Michel Onfray, ATHEIST MANIFESTO, post 2

Finishing my summary and comments about this book.

(From here on I’m preserving the author’s chapter section breaks, with titles, to illustrate the structure of the book…)

Ch II, Bonfires of the Intelligence

1, Producing the holy books, p77. Naturally they are not uniformly respected. Their creation proceeded according to elementary historical laws. None were ‘revealed’; Hebrew script did not exist when Moses did. The canon arose politically, in the 4th century. And so on.

2, The book’s bias against books, p78. Thus authorities at the time burned competing version of the Koran. Paul too called for burning books. Leading to the index of forbidden books in the 16th century. Full of the important philosophers of the ages, 79m; the holy books were thought to include everything worth knowing, and so anything different was banned. Thus Muslim fatwas. Chanting of the faithful is preferred. Memorization of the holy books makes them, paradoxically, dispensable!

3, Hatred of science, p81. And so monotheism dislikes science. Islam embraces astronomy, et al – but only to calculate the direction of Mecca. [[ A point I’ve not realized before! Islam is well-thought of in certain astronomy circles for preserving knowledge from the ancients; thus so many vernacular star names are Arabic. ]] Similarly other studies, only to improve religious practice. And so religions impeded the progress of Western civilization. Anything related to paganism (e.g. the Greek philosophers) was condemned.

4, Negation of matter, p83. In science the church has always been wrong about everything. Notably materialist theories—the church condemns any hint of them. Thus it condemned Bruno. Galileo.

5, Bakeshop ontology, p86. Because of the church’s insistence on the spiritual and the timeless. And transubstantiation. And so on.

6, Epicurus: not an enthusiast for Hosts, p88. Because materialism isn’t consistent with the church’s “theoretical twaddle”.

7, Forever missing the boat, p89. Thus the church missed all the major discoveries of ten centuries. Atomism. The eternity of the universe, of multiple universes. Earth at the center of the universe. Evolution. Ancient humans in various areas. Geology. Research on human bodies. Psychoanalysis. Human medicine. Paul called for all knowledge to pass away. Studying the Bible, too.

Ch III, Seeking the opposite of the real

1, Inventing the afterlife, p95. Nice Q 1st para:

Monotheisms have no love for intelligence, books, knowledge, science. Preferring the ethereal over the material and the real, they have a strong aversion to man’s instincts and basic drives. Thus not only do they celebrate ignorance, innocence, naivete, obedience, and submission: the three religions of the book disdain the texture, forms, and forces of the world. The here and now is irrelevant, for the whole world, now and forever, bears the weight of original sin.

2, Birds of paradise. Angels and paradise. Anti-man and antiworld.

3, Seeking the opposite of what is real. Islam, especially, imagines paradise as the opposite of its hot desert climate, a place where everything forbidden on earth is now possible and plentiful. No earthly needs, no bodily functions. Thus their motivations of have gone to battle, done suicide bombs, hijacked aircraft.

4, Solving the woman problem, p101. Since Eve was cause of everything bad, hatred of women easily follows. Acceptable only as mothers and wives. Women are secondary to men. All three religions condemn homosexuals. And abortion, since children are prioritized. Prejudice against women remains to this day.

5, Celebration of castration, p104. Family, marriage, monogamy… all variations on the theme of castration, of destroying desire. Rules for divorce in the Torah, and Koran.

6, Down with foreskins!, p106. Both Jews and Muslims. Odd how westerners find female circumcision revolting, but not for the male. Other cultures do other kinds of mutilation. They all involve kinds of magical thinking.

7, God loves the maimed, p109. Ritual circumcision. Much speculation over the centuries. Perhaps simply to reduce sexual fulfillment.

Part Three: Christianity, p113

I, The Construction of Jesus, p115

1, Enter the forgers. Christ surely existed, despite the paucity of evidence, at least as an idea. Why was he constructed as he was? The answer comes from the 13th apostle, Paul of Tarsus, and the events that followed: burning pagan libraries, forging documents, amending others with what was thought to be missing. None of it can be trusted. Copyists could insert stories from other sources without thought.

[[ The idea that Paul created the Christian religion was something I discovered myself, when I began reading the Bible, especially the New Testament, several years ago; see my Reviews/Bible pages. Many of the ideas that Christians take seriously about their religion have been mostly Paul’s! As the author here explores. ]]

2, Hysteria crystallized, 117. The period in which Jesus is said to have existed teemed with other madmen, hysterics convinced of the rightness of their truths. Examples. Theudas. Jacob and Simon. Menahem. All put down by the Romans. [[ Isaac Asimov, in his Asimov’s Guide to the Bible, makes exactly this point too. There is more to history than what has survived in religious history. ]] Resistance to the Romans was legitimate; but they were all outmatched, and delusional to think otherwise. Jesus gave a name to the Jewish rejection of Roman domination, and the notion that their God would save them.

