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Do Christians Believe in Talking Snakes?

Snake

You know how the story goes: in the Garden of Eden Adam and Eve have a conversation with the serpent.

Does this mean Christians believe in talking snakes? That’s the charge from certain atheists. To be a Christian, they assume, you have to believe in talking snakes. But then why are there an awful lot of well-educated, smart Christians? Are they simply all gullible or deluded?

This story in Genesis about the talking snake, like many others, has to be interpreted using what experts call “literary criticism.” Here's how it applies to the talking serpent in Genesis.

First of all we accept that the story is just that: a story. Christians realize that this is not really the sort of story that we need to take literally. It was never intended to be read as a historical account of events that took place in a particular garden six thousand years ago somewhere near Iran. It is a story about the beginnings of guilt and evil in the world. This doesn’t mean that the story was totally made up. Indeed, Catholics teach that there was a historical “Adam” and “Eve” who did make a wrong choice. We are not insistent however that the story as it is recorded is word for word literally true. We allow that it may be a legendary story–that the events are rooted in history, but that over time the details were lost and the meaning of the story became more important than the history.

This is not being tricky or evasive. It is recognizing that the stories at the beginning of Genesis are very ancient and that ancient people told stories and recorded their history in a very different way than we do. To read stories that are thousands of years old one has to try to get into the mindset of the people to whom the stories belong and from whom they originated. We do this all the time with other forms of literature. If we read Grimm’s fairy tales we imagine the world of eighteenth and nineteenth century Europe. Same with any historic document.

There are other things to consider as well if we are to understand religious literature. Religious literature is always about meaning more than facts. Once we accept that this is not a newspaper report of particular events, but a reflection on the meaning of real events, we’ll start to understand what’s going on.

Secondly, we allow for something called “metaphor”. That is to say that the language used may well be symbolic of the situation rather than literal. This is how literature works. A legend, a story, a fairy tale, a myth, or a poem relates truth through metaphorical language. Therefore the fruit tree might be symbolic of a choice that had to be made. The garden may be symbolic of a beautiful state of innocence in which mankind was enjoying. Likewise the serpent may be the way the storytellers spoke about a being who was behaving in a sneaky and serpentine manner.

Think how this might develop in a story over time. First they said, “That old devil! He was just like a snake the way he was sneaking around!” then someone said, “That old devil. He was a real snake!” Then someone said, “The snake tempted them and said…” You can see that perhaps they never meant that it was a real snake talking to start with.

But then again, while all these explanations work we can also allow that a long time ago perhaps people did communicate with animals more freely. Some people today are very gifted in “talking” with animals and listening to what they have to say.

When you use the imagination all sorts of things are possible. I can relate, for instance, the time a bird spoke to me. I was walking over to church for evening prayer and was praying as I was walking. I was worried about the fact that I had to take part in a healing service and I was not confident about it and was feeling doubtful. As I walked along a bird hopped along at my side. As it chirped its peculiar rhythm I seemed to hear it reciting a reference to a Bible verse. “Mark 3:32,” it seemed to say. I heard it in my mind as the bird was chirping. Then when I got to church I got a Bible and opened it up and the verse was about Jesus healing a person and telling his disciples to do the same. So, if you like, a bird spoke to me.

Perhaps that’s how the serpent spoke to Adam and Eve.

Or maybe before the fall into brokenness and sin the animals and humans really could speak to one another.

Or maybe God just did a miracle so the snake could talk.

There are lots of possibilities, but the point is that it's not necessary for Christians to believe in a literally talking snake.
 
 
Originally posted at Standing On My Head. Used with permission.
(Image credit: The Telegraph)

Fr. Dwight Longenecker

Written by

Fr. Dwight Longenecker is an American who has spent most of his life living and working in England. He was brought up in an Evangelical home in Pennsylvania. After graduating from the fundamentalist Bob Jones University with a degree in Speech and English, he went to study theology at Oxford University. He was eventually ordained as an Anglican priest and then in 1995, he and his family were received into the Catholic Church. For the next ten years he worked as a freelance writer, contributing to more than fifty magazines, papers and journals in Britain, Ireland and the USA. In December 2006 he was ordained as a Catholic priest under the special pastoral provision for married former Anglican clergy. He now serves as parish priest of Our Lady of the Rosary parish in Greenville, South Carolina. Fr. Dwight is the author of many books including The Quest for the Creed (Crossroads, 2012); More Christianity: Finding the Fullness of the Faith (Ignatius, 2010); and Catholicism Pure and Simple (Stauffer Books, 2012). Connect with his website DwightLongenecker.com, or his Patheos blog, Standing On My Heard.

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  • Mike

    The books, plural, of the bible were written over some i don't know 1,500 years the earliest of which was written some 2,000 years ago by different authors in different historical contexts in varying regions of the middle east and Mediterranean with different purposes in mind and using a wide variety of cultural reference points and methods including poetry, prophecy, genealogy, myth, allegory and on and on.

    Before one can figure out what the intent was and how it fits into the overall picture of the story of God's relationship with creation, one has alot of ground to cover to orient oneself properly in the history and cultural context.

    But perhaps most importantly before setting out to "figure out"/interpret "the bible" for oneself, an honest appraisal of one's own biases and cultural baggage needs to be taken.

  • William Davis

    First of all we accept that the story is just that: a story. Christians realize that this is not really the sort of story that we need to take literally. It was never intended to be read as a historical account of events that took place in a particular garden six thousand years ago somewhere near Iran. It is a story about the beginnings of guilt and evil in the world.

    I think the Adam and Eve myth is a great story, but as an atheist I think the whole think is just a story. I don't see any basis for believing Adam and Eve were real people and the snake wasn't real, seems like cherry picking to me, but that's beside the point, I just want to provide some relevant historical context (I've talked about it before, but it is obviously relevant here). Considering the historical background, I'm convinced the story is about the curse of becoming civilized, and how civilization is not our natural state. The curse of increased pain from pregnancy (larger human brains cause this), and the curse on the ground that requires man to work the fields all fit this idea perfectly, but better than Paul's interpretation of the story that has become the basis for the Christian doctrine of original sin. I know a MASSIVE amount more about the context of the story than Paul had ever dreamed of, so no wonder he messed it up (in my opinion).

    Ningishzida is a Mesopotamian deity of the underworld. His name in Sumerian is translated as "lord of the good tree". He is sometimes depicted as a serpent with a human head. No surprise that a snake with a human head could talk.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ningishzida

    I'll be quoting from this copy of the Epic of Gilgamesh.

    http://www.aina.org/books/eog/eog.pdf

    The oldest known Epic, the Epic of Gilgamesh, is a great story. It likely dates to around 2100 B.C. making it around 1000 years older than the most conservative estimates of the Torah (Jews date it to 1300 B.C., I think it was closer to 700 B.C.)
    Sumeria invented western civilization. They invented the wheel, the plow, irrigation, even writing itself, among other things, I therefore feel we owe the Sumerians a great debt and should not take their views lightly. In the Epic Gilgamesh (who likely inspired the Biblical Nimrod) was a mighty hunter and builder, a great king of Uruk (note one of Nirmrod's cities was Uruk, also called Ereck. Like all Sumerian cities, Uruk hoursed a large ziggurat that likely inspired the Tower of Babel story, could have been the older ziggurat at Eridu). The problem with Gilgamesh was that he was a tyrant, and considered all the women of the city his for the taking. The people of Uruk cried out to the gods and they pushed Anu, the patron goddess of Uruk to deal with the problem. "So the goddess conceived an image in her mind, and it was of the stuff of Anu of thefirmament. She dipped her hands in water and pinched off clay, she let it fall in the wilderness, and
    noble Enkidu was created." Sound familiar? Of course, Enkidu was a wild man, and was at home with the beasts of the field. He was civilized by sleeping with a harlot for 6 days and 7 nights. (I think a form of Jewish midrash contented that Adam and Eve's first sin was sexual in nature). I'd like to quote the passage, hopefully it isn't too explicit for this site:

    She taught him the woman's art. For six days and seven nights they lay together, for Enkidu had forgotten his home in the hills; but when he was satisfied he went back to the wild beasts. Then, when the gazelle saw him, they bolted away;
    when the wild creatures saw him they fled. Enkidu would have followed, but his body was bound a s though with a cord, his knees gave way when he started to run, his swiftness was gone. And no w the wild creatures had all fled away;
    Enkidu was grown w e ak, for wisdom was in him, and the thoughts of a man were in his heart. So he returned and sat down at the woman's feet, and listened intently to what she said. ‘You are wise, Enkidu, and now you have become like a
    god. Why do you want to run wild with the beasts in the hills? Come with me. I will take you to strong-walled Uruk, to the blessed temple of Ishtar and of Anu, of love and of heaven there Gilgamesh lives, who is very strong, and like a wild bull
    he lords it over men.'

