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Understanding the Miracle of Hanukkah Through the Ancient World’s Prism of Horrors

Satirist Alan King once famously remarked that the story behind every Jewish holiday can be summarized as “They tried to kill us, we won, let’s eat.” But that template doesn’t do justice to Hanukkah—which marks the period during the 2nd Century B.C when Jewish guerrillas, led by Mattathias the Hasmonean and then his son Judah Maccabee, rose up successfully against the Seleucid Empire (and its Hellenized Jewish supporters). This was a successful Jewish military campaign, not the usual passive attempt to survive external aggression.

Judah’s men were not gentle souls. At Hanukkah, we linger on the reportedly miraculous way in which a small supply of sacred oil lasted for eight days during the rededication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem. But the fanatics who launched this campaign were more concerned with smashing idols, forcibly circumcising children, and slaughtering Seleucid troops. (The war ended in 160 BC, after the Jews forged an alliance with Rome, and the Seleucids eventually gave in to the Maccabees’ demands for increased religious freedom.)

Unlike Passover, which is centered on the detailed recitation of a complex narrative, Hanukkah usually goes light on history’s cut and thrust. When I was a child at Jewish elementary school, the main points of focus were the heroism of Judah’s plucky fighters, and the miraculous temple story, which we all understood to be a metaphor for the Maccabees’ unlikely triumph. While this educational tradition comes with a shaky pedigree (the miracle of the burning oil didn’t appear in historical sources till the compilation of the Talmud, centuries later), it now is firmly embedded in Jewish culture. To this day, the holiday marks the time when many believers contemplate the miraculous nature of God’s presence in Jewish lore.

The word miracle comes to us by way of the Latin miraculum—object of wonder. A typical modern definition is “an unusual and mysterious event that is thought to have been caused by a god because it does not follow the usual laws of nature.” The idea that God sometimes creates miraculous events is central to all three Abrahamic faiths. And the Old Testament alone contains hundreds of them, many falling neatly into two categories: (1) God miraculously slaughtering enemies of the Jewish people, or wayward Jews (the enemies within), and (2) God acting as a last-ditch supplier of sustenance and salvation to dying or besieged Jewish communities. Which is to say: Most of God’s miracles served either to inflict horrendous suffering, or deflect it.

Many of the miracles in the first category were strange and gruesome. This is most obvious in the list of sadistic plagues that God rains down on the Egyptians (right up to the slaying of the firstborn in Exodus 12—which is hard to see as anything except full-on divine terrorism). But there also are many more obscure examples. When Uzziah, a king of ancient Judah, got too big for his britches, God miraculously afflicted him with leprosy. In the book of Samuel, another similarly obscure Biblical figure gets struck dead when he innocently attempted to prevent the Ark of the Covenant from tipping over. Even some of God’s seemingly benevolent miracles come with a horrifying epilogue—including the parting of the Red Sea, which was followed by the annihilation of the Pharaoh’s soldiers by deluge (“There remained not so much as one of them”) despite the fact most of these men presumably were impoverished conscripts and slaves.

It is the second category of miracles—by which God saves people instead of killing them—that more closely aligns with the belief in God as a fundamentally benign force in our lives. The bargain by which Jews are saved in exchange for doing right by God is made explicit in Exodus 15, in which we find the Jews wandering through the desert wilderness, seeking potable water. In the faux-oasis of Marah, they imagine they are saved—but, alas (as Hebrew speakers will guess from the name of the place), the water proves “bitter.” Then a desperate Moses “cried to The LORD. the LORD showed him a tree, and he threw it into the waters, and the waters were made sweet. There he made a statute and an ordinance for them, and there he tested them; and he said, ‘If you will diligently listen to the LORD your God’s voice, and will do that which is right in his eyes, and will pay attention to his commandments, and keep all his statutes, I will put none of the diseases on you, which I have put on the Egyptians.’”

