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May 03

Domain Map

Associated pages, if only by 2 or 3 degrees of separation.

Sntjohnny.com — Christian Apologetics Ministry Blog

nssm200.com — Kissinger Report

jaffememo.com — the Infamous memo detailing Planned Parenthood’s population control mentality

eugenics.us — primary sources related to the ideological roots of the Eugenics movement

wechoselife.com — pro-life book by Anthony Horvath

christianwritingcontest.com — Athanatos Ministry’s Novel and Non-Fiction Contests

christianartsfestival.us — Athanatos Ministry’s summer Christian arts festival

christianwritingworkshops.com — Christian Writing Workshops

academyofapologetics.com — Apologetics Academy focusing on modules and literary apologetics

antonyflew.us — Information about Antony Flew’s conversion and the Flew-Horvath correspondence

apologeticslibrary.com — library of classic, essential readings in the defense of Christianity (apologetics)

apologeticsvideos.net — apologetics video sharing

assaultbook.com — Assault on Saint Agnes by Award Winning Author Joseph Courtemanche

athanatosministries.org — Publishing, apologetics through the arts, apologetics ministry of Anthony Horvath, PhD

bardandbook.com — innovative publishing, author, and reader community



birthpangs.com — AR Horvath’s telling of ideological and armed conflict across a post-American landscape

butchgregory.com — Author Jamie Greening

christianartsfestival.us – athanatos arts and apologetics wisconsin festival



The post Domain Map appeared first on Athanatos Christian Ministries.


Apr 17

Earth Day is Evil because Earth Day is Not about the Environment

“The power of population is so superior to the power of the earth to produce subsistence for man, that premature death must in some shape or other visit the human race. The vices of mankind are active and able ministers of depopulation. They are the precursors in the great army of destruction, and often finish the dreadful work themselves. But should they fail in this war of extermination, sickly seasons, epidemics, pestilence, and plague advance in terrific array, and sweep off their thousands and tens of thousands. Should success be still incomplete, gigantic inevitable famine stalks in the rear, and with one mighty blow levels the population with the food of the world”.

All children born, beyond what would be required to keep up the population to a desired level, must necessarily perish, unless room is made for them by the deaths of grown persons. We should facilitate, instead of foolishly and vainly endeavoring to impede, the operations of nature in producing this mortality.”

Thomas Malthus, An essay on the principle of population, 1798.  (Two different quotes from the same piece)

If the doctrine is true, that the fittest only should live, then it follows as a rational corollary that, in a society of rational men, where the interests of a race capable of indefinite development are blended, that “the fittest only should be born.”  […]  Why should not the law adopt the sound maxim, that no person has the right to throw upon the charities of the world, his diseased, deformed and insane offspring?

R.Z. Mason, 1878, in a Wisconsin journal.

Indeed, it has been concluded that compulsory population-control laws, even including laws requiring compulsory abortion, could be sustained under the existing Constitution if the population crisis became sufficiently severe to endanger the society.

John Holdren (with Paul Ehrlich) in a 1977 textbook.  Holdren is presently the chief science officer in the Obama administration.

The biggest cause of climate change is climate changers: human beings. Deciding to stop at two children, or at least to have one child less, is the simplest, quickest and most significant thing any of us could do to leave a sustainable and habitable planet for our children and grandchildren.

John Guillebaud in OPT Press release quoted in The Guardian, 12 July, 2006

In extreme situations, where states or regions may be almost uninhabitable through environmental damage, one-child policies may become unavoidable. However, such policies should only be introduced as a last resort and after full and democratic consultation. Generally one-child policies are unnecessary, counter-productive and liable to discount human rights.

YouthQuake:  “Population, fertility and environment in the 21st century.”  (2009) [produced in Britain by the Optimum Population Trust.]



I selected these quotes, out of hundreds like them I have on file, to allow the reader to see 200 years at a glance evidence for the following claim:

Whether it is the 1800s or just a few years ago or even the present day… whether the problem is ‘war’ and ‘famine’ (Malthus), the ‘interests of the race’ (Mason), the ‘population crisis’ (Holdren), ‘climate change’ (Guillebaud), or ‘environmental damage’ (YouthQuake)… the solution to the problem is always the same:  get rid of people, and in particular, children–preferably before they are born.

Isn’t that interesting?

You know, one would almost think that what folks really want is the ability to dominate their fellow man in a very fundamental way, and the only thing that changes over the decades is the pretext for their domineering.

I was thinking about this because next Monday is Earth Day, and my ministry will be hosting an online conference that has Steven Mosher as our keynote.  Mosher was present in China when they enacted their one-child policy.  An atheist at the time, the barbarism of the policy pushed him towards Christianity and eventually becoming a Catholic, and since then exposing myths about ‘over population.’  He will be speaking on Earth Day on the topic, “Save the Earth; Get Rid of the People? The Inhumanity of Earth Day”

I don’t know what he is going to say, exactly, but it made me think about what I would say, and I think what I would say is… is it asking too much to ask that people top being so darn gullible?  I feel this point acutely when I observe that the goal is elimination of people and control of the ones who are left. .. You’d think people would notice!

On the face of it, there is nothing particularly offensive about the idea of protecting the environment.  People across the political and ideological spectrum can theoretically find common ground.  But let’s consider the list of things you can do to protect the environment… produce less trash, recycle, properly dispose of toxic waste, … compel women to get abortions.


Notice how the people who kick around the idea of making women get abortions are the very same that go on and on and on about a woman’s ‘right to choose.’   How hard is it to recognize the intrinsic contradiction in these sentiments?  If seeing such sentiments squeezed together by the same people and sometimes in the same document isn’t enough to create the reasonable suspicion that they are LYING about their real intentions, I wonder what it would take?  Do you need to actually be held down while the ‘Constitutionally’ protected public health officials suck the brains out of your unborn baby?*

Holdren and Erhlich would say, “Well, but that’s only ‘if the population crisis became sufficiently severe to endanger the society.’  We are not at that point.”

OPT would say, “Well, that’s the kind of thing we would only entertain ‘as a last resort and after full and democratic consultation.'”

Phew!  Boy, I feel better!  Don’t you?

And what about Earth Day?  Earth Day was founded and promoted by radicals such as Paul Ehrlich who advocated for compulsory sterilizations and putting sterilants in the water supply (among many other things) to ‘reduce the population’ and, oh yea, ‘save the earth.’  (See his The Population Bomb as one example.)  Are you so sure it is the environment they are concerned about?

I think one reason why Earth Day has wide appeal because ostensibly it calls attention to issues that people of all ideologies can support without bickering.   This also makes it a prime place to do propaganda.  It is only a matter of time before people discover that these ways to ‘save the earth’ actually will do little, and that the environmentalists all know that the ‘only’ effective thing to do is reduce the number of people.  I guess the hope is that people will decide on their own to limit their family size… so the government doesn’t have to come and do it for you.

But I have this sneaking suspicion that there are people who would very much like the government to have that power, and I don’t think they are motivated one lick by ‘environmental’ concerns.

This Earth Day, don’t be a dupe.  Study the history of the day and the persons involved, and find out what they really believed.  It begs the obvious question:  do they still believe these things?  Which begs the next obvious question:  are you actually falling in step with their agenda?

* There is sometimes an insistence to refer to the person as a ‘fetus’ at this point, but when the person is wanted, we dispense with that, and refer to the person as a baby.  I am taking it for granted that it would be the wanted ones that would be compulsory aborted, not the unwanted ones, which they were going to abort anyway.


Apr 11

Pro-Life Apologetics Conference: Defending the Faith is a Defense of Life

In just a little over a week, my ministry, Athanatos Christian Ministries, will be hosting our fourth annual online apologetics conference.

Each year, we pick a theme in which apologetics is integrated and applied.  Previous years saw apologetics incorporated into the arts, etc.  This year, the theme is life issues, and abortion in particular.

One’s views about God tends to impact one’s views on Man.  It is not a coincidence that people are more likely to describe themselves as pro-life if they are a Christian and pro-choice if they are an atheist.  On the former view, people have intrinsic value, and so there are boundaries to what you can do to them and for what reasons.  On the latter view, people are just ‘meat machines’, and how you treat them depends only on the consensus of society.

Ironically, despite these two views being essentially two sides of the same coin, the secular humanist regards the Christian view as merely religious–and therefore not permitted expression in public society–and their view as purely scientific, so they can do whatever in hell they want.

Of course, on their view, Christians are part of society as well, and since all values are determined by ‘might makes right’ at the level of society, there is no particular reason why Christians can’t impose their notions.  Similarly, one cannot object if some other society–say, the Nazis–think that ‘defectives’ should be eliminated.  But they do object…. but I will explore this incoherency in more detail in my presentation at the conference, ‘Christianity and Abortion.”

But I did not choose this theme with atheists in mind.  Instead, I had Christians in mind.  How many times have I chatted with fellow Christians (or had them send me angry emails) insisting that Christianity ought not be involved in ‘political’ affairs at all?  I’ve had pastors tell me that the mission of the Church was nothing more than the preaching of the Gospel and (rightly) administering of the Sacraments, or, more generally, Christians say that our business amounts to nothing more than evangelism.

