Saturday, September 19, 2009

Why Martyrs?

Lying: for Fun or Profit?
Once upon a time there was a little boy, apprentice to a shepherd, who lived in a small village. One day his mentor told him he was old enough to tend to the flocks alone. The boy was given a staff and instructions that if a wolf approached the flocks, he should shout out long and loud “Wolf! Wolf!” so that the villagers would know he was in trouble and rush to his aid with pitchforks and axes. But, the boy was warned, this was nothing to take lightly. It was important that such an alarm be raised only in the event of real danger—only upon seeing an approaching wolf.

Do you remember the rest of the story? The shepherd boy thought it would be quite funny to upset the town into chaos and watch the population scurry about excited and scared, running to his aid. And he exercised his new power by calling out “Wolf! Wolf!” in the absence of any real danger—much to the anger of the villagers. In the end, when the real wolf approached, no one answered the boy’s cries as the wolves stalked into the flock and killed the sheep.

The main moral to the story has always been that if you lie, people lose trust in your integrity—which could cost you later, when you need their help and trust. But there is something else to be learned. This is an old story. It’s so old that we can’t really say who came up with it. Certainly the “wolf” in the story is undeniably reminiscent of old European tales collected by the Grimm Brothers. But who knows?

Why did the boy lie? We all know what he lost—but we’ve grown so used to the tale that we’ve forgotten to ask the other central question: What did he gain? Before you read on, seriously, consider this question. On what level does the boy’s lie make sense? What did the boy gain? What was his motivation to lie? Does anyone really ever ask this when they remember this story?

To put it simply, it was fun for the boy to lie. It amused him to think that the villagers could be controlled by a word from his mouth—fooled by a simple shout: “Wolf!” An entire audience at his beck and call. So alluring to his mind, he couldn’t wait to test it out.

What I’d like to call out, though, is that in this old story we have an example of a general understanding of something we sometimes forget: Sometimes people don’t need a material motive or benefit to lie. Sometimes, psychologically speaking, lying is it’s own reward. When the boy lied he exercised control of others and amused himself. Why, when we hear this story, do we not respond, “But I don’t understand—why did the shepherd think the boy would lie—and so warn him not to do so? And why did the boy lie? The story makes no sense.” Nobody says this, because the story does make sense. The boy’s lie makes sense. We have no material benefit, but we totally understand the boy’s motive to lie.

We know that people sometimes lie for “no good reason.” Some people like to lie. Some people like to cause chaos. Some people like the idea of controlling others and being the focus of attention—having that small power over others. And we understand that.

In fact, as Munchausen by Proxy demonstrates, some people will kill their own children, lying all the while by claiming the kid is chronically ill, to get that sort of attention.

These are people who are married, who have jobs, who may be surrounded by friends and family who think they’re caring parents. But deep in their brains, these people are very, very needy—beyond anything I, and hopefully you, can imagine. They have a deep need for attention that overrides everything else—even parental instincts to protect their own children.

They don’t need a large audience, either. The Munchausen crowd usually only has immediate friends and family and some hospital staff at their disposal. Maybe a name in the paper if they’re caught. Just like the Boy Who Cried “Wolf!,” it’s extremely localized attention—but worth their child’s life. All it takes is someone to listen to them—to pay attention to them. And infamy works just as well as fame to fill this emotional void.

Consider the Salem Witch Trials. A handful of girls become the focus of a small community’s attention when they feign fits and attacks by local “witches”—knowingly responsible for the torture and executions of a dozen or so innocent friends and neighbors. And for what? For a game of “let’s pretend,” where the girls get to be the center of attention? Where the village listened to them—paid undivided attention to their every word? It must have been intoxicating—all eyes on them, waiting, breathlessly, for their next tale of terror—waiting to see who would be accused next of flying through the air, consorting with feline familiars or having sex with demons.

People who lie for attention will kill their own children. People who lie for attention don’t care if their lies cause harm and death to others. People who lie for attention don’t care if it’s just a handful of people giving it to them. People who lie for attention can be your next door neighbor. They’re among us. They’re not all locked in asylums somewhere. They function as working parts of our society. However “abnormal” they may be deep in their brains, they are “normal” enough to be socially integrated until, and unless, they are eventually discovered when they cross a legal line.

The Claim: “Nobody Would Die for a Lie”
Christian apologist Josh McDowell’s book More Than Just a Carpenter, so it’s stated online, has a chapter titled “Who Would Die for a Lie?” If you’re not familiar with this theist argument, here are a few theists explaining it. I like to let Christians speak for themselves when it comes to restating their claims, so I’m not later accused of building or responding to Strawmen. Emphasis throughout this article is mine.
“Nobody would die for a lie knowing that it was a lie. Many have died for a lie, but they did not realize they were dying for a lie. They thought they were dying for the truth. Fact is, all the Apostles, save John were killed for their preaching. Some were speared to death; some were killed with a sword; some were beheaded and some were beaten to death. Why is this a logical and reasonable validation of the New Testament? The answer is they had first hand knowledge of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus.”
Pastor Bobby W. Leggett in the December 23, 2008, Blanco County News (TX) “Focus on Faith” section, contribution of an article titled “Is the Bible Reliable and Valid?”
If you’re like me, you may have had to read it more than once to realize he was actually arguing on behalf of the validity of scripture. You might have noticed that he rebuts himself when he begins with “Many have died for a lie, but they did not realize they were dying for a lie. They thought they were dying for the truth.” It sounds like something an atheist would say to rebut his later point—that these Christian martyrs believed these things happened, but were simply wrong. Still, his conclusion is not that a martyr’s death demonstrates their conviction, but that it demonstrates that what they were convicted of is true. See his last line.
“…the greatest testament to their honesty was the fact that they were persecuted under the Roman government and died for what they believed in. People may die for the truth, but nobody would die for a lie that they conceived.”
Timothy Minich contributed his article to the Christian section of a site called “” It has an atheist section that includes religious articles actually presenting religious views. Minich supplies an apologist’s view, above.
Just like Leggett’s claim, Minich claims that it’s impossible that anyone would die for a lie if they knew it was a lie—if they, Minich qualifies, conceived the lie themselves.
“This is one of the reasons, years ago, that I decided that the resurrection must have happened. Otherwise who would die for a lie? These were people who had a passion for the message of Christ, who were willing to take up their crosses daily to spread the word. Who goes into strange lands, traveling hot and dusty roads, with little money, into lands that are unsafe and where they could easily die a painful death, all for a lie?”
--Reverend Dr. N. Graham Standish, September 7, 2008, sermon, online at
Above, we can’t dismiss that the very first sentence of this theist’s claim undeniably connects the idea that if a person would die for a claim it is evidence the claim “must have happened.” As he notes, these people “could easily die a painful death”—and he cannot accept a person would be willing to risk that over a lie. He doesn’t even add the caveat that it could have been a lie they believed. But I’ll add that, myself, to give him the benefit of the doubt. Let’s make the claims all as reasonable as possible:
If a person knows their claim is a lie—such as a claim someone made up himself—it is impossible that person would die for it.
I believe this is not only fair, but a generous interpretation of the arguments, as stated, above.

Three Giveaways
I can think of three scenarios right off the bat that defy the claim above. I am going to explain them, and then discount them as “giveaways”—and I will explain why.

Coercion 1: This would be a situation where someone who knows you is being interrogated, and they name you as someone who was running around preaching the resurrection. It is a lie. You know it is a lie. You are brought in and beaten and questioned. You, like many people today who admit to murder due to police interrogations that I will wager are not nearly as horrible as what I would expect to encounter in antiquity, tell them whatever they want to hear to get them to stop beating you. You hope for leniency, but you are executed. You have now become a Christian resurrection martyr who died for a lie.

Coercion 2: This would be identical to coercion except that you know you will be executed. You tell them what they want to hear in order to die, because they are not going to believe you were not preaching, and ultimately you will either die painfully and slowly or be more quickly executed, which you deem is preferable. You confess and are executed. You have now become a Christian resurrection martyr who died for a lie.

Protecting Someone You Love: Someone reports to the authorities that a person in your house was preaching the resurrection. You know it was your child, who is involved with the Christians. You lie and say it was you. You are arrested and executed. You have now become a Christian resurrection martyr who died for a lie.