There are exceptions to these two categories, of course. When God miraculously turns Moses’ rod into a serpent—which, Cobra-style, then eats the court sorcerers’ own rods-turned-serpents—the effect is purely for showmanship, proof that Moses is actually an agent of divine will. But go down the list of Biblical miracles (the Internet is full of such compilations), and you’ll notice that most reflect the climate of tribal warfare and personal horror that ancient Jews (and everyone else) experienced. This was an age when even small skirmishes between neighbouring sects could result in the slaughter or enslavement of whole towns. A plague or drought could easily result in mass regional extermination. The average lifespan was about 35, because random infection or plague was around every corner.

Consider the fate of Antiochus IV Epiphanes, the Seleucid king who held power during the campaign against the Maccabes, and one of the most powerful and wealthy men of his era. According to the (deuterocanonical) Second Book of Maccabees, Antiochus’ death came when, by divine miracle, he “was seized with a pain in his bowels, for which there was no relief, and with sharp internal tortures…And so it came about that he fell out of his chariot as it was rushing along, and the fall was so hard as to torture every limb of his body.” This is how people died back in the day.

The world of miracles that our ancient ancestors knew, in other words, was a world that you and I would experience as a lifelong horror movie—in which the conceit of divine intervention was used as a means to both glorify the (desperately longed for) annihilation of one’s enemies, and to invest hope in the idea that one’s own death might be divinely forestalled through prayers and rituals.

It is tempting to say that if this exercise in time travel were reversed, and Judah Maccabee were to come recite the shehecheyanu in our modern homes, he’d regard our advanced medical science, lengthy lifespans and dependable food and water supplies as being “objects of wonder” in the full, miraculous sense. But I’m not sure he’d possess the ability to understand how such a radical transformation in the human condition had taken place since Classical antiquity. Ancient Judea, like almost all primitive societies, had a negligible rate of technological growth; and so the notion that scientific invention could radically improve the human condition—a foundational element of western modernism—would have come off to Judah as the babblings of a demented sorcerer. That’s why our forebears fixated so strongly on the workings of the divine consciousness: According to their pre-scientific world view, this was the only available path to civilizational self-improvement.

The truest miracle, if it may be called that, lies in the 22-century-long process that brought us to the far more humane and tolerant world we now inhabit—a world in which we no longer live by the caprice of God and nature, and so can focus our spiritual energies on the celebration of faith and family for their own sake.


Jonathan Kay is the Canadian Editor of Quillette. Follow him on Twitter @jonkay. This article is adapted from an essay printed in the current edition of Canadian Jewish News

Featured image: Death of Judas Maccabeus, by José Teófilo de Jesus (1758–1847)


  1. tomoncapecod says

    Smote is a type of behavior modification that my children are glad I rejected.

  2. Morgan Foster says

    I would like to think that God, if he exists, is a reasonable fellow.The soul of reason, in fact. In further fact, the inventor of reason, and someone who would appreciate reason in others, specifically those others whom he has created.

    The Old Testament does not make me feel confident of this.

    • xyz and such says

      Maybe we now have the luxury of believing people are ‘reasonable’ (and therefore our idealized idea of a being is too) because the relative comfort and order we live in allows us to behave this way more readily. And maybe when the original Bible was written this wasn’t the case, as the author seems to be pointing to…

      • Reuven Spero says

        While we might imagine that what we see as reason has something in common with what God’s reason might look like, why should it be identical? “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, and your ways are not My ways.” Is. 55:5 . Even in our world, there are many things that do not conform to what we would classically define as reason (“spooky action at a distance” comes to mind). Modern “religion” requires us to devise mechanistic and deterministic theories to explain the “how” of “miracles,” while other religions would direct our focus to questions of “why” – in a sense of meaning, not mechanics. The author points out that our society’s focus on “how” has brought us many advantages and comforts, like refrigerators and washing machines, vaccinations and Monday Night Football. But technology is value free, and has also brought great death and suffering, like gas chambers and nuclear bombs, rampant consumerism and Monday Night Football. And I doubt if the really big questions – how to lead a good life, how to construct meaning, how to help fix the world, or as Camus would ask, why not commit suicide – are resolved by technology, by focussing exclusively on “how” questions.

