The Chapel of Archangel Michael Madamado at St. Nektarios Monastery, Roscoe, NY

Huff House

In the Fall of 1998, with the blessing of Elder Ephraim, Elder Joseph Voutsas and Fr. Germanos Ponitkas purchased the 188 acre property known as the Huff House Golf Resort in Roscoe, NY for $2,500,000. Three lay-disciples from Toronto had taken second mortgages from their houses for $100,000 each and donated it for the down payment of the property, which helped greatly. Two of the donors gave the money as donations and the other donor gave the money as a loan. There was also a $25,000/month mortgage for the first 2 years and with the help of donations, the two monks paid off the mortgage.

Cell phone pic of Fr. Epifanios old desk mat (aerial of the property)
Cell phone pic of Fr. Epifanios old desk mat (aerial of the property)

Many of the original structures of the Golf Resort have been torn down. The structures that remained have had their exteriors and interiors redone, and new buildings have been erected. The property value has also sky-rocketed. The amount of money put into each new building (chapel, trapeza, monks’ quarters, new reception area, etc.) averages at over 2 million dollars/building.

The monks of St. Nektarios Monastery (NY) with Metropolitan Athanasios of Lemesos, Cyprus.
The monks of St. Nektarios Monastery (NY) with Metropolitan Athanasios of Lemesos, Cyprus.

At the end of December 1998, Abbot Joseph, together with 3 monks (Fr Germanos, Kassianos & Epifanios) and 4 novices (Symeon, Philotheos, Alexios and Michael) departed St. Anthony’s Monastery in Florence, AZ and drove to Roscoe, NY to start setting up St. Nektarios Monastery. They arrived in early January 1999. Fr. Seraphim came from Arizona shortly afterwards. Due to problematic issues, Elder Joseph sent Fr. Seraphim back to Arizona after a brief stay at St. Nektarios Monastery. The monks were instructed to tell pilgrims that Fr. Seraphim was only sent up on loan to help start the monastery. This was so the pilgrims wouldn’t be scandalized

Brotherhood of St. Nektarios at Russian Synodal Building, NY.

During Holy Week of 1999, Elder Ephraim visited the Monastery and tonsured the four novices as monks in the old chapel. Elder Ephraim did not change the names of the new for two reasons:

  1. Because they were recently baptized converts who just changed their names at baptism.
  2. So the lie that they were given as an obedience to tell people would be more believable—The new monks had an obedience to tell people they were tonsured in Arizona but their koukoulis weren’t made yet and they had just received their koukoulis now. This was to cover-up the fact that Elder Ephraim visited the monastery and performed an ecclesiastical function without the knowledge or permission of the Bishop.
St. Nektarios Monastery, Kursk Root Icon, Russian Clergy and monks.
St. Nektarios Monastery, Kursk Root Icon, Russian Clergy and monks.

Some years later, Elder Ephraim again secretly visited St. Nektarios and tonsured 4 novices: Kosmas (Jason), Ephraim (Gerasimos), Nektarios (Gregory), and Damianos (Anestis). This time, the tonsure took place in the new chapel as the old chapel had been converted into a living room for the monks and a temporary dorm when the monastery couldn’t accommodate all the visitors in the guest houses.

The First Chapel at St. Nektarios Greek Orthodox Monastery, Inc.—The Upstairs Living Room

Fr. Michael outside the old kitchen of main house. The upstairs living room of this house was originally the first chapel.
Fr. Michael outside the old kitchen of main house. The upstairs living room of this house was originally the first chapel.

The first church at St. Nektarios Monastery was located in the upstairs living room of the white building, originally dubbed “the main house.” The iconostasis from St. John the Theologian Monastery (closed in 1997) was used, as well as all the other materials from that chapel. The Chapel had golf green wall-to-wall carpeting. The use of the living room as a chapel was a temporary solution until the main church could be built. When the temporary chapel was no longer needed, it was converted back to a living room—a couch occupied the area of the Holy Altar, a computer station the area of the Proskomide. The former narthex was also used as temporary sleeping quarters when the guest houses became full and there was nowhere to put the extra pilgrims.

Originally destined to be the female guest quarters, the abbot decided part way through construction to make this structure the monks' quarters.
Originally destined to be the female guest quarters, the abbot decided part way through construction to make this structure the monks’ quarters.

When Geronda Ephraim secretly visited the monastery during Holy Week of 1999, he gave obediences on where to build everything and how the monastery should look. Geronda Ephraim told the abbot to build the main church where the tennis courts are and the trapeza would be where the current monks’ quarters are now built.

The Present-day Chapel of Archangel Michael Madamado (formerly, the Chapel of St. Nektarios)

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The new chapel—which was formerly a Gaming/Entertainment Room—was finished shortly before the first Feast Day of the Monastery in September 1999. Of course, there was still lots more work to be done, this was only the initial groundwork so it could be used as a Church. The new chapel was originally dedicated to St. Nektarios. During the mid-aughties, Elder Joseph decided to change this and re-dedicated the chapel to Archangel Michael icon of Madamado. This was done for two reasons:

  1. The monastery needed another feast day type event to help generate more income and donations for all the projects that were taking place and will continue to take place.
  2. The large church that has yet to be built will be dedicated to St. Nektarios and it wouldn’t make sense to have two chapels dedicated to the same saint.
The 3D sculpture of Archangel Michael Mantamados, Lesvos, made from the blood of martyrs and mud.
The 3D icon of Archangel Michael Mantamados, Lesvos, made from the blood of martyrs and mud.

The present-day chapel at St. Nektarios Greek Orthodox Monastery, Inc., Roscoe, NY is dedicated to the Archangel Michael icon of Madamado. So far, it has cost the monastery a couple million dollars to “beautify God’s house.”

Some Aspects in the Construction of the Chapel

The chapel circa 2005, before the bell tower was completed.
The chapel circa 2005, before the bell tower was completed.

In order to do the stone work and add a bell tower, etc. the pre-existing structure needed some foundational reinforcement. [NOTE: The bell tower was originally going to be taller. Before it was completed, Gerondissa Olympiada drove Gerondissa Ephraimia, abbess of the Archangel Michael Monastery on Thassos, for a visit. Gerondissa Ephraimia told Geronda Joseph the bell tower should be lower, so he changed the plans and did obedience to her suggestion].

The monastery hired Joe Valentine—owner of Valentine Construction Company, Inc. in Deposit, NY—to do the work. Joe Valentine’s crew was so impressive, that the monastery would hire them to do the foundation and concrete work of all their future projects. And thus, Valentine Construction’s annual revenue became 1 to 2.5 million dollars.

Fr. Epifanios Kapritsas
Fr. Epifanios Kapritsas

The Valentine crew became very close with the monks at the monastery. When Joe Valentine was in a custody battle for his baby boy, he asked Geronda Joseph if he could testify as a character witness for him in court. Geronda Joseph told him he didn’t know the language that well and it would be difficult for him to testify. However, Geronda Joseph gave Fr. Epifanios the obedience to testify as a character witness, which he did, and Joe Valentine won custody. Geronda Joseph later told the fathers that he didn’t testify for him because if something bad happened later, his name would be attached to it. He also told the fathers, and Joe himself, that he won custody because of all the help he gave to St. Nektarios monastery, etc.

Concrete

According to the Masters Concrete webpage, as of November 23, 2009, Masters Ready Mixed Concrete (Kingsley, PA) has provided approximately 1900 yards of concrete between the two buildings.

Also see an interview with Fr. Epifanios Kapritsas of St. Nektarios Monastery concerning the benefits of Insulating Concrete Forms (ICF’s).

http://www.specifyconcrete.org/project-profiles/view/st-nektarios-monastery

Stone Work

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The Monastery ordered their stones from a New York State company, Champlain Stone, Ltd. South Bay Quartzite® was the material used for the Chapel’s exterior. It is advertised as: “A quartzitic sandstone with an advancing and receding surface that resembles a windswept and sandy beach. Visually smooth, yet heavily textured with a blend of tan, antique white, ice blue, amber, and brown. South Bay Quartzite® will enhance any home from warm beach cottages to cozy cabins deep in the woods.”

http://www.champlainstone.com/south-bay-quartzite%c2%ae.html

The stone work itself was done mainly by a crew of Ecuadorian stone masons who work for a Greek man named George from New York. The Fathers also helped out with the project. The Ecuadorians’ work was so impressive that they were to be hired for other projects as well. The fathers also respected their ethical work etiquette: “They don’t swear, smoke, and they don’t talk much, just work.” Later, during the construction of the new monks’ quarters, the Ecuadorians experienced a big temptation.

Fr. Raphael (Micah) Andrews of St. Nektarios Monastery, NY [son of Fr. Mark Andrews of Holy Protection Monastery, PA]
Fr. Raphael (Micah) Andrews of St. Nektarios Monastery, NY [son of Fr. Mark Andrews of Holy Protection Monastery, PA]
Father Raphael had stolen a radio from the pick-up truck of a Mexican work crew doing the drywall. As the drywall crew couldn’t imagine a monk stealing their property, the only other suspects were the Ecuadorians. There was nationalistic and heated tension between the crews from that time on. When Geronda Joseph discovered the stolen radio during a routine, random cell check, he was almost ready to call the police on Fr. Raphael. As Geronda Joseph has repeatedly told Fr. Raphael, “If it wasn’t for your father, Geronda Ephraim would have sent you home ages ago!”

Page 12 of the brochure below has pictures of the stonework on the chapel.

Framing/Roofing

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One of the main crews the monastery uses for framing is JP Construction, Inc., Brooklyn, NY, which is owned by John Paralavos. They were used for the extension of the Chapel, as well as all the other building projects. His crew was given special liberties: they could smoke and get drunk on monastery property. Like the other crews that did jobs at the monastery, the workers would stay overnight and sometimes for an entire week. One of John’s workers was an alcoholic. The abbot would give him a large cup of Metaxa every night as a reward for a good day’s work.

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The story of how John became close to the monastery is interesting. Shortly after he visited the monastery with his family, the abbot read an article in one of the Greek papers which listed the richest Greeks in America—the abbots and abbesses like to know which pilgrims need “special attention.” When the abbot saw Johns  name  he decided to cultivate and groom him. This is a common practice with most of the wealthy Greeks that visit the monasteries: special treatment, groom and cultivate. The monasteries have a lot of bills and expenses and wealthy donors are a good asset. John Paralavos’ wife had lupus so he was already in an emotionally vulnerable state that could be easily manipulated. Regular blessings with St. Nektarios’ relics, house visits, taking him on a trip to Arizona to meet Geronda Ephraim, etc. also helped.

Geronda Joseph Voutsas, Abbot of St. Nektarios Monastery
Geronda Joseph Voutsas, Abbot of St. Nektarios Monastery

One time, John told one of the monks at St. Nektarios that he was thinking of asking Geronda to do a holy water blessing of his house. This monk told Geronda Joseph just before John and his wife went in for confession—it is a common practice for monastics to relay everything a pilgrim has told them before they go into confession. Geronda Joseph brought it up to them before they could ask and John started hailing him as a holy prophet, which the abbot dismissed. Later, the abbot asked the monk if he told John he had been informed beforehand about John’s desire to ask for the blessing. The monk responded, “No, I didn’t say anything.” The monk was then given an obedience not to tell John that he had told the abbot beforehand. Thus, John could continue to believe that the abbot was a God-inspired prophet who read his heart.

http://www.schmidtswholesale.com/

Stastidia in the Church

The stastidia in the Church were designed and made by the company in Serres, Greece that does all the wood work for Elder Ephraim’s monasteries in North America (chairs in the church, iconostasis’, etc.): Eleftheriadis Bros Sa.

Before the stastidia were made, there were wooden chairs for the pilgrims, and cushioned arm chairs for the monastics. Periodically, some pilgrims would become scandalized that the monks “sat in fancy chairs” while the pilgrims were forced to sit in “less comfortable chairs” or stand. One pilgrim even had the audacity to quote scripture to some of the monks in this regard, “Woe to you Pharisees, because you love the most important seats in the synagogues…”

Stasidia

Each individual seat cost close to $600, the Bishop’s Throne cost much more. The monastery made a plea letter to raise the funds to cover the cost and mailed it out to the pilgrims on their mailing list. With the help of donations, the monastery was able to cover the cost of the stasidia. The abbot would sometimes state, “It’s the poor people who build this monastery.” He gave a homily to a group of close spiritual children visiting the monastery and related a story:

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“There was one man in New York who is very rich. He made a comment that he’d donate if there was going to be a plaque with his name stating he donated. The pilgrim told the rich man that the monasteries aren’t like the parishes in the world and don’t do plaques of honor. The rich man replied he wouldn’t give a cent, then. And to his shame, poor women who work hard cleaning toilets and save up money—which they hide from their husbands—gave donations for the entire amount of a stasidia. It’s the pain and sweat of the poor that build the monasteries.”

Address: Serres 621 21, Greece

Phone: +30 2321 078297

http://www.eleftheriadi.gr/

Iconography in the Church

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George Filippakis of Woodbury, NY, is an artist who specializes in Byzantine iconography. He was commissioned to do the iconography at St. Nektarios Monastery, Inc. His first project was in the Trapeza, and then he did the Archangel Michael Chapel. The cost of the Church’s iconography was quite a few hundred thousands of dollars.

100% Beeswax Candles

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The candles in the narthex are hand-made from real beeswax by the monks of St. Nektarios with the help of various pilgrims. Originally they were manually dipped by hand. In 2008, Geronda Joseph decided to order a $20,000 candle-making machine from Greece which would do most of the work for the monks.

The beeswax was originally bought from a company in Babylon, NY. Geronda Modestos offered Geronda Joseph his contact in China, where they bought “100% pure beeswax” for $1/lb., however, it had a funny smell. Though pure beeswax is expensive, and the prices increase yearly due to the high death rate of bees and hive collapses, the recycling of used candles from the narthex in the candle-making process helps cut the costs.

http://www.spwax.com/

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St. Nektarios was one of the last of 8 monasteries to be established in the year of 1998 via the blessing of then Archbishop Spyridon (2 in Florida, 2 in North Carolina, 1 in Texas, 1 in Michigan, 1 in Illinois and finally the 1 in NY). 1998 was a busy year for Elder Ephraim having to oversee the establishment of 8 new monasteries in less than 12 months, which his disciples state is further proof of his sanctity.

As two other monasteries have feast days in November, the Brotherhood decided to celebrate their main feast day on September 3, the day of the translation of the relics of St. Nektarios. This can ensure that each monastery can still attract peak numbers of visitors for their individual feast days, as well as allow the monks or nuns from those monasteries to travel to each others’ feast day celebrations.

The monastery has grown to over 20 monks with only a few monks having left in its 15 years of existence.

https://www.scribd.com/doc/263270549/Letter-from-St-Nektarios-Monastery-s-Lawyer-attempting-to-take-down-a-TUMBLR-page

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The Concept of “Validation” in Geronda Ephraim’s Monasteries

“Validation” is a buzzword that is thrown around frequently in some of Geronda Ephraim’s monasteries. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines the word validate as follows:

2a. To support or corroborate on a sound or authoritative basis.

2b. To recognize, establish, or illustrate the worthiness or legitimacy of

Filotheou Brotherhood late ca. 80s/early 90s [Geronda Paisios of Arizona, kneeling far right, Fr. Germanos of NY kneeling opposite]
Filotheou Brotherhood ca. late 80s/early 90s [Geronda Paisios of Arizona, kneeling far right, Fr. Germanos of NY kneeling opposite]
In Geronda Ephraim’s monasteries, “validation” is normally used in the context of Geronda Ephraim: what he did or didn’t say, what miracles he performed or didn’t, what he does or doesn’t do, etc. It is quite common to find the “broken telephone” phenomena amongst the monasteries’ pilgrims. It is also common for rumors to spread around, such as, “Geronda Ephraim said the Antichrist has been born during a homily.” Thus the monks and nuns constantly “validate” and do not “validate” the various stories and rumors that spread amongst Geronda Ephraim’s followers.

