Lost Christianities               Bart D. Ehrman               Jan 2007
The Jesus Papers                Michael Baigent               Feb 2007
The God Delusion              Richard Dawkins            Mar 2007

Lost Christianities                Bart D. Ehrman               Jan 2007

Subtitle:  The Battles for Scripture and the Faiths We Never Knew  

Introduction:  Recouping our Losses   There are many variants of Christianity today, all Christians believe in one god, with an option of a Holy Spirit and Jesus, but in the the second and third centuries there were Christians who believed that there was only one God, some believed in two, some in thirty, and some in 365 gods.  Some believed that the world was created by an ignorant, subordinate divinity (why else would there be evil and suffering) and some believed that the world was created by an evil god to trap humans.  Some believed that Jesus was both divine and human, some believed that Jesus was only a God, wearing the "shell" of a man.  Some believed that Jesus was only a man adopted by god, and some thought he was a man who was "reborn" when the God Christ entered his body at baptism but was left behind when Christ left his body on the cross, "why have you forsaken me?"  And this was only the start of the differences.

All of the Gospels were written anonymously many hears after the death of Jesus.  Only later did they become named after specific men.  There were many others in common use at that time (the first, second, and third centuries) reportedly written by many other people including Peter, Mary Magdalene, and Didymus Judas Thomas, Jesus' twin brother.  Others were written as late as the 5th century.  It wasn't until the Council of Nicaea in 325 and the Councils of Hippo and Carthage in 393-397 that the current New Testament became relatively close to what we have today.

Even though some elements of the early Christianities remain today, all major Christian segments today have diverged from the one Christianity that emerged victorious from the disagreements of the second and third centuries.  Then this victorious segment set about rewriting and suppressing the history and documents of the other Christian faiths.  All Christian faiths today have a similar creed, a similar theology and a specific New Testament composed of 27 books.  It wasn't until the 19th century that scholars started questioning the accuracy of older documents.

Part One:  Forgeries and Discoveries  Forgeries, pseudonyms, pseudepigrapha (written under a false name), apocrypha (covered or hidden), and anonymous are all terms that can (have) been applied to almost all of the early books in the New Testament.  There are no originals, much was passed down as oral tradition and written down only hundreds of years later, however all reflected what groups of people believed with the exception of tiny amounts which may have been written as outright forgeries for personal reasons.

C1  The Ancient Discovery of a Forgery:  Serapion and the Gospel of Peter  There were many different Gospels between 100 and 400.  Ehrman calls the members of the group that later became the church in Rome the proto-orthodox group.

The early writer Eusebuis tells of the writings of the Bishop of Antioch, Serapion, who traveled to Rhossus and found the Christians there using a gospel written by Peter.  At first he approved it but then later was persuaded that it contained objectionable material.  Serapion is then quoted as having written a pamphlet explaining the problem and told them not to use it.  That's all we knew until 1887 when the tomb of a monk who died between 800 and 1200 was excavated in Egypt and it contained a large segment of the Gospel of Peter.  This segment is very anti-Jewish, accusing them of being responsible for Jesus' death not the Romans and it supports the doceist view, that Christ took over Jesus' body at baptism and left it on the cross.  According to other documents dating 300 to 1200 the Gospel of Peter was mentioned more than the Gospel of Mark.

C2  The Ancient Forgery of a Discovery:  The Acts of Paul and Thecla
 For a long time, around the year 500, Thecla was the most important woman in Christianity, as important as Mary.  She was worshiped as a saint and martyr as the most important person outside of the Trinity.  However we know that the Acts of Paul, which includes the Act of Thecla, was written by a presbyter (church elder) in what is now Turkey as a teaching document.   However Tertullian, a proto-orthodox leader was very anti-woman and forced the author to admit the tale was untrue.  This is one episode that points out the conflict between many early Christians who were comfortable with women in leadership positions and many converts who were powerful and did not believe that women should have any part in leading the church.  Many women at this time were unhappy with the constraints of a patriarchal society and the proto-orthodox and later the Christian leaders struggled with "putting them in their place".  They have been successful until fairy modern times.

C3  The Discovery of an Ancient Forgery:  The Coptic Gospel of Thomas I find this chapter very confusing, it is not clear why the Gospel of Thomas, which was discovered at Nag Hammadi in 1945 where it had been buried for around 1,500 years and which seems to have been written around 125 AD, is any more or less of a forgery than many of the other books of the New Testament, many of which are more recent than Thomas.  It supports a more Gnostic view and was forbidden in 367 by the bishop of Alexandria.  

C4  The Forgery of an Ancient Discovery?  Morton Smith and the Secret Gospel of Mark  There is some evidence to support the view that the noted biblical scholar, Morton Smith, forged a document that purports to be very old as a joke on his fellows.  Unfortunately we shall probably never know unless the original someday appears.

Part Two:  Heresies and Orthodoxies  At the beginning and for the first few centuries of the Christian era there were many gods worshiped and most people were very tolerant of other beliefs.  As long as you made an appropriate sacrifice to whatever gods were in vogue for the particular state, it was perfectly appropriate to worship your personal god(s) any way you wanted.  The Christians and to a lesser extent the Jews rejected this and refused to sacrifice to the Gods of the state.  This was forgiven for the Jews, they had been "different" for a thousand years.  The Christians were new, upstarts, and aggressive and were not forgiven.  Their lack of respect for the state gods made it easy to blame them for "Act of God" catastrophes.  They were sometimes attacked by mobs and sacrificed in the arena as scapegoats for political problems of the rulers.  This was not common but it did happen.  There were also divisions within the Christian communities.  Since each sub-group  "knew" the truth there were constant arguments among them.  Ehrman concentrates on four such groups, the Jewish-Christian Ebionites, the anti-Jewish Marcionites, some early Christian Gnostics, and the group that he labeled the proto-orthodox which was to prevail.

C5  At Polar Ends of the Spectrum:  Early Christian Ebonites and Marcionites Jesus was born, raised, preached, and died a Jew.  As recently as 100 years ago this fact was still being debated.  The question now is what kind of a Jew?  The leaders of the Jews in Jerusalem did not like him.  His disciples were all Jews.  Some of them, some time after his death, began to see him as more than just a Jewish leader (prophet).  Paul, who never met Jesus, was a leader in this.  He worked among the gentiles (pagans) and taught that one need not be a Jew to be a Christian.  This caused a major division.  Other writers have suggested that most of the disciples and Mary were very opposed to this view but they remained in Jerusalem and the surrounding area and that their followers were destroyed and scattered in the Roman wars around 70 AD, in Egypt in 115, and in 135 again in Jerusalem.  Followers of those like Paul who traveled to Rome and to Turkey did not meet with this fate.

