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The Many Ways We Lie to Ourselves

Shahram Heshmat Ph.D.

By Shahram Heshmat Ph.D.Science of Choice

Posted Aug 29, 2017 on

Everyone is in denial about something. Self-deception, or lying to yourself, is simply a motivated false belief. False beliefs can satisfy important psychological needs of the individual (e.g., confidence in one’s abilities). The following are some of the lies we tell ourselves.

1. Ignorance is bliss.

One of the most difficult problems in sustaining goals is how to persist in the face of negative feedback. Strategic ignorance can help to achieve persistence. How? Avoid information sources that could demotivate you (Benabou and Tirole 2002). For example, someone who says “till death do us part” during the marriage ceremony need not be aware of the divorce statistics.

2. Reality denial.

Denial is a psychological defense we all use against external realities to create a false sense of security. Denial can be a protective defense in the face of unbearable news (e.g., cancer diagnosis). In denial, people say to themselves, “This is not happening.” For instance, alcoholics insist they have no drinking problem.

3. Overconfidence.

Overconfident individuals think that they are blessed, that they are well liked by others, and that they’ll come out on top. (As the bumper stickers state: “Jesus loves you, but I’m his favorite.”) For example, 90 percent of all drivers think they are above average, and 94 percent of professors at a large university were found to believe that they are better than the average professor. Unrealistic optimismcan have significant health consequences. Psychologist Loren Nordgren (2009) found that among a group of people trying to quit smoking, the ones who gave especially high ratings to their own willpower were most likely to fail.

4. Self-handicapping.

This behavior could be considered the opposite of overconfidence. If a person is uncertain about her true ability and afraid to find out what her true ability is, she might refrain from doing the work that might reveal her as having a low ability. In such a case, a successful performance could be attributed to skill, while an unsuccessful performance could be externalized as due to the lack of good preparation.

5. How I like myself to be seen.

People like to be perceived favorably, by themselves and by others, but some personality traits that carry a high social value (altruism and fair-mindedness) are not directly observable to outsiders. Our actions, however, offer a window into our personality and tastes (Benabou and Tirole, 2004). For example, giving money to a panhandler, or changing Facebook profile photos to honor the victims of some new tragedy.

6. Cherry-picking data.

People tend to embrace information that supports their beliefs and reject information that contradicts them. For instance, people require more information to accept an undesirable idea than they do for a desirable one.

7. Sour grapes.

In Aesop’s fable, the fox tries hard to get his hands on a tasty vine of grapes, but fails in all of his attempts to acquire the grapes; at which point, the fox convinces himself that he really didn’t want those grapes that badly after all. In the presence of dissonance (awareness of different beliefs), the individual feels psychologically uncomfortable and attempts to reduce it. The motive is to maintain a positive self-image.

8. Me and others.

Psychologists use the term attributions (or causes) for people’s explanations of the events in their lives. We tend to attribute our success to our enduring character traits, and our failures to unfortunate circumstances. For example, when we say, “You failed, because you did not try hard enough; I failed, because I had a headache from staying up all night with my son.” An alcoholic may be happy to tell himself he “just cannot help it” in order to have an excuse for persisting.

The key aspect of these lies is that people treat (or search for) evidence in a motivationally biased way. Self-deception can be like a drug, numbing you from harsh reality, or turning a blind eye to the tough matter of gathering evidence and thinking (Churchland, 2013). As Voltaire commented long ago, “Illusion is the first of all pleasure.”


Benabou, R. and Tirole, J. (2004). Willpower and personal rules. Journal of Political Economy, 112(4): 848-886.

Churchland P. (2013) Touching A Nerve. W.W. Norton & Company

Elster J (2009) Explaining Social Behavior: More Nuts and Bolts for the Social Sciences 2nd Edition. Cambridge University Press

Gloman R et al. (2016) The Preference for Belief Consonance, Journal of Economic Perspectives—Volume 30, Number 3—Pages 165–188

Nordgren, L. F., Harreveld, F. V., Pligt, J. V. D., (2009) The Restraint Bias: How the Illusion of Self-Restraint Promotes Impulsive Behavior. Psychological Science, 20(12), 1523-1528.