The net effect of this approach is Christians taking a perspective perfectly in line with what secular humanists hope Christians take.  (And the secular humanists are doing their part to convince Christians to stay home and shut up, if you haven’t noticed.)

On the face of it, these Christians seem to be taking a high view of their faith, positing that it is above the fray of merely temporal affairs, but in reality, it implies that Christianity is not actually true.

The idea that ‘faith’ is some kind of ethereal disembodied set of notions that has no bearing and impact on how we live our actual lives is closer to docetism, or perhaps gnosticism.

It is a question of what is real and true about the universe:  are we all, in reality, creatures made by God and then redeemed on the cross–even before we were born?

Did God really come, in the flesh?

When God made everything, did he not in fact declare it ‘good’?  Isn’t it an implied aspect of the incarnation itself that ‘temporal’ affairs aren’t inconsequential?  He became ‘temporal’ for our sake.  Theoretically, he could have just simply stated that our sins were forgiven without entering into our affairs to suffer and die via the machinations of the Jewish and Roman legal systems.

Is, “he suffered under Pontius Pilate” an article of faith, or a fact of history?

To the degree you believe the latter, rather than the former, you will recognize that we cannot possibly regard ourselves or each other as disposable sacks of flesh.  My observation is that those who believe the latter is supported by objective, solid evidence, tend to put a high value on each human life, born and unborn, young or old, able or disabled.

Thus, it follows that if one were interested in advancing ‘pro-life’ causes, the most effective way to do this would be to create more Christians and equip them with solid reasons for believing that what they believe is actually true–objectively true.  The rest would practically take care of itself.

And that’s why this year’s conference theme links two topics that I do not believe have ever been so explicitly connected before:  Defending the faith IS a defense of life.

I will certainly grant that the above leaves unaddressed a number of important issues and topics.  I certainly don’t want anyone to think the solution is to create a theocracy.  I believe the framers of the Constitution struck the right balance on that score, and that at any rate, we are about as far away as a theocracy as one can get.  We are on the verge of an ‘atheocracy’, if anything.  There is a balance to be struck, because it is just as certain that this earth and all that is in it will pass away;  we should give priority to eternal things, not temporal things.

But perhaps that is my point:  the only thing that will last (on the Christian view, if Christianity is true) in this creation are the people.  If the Gospel is not for them, for all of them, by definition, then are we quite sure we are really preaching the Gospel of eternal life if we are not prepared to stand and defend life in the ‘here and now’?

The conference does not aim to answer that question, but I think it provokes it, and I hope it generates good and fruitful discussion.

The conference is April 21-23 and held entirely online.  Registration is $19.95 and you can attend the first day for free, although you will still need to register.  Learn more and register here:  http://onlineapologeticsconference.com/




Apr 10

Life Unworthy of Life by Derek Elkins

luol_small Derek Elkins’ Life Unworthy of Life came before my eyes, from his perspective, at the most opportune time. I was immersed in studying the philosophies and ideologies that had led to the Holocaust, and the T4 Project (which the book is about) was explicit foreshadowing of that later horror. I was instantly drawn into the manuscript. From my perspective, however, I could have chosen a better time to read it. Evidently, my plane had been moved to a different gate and they had been calling my name for the better part of twenty minutes… “Argher Heervreth blah blah blah…” … “Theeny Hurgle, [indecipherable]…”

 If it hadn’t been for the fact that I suddenly thought it very odd that they had not begun boarding at my gate with just 3 minutes before takeoff and coming to the conclusion that it was unlikely they would fly a plane with just a single passenger, I would not have hurriedly checked the board, and I would not have, in a panic, flung myself in the direction of the gate where my plane actually was waiting for me.

 “[indecipherable] Aneeny Gursheth?” the attendant said as I flew by her.

 It was the spring of 2012. I was in St. Louis for some pro-life stuff. It was my task to select the winners for my ministry’s annual Christian Novel Contest, and Derek’s book was one of the finalists. Now, does making the judge nearly miss his plane count for a book, or against it?

 The question remains unanswered; nevertheless, it ended up being the grand prize winner. Not long after that, I would extend an offer to publish the book. Derek would accept.

 And now we are just two weeks away from its official release, on April 23, 2013.

 My how time flies.

 Fly, indeed. Today, calling someone a ‘Nazi’ or a ‘fascist’ is about the worst thing that you can say about someone, but few people actually have any idea what the terms mean or meant. And that is to be expected, I suppose. Another term similarly deployed is ‘zealot,’ but who can possibly recall the actual attitudes of such people who lived 2,000 years ago? And that, of course, is when Hitler lived and fascism thrived. People today are only vaguely aware of what happened seventy years ago. They’re not going to know the true sentiments of people like the Nazis, who existed only in ancient history, millennia ago.

Finish Reading



Apr 01

I’ve changed my mind: Keep your religious views about abortion out of politics!

Or… I’ll keep mine out, if you’ll keep yours… or something like that… keep reading…

In our country, there is a general feeling that only positions backed by actual fact should drive public policy. ‘Religion’ is perceived to be the realm of personal opinion. Even Christians tend to accept the view that people are allowed to have their opinion, but they aren’t allowed to impose that opinion on others. The result is that many Christians refrain from acting ‘politically’ because they see their own beliefs as nothing more than ‘mere opinion.’

Secularists tend to be people who have dispensed with ‘religion’ altogether, and like to think that they are entirely ‘fact driven.’

When these ideas collide, we observe something very curious: secular humanists conclude that they can advocate for anything that they want in the public sphere, because nothing they believe is ‘religious, ‘ while distinctly Christian viewpoints are forbidden from entering the public domain, since those will be, by definition, ‘religious.’ And again, even Christians gravitate to that view.

This tends to lead to debates and discussions and policy proposals that take the ‘facts’ of the secularists as the starting points. We are expected to proceed on their terms. And why not? Surely without the ‘religious’ component, those ‘facts’ are as close to actually being real descriptions of the world as one could get, right?

But what if ‘religion’ and ‘fact’ are not opposites? Continue reading


Mar 28

Dorothy Sayers on Gay Marriage? The Other Six Deadly Sins

This post has Christians in mind who support traditional marriage.  Gay marriage proponents and non-Christians are not in view.  Read the following with this in mind.


Recent developments on the ‘gay marriage’ front, and developments over the last decade, reminded me of an essay written by that insightful Christian critic Dorothy Sayers way back in the 1940s.  Here is the relevant portion:

The Other Six Deadly Sins

Perhaps the bitterest commentary on the way in which Christian doctrine has been taught in the last few centuries is the fact that to the majority of people the word immorality has come to mean one thing and one thing only.  By a hideous irony, our shrinking reprobation of that sin has made us too delicate so much as to name it, so that we have come to use for it words that were made to cover the whole range of human corruption.  A man may be greedy and selfish; spiteful, cruel, jealous, and unjust; violent and brutal; grasping, unscrupulous, and a liar;  stubborn and arrogant; stupid, morose, and dead to every noble instinct–and still we are ready to say of him that he is not an immoral man.  I am reminded of a young man who once said to me in perfect simplicity:  “I did not know there were seven deadly sins;  please tell me the names of the other six.”

About the sin called luxuria or lust, I shall therefore say only three things.  First, that it is a sin, and that it ought be called plainly by its own name, and neither huddled away under a generic term such as immorality, nor confused with love.

Secondly, that up till now the Church, in hunting down this sin, has had the active alliance of Caesar, who has been concerned to maintain family solidarity and the orderly devolution of property in the interests of the state.  But now that contract and not status is held to be the basis of society, Caesar need no longer rely on the family to maintain social solidarity; and now that so much property is held anonymously by trusts and joint stock companies, the laws of inheritance lose a great deal of their importance.  Consequently, Caesar is now much less interested than he was in the sleeping arrangements of his citizens, and has in this manner cynically denounced his alliance with the Church.  This is a warning against putting one’s trust in any child of man–particularly in Caesar.  If the Church is to continue her campaign against lust, she must do so on her own–that is, on sacramental–grounds; and she will have to do it, if not in defiance of Caesar, at least without his assistance.

Quoted out of The Whimsical Christian.

I concur.

My friends, if this was the case in the 1940s, and I suppose it probably was, then I think we can safely say we are at this point today.    Regardless of what SCOTUS says this June, I suggest we consider making an orderly retreat, and then….


Mar 27

Gay Marriage One more Piece of the Progressive’s Social Engineered Rube Goldberg Machine

Do you know what a Rube Goldberg machine is?  Here are some pictures if you don’t.  It’s an elaborate machine composed of unnecessary parts that requires an extraordinary amount of tinkering to get working correctly.

Rube Goldberg machines are really fun to play with, but only on the principle that “It’s all fun and games until someone gets hurt.”

Progressives are a group of people who accept the premise that it is society’s right, nay, duty, to tinker-tinker-tinker with things in pursuit of the ‘common good.’  If someone gets hurt in the meantime, they’re ‘ok’ with that.  I hear this a lot when Democrats are asked about problems that surface as thousand page bills become laws, “Well, there will be bumps in the road” or “While there are kinks to be worked out, …”  You’ve got to break some eggs to make some omelets.