    • Anthony says

      Perhaps it would be best if you deconstructed the word “God”, just as you should deconstruct the word “truth”.

    • V 2.0 says

      What kind of supreme being would create a world where living creatures have to eat each other to survive? Not a very nice one.

      • Just Me says

        Maybe the big problem is assuming the Abrahamic definition of God as both good and all-powerful is correct, rather than an attempt to justify His actions.

        Maybe He is not good and just and merciful, but just claiming to be. Or maybe he isn’t all-powerful, just claiming to be, and in fat has limitations, but can’t admit it?

        Or maybe there is no God.

        Maybe the world isn’t fair and good after all, and we just have to make do with imperfection and do the best we can anyway…

  3. I think this article is very sad. This writer does not understand much. Religion is not still a path to self-improvement? We no longer live by the caprice of God because we live longer and in better conditions? Nonsense.

  4. xyz and such says

    “…the climate of tribal warfare and personal horror that ancient Jews (and everyone else) experienced. This was an age when even small skirmishes between neighbouring sects could result in the slaughter or enslavement of whole towns. A plague or drought could easily result in mass regional extermination…”

    So, basically similar to current times?

    • Fluffy Buffalo says

      Yeah, it was just last year that our mayor assembled a raiding party to burn down the neighboring protestant town and steal some women because they were late on their tribute payments, but then we had a drought, and all our horses died, and the men were so weakened from famine and disease that we had to postpone the campaign. Damn shame, that.

      Seriously, that shit doesn’t happen anymore in the civilized world, unless you have catastrophic state failure, like in Syria or the Congo. My impression is that back then, that was the norm – outside of the most well-run empires, you had Syria all the time, everywhere.

        • Fluffy Buffalo says

          Pray tell, what metaphor? Because you didn’t use any. Did you mean “hyperbole”? Or “sarcasm”? It’s hard to tell. Maybe if you were a bit more explicit about what your position is instead of throwing out one-liners, we could have a constructive discussion about it…?

      • “unless you have catastrophic state failure, like in Syria” this is not an internal problem it can be likened to your mayor who is pissed off at a neighbouring village and therefore lead a slaughter against the village…

  5. Charles G says

    Really enjoyable article. I’m of course thinking of what Peterson would say about these various examples, or Joseph Campbell for that matter, and trying to see all this mayhem and death as positive psychologically, but that’s pretty damn hard sometimes.

    Also really enjoyed the Kay’s conclusion about divine consciousness and his uplifting human message towards the end. Quillette is in fact a modern miracle, and the work it publishes is an absolute necessity, but man it’s nice to not read about the absurdity of the cultural wars for at least one day.

  6. Clare Stringfellow says

    So one day’s worth of oil lasted 8 days through the miracle of God. Does that mean God invented the first low energy light?

  7. northernobserver says

    The Maccabees are an under appreciated object of reflection. They raise a truly unanswered questions which is were the Jewish zealots right to resist Hellenization, and not only right in the sense of being right for Judaism and the Jewish people but right in the sense of right for the World. Because a lot of terrible things in the flow of world history seem to begin with the success of the Maccabees. First, it marks the beginning of the long genocide of the Greek peoples in the ancient world by the semetic and turkic peoples which in some sense continues to this day. Second, we see the validation of a never surrender theocratic war strategy, one that eventually cost the Jews the promised land after the Bar Kokhba revolt, which led to the expulsion into Europe and its tender mercies. Third, this terrible concept of religious obligation through warfare was later adopted by the Arab Warlord Empire which murdered the ancient world, genocided north India, isolated and pillaged Europe for 800 years and which troubles us to this day. Better that no such concept had even come forth into the World. Forth, in drawing such a sharp line between Jew and non Jew the Maccabees may have paved the way for the coming of Christianity or the coming of a jewish prophet that would seek to reconcile jew and gentile through religious tradition. Say what you want about Christ, I tend to like the guy, but Christianity was hard on Jews and Judaism, as any son is hard on his father. I mean yes, modern Jews have ended up with Rabbinical Judaism and the State of Israel so it seems like a happy ending but whenever I think of the Maccabees, I think of a cautionary tale about the true costs of resistance to change.