    Notice how Enkidu is now "wise" after his experience with the harlot, and no longer accepted as a beast. Sound familiar?

    Afterward Enkidu confronts Gilgamesh as he's going after a newly married women (some ancient cultures held that the king had first right to a virgin after marriage, Sumeria is possibly the oldest civilization in the world), they fight, marvel at each other's strength and start their "bro-mance."

    After fighting a super monster named Humbaba, Ishtar the Sumerian goddess of love, decides she want Gilgamesh. Gilgamesh refuses, noting the terrible fate of the goddess previous lovers, so Ishtar sends the Bull of Heaven for revenge. When Gilgamesh and Enkidu slay the Bull, the gods become angry and require retribution on Gilgamesh and Enkidu. Enkidu is stricken with disease. Interestingly he curses the harlot because of what she has "done to him." The god of Justice Shamash (according to legend this god inspired one of the oldest law codes, the Code of Hammurabi, I really like Shamash, Justice is very important to me) corrects him, here is the passage:

    "When he had cursed the Trapper to his heart's content he turned on the harlot. He was roused to curse her also. ‘As for you, woman, with a great curse I curse you! I will promise you a destiny to all eternity. My curse shall come on you soon and sudden. You shall be without a roof for your commerce, for you shall not keep house with other girls in the tavern, but do your business in places fouled by the vomit of the drunkard. Your hire will be potter's earth, your thievings will be flung into the hovel, you will sit at the cross-roads in the dust of the potter's quarter, you will make your bed on the dunghill at night, and by day take your stand in the wall's shadow. Brambles and thorns will tear your feet, the drunk and the dry will strike your cheek and your mouth will ache. Let you be stripped of your purple dyes, for I too once in the wilderness with my wife had all the treasure I wished.'
    When Shamash heard the words of Enkidu he called to him from heaven: ‘Enkidu, why are you cursing the woman, the mistress who taught you to eat bread fit for gods and drink wine of kings? She who put upon you a ‘magnificent garment, did she not give you glorious Gilgamesh for your companion, and has not Gilgamesh, your own brother, made you rest on a 'royal bed and recline on a couch at his left hand? He has made the princes of the earth kiss your feet, and now all the people of Uruk lament and wail over you. When you are dead he will let his hair grow long for your sake, he will wear a lion's pelt and wander through the desert.'

    Curses on harlots, being like the gods, sound familiar? Gilgamesh's laments of Enkidu's death are very moving, and he decides to set out after the one man who was given immortality by the gods, Utnapishtim. Utnapishtim was there version of Noah (originally Ziusudra in Eridu Genesis) who had survived the great flood. Utnapishtim lived in Dilmun, "The Garden of the gods". Gilgamesh makes it, and is given a flower that will make he and his council immortal. On the way to take it back home, trouble befalls Gilgamesh:

    "Gilgamesh saw a well of cool water and he went down and bathed; but deep in the pool there was lying a serpent, and the serpent sensed the sweetness of the flower. It rose out of the water and snatched it away, and immediately itsloughed its skin and returned to the well. Then Gilgamesh sat down and wept, the tears ran down his face, and he took the hand of Urshanabi; ‘O Urshanabi, was it for this that I toiled with my hands, is it for this I have wrung out my heart's blood? For myself I have gained nothing; not I, but the beast of the earth has joy of it now."

    The snake does not talk, but it surely stole the fruit of life from Gilgamesh. Perhaps after eating the flower the snake became the snake god Ningishzida, "Lord of the Good Tree". We don't have copies of many of the stories leading up to this, we are blessed to have what we do.

    There are other Sumerian stories we can bring in for further study, but I think this is the best. No matter where we come down on the truth of these things, we can all come together and enjoy discussion of the metaphors and points of these beautiful and ancient stories about the beginnings of civilized man. One last note, at first we thought Gilgamesh was completely fictional, but finding him on the Sumerian king's list makes us think he may have been a historical figure. The king's list goes before the flood, and exaggerates the age of people just like Genesis. Also note that the first city resettled after the flood was Kish, Nimrod's father was Cush...

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sumerian_King_List

    If the story sounds a bit familiar in some ways, Conan the Cimerian was clearly based on Gilgamesh. Arnold Schwarzenegger made a good Gilgamesh, lol.

  • David Nickol

    If you can believe that "our first parents"—a single man and woman from whom we are all descended—committed some offense for which all humankind has had to suffer, then I don't see why it would be difficult to believe an actual snake (or something taking the form of an actual snake) talked them into it.

    • Hipshot

      Quite right, this is indeed swallowing a camel and straining at a gnat. I see no reason why a god capable of producing the "miracle of the sun" at Fatima could not produce a singing. dancing chorus line of pit vipers if it suited his purpose.

    • Mike

      Haven't you ever heard of this before?

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Y-chromosomal_Adam

      or this:

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mitochondrial_Eve

      Plus why do you suppose that some catholics don't believe that the snake literally spoke to them? The point is just that you don't have to believe in a literal talking snake.

      • David Nickol

        I am familiar with Y-Chromosomal Adam and Mitochondrial Eve, but I do not see how they are in any way relevant to the biblical story of Adam and Eve. Why do you bring them up?

        Plus why do you suppose that some catholics don't believe that the snake literally spoke to them?

        As I said, the talking snake is perhaps the most minor stumbling block to faith in the story of Adam and Eve. Catholics seem to accept the curses on Adam and Eve explain why men have to work and why it is painful for women to give birth. Why can't they accept that snakes crawl because God cursed them? (Evolutionarily speaking, the ancestors of snakes had legs, so why should Catholics not believe they lost them because the serpent in the Garden of Eden was cursed?)

        What solid reason is there for doubting a snake (or something in the form of a snake) spoke to Adam and Eve? Why would that be hard for a Catholic to believe? Because snakes don't talk today? A lot of things that happened in the Old and New Testaments don't happen today.

        • Mike

          I brought them up bc they are necessary as a matter of principle, both an "adam" and an "eve" per the biology and per Genesis.

          The only reason i can think of is that snakes indeed all animals can't speak but if it suits you feel free to imagine that the devil spoke "through" the snake - he apparently spoke "through" a burning bush.

          • bamboodread

            He likes his spliffs

          • Mike

            what's a spliff?

      • Doug Shaver

        The point is just that you don't have to believe in a literal talking snake.

        Why should I believe there was even a metaphorical talking snake?

        • Mike

          I don't know but i wouldn't worry about it either way.

          • Doug Shaver

            I'm not losing any sleep over it, but if there was one, I'd be interested in knowing about it.

          • Mike

            Me too!