Ebionites:  The name may have have come from a founder, Ebion or it may have come from the Hebrew word ebyon, which means "poor".  Early proto-orthodox writers called them "poor in understanding" (stupid?) perhaps they took vows of poverty or something.  They were clearly Jewish-Christians, not the only group but the ones that generated the most criticism.  They maintained that their beliefs were authorized by the original disciples, especially Peter and James, Jesus' brother, who became the head of the Jerusalem church after Jesus.  They also did not believe in Jesus' virgin birth but believed that he was "adopted" by God at his baptism.  Jesus was set apart because he kept God's laws perfectly and was therefore chosen by God and then God raised him from the dead.  They believed that since Jesus offered himself as a sacrifice that no additional animal sacrifices were necessary and many became vegetarian.  They did not accept the teachings of Paul.  Very little is known about the Gospels that they did use other than the Old Testament.

Marcionites:  Named after Marcion, a second-century evangelist/theologian.  The proto-orthodox saw the Marcionites as much more of a threat than the Ebionites as the Marcionites were based in Rome and were well funded.  Marcion was born in Sinope on the southern shore of the Black Sea in about 100 AD.  His father was said to be the bishop.  He made his money as a shipping merchant or ship builder.  He came to Rome in 139 and donated the money to build what was perhaps the largest church in the world.  He seems to have believed that Paul was the chief spokesman for Christ.  He saw Jesus as being the break between the world of the Jews and the Old Testament and as a new beginning.  Jesus was not a man, he only "seemed" to have a fleshy body.  He wrote two books, one, the Antitheses was his own work - a commentary describing his beliefs, and the other a canon of scripture, arguably the first such in the Christian world.  His New Testament consisted of eleven books, most were the letters of Paul, and one was the Gospel of Luke.  The Old Testament was definitely not included.

Marcion called the very first council of church leaders in Rome to present his ideas.  They rejected the ideas, excommunicated him, refunded his money, and told him to leave.  He returned to Asia Minor and proceeded to spread his ideas.  He was very successful and as late as the fifth century orthodox bishops were warning of worshiping with the Marcionite heretics.  Ehrman suggests that Jews were somewhat accepted because they were an ancient religion and at that time there was a reverence for ancient ideas and relationships.  The proto-orthodox Christians were also somewhat accepted because claimed descent from the Jews but the Marcionites rejected the Jewish heritage.  Perhaps this is why the Marcionites did not thrive well except in outlying regions like Asia Minor and the proto-orthodox ideas won out in the end.

C6  Christians "In the Know":  The Worlds of Early Christian Gnosticism Gnosticism is probably the most confusing variant of Christianity.  Very briefly they believed that they possessed hidden knowledge and this was the pathway to salvation.  There were many sub-groups and many of them operated secretly from within other Christian churches.  Elements of these beliefs existed before Jesus and many believed in several Gods.  One specific belief answered the problem of evil in the world by postulating a flawed god who created the earth and Jesus came to earth with the knowledge of how to escape this world an rejoin the pure God.  The discovery of the Nag Hammadi books increased our knowledge of this set of belief greatly.  

C7  On the Road to Nicaea:  The Broad Swath of Proto-orthodox Christianity The main commonality of the proto-orthodox Christians was their dislike of the other brands of Christianity.  However they did share several characteristics.  They glorified being martyred.  They believed in a rigid hierarchy and the supremacy of the Church of Rome (many of the leaders were based there).  They did not see themselves as Jews but they traced their heritage back through the  Old Testament.  They did not believe in individual interpretation of faith, bishops, elders, or other church officials were to interpret the faith.  

Part Three:  Winners and Losers  There were many divisions with in the Jewish faith before and during the time of Jesus.  One thing that modern Christians forget is that most of the letters of Paul were to church leaders in churches that he had founded.  Paul is finding them departing from the faith that he personally believed.  Even within his churches there is a diversity of opinion.  Only one thing is certain, there were many arguments, the losers would likely end up being excommunicated and the winners would write the history and destroy the gospels of the losers.

C8  The Quest for Orthodoxy  Following Marcion's canon of gospel there were many such gospels, the most complete and well known that remains is the ten volume Church History that Eusebius published in 324/25 at the same time as the Council of 
Nicaea.  This document was driven by proto-orthodox beliefs and the need to refute the arguments of the alternative understandings of the faith.  Interesting sidelight, like many others, Eusebuis felt that Christian heresy began with Simon Magnus of Samaria who is mentioned in Acts (8:9-13).  Simon was impressed by the preaching of Philip but when Peter and John came Simon tried to bribe them to be included in the inner circle.  From then on Simon's behavior became worse.  It was reported that Romans worshiped him and even set up a statue to him on Tiber island with an inscription reading "Simone Deo Sancto" meaning "To Simon, the Holy God".  Unfortunately for the story, the real inscription was found in 1574, it read, "Semoni Sanco Sancto Deo", Semo Sancus was a pagan deity worshiped by the Sabines in Rome.  Eusebius repeatedly attacks Simon and shows how Simon's efforts were thwarted at every turn.  The importance is that it frames how the orthodox would fight every other instance of heresy for over 1,500 years.

Ehrman reports on the history of Christian criticism.  He discusses three people, Hermann Reimarus (1694-1768), F. C. Baur (1792-1860), and Walter Bauer (1877-1960),  and how these people assisted our understanding of how modern day Christian beliefs became established.  Ehrman believes that there were four factors that were important in the proto-orthodox beliefs becoming accepted:
  1. They claimed ancient toots for their religion.
  2. They rejected the practices of contemporary Judaism.
  3. They stressed a church hierarchy and this hierarchy determined all the affairs and beliefs of the church.
  4. They were in constant communication with one another and were interested in affairs locally and in other communities.  They were interested in spreading their understanding of the faith very widely.
Another factor which cuts across all of these is that they relied on written texts, letters, books, canons of scripture, etc.  They did not rely on any mystical or personal experiences.  This saves your beliefs from being lost or changed and it allows you to destroy the texts that you do not agree with.

C9  The Arsenal of the Conflicts:  Polemical Treatises and Personal Slurs  The author describes some of the battles between the proto-orthodox and the other groups, the
Ebionites,  Marcionites, and the Gnostics,

C10  Additional Weapons in the Polemical Arsenal:  Forgeries and Falsifications Jews and Christians appear to have used written documents in their religion more than any other religions in the Roman empire.  Or at least they seem to based on the number of documents found.  Some of the documents were probably designed as interesting tales, similar to what we now call historical fiction.  An example are the Infancy Gospels.  As time went on they began to acquire more religious importance but they never became part of official doctrine.  Another example is the alleged letters between the Roman philosopher Seneca and Paul.  These seem to be trying to raise the prestige of Paul.  These seem to have been written in the fourth century.