  8. Greg Lorriman says

    A well written but typically coarse atheistic misrepresentation of the Bible god, and a rose-tinted, and quite mistaken, view of modern times.

    I’ve read the Bible and the Old Testament God is indeed quite kindly, but also fiercely just and uncompromising with wrong-doing. He’s also strikingly American, but I’ll get to that in a moment.

    This article is making the mistake of thinking that a god would ‘of course’ subscribe to UN human rights norms. And would presumably be against capital punishment. And of considering suffering and death as evil, instead of wrong-doing/sin which is the death of personal integrity. And then there’s the atheistic fallacy of considering death as inherently a bad thing, which without a god it is of course.

    But consider the gravity of the act of disobeying or rejecting a god of infinite, pure self-giving love, goodness itself, truth itself, beauty itself etc etc. What sort of person rejects a god like that? And what would logically be the correct penalty? And what is worse, to suffer or to sin? So God’s original plan of an endless paradise for us all was ended.

    The god of the Bible is explicitly just as well as merciful:

    The biblical god sends messengers to warn the peoples that it will ultimately exterminate them if they don’t repent of their evil and instead persist obdurately in sin/wrong-doing.

    Among those wrongs were listed: sacrificing live children and babies by burning them to death, mis-use of sex for personal pleasure (which is otherwise considered a holy act of procreation and a reflection of God’s own nature).

    And they are told how to please God: come to the aid of the widows and orphans, lend with an open hand even to the stranger, be just in your dealings with every man including the stranger. Reserve a day in the week for relaxation and prayer.

    A truly free man is, after all, free from his own base appetites, with willing self-denial, and so becomes capable of pure, self-giving love to another, the likeness of God. How can one give oneself to another in marriage if one is a slave to porn or gambling, or one’s own pride, or money etc etc

    Rather than a life addicted to porn, the pursuit of personal success and glory, careless of the suffering of others and global poverty with a bin full of wasted food, feating on Game of Thrones, torture movies, bulging with pizza, and willing to abort than give all that up.

    What God won’t abide is sin, which is a personal enslavement to oneself and one’s own lowly, desires and fears. For that, God’s remedy is to call for repentance, because rather than a stooge of the UN, God is quite American:

    “Live free or die”

    (According to Psalm 90, “a man can expect to live to 70, and 80 if he is strong”. Evidently, this is in peace time, which was most of the time, and excludes child mortality. Now where do innocent children go when they die?)

    (…and I personally know God, like anyone of genuine faith which is defined as “Belief without evidence” by atheists not the religious. That’s why I read the Bible looking for truth and not contradictions. If you want to know God, then ask. “God if you exist please reveal yourself, and show me my sins that I can see why the innocent suffer.”)

    • Burlats de Montaigne says

      “And then there’s the atheistic fallacy of considering death as inherently a bad thing, which without a god it is of course.”

      Which itself is a theist’s fallacy. Speaking for myself, I do not consider death a “bad thing”. It is no more a “bad thing” than birth is a ‘good thing’. They are both just events which top and tail the human experience. Emotional attachment to life is a religious trope and the fear of death is used to cower people into submitting to the rest of the nonsense.

      • Greg Lorriman says

        @Burlats de Montaigne

        …since atheists criticise this god for putting people to death (ref the article), I don’t think it’s a theist fallacy here.

        Also, your interesting view of death suggests that you are not actually an atheist human but a robot.

        “Emotional attachment to life is a religious trope…”

        Lol!!! 🙂 I think you may have shot your dopamine receptors. Too much Chrystal Meth? In fact to flatly contradict you, acceptance of suffering and death is a religious tradition. Emotional attachment to life is a human instinct.

