Archive for June, 2009

Science v. Religion

I read a post on Pharyngula (famous scientist PZ Myers’ blog) about the debate over whether science and religion (specifically Christianity) are compatible. I recommend reading it.

He cites a quote by J.B.S. Haldane which I think makes sense.

"My practice as a scientist is atheistic. That is to say, when I set up an experiment I assume that no god, angel or devil is going to interfere with its course; and this assumption has been justified by such success as I have achieved in my professional career. I should therefore be intellectually dishonest if I were not also atheistic in the affairs of the world."

So after reading PZ Myers’ blog and this quote, here’s what I take out of it:

• Scientists have to assume a natural world to find truth.
• Scientists, in their role as scientists, can’t be religious by definition.
• Believers in religion assume a supernatural world to find truth.
• Since we live in a natural world, believers either must deny proofs in the natural world (such as fossils, etc.) to hold onto their religious beliefs, or else try to use science to confirm parts of their religious beliefs.
• If a scientist is a believer, they basically have to hang up their science hat to believe in the supernatural.

So if some scientists go out and try to claim religion and science are compatible, they are not being completely forthcoming, or at least aren’t being honest with themselves.

At best, you can say they are both valid but completely separate things (as Steven Jay Gould did). PZ Myers says for example that science doesn’t cover morality, although he says and I agree that religion doesn’t do that good of a job a this as well. You can be a scientist as a profession, but personally or morally a Christian. But you can’t use religion as a scientist, you can only use science as a religionist. You could argue that when you use science as a religionist, you actually are hanging up your religion hat. You are looking away from your religion and looking at the natural natural world to confirm it, which is what science is about.

Towards the end of his post, PZ Myers says:

"Accommodationists are a problem not because accommodation is bad, but because they are pushing for the wrong kind of accommodation. Science doesn’t need to conform, religion does. Religion demands a special kind of privilege in these discussions because if we actually get down to assessing views fairly and objectively, on the basis of what works, it fails."

Some interesting things to consider.

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Revelation, according to The Brick Testament

The Brick Testament has recently posted the end of their coverage of the Book of Revelation . If you’re not familiar with the Brick Testament, you should definitely check it out. It tells the stories from the Bible using Legos (I kid you not). Here’s a picture of all of the non-believers burning in hell forever.

Source

What’s funny and/or sad is that they take the passages just as they are from the Bible, word-for-word. Occasionally, in a thought bubble, they will put something that isn’t in the text, but the text itself is directly underneath the images. With Revelation, I think the Brick Testament does an excellent job of showing all of these (perhaps literally) insane images that the author thought of and exposing them for the horrid, hate-filled foolishness they are.

I think if more people read The Brick Testament, they would realize how ridiculous, violent, and ungodly the Bible really is. I highly recommend it, and am going to add it to my humor and Bible links on my website.

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Generation Gap includes differences on religion

Found this news story this morning: "Study finds widening generation gap in US ". According to the article, a Pew Research Study shows about 8 in 10 people believe there’s a "major difference" in the way younger and older people view the world. Among the differences, religion:

"Religion is a far bigger part of the lives of older adults. About two-thirds of people 65 and older said religion is very important to them, compared with just over half of those 30 to 49 and 44 percent of people 18 to 29. In addition, among adults 65 and older, one-third said religion has grown more important to them over the course of their lives, while 4 percent said it has become less important and 60 percent said it has stayed the same."

Here’s the report from the Pew Research Center, which covers other things such as technology as well. The younger you are, the less religion is important to you, according to the chart from the report. Less than half of 18-29 year olds say that religion is "very important," which is a promising sign for the Freethought movement I think.

What would be interesting is to see in 5 or 10 years, how the chart stacks up. Whether people just generally get more religious as they get older, or if it’s a new trend that will hold up as people get older (or perhaps somewhere in-between).

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First post in new blog

This is my first post to test out the new system (with WordPress). Everything seems to be up and running, more or less as planned. I will be adding more to the site over the next few days, as well as (hopefully) converting my Xanga blog to the new format.

Please check back soon!

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God loves salt

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

God loves salt

I’m not going to post all the time about where I’m at in reading the Bible, but this struck me as completely ridiculous. I’m reading Leviticus, and in Chapter 2 God tells the Israelites they must always put salt on their offerings

" neither shalt thou suffer the salt of the covenant of thy God to be lacking from thy meat offering: with all thine offerings thou shalt offer salt." (Leviticus 2:13, KJV)

This is sounding more and more to me like Moses and/or Aaron are coming up with a list of things THEY want: they want a fancy, minutely-detailed Arc of the Covenant with gold, bronze, and all, and say it’s God’s will (God only talks to Moses generally, so everyone just has to take Moses’s word on all this).

