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...

Thursday, 19 January 2012

The Anti-Christ Bible

I have often reflected on the irony of Christians claiming “persecution” and “intolerance” when others question or mock their beliefs.  Tolerance itself is by definition anti-Christian.  Christ commanded – he didn’t gently suggest, he commanded! – his followers to preach the gospel to everyone, o attempt to convert the entire world.  The New Testament repeatedly tells Christians to shun those of other faiths.  It also contains a lot of rather offensive statements about pagans.  Contrary to popular belief, paganism is still around.  I personally know some pagans, and, despite what the “true” word of god says, they do not worship demons.  The bible is full of what would nowadays be considered “hate speech.”  If it were written today about an identifiable group instead of an extinct one, most Western countries would rightly ban large portions of it as a reasonable limitation on free speech.

                In our present culture – due to our collective history – there are certain groups that it is almost automatically “offensive” to say anything negative about; in particular Jews due to the holocaust, and African Americans due to slavery and civil rights.  But you can say whatever you like about Philistines.  It has even become a common derogatory term for someone uneducated.  Why isn’t that offensive?  Because the Philistines are extinct.  Though it was the Assyrians who eventually conquered them, we still celebrate the deaths opf Philistines at the hands of "God's chosen people" (remember David and Goliath?).  Similarly you can say whatever offensive things you like about Moabites, Ammonites, Canaanites (who the Hebrews waged a genocidal war against at Yahweh's command), or various worshipers of Ba’al.  Why? Because, these groups are not real to us.  They are so far back in history and disconnected from us that they may as well be fictional.  Similarly, most people think pagans – at least those the bible talks about – to be long gone.  So biblical passages that speak against these groups, that slander them, vilify them, and encourage violence and prejudice against them just don’t have the same impact that they would if they were presented against a group that is still real and present in our everyday lives.  This is why the few passages about homosexuals seem so relevant and shocking, because they are still being used to discriminate against homosexuals to this day.  

Now, just imagine if those biblical passages were not about extinct groups of people, but about Christians. 

Here is a sample of some choice biblical passages that sound very different with the change of a single word or descriptor.  Also, just for fun and to turn the tables, let’s change Israel to America, and God to Science and/or Reason.  I know it’s ludicrous to think of giving burnt offerings to science, but let’s pretend that’s what Bunsen burners are for.  They’re always telling us Science is our religion, anyway!

Before we begin I must emphatically state that I DO NOT IN ANY WAY ENDORSE, ADVOCATE OR CONDONE HATRED OF OR VIOLENCE TOWARDS CHRISTIANS OR ANYONE ELSE!  This is simply an exercise to illustrate a point.  The very fact I have to put that disclaimer on here, while it’s in no way required for the actual bible verses I am altering, should tell you just how messed up the bible actually is! 

Let’s begin with that gem of Yahweh’s divine mercy: Deuteronomy 13.  Alterations to the original bible verse are in [square parenthese].  I have added bold for some particularly interesting phrases.

Verses 1-5
If a [Christian preacher], or one who foretells by [prayer], appears among you and announces to you a sign or wonder, and if the sign or wonder spoken of takes place, and the [Christian preacher] says, “Let us follow [Jesus Christ]… and let us worship [him],” you must not listen to the words of that [preacher] or [that one who prays]. [Science] is testing you to find out whether you love [Science] with all your heart and with all your soul.  It is [Science and Reason] you must follow, and [Science and Reason] you must revere. Keep [Science’s] commands and obey [them]; serve [Science] and hold fast to [Reason].  That [Christian preacher] or [person who prays] must be put to death for inciting rebellion against Science and Reason, who brought you out of [Church] and redeemed you from the land of [ignorance]. That [Christian preacher] or [person who prays] tried to turn you from the way [of Science and Reason]. You must purge the evil from among you.

Verses 6-11
If your very own brother, or your son or daughter, or the wife you love, or your closest friend secretly entices you, saying, “Let us go and worship [Jesus Christ]” [the god] that neither you nor your ancestors have known,  [the god] of the peoples around you, whether near or far, from one end of the land to the other),  do not yield to them or listen to them. Show them no pity. Do not spare them or shield them.  You must certainly put them to death. Your hand must be the first in putting them to death, and then the hands of all the people. Stone them to death, because they tried to turn you away from [Science and Reason], who brought you out of [Church], out of the land of [ignorance]. 11 Then all [America] will hear and be afraid, and no one among you will do such an evil thing again.

