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Fundamentalism. The great divide.

Updated on June 18, 2013

Christianity is hard to pin down because there are so many varieties of it. I have often said that each individual claiming to be Christian has their own version and thereby their own religion.

But there are as always ways to group people together by the basic beliefs they share. Catholics have basic criteria for what is to be believed and what isn’t. In the old days if you didn’t believe what is to be believed according to the church you were a heretic. But even among Catholics of today there is a lot of variation. Bernardo Gui, famous inquisitor of 12th century France must be rolling in his grave.

Though Catholicism has always considered itself the most fundamental belief system, it really isn’t anymore. The fundamentalists of today aren’t even Catholic. Most are Calvinists and other forms of Protestants.

Though there is no need here to define all the various differences between the Catholic Church and its splinter groups, there are some basic differences which fundamentally make them entirely different religions. For instance, the Catholic Church does not take the word of the OT literally, where as the modern fundamentalist does. Or so it is usually portrayed.

However, that really is not the case. Fundamentalists do not take the bible literally, they have a specific interpretation of the bible which skews it for them. If one truly reads the bible literally it becomes a problem. The bible contradicts itself in several places. So what the fundamentalists do is what everyone else does. They cherry pick their interpretations.

The result is one major difference between most Fundamentalists and most moderates. The Catholic Church for all its history of violence still believes that all people are saveable. We could all go to heaven if we want to. All we have to do is accept Jesus as our saviour and make sure we don’t sin too much. Oh yes, and always honestly ask forgiveness, and do so with feeling of contrition.

The Calvinist believes that the book is closed. There are a specific number of people who will go to heaven and the rest will not. This means that it doesn’t matter what we do, we are either in that book or we are not. There is no free will in the matter. Instead, there is a calling. If you are called to be Calvinist then chances are you are one of the chosen few that are on your way to heaven. Same thinking goes for other fundamentalist Christians.

Other Protestants vary in their beliefs, of course. But all of these religions think that if you do not follow their interpretation, you will, or are far more likely at least, to be headed for hell. Particularly if you are one of those darn Roman Catholics. The JW’s call the Catholic Church “The whore of Babylon.”

You even hear fundamentalists saying that other Christians are not Christian at all. They are the first to condemn others, even though their bible seems to tell them not to condemn others at all. That’s supposed to be god’s purview. But that’s one of the things in the bible they seem to ignore.

Fundamentalists do not read the bible literally. They take specific passages and base their interpretations of the rest of it on those, while ignoring others or indeed interpreting those other passages in ways one couldn’t if they were looking for a literal meaning. JWs tell us blood transfusions are the way to hell. This from a passage in the bible telling us not to eat or drink blood. I hardly think blood transfusions are what the writers of the bible had in mind. And wouldn’t that idea be contradicted a bit by the fact that Jesus told his followers to ritually eat his flesh and drink his blood if they wanted to be saved?

JWs do not celebrate the usual holidays like Christmas or birthdays, and like the Taliban they don’t like music and marry making.

The Calvinist and others like him/her do not find any cruelty in the bible. God punishes the wicked. Even when in one passage he tells a sect of Jews that he will make them eat their own children, they don’t see that as strange. They see it as justice.

Now it is true that all Christians and Jews feel that god can’t by definition do wrong because he decides what right and wrong are and we are to obey without question. But most Christians see the OT as mostly metaphor, not to be taken literally. Written by men, yet inspired by god. Most people see that if the OT were true, and god really did do that, or at least threaten to (depending on your take of the story) it would be a cruel thing to do.

According to fundamentalism god does not want us to love everyone. Not everyone. And god does not love everyone. He loves only his chosen. To me that doesn’t really sound like Christianity. It sounds more like a perverted form of Judaism. But who am I, an atheist, to judge?

Moderate Christians, and even the Catholic Church tell us to love everyone, and that god loves everyone. Wasn’t that the good news? Not according to the fundamentalist.

You see, we have two different religions here, not just two different opinions. And where does this stem from? Yes, there was a backlash to evolution after Darwin published his book which created modern fundamentalism. But that isn’t where it began because there were Calvinists and Baptists etc long before Darwin.

They had evolved from the fact that the OT is part of the Bible. Simple as that. When the protestants split from the Catholic Church they started to pay more attention to the OT again. The Catholics didn’t take it literally, in fact they were not allowed to read the bible until after Protestantism made the bible public.

