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Review: The Skeptics Annotated Bible

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Already forgotten in the mists of antiquity, before the World Wide Web there was a computer network made up of bulletin board systems (BBS). The BBS could send messages to each other, arriving in a few days while letters (a barbaric form of proto-communication involving ink and paper) would require a week or two. BBS could also host files, and it was to a BBS that I committed one of my earliest electronic publications, A Call to Heresy.

I wrote A Call to Heresy in August of 1991. It was a compilation of quotations from the Bible that highlighted the base character of that book, specifically quotes on women (Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as it is fit in the Lord. (Colossians 3:18), sex (If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them. Leviticus 20:13), slavery (I will sell your sons and daughters into the hands of the children of Judah, and they shall sell them to the Sabeans, to a people afar off; for the Lord hath spoken it. Joel 3:8), the end of the world (And [Jesus Christ] said unto them, Verily I say unto you, that there be some of them that stand here, which shall not taste of death, till they have seen the kingdom of God come with power. Mark 9:1), contradictions (Matthew 5:16 and Matthew 6:1, for example) and absurdities / atrocities (Happy shall he be, that taketh and dasheth thy little ones against the stones. Psalms 137:9). I gave the final word to an authority on whether some or all of the Bible is to be taken as instructions for Christians today (Think not that I [Jesus Christ] am come to destroy the law or the prophets I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill… Till heaven and earth shall pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law… Matthew 5:17-18).

A Call to Heresy was uploaded to a BBS in October 1991. You can find a copy of the essay in its original form at, a marvelous resource for exploring the age of the BBS. I entered A Call to Heresy into the public domain at publication, and so it was distributed far and wide. Remarkably, it was included in a collection of public domain texts on a CD-ROM (ever heard of those?) published by Palm Computers (think of a smart phone minus the phone). I considered reprinting A Call to Heresy on the World Wide Web in 1992 when this new form of electronic publishing came into existence. This earlier work did assist me when I published OVO 16 ANTICHRIST.

Then, in 2002 I found The Skeptics Annotated Bible. Authored by Steve Wells, The Skeptics Annotated Bible (SAB) is a site that includes everything I had written about but at greater length. The SAB also includes quotes from the Bible on its injustice, intolerance, failed prophecies, politics, and (to its credit) also the “Good Stuff” (Test all things; hold fast to what is good. 1 Thessalonians 5:21). The SAB is well organized, easy to use, includes (again to its credit) links to criticisms of itself, and is free of advertisements. After comparing my ‘Call to Heresy’ with SAB, I stopped publishing my essay and instead referred people to the SAB. I wrote Wells and told him just that: he kindly said there was room for both, true enough, but I’d rather refer people to his banquet than my snack bar.

Wells curated the SAB for the next decade. New information was added, mistakes were corrected, illustrations from the Brick Testament (a telling of the Bible in the form of Lego toys) were added, and much more. The amount of cross-referencing in SAB was remarkable, revealing the number of contradictions and false prophecies in the Bible to be far greater than I’d ever known. Nearly no claim made in the entire book is unambiguously a fact; not in contradiction to external history, but within its own pages. When Wells announced he was going to publish the SAB as a book I could not envision how such a thing was possible. How could a book show all these internal references? How could it have so much commentary on a verse by verse basis? Nonetheless I bought a copy as soon as it was offered for sale, and am entirely satisfied with it.

The SAB in book form includes internal references and commentary the way religious books have always done so; in the margins and as appendices. The print is large enough for these old eyes, giving the entire book a three-pound heft worthy of its (faux) leather covers. The contents of the website are here, with easy to follow marginal notes leading one on a chase (merry or weary) from one contradiction to the next, from one failed prophecy to another. But again, the “Good Stuff” is not omitted nor is it ignored. Truth and beauty are where you find them, and this atheist in particular finds much of value in the book of Ecclesiastes.

I would recommend The Skeptics Annotated Bible to any atheist who wishes to critique the Bible. I would also recommend it to any Christian who wishes to read more than the “Good Stuff” in their holy book. After all, it’s every jot and tittle that counts!

Pat Condell: A Society of Cowards

Are We There Yet? bolo’bolo Edition

Are We There Yet? is a series about changed minds.


I was born in Switzerland and I live in Zurich. My main job is teaching at a secondary school, and I have always been politically active in my free time. I am an old activist from the 1960s; I was there at the anti-Vietnam demos and all of those things. Later I was also there squatting houses and taking part in the anti-atomic movement. I was a little bit involved in everything there was. And then somehow the movement ended; there was still a squatting movement in Zurich, I also know that in Geneva a lot of houses were squatted, but they were slowly defeated by the police. Then there was nothing there. Then a rather depressed atmosphere broke out, as it often does after such cycles of movements. At that moment, I said: I will write down everything that we should still consider as important. I put together a wish list, like for Christmas, a long list of things that we can still consider worthwhile – stock taking.