In any of the three situations above, somebody would, understandably, die for a lie. They would also be logged as a religious martyr, that is, someone who died for their religion. People would die for lies—even lies they knew were lies. And nobody can deny that people have offered confessions to capital crimes, under coercion, or to protect other people. Such people have been discovered and sometimes exonerated.

But, let’s overlook those demonstrated examples of people who are willing to die for lies they, themselves, have manufactured or understood were lies. Let’s overlook it because the first objection will be that martyrs were preaching the resurrection and refused to recant. So, the above only demonstrates people would die for a lie, but not that the specific Christian examples would have. Honestly, though, if all I do here is put “nobody would die for a lie they knew was a lie” to bed, or make people produce a more supportable and specific claim, I’ll have accomplished something monumental.

So, I give the theists, whether they state it or not, that they meant to offer that a person would not die for a lie without coercion or external pressure of some sort. Now we have a claim that looks more like this:
Nobody would voluntarily, and without external coercion or pressure, offer a false confession to a capital offense, knowing it was false—up to, and including, something he, himself, manufactured.
And I can’t imagine being more fair than that with this claim. I am stretching to give every benefit of reasonableness I can imagine.

My Disclaimer:
In a way I’m torn about even broaching this because some might say the best approach is to question the validity of the tales describing the martyrs. Like any ancient history—any such tale can only be taken with a grain of salt. I don’t mean, with this post, to lend undue credibility to the idea that there were actually “eye witnesses” to a resurrection, or that people who were martyred were actually martyred for refusing to deny a resurrection—versus, for social or religious persecution brought on in the same manner we see religious persecution today. You don’t have to be an eye-witness to be a martyr. And the fact someone dies for a cause doesn’t really tell me what specifically they claimed at trial and if that is the reason they were actually executed. In other words, a person might preach the resurrection, but be tortured and killed as a political subversive.

So, just to be clear, this post is not meant to address the question of whether or not there are legitimate claims of such martyr tales.

This post is only to examine whether or not it is justified to claim that “nobody” would voluntarily face death, without coercion, for a lie they knew was a lie.

As the claim is stated, using “nobody,” means a single example to the contrary, outside our three exclusions, is sufficient to render it failed. But I’m sure the apologists who issue it would want to see at least enough examples to account for multiple martyr accounts. One example will probably be insufficient to get them to lay this down. But we must keep in the front of our minds that we need not address all Christian martyrs. This claim can only be applied to a very narrow subset of historic Christian martyr claims—only those martyrs who we can reasonably claim professed to have seen the resurrection firsthand, refused to recant, and were executed specifically for refusing to recant their claim that a resurrection occurred.

I admit right off the bat that I have not researched the martyr stories. I am familiar with the death of Stephen in Acts 6-7, but the tale says he was arrested on lies against him, and, further, that his testimony that resulted in his execution was that he claimed Jesus had been murdered, not that Jesus resurrected. Just for the record, that is a very important distinction. And it means that Stephen is discounted as a person who died for the claim that Jesus resurrected.

I have no idea if there are records of early Christians dying for resurrection testimony. But at this point, it is not relevant. I’m only addressing the martyr apologetic, not examining the martyr stories: Are there people who would be willing to lie and put themselves in harm’s way, up to and including facing capital punishment, for an uncoerced absolute fabrication they created themselves?

Facing Execution for Infamy and Notoriety
The following quote is from the paper “False Confessions: Why?” (subtitled “A pathological need for attention, or blurring of reality, may underlie the phenomenon”) by Kathleen Doheny (reviewed by Louise Change, MD), found at the Willams College Psychology Department Web site (Williamstown, Mass.):
“Some false confessors have a pathological need for attention,” Saul Kassin, PhD, a distinguished professor of psychology at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York and professor at Williams College in Williamstown, Mass., says to explain confessions like [John Mark] Karr’s.

“That is what everyone is speculating in the Karr case,” he says. “The pathology is such that that need predominates. And everything else fades into the background.” Even the risk of prison or death.

“They are driven by the limelight,” adds Eric Hickey, PhD, professor of criminal psychology at California State University, Fresno, and director of the Center of Forensic Studies at Alliant International University, Fresno.
Described above, we have a mind, motivated by an insatiable need for attention, very much like our shepherd boy, the Munchausen mother, and the Salem children—all of whom demonstrated that only a small audience is sufficient. But the individuals Doheny is describing, rather than harming others, are willing to accept harm to themselves, including death. Interestingly, the defense for the Munchausen patient could very well be the apologetic applied to the martyrs: “Surely, nobody would kill her own child and lie about it—just for attention?” And yet, she does. And “surely, nobody would put themselves in a situation where they’re lying and claiming to have done things that are known to result in execution?” And yet, they do.

And while even a small, immediate audience suffices for such a person, what a boon it would be to go down in history as a hero to a religious faith—still recognized for your sacrifice more than two thousand years later. If there were such Christian martyrs, could they have thought they were achieving this sort of fame at the time? Certainly history logged martyrs before Christianity. But, honestly, I couldn’t wager a guess. Suffice to say that I have no reason to doubt that their immediate fame or infamy presented sufficient audience to justify their lies and sacrifices. It is right in step with the examples of those who lie for recognition, listed earlier. In fact, in a few cases I came across in the literature, there was one for murder, and another for robbery, issued specifically to impress girlfriends—an audience of one.

These types of lies, were all the buzz right after John Mark Karr came forward in e-mails claiming to have been with JonBenet Ramsey when she died—earning himself a first degree murder charge. But there is some speculation about Karr's confession specifically. So, I am not using Karr as a shining example.

During his time in the limelight, though, CBS News highlighted the story and made public the issue of “Voluntary False Confession” (VFC). But it wasn’t the first time the U.S. public had seen this sort of weirdness. From the numbers I came across, 200 or more of these death-wish, attention-seeking liars, living as our friends and neighbors, came forward to take credit for the tragic and historically infamous Lindbergh baby kidnapping and murder in the 1930s. In a real ironic twist, the event was labeled as “the biggest story since the Resurrection,” by reporter H.L. Mencken. An event that inspired hundreds of attention-seeking liars to beg for execution is compared to the resurrection. Interesting.

In the CBS story, Alan Hirsch, a professor of legal studies at Williams College and founder of the blog The Truth About False Confessions, stated “As hard as it is to believe, there are just many, many false confessions for many reasons, and so [if] I hear that someone confessed, my reaction is not, ‘Oh, they did it.’”

As we’ve already discussed, Hirsch goes on in the story to say, “Voluntary false confessions can be motivated by a suspect’s desire for notoriety. In high profile cases, it is not rare for multiple innocent people to tell the police they are guilty.”

But lest we get too hung up on notoriety, be warned, that’s far from the only motive for a person to voluntarily tell a lie that could, realistically, get them killed.

VFC to be Heard and Imagination Inflation
Also in Doheny’s article, in talking about VFC, Hickey points out, “Other confessors are angry and want to be heard…They want a voice. They don’t feel like they have a voice.”

Hickey does not speculate this is what happened with Karr, though. He thinks it is possible Karr “wanted to be connected to JonBenet so badly. Maybe he thought about it so much he fantasized himself into believing it.” Kassin describes a situation where a person imagines an event, over and over, and becomes uncertain about whether it is real or not. In Doheny’s paper, he says, “The memory research on this is clear—it’s called imagination inflation.”

We even had a caller on the show not long ago who did this as a child. He imagined a vacation his family talked about very often. When he got older, he talked about his memories of it and was informed he hadn’t been with the family during the trip. It happens—to normal people. I know this doesn’t qualify as a “lie” in our context, but I feel compelled to note that part of religious indoctrination and ritual is repetition—to hear the stories over and over. Think: Imagination Inflation.

VFC for Thrills
But there are more recognized psychological motivations that drive otherwise socially integrated people to be willing to offer a VFC. Doheny’s paper describes something called “duping delight.” In plain terms, this is a rush some people get from lying to other people. PhD and a research psychologist Cynthia Cohen attributes eminent psychologist Paul Ekman with coining the term. Cohen adds, “In putting something over on someone, they get a thrill. It’s almost like someone who likes to do bungee jumping. Someone who has duping delight gets excitement from telling a lie and having someone believe it. Maybe they got rewarded for their tall tales in childhood. Perhaps their friends or even their parents thought the behavior was cute.”