Before that only the pope and a few bishops had the right to read the entire book and interpret it. The average person wasn’t educated enough to interpret it properly and the church had always feared the divisions it would create if people were just allowed to interpret it as they liked. And they were right in thinking that.

The moderate Christian used the NT as their guide to life, because it represents a new deal. They also sight the fact that Paul said the OT did not apply to Christians anymore. It was the Jewish book and applied only to them. They do not have to justify the cruelty in the OT because it is all just an ancient teaching tool to them. The fundamentalist uses the OT almost exclusively believing every word is true historical fact, so they have to justify the cruelty and explain it.

In that respect they are right. The OT depicts a cruel god. But god cannot be cruel. Our puny brains can’t figure it out. But god, whatever he does, is righteous and just, even if we sinners think it is cruel. Even if he says that if we were to do the same it would be a mortal sin. It is not sin for him because he is god. Do as I say, not as I do.

Again, I am not trying to make either party’s point here on any theological level, I am merely pointing out who believes what. Being an atheist I don’t believe either story or belief to be true. But I do enjoy reading the bible and I do read it literally without trying to add too much interpretation. But I do employ logic to my reading. Was I to read some of the stories of the bible wrapped up a little differently in a good fiction novel I would have to conclude that the god in the story was cruel at times. No doubt. So would any rational being.

And in fact I would have to point out that any conscious being that created this world as it is where everything must kill something else just to eat, and where all living things suffer pain, both mental and physical, has got be seen as cruel or inept just for that fact alone. But I have written many times about the philosophical implications of the OT god, and that’s not the point this time.

The Jews thought about god in much the same way. God is the only game in town, so what he says goes. In a very real sense: ”Might means right” in the case of god. He created it all, including cruelty as well as compassion. Moses even suggests that he puts the words in our mouths. Isaiah tells us god created light and dark, as well as good and evil. After all, he was the only god. Who else could have created the conditions for everything? There was and still is no devil in the Christian sense, in Judaism. There is no war in heaven or for the souls of mankind.

But to the fundamentalist, man is evil by nature. Nature itself is evil.

The Jews, after all, were the first Christians. According to the story all of Jesus followers at first were Jews. Paul is the only one of the bunch who was not really a believing Jew. He came from a Roman father and Jewish mother. The evidence is clear that he had problems with the other apostils. Matthew, for one, and had a large following of Jews.

But Paul didn’t preach to Jews. He preached to Romans. He taught in a way Romans could understand. This is where the present day Catholic faith came from. It was mostly influenced by Paul and his message.

But the Protestants wanted to get back to the old religion, even though it is long gone and there isn’t enough historical data to piece together what it might have been. It seems in fact to have a rabble of many different factions as it is today. The Romans did what the church fathers couldn’t do. They united the factions under one roof and ruled the world with it. In the process they lost most of the books those factions were reading. The NT is a Roman compilation, not a complete one.

But never the less, the fundamentalists began to identify with the Jews and their testaments as much as with the NT. Even more so. Again, this has caused a mixing and a perversion of Judaism that now calls itself fundamentalism. It is not fundamental at all. It is not like the old Jewish Christianity either. It is more like old Catholicism than anything, at least in the way it views itself and its place in the world. And in the USA at least, it is also the religion of choice for the KKK and other white supremacist groups. Some of whom I have heard tell that they believe the Jews took our identity, and that we whites are really the chosen people of the bible. What can one say to such obvious nonsense?

The fundamentalists think the creation story in the bible is historical fact. They also think all the other stories are a fact. But nowhere in the bible does it give coherent, let alone accurate time line from which to claim a young earth. The bible doesn’t tell anyone how old the earth is. But fundamentalists claim it is only 6000 years old. Science and ample evidence begs to differ.

Even the Catholic Church has no problem with evolution and feels that faith and science can co-exist. Most moderate Christians feel that way. Most scientists have after all been Christian these last two thousand years. At least the West’s Scientists have up till recently.

But the other thing about fundamentalists is that they want to have creationism taught in schools instead of evolution. They want to bend science to their rules. They want more say in the laws of the land as well. Sound like any other religion we hear about these days?

