I attended a talk about baby dinosaurs on the ark (& more fun facts!)

Harrub talk adsSource of images: http://www.colliervillechurchofchrist.com/Special_Events.html

This weekend, my wife and I made a trip to see a seminar entitled “Truth About Human Origins” given at the Church of Christ in Collierville, TN. Given the titles of some of the talks ( “Atheism’s Attack on America”, “ Scientific Accuracy of the Bible “, etc.) we pretty much knew what we were getting into. My wife is still a believer (but not a fundamentalist), and I’d never been to a talk like this before, so we both thought it’d be interesting to see what the speaker would say.

The speaker, Dr. Brad Harrub , has an “earned” PhD in Anatomy and Neurobiology, so I figured he would try to harmonize the Bible with carefully selected scientific facts, or try to disprove scientific claims that don’t agree with the Bible. I was right on both fronts. We were only able to attend two back-to-back sessions: “Is Genesis a Myth?” and “The Dinosaur Dilemma”, but I think it was enough to get a good idea of Dr. Harrub’s arguments, which even my wife as a believer strongly objected to!

After a prayer (during which I bowed my head, kept my eyes open and kept quiet), the talks began: back-to-back talks with a 10-minute break in-between, followed by 10-15 minutes of Q & A. I didn’t take notes, but here were a few highlights of the talks. Please note that I am summarizing the information he presented, not advocating it!

Is Genesis a Myth?

* There are three options: the universe always existed, the universe created itself, or something else created the universe.
* We know the universe is expanding, so this proves that it didn’t always exist.
* The Big Bang is unsatisfactory: where did the matter for it come from? Something had to create that matter.
* God is eternal, outside of the universe: he’s the only one who could create without having to be created.
* Creation happened in 6 literal days (comparison with other verses to prove “day” is not a metaphor for millions of years, etc.).
* Evolutionists want us to believe humans started out stupid — but Genesis says Adam was smart enough for God to ask him to name all the animals
* There are no gaps in the lineage in the Bible, it says who was born when up until Jesus, so we can calculate the age of the Earth.
* Archeological evidence supports historical claims in Genesis and the Bible.

The Dinosaur Dilemma

* Dinosaurs and humans lived at the same time, and were created on the same day (5th day).
* The Bible mentions dinosaurs (but not by name since the word “dinosaur” wasn’t invented until the 1800s) after the flood.
* Dinosaur-like creatures mentioned after the Flood (in Job), so they must have been on Noah’s Ark.
* The way dinosaurs could have fit on Noah’s Ark was as unhatched eggs or small children. No, I am not kidding. (I would say this is the part where he seemed the proudest of what he was saying, like he was single-handedly defeating the infeasibility of the Ark and any objections skeptics would raise.)
* There’s proof for a worldwide flood since every continent has fossils from so-called “localized” floods, and fossils can be found at the top of the highest mountains in the world.
* Carbon-dating of fossils is not proven and is unreliable. Scientists have dated dinosaur bones to as recent as 9000 years ago (much closer to truth than the millions of years normally claimed by evolutionists
* Dinosaur artwork, in the form of carvings and figurines, can allegedly be found in a number of ancient artifacts from around the world, showing that dinosaurs and humans coexisted.
* A mammal fossil was found eaten inside the stomach of a dinosaur fossil, which should be chronologically impossible if science is right about evolution.
* What was thought to be a prehistoric ancestor to fish was found to still exist today, proving scientists can’t date bones correctly.
* Important to tell kids early the truth about dinosaurs, creation, and the Bible, before books, TV, and school tell them lies.

I believe those were all the main points he made. Dr. Harrub had a very convincing, authoritative way of speaking and presenting his information. Although I found some of his ideas laughably funny (baby dinosaurs on the Ark!), I can see why people would want him to speak, and why people would be duped into his pseudo-science if they have been taught to believe that they should have faith in what the Bible says. The Bible says it, this guy with a PhD says it, so it must be true!

For most people, some of the claims should be obviously false at face value. Others would take a little more to debunk, and I don’t know if I’ll have time to research every one. Here are two that I did look up since I hadn’t heard about them before: the dinosaur figurines and Ica stones depicting humans and dinosaurs.