About the Author

Shahram Heshmat, Ph.D.,

Shahram Heshmat, Ph.D., is an associate professor emeritus of health economics of addiction at the University of Illinois at Springfield.

In Print:

Addiction: A Behavioral Economic Perspective


Science of Choice

10 Faulty Thoughts That Occur in Body Dysmorphic Disorder

Explaining Delusional Thinking


The Many Ways We Lie to Ourselves

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    Nigerian Super-Feminist, Writer and Newspaper Columnist Temidayo Ahanmisi Reviews The Ultimate Curse on Mankind by Imoh “Son of David” and Rates It a 5 Star!!! (The Complete Review)

    I should begin this review with a preamble about the thematic purview of the book, or any random relative that would arrest the attention adequately.

    This work however makes nonsense of any such academic pretentiousness.

    ‘Religion – The Ultimate Curse on Mankind’ by Imoh David does not hesitate in the least. It starts right off sounding like a sudden loud clap in dormitory of sleeping bodies, and like such a sudden intrusion into the ongoing somnolence, it audaciously demands and grabs attention…from title to conclusion.

    If nudging people aside in a crowd to get to an elevation of safety during a melee which threatens to lead to a life-threatening riot is considered rude, then this book can be safely adjudged as rude.

    The style is at once argumentative and confrontational, but it is a brusqueness which begs its necessity from sheer expediency.
    Written in form of a soliloquy in parts, and a factually historical treatise in a few others, ‘Religion – The Ultimate Curse on Mankind’ reads more like one side of a conversation with a somewhat overbearing, but astutely observant and engaging lunch companion. The language is at times brusque, the style uncompromisingly opinionated.

    It is a hard book to read, and this not because of its language. It is as tasking in the same sense that listening to a speech that challenges a hitherto cherished Life stance can be arduous. This book does not try to make friends. It takes brazen swipes at the Nigerian society in particular, and extends its reach to the broader African society and the black race in general.

    The author switches easily between extremes of sarcasm to a strait-laced excoriation of prevailing popular culture and religion with suggestions of a deep exasperation which at once intimate the reader with a probable inner worldview of the artist as one who must either have endured some deep personal injury from the behemoths he confronts, or else is an especially prolific artist who may have just created an important sub-genre of the literary form of the Spoken Word.
    The reader swings with the author from the same pendulum, but it is not altogether an unpleasant experience, as mental interruptions like these usually go…much like watching a performance by a skilled word artist.
    The reader is aware of his own separation from the performer. At the same time, he frowns, smiles or jerks upright in tune with the performer’s changing cues.

    The political incorrectness is in parts cringe worthy, and in other parts endearing.
    The author uses epithets like ‘’sheeple’’ and ‘’religitard’’ in describing religious persons with an audacity some might find vexatious.
    Perhaps it could be argued that the author could not possibly escape such descents into bare-knuckled affronts to social niceties and related courtesies, as this work takes on an unmistakably formidable adversary – Religion.
    This author laughs at Religion, even taking broad swipes at God in parts. He takes a swipe at the holy writs of the two biggest world religions with the least of apprehensions, boldly taking on those questions most have always grappled with, but did not dare voice. A lack of civility quickly becomes the least of the reader’s concerns as he progresses in the delightfully interesting tour of religious and socio-cultural reality the author so eagerly takes him on.

    The book makes a few claims which must be questioned. The process of querying these claims however throws up an interesting conundrum.
    Take this instance:

    ‘’If God hears not the prayers of the religious Nigerians and accord the largely irreligious Japanese military triumph over Nigeria, does it not show that God is on the side of the man whose abilities and resources will make his work easier? …’’
    The Japanese are not irreligious. Buddhism is the popular religion in Japan.

