Sunday, 18 November 2012

Therefore (my interpretation) of god

I often mock Christian ‘logic’ for continually jumping to the conclusion “therefore God,” regardless of where they start their line of reasoning.  But on the subject of specifically addressing the question of god’s existence or non-existence, we have to remember that they are not referring to an abstract notion of god, even when that is what they claim to be talking about.  Rather, they always have in mind their own specific Christian version of god.  The same is true of Muslims and Jews when they argue for the existence of god. 
                To me, this is the most insidious marketing tactic of the religions; a sort of bait and switch.  They know it is far easier to convince someone to first believe in an abstract creator of the universe and then simply inform them that this creator is synonymous with their own brand of mythical deity, than it is to introduce someone to a PR appropriate version of their tiny tribal middle-eastern deity that is in fact just as arrogant, capricious, petty, vengeful, jealous, violent and all-around flawed and morally repugnant as any character from the Grecian pantheon and propose that this fairy tale character is actually the progenitor and director of all existence.
                It is easy to understand how the wonder of the universe could easily inspire belief in an all powerful creator.  Indeed, the very characteristics of intelligence that make us human may also predispose us to such belief.  The real danger, the real insult to intelligence and reason, lies in the uncalled for leap from acceptance of the possibility of a generative force behind the universe to submission of one’s life to an anthropomorphic character conjured from the minds of primitives who knew nothing of the scope of the universe and our insignificant place in it.  The god of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, of the Jews and Muslims and Christians, was never a god of the universe, but of a tiny speck of humanity.  It was only over time and by historical accident that as humanity began first discovering the world we began to conceive of the notion of god as ruling over more than just the tribe or the nation, but over all of humanity, knocking off lesser competitors along the way.  Finally as we discovered the universe beyond our world, we leapt to the assumption that the winning deity in vogue at that time, who so happens to be the Abrahamic god, must be the one responsible for it all.  The concept of god has evolved from a purely local concern to a global and finally a universal concern just as society has evolved in its outlook.  If circumstances had been different, it might have been Taranis or Zeus that could have evolved into the one true god responsible for the entire universe and whose myths we would now be reinterpreting to fit into the concept of a universe creating divine force rather than just a local terrestrial god.
                What is ironic is that even though being a big god of the entire universe seems to be a prerequisite for being accepted as a legitimate deity these days, what many people – principally conservatives - seem to actually want is a local deity concerned with their local concerns.  For them, their focus is on the here and now and their place in it all.  The god they deal with on a day to day basis who is comforting them and their families through tough times and uniting communities is really just a small god; a shared imaginary friend and personal guardian angel on whom they heap their wishes and worries.  That is all they really want or need, and there are virtually hundreds of various deities that have been honoured through the ages that have filled that role and still could and often do in other cultures.  It would probably make things a great deal easier for these people if they could just go back to that smaller god who loved them, but hated their enemies, who was theirs alone and not the god of other nations.  But because our collective understanding of what ‘god’ is has come to require omnipotence and omnibenevolence it has become necessary to reconcile this with their desire for a local deity who favors them by appealing to such concepts as being a chosen people or nation or religion.
                Conversely, those of a liberal bent tend to desire a more universal god who is concerned with all of humanity and will seek to distance themselves from the smaller more anthropomorphic and culturally limited deity and focus instead on interpreting the Abrahamic god to fit into the philosophically determined conception of a perfect being.  Some have even moved to a belief of a more universal god beyond religious interpretations and often retain only a tenuous and superficial link between their conception of god and the Abrahamic deity.
                What boggles the mind is how few take a step back and realize what they are doing in fabricating a version of a god for their own personal use.  Though they will deny it, they are each making their own personal idol, their own totem that suits them and their communities and ideals that reflects the god they want.  When they claim a personal relationship with god, what they are really saying is that they have invented their own personal god in their own image as a proxy for their own ego. 

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Most Catholics aren't

As some of you know, in my youth I was a very orthodox Catholic.  If the Church taught it, I believed it, I studied it, I understood it about as well as any lay person could, and I taught it to others.  One thing that baffled me then and continues to baffle me now is how many people have a complete disconnect between their self-identification as Catholics, and what they actually believe.  My own family did not and still does not quite understand this rather basic idea that if you're Catholic and you don't agree with what the Church teaches, you're what they call a "heretic."  You know, the kind of people that used to get burned at the stake by the inquisitions if they wouldn't repent of their heresy.  The kind of people that are in serious danger of going to hell (according to the Church, anyway.)

A case in point is the recent high profile "conversion" of atheist blogger Leah Libresco to Catholicism  (story here ).  I highly suspect her conversion was primarily for emotional reasons (coincidentally, her boyfriend is Catholic).  She claims she converted to Catholicism because she felt there must be a moral compass and authority external to us.  Yet, like most Catholics in the developed world, she rejects the church's teachings on homosexuality, contraception, etc.  How can she not see the obvious contradiction there?

The Catholic Church has a unique place among religions, and especially within Christianity.  It not only claims to be the one true faith, but also claims to have absolute and infallible authority on matters of faith and morals by tracing a direct unbroken line of apostolic succession from Peter, the "first pope" all the way to the present.  While there are matters of specific theology that have evolved over the centuries, and new understandings of things, by and large Catholic doctrine has remained remarkably consistent and unchangeable.  It has to, because it claims to be teaching eternal truth.  Those so-called Catholics who think the Church will eventually get with the times and update its teachings to reflect the opinions of the majority of Catholics just don't get it.  Even if a pope wanted to, which is highly unlikely, he couldn't officially and unilaterally change long-standing church teaching on a subject.  That would be a bit like expecting a president to unilaterally rewrite the US constitution.

So, not only do most self-identified Catholics disagree with their Church on important questions of faith and morals, they don't even understand the basic concept of what their Church is and how it differs from other Christian churches, and they don't realize that, according to the teachings of their own Church, they are all at risk of burning in hell.  Catholicism is take it or leave it.  Picking and choosing what you feel like believing - what I call Cafeteria Christianity - is not allowed (and anyone who seriously thinks they can determine what absolute truth is in such a way needs to get their head checked.)

