Have you read In the Shadow of the Sword? You really should.

Discussion (64)¬

  1. Hobbes says:

    Hmmm, I thought he said that. Or did he say oral sex? Barmaid, please adjudicate.

  2. Alf Hookit says:

    Bullsh!t committed to paper many years after it is spoken is still bullsh!t

  3. Sally Branch says:

    Love the celebration of the idiocy of religion.

  4. Guyinfrance says:

    Have read In the Shadow of the Sword – fascinating. Recommended, indeed.

  5. Bob Knisely says:

    Of course, EXACTLY the same criticism of Christianity is true — little or nothing written down for 300+ years. EXACTLY!

  6. HaggisForBrains says:

    Oh, dear, I had to read it three times before I got it. Then – brilliant! Time for a haggis reboot.

  7. hotrats says:

    If you can trust the oral tradition, why bother writing it down?

  8. Justin Case says:

    But, but, but … it’s the WORDA GOD, and god wouldn’t LET errors creep in.

    ‘Course, I was told that by a, a, a, … HUMAN! Who could have let errors creep into THAT!

  9. Maggs says:

    Wonderful but of snake speaking with forked tongue.

    Exactly what religions did, do and will continue to do for as long as humans keep inventing them.

  10. Nassar Ben Houdja says:

    The legends and tales of yore
    Told by old folks who are somewhat of a bore
    The stories of old
    Are mostly fools gold
    Used to pay for an ancient whore

  11. omg says:

    I had a meeting this morning, and I can’t remember what we where talking about. So, count on me to trust the oral tradition…

  12. steeve says:

    The Book of Mormon isn’t derived from oral tradition, is it. Let’s follow THAT one. Author, please bring back Joseph Smith to sort this one out for us.

  13. Sam Huff says:


    But Joe Smith was talking out of his hat when he dictated the Mormon scripture.

  14. Chiefy says:

    Don’t worry, Haggis, it took me a few reads also. I don’t mind admitting that Author has a sharper wit than I.
    I don’t know that a written tradition is any better than oral. It all depends on who wrote it, and why. Just because it’s written down doesn’t mean it’s true. Look at Scientology, straight out of the mind of one science fiction writer.

  15. Shrey Goyal says:

    Wait, didn’t you say oral sex is a tradition?


  16. JohnM says:

    @ HfB & Chiefly
    This was always going to be a difficult one for true English speakers, as we pronounce “can’t” rather differently to “can” i.e. “can’t” rhymes with “aunt” and “can” rhymes with – well, other “*an” words.

  17. two cents' worth says:

    This cartoon brought three things to mind for me:

    (1) A game I played when I was a child, called Whisper Down the Lane. (see If a one-sentence message can get badly distorted during one round of the game, think how much distortion probably crept in over the centuries before the Muslim (and Christian) messages were written down.

    (2) My ancient Greek for beginners class, where I heard that the conservatives of the day were against writing things down, because it would lead to the atrophy of students’ ability to memorize and remember texts. I wonder how much time passed between the time that Homer and Hesiod composed their works and when those works were written down. I also wonder how close the written versions are to the original, and whether they might be more accurate than Muslim and Christian scripture because they are works of poetry (which, at least for me, is easier to memorize than prose is).

    (3) The phenomenon of reverence for the written word. That reverence arose when few people could read and write, but it’s surprisingly prevalent today. In my opinion, the adage “Don’t believe everything you read” applies just as much (or more!) to scripture as to any other writing. (Nice to know that Chiefy agrees with me on this point 🙂 .)

  18. Bob Knisely,
    The length of time sorely needing and oral tradition isn’t quite as bad as you say, although it is certainly very bad. There is solid proof that the Gospels had been written at least in an early form by the year 180. Also there is pretty good evidence that they had NOT been written by 150 which is what you were really getting at, but I am quibbling about your number. Of course there is some correctness to your stated date of 300+ in that the Gospels were still being re-written/ changed until the Counsel of Carthage in (about) 400 established the canon. Christians can argue about the 150 date without lying, because absence of evidence really doesn’t necessarily provide evidence of absence. But one would have to lie to argue that the Gospels were not being monkeyed with since there are still in existence a few thousand books and parts of books from about 200 to about 400 that between them show over 100,000 differences. For instance there are nine known endings of Mark and the one currently in the New Testament isn’t even the original.