It would appear that one of the tactics used by many of the Christian religions was to make small changes in the Gospels that others used and then use these changes to argue against the other groups.  They were also not above making small changes in their own documents and using these to support their beliefs.  There are numerous examples where wording suddenly appears in most documents after a specific date but never before.  These almost always support a particular religious belief.

C11  The Invention of Scripture:  The Formation of the Proto-orthodox New Testament  By the middle of the second century there were many, perhaps hundreds, of documents that some people claimed were sacred.  It wasn't until 367 that Athanasius, the bishop of Alexandria, wrote a letter proposing that the 27 books of our current New Testament be accepted as valid scripture.  Actually there was no official, churchwide pronouncement until the Council of Trent in the mid 16th century.  The list of Athanasius received a major supporter in 393 when Augustine of Hippo supported it at the Synod of Hippo and it was then summarized at the Synod of Carthage in 397.  That settled the issue in North Africa but other churches slowly came around to this view including the church in Rome and the more eastern churches.

C12  Winners, Losers, and the Question of Tolerance The Jews had many conflicts with the Romans, mainly political, from the time of Christ until the destruction of Jerusalem.  Christians were sometimes persecuted from late in the first century until about 249 which was primarily religious.  In 249 the Emperor Decius tried, but not efficiently or consistently, to eliminate Christianity throughout the empire.  This continued until about 312 with the Emperor Constantine.  In 325 he called the Council of Nicaea which brought agreement on the major points of faith and practice.  At this time Christians composed perhaps 5 to 7 percent of the population.  By the year 400 perhaps 50 percent of the population had become Christian.  This is not to say that the issues were all settled by 400.  The major feature were mapped out but many details were not settled.  They are not settled today.  As soon as most of the old issues had been settled, new ones arose to take their place.  One very disturbing factor was that of tolerance.  The Romans were very tolerant of different religions.  The problem they had with Christians was that the Christians refused to be tolerant of other religions.  Everyone was expected to make at least a surface show of obedience and sacrifice to the state Gods, Christians refused.  Jews also refused but they were an ancient religion and respected for this fact.  The proto-orthodox Christians were very intolerant.  We don't know much about the tolerance of the other groups, the Ebionites, Marcionites, and Gnostics

The book contains a five page list of the major Christian Apocrypha discussed with their dates and contents.  It contains 21 pages of notes, seven pages of bibliography, and a six page index.

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The Jesus Papers                 Michael Baigent              Feb 2007

Subtitle:  Exposing the Greatest Cover-Up in History

C1  Hidden Documents  A number of years before the writing of the book, the author was asked to quietly photograph some of the contents of two wooden trunks in a back room of a London bank.  The trunks contained numerous sheets of cardboard to which pieces of papyrus had been taped.  These were written on in either Aramaic or Hebrew and were accompanied by Egyptian mummy wrappings inscribed in demotic - the written form of Egyptian Hieroglyphics.  He was told that the documents were being sold to an European government and that the film would be used as a "sample" to prove the value of the documents to help in consummating the deal.  The author kept a copy of the photographs and gave them to a researcher at the British Museum for evaluation.  When he heard nothing he went back an found that the researcher had left and no one knew anything about the photographs.

He presented this as a demonstration that there are many ancient documents in existence but a lot of them are hidden because of the politics, religion, and money involved.  Religions: Muslims, Jews, and Christians (mainly Catholics) and governments: mainly middle Eastern Muslim, Israel, France and others are very involved in this commerce but none are very concerned about free and open access to information.

C2  The Priest's Treasure  The chapter describes some of the events surrounding the Abbé B
éranger Saunière,  the priest at the village of Rennes Le Château in Southern France.  He plays a major role in Holy Blood, Holy Grail.  Some history:  In the early 15th century there were three popes claiming power.  At a Council of Bishops meeting in Constance the bishops decided that the pope in Rome was the supreme pontiff.  
During this time the Vatican States were the size of a small country.  Following the war between France and Austria the Catholic Hapsburg forces were defeated and the Vatican states were reduced to The city of Rome and a small amount of surrounding land.  This the bishops still held power over the pope held until 1869 at the First Vatican Council.  This was a very contentious affair with no secret votes and much pressure and threatening of loss of income.  After two months the issue of papal infallibility was raised.  Some of those who disagreed were subjected to house arrest and physical violence.  Even after this the proposal was only passed(?) by 49% of those voting but a majority vote was declared and on July 18, 1870 the pope was declared infallible.  Then two months later, on Sept. 21, 1870, Italian troops entered Rome and seized everything except Vatican City.

In the early 1890's, Alfred Lilley, a major figure in the Church of England was asked by former student to come to Paris to help in translating a confusing document.  Reportedly the document contained the statement that Jesus was alive and well in the year 45 and was living in Alexandria on a small plot of land beyond the city walls.  Following this,
Abbé Saunière, who was presumably the discoverer of the document, returned to Rennes Le Château with a mysterious source of income.  Shortly thereafter the Catholic Church became very concerned with regulating scholarship.

C3  Jesus the King  According to toe gospels it would seem that everyone except the disciples wanted Jesus dead or at least out of the way.  The Romans evidently just wanted him out of the way, they "washed their hands" of him.  He was Crucified between two "criminals" or "thieves".

However there are several problems here.  Crucification was the normal Roman punishment for political crimes -for sedition.  Stoning was the Jewish punishment for religious crimes - dissent.  Modern bibles say that Jesus was crucified between two thieves.  The original text identifies them as "lestai" which translates or brigands but was the official name for the "Zealots" - Judaean freedom fighters; the Romans considered them terrorists.  They objected to the Roman (following the orders of Herod) practice of naming priests.  The Zealots wanted priests selected from "the line of Aaron".  Jesus was "of the line of Aaron" on his mothers side.  Barabbas, released as a feast day amnesty by Pilate, was described as a "lestes" in Greek (John 14:40).  Simon the Zealot (Luke 6:15) is another example as is Judas Iscariot, a member of the Sicarii - small curved knife - a group of assassins within the Zealots.

Herod captured Jerusalem in 37 BC.  From then until his death in 4 AD he executed all the members of the Jewish nobility that he could capture.  In 4 AD an uprising led by Judas of Galilee broke out.  When it was finally crushed by the Romans some 2,000 Jews were crucified for sedition.   Jesus, a descendant of Aaron (priests) and of David (kings) was born into this environment.