The result of such thinking is that in trying to fix one perceived problem, the ‘solutions’ erected invariably create new problems, and the solutions to these problems create yet new problems, and so on and so forth-literally, forever.  Back in 2010 I warned the soon to be victorious Tea Party to be careful about accepting the premise that we have the right and duty to tinker forever with the ‘machine’:

These people believe that leaving things be leads to social inequalities and only the machinations of the government can balance it all out.  Of course, when you tinker with part of the machine you will inevitably disturb a different part of the machine.  When your machine has a million parts which all are interconnected, if you perceive that your job is to personally make sure the machine runs with efficiency- as you perceive efficiency- then no doubt, a high level of intelligence is required, and not just by the president, but by the hundreds of other agencies established to monitor all the different parts of the machine.

I was thinking about this today when I read Juan William’s piece in the WSJ on race and guns.  I typically sigh and groan my way through whatever Juan is saying, but there was something in this one that caught my eye:

Almost 50 years ago, when the 1964 Civil Rights Act was passed, the national out-of-wedlock birthrate was 7%. Today it is over 40%. According to the CDC, the out-of-wedlock birthrate for white children was just 2% in the 1960s. Today it is 30%. Among black children, the out-of-wedlock birthrate has skyrocketed from 20% in the 1960s to a heartbreaking 72% today. The Hispanic out-of-wedlock rate, which has been measured for a much shorter period, was below 40% in 1990 and stands at more than 50% as of the 2010 census.

This is pretty interesting, don’t you think?  Interestingly, while Juan mentions this and highlights the importance, he doesn’t speak to what may be the cause of this significant shift.  And please note that while it has disproportionately affected blacks, Juan also points out that the national figures have also increased significantly, more than 4 times so (from 7% to 40%).  No-fault divorce is certainly one specific thing we can point to, but before there was no-fault divorce, there was this idea that we can tinker-tinker-tinker with society.

On the progressive point of view, moving to no-fault divorce was no big deal, because marriage is no more than a social construct, anyway.  There is just one teensy-weensy problem:  marriage is not just a social construct.

There are specific, non-arbitrary reasons why there is something we refer to as the institution of marriage.  When you disregard these non-arbitrary reasons, they don’t go away.  You know why?  Because they are not arbitrary.  Get it?

Consider this example:  if you put your hand into the blade of a running lawn mower, your hand is going to be ground into a bloody pulp.  Does this fact displease you?  Does it strike you as unfair?  Should you like to say, “Oh, but people should be allowed to stick their hands into the running blades of lawn mowers without their hands being reduced to pulp!  Let us correct this injustice with a law!”

Such a law would be pointless and worthless, because it doesn’t really matter what you think.  When you put your hand into the moving blade, it is going to be pulpified.  But the social engineer of the progressive sort is not to be deterred:  “We shall require that lawn mowers be so constructed so that…”  And the construction of the Rube Goldberg machine has begun.  The ‘experts’ will get to work trying to balance the ability of a blade to cut grass against people’s ‘right’ to stick their hands underneath the carriage without them being obliterated.  You can very well expect, on this view, that there will be a few ‘bumps in the road’ and ‘kinks to work out.’

Now, of course there is presently no movement for such a law, because people don’t need to be told that if you make a lawn mower such that it won’t blend your hand into a puree, it won’t effectively cut grass any more, and, well, blended hands are bad.  There is a de facto, default equilibrium that emerges–without anyone feeling a need to pass any kind of law at all, one way or the other–as people come to terms with objective reality.

Marriage is like that.  It is a word we use to reflect an objective reality that exists whether anyone likes it or not.  And, as in most cases where people defy objective reality, the consequences of messing with the ‘equilibrium’ results in getting people hurt.  No-fault divorce has hurt people on a broad scale;  I am one of the persons who has been hurt by it, so I can speak from personal experience.  Moreover, I have seen the consequences on adults and children all around me.  No-fault divorce was an attempt to circumvent the way that people really are, the way they are ‘built’, the way new people are made, and the best conditions for the way these new people grow up to be adults themselves.

The result of this tinkering has of course led to all sorts of government programs to try to counteract the consequences of this government ‘program.’  All of this tinkering assumes that ‘marriage’ was a mere social construct and wasn’t the way it was for a particular reason, but, in fact, that assumption is just not valid.  The components of ‘marriage’ surfaced ‘naturally’ because of certain, non-arbitrary realities that will not change, even if we change the definition.

Now, there will be someone who says, “This is just your religious viewpoint, and you should not impose your views on others!”

To this person I must say, “You sir, are an idiot.”

The following propositions are not ‘religious’ in the slightest:

  • Men have penises.
  • Women have vaginas.
  • Men have sperm.
  • Women have eggs.
  • Children are the direct result of sperm ‘interacting’ with eggs.
  • Children are not made any other way (yet).
  • Until recently, the way that sperm cells make their acquaintance with eggs is that that the men, who have penises, put their penises inside the woman’s vagina, and from there an ejaculation event takes place, sending the sperm into the vagina.
  • A vagina can only hold one penis at a time.
  • A penis can only be in one vagina at a time.
  • The word for this event/activity we call ‘sex.’
  • A newly generated child is always the result of just one man and just one woman participating in the sexual act.

I feel some embarrassment at having to be so direct about this, but despite the tremendous amounts of money given by the government to Planned Parenthood and our schools in pursuit of ‘sex education,’ there seems to be some ignorance about the above propositions.  Much to Planned Parenthood’s glee, our young people continue to engage in this activity, and they continue (to everyone’s great surprise!) to have children ‘out of wedlock.’  I say ‘glee,’ because of course Planned Parenthood would go out of business if this no longer happened.  But at any rate, we live in a society where men and women are having sex willy-nilly and remain shocked, positively shocked, when babies result.  (Granted, they are only babies if they are wanted… until then, they are only ‘fetuses’ and can be disposed of, like tumors.)

Now, from the above realities, other realities are derived.  When I mention these, some people will say that some of them are only my ‘religious’ viewpoint.

To these people, I must, regretfully, say:  “You are idiots.”

Please note, that I am not calling them ‘idiots’ because they disagree with my assertions, but rather that they wish to deride them as ‘religious’ and bigoted.

These realities are objective facts that emerge from people who ‘encounter’ the previous list of objective facts:

  • Sex, while being physical pleasure, also reflects and creates an emotional intimacy between the people who engage in it.  (No doubt, this is true even in ‘gay’ ‘sex’, too).
  • This intimacy has historically, and typically, distills into a desire to remain in a relationship with each other, exclusively, often for life;  this, we loosely call ‘marriage.’
  • The child that emerges from this process will thrive in an arrangement where the two partners in the sexual act continue to stay together, for life.
  • Where those two partners do not remain together, children experience various forms of pain–emotional, of course, but often materially, such as when a child is raised by a single parent.
  • While adoptive parents can be, and usually are, well regarded by their adopted children, adopted people tend to be very interested in their birth parents, and feel a connection to them regardless of how healthy and balanced their present situation is.
  • That is to say, people draw meaning and significance from where they came from, and the circumstances in which they were born.

Now, in defense of the people I have just named as ‘idiots,’ I admit that these propositions are not nearly as apparent, obvious, and self-evident as what happens if you stick your hand into a lawn mower.  (I can’t say as apparent, obvious, and self-evident as my first list of propositions, because, as I said, despite them being such, our society appears to have only some murky understanding of them).  Part of the problem, of course, has to do with the fact that people experience these dynamics differently, and they are difficult to quantify.  Another part of the problem is that they involve people, not things, and agents, not merely processes.  You can introduce a sperm to an egg in a test tube and measure the ‘results’, but it is not nearly so easy to raise children in numerous different kinds of family structures and then measure and monitor them to see how it goes.

Which leads to another important aspect of the problem, which is that the scope of time involved makes ‘self-evident’ assessments a little harder to make… the results of the ‘social experiment’ of no-fault divorce and other aspects of the ‘sexual revolution’ have taken decades to unfold, and the impacts have yet to be fully realized.  Not even one generation of results is enough to provide us with the ‘data’ we need to ‘properly tinker,’ because of course it is not only the children of the ‘no-fault generation’ we must look at, but the children that their children have.  Quite possibly, we will need to see many generations before the full impacts are apparent.

In the 1960s, when no-fault divorce was advocated and implemented, they (we may believe) sincerely thought that ‘marriage’ would actually improve, that the lives of children would be better, that society would ultimately benefit from the ‘openness’ and flexibility brought to bear on sexuality and relationships.  50 years later, I believe there is already evidence enough to see that this was WAAAAAAAY off base.

On the other hand, the argument that I am making in this post could have been made, and was made, in the 1960s.  Nothing has fundamentally changed about people, about sex, and about children, because these are not things that can be ‘tinkered’ with without predictable consequences.  It is just a fact that one man-one woman, life long monogamous relationships in which children are generated and allowed to grow to maturity is the ideal ‘construct’ for facilitating happiness for all involved–the man, the woman, and the children.  (I have no problem granting that this ideal is not easy to maintain, and often thwarted–but the ‘thwarting’ often is proof of the point, not a detraction).

Now, we may ask why the government should be involved in this process at all, if, generally speaking, it would naturally emerge anyway–as, historically it does and has.

