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If It Doesn’t Make Sense, It Must Be True

This book is a monument to cognitive dissonance, reaffirming in the face of overwhelming disconfirming evidence a belief in an omnipotent, omniscient god whose perfect justice is only tempered by his mercy. The author’s principal assertion is that all the instances of monstrous or incomprehensible behavior on the part of God as chronicled in the Bible, rather than confirming objections to an all-powerful and just divinity, are actually evidence in that divinity’s favor. In the introduction Kandiah says (p. 5):

Paradoxology makes the bold claim: that the paradoxes that seem to undermine belief are actually at the heart of our vibrant faith, and that it is only by continually wrestling with them—rather than trying to pin them down or push them away—that we can really worship God, individually and together.

“It is certain because it is impossible” —Tertullian (160–215 CE) on the Resurrection

In other words, those things that argue strongly against the God of Christianity are actually arguments that support a belief in such a God. Ergo God exists. Q.E.D.

Kandiah’s chapters are all from specific books of the Bible that often show God to be either indifferent to his people’s sufferings, cruel to the point of being sadistic or behaving in a way that is inexplicable. In each chapter Kandiah tells a real life anecdote, then relates it to the particular book with which the chapter deals. In his first chapter, “The Abraham Paradox,” Kandiah first tells the story of Gyeoung Son, a teenage girl from North Korea who lost her mother to leukemia and whose father disappeared and was probably executed because of having converted to Christianity. Why, Kandiah asks, would God ask so much of the faithful. He says (p. 12):

Here lies the heart of the paradox: an all-powerful, self-sufficient God who asks for costly worship. This paradox challenges us not just at an intellectual level, but at an emotional one. It strikes at the core of our faith, because it is about the very character of God. Is God loving, kind and compassionate? Or is he cruel, insecure and greedy?

I find it curious that the author relates Gyeoung Son’s story with the biblical tale of God asking Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac (Genesis 22). After all, in the biblical story Isaac is not sacrificed, and God’s demand is merely a test of Abraham’s faith (God, though omniscient, apparently wasn’t sure the level of the patriarch’s devotion). There is a paradox, nonetheless, in reconciling a loving, caring God with the devastation wrought in the family of Gyeoung Son. Why does God allow wasting diseases like leukemia to destroy human life and irrational, brutal regimes like the dictatorship of North Korea to oppress the innocent? Not surprisingly, Kandiah doesn’t really resolve this paradox. Instead he offers tired homilies, for example that we are not particularly deserving of God’s gifts and that we sometimes don’t appreciate what we have until its gone (pp. 26, 27):

A genuine gift is not given because it is deserved or merited, and so God’s gifts are given freely. But God’s gifts are given to help us experience his loving kindness. … Sometimes, though, it is not abundance that helps to deepen a relationship most effectively, but absence.

While it is true that a gift is not a quid pro quo, it is hard to imagine that we really need to lose a loved one to an untimely death from a terrible disease to appreciate a husband, a wife or a child. Kandiah also naturally brings up the crucifixion in relation to human loss (p. 32):

If God did not withhold even the life of his own Son from us, there can be no doubting the generosity or benevolence of God. The cross of Christ is the place where God dealt with all our sin and gave himself up, for us. If God loves us this much we know that anything he does to us or asks us to do for him is not to be taken in isolation, but understood in the context of love. It is through the times of loss and trauma and sacrifice that we learn most about trust and faith, God’s heartbeat and God’s resurrection power.

So, since God gave up his only son on the cross (we’ll forget about the nullification of that loss by the Resurrection), the fact that a psychotic mass murderer just gunned down your child should only deepen your faith in him. There, don’t you feel much better now?

Those chapters that either deal with that which isn’t all that paradoxical or in which I feel Kandiah missed the true paradox begin with Chapter 2, “The Moses Paradox,” on why God is hidden from us. Using Moses and the Exodus as an example of God’s invisibility strikes me as odd. The Exodus story is replete with miracles, direct manifestations of God’s presence, from the burning bush and the plagues against Egypt to the parting of the sea and the destruction of the Egyptian army, all of which Kandiah seems to accept as literally true despite a complete lack of historical evidence to support any aspect of the story. The chapter rhapsodizes on the great works of this hidden God without ever addressing the absence of miracles or other manifestations of the divine in modern times. The question: “Where is this God of yours and why doesn’t he give some sign of his presence?” is never really answered.