And all the very specific ways the meat must be prepared for the offerings, so that it will please God. Why? And now, all the offerings HAVE to have salt on them?! Why would God need salt on his offerings?!?!?!? He just likes salty food? He doesn’t have to worry about dying from high blood pressure and wants to flaunt it??

It sounds more likely to me that it’s Moses and Aaron who like salty food. Either that, or they want to make sure it’s preserved for when they eat it later.

Why else would God want salt on it? I’m trying very hard not to laugh at the Bible and keep an open mind, but come on. I had to laugh in spite of myself when I read that. Certainly someone must have suspected that these offerings weren’t really for God…

They must also have really liked barbecues, since they keep saying how much God likes the smell of burning meat. This also doesn’t make sense to me why God would love to smell his creations burning, and why sacrificing all these animals would forgive any so-called sins. It simply makes no sense.

Anyway, back to reading!

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Heavenly Father not so heavenly

Monday, June 22, 2009

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The Very Best of Cat Stevens
By Cat Stevens
Father and Son
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Heavenly Father not so heavenly

Father’s Day was yesterday, and the past few years it’s made me think of God as a father figure. I’m not the only one.

Here’s Dwindling in Unbelief’s Father’s Day post , updated from last year. One thing I’m going to endeavor to do on my site is not just post links, since links change or disappear, but also explain what’s there. Basically, DIU goes through a number of patriarchs in the Bible and gives some examples of bad things they’ve done. Noah, getting drunk and naked and cursing Ham’s son (who didn’t even see the guy in that state!) to slavery because of what Ham did and saw. Lot getting drunk and having sex with his two daughters. Abraham abandoning his first son and almost killing his second on God’s command, etc.

My favorite though, which got included in this year’s DIU post, is Yahweh towards Jesus. I brought this up (back when I was "Anon") last year. God sends Jesus down to suffer, die, and go to hell, just because he wanted a bloody sacrifice for humanity’s alleged sins.

Here’s a blog called Unreasonable Faith (linked to in DIU) which goes into greater detail about what a great Pop that Yahweh is. Some highlights (or lowlights, wonder if that word’s made the dictionary yet?) include:

• Setting up his creation to fail in the Garden of Eden
• Telling his chosen people it’s a good thing to slaughter entire cities, man, woman, and child, except for keeping the girl virgins alive for sex
• Getting Mary pregnant so that humanity could kill his son, as planned
• Sending plagues, death, and destruction when his son comes back to Earth again. I’ll have to read Revelation, but my understanding was that Jesus will do most of this on his own for the Second Coming, in which case it would mean Yahweh was a bad influence on his son. Like Father, like Son.
• And so on. Go read the post, it’s really well-written.

He ends the blog post by saying "If that’s not the worst, most abusive father ever imagined, I don’t know who is. Thankfully, it’s very unlikely he actually exists."

Agreed. I’m sure that most people haven’t thought about that side of their so-called Heavenly Father.   "Heavenly" is "sublime; delightful; enchanting," according to American Heritage Dictionary . Based on this definition, the Bible’s "heavenly" father is anything but.

Notes: "heavenly." The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition. Houghton Mifflin Company, 2004. http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/heavenly (accessed: June 23, 2009).

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Genesis 50 — The end of the beginning

Friday, June 19, 2009

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The Doors
By The Doors
The End [...of the beginning!]
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Genesis 50 — The end of the beginning

Chapter 50 of Genesis marks the end of the beginning in two ways. First, it’s the end of the first book of the Bible (which at times I thought I’d never get to!). Secondly, it marks a good time to do two things which I had decided to do several months ago, but which time and other commitments had prevented. I will explain this at the end of the message.

For Chapter 50, we see the death of two of our favorite characters from the second half of Genesis, Jacob and Joseph.

Joseph falls and weeps on his father after his father’s passing, which is touching. If the Bible were filled with more compassion and love, maybe it would be a better book. Joseph orders his servant/slaves to embalm his father, which apparently took 40 days back then. Egypt mourned Jacob for 70 days. Pretty amazing for a guy whose profession of shepherd was an "abomination" (Genesis 46:34, KJV) to Egyptians. You think I wasn’t paying attention, didn’t you?! I suppose it could be argued that they mourned him out of deference to Joseph, the guy who made them sell themselves into slavery for food. This possible inconsistency is not in the SAB I see, so maybe there’s some explanation I’m missing, or it’s just a fairly minor detail.