VFC Because of Low Self-Esteem
There’s still more reasons for people to give VFC. The item below is from the chapter titled “False confessions, the Temple Murder Case, and the Tucson Four” from the book The Right to Remain Silent, by Gary L. Stewart, former editor of the Arizona Law Review:
“False confessions derive from several psychological conditions. A suspect may feel guilty about something he has done or failed to do, something completely unrelated to the crime in question.”
Stewart talks about the frequency of such confessions as well:
The frequency of false confessions is a vigorously debated question in the legal world. An even more complicated question arises in trying to determine how many wrongful convictions are based on false confessions. Estimates range from a low of 35 to a high of 840 annually.
Bear in mind that a false confession is not necessarily a VFC. There is a difference. But also keep in mind the Lindbergh case, alone, inspired around 200 immediate VFCs. People continue to confess to the still unsolved Black Dahlia murder. And some, like convicted murderer Henry Lee Lucas, keep confessing to murder after murder in which they had no involvement whatsoever.

While I’d like to think we wouldn’t actually convict such a person, the truth is we only know about the ones we know about. If any have been executed, we have no way to know that short of an extremely unlikely post-mortem exoneration. All I intend to offer here is that, based on what we know about reality, it is not unreasonable to reject the claim that “nobody” would, voluntarily, die for a lie, if he knew it was a lie.

More About Guilt
The guilt complex motive was one that interested me immediately, since Christianity and guilt have a well-known and often humorously portrayed love-affair dating back to its Hebrew religious roots, but amplified with the resurrection story. Anyone would be hard pressed to try and claim that people who feel unworthy aren’t drawn like files to a religion that preaches redemption that one cannot access through one's own worth. A religion that specifically reinforces a reality that all humans are wretched would offer a great deal of appeal, in the form of relation and identity, to someone with deep-seated self-esteem problems.

Someone recently referred to this as the “I am the Universe” fallacy on our tv list. The idea is that however I feel, whatever I think, whatever I would do, it’s the same for everyone. It’s not a rare perspective to exhibit. And I do get the irony of my next comment which is to say I can’t imagine that anyone hasn’t made this mistake at least once in their life. You generally get a heaping helping of reality slapped onto your plate after you make such a universal assumption, and find yourself corrected by someone who isn’t exactly like you. A mild example would be that you buy a chocolate cake for a dinner party, plop it down on the table and say, “Doesn’t everyone love to eat chocolate cake?!” The hostess replies, “I’m afraid I’m allergic to chocolate,” and you have a Eureka! moment where you realize that you are, in fact, not the universe, and probably should not have presumed something about others, without checking.

But if I’m riddled with self-esteem issues that I can’t free myself from, how could I even imagine a person without such issues? The fact is, someone who is motivated by jealousy will assume that they can make others jealous (that we all suffer that same fault). We think “this would motivate me, so it should motivate you.” Sometimes it works. Sometimes not. But if I am horribly insecure and can’t imagine what it’s like to be secure, odds are I will suspect the world, like me, is also insecure. And the religion that says, “Don’t we all realize, deep down, that we’re just not good enough, that we need a savior?” will reach into my brain and light me up like Christmas. It will speak to me and echo my self-imposed, delusional reality. And it will ring true—for me.

The guilt motivation for a VFC—a way of punishing myself—fits Christian martyrdom like a glove. If I think I’m a wretch who deserves hell fire, and that I killed the uniquely good messiah with my wickedness, then paying with my life while I witness to god would be the most glorious death imaginable.

Would a Christian saint lie, though? Someone so devoted to god? Absolutely, yes, if they were suffering from these issues. Good Christians have lied without gaining notoriety, redemption, or a rush. Every scribe that ever doctored a canon text to make it a little more orthodox is guilty of lying for the cause of Christianity. I’m sure they were aware it was dishonest. But a higher cause, a nobler goal was prompting them. The texts were revised. We have the notes in our Bibles today describing which passages have been added or altered from older or better manuscripts. Quotes were “fixed.” Characters were made more consistent or gentler. But it was all to improve on the message—all for the greater good.

Yes, people who subscribe vehemently to a doctrine will lie and die for it—even if the doctrine promotes honesty as a virtue. It’s weirdly hypocritical and contradictory—but since when have religious zealots (or any of us, for that matter) been immune, as humans, from hypocrisy or contradiction? Aren’t these, ironically, some of the very flaws Christianity says we’re all subject to? On that note, how ironic that an apologetic would be built around the idea that a human being couldn’t possibly act in a way that makes no sense. We see it all the time. The Bible condemns us for it and calls it sin and fault. I call it being human.

Would a reasonable person die for such a lie? No. But since when are humans—even most humans—reasonable? Where in the world was that fantasy bred?

Other researchers also noted the guilt motivator in VFC. In “The Psychology of False Confessions,” Richard P. Conti, PhD, Department of Psychology, College of Saint Elizabeth, Morristown, NJ, writes:
“…Other possible motives for voluntary false confessions include an ‘unconscious need to expiate guilt over previous transgressions through self-punishment,’ (Kassin & Wrightsman, 1985, p. 77). Gudjonsson (1992) points out that a previous transgression can be either a real or an imagined act. Gudjonsson further states that the transgression does not necessarily have to be identifiable, ‘some individuals have a high level of generalized guilt, which is not related to a specific transgression, and this may influence a range of their behaviours [sic], including their need to volunteer a false confession.’”
The Link Between Guilt and Depression
The following quotes come from psychologist, Dr. Craig Bennell’s paper “Voluntary False Confessions: An Overview.” Among other things, this paper explains that the guilt that drives some people is actually part of depression—a very common psychological disorder that afflicts huge numbers of people:
“In cases where severely depressed individuals falsely confess, the confession is viewed as an attempt by the individual to relieve intense feelings of guilt. It is proposed that the guilt is generated by past events and experiences and is projected onto some external event [eg. a crime] which becomes the focus for the patients guilt (Gudjonsson, 1992, p. 241). To relieve this guilt, it follows that the individual is motivated to seek out some kind of punishment. In the case of falsely confessing to a crime they did not commit, this punishment comes via fines, prison sentences, even death. These individuals seem to believe that once they confess to their misdeeds and are publicly punished, their guilt will finally cease (Gudjonsson, 1992).”

“It has been proposed, in cases of personality disordered individuals, that the false confession is motivated by a need to enhance an important psychological need, commonly one s self-esteem (Gudjonsson, 1992). Kassin and Wrightsman (1985) suggest that ‘the individual has a pathological need to become infamous, even if it means having to face the prospect of punishment...’

“Certainly, in cases of voluntary false confessions where the confessor is clearly disturbed, perhaps even confessing to crimes that do not exist (Gudjonsson, 1992), the task of assessing the legitimacy of their confession, though time consuming, would seem less complex. However, for those voluntary false confessions that are more difficult to identify, it would be beneficial to have a system for predicting which individuals were falsely confessing—herein lies the problem. For as long as false confessions have been the studied, researchers have recognized that people, including those who deal with deception on a regular basis (Ekman and O’Sullivan, 1991), are not good at detecting whether or not someone is being deceptive (Horvath et al., 1994; Kohnken, 1987). This is not to say that research hasn’t identified observable behavioral differences between ‘truth tellers’ and ‘deceivers,’ only that the ability of people to recognize these differences is not very impressive.”
I’d Know If Someone Were Lying to Me
And here Bennell hits on something really interesting. Humans are not very good at recognizing liars. Remember that CBS News story? Hirsch, during that story said, “The rule of thumb is that everybody does overreact to a confession—there tends to be an assumption that it’s true.” In fact, in my reading on this topic, I read research demonstrating that people will say they would not be influenced by a confession if they found it was coerced; but when presented with a coerced confession, as the only difference in evidence in mock trial experiments, they convict more often than they did without the confession.

People’s brains love confessions. And people’s brains don’t work well when it comes to weeding out good ones from bad ones. No wonder the martyr argument sways so many. Apparently, even if I were able to show that all the martyrs ever recorded were killed due to coerced confessions—whether we’re proud of it or not—we’d still have a lot of people arguing that the martyrs were telling the truth about a resurrection.