Now, the Church says it "hopes" for the salvation of all.  In other words, they hope that god is a lot more merciful than the way he's portrayed in the bible, and they hope he wasn't really serious when Jesus said even calling someone a fool is a hell-worthy offense (Matthew 5:22).  So, despite a long history of being very judgmental, they let god have the last word on any individual's final destination and as such have a policy to never unequivocally say any individual is in hell - not even Judas.
Despite that, the basic teaching is that the salvation gained through baptism can be lost by knowingly committing a mortal sin and not repenting - ideally by going to confession - before death.
Oh well, no big deal, right, most Catholics are basically good people, right?
Sorry, being a "good person" doesn't cut it.
Among the commonly committed "mortal" sins staining the souls of the vast majority of Catholics are:
-Missing mass on a day of obligation (Sundays and holy days like Ash Wednesday, Good Friday, Christmas, Easter, etc.) without a good reason.
-Receiving communion without having sincerely repented of all sins.  Now, for an act of contrition (that prayer said every mass where you say you're a worthless sinner and please make me worthy) to be valid, it must include the intention to go to confession as soon as possible, and sincerely resolve to try to never, ever sin again.  Most Catholics I know have never even done that once, let alone before every communion. 
-Thinking lustful thoughts
-Using contraception
-Pre-marital sex
-Extra-marital sex
-Any sex that doesn't satisfy the criteria of being both unitive (strengthening the loving bond of marriage) and open to procreation.  So this means, even within marriage: oral sex, anal sex, mutual masturbation, any form of coitus interuptus, or any sex where the money shot happens outside the vagina.   Having sex as a duty, or anytime it's not loving and not "unitive."  Marriages of convenience, for political reasons, arranged marriages, etc.
-Publicly supporting mortal sins: i.e. being in favor of same-sex marriage,  pro-choice etc.
-Having an abortion or assisting someone in having one carries the additional penalty of automatic excommunication
-Belonging to a Freemason organization, like the Shriners (there go most of the older men in my home town's parish)
-Any Catholic store owners or workers that sell condoms, contraceptives, pornography, etc.
-Working any job that aids or promotes sinfulness
-Rejecting the Church's teachings on a subject of faith or morals. Like, for example, believing that communion is only symbolic and not actually a magical transformation into the real body and blood of Jesus. 
-Sins of omission: not helping others when you have the chance.
-Getting divorced and re-married (with this one there's no hiding that you're "living in sin", so you're not allowed to receive communion.  But if you're lucky, you can probably get an annulment that says your marriage was never really valid in the first place for whatever reason.)

-And many, many more. 

So, if you call yourself Catholic, but what the Church teaches means you are probably going to hell anyway, why be Catholic?

If you call yourself Catholic, but disagree with ANY of it's teachings, you have already basically rejected one of the cornerstones of Catholic faith: the authority of the Church.  So why be Catholic?

If you go to church just because you were raised to, to be part of a community, or for any other reason than truly believing ALL of it, then you are being dishonest with yourself and helping to support an organization yo don't really agree with.  So why not stop pretending and stop lying and be honest.  If you're not really Catholic, why be Catholic?

If every so-called Catholic was truly honest about what they believed and left, the Church would see it's membership vanish overnight.  We can only hope!

Wednesday, 30 May 2012

If we could convict 'god' of war crimes...

Former Liberian President Charles Taylor has been convicted of war crimes and handed a 50 year prison sentence for "aiding and abetting some of the most heinous and brutal crimes in recorded history" (Judge Lussik) though he never personally laid a finger on any of the victims.  He has never admitted any wrongdoing.  Upon reading this story, I immediately saw a parallel in the god of the Abrahamic religions who is also responsible for many of history's greatest atrocities, yet denies any wrongdoing.

"You can't blame god for the evils done in his name" is a popular refrain among Christians when confronted with the brutal history of their religion.  From the flood of Noah in Genesis to the genocidal cleansing of Canaan in Joshua to the wine-press in the book of Revelation, from the sectarian wars of the early Church to the Crusades to the European an early American witch hunts to the war in the Balkans, the history of Christianity and pre-Christian Judaism is soaked in the blood of millions (I won't address Islam as I simply don't have enough familiarity with Islamic history or how Muslims react to it).  Yet, though much of this violence was directly commanded by god - at least according to the not-so-historically accurate biblical narrative - or carried out in his name by his appointed representatives on earth, his followers insist he bears no guilt whatsoever for any of it.  If the god of the bible truly existed, the fact that he never physically touched any of the victims, but only acted by proxy, would in no way mitigate his responsibility or absolve him of the guilt for those crimes.  But Christianity, true to the nature of it's central tenet, prefers a scapegoat on which to place the burden of guilt.  There are three typical responses given by Christians when acting as lawyers in defense of their religion's role in historical bloodshed.  
For some, it is Satan himself who is responsible for all this death and destruction.  Though even a cursory reading of the bible will show that god's nemesis is not big on killing humans.  In fact, the only ones he ever killed were Job's children, and he did so only as part of a wager he had made with Yahweh.  No, the adversary is hardly the author of Christian bloodshed, and even if he were it would only prove how profoundly impotent and powerless the grace of god and the Christian message is at guiding his people and protecting them from the temptations of the devil. 

Other Christians will ascribe the guilt to "man's sinful nature".  Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit causing them to lose their state of grace and acquire a fallen nature.  Ultimately, this gets blamed on the talking serpent - later identified as Satan - despite that it was inept Yahweh that had placed the tree in the center of the garden of Eden rather than keep it safe. If your prized possession was stolen through such willful negligence, your insurance company would rightly deny the claim and the adjusters would call you an idiot behind your back.  But no so with Yahweh.  His negligence in the garden of Eden myth is never addressed, unless to say it was part of his plan all along.  Instead, Satan bears the responsibility for the temptation, and humankind bears every bit of guilt for every sin ever committed since - well, they get to transfer that over to Jesus in order to be forgiven, but it's their fault for doing the crimes in the first place.  Christianity has a strong tendency to give credit for anything positive to god, and to lay blame for anything negative at the feet of individuals.  They are taught that from the beginning of their existence they have a nature corrupted by the hereditary original sin of Adam and Eve, but even though they did not eat the forbidden fruit themselves, when they do wrong they must ask forgiveness.  Yet when they do good they should not be proud of having chosen to do good, but to credit god for their own human decency.  In fact, the bible only has one instance of a human thanking another human, but hundreds of instances of humans thanking god for good they have received at the hands of fellow humans.

The third defense presented by Christians is to simply cast aside anyone whose actions might tarnish their reputation by claiming that the offender is not and probably never was a "true Christian."  In this twist on the everything good is of god doctrine, the definition of Christian is manipulated such that by definition anyone who does wrong is, at least for the purposes of publicly acknowledging responsibility, retroactively excommunicated.  This is commonly referred to as the 'no true Scotsman fallacy', but in my opinion it should be renamed as the 'no true Christian' fallacy since it is rarely used in any other context.    
 This false and artificial division of responsibility is a shield that allows this imaginary being to continue to cast his influence over human history while dodging any sort of responsibility for negative consequences by shifting the burden of guilt away from himself, and shifting credit towards himself.  He is essentially a parody of a corrupt dictator with delusions of grandeur that would be comical if not for the great tragedy that even though he is not real, his nefarious influence on humanity most certainly is.      