There really is no difference between fundamentalist Christianity and fundamentalist Islam in the way they want to rule all of us. Fundamentalism, as we learned from the early Roman Church, is theocracy. It dreams of a theocratic world.

It was the moderate Christian as much as anyone who helped create democracy in the West. It wasn’t scientists and it wasn’t us atheists. It certainly wasn’t fundamentalism.

So the fight against fundamentalist ideas is a fight that should not be left to atheists and scientists. It should be taken up by moderate Christianity as well. All any of us want is to be free to believe what we want, and co-exist with each other in peace. That is why church and state have been separated in most democratic countries in the West. That is why religion is not taught in public schools. That is why religion is not taught in science class and science is not taught in religious studies.

These things protect us from any one faction of our society taking over the rest of us and making their way the law of the land. Perhaps persecuting us for what we might believe or not believe. We have to fight fundamentalism and fanaticism. I am not advocating or suggesting any violence here. I just mean we that we cannot allow the fundamentalist factions of our world to rule us. Not Islamic fanaticism nor Christian fanaticism.

Hey, fundamentalist have the right to believe whatever they like. But they do not have the right to take away our freedom to the same.

Live and let live, and leave religion a private thing between your god and yourself. Most of the modern world gets along fine when it does just that.


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    • jonnycomelately profile image

      Alan 3 years ago from Tasmania

      Grand Old Lady, what is it about "the details" of ...gays and stuff, that prevents you "going there?" Not sure if you are being critical of gay people or supportive.

      If the former, how can you claim to be loved by Christ?

      If the latter then I am sure you will be blessed with a peace of mind and some wonderfully warm friendships.

    • grand old lady profile image

      Mona Sabalones Gonzalez 3 years ago from Philippines

      Hi Slarty, I get where you're coming from. I'm born again, and the best thing I got from it is a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. The worst thing was when you get into the details and they tell you about gays and stuff. I just can't go there. But I know Jesus loves me as I am, and I can't live without him. But I am unchurched because it is so controlling and a lot of people hang in and lie and pretend they believe then you find them drinking in clubs. I'd rather not live a double life. I know Jesus loves me and I can't live without him. Fundamentalism is not good. All types of fundamentalism that puts barriers instead of bridges have the potential to do great harm.

    • jonnycomelately profile image

      Alan 4 years ago from Tasmania

      In regards to the recent horrific murder in Woolwich, and seeing the arrogant two perpetrators parading themselves before the cameras, I of course feel some anger towards them, however, I also feel very angry at the individuals who spur such zealots on.

      Those preachers of hate, in any religion, are evil. They don't get their own hands dirty. They leave all the dirty work to the young people to carry out. Young people who strap bombs to themselves, etc.

      In the effort to be politically correct and indulge in "fair play," we have allowed hate to be part of the world-wide scene.

    • Slarty O'Brian profile image

      Ron Hooft 4 years ago from Ottawa

      Thanks for reading it, and for the kind words.

      I find you have to take them as they come. I give the benefit of the doubt. But I do enjoy a good heated debate, as long as my opponent knows what they are talking about. Unfortunately, the most heated Christians seem to also be the ones who don't when it comes to science and religious history.

      Debate with the real fundamentalists, on the other hand, is usually useless. Our very ways of thinking are too far apart and too contradictory. There really is no common ground.

      But even then it can be fun,

    • jonnycomelately profile image

      Alan 4 years ago from Tasmania

      I had not seen this hub before.... very good writing, lots of good sense and concurs with my opinions as atheist.

      I try to apply a gentle attitude to people of "faith," but rarely do those of "faith" accord me the same respect.

    • artblack01 profile image

      artblack01 5 years ago from New Mexico

      Every time I hear of something that conservatives or Christians hate about Obama, the more I seem to like him.

    • Slarty O'Brian profile image

      Ron Hooft 5 years ago from Ottawa

      If he is not an atheist than at least we know he is a moderate who does not take the OT literally, and understands the problems and conflicts that such a belief could bring if acted on.

      Good for him either way.

    • artblack01 profile image

      artblack01 5 years ago from New Mexico

      I think Obama might secretly be an atheist, I heard something about Obama saying how we don't follow the Bible 100% because there are things in the Bible that are immoral and he included three different passages, one about the stoning of disobedient children and he also included the Sermon on the Mount. Mostly this was in defense of Secularism while he was senator.