Dinosaur Figurines in Mexico: http://www.talkorigins.org/indexcc/CH/CH710_2.html
Ica stones in South America: http://skepticwiki.org/index.php/Ica_stones

To my dismay, there were only two people who were clearly atheists or freethinkers who were asking questions in the Q and A afterwards. They were allowed to ask several questions each, which I thought was very fair of the speaker and congregation to allow. It’s interesting that at least some creationists, as one questioner pointed out, have changed their ways in the past few decades from denying dinosaurs existed, to saying of course they existed, it’s in the Bible! Scientists just have the dates wrong about when dinosaurs lived, according to Dr. Harrub. So now that we know baby dinosaurs were actually on the Ark, it’s okay for kids to be exposed to the “sugar candy” (his expression) of dinosaurs, which evolutionists try to give kids to lure into believing in evolution.

There were 3 or 4 other people who spoke, all supporting the Bible and the points Dr. Harrub had made. I wondered how many people were in the audience who were atheists or skeptics/skeptical but didn’t want to speak up. I know my wife afterwards said that she wanted to ask questions and make a point, but that she was too nervous to do so and didn’t know if he questions would sound stupid. Believe me, they were intelligent questions, and even if she tried they couldn’t have been any stupider than the nearly 2 hours of crap we had just heard!

I have to say I am frustrated that this man apparently goes around the country presenting himself as a scientist and appearing to present “proof” of his claims, when he is clearly trying to promote the Bible more than he is trying to promote science. Worst of all, Dr. Harrub said a number of times how important it was for parents to teach their children about the Bible and to tell them not to believe what science says about evolution. There were a number of small kids (pre-teens) in the audience, so I felt very sad that they were being exposed to / brainwashed by this information. He also told people to be ready to answer questions from teenagers when they come back from science classes they may have to take at college which might confuse them or raise doubts about their beliefs.

The message was pretty clear: scientists and atheists are lying to you and your children. Don’t listen to what they say; just believe what the Bible says. I’ll talk more about my wife and my reactions to the talk in a future post.

EDIT: Here is a link to audio from a previous seminar given by Dr. Harrub, so you can get an idea of what his talks are like.

I Am … (partially) out as an atheist

Imagine (Original Soundtrack)

I finally had "the talk" with my wife. It was very difficult to do, but it turned out a lot better than I had expected.

I had been considering coming out to her for the past month or so. I’m becoming more and more active in the atheist/freethought community. It just didn’t feel right for something that is such a big part of who I am to remain a secret from my wife. I’m posting this in hopes that the experience might help others who aren’t "out" yet to their wife/husband/significant other. I’m glad to say that coming out to your loved one doesn’t have to be a bad experience.

[UPDATE : This post is a play-by-play, which I’m hoping will be interesting and useful. A more concise version of my story can also be found here on Atheist Nexus.]

My decision to come out was helped along by a discussion from a less successful experience by a fellow Atheist Nexus member. His wife flat-out told him that she wouldn’t have married him if she had known he didn’t believe in God. I felt very sorry for him, especially since I’ve been fearing a similar reaction from my wife (who considers herself a Christian) if and when she found out I didn’t believe in God. So although I’d like to say I bravely announced my atheism, it was much less courage and more of a desire to deal with something that’s been worrying me for quite a while and a decision to be more open with my wife about my non-belief.

I was very nervous the night I had decided to come out to her. She could tell I was nervous, which made it a little easier to bring up the subject. If she can tell something’s bothering me, she’ll keep asking me what’s wrong until I tell her. So when there was a good moment that I knew we could talk for as long as we wanted, I told her there was something very important to me that I’d like to tell her about.We sat down, I took a deep breath, and just started talking. I had a general idea of what I wanted to say, but no specific speech written out.

She saw me reading the Bible a few weeks ago on my computer, which surprised her. So I started with this incident, saying that over a number of years, I have read a lot about the Bible, read a lot of the passages, and reminded her that for a while I had considered going to seminary to become a pastor. I told her that the more I had read, the more I started to have questions about some of the things the Bible said. I said that I had come to the conclusion that there were some things in the Bible that I just couldn’t believe — things that either didn’t make sense, or that contradicted other things, or that didn’t seem like they could happen. I told her that a lot of what I’ve been doing online lately has been related to this.