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Musings on the future of Humanity

This past weekend I attended the Imagine No Religion 2 conference in Kamloops, BC, Canada.  It was an amazing event and there were many very interesting and important messages in the presentations.  But I want to talk here about something I gleaned from tying together a few snippets from a few of the presentations that rather struck me.

Seth Andrews of the Thinking Atheist reminded us of just how recently it is that information was difficult to retrieve and often inaccessible.  Since I was born (in 1976) we have gone from the strongest computer being the Vic 20 and the easiest way to retrieve information being the card catalogue at your local library to having millions of phones in the hands of average people with computing power orders of magnitude greater than early generations of multi-million dollar supercomputers, and with access to more information in a matter of milliseconds than even existed for most of human civilization.

Dr. Andy Tompson pointed out that we are the first generations to be able to look into our own brains with medical technology and understand how our minds evolved and why we think the way we do.

Another presenter – I can’t remember which – pointed out that in most fields of science there now exists a body of literature so vast that no one scientist could even read all of it from just their own field even if they spent their lifetime doing so.

PZ Myers spoke of the fundamental incompatibility of science and religion and how religion hampers science.

David Eberth spoke about the political and social strength of the creationist movement and how it seeks to move society away from science and towards religion.

August Berkshire spoke of the inherent limitations and failings of religious morality compared to rational secular morality.

Dr. Christopher DiCarlo spoke of the need to broaden our scope when we look at problems and their solutions and gave examples of how narrow a band of thinking goes into so many important decisions in everything from education to hospital care.

Lawrence Krauss spoke eloquently of our growing understanding of the universe and its workings, making the “God is the best explanation for the existence of the universe” arguments of the theists from the conference’s opening debate seem even more arrogant and ridiculous in their childish certitude than they had when they were presented.

These stunning indications of human progress were starkly contrasted with reminders of the simplistic and anti-scientific mindsets of the religious and of the continuing bigotry and backwards thinking that shackles much of humanity to a primitive past and a mind-bogglingly egocentric lack of self-awareness from Maryam Namazie, Matt Dillahunty and others. 

Representatives of the Centre for Inquiry, atheist Alliance International and BC Humanists told us of the importance of getting involved and the work they were doing, and Desiree Schell taught us how to be effective activists for change.

It seems to me that, quite contrary to the na├»ve perception I had as a child that all the cool stuff had already been discovered and explored, we are actually living in a uniquely privileged moment in human history.  Humanity is reaching adolescence.  It is growing up, and becoming more intelligent, but still retains much of the immaturity and childishness of its more primitive infancy.  Another analogy that occurred to me is that humanity has built an incredible aircraft that sits on the runway, ready to take us to new heights, but is prevented from lifting off because of all the excess baggage we are carrying that weighs it down.  The heights we could achieve if we could only rid ourselves of all the divisiveness, of all the historical problems we have carried with us, of all the biased and intransigent ways of thinking we have inherited from both our evolutionary and cultural forebears!  The realization brings both immense hope and crushing despair.  Those heights are attainable!  They are within our grasp!  But we are being prevented from reaching them.  Humanity is – as has always been the case – its own worst enemy.  But we must not give into despair.  We cannot allow our goals to recede.  We cannot allow ourselves to be dragged back into the dark ages!  We must fight against ignorance, divesting ourselves of as much useless baggage as possible while helping improve the aircraft of rational enlightenment and scientific inquiry that will eventually lift us into realms we can now scarcely imagine!           

Wednesday, 29 February 2012

The Christian trump card

Unanswered prayers. Contradictions in the bible.  A bizarre system of original sin and salvation through a human sacrifice.  It doesn't matter what objection or question is brought forth, the Christians have a single answer to it all: The Lord works in mysterious ways.

This pearl of apologetics comes from Isaiah 55:9 which states "As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts".  It's an easy out for anything that can't be explained rationally.  It's the answer for every "Why did god do that?" and every "Why didn't he do it this way?"

Christians will often accuse anyone who points out the lack of logic and the inconsistencies in god's plan as described in the bible of trying to put god in a box, or trying to understand the mind of an infinite god with our flawed and limited human perspective.  It's quite ingenious, really.  It's an escape route from any possible argument that effectively shuts down any questions and sounds profound, even though it's just another way for the Christian to say "I have no idea!".  It's like a parent telling a child "you're too young to understand," when they really don't have a good explanation for their actions.  As effective as it is at making non-believers throw up their arms and walk away in exasperation, it works even better for believers to quell any of those pesky doubts that crop up from time to time.  Anytime things don't make sense, or god's "plan" isn't obvious, they just remind themselves that god is smarter than them and knows what he's doing.  Just trust in his higher ways and higher thoughts.  Simple. Problem solved.

But to me, an argument that amounts to "you're too stupid to get it, so stop asking," is condescending in the way a bully who's had one too many concussions is when he calls the smartest kid in class stupid for winning the science fair.  A leader who resorts to "because I said so," as justification for everything is no leader at all.  I may not be the smartest person to ever live, but I'm smart enough to know that if god expects even little children to be able to understand his message, he should be smart enough to have a better answer for questions that even children ask than "you wouldn't understand."  An omniscient god would know how we think and what questions we would ask and - if he actually cared - would have a better answer.  Oh wait... his thoughts are higher, so we can't understand why he's being such a dick about not explaining things in a way that we might understand.  I should have known that was the answer to my objections!  My bad.

Monday, 27 February 2012

My dog is better than Jesus

It came to me last night, as I was cuddling with my dogs.  Christians often post about Jesus with descriptions that sound an awful lot like one would describe a loyal pet.  He walks beside me.  He loves me unconditionally.  I can lean on him and he supports me through the tough times.  He is my best friend.

My dogs do all that (I have 2, but I'll talk here in the singular so the comparison makes more sense).  But they are also undeniably real and far more dependable than a relationship with an imaginary friend.  I don't need to read a book, pray or attend a service to know my dog loves me.  He shows me his love constantly - sometimes too much!  When my dog doesn't do what I ask him to do, I don't have to ignore his actions or defend them by claiming he works in mysterious ways - even though I don't always understand his behavior.  When my dog does do what I ask, I will "praise" him with a "good boy", but no actual worship is required.  His love may not be "eternal", but it as real as it gets and I can trust in that love absolutely.    All my dog asks of me is that I love him, feed him, walk him and play with him. 
Sure, he doesn't promise me eternal life, but he gives me far more and better "spiritual fulfillment" than I ever received from Jesus in the years I spent being a devoted Christian.