In Chapter 3, “The Joshua Paradox,” Kandiah opens with a brief account of the horrors perpetrated by the Serbian army against ethnic Albanians living in the Kosovo region as part of the Serbian policy of “ethnic cleansing.” This would seem to be fitting, since the chapter supposedly deals with reconciling the loving God of Christianity with the God of the Book of Joshua who orders the annihilation of the Canaanites—every man woman and child, along with all their livestock—in a genocidal conquest of the Promised Land by the Israelites. It even appears early in the chapter that the author is ready to wrestle with the problem posed by Joshua (pp. 62, 63):

How do we reconcile the paradox of a God who has compassion on the Jewish nation through all their failures, but then commands them to show no compassion towards other nations? How can a God of love order the annihilation of a whole people-group, the mass slaughter of men and women, old and young and even animals too?

Unfortunately, Kandiah does not address the problem at all. Rather, he dodges the issue by putting the blame for their victimization on the Canaanites themselves (pp. 71, 72):

but it appears that God was giving the indigenous inhabitants time: time to show their true character; either to get worse or to change their sinful practices. … God’s patience in giving the Canaanites extra time stands in stark contrast to the first impressions we get if we just jump in at Joshua, of God randomly wiping out the Canaanites on a whim.

Kandiah continues to blame the Canaanites further on in the chapter (p. 74):

God is not just clearing the land for his people; he is holding the Canaanites accountable for atrocities committed. It is hard to imagine anything worse than the slaughter of children—the taking of innocent lives. They have sunk as low as it is possible to go. We should be relieved that people will not get away with murder—God will hold the world to account. Far from indicating the lack of a moral framework for us to count on, these passages show clearly that there is just such a framework, and God is in charge.

Of course, in the conquest of Canaan as related in the Book of Joshua, it is the Israelites who end up murdering children.

The long and the short of Kandiah’s message here is that the divinely ordered genocide was justified because of the wickedness of the Canaanites. That this hardly excuses killing their children doesn’t seem to bother Kandiah. Nor does it appear to bother him that there’s absolutely no support for the biblical contention that the Canaanites practiced widespread child and infant sacrifice. The many infant skeletons found buried in jars both in pre-Israelite Canaan and in archaeological strata belonging to the kingdoms of Israel and Judah appear to indicate high infant mortality rather than sacrifice. The skeletons were not burned; they were not “passed through the fire to Moloch,” a practice referred to in Leviticus 18:2, 20:2–5; 2 Kings 23:10; and Jeremiah 32:35. Curiously, the passages in 2 Kings and Jeremiah refer to people of the kingdoms of Israel and Judah performing this act, one that may have been preformed in extremis rather than on a regular basis. This stands in marked contrast to tophets (sacrificial ovens) found at Carthage in which the skeletons of infants were found that showed signs of burning and were mixed with animal bones.

Kandiah’s defense of the genocide of Joshua stems not from Christianity, but from biblical literalism. Christians not bound to defend every aspect of the Bible can disavow defending genocide by pointing out that the Bible is a compendium of books written from ca. 800 BCE to ca. CE 200, a period of 1,000 years. Concepts of right and wrong, and the nature of God varied greatly over that time. However, perhaps the best thing that can be said about the conquest of Canaan as related in Joshua is that it never happened. The earliest reference to a people called “Israel” is in the victory stele of Pharaoh Merneptah (reigned 1210–1202 BCE), in which Israel is one tribal group among many other tribes, city-states and small kingdoms in Canaan. The is no archaeological evidence the Israelites destroyed many walled cities in Canaan in single brutal campaign, regardless of when we try to date the Conquest.

In the Book of Job the Jewish scriptures try to deal with the problem of evil. If God is all-powerful, just and loving, why is there evil in the world? The Book of Job never really answers that question. God, for the sake of a wager, allows Satan (or, more properly ha satan, “the adversary,” actually God’s prosecutor, rather than the devil) to destroy Job’s life, first taking away his riches and his children, then afflicting him with boils. This is done as a test of Job’s faith. When Job finally complains to God and asks why he is being so afflicted, God merely cows him into submission by showing how great he is and how little Job is. Just as Job gets no answer from God, we get no answer from Kandiah except that evil exists because of the fall of man in the Garden of Eden. In other words, it’s our fault there’s evil in the world, not God’s. In any case, suffering might even be good for us (pp. 109, 110):

First, when we suffer we are not further away from but rather drawn closer to the one who suffered for us. Second, when we reach out to relieve the suffering of others we are most like God, because God did everything that was necessary to deal with the evil and suffering in the world.