A standard rule of thumb for the monasteries is that any negative story—whether true or false—is automatically dismissed as “invalid.” If it cannot be outright denied, it is minimized. If someone involved relates the scandal or embarrassing (for the monastery) incident to other pilgrims and spiritual children of Geronda Ephraim, then a system of damage control is put into effect:

  1. If the person telling the story (or “gossiping”/”slandering”) is a spiritual child of Geronda Ephraim, then the Geronda or Gerondissa will talk to the individual directly. This will usually start with asking the individual why they repeated such things and ending with an obedience not to repeat the story again. If the individual is resisting the admonitions, they may be told some cautionary tales about all the tragic things that happen to individuals who speak against or go against Geronda Ephraim; “punishments from God.”
  2. If the individual “running his mouth” is not close to the monastery, they are easily dismissed to others as “liars,” “deluded,” having “psychological problems,” etc. Though these epitaphs have also been hurled onto close spiritual children of the monasteries who repeated big scandals or very private information to others.
  3. The Gerondissa or Geronda will also try to find out how many people were told and if they do not call each one individually to affect damage control, they may call the main persons of those pilgrim circles and ask them to tell the others.
  4. The Gerondissa or Geronda will also call all their monastics (or at least the ones who are aware of the scandalous incident) and give them a strict obedience not to talk to anyone about the incident. “If anyone asks, I don’t have a blessing to speak to lay people.” If it is a monastic who has diakonimata where they have to somewhat talk with lay people, they might be told, “If anyone asks, say no (or I don’t know)”; if they keep persisting, tell them to ask the Geronda or Gerondissa. For a monastic, this is not lying or breaking a commandment; it is obedience. The only sin in obedience is not doing obedience.
  5. In the cases of former monastics talking about their personal experiences, they are easily dismissed as deluded. “They didn’t do obedience, they hid thoughts from their Geronda or Gerondissa, and the devil gained a foothold in their soul. They became deluded and left.” In some cases, the former monastic will be dismissed as one with lots of psychological problems, or even “possessed.”

Newly baptized converts, Filotheou Monastery. [Hieromonk Chrysostoms, Fr. Vasilios & Fr. Germanos are on the left under over-hanging tree branch]
Newly baptized converts, Filotheou Monastery. [Hieromonk Chrysostoms, Fr. Vasilios & Fr. Germanos are on the left under over-hanging tree branch]
The above are just a few ways in which the monasteries manoeuvre in order to protect their image, as well as keep the pilgrims in check. Their image must be kept pristine and immaculate, without scandal. Geronda Ephraim has given strict obediences to all his abbots and abbesses, “You must know and see everything that is going on in your monasteries. I do not want scandals, especially in front of lay people. I do not want to hear anything negative or complaints from pilgrims about your monasteries, etc.”

KVOA TV TUCSON 4: MONASTERY MYSTERY REPORT (2005)

Sometimes the monasteries cannot silence those who reveal their secrets, or simply speak about the things that go on behind closed doors. At this point, a discrediting campaign begins. If this doesn’t work then they will sometimes utilize lawyers as a scare tactic. These tactics were used a day or so before the KVOA TV [Tucson 4] exposé on St. Anthony’s Monastery in 2005. Geronda Ephraim was really saddened that this exposé was being aired, and a call was sent out to spiritual children to call, fax, email, and flood the station anyway they could with support for the monasteries and Geronda. Also, spiritual children of Geronda Ephraim who are lawyers contacted the TV station and threatened them with legal action if there was anything false or slanderous. Spiritual children of Geronda Ephraim and Geronda Paisios began an internet campaign to discredit David Smith and the content of his webpage. David Smith’s webpage was taken down a couple years later, but an archived edition still exists:

https://web.archive.org/web/20070702092829/http://pseudo-prophet.tripod.com/

Geronda Paisios and David Smith.
Geronda Paisios and David Smith.

Pilgrims who had no knowledge of the inner workings of the monasteries—something only trusted monastics are privy to—began to defend the inner workings of the monastery based on the experiences that were tailor-made for them. Some spiritual children went as far as to threaten David Smith and try to intimidate him to stop talking about Geronda Ephraim.

Thus, true to their cult-like nature, and following the trend of every other cult that tries to silence their accusers, the monasteries and their pilgrims utilize a basic campaign of fear-mongering (“don’t speak against Geronda, it’ll end bad for you;” i.e. possession, losing salvation, etc.); intimidation, smear campaigns of discrediting (“psychological problems,” “deluded,” etc.).

In the monasteries, paranoia and suspicion was ramped up, making the atmospheres tense and suffocating.

NEKTARIOS MONASTERY TUMBLR PAGE

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Last year, a Tumblr page about St. Nektarios Greek Orthodox Monastery, Inc. (Roscoe, NY) was started and it revealed many of the scandals and indiscretions that have occurred there since its’ foundation, as well as, private details not commonly known by the 01

general public. The monastery attempted to have the page pulled through numerous complaints to TUMBLR. When that method of harassment didn’t work, they hired a lawyer and accused the TUMBLR page of “impersonating the monastery,” stating that the page “misrepresents the ideological underpinnings” of the monastery’s “tenets.” The monastery’s use of the term “ideology” is quite interesting. In contemporary usage, this word is generally used in the context of politics, though in the case of religion, it refers to fundamentalists and extremists. Furthermore, the effect of an ideology is always to destroy true moral transcendence.1

According to the TUMBLR page, a disclaimer that they were not affiliated with the monastery was required in order to keep the page running. The TUMBLR page also posted the lawyer’s letter.

“This blog is not directly affiliated with St. Nektarios Greek Orthodox Monastery (According to the monastery’s lawyers, this blog “misrepresents the ideological underpinnings of their tenets” – http://stnektariosmonastery.tumblr.com/post/103102374101/account-temporarily-terminated-via-letter-from-the )”

https://www.scribd.com/doc/263270549/Letter-from-St-Nektarios-Monastery-s-Lawyer-attempting-to-take-down-a-TUMBLR-page

It was also noted that shortly after this page appeared, the Monastery’s website added a Notice to Users section stating:

Validations

NOTICE TO USERS: The information on this site is the property of The Holy Monastery of St. Nektarios. This is the only website on the internet that is managed and approved by the monks of The Holy Monastery of St. Nektarios. Information found posted on other internet sites and blogs regarding St. Nektarios Monastery and its monks has not been validated, and in certain instances is inaccurate and misleading. Everyone is free to read and reflect on the information on this site. However, none of the information on this site may be reproduced without the prior written consent of St. Nektarios Monastery. If you wish to use any of the material on this site please contact us. †May our Lord Jesus Christ bless you! http://www.stnektariosmonastery.org/notice.php

This is a very interesting statement. Essentially, the monastery will decide what stories are valid and which ones are invalid. Even if a story is true, it will be dismissed if it mars the monastery’s image. Thus, the monastery will paint a tailored image of its blameless perfection.

p-koulouris_painting_geronda-josif_24x30 p-koulouris_painting_father-epifanios_18x24

ST. PAISIOS & ST. PORPHYRIOS BELIEVED GERONDA EPHRAIM WAS DELUDED

In another interesting twist, the monasteries also use stories that have not been validated in order to promote Geronda Ephraim. Capitalizing on the fame and glory of Saints Porphyrios the Kafsokalavyte and Paisios the Hagiorite, a recent trend in the monasteries is to tell pilgrims how these two Elders highly praised Geronda Ephraim and commented on his holiness, etc. However, none of these statements have been validated by these two Elders’ monasteries, nor are they found in any of the books about these Elders.

St. Paisios the Athonite does not mention Elder Joseph the Hesychast, or his synodia in his book on Athonite monks.
St. Paisios the Athonite does not mention Elder Joseph the Hesychast, or his synodia in his book on Athonite monks.

In the 90’s and early 00’s however, the stories at Geronda Ephraim’s monasteries were much different. The content of the stories centered on how much difficulty St. Porphyrios and St. Paisios gave Geronda Ephraim in Greece. Both of them were highly critical of Elder Joseph the Hesychast and stated on many occasions to many people that he was deluded. In Elder Paisios book, Athonite Fathers and Athonite Matters—in which he gives short biographies of the greatest and holiest monks on Mount Athos—Elder Joseph is nowhere to be found.

Both these saints criticized and disagreed with his methodologies as an Elder. They believed he was deluded and they cautioned people about him. St. Paisios was also very critical of Philotheou Monastery and how things were run there; especially the practise of “yelling the prayer.” St. Paisios would tell pilgrims who were thinking of visiting Philotheou, “Don’t go there, it’s too noisy.”

In the mid-90’s, Geronda Joseph Voutsas (NY); Gerondissa Olympiada Voutsas (PA) and Gerondissa Melanie Mikragiannis (WI) would tell pilgrims about St. Porphyrios, “Yes, he was very holy but he was also very critical of Geronda Ephraim.” Apparently, all three of them, together with Sister Vryenni, went to visit St. Porphyrios when they were lay people, and heard themselves many negative things come out of St. Porphyrios mouth about Geronda Ephraim, “Things not worth repeating!”

Both St. Porphyrios & St. Paisios believed Elder Ephraim of Arizona and his elder were deluded.
Both St. Porphyrios & St. Paisios believed Elder Ephraim of Arizona and his elder were deluded.

The monasteries’ storyline back then was that both St. Porphyrios and St. Paisios were jealous of Geronda Ephraim; how holy he is, what spiritual heights he has reached, how he has revived the Holy Mountain, and all the thousands of spiritual children that flock to him, etc. Sometimes detailed descriptions were given about how both saints didn’t have the kind of blind obedience Geronda Ephraim had and that rendered it impossible for them to reach the same spiritual heights. Then details of how Apostle Peter and Paul fought, or St. John Chrysostom and St. Epiphanios of Salamis fought and cursed each other were given as analogies.

BOYCOTT OF ST. PORPHYRIOS & ST. PAISIOS BOOKS AT THE TURN OF THE CENTURY

Due to the above things, plus many more unspoken things that only the Athonite monks here in America know about, certain measures were taken at the monasteries to boycott the two saints. In 1998, at a gathering at the Holy Archangels Greek Orthodox Monastery, Inc. (TX), Geronda Paisios (AZ), Geronda Dositheos (TX) and Geronda Joseph (NY) decided to boycott the publications of Saints Porphyrios and Paisios—especially Athonite Fathers and Athonite Matters, which was a huge slight to both Elder Joseph and Elder Ephraim.

The decision to boycott St. Paisios & St. Porphyrios' books occurred during this weekend at Holy Archangels Monastery in Texas.
The decision to boycott St. Paisios & St. Porphyrios’ books occurred during this weekend at Holy Archangels Monastery in Texas, 1998.

During this time period, the backrooms of the bookstore at St. Anthony’s Greek Orthodox Monastery, Inc. (AZ) were flooded with unopened boxes of books about these two saints which were never going to be put out in the bookstore. Many of the boxes were sent free as a blessing, too. Not all the monasteries were joined in the boycott, but even those that were breached the boycott; there’s good money and profit in selling Geronda Porphyrios and Paisios books.

As these two saints became increasingly popular in the West, and more publications were being made available in the English language, the demand increased greatly. People start asking the monasteries in the boycott to order these books for them. Over time, the boycott slowly faded away, and much profit was made in peddling these two elders’ books. In time, the New York monastery—one of the original boycotters—even distributed a couple Elder Paisios’ books.

BOYCOTT ENDS: IN AN EFFORT TO VALIDATE GERONDA EPHRAIM, THE MONASTERIES DISSEMINATE UNVALIDATED QUOTES BY SAINTS PORPHYRIOS & PAISIOS ABOUT HIS HOLINESS

Due to increasing popularity in the English-speaking world, via the numerous English translations of their books, some of the monasteries involved in the boycott realized it was a good opportunity to make profit. As well, the monastics couldn’t really tell the pilgrims the books were boycotted, nor the reasons why. The books of these two saints were in high demand, pilgrims kept requesting them and asking if they could place special orders. Thus, giving into the pressure and demand, some of the monasteries lifted the boycott and began to sell Elder Porphyrios and Elder Paisios books. St. Nektarios Monastery in Roscoe, NY even distributed a couple of the English titles.

Elder Paisios Epistles

Eventually, the old stories—true stories—about how much these two Elders (now officially canonized saints) fought against Elder Ephraim diminished. Then, the new stories came—stories not validated by the monasteries under these two saints, nor mentioned in any publications of these two saints, either validated or not. It’s now being taught that St. Porphyrios called Elder Ephraim the last saint, the last depository of healing, the saint of humility, etc. St. Paisios is now said to have prophesied the monasteries in America and extolled Elder Ephraim for his apostolic efforts.

The biography of Elder Arsenios states St. Paisios retracted his original opinion that Elder Joseph the Hesychast was deluded:

Elder Arsenios

“Elder Paisios admired the life and struggles of our ever-to-be-remembered Elder, Fr. Joseph. He told us:

-‘Oh, what I lost! When I came to the Holy Mountain the blessed Elder was living. I heard of his reputation and one of my acquaintances said to me: ‘Don’t listen. They are all lies. They are in error [πλανεμένοι]’. I believed him and did not go to get to know him and benefit from him. However, when his letters were published and I read them, then I understood what a rare person this was, and what a great treasure I lost.'” (Taken from Elder Arsenios the Cave-Dweller)

The humble grave of St. Paisios of the Monastery of St. John the Theologian, Souroti
The humble grave of St. Paisios of the Monastery of St. John the Theologian, Souroti

This book was published after both these men were long dead, and neither can validate or refute it; however, the monastery under St. Paisios, St. John the Theologian in Sourouti, has not validated this tale. Up until the mid-2000s, the monasteries here taught the Elder Paisios criticized Elder Jospeh the Hesychast and Geronda Ephraim as deluded, and had many critical things to say about Elder Joseph the Hesychast. This book is published by a monastery under one of Elder Joseph the Hesychast’s disicples, and it states that St. Paisios admired him.

The humble grave of St. Porphyrios, Kavsokalyvia, Mount Athos
The humble grave of St. Porphyrios, Kavsokalyvia, Mount Athos

It should be noted that neither the disciples of Saints Porphyrios and Paisios have validated any of the stories or prophecies these two supposedly said about Geronda Ephraim of Arizona. It should also be noted that none of the publications in circulation by or about these two saints mention any of the supposed quotes and prophecies about Geronda Ephraim of Arizona.

Thus, an interesting double standard has occurred at Geronda Ephraim’s monasteries:

    1. Any negative press about Geronda Ephraim and his monasteries is automatically dismissed as invalid. The monasteries will choose which stories are valid and will dictate their history and truth exactly the way they want people to view it. And these validations can only be okayed by the abbot or abbess.
    2. Any negative press about Geronda Ephraim and his monasteries that came from the mouths of Geronda Porphyrios and Geronda Paisios is no longer spoken of since they are both officially canonized as saints. It looks bad for the monasteries if two of the biggest contemporary saints after St. Nektarios discredited Geronda Ephraim and his elder (Joseph the Hesychast) as deluded.
    3. Today, stories that have not been validated by St. Porphyrios and St. Paisios’ disciples, and were unheard of until recently, are told to pilgrims as validated truth. These “invalidated” stories are capitalizations on the fame and holiness of St. Porphyrios and St. Paisios and are used to promote and validate Geronda Ephraim. Now that these two elders are officially canonized, their words have even more weight and validity in the orthodox world.
    4. Thus, the abbots and abbesses choose what stories are valid and invalid for their own monasteries. They also validate invalid stories from other monasteries to further promote their own agenda.
The brotherhood of St. Nektarios Monastery in Roscoe, NY with visiting abbots monks from other monasteries.
The brotherhood of St. Nektarios Monastery in Roscoe, NY with visiting abbots monks from other monasteries.

