Monday, July 15, 2019

Biblical Commentary Counters Quotes

I really enjoy when friends cite the Bible or come up with a biblical quote to support some argument.  The Bible is great for that. With 66 books in two separate sections, you can find support for almost any idea or claim. 

After all, the Bible is a collection of books, written over hundreds of years by multiple, mostly anonymous, authors, edited and revised by countless more.  Sources ranged from other, now-lost texts to simple imagination. The authors were trying to present information that supports their beliefs.  If that meant creating and/or ignoring facts, so be it.  They didn’t hesitate.  The end result is a wonderful compilation of human thoughts, stories and ideas, with ethics and moral ideals woven into the text.  The Bible has served as a guide and inspiration to countless humans.

It also inspired a lot of commentary by scholars less interested in quoting and more interested in content.  I’ve collected a lot of their thoughts about the Bible and want to share them.

·        “Let us examine the Scriptures.”  Those words have undone the world.  John Selden (English jurist) 1689

·        When we read the obscene stories, the voluptuous debaucheries, the cruel and tortuous executions, the unrelenting vindictiveness, with which more than half the Bible is filled, it would be more consistent that we call it the word of a demon than the word of God.  It is a history of wickedness that has served to corrupt and brutalize mankind.  Thomas Paine, The Age of Reason, 1794.

·         The Bible contains some of the most sublime passages in English literature, but is full of contradictions, inconsistencies and absurdities.  Elizabeth Cady Stanton (American suffragette), 1896

·         Subtract from the New Testament the miraculous and the highly impossible, what would be the remainder?  George Eliot (author) 1860

·         All the biblical miracles will at least disappear with the progress of science.  Matthew Arnold (poet), 1863

·         The biblical account of the creation of Eve is a preposterous fable.  Thomas Huxley (biologist), 1874

It ain't the parts of the Bible that I don't understand that bother me, it's the parts I do understand. Mark Twain (author), 1902

·         The Bible is so human a book that I cannot see how belief in its divine author can survive reading it.  William James (psychologist/philosopher), 1904

·         I know of no book that has been a source of brutality and sadistic behavior, both public and private, that can compare to the Bible.  James Paget (surgeon), 1899

·         The Bible is literature, not dogma.  George Santayana (author), 1920

·         The Good Book -- one of the most remarkable euphemisms ever coined.  Ashley Montague (writer), 1930

·         The Old Testament is responsible for more atheism, agnosticism, disbelief -- call it what you will -- than any book ever written; it has emptied more churches than all the counter-attractions of cinema, motorcycle and golf course.  A.A. Milne (author), 1920

·         There is no doubt that the Bible became a stumbling-block in the path of progress, scientific, social and even moral.  It was quoted against Copernicus as it was against Darwin.  The common assumption … that the moral influence of the Bible has been wholly good, and that all is needed to improve our society is to "spread the Gospel," is not born out by a candid study of history. Preserved Smith (historian), 1925.

·         There is scarcely a page of the Bible on which an open mind does not perceive a contradiction, an unlikely story, an obvious error, an historical impossibility of one sort or another. Steve Allen (actor/author), 1960

The comments were based on what the Bible really says, not the honeyed words of believers.  Let’s not forget the heartwarming biblical advice to annihilate opposition, including their animals, or that sorcerers should be murdered, the gay people should be severely punished.  How about these gems:

·        Deuteronomy 7:1-2: God orders the Israelites to exterminate the men, women, and children of seven nations and steal their land.

1 Timothy 2:12: I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent.

1 Peter 2:18: Slaves, submit yourselves to your masters with all respect, not only to the good.

Revelation 21:8: Non-Christians are condemned to eternal torture. 

Then there are all the contradictions.  I’ve runs lists before.  Here are some new ones:

Jesus with cross
·        Jeremiah 7:22: God denies he ever gave the Israelites commandments about animal sacrifices. Exodus 29:38-42 and many other verses:  God requires the Israelites to offer animal sacrifices.