  19. Acolyte of Sagan says:

    Remind me what the oral tradition is again. Does one brush one’s teeth before, after, or both?
    Which brings me to a silly joke.
    What’s the worst thing about a ’69’?
    The view.

  20. floridakitesurfer says:

    Oral Tradition: A never seen but often proposed vehicle that attempts to show that writings that start “Long ago in a far away kingdom” can be treated as accurate history instead of as fairy tales.

    example: I did not just make this stuff up! It comes to me through an oral tradition! (Exclamations because you must be somewhat indignant to pull off being such a brazen liar)

  21. omg says:

    This one describe quite well the way the bible was written:

  22. Acolyte of Sagan says:

    Yup, that just about sums it up, omg. I think he missed one re-translation and the Roman edit (the collector’s edition Emperor’s cut?), though 😉

  23. OMG,
    That is pretty funny. For me it captures the error prone nature of the bible, but for me it really fails to capture the blatant dishonesty of the bible. If you play the game of telephone as well as you can, your story is messed up, but not messed up on purpose.
    2 Kings 22.8
    And Hilkiah the high priest said unto Shaphan the scribe, I have found the book of the law in the house of the LORD
    So Hilkiah says to himself “Self, I always wanted to be absolute in power and we currently have an eight year old on the throne” Out loud he says, “Guess what I just found!”
    I believe that the MAJORITY of the Old Testament was written using this formula: If you are going to tell a big whopper of a lie then first write it down in the book and then tell everyone that you just found this very important information. I further think that part of the reason that the bible was held by the priesthood and never allowed to be viewed by the laity was specifically so that no one could call them liars about the ancient words of god they just found written in not quite dry ink.
    Science shows us that every word in the bible about Adam, Noah, Moses, Joshua, David and Solomon is all boloney. I actually believe that the authors of those parts of the bible knew it was boloney when they were writing it.

    In case some of you aren’t familiar with the story of Hilkiah, let me just flesh it out a bit. Prior to King Josiah, Judaism was polytheistic. So when people donated to the church they were spreading their donations around to the priests of many different gods. What Hilkiah found in the book of the law that just happened to be lying around the temple for who knows how many centuries without anyone ever noticing it before was that ALL donations should go to the priests of YHWH. It doesn’t get any more blatant than that. I just found a book that says you all should give me all your money.


  24. Undeluded says:

    This sums it up quite nicely (apologies if this quote has appeared before):
    Christian: “Islam and Judaism are wrong!”
    Jew: “Christianity and Islam are wrong!”
    Moslem: “Judaism and Christianity are wrong!”
    Atheist: “You are all correct!”

  25. JohnM says:

    There is a rather neat form of the oral tradition circulating right now among the believers of “global cooling”.

    It’s “Chinese whispers” by the intertubes, wherein certain right-wing “think-tanks” and others put out a bowdlerised account of the latest science from climate scientists, then sit back to watch the spread from one website to another. A citation to the research being garbled in this way can be safely appended, knowing that most of the readers will not have the intellectual where-with-all to read technical papers.

    Pretty soon it will have metamorphosed into a conclusion the diametric opposite of that drawn by the original author(s). Great fun if you’re a disinterested observer.

  26. Acolyte of Sagan says:

    Undeluded, you might like this:

    ….The wide variety of [different] faiths and their mutual contradictions must mean at most that one of them is right and that all the others are wrong. It follows logically that the human mind has a tendency to believe[…….] something that is false. To think that oneself and one’s fellow believers in one’s own faith are uniquely exempt from this general weakness is self-centredness of stupendous magnitude. To assert for one’s own faith possession of the universal truth is to assume an attitude of superiority that in other contexts would be viewed as disgusting. [……..] Emphasising a religion claiming universal validity elevates one’s own faith to a unique position on the globe and relegates all others to the error bin. Yet for some odd reason a religious statement of alleged superiority is not viewed with the same outraged disgust as would a claim of national or racial superiority.