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Abraham: The Delusional Father of 3 Faiths. Part 2

When we last saw Abraham in Part 1, he has just gained a new name and lost his 100 year-old foreskin.  Now, sitting in front of his tent, he gets a visit from Yahweh in the form of three men - or maybe it's Yahweh and his bodyguard angels.  It's really not clear.  Abe is, of course, not the least bit surprised to see Yahweh's Avatar in triplicate - perfectly natural, no explanation required or given.  Christians - at least those who believe in the Trinity - will see this as foreshadowing - or maybe Jesus and the Holy Spirit have separate avatars here?  Whatever the case, Yahweh and the other two are pretty hungry.  Abe and Sarah rush around getting their slaves to make up something yummy, and they've got to wash Yahweh's feet, of course.  Even gods get their feet dirty in the desert..
While Abe is eating with them, Sarah is eaves-dropping in on their conversation.  Yahweh predicts - again - that Sarah will have a child.  For some reason, even though Yahweh already made this prediction to Abraham before, Sarah is surprised and laughs, saying how can I have a child now that I'm old?  She must be getting senile, since she has apparently not only forgot about the previous predictions, but also that she's been barren her whole life - a good thing or she's have a bunch of pharaoh's babies! - since she's now wondering how a post-menopausal woman with a withered up old hubby will get pregnant as if that's the only thing stopping her from getting knocked-up.  Yahweh says to Abraham, "why did Sarah laugh?" and he quotes what she just said.  Why does he ask Abraham instead of Sarah?  Maybe he thinks Abraham can read Sarah's mind?  Maybe it's impolite to address a woman directly, because she's just a woman after all.  Anyway, Yahweh says "is there anything too difficult for me?" (well, apparently yes, judging by the next paragraph, and his need to murder his son before he can forgive people instead of just forgiving them, and apparently getting his people to write a book that actually makes and isn't full of contradictions is also too difficult, and... well, I'd better stop there or we'll never get to the rest of the story..). 
Sarah is  afraid, but apparently not afraid enough to stop her from piping up and lying about what she just said to this stranger that her hubby is treating like he's god or something.  "I did not laugh!"
Yahweh says "yes, you did laugh.".
Unfortunately, they cut the story off there without going into the rest of the argument which I imagine went something like this:
Sarah: "Did not"
Yahweh: "Did too"
Sarah:  "Did not"
Yahweh:  "Did so.  I heard you.  I was right here and you were just a few feet away behind the tent flap, which isn't exactly sound-proof and I have super-hearing."
Sarah:  "That wasn't me."
Yahweh:  "It was so.  Do you you even know who you're talking to?"
Sarah:  "No, you're just three strangers who think they can make me pregnant!  Wait a minute... Abraham, what are you planning???"
Abraham:  "Actually dear, this is Yahweh.  You know... our god."
Sarah:  "Oh... my bad."

Then Yahweh x3, (or Yahweh and bodyguards or whatever they are), and Abraham walk together and Yahweh looks down the hill at Sodom and Gomorrah and says "Hmmmm, should I hide my plans from Abraham?  Well, he is going to be the father of my chosen people, because I promised him he would, so why not tell him... Hey Abe, I've heard there's some really nasty stuff going on down there so I'm going to go check it out and see what's up."  Apparently Yahweh hadn't yet gotten the omniscience power.  I think he has to level up a few times before that, 'cause you know, it's one thing to create the universe, but to see what's going on in a city a few miles away... that takes some real power!  So the two bodyguards head down to the cities and the main Yahweh avatar stays with Abe.  Abraham apparently has a better moral compass than Yahweh and probably also remembers his nephew lives in Sodom, so he says, "Ummm, Yahweh, are you really going to kill everyone down there, good guys and bad guys?  What if there's like, 50 good guys?  C'mon, you're the judge of all the earth, man, do the right thing!"
And Yahweh says, "OK, if there's 50 good guys, I'll spare the city."
Then Abraham, smart guy that he is, starts negotiating and knows it's best to suck up first.  So he says, "now that I've been so bold as to question you even though I'm just dust and ashes, what if there's only 45 good guys."    
Yahweh, "OK 45."
Abraham:  "What about 40?"
Yahweh:  "Ok, I'll spare the cities for 40 good guys."
Abe: "Don't get angry, please...what about 30?
Yahweh: "oh for the love of!... Fine... I won't blow the cities to smithereens if there are 30."
Abraham:  "Now that I've been so bold as to speak - "
Yahweh:  "You said that already, like 3 sentences ago.  You're just repeating yourself now."
Abraham:  "Oh, sorry, ummm... what about 20?"
Yahweh:  "Fine, 20."
Abraham:  "Ok, don't be angry -"
Yahweh : "If you keep repeating yourself like this I WILL get angry you little twerp!"
Abraham: "What about 10?"
Yahweh:  "For the sake of 10, I will not destroy it."
Then, negotiation apparently concluded, Abe goes home. (Gen 18)

Chapter 19 doesn't have Abraham in it, so I'll save the long version of that story for another post.  It's the one where the two angels (they may be the bodyguards who were with Yahweh earlier - again, it's not actually explained anywhere) go to Sodom and find Lot, the righteous guy who offers up his daughters for gang-rape.  Apparently he's the only righteous dude in Sodom, so they save him and his family, and Yahweh turns the party cities into Chernobyl.

Then the action shifts back to Abraham in chapter 20.
Abraham, having been so successful with his "she's my sister" con job in Egypt, decides to try it again.  He moves into an area called Negev and again lies about Sarah being his sister.  The king, Abimelek, is apparently tired of all the hot young chicks he has and decides he wants the hot nonagenarian (that means she's in her 90s), Sarah, so he sends for her and Abraham graciously pimps her out again.
Yahweh once again plays his part in the con and [pretends it's all Abimelek's fault.  He shows up to Abimelek in a dream - guess his avatar is reserved for VIPs like Abraham - and says "you're as good as dead because of this woman you've taken."
Abimelek said, "Whoa, how was I supposed to know she was married?  That Abe guy told me she was his sister, and she told me he was her brother.  Besides, I haven't touched her yet.  My conscience is clean."
Yahweh, as usual, takes the credit and says, "oh right, I knew that.  Yeah, it was me who stopped you from sleeping with her so you wouldn't, you know, offend me or something.  Now give her back to Abraham because he's a prophet, and he'll pray for you and I'll listen to him and spare your life.  But if you decide to keep her... I'll kill you and and all who belong to you.  Because, you know, it's your slaves' fault if you sleep with my pimp prophet's wife, so I'll kill them, too."