    • Ignatius Reilly

      It doesn't seem very fair to pit humans against a malevolent super being, and then punishing the human race for being tricked.

      • Mike

        I haven't been punished, have you?

        • Ignatius Reilly

          Yes. It is in the Bible.

          • Mike

            Well then i'd start praying for forgiveness if i were you!

          • Marc Riehm

            The story of the Fall and the Redemption is just too farfetched to be believed (or to cast one's dice alongside of Pascal's). Really, an infinite being runs the story line like that? And requires you to believe it or be cast into an infinite suffering? Absolute black and absolute white in a world that is just unending grey, in which the Good suffer as much as the Unjust profit?

            If there is a God, I would think better of Him than that. And so in my disbelief I do not fear Him.

          • Mike

            that's not the fall you describe but be that as it may; don't fear God good but i'd fear judgement i'd fear all the sin and injustice that i've committed all the evil i've participated in...or don't if you think it's all a giant social-psycho delusion or "evolutionary trick" or freudian crutch or whatever.

      • Papalinton

        It's interesting that the basis for christianity is a never-ending circular dog-casing-tail tale. You are told you are sick from birth and then commanded to be well. An argument perpetuated by its circularity.

  • Raymond

    " First of all we accept that the story is just that: a story. Christians realize that this is not really the sort of story that we need to take literally. It was never intended to be read as a historical account of events that took place in a particular garden six thousand years ago somewhere near Iran."

    This statement is not universally held among Christians. Many Christians, including Catholics, do profess belief in a literal Genesis account, including Creation and The Fall,

    "When you use the imagination all sorts of things are possible."

    This is exactly the atheist position about the 'truth' of religion. You can 'prove' or 'justify' just about any position if you allow for imagination and magical thinking.

    • Hipshot

      When Father Longenecker was a student at Bob Jones, I daresay he found good reason to think that everything in the Bible was literally true.

      Now that he's a Catholic, he finds that he can get along quite well while believing that some of what's in the Bible is the product of active imaginations and the inaccurate passing of tales from mouth to mouth.

      I personally have just moved a few steps further down that path than he has.

      • William Davis

        Bob Jones. The mad preacher who ran the fundamentalist cult I grew up in was a product of Bob Jones. I remember having nightmares as a child from watching Bob Jones videos about the fact I'm probably going to burn in hell forever. They were pretty graphic. I'm entitled to view Bob Jones University as a place of pure evil ;)

  • Hipshot

    The Catholic kids I went to school with some thirty years ago were taught that it was definitely a real snake. Who in the Church's hierarchy messed up by failing to inform them that this belief is not necessary??

    • Cminor

      I went to Catholic kindergarten some 47 years ago (in the South, and hill country to boot) and I distinctly recall the teacher presenting the story as being about temptation by the devil. I can't think of any occasion since then that I've heard endorsement from a reputable Catholic source of a literal reading of Genesis. I did once have a fun debate as a catechist with some ordinarily-combative-about-church-teaching eighth graders about the proper interpretation of the Behemoth-and-Leviathan passages in Job. (I took the hippo and croc side.)

  • I pretty much agree with Fr Longbecker. There are all kinds of interpretations from it happened exactly as stated by way of a plain and ordinary meaning, to it is all myth and none of it likely happened.

    I interpret it the latter way. I'd say we have just about as much reason to believe that any such events occurred as that we developed fire by Prometheus stealing it from the gods. Both are likely stories entirely invented to give some accounting of certain facts in the world.

    Don't see any reason to give any more credence to the Bible than other religious mythology or fairy tales. If fact, I think the Bible stories usually provide us with pretty poor morals. See Abraham and Isaac (kill your son if god tells you to), Sodom and Gomorrah (it's okay to destroy entire towns violently for the misdeeds of its inhabitants) the Tower of Babel (too much cooperation is a bad thing), Noah (the entire world can be so bad that it is appropriate to destroy virtually all life), Jeptha, (it is okay to sacrifice your daughter to win a war) in kings we have a story of youth being slaughtered by bears after teasing a prophet about baldness. And Jesus himself, substitutional atonement is the best option for the biggest problem.

    Of course I realize Catholics do not interpret them this way, but these are not unreasonable interpretations from a purely literary criticisms approach. If you chose to interpret them through the lens Jesus or as being necessarily somehow consistent with your own morality, you will get different results. But I see no reason to do so.

    • Sqrat

      I'd say we have just about as much reason to believe that any such events occurred as that we developed fire by Prometheus stealing it from the gods.

      And, it must be pointed out, Adam, Eve, and the talking snake are all Promethean heroes.

  • Sqrat

    I would think that there are other problems with the tale of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden that Christians would have more problems with than the question of whether there was actually a talking snake:

    1. "Do Christians believe in a lying God?" As far as I know, they don't. However, the serpent tells Adam and Eve that God lied to them about what would happen to them if they ate the forbidden fruit. God said they would die, the serpent said they wouldn't. As far as we can tell from the tale itself, that seems to be entirely correct -- it was God who lied, and the serpent who told the truth.

    2. "Do Christians believe in a God who didn't want people to know the difference between right and wrong?" Again, as far as I know, they don't, yet that seems to be what the tale is telling us: The reason God didn't want Adam and Eve to eat the forbidden fruit was not because they would die if they ate it, but because they would learn the distinction between right and wrong. One certainly gets the impression that, in the tale, God thinks that knowing right from wrong is a power that should belong only to God (or to "the gods," depending on how you translate Elohim)

    2. "Do Christians believe in a God who doesn't want anyone to live forever?" Again, as far as I know, they don't, as it seems to be directly contrary to the Christian belief that God wants some people, if not necessarily all people, to live forever. Nevertheless, in the tale, Adam and Eve are expelled from Eden, not for having disobeyed God by eating the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, but to prevent them from eating the fruit of the Tree of Life, which would make them immortal. Sure, you could argue that God would have been willing to let Adam and Eve be immortal if they hadn't disobeyed him, but the tale doesn't say that anywhere. The more obvious inference is that God believed that immortality, like knowledge of good and evil, should belong to God alone (or "the gods alone").

    3. "Do Christians believe in a God who is not omnipotent?" Yet again they don't, as far as I know, but in the Adam and Eve tale, it doesn't seem that he is. Remember the old poser about whether God could make a stone so heavy that even he couldn't lift it? In the tale, he seems to have made a tree (the Tree of Life) whose fruit is so magical that even he couldn't have undone its magical effect. At least that seems to be why he expels Adam and Eve from Eden -- one they had eaten from the try of life, they would become immortal, and there was apparently nothing that God could have done about it (just as, apparently, he could do nothing to deprive them of the knowledge of good and evil they had already acquired by eating the fruit of the other tree).

    4. "Do Christians believe in a God who lacks certain knowledge of the future?" Some do, most don't, but the Adam and Eve tale appears to make a lot less sense if it is read with the assumption that God told Adam and Eve not to eat the forbidden fruit knowing with absolute certainty that they were going to eat it.

    5. "Do Christians believe in a God who is bizarrely vindictive?" Most don't, but in the tale, God punishes Adam and Eve, and he also punishes not only the serpent, but (we are led to infer) all the serpent's descendents, by taking away their legs. That is why, to this very day, snakes have to slither along the ground on their bellies.

    • William Davis

      4. "Do Christians believe in a God who lacks certain knowledge of the future?" Some do, most don't, but the Adam and Eve tale appears to make a lot less sense if it is read with the assumption that God told Adam and Eve not to eat the forbidden fruit knowing with absolute certainty that they were going to eat it.