But even more painful than the reality that we strongly tend to believe whatever lies and delusions flow from another person’s mouth, there is an embarrassing inverse correlation between how well we tell fact from fiction versus how convinced we are that we’re good at telling fact from fiction. The following breakdown comes from a paper titled “I’d Know a False Confession if I Saw One’: A Comparative Study of College Students and Police Investigators,” by Saul M. Kassin, Christian A. Meissner, and Rebecca J. Norwick, published in Law and Human Behavior, Vol. 29, No. 2, April 2005. Pay attention to the following, and don’t just let your eyes gloss over. This study asked convicted criminals to give both true confessions of their crimes and false, scripted confessions. They asked students and police investigators to review the confessions and judge whether they were true or false.
“Across participants, conditions, and items, the overall accuracy rate was 53.9%—a level of performance that is both unimpressive and nonsignificant relative to chance performance (z-test for proportions = 0.87). In signal detection terms, the hit rate (the percentage of inmates whose true confessions were correctly identified as true) was 63.6% and the false alarm rate (the percentage of inmates whose false confessions were incorrectly identified as true) was 56.1%. On a 1–10 point scale, the overall mean confidence level was 6.76. Interestingly, judgment accuracy and confidence were negatively correlated…”
In plain English, the research found that none of the subjects did very well at recognizing fact from fiction. In fact, the results were so dismal that you’d have done just as well if you didn’t hear or watch the confessions and just categorized the “true” and “false” tapes using eenee-meenee-minee-moe. Law enforcement officers felt more confident than the students that they could tell a true confession from a false one. But the students, who were less certain, judged better.

In the end it’s my guess that the martyr argument persists for the following reasons:

1. The “I am the universe fallacy.” I am not the type of person who would die for a lie. And I don’t know people who would die for a lie. Ergo, nobody would die for a lie.

Even though we can easily demonstrate that “some people would face execution for a lie” is a realistic claim, it’s simply hard to get people to accept that it’s a big world out there with a lot of diversity, especially if you’re into a religion where diversity is condemned and conformity is rewarded and constantly reinforced. Who hasn’t heard that “atheists don’t ‘not believe’ in god—they know there’s a god. They’re just being defiant”?

“I am the Universe” lives! And I don’t see “I am the Universe” going away just because I posted this article; but, I hope to have demonstrated the claim “nobody would die for a lie” can absolutely not stand unchallenged in the face of demonstrated VFCs. “Nobody would die for a lie,” is along the same lines as arguing that “no woman would stay with a man who hits her.” If I didn’t know that this actually occurs in reality, certainly I would be inclined to agree it was reasonable to assert nobody would continue to live with someone who beats them if they could leave. It sounds reasonable. It makes perfect sense. And yet, every one of us knows it’s false and does not correlate to reality.

2. We put a high value on confessions, and we think we can tell when someone is offering us an honest or dishonest confession, even though we really can’t. And the more we believe we can, the more likely we can’t.

So, all a martyr has to do is make a confession. Right off the bat, some people will believe the martyr, simply because people believe confessions. Further, even if it’s a lie, a lot of people won’t be able to tell, but will feel confident they know the confession is true. In one article, it noted that some people will convict on a confession of guilt, even when confronted with compelling evidence of innocence. Our brains simply like to believe confessions. And the apparent validity of the confession and whether or not it correlates to the evidence is, to an uncomfortable degree, irrelevant to our brains.

Simply stated, a whole lot of people tend to believe what other people confess—too much and for horrible reasons—even for no reason at all.

In the end, though I have one rhetorical question about the martyr argument: What would be the point of any Christian dying for the truth? According to the stories, God knows whether you believe or not—doesn’t He? Would merciful Jesus condemn you to hell for avoiding torture by lying to evil men—and going on to spread his Word and save others, later? If you believe, repent, confess and ask for forgiveness—isn’t salvation guaranteed? “Not martyring yourself,” and “lying” are not unpardonable sins. What is the gain of martyrdom in Christianity? How, in the world did that catch on?


  1. Fascinating post. I think the problem with Christian apologists is that they presume that: 1)one has to be rational to lie 2)that one has to be conscious of the lie he tells 3)that one cannot believe his own lies 4)that one cannot be sincere making extraordinary claims and still be deluded. It seems highly plausible to me that early Christians practised what Orwell later called doublethinking, believing almost simultaneously whatever they were inventing to keep their own faith alive. And wouldn't a group of men have believed about the resurrection, even have sincerely believed they had witnessed its manifestations? Especially a group of men that were already superstitious, that had a leader who was making prophecies about the very near end of times and what have you, that had seen said leader dying a horrible and (in their eyes) unjust death, which must have got them pretty shaken up. They might have been sincere, but I don't see why we should not question their sanity.

    On a side note, how many of the Apostles do we know for sure died as martyrs? How many claims of martyrdom have been verified?

  2. @Guillaume: I wrote a very cursory examination of whether the apostles were really martyred on my blog a while back.

    That said, I don't place too much weight in my analysis, as I am by no means an expert in such things, nor do I think it matters very much, for the reasons detailed here by Tracie.

  3. Tracie, wow. Fantastic post.

  4. Yo Atheist Experience Blog, imma let you finish, but Tracie has made one of the best posts of all time.

    I'm keeping this link handy, because with this post, the "Nobody Would Die For A Lie" Argument is so thoroughly refuted, so completely decimated in every passing paragraph, that any future theists who make this claim had better have a spare pair of undergarments.

    Because they're going to need them.

  5. I also found VFC is a very nice explanation for Christian martyrdom. You went into excellent detail to show how VFC arises out of very commonplace conditions (like depression and guilt) from which I inferred that this is not something that requires all that much other psychological conditioning to manifest (as you nicely emphasize – VFCs are so commonplace, they often come from our friends and our neighbors).

    However, there was also a quick mention in your piece (quote from Gudjonsson, 1992) that linked VFC to personality disorders. I was wondering, if VFC and personality disorders are totally independent diagnoses with independent pathologies that might, in some cases, both manifest in the same person, or do VFC manifest far more often on top of various personality disorder or, perhaps, are VFCs categorized as part, or in whole, as a specific personality disorder itself?

    And, I know this has little bearing – but since you twisted our arms to think of alternative morals for the “Boy..Wolf” fable and I thought of one, I felt obligated to add: “Never tell the same lie twice” is also a fairly common alternative interpretation I have heard for this fable too, especially among people who value deception as a virtue (confidence artists, politicians, etc.).

    A most helpful argument to remember – and you tell it so very well. And, of course, thanks mostly for yet another pin to deflate the false balloon of pride that props up the blustering religious apologists!

  6. Guillaume: how many of the Apostles do we know for sure died as martyrs? How many claims of martyrdom have been verified?

    In case you don't mean these rhetorically (and just call me gullible if you did) I do believe the answers to those two question are emphatically none and none. While many historians accept the hearsay evidence we do have as sufficient proof that the apostles were likely real people (just like Jesus), the same problem exists for them as does for Jesus himself -- no contemporary, extra biblical references.

  7. @Jason Creighton-Thanks for the link.
    @DagoRed-I have another moral of the Boy Crying Wolf story: "if you lie, stick to your lie and never, ever, ever admit you lied". I think the sheperd boy might have survived had he said that he did see a wolf the first time but that he ran away when he heard the villagers coming. And then the second time, when he saw a real wolf, his lie would have appeared more plausible.
    As for the Apostles and early Christians, even if some did die for their faith, we do not know what were the circumstances of said death and the real claims they made. Did they say that Jesus was the Messiah to a few Jews who did not believe so and who killed them in a fit of anger? That would then be a case of punctual religious intolerance, not martyrdom. If they were preaching an ideology that was perceived as a direct or indirect threat to the people in power at the time, that would have been enough to trigger persecutions, regardless of claims of resurrection.

  8. DagoRed:

    VFC is really not a condition, but an action. So, it's really a symptom more than a cause. If I understand your question, I think this would be my answer. VFC is something a person does. An underlying personality disorder would cause it. But in the three examples I discounted (coercion and lying to protect others), I would argue that those people are not exhibiting a personality disorder, but actually thinking quite rationally.