There is only one rationale for ‘wider societal’ interjection into this process, and that centers around the children.

We do not have laws regulating friendship.  We do not have laws regulating affection.  This is because it is self-evidently the case that adults can make friends with whomever they please, and our affection for each other is thoroughly nobody else’s business, period.  If government ‘intrusion’ into ‘marriage’ is to be justified on this basis, then it cannot be justified at all.

When people cease to be ‘best friends forever’, the government doesn’t get involved, because it is generally accepted (still) that adults can fend for themselves on this score.  Children, however, are at the mercy of the adults’ decisions, and entirely vulnerable to their actions.  It is only insofar as these innocent agents can sometimes sorely use an advocate besides their own parents that the rest of us are concerned at all.

Now, gay marriage is another grand, social engineering experiment.  Like every other experiment of this sort, the impact and the consequences will take decades to unfold before there is sufficient ‘data’ to allow further progressive ‘tinkering.’  The ones at the center of this experiment will be the children, and it is only the children we have a societal obligation to.

If ‘gay marriage’ is widely adopted, it will be because society has moved to accept the view that the core element of ‘marriage’ is recognizing the ‘affection’ and ‘intimacy’ that two consenting adults have, ascribing legal status to it, and providing privileges to that ‘arrangement.’  If that is the prevailing determinant of what constitutes ‘marriage’, then the proper thing to do is to simply jettison ‘marriage’ as an issue for government to be involved in at all.

If the rationale for government involvement remains the protection of those that cannot protect themselves, then I highly doubt that we can justify constant and continued ‘tinkering’ with human relationships such as what we’ve seen for the last hundred years (beginning with the Bolsheviks), because it is precisely that kind of ‘tinkering’ that has inflicted various degrees and kinds of harm on this generation, now coping with previous tinkering.

But we seem to be beyond and past this.  We seem on track to continue adding ‘corrections’ to our social Rube Goldberg machine at the points where it ‘unexpectedly’ ends up hurting someone or many, many someones.  If ‘gay marriage’ is widely adopted, it will require more changes to the ‘machine.’

If ‘gay marriage’ is widely adopted, the government should simply completely disentangle itself from ‘marriage’ altogether, as it would cease to have a justified rationale for being involved, having discarded it in order to adopt ‘gay marriage’ (and no-fault divorce) in the first place.  Better to let the pieces fall where they may, and then, a hundred years from now, pick up the pieces again.

Personally, I wonder if at that point we’ll ever trust ‘society’ or the ‘government’ to tinker with human society in this manner again.  At any rate, whatever my views on homosexuality are, I have no interest–zero, zilch–in speaking to the physical pleasure and affection these folks wish to have, or passing any legislation about it one way or the other.  But I find it immoral to make children an object of experimentation; if these are not to be our rationale for ‘intruding’ in the affairs of others, then it would be better, on my view, for the government to walk away from the issue of ‘marriage’ altogether.

Then time will tell.



Mar 19

The odds of Life versus Picking Every Game Right in March Madness

I saw this article about picking every game correctly in the March Madness bracket state the following:

Confident about your NCAA Tournament bracket? You might want to think again. The odds of predicting a perfect bracket are one in 9.2 quintillion (or more precisely: 1 in 9,223,372,036,854,775,808). Best of luck with that.

That’s 1 in 263, or to convert that for what follows, 1 in 9.2 x 1018, or, if I’m doing the math right, I can probably just round it up slightly to 1 in 1019 or 1 in ten quintillion.

Now, I would like you to imagine that after the tournament was over, someone presented you with a perfect bracket, and insisted that they had filled it out before the tournament took place.  I don’t know if it would make a difference to you if they said that they had carefully selected the picks or if they had simply drawn them from out of a hat.  Personally, I would find it more plausible (but still not believe it, simply on their testimony) if they had carefully selected the picks, and they were experts in college basketball.  Others, however, apparently find blind chance more plausible, and these, we will call atheists.

I took note of this particular article because of the direction the comments on my last post took regarding abiogenesis.

It’s been awhile since I’ve played with this topic, so I went looking for some figures regarding the ‘odds of life forming.’  On a pro-evolutionist site, I found this discussion:

The calculation which supports the creationist argument begins with the probability of a 300-molecule-long protein forming by total random chance. This would be approximately 1 chance in 10390. This number is astoundingly huge. By comparison, the number of all the atoms in the observable universe is 1080. So, if a simple protein has that unlikely chance of forming, what hope does a complete bacterium have?

Ok.  So to recap:

  • Odds of generating a perfect NCAA bracket in advance:  1 in 1019
  • Probability of a 300 molecule long protein forming by random chance:  1 chance in 10390
  • Number of atoms in the observable universe:  1080



The author then goes on to deny that it needs to be all this bad… failing to take into account of course that life involves more than one protein and a whole variety of other considerations… so that, for example, we would be living in a state of self-delusion if we ignored the fact that there are millions of kinds of proteins that need to be concocted, and Nature only has a few billion years to work its magic.   Does someone want to calculate that probability?  1 in 10390 times 10???????.  I’ll leave it for someone else to work out.

Of course, this article doesn’t think it is all quite that bad, because, the author says, “if [abiogenesis] relied entirely on random chance, then yes, it would be impossible for life to form in this way. However, this is not the case.”

At this point, the author waves his magic wand and invokes Natural Selection, insisting that “Abiogenesis was a long process with many small incremental steps, all governed by the non-random forces of Natural Selection and chemistry.”

Evidently, this author assumes his readers will be complete idiots who aren’t aware of the fact that this statement is nothing more than a bald assertion based on the assumption that life emerged merely from natural processes.  It may perhaps be more plausible to imagine the process working itself out with many (10????????) steps over many (10?????????) years, but there is no evidence for that whatsoever except for ‘naturalismdidit’ combined with the stomach-turning conclusion “Holy crap, the honest conclusion is that there is NO way this happened!”

The author then attempts a more manageable proposal:

the simplest theorized self-replicating peptide is only 32 amino acids long. The probability of it forming randomly, in sequential trials, is approximately 1 in 1040, which is much more likely than the 1 in 10390 claim creationists often cite.

So, let’s recap:

  • Odds of generating a perfect NCAA bracket in advance:  1 in 1019
  • Probability of a 300 molecule long protein forming by random chance:  1 chance in 10390
  • Probability of a theorized simplest self-replicating peptide forming randomly:  1 in 1040
  • Number of atoms in the observable universe:  1080

We ask:  how many self-replicating peptides are there?  How many of them are “only 32 amino acids” long?  Isn’t this still highly improbable?  Would we be highly skeptical about someone’s their claim they had generated a perfect bracket at  1 in 1019 odds but be prepared to believe it is likely, plausible, or probable, that just one ‘simplest theorized’ peptide actually happened, with 1 in 1040 odds?  There are only 1080 atoms in the whole observable universe.  And how many atoms in a single peptide?

The author is aware of the silliness:

Though, to be fair, 1040 is still a very large number. It would still take an incredibly large number of sequential trials before the peptide would form.

To soften the problem, he has a solution:

But remember that in the prebiotic oceans of the early Earth, there would be billions of trials taking place simultaneously as the oceans, rich in amino acids, were continuously churned by the tidal forces of the moon and the harsh weather conditions of the Earth. [emphasis his]

Continue to bear in mind that the author is assuming readers who are all positively stupid, and have no idea that there is no evidence whatsoever for any ‘prebiotic oceans’, unless by ‘evidence’ you mean, “well, we’re here, and we got here somehow, and we can’t believe we got here via naturalistic processes unless we invoke some highly advantageous starting conditions.”  A primordial soup is not, by any means, the only theory about the earth’s initial conditions, either.  People get to just posit conditions based on the theory they are entertaining, which of course lets the cat out of the bag:  we don’t really know what the earth was like in this time.

We will pass over his other ad hoc assertions… that there would be billions of trials taking place, that they would be taking place simultaneously, that there were lots of amino acids roaming around (and where did these amino acids come from?), that the waters were being ‘churned’ by tidal forces, that the weather conditions were harsh, and so on and so forth.

All this sounds about as close to the worst version of ‘blind faith’ as any atheist could charge someone for having; ironic, but not surprising, that we find it being espoused by an atheist.

Bottom line:  With probabilities so ridiculously improbable as this, it is no wonder that people who sit down to investigate the issues find strict materialism so implausible to be almost laughable on its face.  They may not become Christians, but nor do they remain atheists.

Interesting side note:

In the conversation that spurred me to take notice of the original basketball article, the gent trotted out the typical talking point that abiogenesis is entirely separate and distinct from evolution.  When I was looking for pro-evolutionary articles talking about probabilities of life, I didn’t expect to find one that illustrated one of my other contentions, that when the tire meets the road, that distinction fades away completely.  In this article, the author brushes aside the ‘creationist’ assumption that these were merely ‘random processes’ that first formed life, and reminds us (as if it is a known, empirical fact) that:

Abiogenesis was a long process with many small incremental steps, all governed by the non-random forces of Natural Selection and chemistry.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t Natural Selection an evolutionary process?  So, is abiogenesis separate and distinct from evolution, or not?  Participants in this debate already know the answer:  it is separate and distinct when you are faced with the sad news that it is impossible for life to have emerged ‘by chance’, but when you want to improve your odds, it’s all one and the same, ‘governed by the the non-random forces of Natural Selection.”