      If I leave my kids in the house with plenty to eat, but I put one cookie on the table and say, you can eat anything but this, this cookie is too special for you to eat, then leave, I can predict what will happen. Eventually curiosity will get the best of them and they'll try it to see why it is so special. Doesn't take a rocket scientist to guess that one, much less divine omniscience. If the story is true, it was completely a setup. Why on earth would a kind God curse and entire species for one predictable mistake anyway?

      • Loreen Lee

        Before eating of the fruit, they already had Free Will, but were told that it was not within their freedom to have knowledge of good and evil? That's quite a limitation on what constitutes 'freedom'....
        Edit: Or maybe I don't have free will because I'm supposed to be able to tell good from
        evil!!! ,

        • William Davis

          That's a good point. How can free will be exercised without the knowledge of good and evil? Without that, how would Adam and Eve even know disobeying God was wrong? I'm pretty confident the story was never intended to mean what the Apostle Paul said it meant. He got away with it because he was speaking to gentiles who had a poor knowledge of the Hebrew Bible. Jews never have interpreted it this way, it is was originally their story.

          http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/Judaism/Original_Sin.html

    • Luke Cooper

      The reason God didn't want Adam and Eve to eat the forbidden fruit was ... because they would learn the distinction between right and wrong.

      If Adam and Eve didn't know the distinction between right and wrong beforehand, why would God have punished them so? Humans can be more just than that, as exemplified by NGRI cases. What an unjust punishment to two people (and all of their descendants)!

      • Sqrat

        Why, for disobedience. Whether disobeying God is morally wrong is quite beside the point as far as the Adam and Eve tale is concerned.

        • Luke Cooper

          Sorry--I wasn't clear. I agree with you and am calling more into question about God being a good and just.

    • Mike

      Congrats! You're a Protestant and only some 500 years late!

      • David Nickol

        Is there something wrong with being a Protestant?

        • Mike

          Not necessarily but it does mean you are protesting.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            Against the sale of indulgences and worse.

          • Mike

            What does that even mean?

          • Ignatius Reilly

            Protestants were protesting against the sale of indulgences and worse. If I listed the crimes of the Catholic Church, the comment would probably get deleted.

          • Mike

            I doubt it, come on lay it on us!

          • Ignatius Reilly

            Technically those Christians usually refer to themselves as Evangelicals.

            Protestants are usually a little more mainstream.

          • William Davis

            You are correct, but I'd argue that Evangelicals are a subset of Protestantism.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            Technically those Christians usually refer to themselves as Evangelicals.

            Protestants are usually a little more mainstream.

          • David Nickol

            BTW David are you a closet Protestant?

            Why should anyone be a "closet Protestant"? Once again, you seem to be operating under the notion that there is something illegitimate or shameful about being a Protestant.

            My mother, but not my father, was Catholic, and I and my siblings were raised Catholic. I went to Catholic grade school and high school. I received the kind of Catholic education which would now cost a small fortune and would be impossible for parents with four children to afford.

          • Mike

            I don't know it just seems that you hold alot of views that seem very compatible with some protestant sects; for one you are a biblical literalist it seems pretty clear or a biblical fundamentalist if you prefer.

          • Marc Riehm

            I used to hang out on Usenet groups that appealed more to fundamentalists than Catholics. I certainly find the tone and level of conversation on SN much better, on average, than it was there.

            But there is a certain appeal to the fundamentalist viewpoint. You can admire them for their dogged commitment. And as well for avoiding a class of pitfalls.

            Faced with all of the oddities and inconsistencies (not to mention the decidedly evil acts of God!) in the bible, one has two choices if one still wants to believe, despite it all:
            1) Take it all literally, and rationalize;
            2) Cherry pick, and rationalize.

            Hanging out on SN for a couple of years, you get frustrated with the cherry picking. Picking and choosing what suits us now, while rationalizing the weird stuff that has been abandoned along the way by claiming that God is slowly teaching us as we go (as if "Thou shalt not kill" was not clearly understandable millenia before the Albigensian crusade).

            Hopefully some of the current "weird stuff" in the Catholic Church (e.g. priestly celibacy; the inequality of women in the church) will be dropped over time. And that same old canard of "incremental unveiling" will be used to rationalize the change.

            One of the reasons I cannot accept the apologetics presented on this website is that I just cannot believe that the institution that supposedly represents God's message and will could have DONE all of those things. How could God have allowed His Church to have strayed like that? (Selling indulgences? Really? Would not Jesus have overturned the tables of the merchants of indulgences?)

            There is a certain purity to the literalists, and one can certainly understand the psychology behind wanting to steer clear from wishy-washy cherry picking.

          • Mike

            huh? the church is a hospital for sinners not a resort for saints - always has been always will be unless the devil gets to it and turns it into some pop-psych new age "Episcopalian-ish" church. for g's sake even peter the rock upon which the church is built doubted considered rejecting it and almost didn't come through.

            if you see sin you see a moral law, something real in that sin, not something contrived by matter and energy but a real injustice that "cries out to heaven" for justice, unless of course you don't believe in sin in which case maybe the evil that you see isn't really evil but just something "not as optimal" as it could've been, something like that, something natural that is just programmed into ppl, who knows but certainly not a straying from some imaginary "divine" law.

            i think that atheists like being fundamentalists bc it's an easy position to take and it doesn't require one to learn anything about the faith - you just pick something out and try as best you can to embarrass the believer or make him feel enough intellectual shame that he begins to doubt and then the atheist hopes that that doubt grows and grows until it turns the believer into one of them - it's evangelization if i've ever seen it.

            btw this is why "do it yourself bible" resulted in what how many protestant denoms are there now? like 10,000?

          • Papalinton

            ".... unless the devil gets to it and turns it into some pop-psych new age "Episcopalian-ish" church. "

            Nah. Far better and a lot more functional and useful, as history has demonstrated, to turn it into a café or a restaurant.

          • Michael Murray

            There is a nice pub in Glasgow that used to be a Church. They must be making a killing turning water into wine and selling it.

            This is also a neat idea

            http://www.trinitybarnstaple.org.uk/the-tower/

            I think the Church is still active but they've turned the inside of the tower into a climbing wall.

          • Papalinton

            Yes. I've been to a few in my lifetime. Nice places. My wife and I were thinking seriously quite some years ago about buying an old church to be our home. Unfortunately we were never able to secure a mortgage with the bank to proceed. i guess it was prophesied we were never meant to have it. :o)

          • Mike

            For once we finally agree! :)

          • Hipshot

            how many protestant denoms are there now?

            But that's part of the whole faith-works thing.

            Catholics have a lot of wiggle room for what they believe in their heart of hearts as long as they perform the actions that are required of Catholics (confirmation/confession/communion etc).

            There is even enough wiggle room nowadays to be openly opposed to core doctrines of the church (see "Pelosi, Nancy") and still remain a Catholic.

            On the other hand, Protestantism is very belief centered. If you find that you are not able to believe the core doctrines of your particular flavor of Protestantism, you should (perhaps you must) leave that church for another, or start your own.

          • David Nickol

            for one you are a biblical literalist it seems pretty clear or a biblical fundamentalist if you prefer.

            I can't imagine how you arrived at that conclusion!

          • Luke Cooper

            FWIW, I never got that impression from you. Just the opposite, actually.

          • Michael Murray

            In fact David has quite a number of times been criticised for quoting the "wrong" Bible

            http://strangenotions.com/bible-in-public-schools/#comment-989611730

          • William Davis

            Lol, me neither. I think people like us who can argue from multiple points of view confuse Mike.