“MIRACLES” THAT WERE INITIALLY VALIDATED BY THE MONASTERIES

The “Holy Manna Relic”

Former seminarion Vasili Datch now monk Panteleimon at St. Nektarios Monastery (NY)
Former seminarion Vasili Datch now monk Panteleimon at St. Nektarios Monastery (NY)

For over a decade, one of the reliquaries of St. Nektarios Monastery had a “piece of Holy Manna” from the Old Testament. For over a decade, people venerated this “relic” with reverence, not realizing that is was a biblically impossible miracle for manna to last for more than a day, let alone 3,400 years or so. The Israelites were instructed to eat only the manna they had gathered for each day. Leftovers of manna stored up for the following day “bred worms and stank”: the exception being the day before the Sabbath (Preparation Day), when twice the amount of manna was gathered, which did not spoil overnight; because, Exodus 16:23-24 [states] “This is what the Lord commanded: ‘Tomorrow is to be a day of rest, a holy Sabbath to the Lord. So bake what you want to bake and boil what you want to boil. Save whatever is left and keep it until morning.’ So they saved it until morning, as Moses said was commanded, and it did not stink or get maggots in it.” A novice with a theological degree finally convinced the abbot that it was impossible for the fragment to be true manna from the Old Testament. Initially there was resistance, but the abbot finally decided the authority of the Old Testament was more valid than the word of the person who gave him the “relic.” The abbot ordered a new reliquary from Greece and did not include a space for the manna.

Stylianos Kementzetzidis and his fabricated Crypto-Christians of Turkey persecution and miracle stories

The monasteries have had a long history of “validation” issues. They validated and promoted Stylianos Kementzetzidis, a long-time spiritual child of Geronda Ephraim, and retold all his “miracle” and “vision” stories to visiting pilgrims. When it came to light that it was all an elaborate hoax to raise money for his ailing publishing house, Orthodox Kypseli, the monasteries stopped telling pilgrims these stories, but also tried to hide the fact that they were a lie, so as not to “weaken the faith of the faint-hearted.”

Stylianos

The monasteries that were involved in selling his “Crypto-Christian” miracle books and retelling his hoax stories to numerous pilgrims did not issue a disclaimer about the lie. They simply pulled the books and any literature from the bookstores and stopped repeating the stories. Certain monastics who had blessings to talk with lay people were given obediences not to tell pilgrims these stories were a hoax and lie, so as “not to scandalize them or create a stumbling block to their faith.” https://scottnevinssuicide.wordpress.com/2015/02/01/stylianos-kementzetzidis-and-the-miracles-of-the-crypto-christians-in-turkey-hoax/

The miracle in Syria: Chopped up dead man sewn back together and resurrected

The monasteries also promoted the “Miracle in Syria,” even distributing falsified letters from the Jerusalem Patriarchate “validating” the miracle. Once it turned out to be a hoax that went away to. The flyers detailing the miracle were pulled and the monastics simply stopped relating the “miracle” to pilgrims. http://full-of-grace-and-truth.blogspot.ca/2009/01/great-miracle-in-syria-and-convent-of.html

Persistent frontal suture misrepresented as exclusive orthodox miracle

Figure 1- Brazil Complete metopic suture (arrow).The monasteries claim that priests on Mount Athos have crosses on their skulls; i.e. “an extra suture that runs down the front of their skull which is scientifically impossible and is only a miracle in orthodoxy,” etc. This “miracle” validates Orthodoxy as the only truth. Yet, it is well documented in medical literature and occurs throughout the world in both male and female populations; it’s called metopic (or persistent) frontal suture. The simplest spin on this, “Well, that’s the tradition passed down on Mount Athos.”

https://scottnevinssuicide.wordpress.com/2015/03/06/persistent-frontal-suture-a-miracle-exclusive-to-orthodox-clergymen/

https://scottnevinssuicide.wordpress.com/2015/03/30/persistent-frontal-suture-once-again-misinterpreted-as-an-orthodox-miracle-and-testimony-of-holiness-hieromonk-evdokimos-of-st-savvas-lavra/

SERAPHIM ROSE AND MANIPULATING MONK CORPSES

A pilgrim once asked an Athonite monk at one of Geronda Ephraim’s monasteries about Fr. Seraphim Rose. The response was an issue about him only being chrismated (cannot be holy or a saint without orthodox baptism); there was an issue about him being idiorhythmic; there was issue of him saying things like there are no more elders (Geronda Ephraim was stated to be the holiest man alive and one of the greatest Elders in the history of the church). The pilgrim was told Fr. Seraphim Rose was deluded and issues of homosexuality were witnessed at his monastery while he was alive (apparently pilgrims to the monastery during those years later became monks at Philothoeu Monastery and told the other monks about the homosexual vibe they witnessed there).

In the monasteries, it is taught that Fr. Seraphim's disciples manipulated his corpse to make it look peaceful.
In the monasteries, it is taught that Fr. Seraphim’s disciples manipulated his corpse to make it look peaceful.

When the pilgrim asked about Fr. Seraphim’s repose and his smiling corpse with a peaceful expression, the Athonite monk responded that it was said that he had a very difficult death and that his disciples manipulated the body so it looked like he had a blessed repose. Yet, Geronda Joseph of Vatopaidi—whom Geronda Ephraim has mentioned in homilies did not have complete obedience and was problematic—has a similar smiling corpse and peaceful look on his face.

Elder Joseph of Vatopaidi L: Repose with mouth open. R: Afterwards, mouth closed and
Elder Joseph of Vatopaidi L: Repose with mouth open. R: Afterwards, mouth closed and “smiling.”

Thus, one is to surmise that Fr. Seraphim Rose’s death is not blessed—since Geronda Ephraim’s monks have not validated it as miraculous—but Geronda Joseph of Vatopaidi’s repose is blessed because it has been validated by the monks. The pilgrim also asked about Geronda Paisios (abbot of St. Anthony’s Monastery in Florence, AZ), who praised Fr. Seraphim Rose in an Orthodox Word article as someone converts can look up to, etc. The monk chuckled and said, “That’s not what I’ve heard him say,” and left it at that.

The biologically natural process of corpses returning to their pre-Rigor condition misrepresented as an exclusive Orthodox monastic miracle

“A Monk’s Funeral: 30 hrs after death, the corpse retains its flexibility” [Athonite Moments, p. 200]
Furthermore, the Athonite monks in Geronda Ephraim’s monasteries talk about a miracle on Mount Athos where monks do not experience rigor mortis—thus another “miracle exclusive to Orthodoxy.” However, depending on which monk one talks to, this is either exclusively Athonite monks, all orthodox monks throughout the world, or unsure. However, every mortician knows the technique of “breaking the rigor mortise.” Basically, you bend the limbs back and forth a few times and the joints will loosen up. This “breaks” the stiffness and the body is back to normal. Surely, Athonite monks know this trick if they’re teaching pilgrims that faces of corpses can be manipulated to look like they are smiling. Also, contrary to common perception the process of Rigor Mortis actually does reverse and the body returns to a flaccid state; the muscles losing their tightness in the reverse of how they gained it: i.e.: those larger muscles that contracted last will lose their stiffness first and return to their pre-Rigor condition. Thus, if a monastic is left out long enough before burial, it is natural for him to return to his pre-Rigor condition. No miracle, just natural process.

https://scottnevinssuicide.wordpress.com/2015/04/28/orthodox-monks-dont-experience-rigor-mortis/

NOTES:

1 According to former Islamic extremist, Tawfik Hamid, “A religion becomes an ideology when the followers of this religion cannot tolerate the existence of those who have different views or beliefs, and when they understand their religious text literally and refuse to accept any way of understanding the religion other than their own way of understanding.” According to scholar David Satter, “Religion becomes an ideology when man-made dogma is treated as infallible truth.” http://www.frontpagemag.com/2010/jamie-glazov/symposium-when-does-a-religion-become-an-ideology/

Orthodox Monks Don’t Experience Rigor Mortis?

“A Monk’s Funeral: 30 hrs after death, the corpse retains its flexibility” [Athonite Moments, p. 200]
Pilgrims to Geronda Ephraim’s monasteries are taught about a “Miracle exclusive to Orthodoxy”—i.e., monks do not experience rigor mortis when they die. Typical of the other “exclusive miracles” which are taught at the monasteries, this one also has some grey areas. Depending on the monastic giving the sermon, it is either all orthodox monastics throughout the world, or just Athonite monastics. In some cases, the monastic giving the sermon will grab the book Athonite Moments and show the pilgrims a photograph of a monk being lowered into a grave with signs of flexibility and no rigor mortis.

Of course, if you question the monastic giving the sermon, they only have a cursory understanding of what rigor mortis is—which usually amounts to “all corpses are stiff after they die and any flexibility in a corpse is scientifically impossible.” What “proof” do they offer to validate their erroneous understanding of corpses, decomposition and rigor mortis?  A photograph from a book and their “authority” validates this “scientifically impossible” phenomenon.

“Black, white, red: An atmosphere of mournful quietness” [Athonite Moments, p. 201]
Similar to their erroneous claim of Persistent Frontal Suture being an “exclusive orthodox miracle,” the claim that a corpse without rigor mortis is an “exclusive orthodox miracle” is also scientifically and biologically erroneous. In both cases, “science is not needed to validate these miracles” because they are an Athonite oral tradition and “monks who speak to God know more than a worldly scientist.” Science is not always rejected by the monastics—if science validates something in orthodoxy, or if science cannot explain phenomenon which for the monastics validates a divine origin, then it is accepted. When science conflicts with orthodoxy, then it is dismissed as idle, vain, worldly knowledge that is incompatible with spiritual knowledge.

SOME OBSERVABLE AND PROVEN FACTS ABOUT RIGOR MORTIS

First of all, rigor mortis is easily “broken” by bending and moving the joints about. A common question people have for morticians is whether they need to break a corpse’s legs if the body doesn’t fit into the coffin properly. The answer is, of course, no. The legs bend quite easily even after death.

''Remember the day of death, but also the day of resurrection & judgment'' [Athonite Moments, p. 201]
”Remember the day of death, but also the day of resurrection & judgment” [Athonite Moments, p. 201]
Second of all, rigor mortis is basically a stiffening of the limbs. The joints become difficult to bend, but this does not happen with all bodies. There is a technique morticians use to get rid of it called “breaking the rigor mortise.” Basically, you bend the limbs back and forth a few times and the joints will loosen up. This “breaks” the stiffness and the body is back to normal.

The Athonite monks are aware of corpse manipulation because some of them have stated that Fr. Seraphim Rose’s corpse was manipulated by his disciples to smile, etc., to give the appearance that he had a saintly death.

http://theothersideoffunerals.blogspot.com.au/p/misconceptions-questions-collection-of.html

http://theothersideoffunerals.blogspot.com.au/2013/02/ask-undertaker.html

WHAT IS RIGOR MORTIS?

Rigor Mortis is the stiffening of the body after death because of a loss of Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP) from the body’s muscles. ATP is the substance that allows energy to flow to the muscles and help them work and without this the muscles become stiff and inflexible.

Rigor Mortis begins throughout the body at the same time but the body’s smaller muscles – such as those in the face, neck, arms and shoulders – are affected first and then the subsequent muscles throughout the rest of the body; those which are larger in size, are affected later.

gerontissa efpraxia

Rigor normally appears within the body around two hours after the deceased has passed away with – as we have already mentioned – the facial and upper neck and shoulder muscles first to visibly suffer from its effects. Many Scenes of Crime Officers (SOCO) have reported that upon discovering the deceased that their face might have taken on what looks to be a grimace; this is because the facial muscles have contracted as ATP drains from them.

Once the contracting of all the body’s muscles has taken place this state of Rigor – technically referred to as the Rigid Stage – normally lasts anywhere from eight to twelve hours after which time the body is completely stiff; this fixed state can last up to another eighteen hours.

Contrary to common perception the process of Rigor Mortis actually does reverse and the body returns to a flaccid state; the muscles losing their tightness in the reverse of how they gained it: i.e.: those larger muscles that contracted last will lose their stiffness first and return to their pre-Rigor condition.

http://www.exploreforensics.co.uk/rigor-mortis-and-lividity.html

 INTERESTING FACTS ABOUT RIGOR MORTIS

Rigor mortis can be used to help estimate time of death. The onset of rigor mortis may range from 10 minutes to several hours, depending on factors including temperature (rapid cooling of a body can inhibit rigor mortis, but it occurs upon thawing). Maximum stiffness is reached around 12-24 hours post mortem. Facial muscles are affected first, with the rigor then spreading to other parts of the body. The joints are stiff for 1-3 days, but after this time general tissue decay and leaking of lysosomal intracellular digestive enzymes will cause the muscles to relax.

A Funeral Procession, Filotheou Monastery, Mt. Athos
A Funeral Procession, Filotheou Monastery, Mt. Athos

During rigor mortis, another process called autolysis takes place. This is the self-digestion of the body’s cells. The walls of the cells give way, and their contents flow out. Rigor mortis ends not because the muscles relax, but because autolysis takes over. The muscles break down and become soft on their way to further decomposition.

Thus, contrary to the misconceptions disseminated by the monastics, the flexibility witnessed in some monastic corpses during their funeral—which occur 24-48+ hours after their repose—is not “a scientifically impossible miracle which scientists cannot explain.” Rather, it is a natural process that is quite common and has been observed in corpses throughout the world, both orthodox and non-orthodox, lay people and monastics. Once again, the monastics misrepresent a natural phenomenon as an “exclusive miracle to Orthodoxy.” As stated above, in Greek-American orthodox monasteries, the “secular sciences” are generally not considered a “valid” source of information when it comes to understanding or interpreting natural phenomena and processes.

MONASTIC FUNERALS

Schema Monk Constantine Cavranos
Schema Monk Constantine Cavranos

The monastic funerals here in North America are unlike those in Mount Athos: the body is not flung into a hole, but rather it is placed in a coffin and lowered into the hole. Thus, there isn’t much contact with the body before burial other than the last kiss. So witnessing such “miracles” of corpses without rigor mortis here is uncommon. Of course, if the superior tells the monastics that the body is warm and without rigor mortis, then they will believe it is so, and will also transmit this “miracle” to the pilgrims who visit.

Constantine2

Each monastery has its own process of preparing the body for burial, again giving opportunity for manipulation. The body is then placed in the middle of the Church, usually under the polyeleos, and the monastics have to read the entire Psalter continually until the next day. Then the funeral service occurs in the church ending with the procession to burial. Depending on time and circumstance, this process can take from 24-36 hours or more. Thus, photographs of monks without rigor mortis after such a time period cannot be considered a “miracle exclusive to orthodoxy” as this can happen to any corpse; i.e. the natural return to the pre-rigor condition.