You can believe these folks if you want, but you’ll never convince me that these people occupy the ‘high ground’ of ‘Reason.’  They seem to be the most steadfast advocates of ‘magic’ I come across.  But you should do your own research.  In the meantime, at the end of March Madness, I will show you my completed bracket.  Guess what… it will be the first perfect one in recorded history!


Mar 11

Your Beliefs are a Threat to the State Itself

Christianity has always been considered a threat to governments, because it maintains that individuals answer first and foremost to God–and by ‘individuals’ we also mean those running the governments.

Rome led things off, even going so far as to accuse Christians of being atheists, for not being willing to give sacrifices to the gods.  Just one problem:  one of those gods was the emperor himself.  Despite being the best possible citizens one could have, Christians were deemed a threat to the integrity of the state itself.  I document and discuss this thoroughly in this long treatment I wrote awhile back.

Religionists would be deemed a threat to the state in the French Revolution, and would be slaughtered by the bushels in the name of the ‘age of reason.’  The “Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen” explicitly distills all authority into the state:

3.  The principle of all sovereignty resides essentially in the nation. No body nor individual may exercise any authority which does not proceed directly from the nation.

The ‘limits’ of ‘Natural rights’ can be ‘determined by law.’  (Art. 4).  Put it all together:  our rights come from the state.  The enlightened french did allow people to have their religious views, “provided their manifestation does not disturb the public order established by law.”  How nice of them!  It is not hard to see how such a view would not comport very well with religious views that puts sovereignty first and foremost with God, who then delegates some of that authority to humans;  Christianity posed a threat to the French nation.

Compare and contrast with the American system, which said that our rights came from God, not the state, and one of these rights was freedom of religious expression (ie, not just possession of religious views).

The communists saw, and still see, Christianity as a threat to the nation for the same reasons.  Christianity believes that God created the world, created us male and female, will hold us accountable for our disobedience, and has bought us all for a price–thus establishing that we each have a value that transcends whatever the state might decide we have. Religious expression under the Soviet and Chinese communist systems was highly restricted and viewed as tantamount to treason if not done according to the ‘public order established by law.’  They just had a different vision of ‘public order’ than the Enlightened French did, you see.  China may have lightened up somewhat, but I would not suggest being a Christian in North Korea.

The Nazis of course fully embraced this perspective.  Point 24 of the Nazi party platform of 1920 reads:

24. We demand freedom for all religious denominations in the State, provided they do not threaten its existence not offend the moral feelings of the German race.

The Party, as such, stands for positive Christianity, but does not commit itself to any particular denomination. It combats the Jewish-materialistic spirit within and without us, and is convinced that our nation can achieve permanent health only from within on the basis of the principle: The common interest before self-interest.  [emphasis in original, I believe]

And we know how that worked out.

In today’s news, we read that five Christians in Iran have been arrested for the highly treasonous act of praying together in a house:

“There has been a noticeable increase in the harassment, arrests, trials and imprisonments of converts to Christianity, particularly since the beginning of 2012,” Kankhwende said. “Any movement that differs from or offers an alternative to orthodox Shia Islam, and any persons who chooses to follow an alternative belief system, are interpreted as a challenge to the very state itself.”

In Islam, like with Rome, like with the Communists, like with the French in the late 1700s, the state is identifiable with the highest levels of authority.  I am literally in an email correspondence right now with a Muslim who insists that Islam is friendly with Christians, “giving them their freedom.”  You see it, right?  On his view, rights and freedoms flow from the state.  (In his case, an Islamic state, or eventual world Caliphate) Any view that suggests there is anything higher than the state is dangerous view.

This is no theoretical philosophizing.  The systems described above produced outcomes that can be measured by how high the stacks of bodies got.  It is simply a fact of history that the most dangerous entity is a state that believes it is the end all and be all, the final reservoir of all rights, and the ultimate dispenser of those rights.  Check out Rummel’s democide site, and see how many exceptions you can find, and measure the deaths in those exceptional cases against the ones that fit my description.

With this kind of history behind us, we should be not merely be wary, we should be positively troubled by Obama’s constant statements that America’s constitution gives us a ‘freedom of worship.’  He equivocates, identifying ‘freedom of expression’ with ‘freedom of worship’ and/or, ‘freedom of religious views.’  This is why he has no problem trampling on the religious freedoms of millions of Americans.  He is a Progressive;  he views the state as the ultimate reservoir of all rights, and the ultimate dispenser of those rights.  When religion gets in the way of the ‘public order as established by law’ then the common good must take precedence.  Here is a very good article discussing Obama’s contorted notion of ‘religious freedom.’  It is recent, but many commentators have been making this point for some time.

America is a country of checks and balances, and it is precisely for this reason that it has been so successful.  What many people don’t realize is that the framers of the Constitution envisioned other checks and balances besides having three branches of the government.  The right to bear arms was one such check.  The right to religious freedom of expression is another, because it has allowed American’s citizens the right to criticize its own country and hold it to a standard that transcends the country itself.  Get rid of either of these two checks, and watch what happens.  And it is happening, piece by piece.

Even if you do not believe in Christianity, if you do not work to protect the ironclad right to express one’s religion, not merely have religious viewpoints, I don’t think you will be pleased with how things come home to roost.  Moreover, if you are in the camp that believes the state is the be all and end all, watch out!  Rome wasn’t built in a day.

To see how America might have turned out, check out my recent short story where I contemplate what might have happened if Hitler had been killed in the early 1920s.  It’s called Mordecai’s DilemmaCheck it out.



Mar 08

How Many Guards at the Tomb? A series of essays and ebook.

howmanyguardsEbookI have a post, simply titled “How many guards at Jesus’ tomb?” that has proved to be one of the most popular ones on this blog, drawing ten thousand visitors or so each year.  The bulk of these come during the Easter season.  I suspect that there are a lot of churches putting on Passion plays and they’re looking for some guidance on this topic (eg, how many costumes should they make for the guards, and should they be Roman costumes, or Jewish temple guard costumes?)

This year, to enhance the service that this post has evidently provided, I have written a number of other essays that are meant to corroborate various claims made within the post. Hopefully, these essays come soon enough for people to find useful for the Easter 2013 season.

The original post, and the complementary essays, can be read on this site (links below) but have also been compiled into an ebook (cover to the right).  I have a couple of other claims that I’d like to eventually corroborate, so this collection of essays could grow.

Kindle | Nook | Smashwords

Original, Main Essay:  How many guards at Jesus’ tomb?”



Mar 08

Guards at the Tomb: Were they Roman Guards or Jewish Guards?


The following material supplements the original essay on the guards at Jesus’ tomb and provides more corroboration for various statements that were made within it.    It can be purchased as an ebook, cover to the right.   (Next section: The Discipline of the Roman Soldier )

Were they Roman Guards or Temple Guards?

 In some regards, it doesn’t matter whether the guards were Roman or Temple guards.  The mere fact that there were guards represents a real problem for those who wish to dismiss the resurrection.  If the tomb had been left unattended throughout the entire time between Jesus’ death and his alleged resurrection, we could posit countless other explanations for the absence of Jesus’ body.  (His appearances in a glorified form would still require some explanation, but it is doubtful even that would be taken seriously if there was any question about the disposition of the body of Jesus.)  The fact that there were people hostile to Jesus’ followers present and carefully monitoring the situation, however, significantly increases the weight of the resurrection claim–regardless of whether or not they were Jewish temple guards or Roman soldiers.

Clearly, though, the more trained these soldiers are, the less likely we can consider other scenarios, such as incompetence.

The text is ambiguous in some regards, as already alluded to in the main article.  That said, there are several lines of evidence that suggest that there were, in fact, both Roman guards and temple guards.  If this can be established, then the presence of Roman guards at the tomb does more than increase the likelihood that the resurrection account is the correct one, it virtually proves it.  This is because the Roman guards, besides being exceptionally well trained and demonstrably well disciplined, they are motivated by a huge disincentive:  the penalty for incompetence was often death, and all the more when the infractions occur on the ‘night watch.’  One can imagine how little leniency they could expect for managing to lose track of a dead body!

A plain reading of the text suggests that, at the minimum, the guards on station were Roman.  Here are some reasons why:

 1.  In Matthew 28:11-15, the priests and elders pay the guards money to spin a particular story, and in exchange promise that “if this comes to the governor’s ears, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.”  It is hard to imagine why the Jewish leaders’ own guards needed to be concerned about what the governor thought.  And they had every reason to be concerned, given the particular story they were being paid to tell:  falling asleep during a watch was punishable by death, as will be demonstrated shortly.  That they guards were concerned about word getting back to the governor shows that they in fact answered to the governor.

 2.  In Matthew 27:66, we have the Jews hurrying to the tomb and setting a seal.  A seal would not have been anything more sophisticated than a bit of string or wax that would allow them to know if the stone had been disturbed.  The disturbing of a seal given with the governor’s authority carried the penalty of death.  Can we believe that Pilate would have given this authority to the Jews?  Surely the seal would have been set by Pilate’s own representatives.