    • Slarty O'Brian profile image

      Ron Hooft 5 years ago from Ottawa

      Since I am from Canada I can only give an outside opinion. I'd say they are using each other. In the US it's like a snake eating it's tail. A politician can not get elected unless they claim to be religious.

      Conservatism and Christianity do not have to go hand in hand, though they fit well together in many ways.

      In Canada we don't want our politicians to be overtly religious. Every time one of them has touted Christian values he's killed his career. We take separation of Church and State very seriously.

      But it funny how it all happened. Believe it or not the JWs were instrumental in separating Church and State in Canada.

      In the 1940s and 50s in Quebec, the JWs were being persecuted by the provincial government, on behalf of the Catholic Church. There were laws passed against them being allowed to go door to door. They were arrested and beaten regularly if they tried to assemble.

      The rest of the country was outraged. When the Fed finally stepped in it had been going on to long. The JWs lobbied for constitutional change. A complete separation of Church and State, even in Quebec.

      In Quebec the more educated people didn't like what the Church and government had done either, The elite of Quebec, so to speak, started what is known as "The quiet revolution."

      And it was a revolution. Quebec, the Provence that was the Catholic churches stronghold in North America slipped away, and the Church lost power over the government.

      It doesn't mean there are no religious people left in Quebec. It just means that there are far fewer fanatics, and far more atheists now than in the past.

      People in the rest of Canada had long before come to the conclusion that religion caused problems. Better to keep your religion to yourself. It became impolite to ask what religion some one was. It was almost a taboo subject, not to be discussed at the dinner table with guests.

      So it was not hard to convince the rest of Canada to enshrine the practice of separating Church and State. We wanted politicians who would put their religion aside, knowing that they represent many different religions. After all, the right political decision for everyone should be the decision that is most rational, not the one that is most in line with some one's religious beliefs.

      Perhaps a good religious persecution is what it will take in the US to start the ball rolling toward something similar there. Or it could have the opposite effect and make The Hand Maiden's tale a reality for them. Who knows?

      Watch out for Scientology too. If they take over Margaret's vision will be a sure thing.

    • Rhonda D Johnson profile image

      Rhonda D Johnson 5 years ago from Somewhere over the rainbow


      Now I wonder, are the fundamentalists using the right wing to gain political power or is the right wing using the fundamentalists to win over gullible Christian voters?

    • Slarty O'Brian profile image

      Ron Hooft 5 years ago from Ottawa

      Well that is the problem for Christians in general. They are supposed to spread their belief, and they may even feel sorry for us. But we have all heard the good news so often that it is no longer news.

      But there is a difference between insisting we hear the news again, and insisting that we live their way or they will make a hell on earth for us to prove a point. That's what fundamentalism insists on doing.

      The Catholics during the Inquisitions thought they were doing people a favour by torturing them in to repentance. After all, hell will be a lot worse than what they could do to you, and it is forever.

      Thank goodness they lightened up. May they never gain power again.

      And when all is said and done, if I am going to wake up dead eventually, which I highly doubt, it may as well be somewhere warm.

    • Rhonda D Johnson profile image

      Rhonda D Johnson 5 years ago from Somewhere over the rainbow

      You said it, Slarty. How does the saying go, your right to swing your fist ends at the tip of my nose.

      Yet, I don't see how freedom is possible with any kind of Christianity. If a person believes theirs is the one and true God and everyone else is going to hell. how can that person leave others to believe as they please? Let me go to hell, if I wish. It's a great place with subterranean hot springs and all the toasted smores you can eat.

    • Slarty O'Brian profile image

      Ron Hooft 5 years ago from Ottawa


      I can understand and sympathize with your story.

      Quite right. I wasn't saying that moderate Christianity stands on firmer ground than fundamentalism. I'm an atheist after all.

      And yes, under it all the moderates still think they are right and everyone else is dead wrong. But that's ok as long as with that, they are willing to live and let live no matter what the other person believes or does not believe, and don't hold it against them.

      Everyone can get along if we don't try to take away the freedoms we have from others. The fundamentalist wants to do just that.

      Freedom means giving up the right to try to take the freedom of others. That's the price we pay for it.