Abimelek wakes up.  Like any reasonable man, he realizes that his dream was a visitation from a god - it couldn't be just a dream or anything like that.  So he summons his officials and tells them about his dream and they get scared.  Then he summons Abraham and asks him, "What are you doing to me?  What did I do to piss you off?"
Abraham: "Well I came here and I figured since you guys were a bunch of evil heathens that aren't afraid of my awesome god Yahweh, you'd probably kill me to get your hands on my hot wife, so I told a little fib about her being my sister,  Besides, it wasn't a total lie, she's actually my half-sister.  And after I married her I told her, this is the deal, Yahweh tells me where to go, and I'll pimp you out by pretending you're my sister.  That's how you can show how much you love me!"

Even though Abraham has pretty much just explained to Abimelek that he's been conned, the "my god will kick your ass" threat does it's job and Abimelek gives Abraham a pile of money, livestock and land to make up for his "offense."
Then Abraham prayed to Yahweh who then healed Abimelek and all his slaves so they could have children again.  Yeah, I'm confused too, since there was no mention of Yahweh making them infertile in the first place, but apparently he did because of the great sin of having unknowingly taken in a married woman.

To be continued in Part 3.  Stay tuned to hear about how the morally upstanding Abraham hog ties his own child and puts a knife to his throat.  It's the bestest kid's bible story, ever!  (well, except for that one where Yahweh drowns the entire planet except for the old drunk guy and a bunch of stuffed animals.)

Monday, 20 February 2012

Abraham: The Delusional Father of 3 Faiths. Part 1

Abram, whom Yahweh renamed Abraham.  He's the father of Judaism, Christianity and Islam.  Without him - whether he's historical or mythical, and the evidence points to him being an entirely fictional character - the three monotheistic faiths that came to dominate the Western World would not exist.  The stories about him in Genesis are the foundational myths for the Jewish and Islamic faiths and both claim him as an ancestor.  His story is seen by Christians as foreshadowing Jesus.

Now, for the sake of discussion and because it's what the majority of religious people believe, let's assume that Abraham was a historical person and that he really was the father of the blood-lines of the Jews and Arabs.  First off - having a man who was obviously mentally ill and morally corrupt contribute the genetic blueprint for your races is not something to proud of... but let's not go down that potentially racist road.  Let's look at the legacy of his story, instead.  We'll go through the Genesis account, first.
Abraham was one of three brothers.  One of his brothers married his own niece, by the way... totally not creepy in those days.  Abraham started having his one-on-one chat sessions with Yahweh at about age 75.  Now, remember, people lived a long time in those days; Abram's father Terah lived to 205.  Basically Yahweh told him where to go and what to do.  It doesn't say whether he was either hearing voices in his head or Yahweh was booming an audible voice out of thin air, or appearing as some spectral ghost or something.  Whatever the case, I guess that was considered normal back then - either that or they edited out the accounts of his family members questioning him about his imaginary friend.  Then again, maybe he was just the kind of head of household no one dared question, despite all the crazy stunts he pulled.  The only one who actually calls him on his shit is the pharaoh (ever notice that the bible never actually names any of the various pharaohs it vilified?).  Abram heads to Egypt with his wife, Sarai, who, despite being in her late 60s, is apparently so hot that Abram thinks anyone who sees her will kill him to get their hands on her.  So he devises a plan to keep himself safe: he tells the Egyptians she is his sister and pimps her out to the Pharaoh in exchange for wealth and influence.  Yeah, no moral qualms here - you know, she's just a woman, go ahead and have her.  Yahweh objects for reasons that aren't explained, but instead of just telling Abram, or punishing him for being an ass,  he decides to instead inflict plagues on the innocent Pharaoh. I think he just has a thing for sending plagues on poor Egypt.  Pharaoh comes to the obvious conclusion that the plagues are from Yahweh because he's doing the nasty with Abram's wife, and kicks Abram out of the country, but let's him keep all his riches. (Genesis 12:10-20).

Abram got filthy rich from pimping out his wife by the time he left Egypt.  So rich that he and his nephew Lot, who were traveling together, realized their respective households were too huge to have both of them living off the same land - so they split up.  In a typical delusion of grandeur, Abram has another chat with Yahweh who tells him that not only will he father whole nations, but hey, all this land you see, it's yours.  Go and take it.

Then there's some fighting between a bunch of Kings of different cities who just can't seem to get along.   Abram's nephew Lot get's kidnapped by one side, so Abram takes a war party and rescues him.  A priest comes and says some nice things to Abram, so Abram gives him a tenth of everything he owns (yep, that's that whole foreshadowing thing going on!)  Since he defeated the other kings, the King of Sodom is happy with Abram.  But for no apparent reason, Abram doesn't like the King of Sodom (that city isn't yet know as the birthplace of gay sex).  The King says let me have the people you rescued, but you take all the loot.  Abram refuses to take anything from him because he doesn't want anybody to say he got rich from the King of Sodom.  Nope, better to be known as the guy who got rich pimping his wife out to the Pharaoh of Egypt by lying to him, that's much more honorable than accepting a freely given gift of loot that you earned in a fair fight. (Gen 13)

The next chapter has Abram whining to Yahweh about not having a son, and more promises from Yahweh, including a prophecy about exiling his people for four hundred years.  Then again, prophecy might be the wrong word here, perhaps historical revisionism might be more accurate. (Gen 14)