·         John 19:17: Jesus carries his own cross. Mark 15:21-23:  A man called Simon carries the cross.

And, of course, nonexistent events touted in the Bible.  As author and humanist Robert Ingersoll noted, the first-century Jewish historian Josephus, “the best historian the Hebrews produced, said nothing about the life or death of Christ; nothing about the massacre of the infants by Herod; not one word about the wonderful star that visited the sky at the birth of Christ; nothing about the darkness that fell upon the world for several hours in the midst of day; and failed entirely to mention that hundreds of graves were opened, and that multitudes of Jews rose from the dead, and visited the Holy City?”

He added, “Is it not wonderful that no historian ever mentioned any of these prodigies?”

The wonder really is that, in today’s world, filled with the knowledge readily available to anyone with the slightest interest, that people still quote the biblical text as fact.

As the American Humanist Association posted on its website: “By treating this mistake-ridden book as the word of God, humanity has been led down many paths of error and misery throughout history. In too many ways, the Bible continues to produce such results.”

Quoting from it, as if it represents accuracy, only continues to add to its centuries-long toll.

Long-time religious historian Bill Lazarus regularly writes about religion and religious history with an occasional foray into American culture.  He holds an ABD in American Studies from Case Western Reserve University.   He also speaks at various religious organizations throughout Florida.  You can reach him at  He is the author of novels and nonfiction books, such as The Gospel Truth: Where Did the Gospel Writers Get Their Information; Noel: The Lore and Tradition of Christmas Carols; and Dummies Guide to Comparative Religion.  His books are available on, Kindle, bookstores and via various publishers, including Bold Venture Press and Southern Owl.  His website is

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Psychics Cashing In

Psychics probably knew this would happen.  These days, public interest in astrology and seers is soaring.

For example, the Pew Research Center's recent survey found  that 62 percent of Americans believe in at least one  “New Age” concept like reincarnation and astrology while 41 percent believe in psychics.

That is reflected in fat profits for seers. Callie Beusman, a senior editor at Broadly, told The Atlantic magazine that traffic for the site’s horoscopes “has grown really exponentially.” Stella Bugbee, the president and editor-in-chief of The Cut, found a typical horoscope post on the site got 150 percent more traffic in 2017 than the year before.

Who better to tell readers what to do than a psychic who knows zip about financial planning? After all, if psychics and astrologers really could see the future, why aren’t they hitting the lottery every week and making a killing in Las Vegas betting on sporting events?

Despite the questions, their ilk have endured in every civilization.  The Greeks had their oracles, like the famous one at Delphi, where a priestess went into a trance and predicted the future. Roman religious leaders used to “read” the entrails of sacrificed animals to foresee the future.

Emperors were not immune to superstition.  In 44 BCE, Julius Caesar teased a seer named Spurinna about the failed prediction that he would die by the Ides of March.  “The Ides have come," Caesar noted en route to the Forum.

“Aye, Caesar,” Spurinna replied, “but not gone."

Caesar was killed shortly afterwards.

Tiberius, the emperor who succeeded Augustus, relied heavily on astrologers.  One such stargazer saved himself by predicting his own death, which is exactly what Tiberius had in mind. Late in the first century CE, Emperor Domitian was told when he was going to die by a seer.  He died on the correct date, although his assassins also knew of the prediction.  That definitely made it easier to come true.

Actually, all ancient cultures practiced such pseudo-sciences as astrology and omen reading to attempt to foresee the future.

Then there’s Nostradamus, the famed seer of the 1500s.  I wrote a novel about him, mainly because he was invariably wrong.  Surviving astrological charts that he prepared prove that – his predictions were consistently inaccurate.

This country went through a bout of spiritualism from the mid-1800s through the 1920s.  Renowned escape artist Harry Houdini spent much of the last part of his career debunking such charlatans.  Several confessed after being confronted by contradictions or proof that they aided “spirits” during séances.