    From Sir Hermann Bondi’s “Uniting the World – or Dividing It: Which Outlook Is Truly Universal, which Parochial in the Extreme?” Free Inquiry 18, no.2 (spring 1998.

    JohnM, it’s funny how the ‘global cooling’ crowd always seem to be more vocal as the winter starts to draw in.

  27. Mark S. says:

    In some parts of the US, the “Whisper Down the Lane” game is called “The Telephone Game”. When I was about 10 years old, the school decided to use it to teach us about the unreliability of rumors. The teacher would say something to the first student, who would repeat it, etc until the last student in the class reported what they had heard.

    The problem was that the teacher did not give the class any incentive to get it right, so various people vandalized the process. In 5 tries, the text that was passed to me was *exactly* the same every time – in spite of the teacher starting with a different text and a different text arriving at the end.

    The obvious conclusion is that two or more of the students (at least one before me and one after me) had some interest in distorting the message — and they did, but some of their inaccurate repeats where replaced by other inaccurate repeats by someone further down the line.

    The implications for oral traditions should be obvious.

    The benefit of the written words are that they are more tangibly fixed than words spoken from memory. That just means you can be confident of getting an accurate representation of the exact words hundreds of years later, assuming you have an original text. (which you don’t, b.t.w.)

  28. JohnM says:

    @ Mark S
    The game is called Chinese Whispers in UK – and maybe elsewhere as far as I know.

  29. Undeluded says:

    AoS: Oh, indeed I like the quote. However, without the last sentence it is simply a voicing of what we (atheists) already consider a truism. Its that last sentence: Yet for some odd reason a religious statement of alleged superiority is not viewed with the same outraged disgust as would a claim of national or racial superiority that fecundates exchanges of ideas such as ours. First – is it really an odd reason? Second – who is doing the viewing?

    Is it an odd reason? Not to us atheists. We can tell hypocrisy when we hear/see/smell it. Obviously the statement contains contradictions because it is religious – and this leads to it not being challenged (on any grounds). On the contrary, owing to it’s religiousness it should be ‘respected!’ No questions, no doubts, no explanations. Ideas. morals and behaviour are divinely dictated via ‘holy’ scriptures and interpreted by ‘spiritual leaders’ who, by the way, can wield a lot of political and/or military power. So – no, it’s not an odd reason at all, but a well-utilized, well-oiled, finely tuned agenda to get away with anything those users fancy. And at whose expense? Read on.

    Viewed by whom? Everybody outside this circle of advantage-takers and we atheists, of course. The quoted statement does not apply to us. But the Western approach of being politically correct (“which will be the downfall of Western civilization” – ) bends over backwards to appease followers of ideologies which they know to be a: false, b: dangerous! That’s what you do when threatened by sugar-coated violence.

    As you know, I am an advocate of doing something to counter this. I also know my limitations – my contribution is to debate (and maybe convince) borderline cases, perhaps giving them enough ammunition to continue the cause. Were I a politician or a magnate or a writer-philosopher, I may have undertaken other approaches as well!

  30. Hey did you all notice that gorilla that just ran through here? No, neither did I.

  31. Acolyte of Sagan says:

    Do you mean this gorilla (and no, it isn’t that video. I’m not that predictable)?

  32. Acolyte of Sagan says:

    Shite, is that link all wrong? It just sent me to a page with the message “that page is missing. So is this child….” complete with picture and details. Good to see that somebody has had the sense to direct techno-idiots like me to somewhere useful instead of just taking the piss as was formerly the case.
    I’ll try the link again, but I think I’ll avoid the html stuff this time.