C4  The Son of the Star  The Zealots were actively opposing the Romans for over 130 years.  Jesus was crucified between the year 30 and 36 depending on your source, in 38 there were Jewish riots in Alexandria, in 44 James, the brother of Jesus was executed, a Jewish revolt in Alexandria results in thousands of deaths in 66.  Between 66 and 73 there is a war is Judaea, in 70 the temple in Jerusalem is destroyed and in 73 Masada is destroyed.  In 115 Jews outside of Judaea revolted.  The leader in Egypt was a Jew named Lucuas who claimed to have been "of the line of David" and who was also described as the king of the Jews.  This revolt was put down in 117 with the destruction of the Jewish community in Egypt.  In 131 a large Jewish force under Simon Bar Kochba "the Son of the Star" attacked the Romans and reconquered Judaea.  The Romans  came back in 133 and in 135 they killed Bar Kochba and routed all of his troops.  Biagent makes the point that "the star of Judaea" was commonly thought of being the king of the Jews, the leader who was a descendant in the line of David.

C5  Creating the Jesus of Faith  Contrary to modern Christian illustrations, Jesus did not have blond hair and fair skin that never burned.  He wasn't followed around by disciples recording every word of the living god.  He was a Jew, a dark Palestinian.  He and his followers had religious documents, they were the books we now call the Old Testament.  Around 135 - 155  the Christian writer Justin Martyr writes that the term "Holy Scripture" was reserved for the books of the law and the prophets and that the Gospels were to be used in church to support their faith but were not considered inspired writings.

In the second century BC the Aramaic word meshiha (messiah) became to be associated with Jewish kings descended from King David.  The Greek word christos is basically a translation of meshiha, and the word Mestsias is a transliteration of the older word.  The word Jesus derives from Yeshua (Joshua) but it can mean "the deliverer" or "the savior"; it could be just a title.  There is extremely little evidence for an actual person named Jesus.  The earliest fragments of the New Testament (John) date from 125.  Paul's letters, supposedly written between 50 and 60 do not show up in the archaeological record until about 200.  And Paul never met Jesus, they are about Paul - not about Jesus.  The only documents outside of the Christian tradition are that Pontius Pilate, during the reign of Tiberius, executed a Jewish "messiah" who was a political rebel and was therefore crucified.  Was this man Jesus? - There is no historically explicit information.

Biagent goes on to the differing views of Christianity that existed up to the fifth century, this is covered in more detail in the above book,  Ehrman's Lost Christianities.  Biagent is much more anti-church, especially the church in Rome.

C6  Rome's Greatest Fear  This chapter is one of those, "bad people doing bad things" tirades.  It starts out on Aug 5, 1234 when followers of Dominic de Guzman, including the local Bishop, took a woman who was dying and carried her on her own bed to a meadow and burned her alive for heresy.  Dominic founded the Order of the Dominicans, he was cannonized as a saint in 1234.  The Dominicans became the main force behind the Inquisition.  In 1908 the Inquisition became the Sacred Congregation of the Holy Office and then in 1965 it was again renamed as th Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.  The Prefect of this Congregation, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was elected Pope in April 2005.  Biagent discusses many aspects of the Inquisition and then moves on to the attitude of the church towards women.

Most of the early church leaders were married, Priests were allowed to marry for over 1000 years, and many other facts relating to the importance of women in the early days of Christianity were brought up.  

C7  Surviving the Crucifixion  This chapter discusses Jesus' activities from his entry into Jerusalem until the crucifixion and offers alternative interpretations of the biblical accounts.

C8  Jesus in Egypt  Now we come to the most speculative part of the book.  Biagent postulates that Jesus (with his family) travel to a thriving Jewish community in Egypt where he is trained and initiated into the beliefs of this community.  He stays there from sometime in his childhood until shortly before his age 30  which would be around the year 27 or 28 when he brings his ministry back to the Jerusalem area.  To be sure there is scattered (evidence / circumstance) which is sited to support this but there is extremely little historical evidence to support anything concerning Jesus.  

Jesus debates the priests of the temple when he is 12 (Luke 2:41-47) - why only Luke?  Matthew, Mark, and Luke say that Jesus lived in Nazareth - there is no evidence that Nazareth even existed until the third century AD. There are many reports of Jesus having traveled to Persia, Afghanistan, or India.  Again, very little evidence.  Both Hosea (11:1) and Matthew (2:15) "call my son out of Egypt."  A legend called "The Vision of Theophilus" places the holy family in Egypt and tells of the places they visited and the miracles that were performed along the way.  Theophilus was patriarch of Alexandria and leader of the Egyptian church from 385 to 412.  There is a great deal of evidence to support the claim that there was a thriving Jewish community in Egypt and the Coptic (and Gnostic) Christians were based there.  The Dead Sea
scrolls and Nag Hammadi texts support this.

C9  The Mysteries of Egypt  This chapter is not directly related to the rest of the book.  It covers (briefly) the interpretation of the beliefs of ancient Egypt and of the prevalence of the belief in secret places and secret truths.

C10  Initiation  Again this chapter seems not to be directly related.  It begins in May 2001 with a trip that the author took to Baia, a small port town in the northwest corner of the Bay of Naples in Italy.  He an archaeological expert were to explore a tunnel cut into the volcanic rock.  The tunnel was excavated perhaps 2,600 years ago.  It was used for hundreds of years, then filled with rubble and re-discovered in 1958 but not explored until 1962.  The Italian government had not allowed any serious exploration until 2001.  The best evidence suggests that the tunnel was filled with rubble in 37-36 BC by Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa, a Roman general and admiral at the time of Augustus Caesar and the grandfather of Nero.  At that time he was building a fleet and training his soldiers in lakes Avernus and Lucrina for the Sicilian war.  

In Vergil's Aeneid, Aeneas visits the Sibyl of Cuma and asks for directions to the underworld,  "The way downward is easy from Avernus." she replies.  When Hannibal conquered the area in 209 BC he also made a point of sacrificing at a sacred site near Lake Avernus.  To shorten it down, the author reports much circumstantial evidence that this tunnel is indeed the passage to the underworld, which ended at a spring of volcanic hot water.  Unfortunately what occurred there was "secret knowledge" and either never written down or destroyed as heretical literature.  

Archaeologists have discovered thin gold plates in some graves near the ancient city of Thurii in Italy which had been founded by Greeks in 442 BC.  The inscriptions in Greek were presumably to guide the dead on their journey through the underworld.  The writings are very similar to those in the Egyptian "Book of the Dead."  Perhaps there was a strong tradition of underground or hidden knowledge that extended through Italy, Greece, and Egypt.  