Pharaoh gives Joseph permission to go bury his dad in Canaan (don’t forget Joseph himself was a slave, but an important slave!) and all of Pharaoh’s servants and elders go with. The Canaanites see the Egyptians mourning (apparently not seeing it’s because of Jacob’s death) and name the place for this. When Joseph’s brothers see that Jacob is dead, they fear Joseph’s wrath. So they lie and say Daddy told Joseph to forgive them. Joseph weeps (as he is wont to do) and says it’s okay, because although they had evil intentions, it was all part of God’s great plan. So Joseph will be kind and provide for them and their families (no mention of servitude here, unlike the Egyptians!). Does Joseph know the brothers are lying? We’re not told, and their dishonesty appears to go unpunished.

Joseph eventually gets old himself, and at the ripe age of 110 he tells his descendants God will take care of them in the promised land. The end of Genesis says that Joseph was buried in Egypt. As the Skeptic’s Annotated Bible points out, this seems to go against what Jacob foretold to Joseph in Genesis 48. But, if you’re picky, you could say that Jacob did go back there, he just wasn’t buried there. If only the omniscient, infallible Yahweh and his followers would have known that this was unclear!!!

So Genesis begins with God’s creation of the world and ends with the death of two of God’s main men, who helped found the nation of Israel, which is meant to show I suppose that while God created everything, he has a special place in his heart for the Israelites. In the beginning of the chapter, God seems to be everywhere, towards the end God is pretty quiet, although I know he’ll be back again in force in Exodus.

The so-called "Good Book" starts out with Genesis, a violent, immoral, sick collection of stories that most believers know very little about, sprinkled with very rare goodness. I think if Christians and Jews took the time to read it through and thought about it with an open mind, it would really start to cast some doubts on the imaginary God they think they love, but who is likely very different than most of them imagine.

That’s the end of Genesis! There’s a lot left in the Bible, but first two announcements about my blog and site…

• I am planning to redo my website. Some visitors may be familiar with my blog only through Xanga, but for several months now I have a site which for the moment mostly features my blog. My intent is to finally have it so you don’t need to excuse my dust anymore, by revamping the site and expanding its contents to include useful links, news stories, and information. Since I’m not a professional web designer, it may take some tinkering for me to get this done, possibly a week or more.

I think the renewed site will be a much better experience for people. In addition to my blogs on the Bible, there will be a wider of variety of things to read about and explore. Right now, I have a couple of blog posts that have attracted a lot of people (in particular my Just Imagine… post, which caught the eye of over 400 people thanks to http://good.is and Skeptic Annotated Bible’s blog, Dwindling in Unbelief ). This made me realize that if I put my mind to it, I can reach more people and hopefully spark more discussion and reflection about religious issues (as well as a good dose of humor now and then)!

• I am also planning on reading the Bible cover-to-cover as soon as possible. Since it will take me years to blog the Bible in its entirety, I’ve decided that the end of Genesis is a good point to take a break from blogging chapter-by-chapter. I am going to start with Exodus, read the rest of the Bible through without stopping for posts, give some general impressions when I’m done, and then go back to chapter-by-chapter comments afterwards. This way, I can feel more knowledgeable about the book I’m talking about, and can also say that I’ve read the Bible cover-to-cover. I am sure I will find both positive and negative things in what awaits me, and I will go out of my way to note both mentally to be fair.

In the meantime as I’m renovating the site and reading the Bible, as I’ve already done here and there, I’ll also blog on other issues dealing with religion, atheism, freethought, and related current events.

I hope these changes sound good. If you have any ideas or comments, please let me know. Thank you for reading, hope you like the new site when it’s up!

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God minus God

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

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Garfield Minus Garfield
By Jim Davis
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God minus God

Since I can’t sleep, I thought I’d share this hopefully funny thought.

Have you ever heard of Garfield minus Garfield ? It’s basically like it sounds: the daily Garfield comic strip, stripped of its famous striped cat. To quote its inventor/author, Dan Walsh, the strip shows

"the existential angst of a certain young Mr. Jon Arbuckle. It is a journey deep into the mind of an isolated young everyman as he fights a losing battle against loneliness and depression in a quiet American suburb."

I think it’s absolutely hilarious. I don’t read it every day, but every couple months I think of it and go and catch up on some ones I’ve missed. I find it a lot more entertaining than the original strip, and even Jim Davis (Garfield’s cartoonist) apparently likes it .