    • Slarty O'Brian profile image

      Ron Hooft 5 years ago from Ottawa

      It would not totally surprise me that the apostils never existed. After all, it is likely not many of the heroes of the OT actually existed. There is evidence that Moses was construct of the priest class of the United Monarchy around 900 BCE. It seems that at that point in history a portion of Deuteronomy mysteriously appeared hidden in the temple. Just in time to be used by King David to unify the twelve tribes as one people.

      Turns out that the Exodus was not one event. There were at least three waves. Moses may or may not have been a leader of one of those minor waves out of Egypt, but he and the story was embellished for a political purpose as much as a religious one.

      But there are a few problems with thinking that Matthew and the bunch were a figment of Paul’s imagination. For one thing, the works of Thomas are the earliest known manuscripts. He did start a church in India which still exists. Others went to different countries and set up churches that still attribute their founding to one apostle or the other.

      Ok, so maybe they all assume that an apostle set up that church because it is the story that has been going around for centuries. Could be. But Christianity did spread fast, long before Rome took over. Someone even went to preach in India.

      But maybe this is a little harder to answer: Why would Paul make up a story about him and the others fighting over how to teach the gospel? The apostles who had supposedly known Jesus were not happy with Paul and he was not happy with them. He was changing the way things were done.

      He justified the changes by saying that they (the apostles) only spoke with him while he was alive, but he (Paul) was now getting the last word from the living Jesus in heaven.

      Ok. Perhaps Paul was just creating a cover story, or creating a background from which to launch his religion. He had to make it look good.

      But then there is the fact that there were Jewish Christian sects who saw Matthew as their founder. They already had his writings when Paul was working in Rome. Paul would have been doing a hell of a lot of writing and traveling. And why would he actually set up rival groups just to create a fictional history for the religion?

      It all sounds a bit farfetched, doesn’t it?

      Then there is the fact that not one person could have written the entire Nt. The styles of writing are all different. Not to say the people said to have authored them actually did author them. John could have been Bob the Hermit. But someone wrote the stories, and it wasn’t all the same guy unless he was brilliant. I wouldn’t think of Paul as being brilliant. Guilt ridden and delusional, sure. Perhaps smart in spite of all that. But not brilliant.

      As for there being no mention of the individual apostles before the creation of the religion, why would there have been? None of them were anyone of interest before they became preachers or followers or names in a story.

      I don’t claim to know what happened. I’m just saying it is hard to build a good case for Paul being the sole creator of Christianity.

      That he is the main focus of Catholicism and most moderate Christianity is not in doubt. But the sole conspirator and creator of the entire story? I find that unlikely.

      I look forward to reading your hub on the topic.

    • Rhonda D Johnson profile image

      Rhonda D Johnson 5 years ago from Somewhere over the rainbow

      Yes, Slarty, I understand what you are saying. That doesn't mean fundamentalist or moderate Christianity makes any more sense.

      My undergraduate school was a Christian liberal arts university that leaned heavily to Calvinism. At the same time, I was attending a well known Word of Faith church. Trying to reconcile the teachings of my pastor with those of my Bible professors nearly drove me crazy. I was actually having panic attacks. The same Bible guided by the same Holy Spirit, yet each institution accused the other of gross misinterpretation.

    • artblack01 profile image

      artblack01 5 years ago from New Mexico

      As far as Matthew, Mark Luke and John, I am 100% convinced by the lack of evidence and the only writings on Jesus done after Paul had wrote about him that not only was Jesus fictional, or based on random real people but not on person named Jesus, but that M,M,L,J, are also fictional. There is nothing written about them before Paul and all accounts of Jesus in the translation are that the testimony according to... which means this is Paul's interpretation of what they supposedly had witnessed. I believe all accounts Paul has given were 100% made up. It is impossible to say much else since the only accounts we have are what Paul wrote. I have done much research into this area, specifically looking for any accounts of a person named Jesus being written about before that of the New Testament and from all I have been able to inquire there is absolutely nothing available.

      But considering the area and the names of the people at that time, there were many people named Jesus, many Joseph, many Mary... many people were crucified and since many Jews at the time were always causing much trouble, rebellions and such... I am certain that no one named Jesus lived the way it is stated, miracles or not, as some sort of traveling preacher. And considering how little in common the Jesus of the NT has with actual Jews of that tradition... it would take someone who know nothing of Jewish tradition to make such a claim as Jesus being what he is stated as being... Many Jewish historians site this as a reason that they don't believe Jesus was Jewish, but I plan on doing a hub about this soon.... I am having trouble with finding a couple books on the matter.

