief in God; for in my opinion the Bible is a gross libel against the justice and goodness of God, in almost every part of it.

 
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Posted by on July 27, 2009 in islam, jesus, mormonism, moses maimonides, muhammad, thomas paine

 
 
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