  33. Erichalfabee says:

    I feel a bit like the boy in The Emporer’s New Clothes here, and I have read the strip quite a few times now – but I have to ask: Should there not be an apostrophe-t after the word ‘can’ in the first pane?
    Without one I still don’t get it.

    And Wot Gorilla?

  34. HaggisForBrains says:

    OK Erichalfabee, here goes. The first pane is correct. Then Mo pontificates on the value of believing what you hear. Then Jesus shows that in fact what he heard Mo say in the first pane was the exact opposite of what Mo actually said, thus invalidating Mo’s entire point. It took me a few readings to work it out. If you say the first pane aloud quickly, you might get it – it’s the way the words “can trust” run together.

  35. HaggisForBrains says:

    AoS – “Wild! I was absolutely livid!” My all-time favourite line from Monty Python.

    Erichalfabee – Ophelia and AoS are alluding to this

  36. Undeluded says:

    And in relation to the book recommended by Author above, see this stark article (posted yesterday!) by Dr. Nicolai Sennels.

  37. JohnM says:

    You are obviously a native English speaker, who has the difficulty I mentioned in my earlier comment.

  38. WelshHaydn says:

    @ HaggisForBrains

    Gerald the gorilla was from Not The Nine o’Clock News

  39. Acolyte of Sagan says:

    HFB, Monty Python? Not The Nine o’Clock News, surely? Or am I missing a reference? ‘Gerald’ has to be my favourite NTNOCN sketch, but the song (and accompanying video complete with mushroom cloud) “Ayatollah, don’t Khomeni closer’ runs it a close second.

    I was watching John Bishop (Scouse comedian) on TV last night; I don’t usually find him overly funny, but he came out with one that almost made me choke. He was talking about his wife pulling Forty Shades of Grey* out of her bag at the start of a ‘plane journey.
    JB (not knowing what book it was): “What’s your book about?”
    Mrs B: “It’s about a man who likes to dress women in funny clothes, and punish them when they’re bad”.
    JB: “Why are you reading the Koran?”

    *In the USA, has the spelling been changed to ‘Gray’?

  40. HaggisForBrains says:

    Sorry, AoS, brain fade again – of course it was NTNOCN.

  41. omg says:

    Ophelia Benson, I didn’t get it… I think I’m missing some information.
    I’m going in vacantion to the Mosel. I will drink a glass of win to you all.

  42. Acolyte of Sagan says:

    omg, you need to follow the link HaggisForBrains supplied (5th post above yours) for the gorilla reference. I quite like the idea of a glass of win, but I’m sure the rest of the miscreants would prefer wine 😉

    HFB, I have plenty of those myself (‘senior moments’, my kids call ’em or ‘Grandad’s talking daft again’, as my eldest grandson would have it). I suppose they are in the spirit of Python though, being something completely different.

  43. Chiefy says:

    I like that gorilla, AoS. Cheeky, he is.

  44. hotrats says:

    My all-time favourite ‘Not…’ set-piece is ‘Nice Video, Shame about the Song’ (by ‘Lufthansa Terminal’), with Mel Smith Rowan Atkinson as the world’s least-likely goths.

  45. HaggisForBrains says:

    Hotrats – yes, and an excellent commentary on the contemporary pop scene. I have always thought that NTNOCN was more consistently funny than Monty Python, and was of course extremely topical, covering the current week’s news brilliantly. Also it was good to see Pamela Stephenson in an active role, as opposed to Carol Cleveland in Monty Python, whose role was largely decorative (for which I blame the team, not Carol).

  46. LibertyPhile says:

    Islam will fade away as Christianity has/is doing because so many of its teachings are incompatible with modernity, and human progress, and in any case who believes in a/the god as portrayed by Mohammad. But its foundations are the “weakest link”.

    It surprises me more attention is not given to this. The hadith and the biographies of Mohammad are the greatest confidence trick ever.