Nothing in this chapter really deals with the paradox of the Book of Job, which states, quite specifically, that God allowed Job to suffer so he could win a bet. The whole point of Job is that good people suffer. The Christian apologetic answer to this is that, since we are all fallen, we are all depraved. Hence, we will all suffer—even if God deliberately allows our suffering. Regarding this seeming divine indifference to human suffering, the chapter frequently alludes to the Holocaust. Even allowing for humanity being in a fallen state, thus exposed to rapists, child molesters, murderers and human traffickers; one would think a compassionate God would have intervened to prevent the horrors of such a genocide; but then, the God of Christian apologetics, particularly the author’s brand of apologetics, is also the one who ordered the (fortunately fictional) genocide of Joshua.

The two remaining substantive paradoxes the book deals with are how Jesus can be a man and God at the same time and, in the chapter titled “The Judas Paradox,” how it is that we can have free will and be predestined at the same time. In Chapter 9, “The Jesus Paradox,” Kandiah talks about the paradox of Jesus being both a man and God at the same time. He never really deals with the physical impossibility of such a situation; he merely glories in Jesus as the Word (Gr. Logos) in the Gospel of John. In the process of doing this he ignores the evolution of Jesus from a mortal who has an epiphany at his baptism of the Gospel of Mark, to the God-man with a divine nativity of Matthew and Luke, and finally to the pre-existing Logos of John 1:1: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” In the process of insisting Jesus must be God, Kandiah quotes C. S. Lewis from Mere Christianity (quoted in Kandiah p. 214):

A man who said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic—on the level of a man who says he is a poached egg—or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was and is the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon, or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.

This argument is quite clever. The Christian apologist lures the skeptic into acknowledging Jesus as a great teacher, then hits him with Jesus’ claims of divinity. The skeptic is trapped—seemingly. Actually, Jesus, as a messianic pretender, could be a perfectly sane human with a deluded belief system, one in which he was raised—just as those who burned women as witches in the 1600s weren’t insane but raised in what Carl Sagan called “the demon haunted world.” Of course this claim of divinity might well belong to the gospel writers, particularly the author of the Gospel of John, rather than Jesus. The earliest gospel, Mark, was probably written no earlier than the year CE 70. According to Christian tradition, Jesus would have been crucified ca. CE 35. The gospel writers never met the historical Jesus, and almost all of the narrative material in them can easily be traced to one of four major sources. These are the Jewish scriptures, Jewish apocalyptic works and what was then recent history interpreted in apocalyptic terms, pagan mythology and Greek literature.

Perhaps it is no wonder that Kandiah doesn’t bother trying to reconcile the idea of Jesus being both man and God at the same time, a paradox that is part of the greater paradox of the trinity, the idea that a single God is still one, though incorporating three persons—Father, Son and Holy Spirit—who are, at the same time, separate entities. Augustine of Hippo (354–430 CE), better known as St. Augustine, one of the principal architects of Christian doctrine, also wrestled with the idea. According to a legend, Augustine was walking along the shore of the Mediterranean pondering the riddle of the trinity, when he came upon a small boy (actually an angel in disguise) using a bucket to pour seawater into a hole he had dug in the sand. When Augustine asked the boy what he was doing, the child said he was trying to pour the entire sea into the hole. Augustine laughed and said it was absurd to think he could put the entire sea into a small hole. The child/angel then replied (I paraphrase), “And yet you are trying to fit the great concept of the trinity into your small mind.” The concept, then, is supposedly something beyond human capacity to understand. Another way of looking at the paradox of Jesus being both a man and God at the same time is to think of it as a koan, a paradox in Zen Buddhism to be meditated on that is used to train monks to abandon dependence on reason and to force them to gain enlightenment by sudden intuition. Of course, another way to look at a religious doctrine that doesn’t make sense is to accept that it is nonsensical.

Another concept that doesn’t make sense is what Kandiah calls “The Judas Paradox, the God who determines our free will” (Chapter 10). This paradox is crystallized in Luke 22:1–5:

Now the feast of unleavened bread drew nigh, which is called the Passover. And the chief priests and scribes sought how they might kill him [Jesus]; for they feared the people. Then Satan entered into Judas, surnamed Iscariot, being of the number of the twelve. And he went his way and communed with the chief priests and captains how he might betray him unto them. And they were glad and covenanted to give him money.

So, did Judas betray Jesus because Satan possessed him or was this an act of free will? Kandiah, of course, considers the betrayal of Jesus by Judas to be historical. However, in all probability, the entire Passion story is fiction. The precipitating event that causes the arrest of Jesus (at least according to the Synoptic Gospels—Mark, Matthew and Luke) would seem to be his disruption of Temple business, overturning the tables of the moneychangers. It’s clear from the gospels that the Temple establishment had their own police, the same men who supposedly arrested Jesus secretly, by night, in the garden of Gethsemane. It seems highly unlikely these same guards would have stood idly by while Jesus violently disrupted vital Temple business. In all likelihood they would have arrested him then and there for this blatant act of sacrilege. Judas, whose name is a Hellenized form of Judah, the name of the kingdom that became the Roman province of Judea, may well be nothing more than a symbol of the Jews. Certainly no betrayal was necessary to arrest Jesus.