  9. Speaking of the "I am the universe" pathology, a corollary of this that you find all over the place (i.e. in the new age "I'm the creator of my own reality" nonsense) is reason no. I believe 3 or 4 that I finally adopted a skeptical position towards religion and belief:

    "I have a notion of X" implies "X is true"

    and its complement

    "I have no notion of X/cannot conceive of X" implies "X cannot be true"

    Traci deftly deals with this in her post so I won't try to steal her thunder and go into a bunch of detail, but I will offer a stunning example of this once offered to me by my mother, the most self-centered advocate of "I am the universe" I know. This was also, IIRC, one of the first non-ignorable intrusions of reason into my belief system that I can recall because it was so blatantly, well, stupid:

    We were having a discussion in the car one day and she began to outline a "theory" of hers that attempted to explain the (alleged) correspondence between the zodiac and personality type (this was in the context of a more general discussion on spirituality we'd been having on this road trip. This was back before I became an atheist).

    Essentially her solution was to attribute it to the seasons. The reasoning went that people born in fall and winter tended to have this set of personality traits because of the cold etc., those born in spring and summer had this other set because it was hot and so on. With appropriate twisting, she was able to establish these traits as codified in the zodiac. It was in fact all very elaborate and she had this very extensive system of theology built up around all this. It was kind of amazing.

    But I immediately asked her "what about the southern hemisphere"? I didn't really even need to point out to her that the timing of the seasons in the southern hemisphere are reversed - she instantly recognized that she had overlooked that one simple fact.

    That rather shitcanned the whole thing right there and it sent her into a bit of a conundrum (from which I don't think she ever really escaped).

    But what really interested me at the time was how much of religion and belief of the type I was aligned with at the time was exactly like this. It really was "I have some notion of X, some aspect of humanity or our world" and therefore that necessarily implies that it's an expression of truth.

    I remember it was after that one incident that a key was sort of turned in my mind; at that point I think I suddenly started to become interested in the truth value of what I believed rather than simply a devotee of it. That incident stuck like a "splinter in my mind" and is still one of the most singularly ridiculous things I think I've ever heard a human being say to me.

    Anyway, great post....


  10. Tracie, thank you so much for this enlightening post. I always really enjoy your posts, as they dig deeply into the question at hand, while providing us laypersons with usable refutations of common apologetics. Thanks!

  11. LS:

    Just to say that I really relate to your note about your mother being stopped in her tracks by a contradicting fact she knew, but had not considered. Also how it "stuck like a splinter" in your mind.

    I have had this experience back in the day when I argued apologetics on behalf of Christianity. And I have also, as a later atheist been presented with facts or realities I've overlooked. And I find the two experiences, in the two contexts are night and day.

    As a Christian, these facts did hit like a brick. As an atheist, not so much. Even when I was a Christian who believed, I recall the shock of "I _knew_ that--how come I didn't think of that?" I think the main difference is that as a Christian, I had thought a lot about these ideas, discussed them with other Christians, really pondered them and put time into them...and still overlooked really obvious problems. But as a atheist, it most often happens in a context where I'm talking off the top of my head. I might be disucssing something with you, for example, and I say, "Well, I think maybe blah, blah, blah." And you say, "Well, no, because sometimes XYZ," and I say, "Oh, yes, you're right. I wasn't considering that."

    It just seemed to happen in a far more exaggerated capacity as a Christian, and the moments stuck, I believe, because my brain was signaling me that I should have remembered these facts, and considered them long before I was engaged in the dialogue I was engaged in. I was so swayed by apologetics, but only because I was trained not to ask the right questions and to compartmentalize them away from the realities that would contradict them.

    I'm far more "out there" now in my debates and dialogues, and have been now for more years than I was a Christian; but I have none of these same types of epiphanies, that you're describing, any more. The times I recall being slapped in the face by reality in that way, was in religious debate where I was arguing apologetics.

    I try to explain the difference to people between accepting claims based on indoctrination vs accepting claims because you actually reasoned them out on your own--and critically considered them. It's night and day. I don't think "belief" should be applied equally to them. But until I find a more appropriate word, I'm not sure what to call it.

  12. I do very much like this post. (I even saved it--for my own personal reference, mind you. I won't pass it around.) I do think the last paragraph was unnecessary and breaks out in a direction that might give the Christian apologist something to answer without having to deal with the profounder implications of the rest of the piece.

  13. Hi Mike;

    There were a few tangents I put in that went off a bit. I offered the last paragraph specifically as rhetorical. My point was to demonstrate that while apologists claim not canting only makes sense if you believe what you're saying, I put forward that _recanting_ makes sense if you believe what you're saying (as promoting Christian doctrine). In other words, a Muslim martyr is promised all manner of goodies should he die for god. A Christian is promoised the same goodies whether he dies as a martyr OR recants and then asks forgiveness. There is no benefit--even if we accept Christianity as god's truth--to dying a Christian martyr. There's no spiritual incentive. The Bible describes a god who KNOWS you're imperfect, and who has told you that nothing you can do will earn you points in Heaven--salvation through grace means that action is not the delineator. You can't be worthy, only forgiven. If you preached a resurrection, but recanted under torture, that doesn't mean you "stopped believing"--it means you told lies to stop torture. And to the Christian god, that's OK--you're human, you can't help but sin, but you're forgiven, so it's OK.

    If that's the case--what is my point in dying a martyr's death that my god has rendered wholly unncessary...?

  14. Tracie -- You hit upon exactly what I was clearly stumbling over. Despite your best efforts to emphasize the exact opposite in your article in painstaking detail (which I now note with amazement on how I could have missed this message), I still walked away wanting to think VLC *has to be* some kind of clinical disorder (e.g. something that rational people don't usually 'do') and not merely a simple action (e.g. something that rational people may do and do unknowingly). I see now this was an obvious oversight on my part. Your re-emphasis of VLC as a mere 'action' snapped me out of my obstinate delusion. Thanks.

  15. As a Christian, these facts did hit like a brick. As an atheist, not so much.

    To play devil's advocate. Don't discount the fact that you are also much older in your "atheist" years than you were in your "Christian" years. There is a lot to be said for simply growing older --- whether age brings us "wisdom, enlightenment, and reflection" or merely "pigheadedness and an I-don't-give-a-damn-what-you think-you-little-shit attitude" can be quite debatable, but one thing is for sure, simply growing older may be all there is to lessening those moments in life when a being 'hit like a brick' becomes more like being peppered by little pebbles.

  16. DagoRed:

    Re: Getting older.

    I don't discount that my attitudes have surely changed with age. I am far more laid back. But that's not what I'm describing.

    I still get hit with obvious things I may have overlooked. But I'm less likely to see that happen (can't remember it ever happening) in my older, atheist years. Today, when I overlook something obvious, it's generally over something I would admit was never well-thought-out. I might be discussing some interesting point of morality, exploring a consideration I'd never thought deeply about--and someone points out I'm missing something obvious and relavant. My reaction is an "Oh, duh! Yea" response.

    But as a Christian, I was very devoted to apologetics and reading the Bible. I considered myself well-informed on those topics, and considered I had investgated and considered them quite thoroughly. And the "errors" I was confronted with were inexcusable. My reaction was a very hard "How could I have considered this for all this time and still have overlooked something so easy to criticize?

    Overlooking the obvious is an easy mistake for anyone to make. But overlooking the obvious with regard to something you've studied for years is significant--or it is to me, in my brain.

  17. Wow, amazing post. It's very well written and I can see that a lot of effort went into it!

    I'm currently studying Cognitive Science as a Postgraduate so I found this to be a very fascinating subject matter.

    I also think that the claim "Nobody would die for a lie" is frustratingly silly. It's frustrating because of the life that it seems to have (it doesn't go away) and also because its demonstrably false. Clearly, if you believed that then you would be committing yourself to believe all claims uttered by people who died for their beliefs. This doesn't just mean Christian martyrs. Christian apologists would also have to believe the Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Pagans, and whatever modern-day sect/cult members who happened to belong to a suicide or martyrdom cult. It's just not tenable (and avoiding this logical move is probably only possible via special pleading).

    I appreciated seeing how you fit imagination inflation into the more religious frame of VFC etc. I'm currently doing a bit of research on Creating False Memories. I don't disagree with the connections and implications that you make.

    Your take on the "I am the Universe" fallacy expressed something that I have been trying to sort out in my own mind.