Schema Monk Constantine Cavarnos' funeral procession at St. Anthony's Monastery
Schema Monk Constantine Cavarnos’ funeral procession at St. Anthony’s Monastery

The “Dragon-Slayer” Saints of the Eastern Orthodox Church

NOTE: The following article is a brief compilation of dragon accounts found in the Synaxarion of pre-Schism Orthodox Saints. Though some Orthodox commentators interpret these incidents as allegorical—either symbolizing the devil, paganism, or heresy—the fact remains that many of the Synaxarion of both Eastern and Western Saints before the Great Schism contain accounts of dragons, satyrs, centaurs, and other mythological creatures.

dragon_ancient

20th century Christian “rationalism” easily allocates dragons to the category of “allegory.” Yet even in the 21st century many of the simple village Greeks (Οι χωριάτες) still interpret these synaxarion literally—i.e. they believe that these saints literally slew dragons. It is impossible to determine the percentage of the medieval population that interpreted these stories literally. However, even the highly educated and God-inspired Church Fathers wrote and taught about the real existence of mythological creatures [St. Photius the Great, St. Athanasius the Great, St. John Damascene, St. Ephraim the Syrian, St. Basil the Great, St. John Chrysostom, etc.] Though the following compilation is by no means a complete list, it will give the reader an understanding of the widespread belief in dragons (and other imaginary creatures) throughout medieval Orthodox Christendom.

bel

Prophet Daniel (December 17, †6th century BC): Bel and the Dragon is an apocryphal Jewish story which appears as chapter 14 of the Septuagint Greek version of the Book of Daniel and is accepted as scripture by some Christians, though not in Jewish tradition.  Daniel slays the dragon by baking pitch, fat, and hair (trichas) to make cakes (mazas, barley-cakes, but translated “lumps”) that cause the dragon to burst open upon consumption:

bel_dragon

“And in that same place there was a great dragon, which they of Babylon worshipped. And the king said unto Daniel, Wilt thou also say that this is of brass? lo, he liveth, he eateth and drinketh; thou canst not say that he is no living god: therefore worship him. Then said Daniel unto the king, I will worship the Lord my God: for he is the living God. But give me leave, O king, and I shall slay this dragon without sword or staff. The king said, I give thee leave. Then Daniel took pitch, and fat, and hair, and did seethe them together, and made lumps thereof: this he put in the dragon’s mouth, and so the dragon burst in sunder: and Daniel said, Lo, these are the gods ye worship. When they of Babylon heard that, they took great indignation, and conspired against the king, saying, The king is become a Jew, and he hath destroyed Bel, he hath slain the dragon, and put the priests to death. So they came to the king, and said, Deliver us Daniel, or else we will destroy thee and thine house. Now when the king saw that they pressed him sore, being constrained, he delivered Daniel unto them: Who cast him into the lions’ den: where he was six days.” (Daniel 14:23-31)

http://www.tubechop.com/watch/5834178

St. Thomas the Apostle (October 6, 72): St. Thomas slays a dragon in India (see Acts of Thomas 30-3, ca. 220-40 AD). The apocryphal Acts of Thomas exhibit both Gnostic and Encratite affinities. The action takes place during St. Thomas’ mission to India. The fundamental correspondence with the Gospel of Thomas Tale and in particular with Lucian’s Philopseudes tale is striking.

St Philip Driving the Dragon from the Temple of Hieropolis (detail)
St Philip Driving the Dragon from the Temple of Hieropolis (detail)

St. Philip the Apostle (November 4, 80): It is to St. Philip that the richest of all early hagiographical dragon-slaying narratives attach. Two closely related 4th-century AD Greek texts, the Acts of Philip and the Martyrion of Philip, bestow upon him three major dragon fights—doublets in origin, no doubt, but each now strongly differentiated and of considerable interest in its own right. These tales are important not only for their complex engagement with the classical dragon-slaying tradition, but also for the light they shed upon the religious battles of their own day. [See Acts of Philip 8:4, 7, 15-17, 9(V), 11:2-8, 13:1-4, 14:1-3, 14:7-9, 15.1 Martyrion of Philip 2(A), 7(V), 12-17 (V), 19-20 (V), 24(V), 26-8(V), 32(V), 39(V), 42(V)]

martamarylazarusSt. Martha of Bethany (June 4, †1st century): According to legend, St Martha left Judea after Jesus’ death, around AD 48, and went to Provence with her sister Mary and her brother Lazarus. With them, Martha first settled in Avignon (now in France). A further legend relates that Martha then went to Tarascon, France, where a monster, the Tarasque, was a constant threat to the population. The Golden Legend describes it as a beast from Galicia; a great dragon, half beast and half fish, greater than an ox, longer than an horse, having teeth sharp as a sword, and horned on either side, head like a lion, tail like a serpent, that dwelt in a certain wood between Arles and Avignon. Holding a cross in her hand, Martha sprinkled the beast with holy water. Placing her sash around its neck, she led the tamed dragon through the village. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tarasque

St Clement & the Graoully
St Clement & the Graoully

St. Clement, first Bishop of Metz (November 23, †1st century): According to legend, St. Clement, disciple of St. Pierre, would have arrived in Metz in the 1st century, accompanied by two disciples, Celeste and Felix. According to critics, the arrival of St. Clement only dates back to the end of the 3rd century, thus backing up allegations that St. Clement was a disciple of Saint Pierre.

The Graoully in the crypt of Metz Cathedral
The Graoully in the crypt of Metz Cathedral

St. Clement of Metz, like many other saints, is the hero of a legend in which he is the vanquisher of a local dragon. In the legend of Saint Clement it is called the Graoully or Graouilly. The legend states that the Graoully, along with countless other snakes, inhabited the local Roman amphitheater. The snakes’ breath had so poisoned the area that the inhabitants of the town were
effectively trapped in the town. After converting the local inhabitants to Christianity after they agreed to do so in return for ridding them of the dragon, Clement went into the amphitheater and quickly made the sign of the cross after the snakes attacked him. They immediately were tamed by this. Clement led the Graoully to the edge of the Seille, and ordered him to disappear into a place where there were no men or beasts. Orius did not convert to Christianity after Clement tamed the dragon. However, when the king’s daughter died, Clement brought her back from the dead, thereby resulting in the king’s conversion. The Graoully quickly became a symbol of the town of Metz and can be seen in numerous demonstrations of the city, since the 10th century. http://www.culture-routes.lu/php/fo_index.php?lng=en&dest=bd_ar_det&id=00000300

Saint Beatus Hermit of Thun, Apostle of Switzerland (ca. †112)

St. Beatus Hermit of Thun, Apostle of Switzerland (ca. †112): While legend claims that he was the son of a Scottish king, other legends place his birth in Ireland. Beatus was a convert, baptized in England by St. Barnabas. He was allegedly ordained a priest in Rome by St. Peter the Apostle, whereupon he was sent with a companion named Achates to evangelize the tribe of the Helvetii. The two set up a camp in Argovia near the Jura Mountains, where they converted many of the locals. Beatus then ventured south to the mountains above Lake Thun, taking up a hermitage in what is now known as St. Beatus Caves, near the village of Beatenberg, probably in the ninth century. Tradition states that this cave is where he fought a dragon. St. Beatus’ grave is located between the monastery and the cave entrance.

St. Beatus Caves
St. Beatus Caves

St. Quirinus of Vaux-sur-Seine, France (October 11, †285): No trustworthy historical report exists of the martyrs Nicasius, Quirinus, Scubiculus, and Pientia. One legend states that they died in 285 AD and that Nicasius was one of the first missionaries sent from Rome to evangelize Gaul in the first century. Nicasius thus may have been a regionary bishop. Quirinus is stated to have been his priest while his deacon was Scubiculus (who is known as Egobille in France). According to the legend he was put to death, together with Nicasius, in the pagus Vulcassinus (Vexin).

One variant of the legend states that Quirinus, Nicasius, and the deacon Scubiculus were sent to Gaul by Pope Clement, accompanying Saint Denis there. At Vaux-sur-Seine, Quirinus fought and defeated a dragon, which had lay waste to the area and poisoned a well.

Bienheure

St. Bienheuré of Vendôme, France (†3rd century): Tradition states that he lived in a cave near the town. Like St. George, he is said to have fought a dragon. His legend was conflated with that of Beatus of Lungern. The legend states that Bienheuré fasted and prayed before fighting the dragon. According to the legend, the dragon was so large that when it went to drink from a river at some distance away, its tail still lay in its cave. It was also so large that it drained the Loir when it drank from it. There are three versions of this combat: the first states that the dragon fled at the sight of St. Bienheuré; the second version states that Saint Bienheuré defeated the dragon with one blow from his staff; the third states that the dragon strangled itself with its chain.

St. Julian, First Bishop of Le Mans, France (January 27th, †3rd or 4th century): p He was consecrated a bishop at Rome and around the middle of the 3rd century, Julian was sent to Gaul to preach the Gospel to the tribe of the Cenomani. Their capital city was Civitas Cenomanorum (Le Mans), which was suffering from a shortage of drinking water. According to the legends surrounding his life, Julian thrust his staff into the ground and prayed. Water began to gush out of the ground. This miracle allowed him to preach freely within Le Mans. Other traditions state that St. Julian and one of his successors—St. Pavatius—killed the monsters which guarded a spring.

Red Dragon Fresco, St. Savin-sur-Gartempe, Vienne, France
Red Dragon Fresco, St. Savin-sur-Gartempe, Vienne, France
St. Crescentinus Kills the Dragon
St. Crescentinus Kills the Dragon

St. Crescentinus of Umbria, Italy (June 1, †303): Patron saint of Urbino. Crescentinus is traditionally said to have been a Roman soldier who converted to Christianity. To escape the persecutions of Diocletian, he fled to Umbria, and found refuge at Thifernum Tiberinum (the present-day Città di Castello). His defeat of a dragon led to a successful evangelization of the region together with his companions. His mission was confined particularly to the Tiber valley and the ancient Thifernum Tiberinum. He was subsequently beheaded.

St Margaret of Antioch & the Dragon, Medieval Book of Hours Illustartion
St Margaret of Antioch & the Dragon, Medieval Book of Hours Illustartion

St. Marina (Margaret of Antioch, July 17, †303): According to the version of the story in Golden Legend, she was a native of Antioch, and she was the daughter of a pagan priest named Aedesius. Her mother having died soon after her birth, Margaret was nursed by a pious woman five or six leagues from Antioch. Having embraced Christianity and consecrated her virginity to God, she was disowned by her father, adopted by her nurse and lived in the country keeping sheep with her foster mother (in what is now stmargaret02Turkey). Olybrius, Governor of the Roman Diocese of the East, asked to marry her but with the price of her renunciation of Christianity. Upon her refusal she was cruelly tortured, during which various miraculous incidents occurred. One of these involved being swallowed by Satan in the shape of a dragon, from which she escaped alive when the cross she carried irritated the dragon’s innards. The Golden Legend, in an atypical passage of skepticism, describes this last incident as “apocryphal and not to be taken seriously” (trans. Ryan, 1.369).

St. Ammon of Nitria (October 4, †357): I don’t believe that what we heard about Ammon, from a certain holy man we saw in the wilderness in the place in which he had lived, should be omitted. And so when, having parted from the blessed Apollonius, we proceeded to the part of the wilderness opposite Meridianum, we saw a dragon’s huge dragging tracks across the sand; his size had appeared so great that it looked like some treetrunk had been drawn through the sand. So that as we looked, we were struck with huge terror.

Monasticlocations

But the brothers who had escorted us encouraged us to dread nothing at all, but to rather to take hold of faith and follow the dragon’s track. ‘For you will see,’ they said, ‘how much faith may prevail, when you would have quenched it out of us. For we kill many dragons and snakes and vipers* with our hands; for as we read it written that the Savior allows those believing in Him “to tread upon serpents and scorpions, and upon all the power of the enemy.”‘ (Lk. 10:19) But with them saying this, we dreaded more and more because of the fragility of our faithlessness, and we asked them not to want to follow the dragon’s tracks, but rather that we might proceed straight on the road. Yet one of them, impatient, had followed the dragon with alacrity. And when he had found its cave not far off, he called us so that we might have gone to him and seen the end of the business.

Yet another of the brothers who dwelt nearby in the desert hurried to meet us, and forbade us to follow the dragon, saying we could not endure his appearance, especially because we were not used to seeing anything such as that. Truly, he said that he himself frequently saw that same beast of incredible devastation, and that it was fifteen cubits long. And when he had advised us against approaching the place, he hurried himself to pull away, recall, and turn back the brother who had awaited us, prepared for the beast’s killing and unwilling to depart unless he had killed it…

St Ammon of Nitria

“Afterwards, at a different time, with a certain most immense dragon having laid waste to the neighboring regions and killed many, the inhabitants of that place came to the above-mentioned Father, asking him that he might kill the beast for their region; and at the same time, that they might persuade the old man to mercy, they brought a shepherd’s young son with them who had been terrified out of his mind by only a sight of the dragon, and had felled and been carried off, unable to move and swollen, from only the dragon’s breath. Then he restored health to this boy, indeed by anointing him with oil.

“Meanwhile, he would promise nothing to those urging him to kill the dragon himself, as if one who could not help them with anything. But rising early, he went off to the beast’s sleeping place, and fixed his knees to the earth, begging the Lord. Then the beast began to come against him with a huge attack, sending out foul snorting and hisses and rattles. But fearing nothing of this, he said, turning toward the dragon, ‘May Christ, the Son of God, Who shall destroy the great whale, destroy you.’ And when that old man spoke, immediately that direst dragon also vomiting poison with every breath, blew up, bursting down the middle.

“But when the neighboring inhabitants would have gathered and wondered at it, unable to bear the violence of the stink, they got together an immense mass of sand over it — with Father Ammon still standing by, because not even when the beast was dead did they dare approach it without him.” (St. Rufinus of Aquileia’s Historia Monachorum, chapter 8. (PL 21: 420, 14 – 422, 4.)

St. Sylvester I, Pope of Rome (January 2, 335): Pope Sylvester I was called in to kill a dragon that lived in a moat and devoured three hundred people daily. He went up to the beastie, called out Christ’s name, and bound its jaws together with a rope, when he then fixed permanently with the sign of the cross. St. Sylvester is often depicted leading a dragon on a chain.

Saint Silvester stops the dragon (Romanesque fresco) [12th century]
Saint Silvester stops the dragon (Romanesque fresco) [12th century]
There are two different versions of the Acts of Silvester—one dated ca. 500 AD and the other text a century or so earlier. Both texts project the dragon as an object of pagan cult. The A text has the Vestal Virgins taking food down into its cave to it. The B text is less specific about the identity of the virgins and ascribes the lead role in its cult rather to an undefined group of ‘mages’, no doubt in a desire to emphasize the fraud and illegitimacy of the creature’s worship. Whilst the A text does not specify the actual location of its dragon’s cave, the B text locates it in the Tarpeian rock. This was some 300 yards distant from Vesta’s temple in the Forum. Cakes of grain and honey were regularly given to the sacred snakes, both real and imaginary, that lived in Greek and Roman shrines. These narratives offer one of the most striking examples amongst Christian ones of the pestilential breath the dragon can produce. Silvester defeats the dragon by locking it up with key and chain in an abyss; thus the dragon is confined deep inside the earth, albeit in its own hole. This is also the final fate of the dragons faced by Thomas and Philip.

Saint Silvester stops the dragon
Saint Silvester stops the dragon

St. Donatus of Arezzo (August 7, †362): Passio of Donatus’ life was written by a bishop of Arezzo, Severinus. It states that Donatus brought back to life a woman named Euphrosina; fought and slew a dragon who had poisoned the local well; gave sight back to a blind woman named Syriana; and exorcised a demon that had been tormenting Asterius, the son of the Roman prefect of Arezzo.

180px-Hilarion_the_GreatSt. Hilarion the Hermit (October 21, †371): In Croatia, St. Hilarion destroyed a dragon by bidding the people to make a fire, into which he commanded the dragon to go. It did so and was cremated: “An enormous serpent, of the sort which the people of those parts call “boas” because they are so large that they often swallow oxen [boves], was ravaging the whole province far and wide, and was devouring not only flocks and herds, but husbandmen and shepherds who were drawn in by the force of its breathing. He [Hilarion] ordered a pyre to be prepared for it, then sent up a prayer to Christ, called forth the reptile, bade it climb the pile of wood, and then applied the fire. And so before all the people he burnt the savage beast to ashes. But now he began anxiously to ask what he was to do, whither to betake himself. Once more he prepared for flight, and in thought ranged through solitary lands, grieving that his miracles could speak of him though his tongue was silent.” (St. Jerome, Life of St. Hilarion the Hermit, Paragraph 39, http://www.voskrese.info/spl/jer-hilarion.html )

[It is perhaps worth mentioning that a short way down the coast from Epidaurus was the town of Bouthoé, (now Budva, Montenegro), famous in legend as the place to which the dragon-slaying hero Cadmus and his wife Harmonia had retired in old age, and where by some accounts they had themselves assumed reptilian forms. The town was supposedly named for the oxen (boés) which had drawn their cart from Greece to Illyria.]