        • William Davis

          Good question. Part of my fundamentalist upbringing was being told repeatedly that those who did not believe like us were going to hell. It seemed to be necessary to get every doctrine right, every interpretation of scripture. The fact that everyone else was going to hell made them feel special as God's "chosen" much like ancient Jews actually, they took the Hebrew Bible literally.
          I have faint memories from childhood of being sympathetic to Satan for opposing such an unjust God. I'm sure this upbringing has a relationship to my rejecting Christianity as a young person, probably around 12.
          I do see modern hope of Christian unity being brought about through secularism and acknowledgement of the folly of religious dogma. Why not be content if someone believes in the resurrection of Jesus and let the rest be flexible?

          • David Nickol

            I was raised Catholic, but I remember my sister and discussing the "fact" that if Adam and Eve hadn't sinned, we wouldn't have to do all the unpleasant things we objected to, like go to school! We thought being punished for the sin of Adam and Eve was unfair.

            We were 1950s Catholics and certainly did not think of ourselves as fundamentalists, but certainly in grade school we were taught that everything in the Bible was true.

          • William Davis

            Is Catholicism's divorcing itself from literal interpretations a recent thing or does it just depend on the Catholics? Catholic views I find on the net seem all over the map. If the internet is any evidence (I'm rationally skeptical about what I find on the net) there are many "denominations" within the Catholic church.

          • Michael Murray

            Part of my fundamentalist upbringing was being told repeatedly that those who did not believe like us were going to hell.

            How much better the world might have been if God had not decided we should evolve from primates with their tribalism.

            Or perhaps we just need a machine to turn one type of Christian into another by removing the "stars upon thars"

            https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ea1myhXi82g

          • Michael Murray

            Why not be content if someone believes in the resurrection of Jesus and let the rest be flexible?

            What! Tell me you are joking! You would let them risk their souls for all eternity by believing or doing the wrong things! What if they masturbate or use condoms and there is wailing and gnashing of teeth!

        • Marc Riehm

          Especially when one remembers the historical context from which Protestantism sprang.

    • Doug Shaver

      I would think that there are other problems with the tale of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden that Christians would have more problems with than the question of whether there was actually a talking snake

      Agreed. As an argument against Christianity, it's actually kind of pathetic.

  • Doug Shaver

    Does this mean Christians believe in talking snakes? That’s the charge from certain atheists. To be a Christian, they assume, you have to believe in talking snakes.

    And where do you suppose those atheists got that idea?

    A lot of us atheists used to be Christians. It is not likely that you've heard "You have to believe in talking snakes to be a Christian" from any of us, because we know better. It's the atheists who never were Christians who sometimes think Christians have to believe in talking snakes, and they think so because Christians have told them so. They know nothing about Christianity except what they've heard from the subset of Christians who say that Christians who don't believe in talking snakes are not real Christians. And since that subset makes the most noise in the public arena, it's not hard to guess why some people think they represent the Christian mainstream.

    • Papalinton

      People are atheists not because they know too little about god. They are atheists precisely because they know too much about gods.

      • Mike

        You believe in a god you believe in "the universe" and it's "laws" you are a worshiper of the god Matter/Energy! Aren't you? or do you not believe in science?

        • Peter

          Atheism is a form of pandeism, belief in an impersonal guiding principle which is synonymous with the universe itself.

          • Mike

            Of course they worship their god which is "the universe" itself; they evangelize for it, the practice their faith and bc most of them deny free will, obey it even to their death! which they INSIST is the end of them a terminal finality without ANY hope of any sort of afterlife - this is their creed and they are proud to proclaim it.

          • Luke Cooper

            Wrong again about atheists, Mike. You repeatedly say things like this that reveal your false assumptions. I don't worship anything, don't know about my having free will, and wouldn't obey my will to my death without good reason. I can hope there's a heaven without forcing myself to believe in one just because it's what I want. Are you able to make this distinction? Please don't tell me what my creed is.

          • Mike

            ok fine your brand of atheism is different but the predominant strain is pretty clear on the major points - anyway if your atheism gives you room for free will and real morality and allows you to hope for "heaven" then that's great as that sounds like a very appealing kind of atheism.

          • Luke Cooper

            the predominant strain is pretty clear on the major points

            As almost every atheist will tell you, atheism is a lack of belief in God/gods. That's it. Nothing else follows. There are no other major points. Pretty much anything else other than a lack of belief in God/gods is possible, though most of us seem to be materialists / naturalists and perhaps humanistic in some sense.

            anyway if your atheism gives you room for free will and real morality and allows you to hope for "heaven" then that's great as that sounds like a very appealing kind of atheism.

            Thanks! I think so, too. For the record, I don't know if we'll ever be able to settle the free will debate; some are fine with the idea of not having it and I've gotten used to not knowing. I admit that my ethics are relative in a sense, so I doubt that "real" would apply to mine using your standard; but I do think that my morality is pretty well grounded, even if the foundation can shift with new information. Finally, I think I'm my atheism "allows" me to hope for whatever I want to (i.e., there's nothing contradictory with the definitions of atheism and hoping for anything as I understand them), but I avoid making false hopes on principle.

          • Mike

            Ok, that sounds interesting but i still think that that really makes you an agnostic or i don't know i guess you know what's sort of the point of saying i can live anyway i want hope for whatever i want just as long as i don't "believe" in God...just seems kind of a very weak form of atheism i guess sort of like if i said oh my catholicism is just "cultural" i consider myself a catholic but i really just go for the good vibes i get from the pageantry and the pretty statues or whatever. Anyway, best of luck.

          • Luke Cooper

            i still think that that really makes you an agnostic

            It's confusing, I know. Atheists don't all use the same terminology. When meeting a new one, it's best to ask how they define themselves. I call myself an agnostic atheist. Hopefully these few paragraphs clarify the epistemic distinction between knowing about the existence of God/gods and believing in God/gods: http://atheism.about.com/od/aboutagnosticism/a/Atheist-vs-Agnostic-Difference.htm

            what's sort of the point of saying i can live anyway i want hope for whatever i want just as long as i don't "believe" in God

            Because atheism only refers to a lack of belief in God/gods. Being atheist should only communicate that one lack of belief, but the term is unfortunately conflated with other, often associated terms like humanist, naturalist, or anti-theist. Put differently, atheism doesn't and shouldn't communicate anything about how one should live or what one can hope for; it's not meant to communicate those things, but people often erroneously use it to. Think of it like this: Being bald only refers to someone's lack of head hair. A person's baldness does not and should not communicate anything else about that person. Even if most bald people smoke, baldness should not be used to also communicate smoking as well, as there exist bald non-smokers.

            just seems kind of a very weak form of atheism

            The plot thickens! See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Negative_and_positive_atheism Weak / soft / negative atheism seems to me to be equivalent to agnostic atheism. Strong / hard / positive atheism seems to me to be equivalent to gnostic atheism. So, you're technically right that my atheism is a weak atheism because I do not make the claim that God/gods do not exist (I'd have burden of proof there). As you might imagine, I'd rather avoid referring to my position as "weak" :) Agnostic atheist sounds better, haha.

            Edit: Removed extra word.

          • Doug Shaver

            but the predominant strain is pretty clear on the major points

            Atheism is not believing in any god. There is no other strain. There are no other points, major or minor.

          • Michael Murray

            How many times do we have to say it ... ! I guess they just don't like the answer.

          • Doug Shaver

            Considering how many times Catholics have to say they don't worship Mary . . . .

          • Mike

            then how come atheists always seem to be bashing christians?

          • Doug Shaver

            Some atheists always bash Christians. Some atheists bash Christians only sometimes. And some atheists never bash Christians.

          • Marc Riehm

            No, it is not. Atheism is a lack of belief in God. It does not mean that we elevate the universe or laws of its nature to any kind of mystical level.

            Some atheists might do so, but those ideas are outside of atheism itself.

          • Peter

            No-one is suggesting that an impersonal guiding principle is regarded as mystical.