    Then again in a rather queer twist, the author’s argument is redeemed, seeing as his ‘God’ in focus is clearly the Muslim god, Allah, and the Christian god, Jehovah (or Yahweh).
    If Yahweh or Allah is not the controlling deities of the Japanese, how then is the argument by born again Christians that economic success is dependent on affiliation with Jehovah (Yahweh) tenable?
    Who prospers Muslims? Who ensures success and progress to Hindus, Buddhists and Ifa adherents?
    This is yet another way this work intrigues. It creates a special difficulty in its critique, because it drags you into its queries. It is like an inquisition the whole community of its readers cannot help but attend. Problem is it is their inquisition. They are their own examiners.
    Again, in questioning the recent Forbes list of wealthiest preachers on the globe, the author wonders:
    . ‘’…isn’t it ironic that people like (the) Dalai Lama and Rumi did not make the list?’’

    If this ‘’Rumi’’ refers to the Persian poet and mystic Jalal ad Din Rumi, then one has to imagine that citation could only be asking for a posthumous listing, just as of Mansa Musa of the ancient Malian empire, as Rumi has been dead since 1273.
    I was in the process of writing this review when news broke that a state governor in Nigeria had approved the sum of fifty five million Naira to sponsor a Quran recitation fest. This just after it was reported that all 36 states governors in Nigeria were agonizing over the payment of a mere N18, 000.00 (about $95 USD) monthly minimum wage for government workers.

    I struggled to deal with the sense of despair this engendered in my insides, so I could be detached adequately from the task before me.

    It wouldn’t have done for me to immerse myself in the raw ire seeping through the pages of the work before me.
    If I did, I would have been content to simply say:

    ‘’you know what?
    Read ‘Religion – The Ultimate Curse on Mankind’ by the hugely promising new-kid-on-the-block, Imoh David, the Nigerian atheist, visual artist and writer.

    Read this book and be substantially wiser.

    You might be indicted. You will be indignant for the most. You will come out smarter nonetheless.

    What’s more, you could perhaps manage some sense of gratitude that in your lifetime you had the privilege of entering the mind of another human who made the venture of being human the most profoundly honourable privilege there ever could be.
    If nothing, this sense of gratitude could be your own personal salvation from the Hobbesian drudgery the larger swathes of our shared humanity seem so bent on pulling everyone and everything into!’’

    I would finish with that exclamatory flourish, and publish, content with the conviction that I have in the space of those few words managed to encapsulate my honest opinion and the entire review necessary of this work.

    The Caveats would have been sufficiently conveyed. The overall conclusions as to the readability and quality of the work would have been settled too.

    This would have been a good review, and as the exercise goes, that should one of the most imperative concerns of any critique of a creative work, whether it is of architecture or of literature – its necessity and usability.

    This honestly brave work would have however suffered an unfair injury from such a review.

    It would have been visited by a rather cruel malison delivered by the hands of this reviewer.
    If you are left scrambling as I did, for a dictionary to look up ‘’malison’’, then be sure that you are not in any way imagining my smug grin of a ‘’serves you right’’ satisfaction. The one who elects to find companions to share their misery would understand my contentment only too well.

    This was my major grouse with this work. One has to wonder if perhaps the author was either enjoying himself a bit too much for general comfort, or worse, was just being clever.
    While I can understand the possibility of someone who delves into the decidedly difficult terrain of daring to challenge the behemoths of Religion and even God with a charmingly dexterous literalism such as this author employs so breezily, finding some heady exhilaration with the whole exercise, I have to wonder also if the author is not delving into sheer cleverness at the expense of his own creation.
    And while I yet mull over the author’s intents, I would take the liberty to say this book makes no attempts at bending to the irenic in any way.

    I wanted to say ‘’irenic’’. I came across it in my foray into Webster’s world in my search for the meaning of ‘’malison’’.

    Forgive me. Such is the unwitting effect of reading this book. The charm is subtle, but its effects are unmistakable. Imoh David can make you enjoy words just a bit more.

    This book paints a haunting picture of today’s society, so that the reader is immediately unsettled.

    ‘’Nigeria is a country that boasts of some of “God’s best generals”. Some of these so called God’s generals work so hard and are in constant demand for miracles by their flock that they have purchased private jets to improve their efficiency. Yet, not once has God used them or any number of millions of devoted Christians to separate our Siamese twins or grow the limbs of our amputees. When it comes to these types of cases, it appears that God prefers the miracle of medical science…’’

    The age-long question evangelizing persons have always posed to the potential proselyte has always been: ‘’why don’t you believe (in God)?’’