Now starts the really fun parts.  First, Abram's super hot wife is apparently sterile - it can't be Abram, since the Pharaoh didn't knock her up either - so she suggests Abram should try impregnating one of the slaves.  Like any sane man, Abram thinks it's a good idea to get it on with the Egyptian slave girl and isn't about to say no to his wife.  So, he makes her his wife - like she has any choice in the matter - then he gets her pregnant.  Now, remember, we get morality from god's eternal law and it was acceptable then to own slaves and sleep with them, and have more than one wife so... ummm... why is that not OK now?  I don't remember Yahweh ever saying "thou shalt not have a sex-slave" or "thou shalt have only one wife".  Anyway, so, sex-slave Hagar becomes pregnant, and I guess she thinks that makes her something special so she starts being a bitch to Abram's first wife - her owner - Sarai.  Sarai gets pissed about it and Abram says hey, she's your slave, you deal with it.  So Sarai dials the bitch knob up to 11 and Hagar runs away.
Yahweh appears to Hagar and says go back and obey your mistress like a good little slave and I'll make your son and all his descendants a bunch of blood-thirsty barbarians that will be perpetually at war for centuries.  Hagar thinks the idea of having a "wild-donkey of a man" as a son is a good deal, so she obeys.  This kid is born and named Ishmael - no, not the guy from Moby Dick, that came later. (Gen 16)
Fast forward thirteen years.  Abram, now 99 years young, is having one of his chats with Yahweh, who tells him he wants him  to slice off his foreskin and then do the same to every man in his household, and then every one of his descendents should do it at the age of eight days old.  Yahweh also tells him that his wife will conceive and bear a son.  Abram proves he is completely insane by making his first question how is my 90 year old wife going to get pregnant instead of you want me to do what with my penis? Actually, he never questions the whole circumcision command at all, and neither does anyone else!  Imagine 13 year-old Ishmael as wrinkly old dad comes home, pulls out a knife and say "C'mere boy! Our god told me to chop of the tip of your wee-wee."  I think, in his place, I might protest just a bit!  If I was one of the slaves, that would be the time to make a break for it!  But nope.  Not a word of protest from anyone is recorded.  I guess they all just lined up and whipped it out for this surgery to be performed - without any anesthetic, antibiotics to prevent infection, and no choice in the matter.  Great idea, Yahweh!  Dude, no wonder you're a god!  What wisdom to come up with such a great idea!
Oh, Yahweh also told Abram to change his name to Abraham at this point, and Sarai to become Sarah.  Thankfully he didn't get some weird symbol as a new name or they would have called him The-Patriarch-Formerly-Known-As-Abram.

To be continued in Part 2.

Friday, 10 February 2012

Battle Hymn of the Republicans

I'm not really one to comment on specific political parties, so this is quite a departure for me.  I'm not even American.  I'm a Canadian - though I do live only about 10 miles from Northern Idaho and visit there and NE Washington frequently.
But I'm an atheist and a secularist, and I admire the principles of separation of Church and State that are embodied in the constitution of my neighboring nation.  So when I see how the politics of the most powerful nation on earth, and the Republican party in particular, have become subservient to Evangelical Christianity, it scared the bejeezus out of me! 

A few lines of Battle Hymn popped into my head with this twisted lyrics and I just couldn't shake the muse - so I went with it.  This is a parody, but since the song is now in the public domain and was itself a rip-off of an earlier song, I doubt it matters.  If anyone wants to make a music video using these lyrics for YouTube, please contact me.  I'd be happy to collaborate.

To the tune of "Battle Hymn of the Republic"

Battle hymn of the Republicans

Mine eyes have seen the glory of us coming out in first
We will trample out the rights of all the gays and dykes and whores;
We will topple all the Mosques with bombs and guns and war:
Our campaign is marching on.
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Our Campaign is marching on.

We will disprove evolution with intelligent design
We will pray in all the schools, now that would be divine
Abstinence is it, you know, and here’s the pledge to sign
Our way is marching on.
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Our way is marching on.

Read the constitution, no - it’s such a total bore!
The damned old treaty of Tripoli is something we’ll ignore;
This wall of separation needs a great big door!
Our Church is marching on.
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Our way is marching on

This is a Christian Nation, there isn’t any doubt
The Ten Commandments in the court clearly spell that out
All we want is the Jesus vote, for some added clout
Our Nation marches on!
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Our Nation marches on!

Why bother with environment? The second coming’s soon,
We hope we’ll still get raptured when we’re based up on the moon,
Global warming is BS, unless the Bible says it’s true
Our Faith is Marching on!
Our Faith is Marching on!
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Our Faith is Marching on!

A Christian in the Whitehouse! Nothing else will do!
And not just any Christian, just the kind that’s True,
We mean Evangelical, none of those Liberal fools!
Our vote  marches on!
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Our vote  marches on!


I'm sure you've seen it, it's everywhere: the COEXIST bumper sticker with the letters made of religious symbols.  The message is simple: we should all get along regardless of what we believe.  It's a nice sentiment, and certainly peaceful coexistence among people is a laudable goal. But coexistence of religions is a condescending idea based on willful ignorance. 
You see, the message is that religions should tolerate or even respect one another.  But - at least for the Abrahamic religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam - tolerating other faiths is contrary to their scriptures and their theology.  So what the coexist crowd is asking is for religious people to put the secular notion of religious freedom and religious tolerance over and above "god's law".  To anyone who takes their religion seriously, that's a very condescending position.
Christ commanded that Christians go and preach to all nations.  He never said anything about respecting other people's beliefs, and especially not the pagans (such as Wiccans, whose symbol is included in the bumper sticker.)  The New Testament is full of nasty things about pagans.  The Jewish scriptures quite clearly state that anyone who believes in other gods should be stoned to death, and specifically singles out witches (like the Wiccans, and those use astrology and the like - New Agers, for example).  Islam commands the beheading of "infidels," and making war against those of other faiths  I can't speak for the Taoists, since I find what little I know about Taoism fairly baffling from my Western frame of reference, yet I do know that its teachings are anathema to the monotheistic religions.

One case in point is this version of the sticker which has Christian commentary added to it and demonstrates that religion's attitide towards the others (well, one version of Christianity, anyway). Note how it directs criticism at the others and then concludes with the blatantly false "Christianity is who this is directed at, but Christianity poses no threat to others."

Granted, in secular nations, most of the adherents of these and other faiths have, in fact, either placed such commands below the comparatively new secular principles of religious tolerance and mutual respect.  Why?  Well, they are perhaps ignorant of the teachings of their own religions.  I know from experience that this kind of ignorance is widespread among Christians.  Perhaps they have bought into the idea that religion is something private - another secular idea that no religion actually promotes in its scriptures.  Some have become ashamed of the intolerant elements of their faith and have discarded them from either their personal beliefs or the teachings of their particular denomination or sect (though they rarely if ever remove these hateful passages from their scriptures.  They still carry around books filled with hate-speech.). Looking at Christianity in particular, as a former devout Christian, I find the idea of keeping quiet to be stupid, anti-Christian, and selfish.  If you truly believe that the fate of people's eternal souls hangs in the balance and you just keep quiet and not try to convert everyone you meet, then not only are you disobeying the commands of Jesus, but you are being extremely selfish.  If someone was taking poison, I wouldn't sit back and be quiet in the name of tolerance and respect, I would stop them from drinking the poison!  If a Christian truly believed people would go to hell without the salvation of Christ, shouldn't they be trying to save everyone, all the time?  Christ and his apostles certainly seemed to think so, but many modern Christians find the idea of evangelizing to be downright distasteful and will actually criticize other Christians who engage in it!

Orthodox Jews will follow many of their laws so closely that they won't even flick a light switch on the sabbath, yet none of them seem to follow god's commands to stone those Jews who work on the Sabbath.  In fact, I cannot recall any news stories at all about Jews enforcing any of the many, many commands of Yahweh that involve stoning people or hacking off hands, or how to own and beat slaves.