        “…into submitting to the rest of the nonsense.”

        You need to be proving there isn’t a god to say something like that. And how is killing the obdurate guilty ‘nonsense’? I would call it just. What worth to life is a depressed thief who when given opportunities refuses to stop? It is nonsense is to be continually locking up such people. Western justice is irrational.

        But let’s consider the ‘nonsense’ of a god which is like believing in fairies in the bottom of the garden, no? And let’s do it from a science basis:

        There is self-evidently a thing which is ‘existence’. One day physicists may end up describing it in an equation. Their equation will have to be self-referencing, since existence is a self-subsisting thing: it exists of its own nature and can’t not exist.

        Self-referencing means that it has the basic feature of ‘self-awareness’. So ‘existence’ has “Who made God?” and “Is there a personal God?” addressed in one.

        So the real question is not “Is there a god?” but rather…

        “Is the fundamental thing self-aware?”

        I can tell you as a matter of personal fact that it is. And that it is caring, it is uncompromising (eg, it excludes the arrogant), it is willing to communicate, and that those in communion with it are commonplace ‘people of faith’. And that almost all the monotheisms define their supreme-beings the same way, including the theist version of Hinduism.

    • Aylwin says

      @Greg Lorriman,

      Please, you surely cannot be equating atheism with “a life addicted to porn, the pursuit of personal success and glory, careless of the suffering of others and global poverty with a bin full of wasted food, feating on Game of Thrones, torture movies, bulging with pizza, and willing to abort than give all that up”. You sound reasonably intelligent and I assume are reasonably informed. You surely, surely, cannot believe the above. Please be accepting of the masses of non religious folk who in myriad ways live loving, kind, rewarding and meaningful lives.

      • Greg Lorriman says

        “Please be accepting of the masses of non religious folk who in myriad ways live loving, kind, rewarding and meaningful lives.”

        Sure, but non-religious persons include agnostic “I don’t know’s” who often are good people in their way, whereas for atheists there is a concept of a human as little more than an animal and the finality of death which inescapably leads to “Let us feast today as tomorrow we die” mentality of what atheism reduces to: hedonistic nihilism.

        But sure, even among atheists there can be some measure of decency, since after all latent human affection and family and friendship bonds produce a limited impulse to virtue.

  9. The scientific, rational approach to Western modernism, for which we should all be grateful, is not absent just from primitive cultures which flourished millennia ago; rather, it is wholly absent, and actively opposed, by many of today’s cultures. One of the serious mistakes the West makes is to assume that when we interact with such cultures, we can negotiate within the same modern framework.
    Thank you for this essay. Like your previous offerings at Quillette, it is both enjoyable and valuable.

  10. “the notion that scientific invention could radically improve the human condition—a foundational element of western modernism—would have come off to Judah as the babblings of a demented sorcerer. That’s why our forebears fixated so strongly on the workings of the divine consciousness: According to their pre-scientific world view, this was the only available path to civilizational self-improvement.”

    I could not help but wonder how the people of Classical antiquity might retort. Perhaps they might say something like…”Our progeny believes themselves to be in control. Our progeny fails to see the hand of God in their science, technological growth and progress. Our progeny views us as ignorant barbarians, but where would they be without us? Our progeny glorifies their accomplishments without realizing their benefactor. Our progeny has created a self centered world. Where can that lead?”

  11. Stephanie says

    Something I’m understanding about God by actually reading the Bible (instead of relying on the hot take from atheists), is that God isn’t really the one responsible for the death he delivers. Not in a personalised sense, anyway.

    The author is correct that the horrors of the primitive world were understood to pre-scientific people as divine in origin, but there is always a logical reason for why such death was delivered, and is captured in the stories. Ancient Jews observed that people who made certain choices suffered certain consequences, and they generalised that pattern to come up with the concept of “sin.” They didn’t have the technology to understand the mechanism, but they understood enough about cause and effect. Much of their sins revolve around health and social stability.