Well, I just had a thought, which unless it’s already been done, I hereby copyright (just as I’ve copyrighted "the-patriarch-intermittently-known-as-Israel" ©). What about a version of the Bible with God taken out of it? I think this would be a fabulous idea since, as you may know, it would reflect reality. It could either be called "God minus God", or "The Bible minus God", can’t decide which is better.

Here’s an example (proof of concept, if you will) of what this would be like, taking Exodus 3 . You can (re)read it first to get an idea of what the scene is like if you want, it’s the Moses and the burning bush story. (All quotes are paraphrases put in quotes for comic effect.)

Moses sees a bush burning and suddenly shouts out "Hey, here I am!" No response.

Then Moses suddenly ducks and hides his eyes for no apparently reason. Prolonged silence.

Then, he suddenly says "Who am I to go tell Pharaoh that I have to free the Israelites?!" Silence.

Then out of the blue, Moses says "I’ll tell the Israelites the God of their fathers sent me! But what should I tell him is his name?" No reply.

Moses then says "Yeah, I’ll tell them "I am" has sent me!!" Moses just stands there in silence.

The end.

Okay, maybe it’s only funny to me. Kind of like a Brick Testament rendering of the Bible, except without the God. If nothing else, the absence of God would make it closer to reality!!

One final note, and I don’t remember if I’ve mentioned this before — part of the reason I chose "I Am" for the title of the blog, in addition to the story I tell in my first post about my eventual coming out as an atheist, was because God refers to himself as "I Am", which even when I was a believer sounded weird to me. So instead of "I Am the LORD" or "I Am I Am" (or Popeye’s "I am what I am, and that’s all that I am"), we have "I Am the BLOG" (or Blog, take your pick).

Okay, time to try to get to sleep!

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Genesis 49 — Tiny Tim’s inspiration?

Monday, June 15, 2009

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A Christmas Carol
By Charles Dickens
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Genesis 49 — Tiny Tim’s inspiration?

In Genesis 49, we see the dying Jacob (who’s been dying for several chapters now) bless his children (plus two of Joseph’s), whose descendants will make up the 12 tribes of Israel. Hey, wait a minute: God renamed Jacob as Israel—although he seems to forget often enough—and his descendants are the basis of the nation of Israel. What a coincidence! It couldn’t be that Jacob was renamed Israel by his followers or descendants later on to show him as the founder of the nation of Israel? Nah… Just a suspicion—I’ll have to look into this sometime.

In any case, here’s some lovely parting words that what the patriarch-intermittently-known-as-Israel © had to say to his little nation-builders (which means George W. must not have liked them, since he was all against that nation-building thing, at least in theory).

Reuben will be " Unstable as water, thou shalt not excel; because thou wentest up to thy father’s bed; then defiledst thou it" (verse 4, KJV). Translation: Reuben slept with his dad’s wife. Good old family values strike again. I’m sure some would say his sort is what he deserves, but why is he only punished now (and why should his descendants presumably suffer for what their dad apparently did?

For Simeon and Levi, who apparently killed a man in anger, daddy offers them a curse on their anger and violence and wants their descendants scattered. What were the circumstances of the death?? Why should their descedants suffer for it?

It’s a little hard to get what Jacob says to Judah, other than he’s like a lion cub, his brothers will praise him and he and his descendants will rule. He also apparently will have a descendant called Shiloh who will hitch his donkey up to a vine, stain his clothes with wine, and his teeth will be white like milk.

Some would have us believe that these verses announce Christ’s coming and second coming. I, as you might guess, take this with a grain of salt. Maybe it’s because Christ was named Jesus, not Shiloh. Even some sites that support this interpretation admit that we don’t know what Shiloh means. If it was something like the Son of God coming to Earth, you’d think Jacob could have been a little more explicit here. Of course, some of the imagery of Jesus’ followers used to describe their alleged savior could have been simply been "borrowed" from these verses in an attempt to prove their guy was foretold…Call me cynical, I guess.

Another son, Issachar, will bear a burden and become a servant (or slave, not clear from context). Another, Dan, will be a judge like a serpent who makes people fall back from their horses (more symbolism, I assume). Gad will be defeated, then defeat. Asher will be a chef making food fit for a king. Naphtali is like a doe, a deer, a female deer, giving beautiful words (or fawns, some translations say). Benjamin will be like a wolf, devouring others.