In the more-recent past, First Lady Nancy Reagan notoriously relied on astrologers to select the optimum time for presidential action by her husband. Scientists who spent years debunking astrology were dismayed that Ronald Reagan’s pubic flirtation with that nonsense had more effect that all their research.

I was surprised when an astrologer-friend demonstrated her abilities by picking my chart out from among a sample I gave her.  On the other hand, I have a twin brother born five minutes apart, and we are very different.  The stars can’t move that far in five minutes. Besides, does anyone really think it’s possible to divide the world into 12 distinct units? 

By the way, astrology used to have fewer divisions.  Charts were changed in the 1800s with the discovery of Neptune and Pluto.  What confusion there must have been when Pluto was dropped as a planet.

I’ve had several experience with psychics on both a personal and professional level. 

As a reporter, I interviewed a Connecticut psychic who supposedly helped local police solve crimes.  She was a modern Peter Hurkos, who is forgotten today, but was famous from the 1940s until his death in 1988.  After falling off a ladder, the Dutch painter awoke to claim abilities to see events after they took place.  That was perfect for solving crime.  However, in repeated accounts I read, he was notoriously bad at it – claiming success only to have police say later that Hurkos was completely wrong and useless.

That’s what happened with the woman I interviewed.  The police denied she helped them – she responded by saying the negative comments reflected “sour grapes.” 

I also interviewed a magician after talking to the psychic.  He promised to do everything the psychic did – and succeeded.  There was no ESP, just an ability to subconsciously see reactions in a client and respond to them.

In addition, the Connecticut newspaper I then worked for printed regularly columns by psychic Jeane Dixon.  She was famous for predicting the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.  She also insisted that, as the wife of a wealthy real estate developer, she would never use her special ability for
the crass purpose of earning money – and then did everything she could to earn money.  Her main focus anyway was predicting the immediate return of Jesus.

I asked my editor if anyone had compared Dixon’s predictions to what actually happened.  He said no.  So, I got out a column from two years before and checked her forecasts against real events of a year later.  Amid the hundreds of predictions, she got zero correct.  The newspaper never ran her columns again.

Finally, in 2001, I bought a compendium of predictions by famed psychics.  It also included forecasts by scientists.  The book contains more than 400 pages.   In all the thousands of predictions covering 1970-2000, I found one correct: a prediction by one of the scientists that personal computers would be widely available.  He couldn’t fail: such computers already existed and were beginning to make inroads into homes.  Everything else was wrong.  No aliens attacked, for example.

On a personal note, I went to a psychic fair and had my fortune told.  One woman took my watch and used the “vibrations” from it to foresee what was to come.  Later, I realized it was my brother’s watch, which I had borrowed.  Not that it mattered: her predictions were inaccurate for both of us.  Another psychic there “read” my future by picking up vibes from my mind.  He said I’d be a success by age 30.  Well, that came and went a while ago.

At the same time, however, I’m not ready to dismiss spiritualism as a complete fraud.  I’ve enjoyed instances of clear psychic behavior – predicting winners at jai alai, for example, during my lone visit to a fronton.  I have no idea how or why an image of a future event popped into my head, but I know it did, told companions and then watched it happen as I foresaw.  Many people have had similar experiences, some of which have been published or publicly described.

Maybe that’s why people continue to believe and are willing to pay as much as $175 an hour to someone to “predict” the future.  It’s marginally better than having no clue at all.

Long-time religious historian Bill Lazarus regularly writes about religion and religious history with an occasional foray into American culture.  He holds an ABD in American Studies from Case Western Reserve University.   He also speaks at various religious organizations throughout Florida.  You can reach him at  He is the author of novels and nonfiction books, such as The Gospel Truth: Where Did the Gospel Writers Get Their Information; Noel: The Lore and Tradition of Christmas Carols; and Dummies Guide to Comparative Religion.  His books are available on, Kindle, bookstores and via various publishers, including Bold Venture Press and Southern Owl.  His website is