    Your take on the religious mindset ("Don’t we all realize, deep down, that we’re just not good enough, that we need a savior?") was something that I have also been noticing.
    I was raised Christian but in the last few years have been flirting more and more with the realisation that I'm probably more an atheist than I am a liberal christian ;)
    As I take off the rosy-tinted Christian glasses I am quite surprised at how cynical, depressive, and negative the messages are that float around Christianity. I see it in my friends and relatives and it saddens me. Your post explained some of the underlying mechanisms well, I thought.

    Good job, keep it up. Enjoy your week.

  18. Tracieh
    Your analysis is simpilstic , false and highly anachronistic.
    You try to assume modern psychological categories in America apply to ancient Mediterranean Jews living 2000 years ago. A cursory glance at any book on social and cultural anthropology reveals this to be false.
    For example you appeal to "guilt complexes" . Social anthropologists distinguish between individualistic integrity/guilt oriented societies (Modern America/Europe) and collectivist honor/shame oriented ones( like the ancient Middle East Jesus' disciples lived in).
    Your "guilt complexes" scenario may work in a modern guilt oriented society but not in the ancient near east.

    And again your appeal to low self-esteem works IN MODERN INDIVIDUALISTIC SOCIETIES . In ancient collectivist societies there was no such thing as any "individual self-esteem" .

    And as for the Christian message being based on feeling of guilt social anthropologists have shown this to be wrong too . Their message of forgiveness was about restoration of honor (because the ancient Jews had an honor/shame society).

  19. >A cursory glance at any book on social and cultural anthropology reveals this to be false.

    I had to laugh my degree included what is called an "area of specialization" which was in anthropology. I don't have to read a book on cultural anthropology, I took the class, in addition to anthropology of religion, physical anthropology, sociology, communication psychology...and I can go on.

    People would die for a lie they know is a lie. Whatever you assert, this apologetic is demonstrable false on so many levels it's not even funny. The claim needs to die or be revised to present an accurate picture of reality.

    People have an "individual" sense of self (as does a dog) no matter what the social context. Society can shape it, but destroying or modifying what is there is in no way to be confused with not having it.

    Guilt is a very old theme--the story of Stephen the Martyr, while he doesn't attest to resurrection--actually appeals to the Jews to whom he's speaking to try and move them by an accusation of murder. Rather than guilt them, he pisses them off, but "shame" pervades the Old Testament as well. Animal sacrifice was for atonement. Your claim guilt and shame existed past and present, but that guilt wouldn't motivate in the past is just funny. Wasn't the claim that Judas hung himself for remorse? Guilt not a motivator in Jesus' day? Only if you'll deny your Bible is a true reflection of those times.

    The religious message begins with: You are inherently flawed and hell looms before you as a just penalty for being human. That's the _reason_ for the salvation. Salvation from _what_?

  20. Hmmm, Wall of Text, it must be Tracie!

    Good post, though this is the greatest take on the "Boy Who Cried Wolf" ever.

    (Warning, links from that page may not be worksafe! The archive tells you which ones are safe.)

  21. >And again your appeal to low self-esteem works IN MODERN INDIVIDUALISTIC SOCIETIES . In ancient collectivist societies there was no such thing as any "individual self-esteem".

    I also have to laugh at this: Jews in Jesus time were living under Roman rule where Greeks were common as well. I can hardly believe you would assert that the context of such cultures that produced a cult of hero worship as huge as any the world has seen--didn't understand individual self-esteem. Have you read Homer? It's all about the individual stand-outs--the men who excel. There are also stories of women of such worth, individually, that men go to war, or die for them.

    The influence of Greek and Roman ideals on Jews is demonstrable in that Jesus is handed over to a resurrection myth. Common in Greek and Roman religion/mythology--half-man/half-gods and trips into the underworld (and back out) are common.

    In the Old Testament, the authors in large part, assert death is final. Only a few borrow from surrounding myths and talk about very simplistic hints at some sort of post-mortem existence--but nothing of the kind we see in Christianity--after Greek and Roman influence have taken hold.

  22. And what of Jesus quote about rendering unto Ceasar? Did Ceasar lack "individual self-esteem"? Wasn't it _fear of_ his personal motives that led to his death? No personal individual self-esteem in Jesus day? The whole senate was awash with personal agendas and goals--they were literally assassinating each other for individual motives, personal fame, wealth and glory--status.

    And you assert the Jews were ruled by and inundated by this culture--but not affected by it?

  23. Very good write up Tracie, I thoroughly enjoyed it.

    Personally my response to this attempt at apologetics is asking them when they will convert to being Heaven's Gate members or Mormons. Considering the founders of both religions also died for their religion.

  24. FF will take any position to support his stance. Even one as absurd as "humans weren't human like back in the day". Once again it's the uneducated saying "I know more about your field than you do!"

    Like when he talks biology, If I were Tracie i'd be insulted.

    But to summarize FF's argument "No it isn't! Stop confusing things with the facts!"

  25. Not to entirely strawman FF though, which I did, he's committing what I call the "Samoan fallacy", from Margret Mead's discretited and infamous work which argued that humans have the capacity for culture but it's the specific culture that is causal agent responsible for filling in the blanks. . I don't know if it has an official name, but it's when someone basically argues that people are entirely products of their culture, everything from emotions to thought, entirely culture sensitive. This is shown not to be true, just as Somalia is not a hedonist sex paradise, ancient judians and Romans had the same basic emotions and drives as humans do. Anthroplogy has shown that for the most part there are innate things to the human condition, Love, Jealousy, rage, Happiness, pride/ego are amongst those (Check out Derek Freeman's dismantelling of Mead, Daly and Wilson, Eckman, and Jankowiak's work for more info). What FF is saying is that mental conditions and processes didn't exist until we discovered them. IE for example no one was schizophrenic until we devised the term schizophrenia. I don't think he means to but he's slipping into a belief makes reality post modern philosophy that the christian scientists hold.

  26. I called FT's argument an "argument at impossibility" before, I think it still stands. "It is impossible that the eye could get developed by happenstance, therefore it must be divinely designed" (my old Re teacher's argument for God's existence). "It is impossible for the Apostles to have been delusional about Jesus's resurrection, or to the story to have been grossly exagerated in the Gospels". Where does he get these claims of impossibility? he certainly never backs them up by facts, only more claims that X is impossible. So now, if I understand his reasoning, human's psychology back then was so foreign to our own that guilt and individual self-esteem were non-existent? Amazing!

    Anyway, another question came to my mind: during the persecution, what exactly were the Romans accusing the Christians of? Was claims of resurrection something that bothered them all that much, if at all? I could understand that a Jew would be upset about such claim, enough to consider the one making them a blasphemer, but a Roman, why would he care about this? Polytheist religions are usually more tolerant of other faiths as they do not claim exclusivity of truth. And I am not saying that Christians were not persecuted in Roman times, only that I am wondering about what motivated those persecutions. Any historian specialised in that time period who could enlighten me? It would be interesting to know also to which extend Christians were persecuted.

  27. I believe the Romans actually left the Christians alone for some time, though they would not be happy mostly about claiming Jesus was god (it competes with the government's sovereignty: ie Caesar is god) and the persecutions didn't really pick up till Nero and some others who basically scapegoated them and killed them because they thought they were annoying.

  28. Ing, don't forget that some Christians wanted to be martyred. They would literally do everything they could to be killed, including goading and chiding Roman officials.

  29. I'll specify what I meant before.

    The Romans were concerned that Christians were claiming Jesus was a god which was a claim reserved for the Emperor, claiming Jesus was god implied he had an authority above the Emperor.

    The Romans were probably also equally or more concerned with the claim that Jesus was the messiah since that was language zealots and Jewish dissidents had been using to start resistance movements and uprisings. Jesus as the messiah put the Christians in the same camp as the zealots who wanted to drive away the empire.

    So the real concern wasn't the resurrection at all, it was the claims that would make Christianity a threat to the pax romana.

    it's the equivalent of some nut today saying that they died, came back to life, rode a flying elephant and is also the real president and the current one is a fake and should be killed. The feds aren't going to give a diddly crap about the supernatural claims, but that last one that has the hints of treasonous intent is going to cause them to keep an eye on this guy.