Islam, being the youngest of the Abrahamic religions, and still being the majority religion in many countries and even forming theocratic governments, is the only one of the three that still actively practices (or at least does not condemn) the statements in its scriptures that command violence against those of different faiths, or those of its own who disobey or who attempt to leave.  In nations where Islam is a minority, they have generally accepted the secular doctrine of coexistence.

There are other variations on this sticker that have symbols for Buddhism, Hinduism, and other religions.  However, none that I have seen ever include atheists, agnostics and humanists.  Odd, isn't it?

Aside from the hypocrisy of the religious believing in the secular doctrine of coexistence, tolerance and respect, there are reasons why the non-religious should take issue with this generic promotion of all faiths as equally good.  Even if they aren't shoving it in people's faces, the magical thinking and belief in supernatural, accepting things on faith etc. have enormous detrimental impacts on society as a whole.   Our society seems to put in a protective box, shielded from criticism, anything that someone believes as long as they put it in the category of personal conviction or religion.  Look around and you will see everywhere people believing whatever they like based on nothing more than how it makes them feel.  We are teaching people that you need not look critically at the truthfulness of anything.  As long as you call it religion, it's all good.  We are teaching people that gullibility and irrationality are virtues, that completely contradictory beliefs can be compatible and equally relevant.  This leaves people open to manipulation and fraud in all areas of their life, and greatly impedes rational discussion and the advancement of society.

Religion is a main source of conflict now as it has been throughout history.  Even in secular nations where "coexist" is almost a state doctrine, we still see the religious trying to impose their values on others such as their attempts to include creationism in classrooms, quash gay-rights, restrict and de-fund important scientific research, and elect religious politicians who will subject everyone to their faith-based social agendas.

As long as religions continue to indoctrinate children, they harm society. The young have religion taught to them as children - they never choose it themselves.  Even if they switch to a different one later, most wouldn't do so if they didn't already have a foundation of magical thinking taught to them in childhood, and the continued societal acceptance of religion as inherently good for it's own sake.  People raised to value skepticism and rationality rarely later choose religion or other forms of magical thinking as a means of finding meaning in their lives.    

On a person to person basis, the idea of coexisting peacefully is most certainly a wonderful thing. People should learn to live peacefully. But promoting that by promoting religion, and then asking these mutually exclusive theologies that condemn each other to get along, is a bit like encouraging racism in a mixed race society.

Thursday, 2 February 2012

Dear Mom and Dad

This is the "coming out" letter I sent to my parents a while back.  It was partially well received.  The were of course upset, and my Mom seems to think I've joined some sort of cult and is worried I will try to convert my siblings (even though none of them are really believers, anyway).  But, at the very least, they sort of understand where I'm coming from.  They acknowledge I have the right to make my own choices.  And most importantly, they still love me.  I can't really ask for any more than that!

Dear Mom and Dad,

You may have heard through the grapevine that I’ve been posting on Facebook about being an atheist, and about my rejection and criticism of religion.  As my parents, whom I love dearly, I felt it right that I tell you myself where I’m coming from.  I’m using a letter instead of a phone call so I can express myself as clearly as possible since I’ve been composing it in my head and working on it for weeks now.  Also because I think I might chicken out if I tried to do this over the phone.  I am writing this admittedly long winded letter, on a subject many families find difficult to talk about, because you deserve to know why the child you raised in the faith has chosen to leave it.  I hope you will receive it with a spirit of openness and love.  I in no way want to hurt or offend you.  Though I realize I will probably do both, it’s not my intent.   

I’ve been agnostic for years and atheist for some time now, but only just recently did I publicly “come out of the closet” as an atheist.  I know your first question will be why.

Let me assure you I am not angry at god, running away from god or hiding from god.  I am also not rebelling against my upbringing or you in any way.  In fact, I did not come to this conclusion based on any emotional reason or any event provoking a crisis of faith, but through long years of reflection and searching fervently and honestly for truth.

I left the church long ago.  First it was just difficult to attend with babies, so we went to mass less and less frequently.  But that distance of not having my faith constantly reinforced let me take a step back and actually ask the tough questions and examine the doubts my faith had for so long held at bay.  When I was a true believer, there were things that bothered me and questions I couldn’t answer about my faith such as the horrific atrocities, the contradictions and the historical inaccuracies in the bible.  I was troubled by the “problem of evil” as it is called in philosophy - if god is omnipotent and omnibenevolent, then why is there evil, suffering etc in the world?  Free will and human action can only account for some small part of it.  Much more suffering comes from nature; illness, natural disasters, famine, etc.  How can we thank god for answering our prayers and giving us the things we have and reconcile that with the unanswered prayers of so many who go hungry, who suffer disease, pestilence and war?  How can there be any one universal truth when there are literally tens of thousands of religions, each saying different and mutually exclusive things and the single most important factor that determines which “truth” you end up accepting is simply where and when you are born?  How could god really expect any mere human to sort through that conflicting mass of messages and correctly identify his one true message?  These and many, many other concerns were always there in the background.  I accepted the answers I was given by the church and its apologists, but they didn’t sit well.  It was easy to suppress these doubts when I was always having my faith reinforced at church, by Christian friends, by books, etc.  But without that reinforcement, I started to re-examine my faith, and I realized I wasn’t being honest with myself by not really truly asking these hard questions.  For a long time I was in limbo – wandering the desert, so to speak.

I spent years searching for a god I could believe in.  I wanted to believe in god, in some eternal objective truth I could look to.  I explored the other Abrahamic monotheistic faiths of Judaism, Islam, Ba’hai and their offshoots.  I looked to the ancient monotheistic religions, reasoning that perhaps the real truth was revealed early on.  So I explored Atenism, Zoroastrianism, etc.  I even explored polytheistic and non-theistic religions.  Then I searched for a religion based on reason instead of revelation.  The closest answer would be deism, which is a useless religion.  Nothing rang true.

What does feel true and right to me, and was the only conclusion that could stand up to reason, was a naturalistic worldview grounded in science.  I marvel at the vast immensity of the universe and how small we are in it.  The idea that out of all the billions of galaxies in the universe, and all the trillions of stars and who knows how many millions of planets – and the odds are high that many of these as yet unknown worlds may very well also have life on them – that our tiny insignificant planet, and our very brief time on it relative to its incredibly long natural history is not only the object of divine attention, but that our very thoughts would be important to one who created all this immensity seems incredibly ridiculous.  The idea that a being we conceive of as all knowing and all seeing would choose to communicate with us only through archaic books he would surely have known could be twisted and misunderstood, misinterpreted, used as a pretext for every sort of war and conflict, and which were written by prophets whose visions would be classified as schizophrenic or drug induced hallucinations were they to occur today, seems even more ridiculous.  The idea that we must choose between eternal damnation or belief in an improbable story of which we are only aware because of poorly written and conflicting accounts of a Jewish prophet which were then interpreted by Saul/Paul, seems to be grossly unfair and unworthy of the being we conceive of as god.  The inescapable conclusion, to my thinking, is that all religion is man-made.  If there is some force that created the universe, that we might call god, it is impersonal and beyond our knowing. 