    One that particularly bothered my modern sensibilities was male homosexuality. However, the nature of anal sex is such that diseases are much more easy to transmit. An AIDS-like epidemic would look indistinguishable from the wrath of God to primitive people. Much of the sins of the early Bible, at least, have similarly logical origins.

    Considering Jews still exist and the ancient peoples of the Bible don’t, you can’t say their deduction on how to avoid “God’s wrath” was inaccurate. But they changed with the times, as well, with modern Judaism looking little like the Judaism of Moses. The struggle against the secularizing forces of man is a constant struggle, well captured by the Chanukah story.

    Overall, it seems to me that Judaism is in tension: despite a clear written history it is moved to evolve, but also must push back against the arrogance of man, which believes that they’ve figured it all out, and the thousands of years of pattern recognition can be thrown out.

  12. peterschaeffer says

    “The truest miracle, if it may be called that, lies in the 22-century-long process that brought us to the far more humane and tolerant world we now inhabit—a world in which we no longer live by the caprice of God and nature, and so can focus our spiritual energies on the celebration of faith and family for their own sake.”

    Actually, Europe (and the world) was poorer in 1000 AD than it had been in 0 AD. The real takeoff in prosperity started in 1600 AD (in Europe) and really after 1800 AD. Type ‘UK per-capita gdp’ into Google (images) to get some idea of how different (and recent) our world is.

    • Greg Lorriman says

      …and misses out on “Love your enemies and pray for them; how can you otherwise call yourselves sons of God when even sinners love those that love them”….”turn the other cheek”….”…before God there is no jew or greek or male or female, all are equal”….”lend with an open hand even to your enemies”….”do good to those that do ill to you”…”deny yourself” “die to yourself” “not my will be yours be done”…

      Effectively a recipe for family harmony, and civil peace. And the mind-blow of men and women’s equality (at least in terms of dignity). And all that 2,000 years ago. Neither did we have to wait until modern times for this to manifest, with many female Christian saints, and even the Chair of the Mathematics of Bologna University being a woman appointed by the Pope in the 18th century.

      Where do they think modern civilisation came from? Roman secularism? The Stoics? The so-called ‘Enlightenment’, that bringer of slaughter and despair?

      A recent survey had religious wars as historically at 7% of the total. Perhaps it’s less, since some religious wars would have been ultimately down to atheistic clergyman trying for land-grabs. Were the evil Popes even believers, after all?

      Arguably, the religious ‘golden rule’ of self-restraint, and the subduing of the passions and emotions, means that without religion there would have been far more wars than religion ever could be said to have caused.

  13. Greg Lorriman says

    Very like, one-sided, misrepresentations, retrospective judgements, presumption, UN human rights applied to a supreme being, out of context quotes.

    This is an atheist looking for contradictions not looking for truth.

    With supreme beings, you need to analyse matters by taking them to their logical conclusion.

    Meanwhile, let’s start with circumcision. It was god’s own orders that prescribed circumcision (as a ritualised response to the sexual impurity of Abraham and a symbol of self-restraint; also likely in keeping with what is supposed by many theologians to be the sin of Adam and Eve, masturbation) and so the “not gentle souls” forcibly circumcising the children was in keeping with a culture of sexual self-restraint on the supreme-being’s own orders. Which can only have benefited the children in the long run.

    “This is most obvious in the list of sadistic plagues that God rains down on the Egyptians” keeping with the long-running, sadistic abuse of the Israelites by the Egyptians, who were effectively slaves. A bit of context always helps.

    “In the book of Samuel, another similarly obscure Biblical figure gets struck dead when he innocently attempted to prevent the Ark of the Covenant from tipping over. ”

    ..which is assumed to be because the individual was by some manner impure, as suggested in the text. Either by corruption or by indifference. In any case, the author is implying a lack of justice in the mind of a god. Wouldn’t the god itself know best what is just and right in the case of the Ark of Covenant? And the individual was well versed with the Holiness and uncompromising nature of their God; he had no excuse.