The Book of Matthew is a prime source for those inclined to view it as divine Scriptures, but it can be taken simply as a historical source, too.  If we are open to other documents of historical value, we find that some other ancient sources address this issue, providing interesting corroboration.

 3. The so-called ‘Gospel of Peter‘ was rejected by the Christian Church as apocryphal, which in some minds actually enhances its credibility.  Nonetheless, it gives early testimony to what was actually believed in the first centuries after Christianity began to spread.  From the ‘Gospel of Peter’ (70-160 AD) we hear explicitly that it was Roman guards that were dispatched;  we even learn his name:  Petronius.

2 And the elders were afraid and came unto Pilate, begging him and saying, 3 “Give us soldiers that we may guard his tomb for three days, lest his disciples come and steal him away and the people suppose that he is risen from the dead, and do us harm.” 4And Pilate gave them Petronius the centurion with soldiers to watch the tomb. And the elders and scribes came with them unto the tomb. 5 All who were there with the soldiers rolled a great stone to the entrance of the tomb 6 and plastered seven seals on it. Then they pitched a tent there and kept watch.

9 Early in the morning, as the Sabbath dawned, there came a large crowd from Jerusalem and the surrounding areas to see the sealed tomb. 2 But during the night before the Lord’s day dawned, as the soldiers were keeping guard two by two in every watch, there came a great sound in the sky, 3 and they saw the heavens opened and two men descend shining with a great light, and they drew near to the tomb. 4 The stone which had been set on the door rolled away by itself and moved to one side, and the tomb was opened and both of the young men went in.

10 Now when these soldiers saw that, they woke up the centurion and the elders (for they also were there keeping watch).

4.  Another early, non-canonical work, the so-called “Report of Pilate to the Emperor Claudius” says, “…and they crucified him, and when he was buried they set guards upon him.  But while my soldiers watched him he rose again on the third day:  yet so much was the malice of the Jews kindled that they gave money to the soldiers, saying:  Say ye that his disciples stole away his body.  But they, though they took the money, were not able to keep silence concerning that which had come to pass, for they also have testified that they saw him arisen and that they received money from the Jews.”

5.  The Gospel of Nicodemus contains within it a section called the “Acts of Pilate” (and even is sometimes referred to as that; c. 200-350 AD) and has a statement that says, “And while they were still sitting in the synagogue, and wondering about Joseph, there come some of the guard whom the Jews had begged of Pilate to guard the tomb of Jesus, that His disciples might not come and steal Him.”

Later in the same, “And they crucified him, and set guards over him when buried. And he rose again on the third day, while my soldiers were keeping guard. But so flagrant was the iniquity of the Jews, that they gave money to my soldiers, saying, Say that his disciples have stolen his body. But after receiving the money they could not keep secret what had been done; for they bore witness both that he had risen again, that they had seen him, and that they had received money from the Jews.”

Both Roman guards and Jewish guards are clearly and explicitly in view.

6.  Matthew uses several words to refer to the guards:  custodios, stratiotas, and tarountes (‘the watch.’) ‘Straiotas’ translates simply as ‘soldiers.’  It appears in this context in Matthew 28:12 where we read that the chief priests and elders gave a large sum of money to the ‘stratiotas’, or soldiers.   It is this very same word that Matthew uses in Matthew 27:27, where we read that “the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the Praetorium” (in order to beat him to a pulp).  While we are told that Herod had soldiers, (Luke 23:11 and Acts 12:4-18) the chief priests, elders and Pharisees are never described as having ‘soldiers.’  They, instead, have ‘officers,’ a point we will return to later.  The other three Gospels each use this word, ‘straiotas,’ in reference to soldiers serving under the direct command of Pilate:  Mark 15:16, Luke 23:36, and John 19:2, 23-34.  The simplest inference is that when Matthew uses the word, he is thinking of it in exactly the same terms as we see it used in the other three Gospels, and indeed, how he used it himself in his own account:  8:9 and 27:27.

The clear implication is that Matthew is referring to Roman guards dispatched by Pilate, and the extra-biblical books make what is implicit in Matthew explicit in their accounts.

The same texts imply, or explicitly state, that Jewish guards were present as well.  The Gospel of Peter is explicit, while the Report of Pilate is implicit.  In Matthew, after Jesus’ body disappears, they do not report to their own superiors, but to the chief priests.  This implies some kind of working relationship between the guards and the Jews that prompts them to reasonably hope that their fates will be better if they turn to the Jews, rather than their own;  inferring the existence of Jewish guards bridges this nicely.

Here, then, are four different sources attesting to the presence of Roman guards at the tomb, and moreover many others besides (16 or more guards, the elders, etc).  As there was no love lost between the Jews and early Christians, if Jewish temple guards were the one referred to in Matthew, the early Christians would have no qualms in mentioning this fact in their later writings.  The early consensus is that Pilate dispatched his own guards, and the Jews had their own people present, too.

Having both Jewish and Roman guards on scene provides us with yet another layer of credibility to the account, because the two groups were not exactly on great terms.  After all, the Romans are present as occupiers, and the Jews are deeply resentful of that fact.  Fortunately, the value we get from looking at the nature of the training of the guards resides almost wholly on the folks more conclusively documented to be present, the Romans.  So that, even if we don’t accept that the Jews are also guarding the tomb, we still have many reasons to believe the Romans would have done a fine job–which is precisely why the resurrection account is so historically robust.

However, we will probe the relationship between the Romans and the Jews a little more deeply to better understand why it is unlikely the Jews would have left the matter to the Romans to handle alone.

But first, let’s talk about Roman training and discipline.


Mar 08

Guards at the Tomb: The Discipline of the Roman Soldier

howmanyguardsEbook(this is the continuation of a series of essays discussing the number and make-up of the guards at Jesus’ tomb.  It can be purchased as an ebook, cover to the right.    Main essay | Previous section | Next section: The Romans and Jews:  So (un)Happy Together )

The Discipline of the Roman Soldier

Most acknowledge that the Roman military was very good at what it did without really looking at the details.  The concession is made easily enough because most of us learned in history class that the Romans conquered a great deal of territory, and we infer, without really thinking about it much, that in order to do this, they must have been reasonably competent.  The details are important, though.  Sometimes, one gets the idea that people think the Romans only had to deal with barbaric, unorganized thugs, here and there–as if they never defeated other standing armies of significant ability.  But this, they did.  In other words, they were highly skilled warriors with a great deal of experience, and when one begins to delve into just how skilled they were, and how deep their experience it was, the fact that they were on duty over Jesus’ dead body heightens the question as to how it could have possibly gone missing.

Roman historians themselves have provided us with ample descriptions of their armies at work.  We will touch on a handful of examples that are particularly relevant to guard duty, but it is worth pointing out that death was a very common solution to any number of perceived deficiencies, and this includes infractions such as falling asleep on guard duty.

A 1928 academic work by Dr. George W. Currie titled The Military Discipline of the Romans from the Founding of the City to the Close of the Republic systematically lists all examples of infractions recorded in a wide variety of sources, groups them by periods, and describes what the consequences were.  One of his basic conclusions is that the Romans were extremely severe upon their own soldiers throughout their rule.

Salient examples include an instance in 390 BC when some Roman guards were asleep on duty and the Citadel of Rome was attacked;  the particular guard at fault was subsequently thrown from a cliff.  In 322/295 BC, two legions yielded their post.  Men were selected from the offenders by lot, and put to death.  In 280/271, guards were scourged and beheaded, and their bodies dishonored.  In 205 BC, guards allowed items to be stolen from a temple.  They had to pay back the value of the items two-fold, or else be put to death.  A similar consequence was put upon the guards that allowed two ships to be captured.  In 39 BC, two centuries (presumably about 200 men) failed to prevent a lieutenant and his men from being ambushed.  The consequence was decimation:  every tenth man was counted off, and the selected men were put to death.

In 4 out of the 6 examples that Currie documented, death was inflicted upon the deficient guards.  In the other 2, death was right around the corner.

One can begin to see why a Roman guard (and soldier in general) would want to do his very best.  If he was lucky, his incompetence would merely result in his dishonorable discharge.  More likely, he would die.

It was already mentioned in the main article that Herod put to death all 16 of the guards in charge of keeping Peter in prison (Acts 12:4).  It was apparently a common practice that remained well known and in place up to and through the time of Jesus.

The Roman historian Polybius gives us one of the most thorough accounts of the Roman’s military discipline, and we are benefited by the fact that he takes time to specifically detail the duties of the ‘night watch,’ and, importantly, consequences of failure.  Here is the relevant portion:

 The way in which they secure the passing round of the watchword for the night is as follows:  from the tenth maniple of each class of infantry and cavalry, the maniple which is encamped at the lower end of the street, a man is chosen who is relieved from guard duty, and he attends every day at sunset at the tent of the tribune, and receiving from him the watchword — that is a wooden tablet with the word inscribed on it — takes his leave, and on returning to his quarters passes on the watchword and tablet before witnesses to the commander of the next maniple, who in turn passes it to the one next him. All do the same until it reaches the first maniples, those encamped near the tents of the tribunes. These latter are obliged to deliver the tablet to the tribunes before dark.  So that if all those issued are returned, the tribune knows that the watchword has been given to all the maniples, and has passed through all on its way back to him.  If any one of them is missing, he makes inquiry at once, as he knows by the marks from what quarter p349the tablet has not returned, and whoever is responsible for the stoppage meets with the punishment he merits.