  30. @ tracieh
    There's a lot to be said with regard to guilt. See here

    In context an Internet skeptic made some comments about a bible character "feeling guilty" and J.P. Holding was able to refute this using modern anthropological scholarship . The skeptic , not being content emailed Dr. R. Rohrbaugh , a scholar who specialises in social anthropology of the New testament period.
    This is what he said abouit guilt (quoted from the above page)
    " Since industrialized societies allow for economic, political, and especially psychological individualism, it is industrialized societies that are guilt cultures. It is because the ancient Mediterranean world was a highly collectivistic, agrarian society that GUILT WAS VIRTUALLY UNKNOWN. Reading it into ANY biblical text is a serious mistake. "
    Now despite having been defeated by modern anthropology twice the internet skeptic decided he could try to refute anthropology by throwing out random bible quotes (like those you did with Judas) . Rohrbaugh also responded.
    "No, these texts do not indicate that ancient people could be overcome by guilt. They indicate that people could be overcome by shame. Understanding the difference between guilt and shame is crucial here. Guilt is an internal reaction to a violation of one's own conscience. It depends on the existence of an individual conscience - something Middle Easterners do not have.

    Shame is an internalization of the moral judgment that comes from outside, from the group. In shame cultures it is the group that has the conscience, not the individual. Thus when a group accuses one of violating its standards, deep shame is the result. That is what we read about in the Bible. See 1 Cor. 4:4.

    To understand this more fully, please read the books on the Gospels that Bruce Malina and I have co-authored. Even more important are the many scholarly journal articles we have published. Internet quotes devoid of serious scholarly background are not the way to understand this."
    In the link they also have a testimony from a native Chinese Christian who also says she has no conscience and feels no guilt.

    "The influence of Greek and Roman ideals on Jews is demonstrable in that Jesus is handed over to a resurrection myth."
    No its not. I'm currently reading "The Resurrection of the Son of God" by NT Wright (Its pretty long but its a great source for pagan and Jewish beliefs on the afterlife). The Jews had the concept of resurrection for a while. SOme think the Jews borrowed from the Zoroastrians and some think the borrowing was the other way or both were independent . (Wright lists scholars for and against each view)

    " Common in Greek and Roman religion/mythology--half-man/half-gods and trips into the underworld (and back out) are common."
    1) Jesus was fully man/fully God
    2)Jesus didn't take a trip to the underworld
    3) What pagan sources are you talking about (the closest I can think of is Persphone and Orpheus who go down and come back)? But that's still very different from dying and resurrecting.

    "In the Old Testament, the authors in large part, assert death is final. Only a few borrow from surrounding myths and talk about very simplistic hints at some sort of post-mortem existence--but nothing of the kind we see in Christianity--after Greek and Roman influence have taken hold."
    Again , no greek or roman influence needed IF there was any it was Zoroastrian.

  31. I have to admit that when I started to read MrFreeThinker's objection I, too, started to laugh, thinking, "This has got to be tongue-in-cheek!" No, he seems to have been serious.

  32. @mikespeir
    You must be the sort of guy that thinks ancient people drove around in buicks and ate apple pies and things like honor killings , seppuku and taqiyya never happen.
    The fact that there is a huge difference between honor-shame cultures (like the ancient middle) and integrity-guilt cultures (like America/Europe) is only denid by the ignorant

  33. FF is great at strawmen! and at not actually adressing the points people made at why his statement is so damn stupid. Look, he knows he's full of bullshit, we know it, he's dishonest and a snot. Can't we just ignore him already? He does this every time. Comes up and stirs up a shit storm while making bold assertions and general 'science is wrong', 'written accounts of miracles mean they happened, then he disappears to his troll cave. He's not interested in learning, he doesn't listen to what anyone says there's no point in giving him any attention.

  34. What strawmen Ing?
    All I did was say that tracieh's psychoanalysis of the martyrs was false and anachronistic and showed so.

  35. GUILT WAS VIRTUALLY UNKNOWN. Reading it into ANY biblical text is a serious mistake.

    I'm not sure what to say about this except that it is plainly the stupidest contribution I have heard to any argument in quite a while. I can't believe that MFT is not embarrassed to say it out loud.

  36. @Kazim
    Let me know when you write your book refuting all those social anthropologists since you apparently think they're so stupid.(And refute all the native informants from other shame cultures who confirm these findings about guilt too. I suppose they are all lying)
    I personally am not embarrassed to present good research from anthropology or history.

  37. "I personally am not embarrassed to present good research from anthropology or history."

    Why don't you do so then? You do realize that your clout is low do to how you in the past pretended to know things and portrayed horrendous ignorance?

  38. "You must be the sort of guy that thinks ancient people drove around in buicks and ate apple pies and things like honor killings , seppuku and taqiyya never happen.
    The fact that there is a huge difference between honor-shame cultures (like the ancient middle) and integrity-guilt cultures (like America/Europe) is only denid by the ignorant"

    Oh scarecrow I think I'll miss you most of all!

  39. Let me know when you write your book refuting all those social anthropologists

    ...says the guy whose only source was a secondhand opinion quoted by a religious apologist.

  40. "You must be the sort of guy that thinks ancient people drove around in buicks and ate apple pies and things like honor killings , seppuku and taqiyya never happen."

    And we've never even met. Remarkable!

  41. @MFT-What a load of bullshit. Guilt virtually unknown? I burst out laughing reading this. If the Jews had a conscience then, and I can assume they did, they must have felt guilty sometimes. Heck, the existence of any moral standards makes guilt possible, in any culture. Christianity prospered dwelling on guilty feelings, from a small number of Jews first, then from Romans and Greeks, who knew about it pretty well: they had already built a literature around it.

  42. And that's to say nothing of the stories in the Bible that are built around guilt -- like Adam and Eve becoming ashamed of their nakedness, or Judas killing himself out guilt for betraying Jesus.

    Sometimes I suspect that MFT is so eager to make a point that he will latch on to any quote that sounds like it will rescue his position, without stopping to think about whether it will make a shred of sense to anyone.

  43. To be fair the idea of shame vs guilt motivated cultures is a hypothesis with some value in anthroplogy. But Our Mr. Wizard here is misrepresenting the idea, and clearly doesn't actually understand it. The main idea is really whether a culture uses a personal responsibility or an honor system. regardless of that, he is hilariously doing the OPPOSITE of the "I am the universe" fallacy. He's saying NO one in the past was anything at all like we are right now. You know, despite that we're all basically running on the same OS, with different culture(tm) software uploaded.

  44. @Ing
    The fact that there is a difference between honor/shame cultures and integrity/guilt cultures is not a "hypothesis". It's a verified fact. Things are starting to change now as America and Europe are becoming influential and 3rd world countries are starting to modernize , but until not too long ago rural agrarian societies in places like Asia and the Middle East lived in a similar kind of honor/shame culture (though probably not to the same degree as ancient times).

    Are you so closed-minded that you cannot conceive of any culture different from your own Ing?

  45. @Guillaume
    Did you read my earlier posts?
    I agree with you that ancient Jews did not have a "individual conscience" (if by that you mean a voice in your head that makes you feel guilty feelings).
    I said earlier quoting Rohrbaugh
    "Guilt is an internal reaction to a violation of one's own conscience. It depends on the existence of an INDIVIDUAL CONSCIENCE - something Middle Easterners DO NOT HAVE."
    Rohrbaugh and Malina say they do have a a kind of collective conscience (remember this is a collectivist society) based on shared understanding of social norms and the like.
    Making people feel guilty is a tactic of modern evangelists (whatever your opinions of it are). However as the anthropologists cited earlier pint out , such guilty emotions did not exist in ancient times.

  46. @Kazim
    Those stories are about SHAME , not guilt as Rohrbaugh pointed out in my cite.

    Guys admit you're wrong , if I was wrong it should be easy for you to find soome anthropologist who says "Sorry those guys are wrong .Ancient Israel really was an integrity/guilt culture , just like modern America".

  47. Before reading this I decided to see just what exactly I was getting myself into. So I copied and pasted it all into Word. 11 pages. Aw geez.