C11  Experiencing the Source  In this chapter some of the Jewish traditions and their relationships to the traditions of Babylon and Mesopotamia reaching back 4,000 years or more.  Some of these were remarkably similar to passages in The Book of Enoch which was first discovered by James Bruce in 1768 in Ethiopia.  Much of this is mystical in nature.  Records of its existence are in Christian documents of the second and third centuries before being banned in the forth and fifth centuries.  Portions were later discovered among the Dead Sea Scrolls.

C12  The Kingdom of Heaven  Jesus spoke to the masses beside the Sea of Galilee.  He always taught by means of simple parables.  Later when he was with his disciples he was asked why?  He answered that parables are designed for the masses, but for his disciples he had a deeper truth, "It is given unto you to know the mystery of the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 13:11, Mark 4:11, Luke 8:9-10).  There are two levels of knowledge, one for the masses and one for the initiates. This inner teaching concerned the "mystery of the kingdom of heaven."  This is remarkably similar to the mysteries of Greece and Egypt.  Later Christian writers refer to "secret" or mysterious gospels, one of which was written by Mark but he gave it only to the Church in Alexandria.  Clement, the Bishop of Alexandria writes of this in about 195 AD.  Several other sources for this concept are cited.

C13  The Jesus Papers  A description of the events surrounding the discovery and publication of the Dead Sea Scrolls.  Also a description of some of the illegal trading in ancient documents.  This is much more difficult to evaluate because of the extreme difficulty in tracking down sources.  The only thing that can be positively concluded is that both the Vatican and Israel (Catholics and Jews) have much to loose, very little to gain, and do not want to cooperate in discovering the truth.

C14  Trading Culture  Another chapter detailing problems in dealing with people who have (or at least say they have) ancient documents and finding ways by which these documents may become public.  Most of the owners want the highest price possible and they also have specific religious agenda, many against Jews (Israel) or Catholics.  They are very secretive.

10 pages of bibliography, 15 pages of notes, and 9 pages of notes.ß

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The God Delusion              Richard Dawkins            Mar 2007

Preface    The Preface is a brief description of why Dawkins wrote this book and a brief review of the chapters and how they support his reasons.  It ends with the obligatory thank you's.

Reviewers comment:  If you have read any of the many books by Dawkins you know that he is a very forceful author and he documents his arguments very well.  If you are very religious and don't like negative comments about your religion - stop right here and never read any of Dawkins' books.  He is very plain spoken, very literate, and doesn't pull any punches.  

One book that I have read and Dawkins doesn't cite is Primack, Joel R. & Nancy Ellen Abrams,  The View from the Center of the Universe.  This presents a very interesting viewpoint that humans need a cosmology that supports their beliefs.  Primack and Abrams suggest that a failure of cosmology to answer their questions was a partial cause for the break between religion and science.  As astronomy widened the gap between the universe and individual humans, many had nothing in which to believe except "Gods".  They present a view that puts humans back into the universe and shows them to be players in the middle of the entire universe.  A very interesting book

C1  A Deeply Religious Non-Believer

Deserved Respect
 Many writers describe a spiritual experience while lying on a lawn and either looking up at the sky or down at the grass.  It leads some to the priesthood and some to science.  It is the same experience, why the different destinations?  He discusses the writings of Einstein and Sagan and some of the responses to them.

Undeserved Respect  Why is it that you can disagree with anybody or anything and have a right to your opinion, but when you criticize a religion or a religious movement you are "not showing respect for peoples religious beliefs?"  As H. L. Mencken said, "We must respect the other fellow's religion, but only in the sense and to the extent that we respect his theory that his wife is beautiful and his children smart."  It is legal for members of the Centro Espirita Beneficiente Uniao do Vegal to drink hoasca tea which contains an hallucinogenic drug but not for cancer patients to use cannabis for nausea and discomfort during chemotherapy.  Why?

C2  The God Hypothesis  The God of the Old Testament is a very nasty guy.  Some Christians believe, "Gentle Jesus meek and mild."  The God Hypothesis: "there exists a superhuman, supernatural intelligence who deliberately designed and created the universe and everything in it, including us."  The Dawkins Hypothesis: "Any creative intelligence, of sufficient complexity to design anything, comes into existence only as the end product of an extended process of gradual evolution."

Polytheism  Multiple gods are discriminated against in Western religion and law.  But who can tell?  What is the Trinity? how about saints? The issue is very confused.

Monotheism  Christianity and Islam both are offshoots of Judaism.  Gore Vidal, "The great unmentionable evil at the center of our culture is monotheism."  The Abrahamic God is a personal God.  An alternative, the Deist God, is a hyper-engineer who would up the universe, said that it was good, and walked away.

Secularism  The United States was not founded as a Christian Nation.  A treaty with Tripoli, drafted in 1796 under George Washington and signed in 1797 by John Adams states, "As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion; ..."  This treaty caused no dissent at the time.  Benjamin Franklin, "Lighthouses are more useful than churches."  Dawkins discusses the extreme prejudice against atheists in America.

The Poverty of Agnosticism  There is a case to be made for certain types of agnosticism, the evidence is not yet in, I will decide later.  Dawkins doesn't think this is the case for God, enough evidence is already in.  How about the case of, "I really could care less and I don't want to argue the point.

NOMA  Steven Jay Gould's term for Non-Overlapping MAgisteria.  The view that religion and science don't exist in the same plane, they don't influence one another.  Maybe so, he will consider the issue when religion stops talking about anything that can ever influence the physical world beyond setting up the conditions for the Big Bang - and he is not sure about that.

The Great Prayer Experiment  In an experiment reported in the American Heart Journal in April 2006 three different church congregations prayed for patients in three hospitals.  There was no difference in the recovery rate between those who were prayed for and those who were not.  However the recover rate for those who knew they were being prayed for was less than those who did not know they were being prayed for.  Perhaps the stress of knowing that they were being prayed for was too much for some people.

The Neville Chamberlain School of Evolutionists  OK, I am missing a few points of British politics.  I don't get this section.

Little Green Men  The Drake equation - we are slowly chipping away at the uncertainties in several of the terms.  Arthur C. Clarke's Third Law, "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic."  Aliens would perhaps show characteristics of Gods, but they would still show evidence of being products of an evolutionary process.  They may however exploit and hide their science - just like Christian missionaries - to convince us of their "power".

C3  Arguments for God's Existence

Thomas Aquinas' "Proofs"  Aquinas presented five proofs.  The first three, the Unmoved Mover, the Uncaused Cause, and the Cosmological Argument are all very similar to the old Achilles and the Tortoise argument and are asking a false question.  The fourth proof, Argument from Degree, simply says that all things differ, and the most different is called God.  Just another limit theory, it simply states an end of a series.  His final proof, the Teleological Argument or Argument from Design is nothing more than the precursor to the Creationism - Intelligent Design discussion.  That argument hasn't been tenable since Darwin.