 They manage the night guards thus:  The maniple on duty there guards the consul and his tent, while the tents of the tribunes and the troops of horse are guarded by the men appointed from each maniple in the manner I explained above.  Each separate body likewise appoints a guard of its own men for itself.  The remaining guards are appointed by the Consul; and there are generally three pickets at the quaestorium and two at the tents of each of the legates and members of the council.  The whole outer face of the camp is guard by the velites, who are posted every day along the vallum — this being the special duty assigned to them — and ten of them are on guard at each entrance.  Of those appointed to picket duty, the man in each maniple who is to take the first watch is brought to the tribune in the evening by one of the optiones of his company.  The tribune gives them all little tablets, one for each station, quite small, with a sign written on them and on receiving this they leave for the posts assigned to them.

 The duty of going the rounds is entrusted to the cavalry. The first praefect of cavalry in each legion must give orders early in the morning to one of his optiones to send notice before breakfast to four lads of his own squadron who will be required to go the rounds.  The same man must also give notice in the evening to the praefect of the next squadron that he must make arrangements for going the rounds on the following day.  This praefect, on receiving the notice, must take precisely the same steps on the next day; and so on through all the squadrons. The four men chosen by the optiones from the first squadron, after drawing lots for their respective watches, go to the tribune and get written orders from him stating what stations they are to visit and at what time.  After that all four of them go and station themselves next the first maniple of the triarii, for it is the duty of the centurion of this maniple to have a bugle sounded at the beginning of each watch.  When this time comes, the man to whom the first watch fell by lot makes his rounds accompanied by some friends as witnesses.  He visits the posts mentioned in his orders, not only those near the vallum and the gates, but the pickets also of the infantry maniples and cavalry squadrons.  If he finds the guards of the first watch awake he receives their tessera, but if he finds that anyone is asleep or has left his post, he calls those with him to witness the fact, and proceeds on his rounds.  Those who go the rounds in the succeeding watches act in a similar manner.  As I said, the charge of sounding a bugle at the beginning of each watch, so that those going the rounds may visit the different stations at the right time, falls on the centurions of the first maniple of the triarii in each legion, who take it by turns for a day.

 Each of the men who have gone the rounds brings back the tesserae at daybreak to the tribune. If they deliver them all they are suffered to depart without question;  but if one of them delivers fewer than the number of stations visited, they find out from examining the signs on the tesserae which station is missing, and on ascertaining this the tribune calls the centurion of the maniple and he brings before him the men who were on picket duty, and they are confronted with the patrol. If the fault is that of the picket, the patrol makes matters clear at once by calling the men who had accompanied him, for he is bound to do this; but if nothing of the kind has happened, the fault rests on him. A court-martial composed of all the tribunes at once meets to try him, and if he is found guilty he is punished by the bastinado ( fustuarium).  This is inflicted as follows: The tribune takes a cudgel and just touches the condemned man with it,  after which all in the camp beat or stone him, in most cases dispatching him in the camp itself.  But even those who manage to escape are not saved thereby: impossible! for they are not allowed to return to their homes, and none of the family would dare to receive such a man in his house. So that those who have of course fallen into this misfortune are utterly ruined.  The same punishment is inflicted on the optio and on the praefect of the squadron, if they do not give the proper orders at the right time to the patrols and the praefect of the next squadron.  Thus, owing to the extreme severity and inevitableness of the penalty, the night watches of the Roman army are most scrupulously kept.


We will re-iterate what Polybius himself concluded as self-evident:  “Thus, owing to the extreme severity and inevitableness of the penalty, the night watches of the Roman army are most scrupulously kept.”

What applies to small groups, and guards on the night watch, is applied to large groups that ‘desert their posts’ in the form of ‘decimation.’

If the same thing ever happens to large bodies, and if entire maniples desert their posts when exceedingly hard pressed, the officers refrain from inflicting the bastinado or the death penalty on all, but find a solution of the difficulty which is both salutary and terror-striking.  The tribune assembles the legion, and brings up those guilty of leaving the ranks, reproaches them sharply, and finally chooses by lots sometimes five, sometimes eight, sometimes twenty of the offenders, so adjusting the number thus chosen that they form as near as possible the tenth part of those guilty of cowardice.  Those on whom the lot falls are bastinadoed mercilessly in the manner above described; the rest receive rations of barley instead of wheat and are ordered to encamp outside the camp on an unprotected spot.  As therefore the danger and dread of drawing the fatal lot affects all equally, as it is uncertain on whom it will fall; and as the public disgrace of receiving barley rations falls on all alike, this practice is that best calculated both the inspire fear and to correct the mischief.

When one now considers how detailed and thorough the Romans attended to the specific task of guarding themselves, and how severe the consequences were, we must conclude that it is highly implausible that the Roman guards could have fallen asleep at Jesus’ tomb.  We can also understand why, after it was clear that the body was gone, that they decidedly would not want to report this fact to their superiors.  Their only hope was that the Jews would protect them.  The alternative, literally, was death.  But would the Jews play ball?

The Jews were not inclined to be sympathetic to the Romans.  The idea of dead Roman soldiers must have been, in the main, a very pleasant one to turn about in one’s mind.  However, what if balanced against this highly desirable prospect was a very undesirable prospect, that Jesus’ followers would begin announcing to all that Jesus had risen from the dead?

Or, to put it differently:  if the Jewish leaders were the Roman guards’ only hope, it could also be said that the Roman soldiers were the Jewish leaders’ only hope.

To understand this tension more fully, and to better appreciate the reasoning behind the assertion that the Jews would not have entrusted Jesus’ tomb only to the Romans, we must now take some time to examine the relationship of these two peoples.


Mar 08

Guards at the Tomb: The Romans and Jews: So (un)Happy Together

howmanyguardsEbook(this is the continuation of a series of essays discussing the number and make-up of the guards at Jesus’ tomb.  It can be purchased as an ebook, cover to the right.     Main essay | Previous section | Next section: Pilate Puts Jesus on Trial, the Jews put Pilate on Trial )

The Romans and Jews:  So (un)Happy Together

The region of Palestine had been conquered by one empire after another before the Romans finally took hold of it around 70 BC.  Indeed, going back even as far as the book of Exodus, we find that one of the roads through the region was called “The Way of the Kings,” presumably because this was the road that the kings marched their armies to war on their way to conquer something more important.  The Romans no doubt regretted taking possession of the area, as the occupants were irascible folks, constantly nipping at their heels, all of whom had the unfortunate belief that their own king’s arrival was imminent.

Unfortunately for the Romans, and the Greeks, and the Persians, and the Egyptians, and the [fill in the blank], Palestine had to be dealt with if one wished to conquer the world.  If you look at a map, you will understand why.  To the east of the region is a vast wilderness and desert.  If Greece wanted to attack Egypt, they had to go through Palestine.  If Egypt wanted to attack Persia, they had to go through Palestine.  So on and so forth.  You get the picture;  it was the Way of the Kings for a reason:  it was the only way for the kings..  Studying a map of the area would be a good idea at this point.

Detailing the troubled relations between the Romans and the Jews would take a book to accomplish, but focusing on Pontius Pilate’s rule over the Jews is a suitable snapshot, especially as it has bearing on Jesus’ death and resurrection, since Pilate, of course, was the man on the scene.

Pilate was the governor of Judea from 26 AD to 36 AD.  In this ten years, he made few friends in the region.

The Jewish writer Philo in his “Embassy to Gaius” tells of many injustices done to the Jews by the Romans, but relates several specific stories about Pilate’s actions.

The first story involves Pilate having some shields with (innocent) inscriptions placed in Herod’s palace, in Jerusalem.  This outraged the Jews, who were steadfastly opposed to such things.  Pilate is described as a man of a very inflexible disposition, and very merciless as well as very obstinate.”

The Jews at last threaten to send a letter to Tiberius, and Pilate, fearing they might actually follow through on their threat, and so expose Pilate “with respect to other particulars of his government, in respect to his corruption, and his acts of insolence, and his rapine, and his habit of insulting people, and his cruelty, and his continual murders of people untried and uncondemned, and his never ending, and gratuitous, and most grievous inhumanity.”

This gives you a flavor of how Philo the Jew perceived Pilate.  In the end, Pilate sent the letter himself rather than let the Jews send it;  The Emperor’s response is reported to be less than happy with Pilate;  Pilate removes the shields.

Josephus, the Jewish historian, tells of some other conflicts between Pilate and the Jews.