And then I looked at the list and saw that it looks pretty boring now. For example, things like “we want to live together with each other in solidarity,” “we do not want any economic growth,” or “we want to respect the environment.” All of these boring socio-ecological platitudes that can be found in party platforms. I wanted to dust that off a bit, so I thought, okay, I will invent an utopia. But it isn’t at all an utopia. I know all of those utopias. The way they are written, there is a certain attraction. But I was also greatly fascinated by the roundness, the submergence into other worlds with their own terminologies. I thought; I can sell these things to people a lot better, these wishful notions, if I cloak them as utopias.

See also: Liberating Wednesday.

Culture and Choices


Culture and Choices. Digital Image. Trevor Blake. 2014. Public Domain.

Like Taking Vaticandy from Children

The itsy-bitsy Holy See (aka The Vatican) holds a seat at the United Nations. They were squirming in that seat this week as the UN them they must dismiss clergy who rape children rather than reward them with a new parish to plunder.

Imagine if Prince Albert II, head of state in the Principality of Monaco, sent out a policy paper to all his embassies detailing what to do if any of his ambassadors were accused of raping a child: force the raped child to remain silent and move the rapist ambassador to a new embassy. Without a doubt the nations of the world would protest, if not invade, this tiny city-state nation.

That is in part the situation that occurred when Pope John XXIII sent out the ‘Criminie Solicitaciones’ on 16 March 1962. The Criminie Solicitaciones was issued as the formal policy of the Roman Catholic Church when any of its clergy (who have claimed diplomatic immunity when charged) are accused of raping a child: force the raped child to remain silent and move the rapist clergy to a new parish. So far the imagined and the real situation are the same, but there is one difference: no nation in the world has protested against the Holy See.

Perhaps for a while the lack of a response could be attributed to the secret nature of the Criminie Solicitaciones. It was marked ‘strictly confidential’ and obliged clergy to promise ‘to observe the inviolably the secret in all matters and details which will take place in exercising the aforesaid duty.’ but the Criminie Solicitaciones was published by no less than the BBC in August of 2003, generating eleven years of no response. Perhaps some might have been able to say the policy was not official doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church. Fair enough, as long as one does not read signature to the document: “Our Most Holy Father, John XXIII, in an audience granted to the most eminent Cardinal Secretary of the Holy Office on March 16, 1962, deigned to approve and confirm this instruction, ordering upon those to whom it pertains to keep and observe it in the minutest detail.” Or perhaps some might have excused Pope John XXIII for a temporary injustice – an excuse that holds until one reads of Cardinal Ratzinger confirming the Criminie Solicitaciones was still in effect (a towing of the party line surely not at all related to his later becoming Pope Benedict XVI).

The Criminie Solicitaciones describes sex or attempted sex between a cleric and a youth as ‘the worst crime.’ For ‘the common good of the Church’ such clergy are to observe secrecy ‘inviolably.’ Raped children are to to also keep the secret, ‘threatening him, if there is a need, with an excommunication.’ But don’t worry about the poor rapist clergy being put upon to honestly confess during internal investigations: ‘In every way, the judge [the bishop or his designate] is to remember that it is never right for him to bind the accused by an oath to tell the truth.’ No, instead rapist clergy are to be given fresh new hunting grounds: ‘As often as, in the prudent judgment of the Ordinary, it seems necessary for [...] the prevention of scandal or reparation for it, there should be added a prescription for a prohibition of remaining in a certain place.’ What has been called a scandal (oh, those impish Roman Catholic Priest and their naughty ways!) is actually an international child rape shelter ring, condoned and coordinated by the Vatican.

Attempts have been made to hold the Holy See accountable for their actions. Attorney Jeffrey Anderson of Oregon served the Vatican legal notice for clergy abuse of children. To do so, he had to pay US $40,000 to have the papers translated into Latin, the official language of the Holy See. Judge John Heyburn II of Kentucky heard claims against clergy but dismissed them, ruling that as a foreign nation the Holy See and its representatives are subject to diplomatic immunity under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act. Indeed, Archbishop Josef Weslolowski was whisked to the Vatican in August 2013 to prevent any further public investigation into child rape charges. This week the Vatican denied extradition papers for Archbishop Weslolowski as he is (according to the New York Times) ‘a citizen of the Vatican.’ But recently has the Holy See been questioned – not invaded, not fined, not boycotted, not denounced, merely questioned – by the highest levels of international law.

The New York Times reported on 16 January 2014 that the United Nations was considering holding the Holy See to its membership in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. As a signatory, the Vatican is bound to protect children from harm such as, say, being raped by clergy. Should the United Nations find the Roman Catholic Church as guilty as its own internal documents make it out to be, it will have no power to punish and its resolution will not be binding. But after half a century of the organized shelter of clergy child rapists, the smallest first slap on the wrist is long overdue.