The Ontological Argument and other a priori arguments  Aquinas' arguments are a posteriori, that is based on inspection of the world.  a priori arguments are based on pure(?) reason, no facts.  The ontological argument was first proposed by St Anselm of Canterbury in 1078.  I am confused but it seems to state that you can think of a being so perfect that it cannot exist in the real world that proves that such a perfect being must be god?  Dawkins is not impressed, me either.  He goes on to throw a lot of humerus mud at the argument.  He recommends http://www.godlessgeeks.com/LINKS/GodProof.htm .

The Argument from Beauty  God inspired the great artists, well maybe, but the Church certainly paid them to create their art.

The Argument from Personal "Experience"  Humans are "constructed" (basic biology and neurology) to recognize things, imagining a tiger and taking evasive action when he really wasn't there costs very little, to not recognize him when he is there is sudden death.  We imagine a lot of stuff that really isn't so.  Several illustrative examples are presented.

The Argument from Scripture  Our current bibles were highly selected, there are thousands of documented errors of transcription, using the bible as history has many problems.  See the books by Bart Ehrman and others.

The Argument from Admired Religious Scientists  In the past it is reported that many scientists were believers, the fact that for them to have publicly stated that the did not believe in God would have meant dismissal if not death after charges of heresy is presumably not relevant.  Current studies show that only a very few prominent scientists believe in God.

There are other arguments, based on the cost of guessing wrong and probability but these are based on incomplete assumptions or personal bias in assigning probabilities.

C4  Why There Almost Certainly is No God  

The Ultimate Boeing 747 Fred Hoyle was quoted as stating that the probability of life originating on earth is about the same as the probability that a hurricane, sweeping through a junkyard and would assemble a 747.  Hoyle was a good cosmologist but he certainly didn't know much about biology.

Natural Selection as a Consciousness-Raiser  After Darwin it has become increasingly difficult to ignore the processes of evolution as it relates to the diversity and relationships of life on earth.

Irreducible Complexity  Dawkins has covered this in his book Climbing Mount Improbable.  The difference between irreducible complexity and reducible complexity depends entirely on your point of view.  As Dawkins would say, walk around to the other side of the mountain.

The Worship of Gaps  Gaps in the fossil record are commonly used as examples of the failure of evolution.  Unfortunately these gaps keep getting filled in.  How small do the gaps have to become before they give up?  This is a self defeating argument.

The Anthropic Principle:  Planetary Version  God designed the solar system so that life could live here.  The latest estimates are that there at least 300 billion billion planets in the universe.  If the chance of life arising on an empty planet is 1 in a billion, that still leaves 300 billion planets where life will probably arise.  And thats just the kind of life that would live on earth.

The Anthropic Principle:  Cosmological Version  There are at present six known physical constants that presumably govern how matter and energy interact in the universe.  The theological argument holds that they were "tuned" to their precise values by God to allow for life in the universe.  This is so far out physics that there is no real possibility of an argument.  It is essentially the gap at the far end of the continuum.  There is just not evidence one way or another to either counter or explain this hypothesis.

The chapter ends with a description of a conference that he was somewhat tricked into attending.  He also inserts six points, covered in the chapter, which contain the central argument of the book.
  1. One of the greatest challenges has been to explain how the complex universe arises.
  2. The natural temptation is to attribute the appearance of design to actual design.  Just because humans design things doesn't mean that nature does also.
  3. The design temptation is false, because it immediately calls up the question as to who designed the designer.
  4. The most ingenious and powerful solution so far was discovered by Darwin and is called natural selection.
  5. We don't currently have an equivalent idea for explaining the physical world, the physicists have not discovered one.
  6. Physicists should keep looking for an equivalent idea but even if they never find one their current ideas are better than the concept of an intelligent designer.
C5  The Roots of Religion  

The Darwinian Imperative  To explain something in a Darwinian sense you have to demonstrate that the structure or behavior is useful in terms of natural selection.  It must give the organism some benefit.  However the benefit is expressed in terms of the survival of genes (or memes -heritable replicators) that the individual shares.  Since religion is common in human behavior and in many cases is dangerous - either for the person or for his offspring (celibacy etc.), why does it seem to thrive?

Direct Advantages of Religion  There is some evidence that religious beliefs sometimes reduce stress but this effect is small and cannot be the whole reason.  Religion provides comfort but you have to show that that religion is useful in providing more grandchildren to demonstrate a Darwinian benefit.  Dawkins makes the point that religious behavior is probably a side effect of other characteristic that provides some Darwinian benefit.

Group Selection  Here the arguments show that it might be possible for this to occur, counter arguments show that the opposite may well happen.

Religion as a By-Product of Something Else  Moths fly into a flame, how could such "self-immolation behavior" be selected for by natural selection?  It isn't, before humans, the only bright lights were stars and the moon.  Moths use these for navigation.  If they would fly at 30º to the moon and they fly at 30º to a fire, they will spiral into the flame.  This behavior is not a death wish, it is a normal navigation tool reacting to a changed environment.  If religion is by-product of something else, what is that something else?

Dawkins' hypothesis is that children uncritically learn almost everything they are told, they are gullible.  They do this because they must learn so much before they become adults and leave the protection of their elders.  Their powers of critical evaluation do not arise until much later.  Therefore good advise and poor advise (religion) both get believed.  As the Jesuits boast, "Give me the child for his first seven years, and I'll give you the man."  

Psychologically Primed for Religion  Many psychologists believe that children have a tendency towards a dualistic theory of mind and that we are innately predisposed to be creationists, children are likely to assign purpose to everything.  The philosopher Daniel Dennett postulates a three-way classification of trying to understand behavior of entities.  The first is the physical stance, you can predict behavior using physical laws.  It always works but it can be very slow.  The second is the design stance and it is simpler to predict behavior if we understand the design.  Things designed to be guns shoot bullets, you don't have to understand the physics of gunpowder.  The third is the intentional stance.  What is the intention of the object?  If you see a tiger, what is it's intention?  Never mind the physics of tooth enamel or the design of claws, limbs, teeth, just escape NOW!  The intentional stance makes for faster decision making when speed is of the essence.  However most of our current lives do not involve escaping from tigers, etc.  Our hard wiring, our genes, haven't caught up with our current environment.

Other items are brought up such as falling in love.  The section ends with several quotations from Martin Luther.  "Whoever wants to be a Christian should tear the eyes out of his reason."  "Reason should be destroyed in all Christians."