  47. Undeluded says:

    LibertyPhile – I humbly beg to differ. Islam will definitely not fade away. That is just wishful thinking. Neither will Christianity – it is still the largest religion in the world. True, atheism is on the rise, partly because of the arguments you made. However, they are useless when debating a religionista – even a borderline case. There are other, more convincing, arguments for these borderliners.

    Unfortunately, this is not an easy battle. These very well-organized religions are aware of their shortcomings (though they will never admit them) and are barricading themselves behind brainwashing children, fear of death (with Islam, I would also say love of death), gullibility of the masses and political correctness of the West. I’m afraid that before these “fade away,” a colossal – perhaps irreversible – amount of damage will be done to civilization as we know it.

  48. Acolyte of Sagan says:

    LibertyPhile, I’m not entirely sure the Hadith could be considered a con’; utter bollocks, yes, but potentially not a con. From the descriptions of his ‘visitations’ there is a possibility Mo suffered from TLE, so his chats with Jibrial could easily have been hallucinations. Obviously the writings were pure invention, but if they were the invention of a mind that wasn’t aware it was making it up, is it really a con?
    Even if he were fully aware of his invention, I still wouldn’t class it as the ‘greatest’ con ever since he was only following in the grand tradition of making shit up. Personally, I’d look toward the Torah / OT as favourites for the prize, with the resurrection of Christ bringing up the rear: Islam would likely take the award for ‘Religion Less Able To Move With The Times’.

  49. WestWind says:

    Acolyte of Sagan at September 27, 2013 at 3:31 pm said:
    “Undeluded, you might like this:

    … The wide variety of [different] faiths and their mutual contradictions must mean at most that one of them is right and that all the others are wrong.”

    Sir Hermann obviously doesn’t read any serious literature, like, for example. “Stranger in a Strange Land” by R. A. Heinlein. Or even “The Number Of The Beast” by the same author.
    The idea is that *every* religion is true. Every fiction is true. Somewhere, Thor is a girl god and is married to Tiamat, a male-male-female group-god. In some variant of whatever “reality” consists of there is a personal afterlife for every single individual. A Rainbow Bridge, a Heaven a Valhalla or endless blackness. A perfect “paradise” for every one of us.
    It is like Quantum Solipsism, only with super-powers and magic.
    RAH invented a story sequence, a mythology, wherein the priests of Tharak and those of Odin were both right.
    There are of course obvious drawbacks to this world-as-fiction. The biggest of which is that the guys who say their personal deity demands total obedience or death would also be right. Killing in the name of *any* overlord, even Shen the spider-god, would be acceptable, moral and worthy.
    I am sure everyone here has already thought of other traps in the world-as-fiction mythology.
    But it makes for some fun stories.

  50. Acolyte of Sagan says:

    WestWind says:
    September 30, 2013 at 9:42 pm
    There are of course obvious drawbacks to this world-as-fiction. The biggest of which is that the guys who say their personal deity demands total obedience or death would also be right.

    I’d have thought the most obvious drawback is when people can’t seperate fantasy from fact (I hesitate to say ‘sci-fi from serious literature’) and the the mythologies and legends shift from fiction to non-fiction. See Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Star Trek, etc. for some excellent examples. And let’s be honest here, there’s very little in the sort of fantasy-sci-fi of Heinlein that doesn’t in some way stem from the supposedly ‘True’ holy books that have caused so much grief over the millenia.

    I don’t want to sound dismissive of Heinlein – but I am, so that’s how I come across 🙂
    Seriously though, I’m not much of one for the fantasy-fiction genre; it’s enough knowing what people have- and do believe without having to read about what extremes they might also believe given enough imagination (or a charismatic enough con-artist (see Latter Day Saints, Scientology; Republican Party), and really, who needs to fill their heads with make-belief when there’s so much in the material universe that can blow the mind?

    Which reminds me; FreeFox, you still around, fella? This sounds like your area of expertise.