3, Catalysis of the miraculous, 120. It was commonplace for heroes to be born of virgins and announced from heaven. Examples of others – Ulysses, etc, other epic heroes. Mark first wrote of the wonderful adventures of the said Jesus. Around year 70. He had conversion on his mind. So he played up the miraculous. Compare his writing to the work of Diogenes Laertius about the ancient philosophers, 122t. Attributes of Jesus were also assigned to Plato, Pythagoras, and others. Examples, 123.

4, Construction outside history, 124. We don’t take Jesus’ miracles any more seriously than we do those of Hercules or Ulysses: we take them for what they signify. The Gospel is performative: declaring something creates its truth. (Like pronouncing a couple married.) The evangelists had no need of history; they took stories they believed, and credited them with reality.

5, Tissue of contradictions, 126. It took centuries, and multiple writers copying and altering each others’ texts. How do we resolve all their contradictions? Why were so many stories left out? The church made those decisions in the 4th century. Yet many contradictions are left behind. Examples. Also improbabilities. Why was Pontius Pilate even there? And the Crucifixion. At that time Jews were stoned to death. Or if crucified, his body would have been left for the dogs, not laid to rest in a tomb. The tomb itself. Why no ritual cleaning? Other questions. Why did the disciples return home so quickly? And so on. Thus the Church forbade historical readings of these texts.

[[ thought: author performs the kind of interpretive, analytical reading of a text that most people simply don’t know how to do. e.g., who wrote what, and why? When? Why are different versions different? And so on. ]]

[[ yet again we have C.S. Lewis: there are so many more than two or three possibilities. ]]

II, The Pauline Contamination, p131

1, Ravings of a hysteric. Paul ran with the concept. Jesus never said much about everyday life, but Paul did, born from his hatred of the body, or women, or life. Paul created the character of Jesus. Paul had been a hysterical, fundamentalist Jew. His conversion in 34 arose from some hysterical pathology. He lost his sight for 3 days. A medical diagnosis suggests histrionics, moral exhibitionism neuroses.

2, Infecting the world with neuroses, 132. So Paul took his neuroses to the world, creating the world in his image. Paul said little about his own illness, so speculations have piled up for centuries. List, 133t. Only nothing sexual. It is easy to deduce sexual impotence. It is an example of the ‘fox and grapes complex,’ making a virtue of necessity. Thus Paul imposed his own problems on the rest of the world.

3, A weakling’s revenge, 134. His logic is clear in 2 Corinthians 12:210. He hated the world and all its concerns. He has a taste for humiliation. Nothing about Jesus to justify this. His misogyny echoes the first verses of the Bible.

4, In praise of slavery, 137. Paul’s ideas have dominated Christianity: submission, obedience; good comes only from God. Obey officials. Paul never knew Jesus, read no gospels. Paul spread his own myth and fables, a disease that infected the whole empire.

5, At war with intelligence, 138. And hatred of intelligence. Paul had no education, beyond the OT. So his own lack of culture became hatred of culture. He spoke only to humble folk, never to intellectuals or philosophers.

III, The Totalitarian Christian State, p141

1, Hysteria (continued). In 312, Constantine saw a sign in the sky, witnessed by his troops! Promising that he would win the current war. Today this ‘sign’ is interpreted as a close approach in the sky of Mars, Jupiter, and Venus. Taken as a message from Christ.

2, Constantine’s coup d’etat, 143. He knew what he was getting by taking on Christianity: obedience. He changed laws to suit them. He built new churches, and also murdered his wife and son-in-law. He created a totalitarian state—the first Christian state. C’s wife Helena went to Palestine and built three churches, full of relics. She was canonized.

3, From victims to victimizers, 146. Some Christians had been fed to the lions, but not as many as claimed. A totalitarian state followed Constantine, 147t. That included a state religion, and the destruction of any rivals. Philosophers were executed. Hypatia of Alexandria. Dragged through the street and torn to shreds, 148t. [[ Also told by Sagan. ]]

4, The name of the law, 148. Laws were passed condemning non-Christians. Pagan shrines were ravaged. Jews were persecuted. The oracle of Apollo at Didyma was destroyed, blamed for preventing Roman prayers from working. And so on.

5, Vandalism, autos-da-fe, and the culture of death, 150. All books and libraries became at risk. Things got worse all the way to Justinian, in 529. Theocracy had become the opposite of democracy.