Tread Softly, Because you Tread on My Memes  Evolution can occur using genes, computer viruses, and memes (units of cultural inheritance).  Dawkins suggests that most religions have evolved from their origins by means of meme transfer.  He suggests that Scientology was completely intelligently designed and that Mormonism started that way but that it has evolved since its founding by Joseph Smith.  He uses the Cargo Cults of the South Pacific as specific example.

C6  The Roots of Morality:  Why Are We Good?
 Why do some Christians have such "paroxysms of hatred against those who don't share their faith?"

Does our Moral Sense have a Darwinian Origin? Many people argue that our sense of right and wrong can be derived from our Darwinian past.  Genes are selfish, however they can only reproduce in a body and in the company of many other genes.  Genes are selected in concert with other genes.  This results in the seemingly counter intuitive behavior as kin selection and reciprocal altruism.  Especially in humans with the benefit of language two more behaviors have arisen, reputation and conspicuous generosity.  One problem with these, they arose in small family and tribal situations.  Not all behaviors appropriate to these situations can be easily scaled up to work perfectly in a national or global society.

A Case Study in the Roots of Morality  Marc Hauser (Biologist - Harvard) has done a series of studies of he reactions to moral dilemmas.  He found no differences in the conclusions reached by atheists, religious believers, and members of widely varying cultural groups.  His conclusion: many of our "moral" values are based on our evolution are not related to our culture or our stated beliefs.

If There is No God, Why be Good?  Rephrased: "Do you really mean to tell me the only reason you try to be good is to gain God's approval and reward, or to avoid his disapproval and punishment?  Thats not morality, that's just sucking up ... " In the absence of God would you really commit robbery, rape, and murder, are you that much of an immoral person?  What keeps going on the straight and narrow, is it God watching you or is it the police watching you?  Sam Harris in his Letter to a Christian Nation presents some statistics.  Of the 25 cities with the lowest rates of violent crime, 62% are in Democrat states and 38% in Republican states.  Of the 25 most dangerous cities, 74% are in Republican states and 24% in Democrat states.  3 of th 5 most dangerous cities are in the conservative Republican state of Texas.  The 12 states with the highest rates of burglary are Republican.  24 of the 29 states with the highest rates of theft are Republican.  Of the 22 states with the highest rates of murder, 17 are Republican.

C7  The 'Good' Book, and the Changing Moral Zeitgeist  There are two ways in which scripture might be a source of morals.  One is by direct instruction, ex. the Ten Commandments and the second is by providing a role model, ex. Jesus.  Dawkins is not impressed by either.  See Bishop John Shelby Spong, The Sins of Scripture.

The Old Testament  The story of Noah, were all of the other people evil? including all of the children?  How about all of the animals, what did they do wrong?  Is the God of the Old Testament such a sloppy and uncaring God that He can't just target the "real" sinners with say a lightning bolt or heart attack?  Shades of "The War on Terror" where we have to kill 600,000 Iraqis to get two men, Saddam and bin Laden and then we miss one.

The stories of Lot (Genesis 19), chapter 19 of Judges, Abraham (Genesis 12: 18-19 and 20: 2-5), Abraham's sacrifice if Isaac (Ishmael for Muslims),  Jephthah (Judges 11), Moses and the Midianites (Numbers, 31:18 as one example), crimes punishable by death (Leviticus 20 and Numbers 15).  All of these document the "morality" found in the Old Testament.  The only people who would agree with these today are the Taliban and some Christian conservatives.

Is the New Testament any Better?  The New Testament doesn't have the really bad examples as the Old Testament does but it does seem to emphasize sexuality to a very unhealthy degree.

Love thy Neighbour  The study of an Israeli psychologist, George Tamarin.  Tamarin quotes the story of Joshua and the battle of Jericho to Israeli schoolchildren and asks if Joshua and the Israelites acted properly.  66% said yes, 26% said no, and 8% said partially.  Then he told the same story to other groups of Israeli schoolchildren but changed the name of Joshua to "General Lin" an Israel with "a Chinese kingdom 3,000 years ago."  The results were 7% approval and 75% disapproval.  The point, and he uses additional examples from Northern Ireland, is that morality devoid of labels is relatively constant. What religion does is to add labels so that morality does not get in the way of the desires of religious leaders.

The Moral Zeitgeist  Examples from "The New Ten Commandments" with a few others either added in or replacing, women being given the vote, changes in racism, acceptance of "collateral damage" in war, and sexuality are given to show how the morals of the entire world are changing over time.  "Times, they are a changing."

What about Hitler and Stalin?  Weren't they Atheists?  Stalin was an atheist, Hitler was a Catholic.  Stalin, Hitler, and Saddam had mustaches (so did Teddy Roosevelt) but these facts(?) prove nothing about causality.  Nazi belt buckles were inscribed with "Gott mit uns".  People sometimes do bad things, the mere fact of professing a particular belief does not seem to be a good predictor of the ability to do either good or bad things.

C8  What's Wrong With Religion?  Why be So Hostile?  Dawkins is widely perceived as being hostile toward religion.  This may be true, but it doesn't manifest itself as bombing, beheading, stoning, burning at the stake, crucifying, or flying planes into skyscrapers to make his point.  He (and other atheists) limit themselves to words.

Fundamentalism and the Subversion of Science  "Fundamentalists know they are right because they have read the truth in a holy book and they know, in advance, that nothing will budge them from their belief."  A scientist believes not because of reading a book but because he/she has studied the evidence.  "When a science book is wrong, somebody eventually discovers the mistake and it is corrected in subsequent books."  Biologists believe in evolution because the evidence supports it, and they would abandon it overnight if new evidence arose to disprove it.  One of the tragedies of fundamentalist religion is that it tries to ruin the education of thousands of innocent young minds.

The Dark Side of Absolutism  One of the most serious crimes in the Old Testament and in many Islamic countries is blasphemy and apostasy.  Blasphemy is saying something against a religion and apostasy is thinking something against a religion.  In 1922 in Britain, John William Gott was sentenced to nine months of hard labour for blasphemy and in 2005 a Christian group tried to bring blasphemy charges against the BBC.

Faith and Homosexuality  Too many ugly examples to quote.  Fundamentalist religionists seem to be capable of more hate than any other group.

Faith and the Sanctity of Human Life  It is not human life they wish to preserve, it is only unborn human life.  All other forms of ending human life after it has been born are joyously accepted.

The Great Beethoven Fallacy  There are numerous stories about Beethoven (and others), his parents were syphilitic and tubercular, his older sibling had died or birth defects, should this pregnancy be terminated - "You have just murdered Beethoven."  These statements are all false.  Of course an abortion in 1888 would have prevented Adolf Hitler.