Verses 12-18
 If you hear it said about one of the towns [Reason] is giving you to live in that troublemakers have arisen among you and have led the people of their town astray, saying, “Let us go and worship [Jesus]” ([a god] you have not known), then you must inquire, probe and investigate it thoroughly. And if it is true and it has been proved that this detestable thing has been done among you, you must certainly put to the sword all who live in that town. You must destroy it completely, both its people and its livestock.  You are to gather all the plunder of the town into the middle of the public square and completely burn the town and all its plunder as a whole burnt offering to [Science and Reason]. That town is to remain a ruin forever, never to be rebuilt, and none of the condemned things are to be found in your hands. Then the [high Scientist and Rationalist] will turn from his fierce anger, will show you mercy, and will have compassion on you. [Science] will increase your numbers, as [Science] promised on oath to your ancestors— because you obey [Science and Reason] by keeping all his commands that I am giving you today and doing what is right in [Science’s] eyes.

More to follow later.  Hope you enjoyed this first installment.  

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

How Creationists sound to the rest of us

(This is a fake new story, in case you're wondering)           

 In the ongoing search for the origins of the computer, a multidisciplinary team sought to discern how the computer was built.  Brushing aside its lack of experiments, papers published in peer reviewed journals, and basic scientific literacy, the group has announced they have definitive proof that computers were designed and built by Aliens.  This group has released several best selling books and videos on the subject, and regularly presents their findings at UFO rallies and other prestigious venues.
            “It’s so complex,” explained team leader, Dr. Ted. H. Agard.  “This component, for example, is so intricate and complicated there is just no way it could have been made by humans.  Humans are completely incapable of creating such things.  If they were, we would see them making things all the time!  I don’t see that, do you?  Besides, everyone knows that on his deathbed, Steve Jobs admitted the Aliens told him how to build a Mac.”
            Dr. K. M. Fort outlined the brewing controversy.  “There are some scientists of lesser repute who claim that some humans somewhere must have made it, but everything they say doesn’t make any sense.  It’s like they just make things up, and then do experiments to test their ideas so that the government will give them money.  I mean, you never see a human, secreting computer components from special glands in their nipples.  Until I see that happen, this whole “man-made” idea is just a theory.  Can you imagine? Humans building computers!  That’s like saying a baby stacked some blocks together and built a Boeing 747!  It’s obvious to me that all the evidence points to the simple fact that Aliens did it, and they told us about it in the movie Men In Black.  Have you noticed how one side of the velcro is soft and the other is grippy, and they stick together?  No way some person just came up with that!  It’s obviously aliens!”
            Proponents of Alien Designer Doctrine (ADD for short) are in a struggle to have their theories recognized by educational institutions alongside proponents of Man-made-ism that represent the established scientific consensus.  “This nation was founded on Alien values,” commented Huck McBee, school board director and supporter of ADD being taught in schools alongside Man-made-ism.  “I may not know much about anything, but one thing I’m sure of is MIB is a message from the Aliens.  I put my trust in that, and I think that it’s important we teach the next generation about Aliens.”    

Friday, 13 January 2012

Christian hate and the impotence of the Gospel

I just read about the case of a brave 16 year old atheist that went to court to have a prayer banner removed from her school, and won.  (see The Friendly Atheist for details).  In response, social media erupted with comments from Christians - many of them also high school students - that were full of hate, threats of violence, wishes for the girl to burn in hell and other unfortunately all too typical Christian responses to atheist activism.  Followed by the inevitable apologies from the kinder Christians distancing themselves from the "haters" using the no true Scotsman argument, which should probably be renamed the "no true Christian" argument since it is used in that context more than any other.  Basically, anytime a Christian misbehaves in public or does anything to show a poor example of Christian behavior, other Christians are quick to claim that the person's actions demonstrate that they are not a "true" Christian.  If they were a "true" Christian, they wouldn't do that, they say.

Now, it has been pointed out quite often, and by more talented writers than I, that this pretty much means there is no such thing as a "true" Christian, because everyone who claims to be a Christian believes something or does something that some other Christians will brand as not "true" Christianity.  Since there are over 33,000 different denominations of Christianity, plus millions of personal and private interpretations of Christianity that don't fall into the category of a denomination, it's pretty much impossible to even define what Christianity is, let alone to identify who is and who isn't a "true" Christian.

What I would like to point out is something that all the people crying about the poser un-"true" Christians seem to miss.  That is how the incredibly commonplace occurrence of Christians - true or not - showing evidence of being hateful, bigoted, unforgiving and violent throughout their history including in the present is a convincing demonstration of just how weak Christ's message of peace and love is!  Now, right about this point Christians will scurry to their other go-to defense and argue that Christians are only human and they are sinful, so you can't blame Christ for what fallible humans do in his name.  Fine, Christians are "sinners", too.  Unless someone has been operating under the misapprehension that us heathens think Christians are supposed to behave perfectly, my response to that is "so what?"  Sure they may still be subject to sin, but shouldn't they be less so, seeing as they have the grace of god helping them to be more loving and to resist temptation?