          • Papalinton

            The only 'brute fact' that I'm aware of is that many people still believe in primitive supernatural superstition. Only through education and self-discipline will people learn and appreciate the pathology underlying our proclivity towards such belief. Belief in cosmic agents and rampant intentionality everywhere is a trick of the mind.

          • Peter

            You are harping on about hyperactive agency detection device again. Could HADD not be an inbuilt design feature motivating sentient races to seek out their Creator?

          • Doug Shaver

            Could HADD not be an inbuilt design feature motivating sentient races to seek out their Creator?

            Sure it could, but we have no reason to think it is unless we antecedently believe in a creator. Possibility is not probability.

          • Papalinton

            No, atheism is about accepting personal responsibility for your own actions and thoughts. Atheism is the maturation point at which grown-ups set aside their predilection to believe supernatural superstition as a guiding principle.

          • Doug Shaver

            No, atheism is about accepting personal responsibility for your own actions and thoughts.

            Poppycock.

          • Papalinton

            No poppycock here. No atheist says,' I did it because that's what the bible says should be done', or 'God made me do it', or 'I did it as Jesus would have wanted me to do it', or, 'the holy spirit in me guided my actions', not unlike a mindless automaton.

            As an atheist I accept full and personal responsibility for my actions and thoughts. I don't try to rationalise it away by some of the silly christian epithets such as, 'We live in a fallen world' or "i was born sinful', as a way of mitigating the circumstance or blame shifting to being this way from birth.

            An atheist is a person who has 'no invisible means of support'. :o)

          • Luke Cooper

            I generally agree with you, Papa, but I'm definitely with Doug on this one. Anything other than the lack of belief in God/gods is compatible with atheism. For example, there atheists who I'm sure do not "accept full and personal responsibility" for their actions and thoughts, and other atheists who may believe that they do have an "invisible means of support" through the alignment of the heavens, for example. Improbable for the latter? Yes. Impossible? Nope.

          • Papalinton

            And I agree with you, Luke. Mine was an attempt at a little persiflage to Doug's resolute surety of his one-word response. The smiley face that i usually add to distinguish my comment as one to be read as light-hearted banter, failed.

            Cheers

          • Luke Cooper

            Haha. Oops. Not sure if it's you who failed here; it's not the first time I misinterpreted someone's attempts at humor, so I'll take at least partial responsibility. I guess it comes with the text-only discussion format territory :)

          • Papalinton

            Yes it is difficult to factor in humour in text-only mode And the whole intent is lost if each time you want to say something humorous you have to [pre-emptorily] flag it before hand.
            It's like delivering the punch-line before telling the joke and has about the same impact -Nil.

          • Doug Shaver

            I accept full and personal responsibility for my actions and thoughts.

            Good for you, but that isn't what atheism is about.

          • Papalinton

            Of course, being an atheist means I don't know what atheism is all about, Right?

            :o)

          • Doug Shaver

            It means that you ought to know better than someone who is not an atheist, just like Christians ought to know better than non-Christians what Christianity is. That doesn't keep them from accusing each other of not being real Christians.

          • Papalinton

            Doug, you make the false assumption that I don't know anything about Christianity. Having been a christian for some thirty years of my life, baptised, Sunday School, confirmation, prayer meetings, church, playing hockey with the Young Christian Workers [YCW] team in my very later teens, reading of banns for my wedding, married in a church, having the first two of my three children baptised etc etc, I think I have a pretty good idea what it is to be a Christian.

            There is nil, let alone little, about being a Christian that you can instruct me on today, be it theology, philosophy, literature, mythology or philosophy of religion.

            I came to a conclusion, a conclusion that so many in ever increasing numbers are collectively arriving at, that religion/theology/theologically-based philosophy is not a universally acknowledged powerful or an epistemologically robust explanatory paradigm as believers imagine it is.

            In today's highly competitive marketplace of ideas religion is generally failing to match other and much sounder explanations about us, our relationship to the environment, the world, the universe. Many of the once claimed realities have proven to be less than representing actuality, that is, actual existence, typically as contrasted with what was intended, expected, or believed.

          • Michael Murray

            People are slowly but surely moving away from religious explanation.

            I agree but I think if you step outside of the US to the other western countries there is a lot more surely and a loss less slowly. Whatever people might mark on census forms in Australia, which indicates 22% no religion and 9% don't answer the question, the vast bulk of people live as if they have no religion. Here is a bunch of stats for Catholics in Australia:

            In 1996, 17.9% of Roman Catholics attended Mass on a typical Sunday.[47] This fell to 15.3% in 2001, 13.8% in 2006 and 12.2% in 2011.[48][49] Of the 13.8%, the median age of all Catholics aged 15 years and over was 44 years.[50][51]

            In 1996, 27% of Roman Catholics aged 50 to 54 years regularly attended Mass. This fell to 15% in 2006.[50] Similarly, 30% aged 55–59 years regularly attended Mass in 1996, but only 19% in 2006.[50]

            From 1996 to 2006 Mass attendance for Roman Catholics aged between 15 to 34 declined by just over 38%, going from 136,000 to 83,760 attendees.[50]

            Of course you might end up with a small group of hard core devotees such as you find here on this site or then again it might dwindle to nothing.

          • Papalinton

            Yes, Michael, it is hard to deny the trajectory of the statistics. The diehard religious will point to China and Africa to counter these statistics but the rise in religion in these places has much to do with lack of religious and political freedom in China and the level of poverty and famine in Africa.

          • Peter

            Atheists are barking up the wrong tree if they think that declining religious practice in some corners of the world justifies their lack of belief in a Creator. It may justify their lack of belief in religion, but that's not what atheism is.

            Deists also have a lack of belief in religion and, contrarily, will find this declining practise as justifying their belief in a Creator.
            It looks like atheists are cheerleaders for deism.

          • bamboodread

            You are full of shit

          • Doug Shaver

            Doug, you make the false assumption that I don't know anything about Christianity.

            I didn't impugn your knowledge of Christianity.

    • Peter

      Most former Christians who no longer believe in God are former fideistic Christians whose former religion was based entirely on faith alone, and who realised through science that their faith was falsifiable and therefore unsustainable.

      Belief in a Creator God - the God of deism if you like - is founded on reason not faith. While it is understandable that former fideistic Christians would abandon their fideism if science disproved it, what is less than clear is why they refuse even to consider belief in a deistic God which science does not disprove and in many cases supports.

      • Doug Shaver

        Most former Christians who no longer believe in God are former fideistic Christians whose former religion was based entirely on faith alone, and who realised through science that their faith was falsifiable and therefore unsustainable.

        Can you point me to a scientifically valid survey that says so?

        • Peter

          Not necessary. Without falsifiable creationism, atheism could not exist.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            How so?

          • Peter

            What banner would it stand under?

          • Ignatius Reilly

            Atheism: Lack of belief in Gods

            I don't see how the falsifiability of Creationism has anything to do with the possibility of atheism.

          • Peter

            Lack of belief in Gods why? Because Gods are deemed to create supernaturally and nature to create naturally, and science has discovered that it is the latter and not the former. Hence no need for Gods and lack of belief in them.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            Creationism is unfalsifiable. The type of God who creates may be falsifiable, depending on his attributes. Personally, I think the Universe was created by a student god and the universe was his final exam. He got a D-.

            Seriously, though, no atheist would put forth the argument you just stated.

          • Doug Shaver

            Without falsifiable creationism, atheism could not exist.

            I'm an atheist. I know what I need and don't need to justify being one.

          • Peter

            Science is a two edged sword.

            Before the discoveries which falsified creationism, all atheists had to rely on was the eternity and immutability of the universe, the universe as a brute fact in its own right without the need to posit an extra overriding God.