    I’ll stop there with those three examples.

    If you want to know if there is a god, it is a fallacy to ask an atheist. Unhappily, religious persons are often themselves compromised or hypocritical.

    • Morgan Foster says

      @ Greg Lorriman

      “If you want to know if there is a god, it is a fallacy to ask an atheist.”

      People will ask an atheist if there’s a god after they (1) ask God and receive no answer, and (2) ask believers and find that they haven’t plausibly heard from him, either.

      • What would you genuises do without me here to queer ‘splain stuff to ya.

        There are lots of gods – little g – their job is to look good and inspire, ie Roman gods

        Whether or not there is a creator God or if humans created that idea, as Paglia suggests – that’s a theory.

        1) too convenient for men – who I suspect did in fact Create God, whether one exists or not is irrelevant to this argument, in his own image in the Abrahamic religions. The first and most intentional creation with woman, who mucks everything up, an afterthought subordinate companion. Women – this is why we can’t have nice things.

        2) I love that observation that the entire system, if designed, requires competitive food chain kill to eat. It’s true.

        3) it sounds like there was a lot of destruction of existing culture required for the domination of an ideology.

        4) Athiests and God believers are both theorizing. If one doesn’t allow room for doubt they are refusing to admit they don’t know what they don’t know and if the other side doesn’t allow room for doubt they have proven their faith and get an extra bowl of Ben and Jerry’s at the Paradise cafe later.

    • @Greg Lorriman

      If you want to KNOW there is a god…well, then, you’re S.O.L. Also, it sounds like you’re endorsing the forcible circumcision of children. How…religious. Don’t you think it’s odd that God would prescribe for his chosen people a surgical procedure originally conceived of and practiced by their (and his?) enemies.

      There are just 2 types of people, Greg: those who feel bad about being hypocrites and those who do not. Which one are you?

    • Ruud A. Wakener says

      @Greg Lorriman: evidence, please, for this god that you appear to regard as real. And by that I mean actual, repeatable, verifiable evidence, not anecdotal experiences or weak intelligent design arguments. Otherwise what you write is pure make-believe.

      • Greg Lorriman says

        @Ruud A. Wakener

        Wouldn’t the proof of a god be the god itself? And if it were a god, then it would evidently not be subject to scientific/materialistic analysis. And if self-awareness is a higher thing than matter, then the proof you would need would be a)not of the kind you are asking for b)person to person c)solve the problem of hullucination.

        Meanwhile, the evidence you do have is the persistence of people claiming to directly know a god, not merely that they believe in one. Unless you are willing to dismiss all of these as delusional, like Dawkins’ “the God Delusion”, which is not reasonable, then you have evidence that there may be a god. Sure, ambivalent evidence, since it’s either delusion or real, but evidence nevertheless.

        Certainly enough to motivate “If there is a god, please reveal yourself and show me why the innocent must suffer”.

        Meanwhile, I’ve addressed elsewhere here the reasonable underpinnings of the possibility of a god (based on the self-evident nature of ‘existence’).

        So you have both ambivalent witness evidence (of many hundreds of millions of persons), a reason why a god might exist, and the means to discover the proof for yourself.

        Keep in mind that most monotheisms define their supreme beings the same way, ie, it’s the same god. Even the Catholic Church of rigid dogma teaches explicitly that God has manifested to varying degrees in most other monotheisms. And when you get to the actual meaning of “No one saved outside of the Church”, I fully expect to see Gandhi in heaven. But only in Christianity is the suffering of the innocent fully addressed.

        • Thanks for the comprehensive reply, Greg. Unfortunately it’s not a strong set of arguments, and not really repeatable, verifiable evidence. Your use of phrases like “reasonable underpinnings of the possibility of a god” is tenuous at best. Now I’m not trying to corner you, simply illustrating the problem. We don’t agree on what constitutes reasonable evidence.