I have found freedom of thought; freedom to question everything, examine evidence and change my thinking based on that evidence.  I am a skeptic and a humanist.  I am still a good and moral person.  I love and respect others because I choose to, rather than for any hope of heaven or fear of hell.  I learned from your example to be loving, caring, honest and generous.  For that I am so very grateful to you!  I have met many people who have told me what their own parents were like, and I have realized just how lucky I am to have had you to raise me.  You were, and still are, very good parents. 

Niqi and I each followed our own journey separately and quietly.  We rarely talked to each other about religion until recently, but we both ended up coming to the same conclusions on our own.  We are teaching the girls our values.  They do like to attend church occasionally because they like to sing, and that the old people admire them and compliment them.  But they are not believers.  They are free to explore as they wish and think freely, and we help them in their explorations to think critically and always search after truth and examine the available evidence.

I know this might upset you, and I am truly sorry for any hurt it causes you.  I do not want to hurt you, or offend you in any way.  But I must be honest with myself and seek always after the truth, no matter where it takes me.  I also cannot, in good conscience, selfishly keep this knowledge to myself in the name of misguided tolerance or a fear of offending others.  To me, knowing that we need not follow the edicts of an invisible master, but can be free to truly think and be ourselves, is good news that needs to be spread.  To me, knowing that many of the values humanity holds most dear such as the abolition of slavery, equality of races, women’s rights, animal rights, freedom of expression, tolerance of different ideas and religions, pursuit of technological advancement and scientific research and many more come not from the bible or any other divine or supernatural revelation, but from the rational and intellectual maturity that civilization has gained and continues to gain since the enlightenment, is good news to be celebrated.  I am, as I have always been, drawn to knowledge and to sharing it.  When I was a Christian I stood up for what I believed in, even when it annoyed or offended others, because I believed I had the truth and that it was worth sharing.  I cannot do any differently now as an atheist and humanist with a much more mature and knowledgeable worldview.  It’s who I am.       

I am happier and freer than I have ever been and my spirit is at peace.  I am no longer burdened by doubt or guilt.  Thank you for being such good parents and teaching me how to be a good and loving person.  Thank you for encouraging in me my love of knowledge and of learning.  I love you and respect you very much.  But I cannot share your faith anymore.  I ask that you would respect that.  I am more than willing to discuss things, answer your questions, and I will not be offended if you pray for me.  In fact, I would really love to sit with Mom and have a long talk like we used to when I was a teen.  I miss that.  We would really love if you two would come and visit us sometime.  We don’t see you often enough and it’s hard for all four of us to get out to Manitoba, or Texas.  We would like the girls to be able to spend more time getting to know you, and we want you to be able to experience the wonderful people they are.  I hope very much that our rejection of religion will not push us away from you.  We love you very much and we miss you.

Your loving son,

Oct-Nov, 2011

Friday, 27 January 2012

But that's the OLD Testament!

There can be no doubt that the Old Testament is full of what can only be described as atrocities.  One count put the death toll of people killed either directly by  Yahweh or at his command at over 2 million and that is only the ones that were numbered, not including the massive destruction of Noah's flood, the smiting of Sodom and its sister cities (while saving that "righteous" pig, Lot), the plagues on Egypt, etc.
Add to that all the rules that one faithful Christian I know termed "crazy stuff."  All the death sentences for minor infractions like picking up sticks on the sabbath or talking back to your parents, while endorsing things we now consider highly immoral such as slavery, or handing out rewards for crimes such as being forced to marry the woman you raped.

Christians love to sweep these things under the rug and say things like the simplistic and dismissive "But that's the OLD Testament" to the attempt at theological sophistication of "Jesus paid the price, so punishment by blood is no longer necessary." 

One can and should point out that - at least according to the four New Testament Gospels - at no time did Jesus himself ever condemn, apologize for, or in any way indicate there was ever anything wrong with the "Old" testament, what  he and other Jews call the Law and the Prophets.  In fact, he said quite the opposite.  In the celebrated sermon on the mount, after the parts everyone likes about blessed are the meek and such, Jesus quite clearly stated that he did not come to abolish the Law or the Prophets but to fulfill them. " For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished." Matthew 5:18 (see Matthew 5:17-20 for the whole thing.)  Now, last I checked, the earth hasn't dissapeared yet.  But still, many will say what he meant was until his own mission had been fulfilled.  That is, it applied until his death and resurrection happened.  Really?  So, it was especially important to say that, oh, by the way, these things are still in effect for a little while - three years tops - but after that it's a whole new set of rules!  
Fine, even if we accept that rather absurd interpretation, my next question is: SO WHAT???

Jesus was not only a devout Jew, he claimed to be the Son of Yahweh who, by his own "word" (aka the Bible), demonstrates that he is, as so eloquently stated by Richard Dawkins in the God Delusion,  arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.  You can try to justify, equivocate and excuse all you like.  You can tell me "who are you to question god," or whatever.  But it changes nothing.  I cannot escape the conclusion that Yahweh, even if one could convince me he actually existed, is a barbaric and vile deity, unworthy of our love, devotion, worship or praise.  I would not expect anyone to praise a bloodthirsty dictator just because his son was somewhat more gentle than he was.  Saying "but,that was the Old Testament!" is like saying "That was the OLD DAYS, Grandpa is a much nicer Nazi, now.!" An unrepentant old Nazi is still an evil man, even if he is no longer running a concentration camp.  An unrepentant evil deity is still an evil deity, even if he is not currently engaged in ordering his chosen people to steal land from its native inhabitants through a genocidal war of total destruction.  But he is apparently still "allowing" souls to be tortured for all eternity.  Sure, he set up the system that made their suffering inevitable, but since he's not actively pushing them into hell, we'll let him off the hook, right?  You can.  But I won't.  In fact I am ashamed to admit that I once worshiped Yahweh. 

I must also admit to being dumbfounded that many of the Christians making these arguments about god's atrocities all being in the past are of the variety that believe that the book of Revelation is prophetic.  Have you read it?  It's one of the bloodiest books in the entire bible and the things it says god will do are truly the stuff of nightmares.  But he loves you...