    The respondent is usually left squirming for good reason. Seeing as our society is so rampantly pious, the idea that there could ever be a remotely honourable reason for not believing in God is inconceivable.

    The query of our age has begun to shift, and not a moment too soon. Courageous secularists, humanists, atheists and other shades of freethinkers have helped reshape the query to:

    ‘’Why do you believe (in God)?’’

    The venture of belief is under attack.
    This would logically unsettle anyone who strives for tolerance and some measure at least of ecumenism within and among religious philosophies and adherents.

    Imoh David queries this discomfort
    There is very little conciliation to the finer points of the highest counter-arguments in favour of Religion by scholars and all shades of apologetics in that realm. The author wields his scythe a little too brutally, and so might have opened up his conclusions to vociferous excoriation by those his weapon injures, as well as other critics.
    The author leaves a few blindsides in his most compelling arguments. For a work taking on a subject that is as vexingly controversial as criticizing religion, such oversight could prove grievously injurious in the hands of the aggrieved.

    The author takes a quite literal view of the religious texts for one. He highlights one of the most questionable Muslim hadiths:

    Tabari 1:280: “Allah said, ‘it is my obligation to make Eve bleed once every month as she made this tree bleed. I must also make Eve stupid, although I created her intelligent.’ Because Allah afflicted Eve, all of the women of this world menstruate and are stupid.”

    The more significant numbers of religious apologetics usually interpret these troubling verses in largely metaphorical terms, when the argument of contextual expedience does not suffice.

    ‘’Stupid ‘here is usually explained away by apologists as the Ancients’ understanding of pre-menstrual symptoms.

    Again even without much strain, the author makes a solidly good case against the opponent. If the ancients were so terribly misled, how could the present age not be endangering civilization and human progress itself by following the dictates of men so flawed in reasoning and rationalization of natural phenomena?
    The book is peppered with famous quotes from contemporary and historical thought icons – from the fields of philosophy, the humanities, arts and science, but I daresay it is the originally quirky quips by the author himself that would more likely remain indelible in the readers memory, what with their uncanny ability to stir either mirth or vexation in the mind long after the book has been put down.
    The possibility that you would never hear or witness most commonplace cliché events without recalling a quote from this book is especially strong.
    ‘’ Sex sells, but Fear is the superior salesman’’, is one of such instances.
    The author displays a skill with descriptive coinages that most would find delightful, as they interrupt the somberness of the discussion at choice points.

    The fact that they are easily understood helps quite some.
    Words like ‘’Pastorpreneur’’ which have slowly crept into the informal Nigerian street lexicon, and ‘’Pulpitarian’’ come to mind here.

    ‘’Pimpingstry’’, which is obviously the author’s creation suggest a carefully restrained wit, the kind which provokes a winsome smile of comprehension from not a few readers especially in the millennial demographic.

    This work does not sneak itself into the tapestry social discourse. It comes bellowing. Querulously.
    It is not abashed at its imperfections. The author for instance admits to an unawareness of Islamic Feminism.
    ‘’ I do not know if there are any such people as Muslim feminists, but if they are, I won’t be surprised…’’
    For a work which so carefully researched much of Islamic history in its course, this oversight would appear to be deliberately dismissive.
    In all, the author’s thoughts on Feminism Vis a Vis Religion, with special emphasis on Christendom is groundbreaking and audacious. Considering the general audacity of the thrust of the entire book, this is not surprising.

    ‘’…A Christian feminist sounds as awesome a Jewish Nazi.’’

    The author in a nutshell, challenges the Christian woman to throw religion overboard without apologies. As he holds that the idea of the religious feminist is quite the offensive paradox.
    The commonsense logicality of some of his assertions is self-evident. The fact that they bear repeating, and have to be defended or emphasized with any strain at all is the major indictment against our present age. It is also the most compelling argument for this work.

    What this reveals is that Religion – The Ultimate Curse on Mankind is much more than just a book. It is an ongoing conversation which merges into the long-term sociopolitical discourse of our civilization – a world grappling with the inevitable berthing of Reason and Secularism on the philosophical landscape.