Mercurialis of Forlì

St. Mercurialis, First Bishop of Forlì (May 23, †406): was the Christian bishop of Forlì, in Romagna. The historical figure known as Mercurialis attended the Council of Rimini in 359 and died around 406. He was a zealous opponent of paganism and Arianism. Many remarkable adventures were woven onto legends about his life. The legend states that he was the first bishop of Forlì, during the Apostolic Age, and saved the city by killing a dragon. He has often been depicted in this act, imagery that resembles that associated with St. George. The cathedral of Forlì is named after him.

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St. Marcellus, Bishop of Paris, Confessor (November 1, †5th century): The life of St. Marcellus was written by Venantius Fortunatus. St. Marcellus scared off a dragon that was attacking tiny pre-medieval Paris. The dragon in this story is ambiguous, being either chthonic or aquatic, and the saint in banishing it gives it the choice of disappearing into the desert, that is the wilderness, or the sea, which in the Parisian case is the river.

Fortunatus  then goes into all sorts of considerations of dragons in the Fathers, dragons in medieval saints’ legends, Rogation procession dragons, and so on. He points out that dragons often are explicitly a symbol of a particular nation (like the Welsh and Saxon dragons fighting each other, or the Draco Normannicus), or are thought of as just an impressive animal (Romans and medievals believed that dragons were the largest animal in existence, as Mediterranean whales were big but not as big as oceangoing whales), or as a symbol of pagan beliefs or an unjust government. They don’t always represent the Devil, although they often do. St. Marcellus came to be known as the “Patron Saint of Vampire Hunters.”

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St Keyne (October 5, †505): The virgin recluse, called variously St. Cain, Keyne or Ceinwen, migrated from Brecknock in Wales to Keynsham in Somersetshire. The town is named after the Saint. It is said that when she arrived there, the lord of the manor gave her a piece of land, but it was so infested with huge venomous snakes that no prospective converts would visit her. Undismayed, she turned the snakes into stone, and tradition claims that the fossilised ammonites, which abound in the area, are their remains.

St Vigor

St. Vigor, Bishop of Bayeux (November 1, 537): When he had made the Sign of the Cross and made the dragon unable to resist him, and he had leashed the dragon with his stole in the best approved French style (making it “like a tame sheep”), he handed the dragon’s leash to Theudemir, with instructions to take it to the seashore, so that it would have no more power on the land.  the taming of the Dragon of Cerisy Forest was legendarily the reason that Volusianus, a local nobleman, gave the land to St. Vigor to start the monastery of Cerisy.

Horsham - St Leonard's Forest Dragon
Horsham – St Leonard’s Forest Dragon

St. Leonard of Limousin (†559): A Frankish nobleman who was baptised at the court of King Clovis in 498 by St Remigius, Bishop of Rheims, and then settled for a religious life. St. Leonard’s prayers ensured the safe delivery of Clovis’s child, and he was given as a reward as much land as he could ride round on a donkey in a day. He established a monastery on this land at Noblac near Limoges, and became its abbot. In his old age he became a forest hermit. There is a forest in West Sussex, England named after him.

Horsham - St Leonard's Forest Dragon Bench
Horsham – St Leonard’s Forest Dragon Bench

There is also a legend of St. Leonard the Dragon Slayer who lived in the forest and slew the last dragon in England. Æthelweard’s Chronicle of 770AD mentions “Monstrous serpents were seen in the country of the Southern Angles that is called Sussex”. St. Leonard was injured and Lilies of the Valley grow where his blood fell – an area of the forest is still called The Lily Beds. As a reward he requested that snakes be banished and the nightingales which interrupted his prayers should be silenced. However, dragons were still around in August 1614 as a pamphlet was published with the title “Discourse relating a strange and monstrous Serpent (or Dragon) lately discovered, and yet living, to the great Annoyance and divers Slaughters both of Men and Cattell, by his strong and violent Poyson. In Sussex, two miles from Horsam, in a Woode called St. Leonards Forrest, and thirtie miles from London, this present month of August, 1614”.

St. Samson and Dragon

St. Samson of Dol (July 28, †565): Some historians have argued that the St. Vigor story is drawn from the first Vita of Samson of Dol. However there are crucially different details in the two stories. The two saints do have a young companion in each story, but in the Samson story the boy is merely an observer and does not lead the tamed dragon away. Moreover, Samson flings the dragon from a height, and there is no mention of waters of any kind, in contrast to the sea in the Vigor story. Finally the dragon is commanded to die by Samson, while it is clearly left alive by Vigor. Saint Samson defeats another dragon later on, which he does fling into the sea, and charges to die in the name of Christ. In another of St. Samson’s dragon stories, he banishes the dragon without killing it. But instead of flinging it into the sea, the saint commands it to cross the river Seine, and to remain under a certain stone, revealing this dragon as a chthonic figure.

Saint Serf or Serbán (Servanus) (July 1, †583) is a saint of Scotland. Serf was venerated in western Fife. He is also called the apostle of Orkney, with less historical plausibility.  At Dunning, in Strathearn, he is said to have slain a dragon with his pastoral staff.

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St. Veranus, Bishop of Cavaillon (October 19, †590): A French saint, with a cultus in Italy. St. Gregory of Tours writes of miracles performed by Veranus, including the expulsion of a dragon. St. Veranus captured and expelled a winged dragon that had been terrorizing the region near his hermitage in Vaucluse. Making the sign of the cross, he commanded the creature “by the living and eternal God” never to harm anyone again.

St Gregory of tours

St. Gregory of Tours (November 17, †594):  In 589, a great flood of the Tiber River sent a torrent of water rushing through the city of Rome. According to Gregory, a contemporary bishop of Tours with contacts to the south, the floodwaters carried with them some rather remarkable detritus: several dying serpents and, perhaps most strikingly, the corpse of a dragon. The flooding was soon followed by a visitation of bubonic plague, which had been haunting Mediterranean ports since 541: “…In the month of November, the River Tiber had covered Rome with such flood water…A great school of water-snakes swam down the course of the river to the sea, in their midst a tremendous dragon as big as a tree trunk, but these monsters were drowned in the turbulent salt sea-waves and their bodies were washed up on the shore. As a result there followed an epidemic, which caused swellings in the groin” (History of the Franks, Book X, chapter 1).

Saint Carantoc of Wales (May 16, †6th century): Many details of his life are obscure or contradictory. The people of Carhampton who had been terrorised by a flying dragon. King Arthur said that he would strike a bargain with the saint. If St Carantoc could call up the dragon from the marches then he would restore the Altar to its owner. St Carantoc nodded and turned away in prayer, uttering a strange incantation over the swamp. Immediately the bog heaved and parted and amidst a terrible smell the dragon appeared right in front of the retinue. Only Arthur and the Saint stood their ground while the rest backed away in horror. The dragon the trotted up to the Saint and bent its head in submission. St Carantoc then led the dragon to the court of King Catho at Dunster Castle where the dragon was forced to vow never to hurt another soul again. So transformed was the dragon by the Saint that it never ate meat again and only used its fiery breath to aid the villagers in lighting bonfires in the rain. St Carantoc was granted land by the Kings and built his chapel by the river at Carhampton.

Saint Romanus, Gargouille, and presumably, the convict

St. Romain of Rouen, France (October 23, †640): The Catholic Encyclopedia claims that his legend has little historical value with little authentic information. St. Romain caught the Gargouille. On the left bank of the Seine were wild swamps through which rampaged a huge serpent or dragon who “devoured and destroyed people and beasts of the field”. Romanus decided to hunt in this area but could only find one man to help him, a man condemned to death who had nothing to lose. They arrived in the serpent’s land and Romanus drew the sign of the cross on the beast. It then lay down at his feet and let Romanus put his stole on him as a leash, in which manner he led it into the town to be condemned to death and burned on the parvis of the cathedral (or thrown into the Seine according to other authors). This legend was the origin for the bishops’ privilege (lasting until 1790) to pardon one prisoner condemned to death each year, by giving the pardoned man or woman the reliquary holding Romanus’s relics in a procession.

793 - Image of a fire dragon

Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, Entry for 793: “In this year fierce, foreboding omens came over the land of the Northumbrians, and the wretched people shook; there were excessive whirlwinds, lightning, and fiery dragons were seen flying in the sky. These signs were followed by great famine, and a little after those, that same year on 6th ides of January, the ravaging of wretched heathen people destroyed God’s church at Lindisfarne.”

Viking Dragon Ship.  Manuscript, Northumbia, England, 900s AD
Viking Dragon Ship. Manuscript, Northumbia, England, 900s AD

Saint Hermentaire (†10th century): Draguignan is a commune in the Var department in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region, in southeastern France. According to legend, the name of the city is derived from the Latin name “Draco/Draconem” (dragon): a bishop, called Saint Hermentaire, killed a dragon and saved people. The Latin motto of Draguignan is Alios nutrio, meos devoro (I feed others, I devour my children).  The name of Draguignan (“Dragonianum”) appeared for the first time in 909.

Coat of arms of Draguignan
Coat of arms of Draguignan

http://www.amazon.com/Drakon-Dragon-Serpent-Greek-Worlds/dp/0199557322/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8

http://www.amazon.com/Dragons-Serpents-Slayers-Classical-Christian/dp/0199925119/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8

The Hypocrisy of the Old Testament

One of the names of the primary Judaic god is El Shaddai. According to Exodus 6:2, 3, Shaddai (שַׁדַּי) is the name of the god known to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The name Shaddai is again used as the god’s name later in the Book of Job. The root word “shadad” (שדד) means “to overpower” or “to destroy”. This would give Shaddai the meaning of “destroyer”, representing one of the aspects of the god, and in this context it is essentially an epithet. Ēl is a Northwest Semitic word meaning “god” or “deity” and it is used as the name of major Ancient Near East deities, including the God of the Hebrew Bible. El is a generic word for god that could be used for any god, including Hadad, Moloch, or Yahweh. Thus El Shaddai means “God the Destroyer.” The Septuagint and other early translations usually translate “El Shaddai” as “God Almighty.” However in the Greek of the Septuagint translation of Psalm 91.1, “Shaddai” is translated as “the God of heaven.” “God Almighty” is the translation followed by most modern English translations of the Hebrew Scriptures. The following article looks at some examples of the “destroyer” attributes of the Christian Triune God that are found in the Old Testament. Orthodox Christian theology teaches that the accounts of God speaking in the Old Testament are the Logos of God, the 2nd Person of the Holy Trinity, Who would later incarnate, namely Jesus Christ.

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The Septuagint does not transliterate the names of God. They are usually rendered Kurios or Theos.
  1. HUMAN SACRIFICES: KILLING OF INNOCENTS, INCLUDING THE UNBORN, INFANTS, CHILDREN AND THE PURE

And now go, and thou shalt smite Amalec and Hierim and all that belongs to him, and thou shalt not save anything of him alive, but thou shalt utterly destroy him: and thou shalt devote him and all his to [destruction], and thou shalt spare nothing belonging to him; and thou shalt slay both man and woman, and infant and suckling, and calf and sheep, and camel and ass.” (1 Samuel 15:3)

“Samaria shall be utterly destroyed: for she has resisted her God; they shall fall by the sword, and their sucklings shall be dashed against the ground, and their women and child ripped up.” (Hosea 13:16)

“And he went up thence to Baethel: and as he was going up by the way there came up also little children from the city, and mocked him, and said to him, Go up, bald-head, go up. And he turned after them, and saw them, and cursed them in the name of the Lord. And, behold, there came out two bears out of the wood, and they tore forty and two children of them.” (2 Kings 2:23-24)

“Blessed [shall he be] who shall seize and dash thine infants against the rock.” (Ps. 137:9)

“Behold, I will stir up against you the Medes, who do not regard silver, neither have they need of gold. 18 They shall break the bows of the young men; and they shall have no mercy on your children; nor shall their eyes spare thy children.” (Isaiah 13:17-18)

“And if any man has a disobedient and contentious son, who hearkens not to the voice of his father and the voice of his mother, and they should correct him, and he should not hearken to them; then shall his father and his mother take hold of him, and bring him forth to the elders of his city, and to the gate of the place: and they shall say to the men of their city, This our son is disobedient and contentious, he hearkens not to our voice, he is a reveler and a drunkard. And the men of his city shall stone him with stones, and he shall die; and thou shalt remove the evil one from yourselves, and the rest shall hear and fear.” (Deuteronomy 21:18-21)

“And God told Abraham, Take thy son, the beloved one, whom thou hast loved– Isaac, and go into the high land, and offer him there for a whole-burnt-offering on one of the mountains which I will tell thee of.” (Genesis 22:2)

The Sacrifice of Isaac, from the pavement of the Beth Alpha synagogue (6th century)
The Sacrifice of Isaac, from the pavement of the Beth Alpha synagogue (6th century)
  1. VICTIMIZATION AND ABUSE OF WOMEN AND CHILDREN
  1. God permits the taking of little girls and women as “wife plunder”

“Now therefore, kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman who has known a man intimately. But keep alive for yourselves all the *young* girls who have not known a man intimately.” (Numbers 31:17-18). The Hebrew word for “young” used here means “children.”

“But if they will not hearken to thee, but wage war against thee, thou shalt invest it; until the Lord thy God shall deliver it into thy hands, and thou shalt smite every male of it with the edge of the sword: except the women and the stuff: and all the cattle, and whatsoever shall be in the city, and all the plunder thou shalt take as spoil for thyself, and shalt eat all the plunder of thine enemies whom the Lord thy God gives thee.” (Deuteronomy 20:12-14)

“All their little ones and their wives they took captive; and they plundered even all that was in the houses.” (Genesis 34:29)

“And if when thou goest out to war against thine enemies, the Lord thy God should deliver them into thine hands, and thou shouldest take their spoil, and shouldest see among the spoil a woman beautiful in countenance, and shouldest desire her, and take her to thyself for a wife, and shouldest bring her within thine house: then shalt thou shave her head, and pare her nails; and shalt take away her garments of captivity from off her, and she shall abide in thine house, and shall bewail her father and mother the days of a month; and afterwards thou shalt go in to her and dwell with her, and she shall be thy wife.” (Deuteronomy 21:10-13)

Yahweh prefers killing the innocent children of sinners over the sinner.

“And I will kill her children with death” (Revelations 2:23)

“Who smote the first-born of Egypt, both of man and beast” (Psalm 135:8)

“Prepare thy children to be slain for the sins of their father; that they arise not, and inherit the earth, nor fill the earth with wars” (Isaiah 14:21)

“The Lord…bringing the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and to the children’s children, to the third and fourth generation” (Exodus 34:7)

“For I am the Lord thy God, a jealous God, recompensing the sins of the fathers upon the children, to the third and fourth generation to them that hate me” (Exodus 20:5)

Drowned corpses during Noah's Flood (Basilica of San MArco, Venice)
Drowned corpses during Noah’s Flood (Basilica of San Marco, Venice)

Rape victims must marry their rapists

“And if anyone should find a young virgin who has not been betrothed, and should force [her] and lie with her, and be found, the man who lay with her shall give to the father of the damsel fifty silver didrachms, and she shall be his wife, because he has humble her; he shall never be able to put her away” (Deuteronomy 22:28-29)

If the rape occurs in the city, the victim must be stoned to death

“And if there be a young damsel espoused to a man, and a man should have found her in the city and have lain with her; ye shall bring them both out to the gate of their city, and they shall be stoned with stones, and they shall die; the damsel, because she cried not in the city; and the man, because he humbled his neighbour’s spouse: so shalt thou remove the evil one from yourselves” (Deuteronomy 22:23-24)

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Top: Jacob negotiates the purchase of the field in which he had pitched his tents. Bottom: Jacob told of the rape of his daughter Dinah.