Another indication of the symbolic nature of the betrayal by Judas is in the payment he received. While Luke merely says the priests gave Judas money, Matthew is specific (26:15) they gave him 30 pieces of silver. Assuming these pieces of silver were shekels, they would each weigh 0.36 Troy ounces. Thus, 30 of them would weigh 10.8 Troy ounces. The Roman denarius of that day weighed 0.10 Troy ounces and was a day’s wage. Thus, the 30 shekels supposedly paid to Judas would have been a bit over 100 denarii or three months and 10 days wages, rather a paltry sum. Kandiah understands this as a biblical allusion. He says (p. 226):

The man who goes around healing and helping people, welcoming the outcasts, offering hope and eternal life, is traded in by one of his closest friends for the measly amount of thirty pieces of silver. That was the same amount of money you would remunerate someone if you accidentally killed their slave (Exodus 21:32).

However, he seemingly misses the far more important literary allusion. The prophet Zechariah, acting as the worthless shepherd who consigns the sheep (the people of Israel) to the slaughter, asks the authorities for his pay (Zechariah 11:12, 13):

And I said to them, “If ye think good give me my price and if not forbear.” So, they weighed for my price thirty pieces of silver. And the LORD said to me, “Cast it to the potter;” a goodly price that I was prised at of them. And I took the thirty pieces of silver and cast them to the potter in the house of the LORD.

There seems some confusion here, possibly owing to a scribal error. The Hebrew word for potter is yatsar, while the word for treasury is owtsar. Thus, Matthew has the remorseful Judas cast the 30 pieces of silver down in the Temple. The priests say that, as blood money, it can’t go into the treasury. So they use it to buy a potter’s field in which to bury strangers (Matthew 27:5–7). In other words, the 30 pieces of silver paid to Judas in the Gospel of Matthew are nothing more than a literary device.

Regardless of the literary origins of the Judas story, the greater issue here is the paradox of predestination versus free will. Since God has foreknowledge of the future he knows ahead of time whether we will accept or reject his offer of salvation. So, do we really have free will or is our choice determined by who we are? In wrestling with the paradox, Kandiah quotes Sam Harris to the effect that free will is an illusion (p. 230). However, Paul in is his epistle to the Romans, also quoted by Kandiah, states that it is God, not simple unreasoning determinism, that deliberately chooses some people to be saved and others to be damned. Speaking of God hardening Pharaoh’s heart, for example, Paul says (Romans 9:19-24):

You will say then to me, “Why does he find fault? For who can resist his will?” But who are you, a man, to reply to God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, “Why have you made me thus?” Has not the potter power over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel to honor and another to dishonor? What if God, willing to show his wrath and make his power known, has endured with much suffering the vessels of wrath, made for destruction, that he might make known the riches of his glory on the vessels of mercy prepared beforehand for glory, even us whom he has called, not of the Jews only but of the Gentiles?

Here we have the source of the Calvinist doctrine of double predestination, that God deliberately creates certain people for the express purpose of damning them for all eternity. There is really no way to rationalize this with any concept of free will. Yet, it is clear that those who espouse this doctrine also believe those who commit evil should be held accountable.


One must wonder at the source of the cognitive dissonance that led Krish Kandiah, an obviously intelligent man with a Ph.D., to write a book of 308 pages to defend such indefensible beliefs: that an all-loving God allows unnecessary suffering and even actively foments it; that genocide perpetrated by God is holy, while at the same time condemning the genocide of Kosovo; and that predestination can be reconciled with free will. I can only think that such a defense stems from a situation in which the belief system that comes first, including the certainty that all those who are not Christians will be damned to hell. Once such a belief system is so entrenched it must be defended. Unfortunately, evangelical Christians reading this book will find in it support for their own cognitive dissonance and continue to believe all the more fervently in the absurdities espoused in Paradoxology.

About the Author

Tim Callahan is religion editor of Skeptic magazine. His books include Secret Origins of the Bible, and Bible Prophecy: Failure or Fulfillment? both published by Millennium Press. He has also researched the environmental movement, and his article “Environmentalists Cause Malaria! (and other myths of the ‘Wise Use’ movement)” appeared in The Humanist. He has co-authored UFOs, Contrails and Aliens: What Does Science Say? currently in press.


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