  51. JohnM says:

    Perhaps religions will eventually disappear, as they should when our knowledge of the Universe becomes sufficiently comprehensive, but I reckon it wil be longer thaan this guy gives Islam:

  52. HaggisForBrains says:

    As a young man I was a fan of Heinlein, who introduced me to the concept of TANSTAAFL in “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress”. I remember being impressed with “Stranger in a Strange Land”, probably during my hippy phase, but eventually found his style irritating, and gave up on him.

  53. I’m starting to react to people complaining about PC and blaming PC for social problems. It’s a dog whistle for “I want to be rude and hurt people’s feelings”. I try to be PC because I want to recognized the concerns of minorities. I want to distance myself from racists and misogynists. This doesn’t mean I have to sugar coat my contempt for the Taliban. But I don’t have to call them towel heads.

  54. two cents' worth says:

    JohnM, thanks for the link to the video! I agree, it will take more than a decade for religions to disappear, especially since so many humans say they can sense God’s presence. This idea is explored in Why God Won’t Go Away, by Andrew Newberg, Eugene D’Aquili, & Vince Rause. I haven’t read all of this book, so I’m not sure how much I agree with the authors.

    It was interesting to hear Mosab Hassan Yousef’s take on Islam. One hopes that, in time, he’ll see that there are contradictions not only in the Koran, but also in the Bible.

  55. two cents' worth says:

    HaggisForBrains, I, too, enjoyed reading Heinlein, but got bored with him when most his last few books seemed to cover the same ground–all that changed was the narrator/point of view. I don’t know much about Heinlein as a person, so I don’t know how many of the ideas he explores in his books reflect his own philosophy, and how many are simply ideas that he thought would make for a book that would bring in some money. (After all, one of his rules for writing is, “You must keep the work on the market until it is sold.”) From his short novel, If This Goes On—, I got the impression that Heinlein distrusted religion; I think that he explored the “world as fiction” idea because he thought it would sell–and maybe because he thought it might help some people see that religions are fictions.

    I don’t consider myself a Heinlein fan. But it may amuse you to know that my son’s middle name is Tanstaafl 😉 .

  56. Acolyte of Sagan says:

    One hopes that, in time, he’ll see that there are contradictions not only in the Koran, but also in the Bible.

    As Islam and Christianity both stem directly from the Jewish religion through the OT, and the OT is riddled with inconsistancies; and as it is obvious that anything based on mistakes will not only continue those mistakes but in all likelihood magnify them – for instance, trying to work out the number of stars in the universe with an error in the starting point, such as assuming our galaxy has 10 billion rather than 100 billion of the things, is going to put the final total out by several factors – then it wouldn’t need a genius to work through that train of thought and come to the conclusion that religion (in this case the Abrahamic myths) isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

    HFB, I’m not sure if this is going to be obvious, and me just having another ‘senior moment’, but what’s the concept of TANSTAAFL?

  57. Acolyte of Sagan says:

    (After all, one of his rules for writing is, “You must keep the work on the market until it is sold.”)

    Funny, that’s the same rule my local shop has for bread.

  58. Hmmn. My OT comment has not appeared but when I try to repost it I get a “it looks like you’ve already said that. ” error.

  59. Oops. And there it is.

  60. two cents' worth says:


    See for information on when and how this saying (and it’s acronym) arose. The Moon is a Harsh Mistress is about a penal colony on the moon that declares its independence from Earth. The colony’s motto is TANSTAAFL because practically nothing is free on the moon–not even air.

  61. two cents' worth says:

    This is OT, but if you’re looking for a way to use up that stale bread, AoS, I have a great recipe for baked French toast 🙂

  62. two cents' worth says:

    I tried posting this earlier, but apparently it did not stick.


    See for information on when and how this saying and its acronym arose.

    The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress is about a penal colony on the moon, fighting for independence from the Earth. The colonist’s motto is TANSTAAFL because, on the moon, practically nothing is free–even air costs money.

  63. two cents' worth says:

    Looks like Darwin Harmless and I ran into the same posting glitch. Sorry for the double posting!

  64. Tomp says:

    I agree. There’s no nothing like choral rendition.


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