    • Slarty O'Brian profile image

      Ron Hooft 5 years ago from Ottawa


      Yes, context is important, no doubt about it. And I don't think the fundamentalists by and large know the context nor the culture or politics or history of the times well enough to be able to give a literal meaning of the book they think they read literally.

      Their faith seems to be in the idea that it is all historical fact rather than metaphor and old stories with often a political message.

    • Slarty O'Brian profile image

      Ron Hooft 5 years ago from Ottawa

      Rhonda D Johnson

      Hi Rhonda. Glad to see you too.

      What I mean is simply that their beliefs skew the way they read the bible.

      They think it is historical fact, but they interpret the facts to correspond to their belief.

      I gave the example that no matter how horrific something seems to the average person, if god does in the OT it is seen as just or righteous. Black becomes white.

      When the Jews read it they agree that what god is said to have done was horrific. But god is god. He can do what he likes. But to the fundamentalist it's more than that. It was the right thing to do and it was good, even if it was evil to you and me.

      So while they read the book claiming it is all fact, they are not just reading and reporting the words on the page. They have an entire set of apologetic for it.

      The moderate Christian doesn't have to justify the acts of the OT because they don't believe it is a literal or factual book.

      Does that help you understand what I mean?

    • Slarty O'Brian profile image

      Ron Hooft 5 years ago from Ottawa


      Thanks for reading.

      I have read a lot of Earl Dorty's ideas on the subject and I agree that most of them have merit. We may never know if Jesus really existed or not. But I don't think he was the imagination of Paul.

      Paul does put more emphasis on the dead Jesus than he does the living one, but after all, he only met him in a vision/dream. And yes Paul was the main author of the way the non-Jews came to view Jesus.

      But what I think is likely is that if a man named Jesus did exist, his story was embellished by Jews like Matthew. He seems to have a focal point for all the new ideas that had flooded in to the region.

      There is good evidence that some of the thing he said and was supposed have originated were ideas of the Greek Cynics and others. "Love thy neighbor" for example.

      But it is irrelevant whether he lived or not, He became the focal point for change.

      Yes, there was a sect of Jewish Christian in Rome that were disruptive, vandalizing Roman temples and pissing people off. That was the main reason the Christians were persecuted. They were seen as terrorists.

      I have written a lot about this sort of thing. Glad others like you are interested in finding out what really happened as well.

    • Rhonda D Johnson profile image

      Rhonda D Johnson 5 years ago from Somewhere over the rainbow

      Hey Slarty.

      A pleasure to see you.

      Please elaborate on what you mean when you say fundamentalists don't take the OT literally but believe it is still historical. I don't fully understand the difference you're making.

      For a poignant picture of what a Christian theocracy would look like in the United States, you might want to check out Margaret Atwood's The Handmaiden's Tale.

    • artblack01 profile image

      artblack01 5 years ago from New Mexico

      Well, considering Jesus is just a Character of Paul's imagination, you really have to wonder what Paul was thinking.

    • dahoglund profile image

      Don A. Hoglund 5 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      I've always had a problem with the concept of "literal" because it usually means literal in the sense of word meanings. Contest is important, I think. Jesus talked in parables, which are not literal. The language he spoke in was one using metaphors etc. Cultural factors also enter in.

    • artblack01 profile image

      artblack01 5 years ago from New Mexico

      Great hub, great read... How much do you know about Paul being the main author of the New Testament and that the original Christians weren't a religious group but a group of protestors (who happened to be Jewish) who were angry that many of their family members and friends were being crucified, and that the origin of the name Christian was directly related to the cross and not to an actual translation of Christ meaning anointed one... which had a more colloquial form (referring to the stigmata). Like many Christian sects, this one was a Jewish sect that was often held responsible for revolts against Rome. Paul used this sect to symbolize a more spiritual religion deeply rooted in Hellenistic Judaism, Paul saw in the symbol of a resurrected Jesus the possibility of a spiritual rather than corporeal messiah. He used this notion of messiah to argue for a religion through which all people, not just descendants of Abraham, could worship the God of Abraham. There by "scamming" a religion everyone would follow.