Polygamy and sex slaves (concubines) okay for men, but females are said to be “defiled” if not found virgins on their wedding night

“And if any one sell his daughter as a domestic, she shall not depart as the maid-servants depart. If she be not pleasing to her master, after she has betrothed herself to him, he shall let her go free; but he is not at liberty to sell her to a foreign nation, because he has trifled with her. And if he should have betrothed her to his son, he shall do to her according to the right of daughters. And if he take another to himself, he shall not deprive her of necessaries and her apparel, and her companionship [with him]” (Exodus 21:7-10)

“And if anyone should take a wife, and dwell with her, and hate her, and attach to her reproachful words, and bring against her an evil name, and say, I took this woman, and when I came to her I found not her tokens of virginity: then the father and the mother of the damsel shall take and bring out the damsel’s tokens of virginity to the elders of the city to the gate. And the father of the damsel shall say to the elders, I gave this my daughter to this man for a wife; and now he has hated her, and attaches reproachful words to her, saying, I have not found tokens of virginity with thy daughter; and these [are] the tokens of my daughter’s virginity. And they shall unfold the garment before the elders of the city. And the elders of that city shall take that man, and shall chastise him, and shall fine him a hundred shekels, and shall give [them] to the father of the damsel, because he has brought forth an evil name against a virgin of Israel; and she shall be his wife: he shall never be able to put her away. But if this report be true, and the tokens of virginity be not found for the damsel; then shall they bring out the damsel to the doors of her father’s house, and shall stone her with stones, and she shall die; because she has wrought folly among the children of Israel, to defile the house of her father by whoring: so thou shalt remove the evil one from among you.” (Deuteronomy 22:13-21)

“But a widow, or one that is put away, or profaned, or a harlot, these he shall not take; but he shall take for a wife a virgin of his own people.” (Leviticus 21:14)

“And if a man have two wives…”(Deuteronomy 21:15). Polygamy was originally permissible in the Bible. Jacob (who becomes God’s chosen people, Israel), has two wives (Rachel and Leah), who are both sisters (Genesis 30)

God commands Jacob to leave.  He announces his departure to his wives Leah and Rachel.
God commands Jacob to leave. He announces his departure to his wives Leah and Rachel.
  1. SLAVERY

“And whatever number of men-servants and maid-servants thou shalt have, thou shalt purchase male and female servants from the nations that are round about thee. And of the sons of the sojourners that are among you, of these ye shall buy and of their relations, all that shall be in your lands; let them be to you for a possession. And ye shall distribute them to your children after you, and they shall be to you permanent possessions for ever: but of your brethren the children of Israel, one shall not oppress his brother in labours” (Leviticus 25:44-46)

“And if a man site his man-servant or his maid-servant, with a rod, and [the party] die under his hands, he shall be surely punished. But if [the servant] continue to live a day or two, let not [the master] be punished; for he is his money” (Exodus 21:20-21)

“Because these are my servants, whom I brought out of the land of Egypt; such an one shall not be sold as a [common] servant” (Leviticus 25:42)

Young Joseph sold by his brothers into captivity in Egypt. Byzantine mosaic, 14th c.
Young Joseph sold by his brothers into captivity in Egypt. Byzantine mosaic, 14th c.
  1. GENOCIDE AND RACISM

“For the wrath of the Lord is upon all nations, and [his] anger upon the number of them, to destroy them, and give them up to slaughter” (Isaiah 34:2)

“…and I will overthrow the thrones of kings, and I will destroy the power of the kings of the nations [Gentile, non-Hebrew]; and I will overthrow chariots and riders; and the horses and their riders shall come down, everyone by the sword striving against his brother” (Hag. 2:22)

“Ask of me, and I will give thee the heathen [for] thine inheritance, and the ends of the earth [for] thy possession. Thou shalt rule them with a rod of iron; thou shalt dash them in pieces as a potter’s vessel” (Psalm 2:8-9)

“For thou art a holy people to the Lord thy God; and the Lord thy God chose thee to be to him a peculiar people beyond all nations that [are] upon the face of the earth” (Deuteronomy 7:6)

Daniel in the lions' den, Roman mosaic from Bordj El Loudi, Tunisia, 5th Century AD.
Daniel in the lions’ den, Roman mosaic from Bordj El Loudi, Tunisia, 5th Century AD.
  1. THIEVERY
  1. Killing people to confiscate their land (covetousness):

“And the Lord said to me, Behold, I have begun to deliver before thee Seon the king of Esebon the Amorite, and his land, and do thou begin to inherit his land. ” (Deuteronomy 2:31)

“And he brought us into the land of the Amorites that dwelt beyond Jordan, and the Lord delivered them into our hands; and ye inherited their land, and utterly destroyed them from before you.” (Joshua 24:8)

“Thus shalt thou do to all the cities that are very far off from thee, not [being] of the cities of these nations which the Lord thy God gives thee to inherit their land. 16 [Of these] ye shall not take any thing alive; 17 but ye shall surely curse them. ” (Deuteronomy 20:15-16)

Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, the Three Youths in the Fiery Furnace of Nebuchadnezzer. Byzantine Mosaic, 11th CE.3
Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, the 3 Youths in the Fiery Furnace of Nebuchadnezzer. Byzantine Mosaic, 11th CE.
  1. Gold, silver and other goods

“But [every] woman shall ask of her neighbour and fellow lodger, articles of gold and silver, and apparel; and ye shall put them upon your sons and upon your daughters,– and spoil ye the Egyptians.” (Exodus 3:22) The lord reiterated this in Exodus 11:2.

“…We left no living prey. Only we took the cattle captive, and took the spoil of the cities. ” (Deuteronomy 2:34-35)

“And ye shall divide the spoils between the warriors that went out to battle, and the whole congregation.” (Numbers 21:27)

“And they took captive all the persons of them, and all their store, and their wives, and plundered both whatever things there were in the city, and whatever things there were in the houses.” (Genesis 34:29)

“All that ever came before me are thieves and robbers: but the sheep did not hear them… The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy” (John 10:8, 10)

The Conquest of Jericho. Early Christian Mosaic.
The Conquest of Jericho. Early Christian Mosaic.
  1. CRUELTY: GOD TAKES PLEASURE IN HUMAN SUFFERING AND COMMANDS HIS FOLLOWERS TO DESTORY THE EARTH HE MADE

“And it shall come to pass that as the Lord rejoiced over you to do you good, and to multiply you, so the Lord will rejoice over you to destroy you; and ye shall be quickly removed from the land, into which ye go to inherit it.” (Deuteronomy 28:63)

“For behold! the day of the Lord is coming which cannot be escaped, [a day] of wrath and anger, to make the world desolate, and to destroy sinners out of it.” (Isaiah 13:9)

“And ye shall smite every strong city, and ye shall cut down every good tree, and ye shall stop all wells of water, and spoil every good piece [of land] with stones.” (2 Kings 3:19)

“Now consider these things, ye that forget God, lest he rend you [literally, ‘tear into pieces’], and there is no deliverer.” (Psalm 50:22)

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The Return of the Explorers; Rebellion of the Israelites against Moses. Early Christian mosaic. 5th CE
  1. RAGES: GOD CURSES, SWEARS, KILLS AND DESTROYS EVERYTHING WHEN HE IS ANGRY

“So I sware in my wrath, They shall not enter into my rest.” (Psalm 95:11)

“I will slay in my anger and my fury” (Jeremiah 33:5)

“Therefore thus saith the Lord; I will even cause to burst forth a sweeping blast with fury, and there shall be a flooding rain in my wrath; and in [my] fury I will bring on great stones for complete destruction.” (Ezekiel 13:13)

“And my wrath and mine anger shall be accomplished upon them: and thou shalt know that I the Lord have spoken in my jealousy, when I have accomplished mine anger upon them.” (Ezekiel 5:13)

“I saw, and, behold, Carmel was desert, and all the cities were burnt with fire at the presence of the Lord, and at the presence of his fierce anger they were utterly destroyed.” (Jeremiah 4:26)

“For the heaven shall be enraged, and the earth shall be shaken from her foundation, because of the fierce anger of the Lord of hosts, in the day in which his wrath shall come on.” (Isaiah 13:13)

“And I trampled them in mine anger, and brought down their blood to the earth.” (Isaiah 63:6)

Drunkenness of Noah (narthex, entrance bay vault). 1220-85. Byzantine mosaic.
Drunkenness of Noah (narthex, entrance bay vault). 1220-85. Byzantine mosaic.
  1. GOD HARDENSHEARTS, BLINDS AND DEAFENS TO GAIN A LICENSE TO CAUSE CHAOS

“And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, Go in to Pharao: for I have hardened his heart and the heart of his servants, that these signs may come upon them.” (Exodus 10:1)

“Ye shall hear indeed, but ye shall not understand; and ye shall see indeed, but ye shall not perceive. For the heart of this people has become gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes have they closed; lest they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and be converted, and I should heal them. And I said, How long, O Lord? And he said, Until cities be deserted by reason of their not being inhabited, and the houses by reason of there being no men, and the land shall be left desolate. And after this God shall remove the men far off, and they that are left upon the land shall be multiplied.” (Isaiah 6:9-12)

“And Seon king of Esebon would not that we should pass by him, because the Lord our God hardened his spirit, and made his heart stubborn, that he might be delivered into thy hands, as on this day.” (Deuteronomy 2:30)

NOTE: Abba Dorotheos of Gaza writes in his 5th Instruction, That We Should Not Trust Our Own Understanding, “But if one does not sincerely wish to do the will of God, then though go to a prophet, God might place in the heart of that prophet an answer corresponding to the man’s corrupt heart, as the Scripture says, And if a prophet should cause to err and should speak, I the Lord have caused that prophet to err (Ezekiel 14:9).”

Pendentif with the Joseph's dream about the seven fat and the seven lean cows. Detail from the dome with the story of Joseph of Egypt. Byzantine mosaic.
Pendentif with the Joseph’s dream about the seven fat and the seven lean cows. Detail from the dome with the story of Joseph of Egypt. Byzantine mosaic.
  1. CANNABALISM

“And ye shall eat the flesh of your sons, and the flesh of your daughters shall ye eat.” (Leviticus 26:29)

“Therefore the fathers shall eat [their] children in the midst of thee, and children shall eat [their] fathers; and I will execute judgements in thee, and I will scatter all that are left of thee to every wind.” (Ezekiel 5:10)

“I will cause them to eat the flesh of their sons, and the flesh of their daughters; and they shall eat every one the flesh of his neighbour in the blockade, and in the siege wherewith their enemies shall besiege them.” (Jeremiah 19:9)

“And thou, son of man, say, Thus saith the Lord; Say to every winged bird, and to all the wild beasts of the field, Gather yourselves, and come; gather yourselves from all [places] round about to my sacrifice, which I have made for you, [even] a great sacrifice on the mountains of Israel, and ye shall eat flesh, and drink blood. Ye shall eat the flesh of mighty men, and ye shall drink the blood of princes of the earth, rams, and calves and goats, and they are all fatted calves. And ye shall eat fat till ye are full, and shall drink wine till ye are drunken, of my sacrifice which I have prepared for you. And ye shall be filled at my table, [eating] horse, and rider, and mighty man, and every warrior, saith the Lord.” (Ezekiel 39:17-20)

“And they that afflicted thee shall eat their own flesh; and they shall drink their own blood as new wine, and shall be drunken: and all flesh shall perceive that I am the Lord that delivers thee, and that upholds the strength of Jacob.” (Isaiah 49:26)

“And I saw an angel standing in the sun; and he cried with a loud voice, saying to all the fowls that fly in the midst of heaven, Come and gather yourselves together unto the supper of the great God; That ye may eat the flesh of kings, and the flesh of captains, and the flesh of mighty men, and the flesh of horses, and of them that sit on them, and the flesh of all men, both free and bond, both small and great. And I saw the beast, and the kings of the earth, and their armies, gathered together to make war against him that sat on the horse, and against his army.” (Revelations 19:17-19)

Mosaic of ancient women dressed for sports - Roman villa near Piazza Armerina - Sicily
Mosaic of ancient women dressed for sports – Roman villa near Piazza Armerina – Sicily
  1. LYING

“Thou saidst, I will give them flesh to eat, and they shall eat a whole month… The flesh was yet between their teeth, before it failed, when the Lord was wroth with the people, and the Lord smote the people with a very great plague.” (Numbers 11:21, 33)

“Fury is not in Me.” (Isaiah 27:4)

“I will not act according to the fury of y wrath, I will not abandon Ephraim to be utterly destroyed: for I am God, and not man; the Holy One within thee: and I will not enter into the city. (Hosea 11:9)

Moses and the daughters of the Pharaoh. Early Christian mosaic, 5th CE.
Moses and the daughters of the Pharaoh. Early Christian mosaic, 5th CE.
  1. Lying is condoned if it accomplishes God’s goals

God instructs Moses to lie to the Pharaoh: “And thou shalt say to him, The God of the Hebrews has called us; we will go then a journey of three days into the wilderness, that we may sacrifice to our God.” (Exodus 3:18)

God instructs Samuel to lie: “And Samuel said, How can I go? whereas Saul will hear of it, and slay me: and the Lord said, Take a heifer in thine hand and thou shall say, I am come to sacrifice to the Lord.” (1 Samuel 16:2)

“But [every] woman shall ask of her neighbour and fellow lodger, articles of gold and silver, and apparel; and ye shall put them upon your sons and upon your daughters,– and spoil ye the Egyptians.” (Exodus 3:22)

“They have also built the high places of Baal, to burn their sons with fire for burnt offerings to Baal, which I did not command or speak, nor did it come into my mind.” (Jeremiah 19:5) Now compare with Genesis 22:2 “Then He said, Take now your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.”

Judah’s daughter-in-law Tamar, disguises herself as a prostitute in order to become pregnant by her dead husband’s brother, after his failure to marry her, and is justified by Judah in the narrative. Tamar is rewarded for her subterfuge by the birth of the twins Perez and Zerah, through whom the tribe of Judah is established (Genesis 38:27–30).

Jehu lies to the worshippers of Baal, aimed at killing all the prophets of Baal. (2 kings 10:18-28)

Joseph accused by Potiphar. Byzantine mosaic, 13th c.
Joseph accused by Potiphar. Byzantine mosaic, 13th c.

NOTE: In Orthodox Christianity, there are also times where it is permitted to lie if it will benefit the salvation of someone, such as in case of St. Dionysios of Zakynthos, who lied to protect his brother’s murderer from being lynched by an angry mob of Christians. In monasticism, if the Abbot or Abbess instructs their disciples to lie about something, it is not considered a lie, but rather a virtue, namely “blind obedience.” Lying is permitted in all cases to protect the reputation of the Church, or its representatives. This is called “guarding your brother’s conscience.” Thus, pedophilia and other scandals are kept silent, and criminals go unpunished, for the “benefit of the lay people.”