          What I do find, though, is that when believers propose the position that you have, it still doesn’t get them to Jehovah, Jesus and the Bible. Even if there were indeed a creator of all things, we have no reliable way of identifying or characterizing said entity – none at all. He/she/it could simply be a mad scientist experimenting in a lab in the 8th, 9th and 10th dimensions.

          If you want to follow up with a counter like “Well alright then – but how do you explain the reason and origin of all this?”, I can’t. But then I don’t pretend to know, and I’m happy with that. We’re uncovering more and more about the first nanoseconds of the universe’s existence, and wrestling with the origin of biological life (not the evolution of it – that’s sorted). So I’m confident that we will understand more about it from a “meta-” perspective, without the use of pre-scientific manuscripts.

          • Greg Lorriman says


            Lol! come off it, a god presenting itself to you is more than ‘tenuous evidence’. Sure, it’s not demonstrable to another, but so what. When did another’s confirming opinion make a thing true or real? Never. They are only ever witnesses, though our human weakness/instinct makes us prefer the ‘truth’ of the majority and our peers.

            But I’ve also addressed a problem of epistemology that you are also afflicted by and can’t have a solution to. Science does have some pretty hard limits, after all.

            You can’t know that you are sane. You can’t verify that the verified evidence is in fact anything more than your own personal hullucination, or that this is not a Matrix style fabricated world, or that you are a mad jellyfish on a jellyfish world. It reduces down to the same issue: evidence entirely based on a presumption of your own sanity.

            Meanwhile, a god would have a way to give direct proof/knowledge if it wanted to.

  14. “The truest miracle, if it may be called that, lies in the 22-century-long process that brought us to the far more humane and tolerant world we now inhabit …”

    The first 18 or 19 of these centuries showed hardly any improvement. During a single lifetime very little was there to notice. Mankind’s great leap forward can be dated to Spinoza, who explained what miracles are, that all the sacred text are purely human writing, and that reason and science can guide our emotional responses to make life better.

    • Stephanie says

      @Carl, and I suppose Spinoza existed in a vacuum? The Enlightenment would not have been possible if the connection hadn’t been made earlier that the universe seems to have a will, and humans could bargain with the future by understanding that will and acting accordingly. The seeds of rational thought are lain therein.

      • Far from an existence where behavior was modified by random rewards from an external power – if you was early man – figuring out cause and effect would take a very long time, what’s poisonous, rotten or dangerous. Spinning that knowledge forward is the critical leap. Making the source reliable and fear inspiring maybe necessary. Conquering the basics in the heirarchy of needs to have time and energy to focus on naming and knowing required.

        It’s a silly argument to me what inspired the best – Sam Harris, to me, overlooks a couple significant points. First, not believing the Abrahamics version doesn’t mean Creation theory is wrong – it’s the victor’s narrative so to speak and 2) as Ghandi’s wife so famously said to him when he was fighting the caste system and it was her turn to rake the latrine, formerly only done by untouchables, “most of us don’t even want to be as good as you”. Which also happens to be the fatal flaw of communism – believing if everyone’s needs were met they would all want to contribute work for a sense of purpose or integrity.

        So, idiots, to my view, argue Abrahamic religions in an attempt to establish atheism. To the contrary, that successful argument just establishes that we still don’t know.

      • @Stephanie, you have it backward writing “The seeds of rational thought are lain therein.” Going from the “universe has will” to “acting accordingly” is an example (however flawed) of rational thought – not its fetus.

        Spinoza did not invent reason. He used it to argue the universe does not have a will, even though it seems to.

  15. Jerry Austin says

    I do not know what happened to the story that caused the right side to truncate a fair number of words. This made the story impossible for me to read without trying to guess the portion I could not see. The obstructing column of adds starts with the words: “Here we are”. Perhaps it is something relating only to my computer but wish it was not happening.

  16. Jerry Austin says

    Never mind. When I reopened the window the problem went away. Meanwhile, I tried to go directly to Canadian Jewish News and was warned by my protection program that the site was attempting to install a trojan program on my computer.

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