One of my favorite songs when I was a Christian was "They'll know we are Christians by our love".  This was a reflection of the oft repeated biblical idea that Christians, empowered by the Holy Spirit and the grace of Jesus their Savior, should be filled with love, unlike the "pagans" who are portrayed as selfish and vile.  But even as a Christian I was troubled by the obvious fact that acting "Christlike" was not only not exclusive to Christians, but isn't even that common among Christians, and not even among those of us who took our religion seriously and tried our best to be "true" Christians.  Jesus' message of redemption, forgiveness and love is supposed to be a powerful motivator for goodness and charity.  It's a message from god, after all, isn't it?  But the evidence presented by the actions of Christians around the world now and throughout history shows us that its success rate at delivering on that is sadly pathetic.  The gospels have inspired far more hatred and violence than they have love and forgiveness.  This very obvious fact is evidence that there is no supernatural power or loving grace of god filling the hearts of Christians.  Even as a purely human message, absent the supposed supernatural powerful to lift humankind from its sinful nature, it fails miserably at delivering peace and love among humans.  Hell, it even fails at delivering peace among Christians!

Of course there are Christians who truly are good and loving people and who draw their inspiration for their goodness from their faith.  Many of these people, I contend, are simply good people and could have been equally loving and charitable had they been raised as Hindus, Buddhists, or any other religion - or even as atheists.  It's also equally true that some people have had their lives "turned around" by the Christian message, and it has made them better people.  Again, the same can be said of both other religions as well as non-religious philosophies, or help from ordinary people, or secular organizations.  This is all just human.  There is no evidence that the gospel message has any power, whether supernatural or natural, that sets it apart as a superior vehicle for inspiring peaceful, loving behavior.  If it really had that power, we would see unity among Christians, peaceful and loving behavior would be obviously more commonplace among them than any other group, and history, as well as current statistics, would show that areas where there is a higher concentration of Christians are remarkably more peaceful than other places.  In fact, the opposite seems to be true.

This will, of course, lead to some Christians presenting the next familiar refrain: it is the influence of Satan working to counter Christ.  Whatever!

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Where are the movies about the "power of reason"?

"A heartwarming tale about the power of belief"  How many movies have I just described?  Dozens? Hundreds?  How about a movie or TV series featuring some supernatural element, or aliens, or some other mythical element, where the scoffing skeptics are shown to be completely wrong, usually about a third of the way into the movie?  Just as many, I think.   Another popular plot line is of a child living in a fantasy world and those caring people trying to bring the child back to reality are portrayed negatively on a spectrum from simply misguided or not understanding the child,  all the way to downright evil and abusive. 

Have you ever heard a movie described as a tale about the power of reason or the merits of skepticism?  I can't think of a single one, can you?  In fact, most movies I can think of that featured skeptics usually have them being total dicks, and/or having some experience that opens their eyes to the "power" of belief.  I don't recall ever seeing any kind of non-documentary movie or TV show that featured story-lines about believers being disabused of their false perceptions and coming to a more rational understanding of the world, but I can think of many where skeptics become believers of one sort or another. 

Richard Dawkins talks about the attitude of "belief in belief".  People who don't necessarily believe religious or superstitious claims themselves, but nevertheless feel that such a belief is a "good" thing in general.  It's not surprising when you look at our media.  The message is omnipresent, especially in children's entertainment, and even more so at Christmas time when everyone helps perpetuate the Santa Claus myth, even going so far as to have news outlets tracking the progress of Santa's sleigh via radar.

When I ask other parents why they intentionally lie to their children and present false evidence for Santa, I always get a response to do with it being a "magical" part of childhood.  Perhaps, but my kids enjoy it even though they have known from the start that it's just a myth.  Yet this answer, I think, points to why the desire to believe is so prevalent in our society.  It's magical.  Belief gives a sense of wonder, a sense that there is something greater and transcendent out there, and, perhaps most importantly, it gives hope and comfort.  And because of this, many people feel it's a good thing to have beliefs, without even considering the truthfulness or potential consequences of holding falsehoods to be absolutely true.  But why?  Why do we have to persist in thinking that science and rationality - or even just humanity absent supernatural powers - can't give us these things?  If a loved one is suffering from disease, it's medical science  that offers hope.  If there is catastrophe, it's real people taking action using tools made through the use of science that bring relief. In reality, science and reason are what actually accomplish what believing cannot.  Yet, time after time we see depictions of science gone awry, or the limits of science.  Yet, we never see movies showing when belief fails, when hope is proved false, when faith goes unrewarded.