  1. BLOODY VENGEANCE

“Vengeance is Mine” (Deuteronomy 32:35)

“The righteous shall rejoice when he sees the vengeance; He shall wash his feet in the blood of the wicked.” (Psalm 58:10)

“Therefore the Lord says…”Ah, I will rid myself of My adversaries, and take vengeance on my enemies.” (Isaiah 1:24)

“It now must be said of Jacob and of Israel…a people rises like a lioness, and lifts itself up like a lion; It shall not lie down until it devours the prey, and drinks the blood of the slain.” (Numbers 23:23-24)

“O LORD our God, you were to them God-Who-Forgives, though you took vengeance on their deeds.” (Psalm 99:8)

“I will feed those who oppress you (Israel) with their own flesh, and they shall be drunk with their own blood as with sweet wine.” (Isaiah 49:26)

Joseph's Bloodstained Coat. Mosaic.
Jacob lamenting over Joseph’s bloodstained coat mosaic.
  1. GOD CAUSES EVIL, DECEIVES AND COMMANDS EVIL SPIRITS

“I am he that prepared light, and formed darkness; who make peace, and create evil; I am the Lord God, that does all these things.” (Isaiah 45:7)

“And the Spirit of the Lord departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the Lord tormented him.” (1 Samuel 16:14)

“And now, behold, the Lord has put a false spirit in the mouth of all these thy prophets, and the Lord has spoken evil against thee.” (1 Kings 22:23)

“And now, behold, the Lord has put a false spirit in the mouth of these thy prophets, and the Lord has spoken evil against thee.” (II Chronicles, 18:22)

“And if a prophet should cause to err and should speak, I the Lord have caused that prophet to err, and will stretch out my hand upon him, and will utterly destroy him from the midst of my people Israel.” (Ezekiel 14:9)

“Shall the trumpet sound in the city, and the people not be alarmed? shall there be evil in a city which the Lord has not wrought?” (amos 3:6)

“And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie: That they all might be damned who believed not the truth.” (II Thessalonians 2:11-12)

The Construction of the Tower of Babel. Mosaic
The Construction of the Tower of Babel. Mosaic

Also see Fr. Antonios Alevizopoulos, The Orthodox Church: Its faith, Worship and Life:

http://www.oodegr.co/english/biblia/orthodox1/orthodox1.htm

Causes, Wagers, and Morals (A.C. Grayling, 2013)

NOTE: The following article is taken from The God Argument: The Case Against Religion and for Humanism, pp. 95-106.

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The cosmological argument, in its various forms, infers the existence of deity from observations about the contingency of the world. It is similar to the teleological argument in being empirically based, but it differs in that, instead of focusing on the appearance of design in the world, it concentrates on the facts that the world came into existence, that it could have been different (this is what is meant by the world being ‘contingent’), and that everything is governed by causation – everything is the effect or outcome of preceding conditions and circumstances that caused it.

The standard form of the cosmological argument says that because the world came into existence, it must have been created, and it must have been created for the following reasons: it is contingent, so it must be grounded on something that is non-contingent, which is to say, necessary. Everything is the effect of a preceding cause, which means that the causal chain runs backwards in time to earlier and earlier causes. Now, either there is a first uncaused or self-caused cause, or there is a regress of causes going back infinitely. But this latter supposition makes no sense, so there must be a first cause which is itself uncaused or self-caused.

And then the usual big jump is made from ‘a first cause’ or ‘a necessary ground for contingent being’ to a god – indeed, to the god of traditional religion.

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One immediate comment that the cosmological argument invites is to say that it is an expression of a psychological need to have explanations about why there is a world, how it began, and where it is going. It is a feature of human beings that they are eager for accounts that give explanatory closure. The scientific mindset, which welcomes the open-endedness of uncertainty because it is an invitation to enquiry and discovery, is the opposite of this. Notably, a religious explanation of how the world began, why it exists, and where we are all going to end, can be given in twenty minutes or less. It takes years to master the rudiments of physics.

Arguments of a cosmological type are found in Plato and Aristotle, but a clear modern statement of the argument’s basic idea is given by Leibniz in his assertion that ‘nothing can exist without a sufficient reason why it is so and not otherwise’.12 In the physical world revealed by empirical observation, this principle – known as the ‘principle of sufficient reason’ – takes the form of a causal claim stating that every contingently existing thing has a cause of its existence. And then the rest of the argument falls into place: the chain of causes cannot run back infinitely, so there has to be a first cause, and since this first cause is itself not contingent upon or caused by anything else, it must be non-contingent, that is, necessary.

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There are a number of obvious responses, each equally definitive. One is to question the necessity of a non-contingent first cause. Why cannot the universe be its own reason for existing? Science has a very good account of how the universe we occupy – whether or not it is one of many, perhaps infinitely many – has evolved from a beginning whose nature can be carefully reconstructed, to within a minuscule fraction of time after the initial singularity (the ‘Big Bang’), by tracing back the evolution of physical phenomena as they now are.

The logic that underlies this did not have to wait for contemporary physics to be clear. Hume argued in his Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion (1779) that if you explain each individual contingent thing in the universe, you thereby explain the universe, and that it is a fallacy of logic to suppose that once you have done this you still have to explain the existence of the universe as a whole. This is cognate to what in logic is called the ‘fallacy of composition’, which we commit if we say that because each member of a school of whales is a whale, the school of whales is a whale – in other words, that a collection has the properties of its individual members. By reasoning in an analogous way, we see that to explain each thing in the universe does not leave the universe as a whole to be explained; the sum of individual explanations does the work already.

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Hume also called into question the principle of causation that underlies the argument. Why accept a priori that everything has a cause, given that we can conceive of effects independently of causes? Defenders of the cosmological argument say that without strict adherence to the causal principle we cannot make the universe intelligible. But this might be because of the psychological need noted above, to reduce everything to a neat explanatory framework – the universe might in fact work in ways that do not comply with our intellectual preferences.

Kant approached the cosmological argument differently in his Critique of Pure Reason. He argued that it is not really an empirical argument, but a concealed version of the ontological argument, for it invokes the concept of a necessary being to serve as a ground for the contingent universe. But the concept of a necessary being is shown by discussion of the ontological argument to be empty.

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Some of Kant’s critics use a technical philosophical distinction to answer him. They claim that he has mistaken the idea of a logically necessary being with the cosmological argument’s requirement for a metaphysically necessary being. The distinction works in rather the way that equivocation over the term ‘necessary’ worked in relation to Dr Pangloss’s nose, as explained above. A logically necessary being is one that must exist. A metaphysically necessary being is one that must exist in order for the universe to have a stopping-point for the regress of causes, that is, as a ground on which contingent existence can rest. Thus, metaphysical necessity is relative, logical necessity is absolute.

But Kant can reply that this attempt to restrict attention to the ‘necessary condition’ sense of ‘necessity’ is spurious, because what is being proposed is a being that has to exist, whether our ground for asserting this is the definition of the being (as the ontological argument has it) or the contingency and causal dependency of the world upon such a being (as the cosmological argument asserts). Any counter to the claim that the idea of a necessary being makes sense is therefore a counter to both arguments.

Some defenders of the cosmological argument position it as a version of the ‘inference to the best explanation’. This move has it that because of our ignorance about the why and how of the world, nominating a deity as both its source and the reason for its existence is ‘the best available explanation’.

This is a very feeble argument; it clutches arbitrarily at something to fill the explanatory gaps in our knowledge, and has no better claim than if we just as arbitrarily invoked the existence of fairies for the same purpose. Moreover, to summon so undefined and implausible a thing as a deity to perform this role is to explain the universe in terms of something more mysterious and arbitrary than the universe itself. That takes us nowhere.

Thomas-Aquinas-Picture-Quote-e1394104417378The arguments so far discussed all aim to establish the proposition ‘that God exists’. They are arguments that date from the long era before natural science began to give us a far better grip on the nature of natural phenomena and their operations and sources. They are arguments spun out of semantics and armchair philosophising based on very little real knowledge of the world. They wear their inadequacies on their sleeves, and such interest as they have belongs to the history of ideas – a great archive of surpassed speculations.

A quite different tactic is to argue that it is prudent to believe that there is a deity, whether or not one can otherwise provide reasons for thinking so. In fact, this move is specifically aimed at supporting belief in a deity of the traditionally conceived type, that is, one that is interested in human beings on this planet to the point of promising rewards for obedience and worship, or punishments otherwise.

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The most celebrated such argument is Pascal’s wager.13 Pascal said that because the existence of a deity can be neither proved nor disproved (here he was mistaken; see above) by rational argument, one has to take the different course of considering the advantages and disadvantages of believing that there is a deity. If there is a deity, the advantage of believing in its existence is huge; it is a benefit that pays off for all eternity. If there is no deity, then one has not lost much by believing in its existence anyway. Therefore, it is prudent to believe.

In contemporary theory this argument is stated in terms of ‘expected utility’. Pascal’s point is that no matter how small the probability that a deity exists, as long as it is non-zero the utility of believing it far outweighs the disutility of believing it; therefore it is not just prudent but rational to believe.

Some theistic critics put the interesting argument that this very pragmatic reason for believing is too cold and calculating to be the kind of belief that an interested god would want from its creatures, and this might count against the utility of believing in this way; if such a god exists but is offended by the calculating nature of the belief, the sought-for benefits will not be forthcoming. So Pascal’s prudential argument is self-defeating.

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Voltaire’s response to Pascal’s wager was characteristically acute: ‘the interest I have in believing in something is not a proof that the something exists’.14 This is of course right. But the two chief criticisms of Pascal’s argument are that its starting-point does not do what is required of it, and that it is not the case that the existence of a deity cannot be disproved.

First, Pascal says that as long as the probability of a god’s existence is non-zero, then the utility of believing in it outweighs the utility of disbelieving in it. Note that this is only so if, in addition, you believe that there is life after death, heaven, reward and punishment, indeed a whole raft of additional things that Pascal simply assumes accompany belief in the existence of a god. If the probability that there is a god is vanishingly small, what is the probability of the truth of all this additional matter?

Pascal Quote

Grant for a moment that Pascal’s prudential calculation applies to these things too. Now consider that by parity of reasoning the same amount of sense can be made of the claim that there is a non-zero probability that fairies exist, however vanishingly small that probability is; or that the gods of Olympus exist, or even that there is green cheese beneath the surface of the moon. Admittedly the utility of believing some of these things will be very low or even negative, but there could be utility in believing some of the others: belief in fairies, for example, might yield a great deal of charm and pleasure, and it might even add explanatory value. (It used to be believed that fairies were responsible for curdling milk, and for stealing small household objects such as pins and shoelaces.) In no such case could the usefulness of believing these things by itself make it rational to believe them.

This point applies to other forms of a prudential or, slightly differently, pragmatic argument. It is sometimes claimed that theistic belief should be encouraged because it makes people behave better, or because it comforts them in time of trouble, and that it can discipline whole populations by making them believe that they are being watched always and everywhere, and that they will inevitably, no escape possible, be rewarded or punished for what they do. The utility or the prudential value of this is offered as making (the inculcation of ) belief rational. This is where it is relevant to revisit the points about proof made earlier, and fully worth repeating.

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It was noted that in formal systems of logic and mathematics, proof is demonstrative and conclusive. In deductive logic all inferences are actually instances of petitio principii because the conclusion is always contained in the premises, and deductions are merely (even though often not obviously) rearrangements of the information in the premises (consider: ‘all men are mortal; Socrates is a man; therefore Socrates is mortal’). As noted earlier, there can indeed be psychological novelty in the outcome of a deduction, but never logical novelty; this latter only happens in inductive inference, where the informational content of conclusions goes beyond the informational content of their premises. For this reason inductive inferences are known as ‘ampliative’

But inductions are not proofs in the sense of formal proof. Their success or otherwise turns on how probable the premises make the conclusions, or – differently and better viewed – how rational the premises make acceptance of the conclusions. And this relates them to the non-demonstrative sense of ‘proof’ which is at issue here.

In non-demonstrative contexts ‘proof’ is to be understood in its proper meaning of ‘test’. Steel and other materials are tested or ‘proved’ – loaded until they crack or break, heated until they warp or melt, frozen until they shatter, or whatever is appropriate – and this is the sense in which we talk of the ‘proof of the pudding’ or ‘the exception that proves (tests) the rule’. Claims to the existence of anything are subject to proof or test in this sense. This is where Carl Sagan’s ‘dragon in the garage’ example demonstrates its worth.

Again remember Clifford’s strictures on belief. When the evidence is not merely insufficient but absent or contrary, how much more wrong to do as Doubting Thomas was criticised for not doing, and as Søren Kierkegaard encouraged: to believe nevertheless.

This point weighs particularly against those who, in similar vein to Plantinga but with less disguise in theological or philosophical clothing, claim that one can choose to believe because it is comforting or satisfying to do so, or because it gives hope even if one knows that it is the very slimmest of hopes. These are psychological motivations which are no doubt very common among adult believers (children, as we saw, believe because they are evolutionarily primed to be credulous, and therefore believe everything the adults in their circle insist that they believe). But Clifford’s point about the ethics of belief demands that we make mature and responsible use of our cognitive capacities, and nothing that Pascal or anyone else (William James had a similar view15) says in the way of prudence, caution, hope against hope, or the benefits of believing even on poor grounds, can stand against that.

 William_Kingdon_Clifford_by_John_CollierWhat of the moral argument for the existence of deity? We need only the briefest discussion of it. Stated at its simplest, it is that there can be no morality unless there is a deity. Put a little more fully, the argument in effect says that there can be no moral code unless it is laid down, policed, punished and rewarded by a deity. Religious apologists would prefer to state the case differently: that morality is the response of a loving creation to its loving creator. Or, alternatively put again: because god is so nice, we should be nice to each other. The existence of moral evil (the tsunamis and childhood cancers) raises questions about the love and niceness of the deity if there is one, but the positively spun versions of the moral argument do not hide the fact that it consists in saying that morality is groundless unless ordained, and its breaches sanctioned, by a deity. This view is consistent with the assumption made, in the case of Judaeo-Christian religion, that humans are ‘fallen’ or innately sinful beings who need salvation.

The argument that there can be no morality unless policed by a deity is refuted by the existence of good atheists. Arguably, non-theists count among themselves the most careful moral thinkers, because in the absence of an externally imposed morality they recognise the duty to examine their views, choices and actions, and how they should behave towards others.

Consider the thinkers of classical antiquity – Aristotle, the Stoics and others – and one will see that their examination of ethics was not premised on the belief that morals were a matter of divine command, or that they were responding to the requirements of a deity, still less that they were seeking reward in an afterlife, or the avoidance of punishment. Their example illustrates the falsity of the claim that moral principles can only come from an external agency.

Nor were these thinkers persuaded that supposed analogies between moral and natural law suggest that both require to have been laid down by a deity; nor again that the only ground for the actual or even apparent objectivity of ethical principles is that they are the product of a divine will.

Kant, this time in his Critique of Practical Reason (1788), demonstrated one way to underwrite the objectivity of moral law; he argued that reason identifies the categorical (unconditional) imperatives that specify our moral duties, and that this would be so whether or not a deity exists.

There is an important point implicit in this view. The fact that anyone commands us to do something is not by itself a reason why we should do it, other than prudentially (as when we are threatened with punishment for not obeying). The action in question has itself to be independently worthy of doing, or there has to be a reason other than someone’s merely wishing or commanding that we do it, to serve as a genuine reason for it.

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A related consideration, called the ‘Euthyphro Problem’ after a discussion of it in Plato’s dialogue of that name, is this: is an act wrong because a god says it is, or is it forbidden by god because it is wrong? If the latter, then there is a reason independently of the will of a god that makes the act wrong. But then there is morality without god and the moral argument for the existence of god fails. If the former, then anything god commands (murder and rape, for example) would be morally good, just because he commands it; and then, as Leibniz puts it, ‘In saying that things are not good by any rule of goodness, but merely by the will of God, it seems to me that one destroys, without realising it, all the love of God and all his glory. For why praise him for what he has done if he would be equally praiseworthy in doing exactly the contrary?’16

Behind the thought that there needs to be a god to give and enforce moral principles is the further thought that such principles require the backing of authority, for otherwise there is no answer to the moral sceptic who asks, ‘Why should I be moral? Why should I not lie or kill or steal?’ because there is no ultimate sanction for his failure to live morally. To thinkers of this persuasion, morality is empty unless it can be enforced.