    Sequels to this monumental work would certainly not be unexpected…and why not? Works of art should be about Life. The creativity worth its adjective is that creativity that transcends the confines of its presentational form and sneaks its tentacles into and around just about every area of human engagement, affecting the very realities that undergird their existence.
    This book delivers on these grounds. It delivers well. I daresay it is one book that is expected to earn a very comfortable listing beside some of the best known works by the leading voices on Secularism, Humanism and Atheism.

    Nigeria’s answer to the Dawkins, the Hitchens and the Hirsi Alis of our world might have just been born in Imoh David.

    In conclusion, the author makes a solidly good case for the re-examination of the venture of Belief; the necessity of Religion, especially as an integral aspect of our public life; of the impeccability of Faith.
    This book is a worthy read across all fields of thought.
    I personally hope this author finds and keeps his voice for a very long time to come.

    Temi Ahanmisi.
    Nov. 22, 2015.

    You can get Imoh Son of David’s best selling book The Ultimate Curse on Mankind on Amazon here

    To support the author’s work, you can also get the Ultimate Curse inspired designers T-shirts here:


    By Ajisafe Michael Oluwafemi

    I love Sundays, and am always happy to be in the house of the Lord to worship with the holy brethren. Testimonies strengthen our faith, as we can use them as points of contact for our own expected miracles.

    Last Sunday was a glorious one, the testimonies were awesome. Brother Olu announced “testimony time”, and “blessing time” was chorused in response by we the congregation. He called out the names of those who registered to give testimonies and, with him handling the Microphone and anchoring event, the session began.

    A brother stepped forward and delivered his testimony thus:

    “My names are Aboyade Johnson Bode, and I’m here to thank the lord for his goodness towards me. As at two months ago, ladies avoid me and anyone I try to approach normally shuns me. Most of them always complained about my addiction to liquor and beer parlors. So I took the bold step of faith and suspended my visitation to beer parlors. I went as far as joining the Music department; and since then things have changed for the better for me. I now have many girlfriends to the extent that just last week, a sister from the ushering unit and another from the music department fought over me. I am now ladies man and I give the lord the glory!”

    We all rejoiced for the brother, as Brother Olu declared that what the Lord had done for him shall be permanent.

    A woman stepped forward to share her testimony:

    “My name is Tina of the famous Madam Tina Cool Spot. You see, few months ago I was experiencing great difficulty in my business. Members of the Police Force were harassing me for selling Marijuana, and the rate at which customers patronized my beer parlor declined drastically. I knew I had to sow a seed, so I went to the Pastor for prayers; after which I sowed 3 crates of Guinness and fifteen wraps of Marijuana into his life. He took a wrap with a bottle of beer in my presence to drink, and after he finished them he said to me: Madam no police officer will disturb you henceforth, and your customers shall increase. I then keyed into the prophecy and since then no more police disturbance o! My customers are now back, including runaway Brother Bode. Am happy, help me thank pastor for consulting God for me o!”

    Then came the turn of the last person to testify for that Sunday. She was holding a polythene bag in her hand as she delivered her testimony. She began:

    “My name is Grace, last year I bought a day old Turkey which I have been nursing, hoping to kill for this Christmas festival. Last week the turkey fell ill, and I told myself that with my faith nothing will happen to my livestock. And the Lord healed my Turkey without my administering any drugs on it, so I am here with the Turkey to appreciate the Lord.”

    The woman removed the Turkey from the polythene bag to show the congregation, but as she waved the Turkey this way and that, it pooped on Brother Olu, who struck it in anger, and instantly the Turkey died!

    Enraged at the waste of her Turkey’s life, Sister Grace pulled Brother Olu by his shirt front. In the blink of an eye, her sympathizers and his joined the fray. Commotion in the church!

    Erm… I could not give my own testimony in Church, so I will share it here. For some months I had been dreaming of eating Turkey, and just last Sunday the Lord made it a reality. The Lord presented me a big Turkey on the Altar right inside the Church! I have been eating it since and the rest is awaiting me in my pot. I love church.

    Culled from “Moving Thoughts” by Ajisafe Michael Oluwafemi.

