In my previous post Bad Sin, I talked briefly about Queen Isabella of Spain, and how her religious beliefs ended up directly affecting her policies. In this post I will punch that up a bit.

Queen Isabella was a devout Catholic. She certainly lived what appeared to be a virtuous and admirable life, at least from outward appearances. Most Christians would find little to criticize about Isabella’s personal conduct. In fact, her behavior was so exemplary that she was awarded sainthood by the Roman Catholic Church in 1874.

Problem is, she had a very bad counselor.  Her personal confessor was Tomás de Torquemada, the Grand Inquisitor of the Spanish Inquisition, which Queen Isabella herself created in 1478. Similarly to Queen Isabella, Torquemada also had a very devout and “sinless” lifestyle, at least from outward appearances. However, he believed something most Christians do not presently accept. Effectively, Torquemada believed that torture was justified, if it could prompt a person to confess their sins, repent, and accept Jesus. Once they were effectively in the kingdom, the killing them was doing them a favor. They might backslide after all! The gist of the idea is that it would be far worse for someone to die in sin, and spend eternity in Hell, than be tortured to death in this life, but receive forgiveness and a heavenly reward.

Obviously, the underlying basis for this idea is sin. Without sin, there would be no Hell, no heavenly reward, and so forth.

Torquemada was also one of the most virulent anti-semites in the dark history of Christianity. He orchestrated the forcible expulsion of the Jews from Spain. It would not be overstating the case to say that one of the main reasons that Spain is a poor country today was because of the stupid, blind, and senseless policies of Queen Isabella and Torquemada. By expelling the Jews, Spain decimated the Spanish middle class, where most of the economic activity was being generated. Up to that point, Spain was the superpower. Afterwards, once the economic impact was felt, Spain declined and the British Empire became pre-eminent.

This theology had serious practical for the entire world. A foolish and silly doctrine resulted in the direct death of thousands, and indirectly affected the lives of millions. Thus, what we believe matters. It affects our behavior dramatically.

I still stubbornly maintain that the concept of sin is pernicious and evil. Like I said previously, allowing another person to tell you what is, and is not, in the divine law is a very dangerous thing. Queen Isabella agreed to allow Torquemada to tell her that. He was the one who guided her in her daily life. He fed her the formula for success. And succeed she did! In the context of her culture, Queen Isabella was a superstar. Too bad her delusion had to be so catastrophic for the entire world.

My advice: If you hear a religious leader telling you what is, and is not, sin for you, do not hesitate. Run. Do not walk. Flee.

Lie to Me

You know the show Lie to Me? The main character (played beautifully by Tim Roth) is Dr. Cal Lightman, a famous scientist who has created a foolproof way to tell if someone is lying.

Now, imagine with me, please, that Dr. Lightman is standing in front of you, and he is holding a gun. Also, that gun is pointed at the person who is the most precious to you. If that is yourself, then that gun it pointed at you. Otherwise, it is pointed at your wife, daughter, mother, etc. Got it?

OK, Dr. Lightman speaks. He says: “I will ask you a question, and you must answer me honestly. I mean truly honestly. Remember that I will know if you lie. And if you lie, even just a little, I will pull this trigger.”

And here’s the question:

Do you believe that Jesus was born of a virgin?

Ouch! A classic hobson’s choice: If you say yes (I have written previously that the virgin birth is highly unlikely, although certainly not impossible), then you are probably lying. Even most Christians have a dark corner of their soul where they doubt the virgin birth a bit. And so, the person you love the most is going to die.

On the other hand, if you state truthfully that you doubt the virgin birth, even a teensie bit, you stand a chance of losing your salvation. Salvation is by faith after all, according to many, many verses in the NT. For example, Jesus said in the Gospel of Matthew 10:37 – 39

If you love your father or mother more than you love me, you are not worthy of being mine; or if you love your son or daughter more than me, you are not worthy of being mine. If you refuse to take up your cross and follow me, you are not worthy of being mine. If you cling to your life, you will lose it; but if you give up your life for me, you will find it.

Suffice it to say, that the standard held up in the Fox’s Book of Martyrs is pretty high: You have to be willing to die for your faith. Thus, the standard of faith is absolute, unwavering, unquestioning belief, even in the face if imminent death to yourself or your loved ones.

After all, the folks who were persecuted by Nero in Fox’s Book of Martyrs were willing to die rather than simply place a pinch of incense at the foot of a pagan idol. The pagans did not even demand that the Christians cease to worship Jesus. No, their beef was that the Christians insisted that their pagan gods were not gods at all, but rather demons and such.

At the time I first read Fox’s Book of Martyrs, I found these folks admirable. Now I simply find them stupid. Don’t get me wrong: I do not endorse or approve of the tactics of the Romans in the persecution of Christianity during the early centuries of our current era. (Neither do I endorse or approve of the actions of the Catholic Church during the period following Constantine.) But the pagans did have a good point, if a poor way of demonstrating it: Christianity is a pretty exclusive club. You are either in or you are out. And near as I can tell, the difference between in and out is in what you believe. Specifically, what you believe in terms of hard, specific historical facts like the virgin birth.

I did it myself when I was a Christian. I insisted to everyone I knew that the choice they faced was the Dr. Lightman choice. Jesus is the way, and the only way, to God. If you would be saved, you must surrender everything. You must buy it all, hook, line and sinker. You must be willing to die, or even to see your most beloved one die, rather than deny your faith. Otherwise, you are not a Christian at all. You are simply an imposter: A wolf in sheep’s clothing. A tear, waiting to be rooted up on the day of judgement and burned in the fire.

If that’s true (and I will admit that I sincerely hope not), I am royally screwed at this point.

Yeah, no kidding. I will burn in Hell. No doubt about it. If the Christian gospel is true, then I am damned.


The reason I say this is because I have looked at the hard, specific, historical facts that I am required to believe in order to be a Christian. In fact, I have made it one of my life’s tasks to understand the evidence (or lack thereof) for the truth of these facts. I have spent hundreds of hours of study in doing so. Certainly, there is no one that I have met who has studied this stuff as hard as I have, and few who have done nearly as much.

My conclusion? There is no way to know for sure. But the virgin birth is highly doubtful in my mind. Thus, I would be forced to answer Dr. Lightman truthfully: I do not believe that the virgin birth is necessarily true.

Now here is my final question, and the point of this blog: Because I have made a serious study of the culture, history, and language of the ancient world, so that I could better understand all of this, and because I have earnestly, and with all my heart, sought to understand this, and because I have concluded that I do not believe in the absolute truth of the things that religion claims, shall I then be damned by God?

I mean, what about the poor, dumb bastard who drifts through life with a vague idea of what is going on, but never bothers to question what he is told from the pulpit. Shall he go to heaven because of his laziness, while I burn in Hell because of my diligence?

Shall I believe six impossible things before breakfast, as Lewis Carroll said in Alice in Wonderland? Is that the price of heaven?

I mean come on! Is that fair? You tell me.