And then there’s good ole Joseph, who we’ve heard so much about. He’ll be like an tree who archers have shot at but who has kept strong thanks to Jacob’s God (isn’t he everyone’s God?!) and will be blessed by God more than his dad Jacob and more than his brothers. He’ll be blessed both by heaven and below, and by breasts and by wombs (verse 28, KJV): the latter two meaning perhaps he’ll "know" lots of women, in the Biblical sense?? What is heaven anyway? We haven’t been told yet in the Bible. Why would Joseph also be blessed by the "deep that lieth under" (verse 25, KJV), is this hell? The ocean?? Come on, Jacob, I know you’re dying here, but please explain what you mean, or tell one of your survivors to put it down for us!!!

After these blessings (I’m sure some were happier with their so-called "blessing"s [verse 28] than others!) for the founders of the 12 tribes, Jacob told his descendants to bury him with Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Rebekah, and Leah. Then he lays down and dies, or "yielded up the ghost" (verse 33, KJV). If I were just about anyone besides Joseph, I’d be pretty upset that this is what my father and/or his God had in store for me. Why would I want to worship someone who dooms me from the get-go, for example?? In some cases, references are made to past acts not mentioned in the Bible. If they were that bad, why aren’t the recorded with other bad acts we see? Something’s fishy about all this selective storytelling.

Speaking of stories, the end  of the chapter reminded me of Tiny Tim (not the ukulele dude , but the kid from A Christmas Carol ). "God bless us, every one" says Tiny Tim at the end of that famous book (oops, should have said SPOILER ALERT first , and of the 12 founders of the tribes of Israel, the Bible says Jacob "blessed them, every one" (KJV, 49:28). What a coincidence! A quick search doesn’t seem to pull up references between the two, so it must not be a well-known similarity between the two works of fiction. I’m not sure if Dickens was borrowing a phrase from the Bible, or it’s simply a coincidence.

In any case, we’ve found out all that we wanted, and more, about what will happen to Jacob/Israel’s offspring. How much of this fortunate-telling by Jacob will actually come true, I guess we’ll see at the end of Genesis and the remaining Pentateuch.

PS Maybe when Xanga get their act together, I’ll put a picture of "A Christmas Carol" on here. The past few posts have been Listening/Reading/Watching-less because the site isn’t working right. UPDATE: Fixed, for now…

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Genesis 48 — Kidnapping

Thursday, June 11, 2009

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Turn It on Again: The Hits
By Genesis
No Son of Mine
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Genesis 48 — Kidnapping

Here we see the dually-named Jacob-Israel close to death. The question of birthrights and firstborns comes up yet again.

God appeared to Jacob and told him that he would give Jacob’s descendants, who will be numerous, the land of Canaan as an "everlasting possession" (verse 4, KJV). Since we know that the Israelites have not always had a homeland both in ancient and modern history, it shows God doesn’t know how to keep a promise (or doesn’t exist: take your pick).

Jacob tells Joseph that Joseph’s first two sons are now his. How that works, we’re not told. I guess if gramps wants to claim any of his sons’ sons as his own, he has the right? Did God tell him this?? But Joseph gets to keep all his other sons (they aren’t numbered here, maybe later; we’ll see).

So anyway Joseph, who is apparently fine with this arrangement, brings the two eldest to Jacob. Jacob blesses Joseph and then the two grandsons, but gives the secondborn (Ephraim) the blessing that should have been given to the firstborn (Manasseh). Joseph is none too pleased with this, and tells his aged, poor-sighted father that he’s mixed the boys up. Jacob insists, though, saying:

"I know it, my son, I know it: he also shall become a people, and he also shall be great: but truly his younger brother shall be greater than he, and his seed shall become a multitude of nations." (48:19, KJV)

Certainly Joseph, the not-eldest dream boy who became nearly as great as Pharaoh, can understand that the oldest son doesn’t have to be the most successful? Why is there this obsession with favoring the firstborn? Speaking of playing favorites, Jacob in fact promises Joseph that he’ll give him "one portion more" (verse 22) than his brothers, meaning I believe that he’ll inherit twice as much as any of his other brothers gets. Not very equitable, but God doesn’t protest.

By the way, everyone’s always going to give rise to great nations, according to God and the head honchos (okay, patriarchs) in the Bible so far. Why does he have to keep re-promising this? I guess with a God who sends 5 years of famine on a whim, you need reassurance sometimes. And his people have had mixed fortunes so far. In the last chapter (47:9), Jacob seemed to admit that he lived a long, hard life and didn’t get much out of it; although maybe the 17 years or so in Egypt made up for the over a century of not much). If I remember my Exodus well, good ol’ God will definitely find excuses to deny his chosen people what he promised.

One last thought: What happened to the 120-year rule in Genesis 6:3? God must be senile, or decided not to apply it to the over 140-year-old Jacob…

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