Part Four: Theocracy, p153

I, Selective Exploitation of the Texts, p155

1, Historical extraterritoriality. Everyone knows of monotheism’s three books, but few know of their origins, or how long it took for them to emerge. Clerics banned direct reading of the texts for centuries. Yet we know they were written after centuries of oral transmission…

2, Twenty-seven centuries in the making, 156. And different scholars have different estimates for time of writing. Estimates almost ten centuries apart, for Genesis. Similar issues with the NT. None of the four evangelists knew Jesus; they recorded stories transmitted orally for decades. No copies exist before the end of the 2nd century. Similarly final versions of Hebrew and Islamic texts were not finished until about 1000. The possible time span is up to 27 centuries.

3, Monotheistic grab bag, 159. We don’t even know when the idea of worshiping one god arose. As late as the 3rd century bce. By the Jews. To “ensure…the existence of their small, threatened people.” All the founding texts are full of contradictions. Ideas are stated, followed by their opposites. Any war leader can choose from whichever justifies his action. On every issue, either side can be justified. Who has really read the book of their religion, closely?

4, Cherry-picking the scriptures, 161. Yet since the books are given by God, they must be perfect, so any portion must be perfect. So are words taken out of context. Everyone can select whatever quotation they like. Hitler, MLK; Israel, the Palestinians. The fifth commandment: Thou shalt not kill. And yet believers have been practicing war for centuries. Why? Because in Deuteronomy 7:1 Yahweh justifies the slaughter of numerous other peoples. And all their living things. Because the Jews are the chosen ones. How to justify this? By realizing there is one morality for one side, another for the other. Thus the 5th commandment applies only to other Jews. The inequality of races.

5, The whip and the other cheek. Similarly, the parable of the other cheek, from Matthew and Luke. Yet there’s also the story of the Jesus and the Temple moneylenders. Who are whipped. And other behavior by Jesus.

6, Hitler, Saint John’s disciple, 166. Hitler remained a Christian, and admired the story of the moneylenders. We can also recall Exodus, an eye for an eye, and so on. Thus, Hitler could justify Kristallnacht, even the gas chambers. And the Vatican did not object.

7, Allah’s problems with logic, 167. Hitler also admired Islam. The Koran claims to be from Allah precisely because of the absence of contradictions. Yet many can be found. E.g. among Allah’s names are “take of life, creator of death” and so on.

8, Roster of contradictions, 169. Muhammed himself did not excel in chivalrous virtues. Contradictory qualities, p170.

9, Everything and its opposite, 170. Many examples from the Koran.

10, Contextualization and sophistry, 172. What are scholars to do? Thus there are various approaches: moderate, fundamentalist, even secular, versions of Islam, depending on which verses are chosen. And yet the counter verses are still there. Author favors rigorous historical reading the holy books, and consider their repercussions in the history of the world.

II, In the Service of the Death Fixation, p175

1, Selective bones of contention. We could have chosen the best of the three monotheist books. And had a better world. Instead the religious leaders have chosen the opposite. The worst options. Monotheism is fixated on death. All of which is done in the name of God. Examples. Yet they are convinced atheism is their common enemy. And no one is allowed to challenge the clergy on these matters.

2, The Jewish invention of holy war, 178. Jews invented monotheism. So their God supervised their success by annihilating rival tribes. Details. To this day no leading figure has declared these to be dangerous fables. On the contrary…

3, God, Caesar & Co., p180. Christians didn’t have the notion of being a chosen people, but they still assumed God endorsed their actions. More selective reading of texts. Paul wanted the whole world for Christ. So millions died in the name of God: crusades, massacres; slaves; genocides, etc 182m.

4, Christian anti-Semitism, p182. Paul transferred his persecution of Christians to the Jews. Since Christ, Judaism was abolished. And somehow they were to blame for Jesus’ death. Much anti-semitism in the gospels. Ultimately, the collaboration of the Vatican and the Nazis.

5, The Vatican admired Adolf Hitler, 184. Because of a shared loathing for Jews and communists. Details and instances. The church helped the Nazis throughout, and never acknowledged any of it. Hitler’s book never appeared on the church’s Index of forbidden books.

6, Hitler admired the Vatican, 187. The popular notion that Hitler was smitten by Nordic culture doesn’t bear close examination. And he certainly wasn’t an atheist. He had children pray to Jesus.

7, Christianity and National Socialism: points in common, 188. Infallibility; suppression of paganism; book burnings. Especially the Jesus who whipped the moneylenders.

8, Wars, fascisms, and other pursuits, 189. It was the summary of 2000 years of such thinking. Justification of war. Augustine sanctioned just persecution. And later the concept of just war: God will sort out the winners and losers.