  48. @MFT-I read your comment, thank you very much, and if you read mine you would have understood that I did not agree with you at all about the guilt/shame distinction. I am no anthropologist, but I do have some knowledge in history and literature. You take an hypothesis that from what I understand seems valid, but you use it as a if it was a consensus. In any case, cultures are not impenetrable and I find it difficult to believe that individual conscience was inexistent in Jewish culture, even from the get go, but especially at a time when they had closer reports with Romans and Greeks. And even IF shame was so distinct of guilt and it was the leading feeling in that time, that does not mean that early Christians could not exploit it in the same fashion.

    Oh, and about stories of God-Man going in the underworld and back, they were frequent at the time: Eneus goes to Hell and back, Ulysse goes to Hell and back, Orpheus does the same of course, Herakles goes to Hell to save Theseus who has been imprisoned. Many of those heroes were half-gods, most of them had to a degree or another divine blood. Herakles even got an appotheosis and became a god himself. As for Jesus, that he was all man and all god is the interpretation modern Christians usually take of the various claims of the New Testament. Early Christians considered him sometimes "only" the Messiah, without being God. And of course there were the various heresies (Jesus became God when baptised, he was literally the son of God, hence distinct from his father, etc), some of which survived through time in modern forms. But in any case, there is more similarities than differences between Jesus's story and the various myths surrounding men-gods. Like Perseus and others, Jesus was born from a virgin. Like the aforementioned heroes, he went down to Hell and back, and like many of them was motivated by love. Like Herakles, he became immortal after his death. Shall I go on?

  49. MFT: Those stories are about SHAME , not guilt as Rohrbaugh pointed out in my cite.

    You're certainly tying yourself in knots with your subtle distinctions.
    "... disesteem, dishonor, disrepute, guilt, humiliation, ignominy, ill repute, infamy..."

    Ah, so they felt shame but they didn't feel guilt. Next I suppose you will tell me that they suffer from appetite but they never experience hunger.

    Oh yes, but you did say that there's an important anthropological difference between shame and guilt. Let's check which is which:
    Guilt is a cognitive or an emotional experience that occurs when a person realizes or believes - whether justified or not - that he or she has violated a moral standard, and is responsible for that violation. It is closely related to the concept of remorse.

    So Adam and Eve, having eaten the fruit of knowledge, suddenly gained awareness of good and evil, then became ashamed because they were naked. But somehow or other, they did not feel guilt, which means they were unaware of having violated a moral standard. I guess that tree of knowledge had some pretty selective results, eh? Explain how that works?

    Of course further down it does explain the cultural distinctions you mentioned. But this won't help much either, since "Christianity and Islam inherit most notions of guilt from Judaism, Persian and Roman ideas." I see, so religious guilt comes from Judaism, yet Jews living in Rome apparently hadn't been informed of the concept yet. Or something.

    I have seen you say nothing to detract from my initial impression that this was the stupidest contribution I have heard to any argument in quite a while.

  50. To continue on my last comment, I don't see how MFT can say, seriously, that there is a clear, clean-cut difference between guilt and shame and that said difference has now been accepted by pretty much every anthropologist and historians. Such consensus rarely happen in the various disciplines of humanities, because we do not deal with what can be proven by a plus b. And it is of course difficult to prove that an opinion, feeling or psychological trait was inexistant thousands of years ago. Now we should expect that the distinction between shame and guilt is an undisputed fact? MFT just revolutionised humanities!

  51. Ing said...

    FF is great at strawmen! and at not actually adressing the points people made at why his statement is so damn stupid. Look, he knows he's full of bullshit, we know it, he's dishonest and a snot. Can't we just ignore him already?

    I started doing that awhile ago. My reading here and other places (yes I have seen him in many other places, including my own blog) has been all the more pleasurable.

  52. Guilt is an internal reaction to a violation of one's own conscience. It depends on the existence of an individual conscience - something Middle Easterners do not have.

    LOLWUT?! Middle Easterners don't have a conscience? Surely you're just trying to be funny.

    Shame is an internalization of the moral judgment that comes from outside, from the group. In shame cultures it is the group that has the conscience, not the individual. Thus when a group accuses one of violating its standards, deep shame is the result

    By your definitions, if you broke the rules of your group, you would feel guilt for breaking those rules, AND would also feel shame because of the groups collective moral judgement. Either way, you're feeling guilty.

  53. "Are you so closed-minded that you cannot conceive of any culture different from your own Ing?"

    "Guys admit you're wrong , if I was wrong it should be easy for you to find soome anthropologist who says "Sorry those guys are wrong .Ancient Israel really was an integrity/guilt culture , just like modern America"."

    It is Halloween season and look at all the strawmen comming out!

    One: I doubt that ancient Israel jews had a shame/honor system as the model describes. I've seen it more applied to major differences in the east vs west etc.

    two: no one is saying that. The point was people can and DO die for lies for irrational reasons, ONE motivation is guilt. Tracey used guilt in a colloquial that included both guilt and shame and you are intentional conflating it and making a stupid argument. As I and well, everyone else explained, the guilt vs shame model does not mean that people act insanely and completely different. They have different focuses culturally that press upon them, but research (which I cited before) that humans have the same underlying drives. Will two cultures have different mental imbalances, yes. An American is unlikely to get Paris Syndrome while a Japanese man is likely to. However, key trends in mental health exist throughout all cultures. Schizophrenia, Depression, Paranoia, Obsession, most damn likely have existed throughout human history. But the point was, we know people can for both sane and Insane reasons. Even granting that you would not have had serial confessors (which again, have shown up throughout history: check the history of witch trials) there are still a plethora of scenarios and reasons one would have for dying for a lie. Investment bias is a powerful one that should not be overlooked. For example, despite the inanity of your statement having been pointed out, because you made the statement in a public forum, you're unlikely to retract it and indeed will probably defend that statement even more vigorously now!

    I love though how MFF is told a) he's wrong, b) WHY he is wrong by multiple people familiar with the field, and yet he still doesn't see how stupid his statements are. If there's anything funnier than someone saying something dumb as all hell it's when they're convinced it's brilliant.

  54. "I started doing that awhile ago. My reading here and other places (yes I have seen him in many other places, including my own blog) has been all the more pleasurable."

    I honestly find now that replying to him can be rewarding just because what he says is so hilarious sometimes.

  55. Sorry for the triple post but I thought of a good example that highlights the issue.

    I'm taking a class in US Gov. A big focus is how the ideology and culture of US is fundamentally different from the rest of the European nations leading to its unique government and social structure. Now while we lack many important cultural elements as part of our foundation our neighbors have (such as social responsibility and altruism) we have elements such as separation of powers etc. This leads us to live and govern very differently. European cultures would not be having this debate on health care (not that that is good or bad they just don't care about the scope of government on the large) And yet, despite how damn different our culture is from even our closest European cousins...we still have the same basic thought processes. We even find the same or similar drives in Asian allies such as Koreans and Japanese. Culture has a big influence on people, but it is not as influential as MFF thinks. Again out of Samoa was WRONG and bunk.

  56. A thought occurs to me.

    If Isreal was a shame based culture like MFF says then that makes it MORE likely than someone would die for a lie they themselves started. It would be a reasonable option to someone in that scenario to die for the lie rather than admit to it, exposing themselves as liars and bringing shame on their family. It would be preferable to die for the lie rather than live with the shame of being a known liar and fake prophet.

  57. Your post on dying for a lie was very interesting, and I enjoyed listening to you reading it on the show.

    You presented clear examples demonstrating that people do indeed die for lies. Anyone reading your blog should now concede to the fact that it would be intellectually dishonest to reiterate that premise as a basis for belief in its current form.

    To move one step closer to addressing the point at the heart at of their claim, I would like to offer one more example that would show how a reasonable person who claims to have witnessed the resurrection could actually believe it to be true with such conviction that they would gladly die for it, without having to invoke abnormal psychology.

    The simple matter is that they might believe that the resurrection really happened but be lying about having witnessed it.

    This phenomena is what makes urban legends so vigorously defended by people that are so convinced that the stories are true, that they lie about the story's source. They change the fact that they heard it from the incredulous joker down the street, to having actually witnessed it themselves, or having heard it on the news, or knowing a person that knows the person who was involved in the incident.

    What they are doing is trying to lend the story enough authenticity so that you would believe it as strongly as they do.

    It is therefore easy enough to imagine that in much simpler days, there would be people that believe a story so much that they would claim to be a witness and even die for it.



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