    You can order your print copy on

    Ajisafe Michael is Nigerian playwright, free-thinker and a satirist.

    You can connect with him on facebook at:

    By Imoh “Son of David”

    Between justice and the Hell Dilemma

    By Immanuel James

    A certain King Darius of ancient Rome, in order not to forget to extract justice – or rather, revenge – from the offence he received from the people of Athens, mandated one of his servants to always say to him, three times at every dinner: “Sir, remember the Athenians.” And one King Clovis of ancient France was even more dramatic in his desire for justice. He had promised arms of gold to three servants of his enemy to enable them betray their master to him. The young men did the job and after their master was killed, Clovis was so deeply haunted by regret that he first hanged the three servants, before hanging the purses of their gold rewards around their necks.

    For ages, the quest for justice has taken man to the heights of wisdom and folly. From that quest have arisen cases where ‘justice’ itself became a whole new offence, one driven to extremity by man’s obsession with reward and punishment. Yet that obsession is understandable, for it is applied towards societal order, without which human cohabitation would be a more difficult affair. Justice – that system that shares good and evil equitably to those who
    merit them – is the foundation of civilised society.

    Forgive the repetition: man’s passion for justice is indeed excusable, despite its potential for extremity, given that it seeks to attain a measure of order for humanity. We must now admit that it is not just for social order that justice is courted. To see a robber or murderer punished, or see an innocent freed from harm, confers a certain sense of peace and compensation on the human psyche. So the passion for justice is as much a social as it is an emotional pursuit.

    But it is also religious, this passion. Aware that the political system does not always guarantee justice, especially punitive justice, man had to insert another order of nemesis for those who have escaped human justice in their lifetimes. It has been argued that this insertion is even more effective than legal justice in discouraging evil but let that argument pass for now. Most religions embrace this order as a divine instrument of punishment. Let us concentrate on divine punitive justice, and work with its most popular, nay, notorious appellation: Hell.

    Divergent as many religious creeds are, they appear to agree that God created a Hell for evil-doers. There’s a little problem anyway, which is the fact that since these different religions have conflicting moral codes, a righteous adherent in one religion is a candidate for Hell in the other. We can, however, assume that some kind of harmonization may take place in Afterlife?

    However, there is a greater problem still, one that I have tagged ‘The Hell Dilemma.’ We can examine the following hyothesis:

    John, a graduate of Criminology, has been believing God for a job. He wants to work in the police or SSS. His wife has just got a bank job and Mr. John has been doing his best to please God for the family’s testimony to be complete. Finally God answers. The chap gets his good job, and as a good Christian, one-tenth of his salary goes back to the church every month to help advance the work of God. He thanks God, thanks his pastor, his pastor thanks him back for sowing his entire first salary in the Lord’s vineyard. Everyone is happy.

    But there is someone John has unfortunately failed to thank: the armed robber; the murderer; and every other criminal out there without whom his job would simply not exist. Even his wife does not seem to acknowledge that her bank job, at least in terms of what drove the banking business back in the day, was in a way made possible by insecurity, also made possible by the handiwork of criminals. When she worked as a marketing executive in an insurance company, and nabbed that huge contract for her employers from a theft insurance policy undertaken by a client, she also did not thank thieves who made it all possible merely by existing – and her commission ran into millions!

    Anyway, ignore this family’s ingratitude to the people who have ‘helped’ them pay bills, tithes, offerings, etc. A greater ‘injustice’, however, is about to happen.

    After this life, how does it feel that God will disgorge all these criminals who have ‘helped’ Him answer His children’s prayers, on Hell? Look at it critically: many livelihoods are actually reactionary creations against some forms of evil. Think! In fact this is how society runs: evil assists good to deliver more good, and more evil,etc. Even nature rolls like that: without ailment, doctors would die of starvation – no, they wouldn’t even exist; without immorality, preachers would not be too. So we can suspect that without evil, there may have been more unemployment in the world.

    Consider this one, a real-life testimony in a church: some mischievous witches supposedly tied one woman’s womb for 20 years, and the blood of Jesus finally shattered the bondage. And twins came, to the boundless joy of the couple and the prayer warriors who supervised the deliverance project. (Well some people may find it curious that an innocent Godly couple was kept childless for 20 years just that a point be made between God and the devil – not like the point so made has even convinced everyone anyway – but that is not our problem.)