In one of them, Pilate again brings images into Jerusalem.  The people are outraged and appeal to him.  When Pilate refuses to have them removed, “they fell down prostrate upon the ground, and continued immovable in that posture for five days and as many nights.”  What happens next is best told in full:

On the next day Pilate sat upon his tribunal, in the open market-place, and called to him the multitude, as desirous to give them an answer; and then gave a signal to the soldiers, that they should all by agreement at once encompass the Jews with their weapons; so the band of soldiers stood round about the Jews in three ranks. The Jews were under the utmost consternation at that unexpected sight. Pilate also said to them that they should be cut in pieces, unless they would admit of Caesar’s images, and gave intimation to the soldiers to draw their naked swords. Hereupon the Jews, as it were at one signal, fell down in vast numbers together, and exposed their necks bare, and cried out that they were sooner ready to be slain, than that their law should be transgressed. Hereupon Pilate was greatly surprised at their prodigious superstition, and gave order that the ensigns should be presently carried out of Jerusalem.

At this point, one might feel like they could describe the relationship between Pilate and the Jews as an immovable wall meeting an unstoppable force, except for the fact that Pilate does, in the end, relent.

Josephus proceeds immediately then to tell the story of Pilate raiding the temple treasury to pay for aqueducts.  This time when the Jews showed up to protest,

“he mixed his own soldiers in their armor with the multitude, and ordered them to conceal themselves under the habits of private men, and not indeed to use their swords, but with their staves to beat those that made the clamor. He then gave the signal from his tribunal [to do as he had bidden them]. Now the Jews were so sadly beaten, that many of them perished by the stripes they received, and many of them perished as trodden to death by themselves; by which means the multitude was astonished at the calamity of those that were slain, and held their peace.”

So, that time, the immovable wall held fast.  Eventually, Pilate’s violent and aggressive tactics would lead to his dismissal.  Josephus recounts that Pilate slaughtered some Samaritans (a group of people living in Palestine), who then complained to the governor of Syria, who in turn sent Pilate to Rome.  Little is known about Pilate’s fate after this, but it is against this brutal pattern of behavior and disregard and contempt for the Jews that we must now consider the story of Jesus’ trial and the guarding of the tomb.


Mar 08

Guards at the Tomb: Pilate puts Jesus on Trial, the Jews put Pilate on Trial

howmanyguardsEbook(this is the continuation of a series of essays discussing the number and make-up of the guards at Jesus’ tomb. It can be purchased as an ebook, cover to the right.    Main essay | Previous section | Next section:  The Presence of Jewish Guards at the Tomb )

Pilate puts Jesus on Trial, the Jews put Pilate on Trial

In light of the foregoing, many skeptics have pointed to the nearly docile Pontius Pilate of the Gospel accounts as proof positive that they cannot possibly reflect real history.  The character and demeanor of the Pilate that Jesus met is nothing like the character and demeanor of the Pilate of Philo and Josephus.  The possibility that Pilate’s radical transformation–for a brief few days–is a testament to the over-awing impression that meeting Jesus–the creator of both the immovable wall and the unstoppable force–has on someone doesn’t cross their minds.

Which version you prefer seems to depend on what degree you’re willing to take the documents on their face–all of them, Philo, Josephus, and the Gospels–or rather assume that the Gospels are guilty until proven innocent (which they cannot believe can even conceivably be done).  Nonetheless, there may be some threads in the Gospel narratives that might take on new significance given the brief history we’ve sketched of Pontius Pilate using extra-biblical sources… and in doing so, add credibility to the Gospel accounts.  Perhaps it is the same man being described, after all.

At any rate, with this background in mind, can you see now why it would have been extraordinarily unlikely that the Jews would not have wanted to have some of their own men present at the tomb?  On the one hand, they might be saying, “If this man is reported risen from the dead, this will be worse than it already is!” but on the other hand they would be saying, “I wouldn’t put it past Pilate to try something to make our lives miserable!”

In the Gospel accounts, this tension between the two parties is clear, even in the sections where Pilate is putting Jesus on trial.

Indeed, in the Gospel of Luke, where Pilate will later come off as timid as in the other Gospels, we read the account of Pilate having the blood of Galileans mixed with their own sacrifices, and the question put to Jesus whether or not they had sinned enough to deserve such treatment (Luke 13:1).  Pilate is a horrible, bloodthirsty guy, who is stubborn to boot.  But it is the Jews and their leadership he detests the most.  He would love to let Jesus go free, even if only to spite the men he hates.  Actually meeting Jesus, though, seems to compel him to look beyond his own petulance.

In Matthew 27:18, the text indicates that Pilate knew exactly what the Jewish leader’s real motive was:  envy.  Pilate tries to evade the issue by sending Jesus to Herod, but this does not work.  Then Pilate attempts a ploy whereby Barabbas is set against Jesus by comparison;  presumably, Pilate expects the Jews to be very familiar with Barabbas.  Perhaps Barabbas is in prison to begin with because the Jews had requested it.  Pilate fails in this ploy, too.  Finally, Pilate has Jesus flogged, hoping that with blood now being shed, the Jews will relent (John 19:1-5).

Pilate is a stubborn man who, as we’ve already seen, is perfectly willing to play things out to the end in order to get what he wants.  But the immovable wall is about to meet the unstoppable force one more time.

Having fully established in his own mind that he was going to do everything in his power to have Jesus released, the Jews now spring their trap:

“If you release this man, you are not Caesar’s friend.  Everyone who makes himself a king opposes Caesar.” (John 19:12)

We will now recall how the Jews have already previously threatened to tattle on Pilate, and Philo’s account of how Pilate’s attempt to circumvent this by sending his own letter to his superiors ended up with him in hot water, and having to remove the shields from Jerusalem.  The Samaritans actually will succeed in having Pilate removed by sending complaints to Pilate’s superior.  This is no idle threat the Jews are making, and the possible consequences to him (ie, exile or death) are not imagined.  Pilate knows all this.  Pilate recognizes precisely what the Jews mean by their suggestion that he would not be “Caesar’s friend.”

But the really amazing statement comes from a series of subtexts set in motion by the intimation of ‘someone making themselves a king.’  Pilate is now perhaps at his wits end, but desires to tweak the Jews.  He brings Jesus to the Stone Pavement for all to see, and declares, “Behold your King!”  To this, the Jews scream that Jesus is to be crucified.  Pilate says, “Shall I crucify your king?”  To this, the Jews make this truly startling retort:  “We have no king but Caesar!”

Skeptics have scoffed at the change of personality that Pilate seems to have undergone, but failed to observe the change of personality of the Jews.  These are the same people who laid down for five days rather than tolerate images from entering their holy city.  They are the same people who rioted with the presence of shields graced merely with writing on them.  They are the same people who rioted when Pilate paid for an aqueduct out of the temple treasury, and paid for it with their lives.  They are the same people with zealots running around assassinating various Roman officials.  They are the same people swearing extreme devotion to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  They are the same people fervently expecting their own king, who will throw off the yoke of all oppressors, and finally establish a kingdom that will not end.

It is these people who now say that they have no king but Caesar.

When Pilate hears this, he knows that his foes have completely left the reservation.  They have totally sold out on all of their principles and beliefs, and they had already shown that they were ready to die for those principles and beliefs.  If one was willing to die for the one set of principles, what might they do for the other principles, that apparently are superior to the former principles?

The unstoppable force wins again, because there truly is nothing that will stop them from their goal of having Jesus killed.  Jesus could very well have been God and their rightful king, but the Jewish leaders in the final analysis cared little about that.  It was their own power they wished to secure, and their own skins they wished to save.

The unstoppable force may have gained its primary objective, but the unmovable wall is not finished.  He decrees that a sign be fixed to Jesus’ cross declaring Jesus to be the king of the Jews in three languages.  The Jews don’t like to be needled:  they ask for the inscription to be re-written for ‘accuracy.’  Pilate is pleased they are annoyed.  He retorts:  “What I have written I have written.”  It’s a small victory, but Pilate is the sort of man who will take any victory rather than no victories.

When Jesus dies and Joseph of Arimathea comes to ask for Jesus’ body, Pilate is pleased to grant his request.  When the Jews heard about it, they could not have been very happy.  Their ‘request’ is laced again with the subtext of contempt that Pilate and the Jews shared for each other:  “lest his disciples go and steal him away and tell the people, ‘He has risen from the dead,’ and the last fraud will be worse than the first.”  And the first fraud was of Jesus’ claim to be king–a proposition that already drove the Jews to threaten to take the matter to Caesar.  The unstoppable force wins again;  it would prove to be its last victory.

The Gospel accounts, far from showing themselves contradictory to history in regards to the real nature and character of Pilate and his relationship to the Jews, are actually extraordinarily consistent with those things.  Pilate and the Jews are at each other’s throats throughout the exchanges, with each trying to get under the other’s skin.  With this as the context, can we imagine the Jews would want to have the Roman guards at the tomb without having their own officers present?  It seems unfathomable.

The Jews seem to end with the upper hand, but it backfires miserably.  By ensuring that Roman guards are present at the tomb in sizable numbers, when the body of Jesus does actually go missing, their explanation that the disciples stole the body seems weak and pathetic.  After all, if we can ascertain today how dangerous it was for a Roman guard to fall asleep at their post, how common and well known was it at that time, for people who actually lived under the Roman thumb?

This alone is enough to explain why the other account, that Jesus had actually rose from the dead, spread like wildfire, and the idea that the disciples stole the body became a mere footnote to the story.

However, the presence of Jewish guards at the scene would have also eliminated another possibility:  that Pilate had been up to shenanigans.