9, Jesus at Hiroshima, 191. Thus how to justify anything in the name of God. The Vatican endorsed nuclear deterrence.

10, Love of one’s neighbor (continued), 192. The ancients invented slavery; the commandments did nothing to deter it. Genesis defended it. Leviticus lays out rules for slaves. Christianity changed nothing. God’s plan. Muslims also; they invented the slave trade, by 1000.

11, Colonialism, genocide, ethnocide, 195. Christianity sought to export its religion to every corner of the world. Destroying other civilizations along the way. 196t. Even recently, the genocide in Rwanda. 1994.

12, Repressions and the death fixation, 197. How do we escape the monotheisms fixation on death?

III, Toward a Post-Christian Secular Order, p199

1, Muslim thirst for blood. Islam synthesized the two before it and adopted all their worst legacies. Including that of holy wars, 199-200. They all feel themselves chosen people, others subhuman. Muslims have a strict hierarchy. Incompatible with the Enlightenment.

2, The local as universal, 201. Muslims divide the world into two: friends and enemies. A book from the 630s still rules the lives of billions today, 202m. The origins of all communities are rooted in the primitive tribe, the family.

3, Yellow stars and Muslim tattoos, 203. Thus distinguishing marks or signs for who is in or out. Thus Muslim rules for ‘dhimmi’ for a non-Muslim living among Muslims, with degrading rules. Not abandoned until end of WWI.

4, Against the closed society, 204. Islam denies the progress of history; its vision is a universal nomad encampment. They all look back on some timeless, fictional universe, 205m. Unlike democracy. Theocracy is democracy’s most dangerous enemy.

5, Muslim fascism, 206. Still debates on the definition. For Muslims it began in 1978. Foucault was wrong.

6, An ayatollah speaks, 207. Khomeini left a book that outlined his theory of Islamic government. A fascist breviary. Ends the separation of private belief and public practice. Religion is managed by the state.

7, Islam: structurally archaic, 208. This is done by the usual selective reading of the Koran. Christians can do something similar. Ignoring all the literal details one would like to dismiss. A kind of nihilism. True Islam is archaic, incompatible with the philosophy of the Enlightenment. 209b.

8, Fascist thematics, 210. The Koran has the answers to everything, with binary logic—no subtleties. To the revolution, the enemy is America, Israel, modernity, etc. Satan. All its enemies are lumped together. Postpolitical logic, transcendental logic, mystical logic. Pantheistic principle (martyrdom); hypermoral logic (purification); logic of compulsory service (everyone is subject to government control). Every aspect of fascism is there in the Islamic government. P213.

9, Fascism of the fox, fascism of the lion, 213. The 21st century is now a war between the ‘Christian west’ and the ‘Muslim world’. God is claimed by both camps. Do we have no choice?

10, Against “religious” secularism, 215. Against this, some freethinkers look much like clergy. They admittedly have done much, 215m. But too much attention is spent on catechisms and ceremonies, not on injecting reason into human conscience. [[ Prothero focuses on this passage, ignoring the bulk of Onfray’s arguments. ]]

11, Substance and forms of the secular ethic, 216. Militant secularism leans heavily on Judeo-Christian ethic. Kant. It looks like Christianity, in which everyone can hold whatever private beliefs they want. So all religions are ‘equal’ and so is atheism.

12, Toward a post-Christian secularism, 218. We should leave that behind. Leave behind relativism. That the believing Jew is equivalent to the ‘hypothetic-deductive’ philosopher. Such relativism is crushing. We must fight for a post-Christian secularism, atheistic, militant, and radically opposed to choosing between Bible and Koran. There is only one world, and the promotion of an afterlife deprives us of enjoying that one. A sin.

End of text p219


Some final comments.

  • On the one hand the book reams with examples horrors from the history of religions; on the other the author is sometimes vague about current issues that he assumes his readers know about. E.g. in the last few chapters, which secularists are doing things wrong? And can he be more specific about how to do things right? The book reads like he’s in a hurry to get this done.
  • Of course the sources of religion might easily be the same as the sources of conspiracy theories: people who get notions in their head they *just believe* must to be, because they make some kind of weird sense, never mind reason or evidence. And just as some people will follow any crazy conspiracy theory you put out there, so some will follow any proselyter—St. Paul—and believe their every word. People want guidance. Being told what to do.
  • Good point there about how the founders of the religions were not the gods of those religions, but the zealous promoters who were certain they knew what their god wanted. Just like the certainties of some conspiracy theorists.
  • Recall the notion that every child is, socially, a blank slate, to be taught anything or nothing. Religion is evidence of the failure of education: the reality of the world, vs. the fantasy worlds of religion.


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