    On account of this witchcraft shaming, many devil worshipers crossed over to God having been convinced that He holds greater power – all along nothing could make them change from their evil ways, not their own misfortunes or the preachers’ sermons. While the testimony blared forth, no one had the simple sense of justice to thank the witches who had been busy working their evil hands to the bones – whose 20-year-old mischief yielded the divine glory of the moment – without whom the kingdom of God would not have boasted new defections from the devil’s camp. And it is not enough that no one thanked these goddamn witches, they’ll also be sent to Hell after ‘helping’ win souls for God, a thing many preachers could not achieve all these years!

    So I ask: Is it morally just for God to benefit from a system and still chastise that system?

    Let us not forget, however, that not all religions believe there is a Hell. Even in Christianity, there are dissenters to that notion. Let us also not succumb to that childish temptation of throwing ugly labels at anyone who raises fundamental questions about our theosophy. The theory of Hell deserves to be critically examined. This might not be a serious matter anyway, but it at least makes intellectual sense to begin to ask critical questions about the human religious culture. Religious scholars should begin to examine the hell question, for it does not come out clean upon inquiry from rational interrogation.

    But would religions have collapsed without such a scary insertion? Does the human psychology not corrupt itself with mental constructions of endless pain and suffering? Could man have been worse with evil if he were not tamed with such extreme morbidity?

    These questions can guide our probe into the subject. In creating this eternal order of punitive justice, religion may have – let us borrow this expression – ‘put God in a serious dilemma’, almost like the dilemma of that King Clovis, who was so just he punished servants that aided murder, yet so just he fulfilled his promise of gold – but to their dead bodies!

    *Immanuel James is the author of the new literary fiction, ‘Under Bridge’. A humanist and lover of philosophy, his articles have appeared in many national dailies. Visit for more.*

    VIRGIN BIRTH by Akorita Isaiah

    “Whenever a religion has been founded among barbarians and ignorant people, the founder has appealed to miracle as a kind of credential—as an evidence that he is in partnership with some higher power. The credulity of savagery made this easy, but at last, we have discovered that there is no necessary relation between the miraculous and the moral. Whenever a man’s reason is developed to that point that he sees the reasonableness of a thing, he needs no miracle to convince him. It is only ignorance or cunning that appeals to the miraculous.