            Then came the discoveries which falsified creationism which would have given atheists another string to their bow and empowered them more. However, that was not to be the case because while one door opened for them, another door closed.

            The discovery that the space-time of the universe had a beginning and was expanding undermined the eternity and immutability of the universe. It was no longer a brute fact but something which required an explanation.

            All atheists have left now is the falsifiability of creationism and nothing more. They can no longer rely on the universe as a brute fact.

          • Hipshot

            My own position is that of "effectively atheist" in that I accept the possibility of a creative act bringing the universe into existence, but find zero evidence for that act being in any way focused on or for the benefit of the human race.

            So I don't have a problem with all the "proofs of God" on this site which wind up with "This demonstrates that there is a vague sort of Ground of All Being out there somewhere". However, when the writer starts moving in the "guy in the sky" direction, he/she loses me immediately.

  • David Nickol

    There are lots of possibilities, but the point is that it's not necessary for Christians to believe in a literally talking snake.

    The important question is as follows: What is it necessary for Catholics to believe about the story of Adam and Eve?

    It seems very important to the Catholic interpretation to identify the serpent with Satan (although, in my humble opinion, there is absolutely nothing in the text or in Old Testament thought to do so). So it seems to me a bare-bones interpretation for "Strange Notion Catholics" would require a first man and first woman to have been tempted by Satan to commit some act (most likely an act of disobedience).

    There are all kinds of traditional beliefs that Adam and Eve had "preternatural gifts, for example (according to once source), impassibility (freedom from pain), immortality (freedom from death), integrity (freedom from concupiscence, or disordered desires), infused knowledge (freedom from ignorance in matters essential for happiness). It is not clear to me whether it is necessary for Catholics to assent to these beliefs or whether they are conjecture (along the lines of the Limbo of Infants).

    It seems evident from past debates that "Strange Notion Catholics" believe Adam and Eve were real individuals (although not necessarily named Adam and Eve) who are in some way in the family tree of all human beings now living. The Catechism would seem to support that, although I am of the opinion that Catholics are not required to accept any particular "historical" or "scientific" account of human origins, since it seems to me that the matter of human origins extends beyond matters of faith and morals.

    • William Davis

      Just FYI Justin Martyr was the first person to connect the Serpent with Satan, I think it is from his debate with the Jew Trypho. It's nice to know who invented ideas and connections. I think Justin was a great man, though I doubt his interpretation here. He is the reason I believe the gospels were originally anonymous, he called them Memoirs of the Apostles.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Justin_Martyr#Dialogue_with_Trypho

      The book "Satan: A Biography" would be an interesting read. No Jew believed in Satan as an actual being until the Apocalyptic period of Second Temple Judaism, near the time of Christ. The word "Satan" just means adversary in Hebrew. David is actually referred to as satan by the phillistines. To this day, Jews have a very different interpretation of passages that refer to Lucifer and such (the passage about Lucifer falling from heaven was supposed to be a prophecy about the fall of a king). It's fascinating how different scriptures reads when looking at it with different interpretation "lenses" i.e. doctrines.

    • Marc Riehm

      I would like to note that Satan didn't really show his face in the OT. It wasn't until the NT that it became all about Good vs. Evil. (After all, God Himself was awful enough in the OT that no opposite was needed.)

      "Satan" can mean "opponent". It doesn't necessarily mean the "ultimate opponent", just someone with whom to spar a bit perhaps. Interpreting the Book of Job in this light makes a lot of sense.

      The story of Adam and Eve is just an allegory for the loss of hunter-gatherer innocence. And as such, it's quite charming.

      • William Davis

        I agree completely. My overly long article that most people are avoiding is making a comparison to a much more ancient story (Epic of Gilgamesh) that has elements of man's transition from a wild man to someone civilized. In their story, 7 days and nights of sex with a harlot does the trick, lol. Jewish midrash confirms the adam and eve story originally had sexual innuendos.

  • Ignatius Reilly

    When atheists say that Christians believe in talking snakes, we are making a metaphor about the Christian tendency to believe in extraordinary things in the face of evidence.

    • Mike

      Maybe we're just more open minded and tolerant of alternative views than you folks.

      • Ignatius Reilly
        • Doug Shaver

          You think you can prove something by linking to an article that was flagged for being unsourced?

          The author identifies two people as "1st martyr in the Seventeen Provinces." I can't trust anybody who would make that kind of mistake or fail at least to explain why it is not a mistake.

          • Luke Cooper

            Below the Catholic section is the sentence, "The book "Acts and Monuments" by John Foxe, commonly known as Foxe's Book of Martyrs lists many more than this." I did take the sentence at its word, but admit that I haven't verified it. Thanks for pointing that out.

          • Michael Murray

            At least some of these are well known

            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Protestant_martyrs_of_the_English_Reformation#cite_note-exclassics389-201

            like these three

            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oxford_Martyrs

            The three were tried at University Church of St Mary the Virgin, the official church of the University of Oxford on the High Street. The martyrs were imprisoned at the former Bocardo Prison near the still extant St Michael at the Northgate church (at the north gate of the city walls) in Cornmarket Street. The door of their cell is on display in the tower of the church.

            The martyrs were burnt at the stake just outside the city walls to the north, where Broad Street is now located. Latimer and Ridley were burnt on 16 October 1555. Cranmer was burnt five months later on 21 March 1556

          • Doug Shaver

            Nobody is denying that Christians have a history of persecuting dissent. But you can't prove that they're either worse or no better than anybody else in that regard just by producing a list of their victims.

          • Luke Cooper

            Gotcha. I understand. Good point.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            It was meant at a general list. There is different amount of evidence for the different figures in the list. I was slightly annoyed with Mike's response and fired it off rather quickly. I don't think the Catholic Church has been a very tolerant organization, though there are some Catholics who are very tolerant.

            Perhaps something a little more well documented:

            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Albigensian_Crusade

          • David Nickol

            I am a bit confused. Are you defending Mike's statement about Christians maybe being "more open minded and tolerant of alternative views" against Ignatius Reilly's implied rebuttal (a list of heretics burned at the stake) on the grounds that the list may be inaccurate?

          • William Davis

            If I had to guess, I'd say he's trying to be consistent with his skepticism. We all have the tendency to accept "facts" that agree with our point of view without much skepticism, while being highly skeptical of anything conflicting with it. Like Doug, I try to be consistent, though I'm guilty of slipping up like everyone else. The most important part of critical thinking is being critical of your own motivations and patterns of thinking. Not an easy thing to do, but extremely valuable for those that do it. I think you do it well.

          • Doug Shaver

            I think any claim that Christians are more open-minded than other people is absurd. That doesn't make it OK to attack them with stories of unverified atrocities.

        • Mike

          I wish i could but they're gone for ever and so are their killers gone forever; it's like they never existed; no justice or recompense for them, nothing, just something that happened a long time ago that will never be put right that will forever not exist, that is, if atheism is true.

          • Luke Cooper

            Our world isn't always just. People don't always get what we think they deserve. That's a tough reality and I wish it were different. But again, I don't force myself to belief in something just because it would make me feel better. I don't understand how you can think that eternal torment in hell is a just punishment for anyone.

          • Mike

            maybe for hitler and his henchmen what they deserve is to live with the torment of seeing and knowing the faces of the children they killed as they were being killed maybe that's his 'punishment' living with that forever, i don't know i could think of other 'ways' of punishing wo all that stuff about fire and burning forever...i think Dante in his Divine Comedy addresses some of these issues; i've never read it but apparently it's quite witty and insightful.

      • William Davis

        I'm open minded and tolerant, I just have a very high standard for what I believe is actually true :)

        • Mike

          i do and i don't; i think we're trained to be too "scientific" about what we accept but i know what you mean - just look at all the kooky things ppl believe about vaccines and autism and natural foods curing cancer and other stuff like that.