How "Moderation in Faith Fosters Fanaticism" If the mere mention of faith and religion did not immediately turn off our critical facilities and if children were taught to question and think through their beliefs, it is likely there would be no suicide bombers, clinic bombings, or killing of doctors.

C9  Childhood, Abuse and the Escape From Religion  In 1858 Edgardo Mortara, a six-year-old child was legally seized by the papal police acting on orders from the Inquisition.  His family was Jewish but a baby sitter had once sprinkled some water on his head and said, "I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost."  He was taken to the local Catechumens house and raised as a Catholic.  This was not uncommon at the time and always happened in the same way.  Why did Jewish parents hire Catholic girls as servants?  Because Jews could not work on the sabbath but Catholics would.  Of course the Priests could not understand the distress of the family, they were forbidden from having families and of course they knew that their faith was the only true faith.  The parents could of course have had their child back at any time if they would have been baptized.

Physical and Mental Abuse  Abuse of children (priestly or other) now is taken to mean sexual abuse.  We should not forget the other forms of physical and emotional abuse that children over the centuries have been forced to endure at the hands of priests, nuns, and Protestant fundamentalists.

In Defense of Children  An extended (5+ pages) of how parents, politicians, priests, and judges penalize (or kill) children because of the religious beliefs of authority figures without any effort to find out what the children might want or consideration of what would be best for the child.

An Educational Scandal  I am amazed, somebody is complaining about money spent on faith-based education and they are not talking about American fundamentalists or Islam.  Dawkins is complaining about Prime Minister Tony Blair's support of a faith-based school in Britain that is teaching literal biblical creationism.

Consciousness-Raising Again  Why is it OK to indoctrinate children into a religion before they are old enough to understand what is going on and to make up their own minds.  Why can we call a child a "Protestant child", or a "Catholic child" but we would never call one a "liberal child" or a "Republican child"?  They should all be called "a child of X parents" where you fill in the blank for X.

Religious Education as a Part of Literary Culture  The teaching of comparative religion is a very good idea.  Children should know that the bible even when taken as a work of art is the basis for much of western art and culture.  There are many biblical passages scattered through all of western literature, one who is not at least somewhat familiar with the bible will miss much of the richness of the literature.

C10  A Much Needed Gap?  It has been said that religion fills four main values in human life: explanation, exhortation, consolation, and inspiration.  Explanation has been taken over by science, exhortation means moral instruction (chapters 6 and 7) and this chapter will cover the final two.

Binker  See Binker in A. A. Milne, Now We Are Six.  Is religion the grown up version of an imaginary friend?  Is it possible that "The Voice of the Gods" that speaks in one's mind was thought in our early history to be real has been gradually reduced to imaginary friends for very young children?

Consolation  It may be that religion has the power to offer consolation for grieving people.  That still doesn't prove that religion is true.  Friends, therapists, and loved ones also have the ability to console.  If we believed the message of religion, why don't we go to the bedside of a dying friend and say, "I am so happy for you, you will finally get to see your parents again and please give my love to Uncle Robert."  If you are going to Heaven anyway, why not speed up the process a little, just like we do with dogs and cats.  Perhaps they don't fear dying so much as the process of dying.  If you meet someone who is passionately opposed to mercy killing or assisted suicide, you can bet a good sum that they will turn out to be religious.  What is there to fear, is it anxiety that maybe you are scheduled to go to Hell?  If life is to be meaningful, it is you who must make it so, don't depend upon others.

Inspiration  Again, it is our life to lead, the universe is filled with wonderful things.  We just need to accept them as real.

The Mother of all Burkas  A burka is a black garment worn by oppressed women which has only a tiny slit for them to look out at the world.  (They are forced to wear this by men.  If it was a truly religious thing, men would wear them also.)  The burka can be represented by the earth's atmosphere where the slit represents the tiny viewing portal of visible light.  Science gives us the opportunity to see thousands of such tiny slits in the atmospheric burka.  Humans without the augmentation of science are ill equipped to see, feel, hear, etc. or sense much of the reality of the universe.  We need to remove our burka of the mind to sense the true magnitude of the universe. 

Appendix  Dawkins presents a list of organizations for individuals who need support in escaping from religion.  The list will be maintained and updated on www.richarddawkins.net.  

There are 8 pages of books cited or recommended, 12 pages of notes, and 7 pages of very small print (3 columns) index.

Critical Comments
 These comments were made after discussing the book with an acquaintance.

Dawkins is a very argumentative person.  He makes his points very well and points out the fallacies in the arguments of his most vocal opponents.  In scientific fields this may well be the best approach.  However when arguing with (or about) religion I don't think this is always the best approach.  There is so much variability in religion that no single approach works the best for all believers / adherents.

My view of religion, and the moral values that are associated with religion, have been on a gentle upward trend for the last 5 to 6 thousand years.  Some behavioral scientists may put "ethical" behavior originating back many millions of years ago.  Some possible milestones along the way might be 150 kya with the origin of H. sapiens.  6 mya with the origin of Homo, 40 mya with the origin of primates or even back as far as "Good Mother Dinosaur" more than 65 mya.  I view religion as a codifier and teaching device for morals and ethics, not a driver for them.  Religions generally follow the ethics of the culture, sometimes, sometimes following.  

At any given time, the members of a given religion will form a distribution, perhaps a normal curve, with some way ahead of the moral curve; call them saints and (some) prophets, etc.  The great mass in the middle exhibit the "standard" morality of the time, and a few bottom feeders; call them inquisitors, moral majority, Nazi's, etc.  As time gos on the overall moral level of the society or culture rises.  This is not a smooth process, there are surges forward when we have a Jesus, a Gandhi, or a Martin Luther King.  There are surges backward when we have a Hitler, Stalin, or an Idi Amin.  

Whether the overall trend is linear or a slowly accelerating exponential curve I leave to others to quantify.  I expect that it is an exponential curve based on my understanding of the factors.  Genetic before civilization and forming communities, social from civilization until widespread literacy, and technologically from printing, newspapers, mail service, photography, mass communication (radio and TV), to the internet.  We all tend to be more moral or ethical when someone is watching.  

Dawkins seems to be taking dead aim at the bottom feeders of religion.  Most of the rest uf us have friends or family who are deeply religious.  A gentle and tactful warning against the most destructive of the hate and control mongers will probably be more effective than a direct attack on their religious beliefs.  Did I enjoy this book?  Absolutely.  Would I recommend to all of my friends and relatives?  Absolutely not!  However I would use some of his ideas phrased somewhat more gently.

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