    There is another thing, and that is this: Truth relies upon itself —that is to say, upon the perceived relation between itself and all other truths. If you tell the facts, you need not appeal to a miracle. It is only a mistake, or a falsehood, that needs to be propped and buttressed by wonders and miracles.”- Robert Ingersoll, 1891.
    When the ancient people wanted to make somebody that is obviously more intelligent or insightful than his time seem divine, they invented stories about his supposed divine birth. Usually they pointed to a relation between a god and a woman. This makes the person out to be both a human, and a god at the same time. It made them a sort of god-man. Now, before you think I am just trying to be a ‘hater’, here’s a quote from a third century Catholic Church father named Origen: “For some have thought fit …to relate as a possible thing that Plato was the son of Amphictione, Ariston being prevented from having marital intercourse with his wife until she had given birth to him with whom she was pregnant by Apollo.
    And yet these are veritable fables, which have led to the invention of such stories concerning a man whom they regarded as possessing greater wisdom and power than the multitude, and as having received the beginning of his corporeal substance from better and diviner elements than others, because they thought that this was appropriate to persons who were too great to be human beings.”
    There are numerous other stories of, divine god-men, all throughout pagan history. Not all of them were necessarily born of virgins, but the way the ancients figured it; to have a god-man on Earth, a story needed two things: 1. A source for His Godness, and 2. A source for His humanity. Numerous examples abound of such stories: Apis’ divinity was zapped down into his mother in a lightning bolt, or turning a normal cow into the holy and sacred mother of the God-cow. Glycon, the snake-god, was placed on Earth directly, by the God Apollo. Alexander the Great was born after his mother, in a part of the world where snakes were worshiped, was impregnated by a divine snake. Mithras, divinity came to Him when His father in heaven spilled his seed on a rock, Plato was apparently born of Amphictione and the god Apollo. The divine Vishnu, himself, descended into the womb of Devaki and was born as her son, Vaasudeva (i.e., Krishna), Hercules was also born from a woman, and Zeus etc.
    NOW TO THE STORY OF JESUS’ BIRTH: Mathew 1:18 “Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child of the Holy Spirit…” Luke 1:34-35 “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?” The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.”
    These two passages from the bible were careful to show that Jesus got his birth both from the divine, (Holy Spirit) and a human (Virgin Mary), a totally pagan idea.
    Before I go further, it is important to note that the Gospel accounts were NOT written during the lifetime of Jesus, nor were they written by eye witnesses. In fact, the earliest gospel manuscript, Mark, was written at least a generation AFTER the alleged death of Jesus (ca. 30CE) by someone who never knew, or even met him. (the original manuscripts were anonymous (in case you still think it was written by his actual disciples). It also contained numerous geographical, legal and customary errors. Most importantly, it does not contain the story of the virgin birth. The other Gospel accounts, Matthew and Luke, which contained the virgin birth accounts are known by historians to have been largely copied from the gospel of Mark, with some important corrections and additions. So, it is quite clear that the divine birth story must have been reconstructed from hearsay, and oral accounts handed down over the years in addition to the numerous other accounts of divine births of ancient man-gods. This is an important point to note, considering the fact that most of the regular ancient Jews would have been illiterate, superstitious, highly ignorant and credulous. Now, imagine such folks retelling stories of the life of a man who walked among them some years back…
    Back to the bible accounts. Christians love to quote a part of the Old Testament as a sign that in fact the birth of Jesus was a fulfillment of prophecy by Isaiah. Let’s look at that shall we? Isaiah 7:14 “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.” Despite the fact that that passage has absolutely nothing to do with the messianic prophecy (read from the beginning of the chapter), for this work. However, I would assume that the gospel writers must have imagined the birth of Jesus to be a fulfillment of that ‘prophecy’. Therefore had to make sure that his mother was a virgin. Was that passage in Isaiah really about a virgin?
    You see, the original Hebrew word used in that passage of Isaiah was “almah” which means “young woman” (which is quite normal if you think about it. Something like, a young woman will be with child and give birth to a son….but when the original Hebrew was translated into the Greek Septuagint scriptures, the Greek word used was “parthenos”. This word could mean either “young woman”, or “virgin”. They mean two totally different things, which was either intentionally or non-intentionally missed by the writers of Mathew and Luke. All the more reason why the Muslims insist that only the Arabic version of the Quran is pure and unadulterated. Anyway, the way I see it, the writers simply put in writing the myth of Jesus’ virgin birth. Then looked for a passage in the Old Testament to use as a prophecy fulfiller. This is like drawing the bull’s eye around a shot that has already been made, which is characteristic of most of the so called bible prophecies.
    So how did the early Christian apologists respond to this? According to Father Origen: “We [Christians] are not the only persons who have recourse to miraculous narratives of this kind.”
    Justin Martyr: “He was born of a virgin, accept this in common with what you believe of Perseus.” “The devils…craftily feigned that Minerva was the daughter of Jupiter not by sexual union.”
    So in other words, Justin Martyr is saying that the Devil haven heard of the virgin birth prophecy. Then decided to spread other false virgin birth myths, before the time of Jesus in order to murky the waters. Lol.
    But the question remains, why do you disbelieve all other ones, and believe only this one? Have you really thought about it? I leave you with this quote from John Crossan : “Augustus came from a miraculous conception by the divine and human conjunction of the God Apollo and his mother Atia. How does the historian respond to that story? Are there any who take it literally?… That divergence raises an ethical problem for me. Either all such divine conceptions, from Alexander to Augusts and from the Christ to the Buddha, should be accepted literally and miraculously or all of them should be accepted metaphorically and theologically. It is not morally acceptable to say…our story is truth but yours is myth; ours is history but yours is a lie. It is even less morally acceptable to say that indirectly and covertly by manufacturing defensive or protective strategies that apply only to one’s own story.”
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