      • Papalinton

        It's good to be open-minded, but I don't think your mind should be a sieve.

    • bamboodread

      With a name like ignatius you should be a saint! :)

  • Papalinton

    There is a far more cogent, lucid, logical and reasoned argument for the Genesis story. It is a story of intellectual honesty and truthfulness. It is a story of accepting full responsibility for and the consequences of our own actions and our own thoughts.

    Rather than Adam and Eve disobeying god, they told him to rack off. Nobody was going to tell them what to do and what to say. They weren't pawns or puppets to be messed around with. Adam and Eve exercised their freewill and used their own principled minds to exercise their rights as individual humans, rejecting any nonsense of having to be dictated to. They wanted, as all truly free people do, wanted to learn, to expand their knowledge, to become educated, to develop their own understanding of what right and wrong meant. They wanted to experience the great fullness of life, the good along with the bad, not the sham life of living like a prized animal in a zoo. Otherwise how were they going to learn and know, sufficient to make the right choices?

    Compare this story to that of the catholic story, one of shame, of petulance, of self-debasement, of original sin, a thoroughly bad and negative story.

    No, this is a story of bravery, of standing up against oppression perpetrated by the powerful, Lords and Masters, even in the face of being evicted from the garden they stood on moral and ethical principles.

    It is not a story of mischievous rebellion or mindless infantile sulkiness. It is a story of celebration, a story of victory over a tyrant, a story of humanity blooming to full potential.

    • Mike
      • Papalinton

        How does this relate to the Genesis fable?

        • Mike

          i thought you sounded like a preacher of the cult of reason in your last comment so thought you'd be interested in it.

          • Papalinton

            Nah. The Cult of Reason is so ...... 17thC thinking, and ironically more modern than catholic thinking which has been in hiatus since 100CE.

          • Mike

            Well apparently there's such a thing as atheist church in england so who knows, plus isn't the biggest problem facing atheism its insistence that there's really no deeper meaning to life than that which one can figure out/contrive for oneself? atheism is getting 'spiritual' i dare say...my prediction is that if it survives at all over the next say 20 years it'll come to resemble more and more The Cult of Reason with rites and ceremonies etc. etc. But then again that's only human nature not atheism doing the real work so...back to square one.

          • Papalinton

            That's what seems to be occurring. I don't hold put much hope of these 'churches' succeeding. Nor would I. The move is mainly driven by some who misguidedly think religion needs to be replaced by something. I along with the vast majority of atheists couldn't be bothered, pretty much as the Cult of Reason faded away all those years ago.

  • Marc Riehm

    And maybe it's just an allegory for how, as man's knowledge grew, he abandoned simpler ways of life, and built civilizations. It's beautiful, from that sense.

    But to believe that man ever led a life without aging and danger and disease and war and famine and all the rest of it - not very convincing.

  • Michael Murray

    Interesting how this article insists on pretending that Christians are a homogeneous group.

    There are lots of possibilities, but the point is that it's not necessary for Christians to believe in a literally talking snake.

    A more interesting article might have been constructed around considering which denominations do and don't think the snake was literally talking and which denominations go further and insist their members believe in it as well. But I guess that would mean missing the opportunity to set fire to a few straw atheists.

    • Marc Riehm

      There are as many religions as there are believers.

    • Doug Shaver

      But I guess that would mean missing the opportunity to set fire to a few straw atheists.

      In fairness to Longenecker, it's not a straw man if your opponent really says it, and there really are atheists who say that all Christians have to believe in talking snakes. It does seem awfully irrelevant, though, in a forum where none of the participating atheists has said it.

  • Michael Murray

    Interesting that the original blog article had another ending:

    Or maybe God just did a miracle so the snake could talk.

    So there are lots of options when faced with the talking snake. The nice thing is that as a Catholic you can take the sensible options which explain away something as odd as a talking snake, or you can throw caution to the wind, go crazy and say, “Aw heck. I kind of like believing in the talking snake. I’m voting for the talking snake.”

    You can do that if you want, and if you do I’m on your side.

    • Galorgan

      "Does this mean Christians believe in talking snakes?" "you can throw caution to the wind, go crazy and say, “Aw heck. I kind of like believing in the talking snake. I’m voting for the talking snake.”

      You can do that if you want, and if you do I’m on your side."

      ...So, yes Christians do believe in talking snakes? I noticed that change too Michael. I wanted to say this comment on his original article, but of course he doesn't allow comments. He starts of with the title "Do Christians believe in Talking Snakes?" and then asks "Does this mean Christians believe in talking snakes?" However, he then changes the basis of the article to "To be a Christian, they [atheists] assume, you HAVE to believe in talking snakes." I don't care about what Christians "have" to believe, I care about what they actually believe. And the original article confirms that he's on the side of people believing in a talking snake. Interestingly, it was left out of this version.

    • Doug Shaver

      Nice catch, Michael.

  • The notion of talking snakes would actually trouble me less than does the interpretation of Genesis 2 & 3 in terms of an Augustinian theodicy, i.e. the Fall and original sin.

    Franciscan, Richard Rohr, once suggested, instead: "It seems that God is asking humanity to live inside of a cosmic humility, as God also does. In that holding pattern, we bear the ambiguity, the inconsistencies, and the brokenness of all things ..."

    Process theologian, John Haught, has suggested that the radical human finitude we experience needn't be thus attributed to some "ontological rupture" located in humankind's past but would better be conceived, consistent with (but obviously going beyond) the epic of evolution, as a "teleological striving orieted toward the future."

    We know HOW the animalistic tendencies that compete with our better natures came about and
    we experience the suffering and evil that result both from moral failings and nature (existential problem of evil). We don't know THAT creation had to be this way.(evidential problem of evil), but can only conceive of certain rational explanations (logical problem of evil) regarding WHY.

    Some suggest, and I am deeply sympathetic to such views, that beyond a "defense" addressing the logical problem, a "theodicy" addressing the evidential problem --- not only proves too much, theologically, but --- toward God can be arrogant and blasphemous and toward suffering humanity can be cruel and insensitive. Too many, unable to tolerate paradox and
    uncomfortable with ambiguity, tell untellable stories.
    Some inconsistencies, ambiguities and brokenness, we can only hope, are only apparent, but it's saying way more than we can possibly know to suggest how that might be so.

    Rohr's fellow Franciscans, beginning with Duns Scotus, a medieval, have always held to a minority (though not heterodox) view regarding the reason for the Incarnation, which is that it was not occasioned by some Fall or felix culpa (oh happy fault) but was loaded into the eschatological cards from the great cosmic get-go.

    There are lots of possibilities, but the point is that it's not necessary for Christians to believe, literally or mythically, in "the" Fall or talking snakes.

  • James

    I'm a little confused by this. How can one tell whether something is a "story" and just pay attention to the message or whether to take it literally?

  • Myspace Tom

    You can twist it anyway you want to mean whatever you want. Thats the bible.

  • Andrew Seymour

    I love how the snake is a metaphor, but the reincarnation isn't. If you accept that this collection of writing is NOT the instruction of the omnipotent creator of the universe, then why read it at all? If you pick and choose the bits to pay attention to, you already know what is and isn't right, moral, and true. SO, you don't need the book at all. If there's a god, you're choosing to willfully ignore it's commands. I at least understand where fundamentalists come from. If someone said "this book is the word of an omnipotent creator and failing to abide by the rules will lead to eternal torment", and I really believed it, I would take the thing literally.

  • Cod Gob

    Can a puppet talk? No, the puppeteer makes it "talk"
    Can a snake talk? No, the devil made the snake "talk"
    You're all welcome