The examples of the good atheist and the classical philosopher also rebut this view. There are many sound reasons why we should seek to live responsibly, with generosity and sympathy towards others, with care and affection for them, and with continence, sound judgement and decency in our own lives. We can see the value of these things in themselves, and from the point of the benefits they bring society and its individual members, including ourselves. A thoughtful person could decide not to be the sort of person who steals even if he would never be found out or punished, precisely because he does not want to be such a person, and because at least one person knows what he would be doing if he did such things – namely, himself; and if he has standards, he might well choose to live up to them.

In short, there is no need for an external enforcer to make us the kind of people who take such thoughts seriously; and we might all prefer to live in a world where people seek to be morally worthy because they see the point of it, not because they are being watched and will be rewarded or punished according to the degree to which they abide by the rules. In the latter sort of world one cannot tell the difference between those who are acting out of principle and those who are acting out of prudence, and perhaps wishing they could do otherwise – doing it inauthentically, as the point is sometimes put. How much better is a world for being a world of volunteers, not slaves!

Arguing by Definition (A.C. Grayling, 2013)

NOTE: The following article is taken from The God Argument: The Case Against Religion and for Humanism, pp. 83-94.

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The various versions of the ontological argument come down to saying in effect that deity exists by definition. It is an a priori deductive argument, that is, an argument by reason alone, and it turns on analysis of the concept of deity. This, therefore, is where the problems with defining the word ‘god’ really bite.

The classic statement of the ontological argument is given by the eleventh-century philosopher St Anselm in his Proslogion. He began by considering the concept of ‘a being than which no greater can be conceived’. If such a being did not exist, then there would be a ‘greater’ being than it, namely, one that did exist. But by hypothesis ‘the being than which no greater can be conceived’ is the greatest being there is. Therefore, it must exist. And Anselm identified this being as the deity, because of the other attributes of deity which together make it the only plausible candidate for the ‘greatest being’ – omnipotence, omniscience and the rest.

Leaving aside the undefined notion of ‘greatness’ for a moment, let us note the following. At any given moment, someone is the tallest person in London. This is a matter of logic, not of human physiology. If there are two, three or more tallest people in London who are exactly the same height, then whichever of them got out of bed latest on the day in question would be the tallest person in London, because gravity would have had slightly longer to act on the other two, shortening them fractionally. This latter fact is a matter of physiology and physics, but it connects to the logical fact that one of the Londoners – the richest, laziest or least healthy of them, because longest abed – is the tallest on that day. Finally, note that even if everyone in London were short, as a matter of logic one of them would nevertheless be the tallest.

Now consider the idea that someone is the ‘greatest’ person in London. Whatever that might mean, note that such a person need not be very great, he need only be less un-great than everyone else in London. One can now see why the Anselm argument does not get us from logic to divinity. If by ‘god’ Anselm means the least un-great individual anywhere, this is an uninteresting result. It does not improve matters to substitute the phrase ‘most perfect being’ for ‘greatest being’, as some do with the ontological argument. The universe’s most perfect being might be very imperfect, only less so than other imperfect beings, and not at all a suitable candidate for existence as a deity.

Note that the argument requires the comparative element; that is crucial; the claim cannot be ‘that there is a perfect being’, it must be ‘that there is a most perfect being’ or ‘that there is a being than which no other being is more perfect’, so that it can be more perfect than a perfect being which does not exist.

From the outset therefore there is the problem of getting from the supposed fact that something must have some property in the highest degree relative to any other similar thing, with it being the case that the highest degree is very high; and so without offering any ground for thinking that because it is the ‘most-est’ of its kind, it is a deity – let alone the traditionally conceived God.

It should also be noted, as a footnote, that there is a problem with the assumption made by proponents of some versions of the ontological argument that ‘perfection’ admits of degrees, making it a relative rather than an absolute notion. But there is a strong case for saying that ‘perfect’ is an absolute term, that is, applies in an all-or-nothing way. If something is perfect, then it is perfect, and cannot be more or less perfect than another perfect thing. It is legitimate to say that something might approach more nearly to perfection than other things do, but then by hypothesis none of the things being thus compared is perfect anyway. Yet the Anselm-type of ontological argument requires that perfection (or in Anselm’s terminology, greatness) be a matter of degree, otherwise the argument will not work.

Perhaps the ontological argument’s proponents take perfection to be a relative notion because it is an all too familiar fact that imperfection has degrees; not only are some things more imperfect than others, they can also become more and less so. But to say that something is less imperfect than something else is not to say that it is more perfect than it. It might be less imperfect in having one less flaw, and yet be extremely flawed.

The fact that ‘less imperfect’ is not the same as ‘more perfect’ is a function of the fact that the conceptual polarities ‘perfect-imperfect’ (and others like it, such as ‘mortal-immortal’) are mistakenly assimilated to such examples as ‘flat-bumpy’ and ‘calm-anxious’. In these latter cases we know what each of the contrasting concepts applies to; we can point out examples of flat things and examples of bumpy things. But in the case of ‘perfect-imperfect’ and ‘mortal-immortal’ we only know what one of the pair applies to (imperfection and mortality, of course). The opposite pole in each case is merely notional, arrived at by extrapolation from the concept we know how to apply.

st-anselms-chapel-0021So there is a problem with the Anselm type of ontological argument which relies on an existing something’s being more perfect than a non-existing perfect thing. Yet even if one leaves aside the question whether ‘perfect’ is an absolute or relative term, there is still a further problem. What does ‘perfect’ mean, as applied to deity? The formula ‘God is perfect’ in traditional theistic doctrine is intended to mean ‘omnipotent, omniscient, morally pure, without needs or appetites’ (though capable, according to the Bible, of emotions of anger and love). Arguably, though, these fall into the category of expressions which are sayable without being thinkable, like the example, given previously (p. 21), of the apparently intelligible sentence which expresses a logical impossibility.

For consider: ‘omnipotent’ means ‘all powerful’ in the sense of ‘is capable of doing anything’ or ‘is unlimited in action’. This immediately causes difficulties, well illustrated by nonsense questions such as, ‘Could an omnipotent being eat itself?’ Suppose the reply is that such a being is not the kind of being that eats, because it is immaterial. Does this mean that it cannot eat? If so it is not omnipotent: omnipotent means ‘can do anything’. If the answer is that it can eat but does not, then one can probe the coherence of the concept by asking, ‘What might it eat if it chose to?’ Alternatively, and more consistently, the first answer might be developed as follows: to say that an omnipotent being cannot eat because it is not the kind of thing that eats (compare: you cannot ‘sleep furiously’, because sleeping is not the kind of thing that can be done furiously), one is saying that its field of omnipotence is whatever is consistent with its nature. But this simply defers the difficulty again. We now need to know what its nature is to know the respects in which, within the limits of its nature, it is unlimited in power. Will this satisfy the sceptic? No, because this is already to say that the supposedly omnipotent being is only qualifiedly omnipotent – and that is a contradiction in terms.

These points are neither frivolous nor pedantic, because they show that pressure on the concept of deity quickly exposes incoherences, leaving its defenders only with the ineffability move for protecting their adherence to it. But the ineffability move cannot give us an ontological argument, which crucially depends on assertions about the nature of the deity.

Notice that these thoughts, if they cannot be answered, undermine the ontological argument even before its details are examined. But let us examine them anyway; and in a stronger form that does not require a comparative notion of perfection.

Descartes

The argument’s most familiar version is given by René Descartes in the fifth of his Meditations (1641). His version has it that the concept of a non-existent ‘supremely perfect being’ is a contradiction, just as it is a contradiction to deny that the interior angles of a plane triangle add up to 180 degrees. Accordingly, because we can conceive of a ‘supremely perfect being’, it follows from the very definition of it that it necessarily exists.

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The definitive response was stated by Immanuel Kant in the ‘Dialectic’ of his Critique of Pure Reason (1787), which is the section of that famous work devoted to exploring how reason can go wrong, as happens in the ontological argument. He pointed out that ‘existence’ is not a property of anything, but a condition of anything’s having a property. In Descartes’ statement of the argument, existence is a perfection which deity cannot lack, and it is therefore a property among the other superlative properties ascribable to the deity. But, said Kant, any possessor of properties cannot have its own existence as one among those properties; it must (so to speak, already) exist in order to be a possessor of properties. You cannot say of a table, ‘It is made of wood, has three legs, is round, and it exists,’ for it might have properties different from being wooden, three-legged and round, while still being a table – a metal, four-legged, square table perhaps – but it could not be non-existent and still be a table.

The point is illustrated by noting that if one thinks Descartes’s form of the argument works, a parallel version of it can be used to prove that a devil must be necessarily non-existent. It would go as follows: ‘There is a being which is the least perfect of all beings; such a being which does not exist is – since existence is a perfection – less perfect than one that does; therefore the least perfect being necessarily does not exist.’ Here non-existence is asserted to be a property of a being whose other properties are, presumably, evil, malevolence, impurity and so forth: but one wonders how a non-existent thing can be evil and impure, thus demonstrating that existing is a logically different category from, because a logically prior category to, any properties anything might possess.

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A version of the ontological argument is offered by the American theist philosopher Alvin Plantinga, who does not claim that it proves that a god exists, but that it establishes that it is rational to think that a god exists.9 His argument turns on a standard way of explaining the ‘modal’ concepts possibility and necessity. Something is said to be possible if there is at least one way a world could be – a ‘possible world’ – such that it exists in that world. A world is a possible world if it is either our actual world (to be actual it has at least to be possible) or is a non-actual world the concept of which is without internal contradictions. And then we say that something ‘exists necessarily’ if it exists in every possible world – which is merely a different way of saying: a ‘necessary something’ is a something that must exist no matter what else is the case.

Plantinga’s argument is as follows. There is a possible world in which something exists that is the greatest thing there can ever be (a thing which has ‘maximal greatness’). Therefore there is such a thing. And then Plantinga says this thing is god. As noted, Plantinga (wisely) does not take this to prove the existence of a god, but claims that it makes belief in a god rational.

Another approach in this style of reasoning is to say that there is a possible world in which there is a necessarily existing x; and therefore x exists. And as with the ‘greatest thing’ in Plantinga’s version, this necessarily existing thing is identified as a god.

Neither strategy works. The second formulation turns on a technical principle in modal logic: ‘If it is possible that it is necessary that p then, by a certain rule, one can infer that p is necessary.’ Here is the explanation: anything which is possible exists, by definition, in at least one possible world. If it is possible that there is a necessary x, then there is at least one world in which x exists necessarily. But if x is a necessary being – if it must exist and cannot do other than exist – then it must exist in every possible world, including the actual world. Therefore if it is possible that there is a necessary x, there is actually a necessary x.

Leave aside the question what such a thing would be, and why – given that it is only by stipulation that a god is a necessary being – the necessary being in question is the God of theistic tradition, and ask: what reason is there for thinking that anything exists necessarily? That is, on what grounds is it claimed that it is possible that anything is necessary? In fact, the argument is question-begging, for by saying that there is a world in which something is necessary, by the definition of ‘necessary’ what is thereby being asserted is that it has to exist in every possible world. Yet with equal plausibility it can be claimed that ‘there is a possible world in which nothing exists necessarily’ – which means ‘there is a possible world in which everything is contingent’ – and if this is possible (as it surely is: our own world is such a world!) then it follows that nothing is necessary, because only if it is not possible for there to be a world in which nothing is necessary can there be any necessarily existing thing – for remember: such a thing would have to exist in every possible world.

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The first version of Plantinga’s argument, which starts from the premise that ‘there is a possible world containing a maximally great entity’ is vulnerable to the challenge that one can equally start from the premise that there is no possible world in which anything is maximally great, from which it would follow that necessarily there is no maximally great thing. Are there grounds for preferring one of these starting premises to the other one? Arguably, given the problem, discussed above, questioning whether the phrase ‘maximal greatness’ means anything, it is the second premise which is marginally more intelligible and therefore sensible. At the least this shows that you have to begin by accepting that there can be a ‘maximally great something’ for the argument to have any grip; and that of course is to argue in a circle.

It would seem that Alvin Plantinga has abandoned attempts to show by argument that it is rational to hold theistic beliefs, because he now argues that there is no need to provide such arguments, on the grounds that belief in the existence of a deity is a ‘basic belief’ from which one begins, not at which one ends by investigation and argument.10 By a ‘basic belief’ is meant such as ‘the past exists’, ‘other people have minds’, ‘one plus one is two’. So Plantinga is arguing that it is just as obvious, fundamental and unquestionable that ‘God exists’.

The least of the problems with this breathtaking assertion is that the supposed basic belief that ‘the past exists’ – and so for the other examples given – can and have regularly been challenged by rational sceptical argument, and yet they are a good deal less contentious than the claim that gods, goddesses and other supernatural beings exist, or that at least one such exists.

The main problem is that calling a belief ‘basic’, so that you do not have to argue for it or provide evidence for it, is gratuitous: you can help yourself to anything you like, and of course anything follows. Choose a convenient belief, give it the most convenient content for what else you wish to believe, and then claim that it is ‘basic’ and therefore in no need of justification. This is too obviously unacceptable to need much comment. As Daniel Dennett said of this view of Plantinga’s, this is ‘Exhibit A of how religious belief can damage or hinder or disable a philosopher’.

The claim that there is a deity with supernal powers has exactly the effect of claiming that a contradiction is true: nothing can be inconsistent with the existence of such a being, and therefore nothing can test whether or not it exists. It is yet again Popper’s dictum, ‘What explains everything explains nothing,’ which shows what is wrong with that.

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In Plantinga’s view, the critiques of religious belief given by the likes of Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett are worthless: in an interview for the New York Times he described Dawkins as ‘dancing on the lunatic fringe’ and Dennett as engaging in ‘inane ridicule and burlesque’ rather than argument.11 Apart from this, by its nature, being a case of the pot calling the kettle black, it comes richly from someone who thinks we have no need to provide argument or evidence for a belief in deity. Two things that stand out in Plantinga’s claims are, first, that theism is more consistent with science than atheism because a universe ruled by a deity is an orderly one, and therefore fit for the operation of natural laws; whereas a universe not ruled by a deity would be disorderly and not fit for description by science. This is a bizarre view: it seems to imply that unless the universe had a ruler it would be naughty, with galaxies and stars disobeying the laws of gravity and the rest. The point Plantinga misses, in common with all apologists who wish to insert a deity into the picture, is that if the laws of nature describe the universe successfully, then it blunts Ockham’s Razor to bring in an unnecessary addition to the framework of explanation for this fact.

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The second point that stands out from Plantinga’s views is his claim that everyone has a sensus divinitatis but that in some people – Dawkins, Dennett, the writer of these words – it ‘does not work properly’. The Latin phrase, literally ‘a sense of the divine’ but meaning ‘an innate conviction that god exists’, is used as a booster to the claim that belief in god is ‘basic’ and in no need of justification. Again, this would be a very convenient view for the theistic cause, because it applies to everyone without exception; the non-believer is told that his sensus divinitatis is not working properly, not that he has no such thing, and this is why he cannot accept that ‘there is a god’ is as basic a belief as ‘one plus one equals two’.

I repeat the quotation from W. K. Clifford: ‘It is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone, to believe anything upon insufficient evidence.’ It has to be said that by Clifford’s lights Plantinga’s approach provides an example of complete intellectual irresponsibility