After this introduction to the topic, it was mostly she who led the conversation, with her asking questions and me answering. She asked me what sort of things I didn’t think were true. I asked if she remembered our nephew’s baptism, when we talked about whether or not to get him a Noah’s Ark book (she did). I didn’t tell her I was an atheist at the time, but had told her that the Bible doesn’t teach child baptism and that I felt children should be old enough to make up their minds before being baptized (a position she disagreed with, but understood). I said that I felt the Noah’s Ark passage in the Bible, like others, basically says that all people are evil by nature, and that God can kill them because of this.

I said I don’t believe humans are bad by nature, and that I didn’t like that this is what the Bible teaches. I then moved on to another example, and said I didn’t like what the Bible says happened in Egypt, where God kills all the firstborn male Egyptians just because the Pharaoh wouldn’t free the Israelites, even though the Bible says God was the one who made the Pharaoh act that way. I didn’t want to say too much to make it seem like I was just trying to rip apart the Bible, but I wanted to bring up a few specific instances that I thought she would be familiar with, and that I could make a clear argument about why I didn’t agree with them.

She didn’t dispute any of this, but said that there are parts of the Bible she doesn’t understand and like as much as other parts, but that she liked the New Testament better and that she thought it had a good message in it. I said I agreed that the Bible does have some very good messages in it, but that they are often surrounded by messages that are not so good that people don’t quote or talk about much. I brought up the massacre of the innocents sermon that I had blogged about earlier as an example of something bad that happened in the New Testament. I said I couldn’t understand why a loving God would let all those children be killed. She said that she didn’t know what to say, but that maybe that was the best thing that could have happened, that maybe that prevented something worse from happening. So I said that if God were able to do anything he wanted, I believe that he could have found a way around it.

Interestingly enough, she brought up at this point the fact that there was a lot of evidence for the stuff that happened in the New Testament, which I wasn’t expecting. I said that unfortunately, it isn’t always true that the Bible’s claims can be verified outside the Bible. Confirmation for some of the events in the New Testament comes over a hundred years later, and no independent evidence of a large amount of things in the New Testament has ever been found, such as for the massacre of the innocents.

At this point, she shifted gears. I don’t know if it’s because she realized that I had done a lot of looking into the Bible, or if my answers were satisfying her, or if they weren’t satisfying but she didn’t know how to respond. But then she asked me what I do believe if I don’t believe everything in the Bible. This was the question that I was the most afraid of. I told her that I used to be a very strong believer, much stronger than other people in my family. I gave the example of thinking songs shouldn’t be played because they were "lustful" (the Beatles’ "I Want You (She’s So Heavy)" was one song in particular), I told her I was confirmed, and then eventually I started to have little questions about my faith. Instead of finding answers, from looking at the Bible, looking online, listening to sermons, asking people, I just kept having more questions. Eventually, I realized there were some things I would never find answers to.

She asked me if I believed in the Bible at all, and I said that there are too many things in it that I don’t agree with, that I can’t say I believe in the Bible anymore. She then asked what I thought happens to people when they die. I think the atheist answer to this is very unsatisfying; I would like to believe something happens to us after death, but I know now that this isn’t so. This sounded depressing, so I thought for a few moments and said that I believe that we are all part of the circle of life, and that when we die our remains go back into nature, and life continues from there. This is not a main aspect of my belief system, but I do believe this occurs and I felt was a more satisfying answer than just "we cease to exist".

She asked if I believed in heaven. I told her that while I think it would be nice to think that heaven exists, I more have a problem with the fact that Christianity teaches that there’s a hell — that even though Jesus was said to die for our sins that there are still people who go to hell. I think that if there was a God and if he loved us, he would send us all to heaven. So at this point, I asked her one of the few questions I asked all night. I asked if she thought that people who don’t believe in Jesus go to hell.

My wife obviously had thought about the issue before, and said that she didn’t know what happens to people who don’t believe. She said that some people think that if you don’t believe in Christianity, then you go to hell, but other people think that if you’re a good person, that you’ll be saved even if you don’t believe in God. She brought up the issue of what happened to people who never heard of Jesus before, which I was glad to hear that she had heard of and considered before. She mentioned that Catholics believe in purgatory, so just because you don’t go to heaven doesn’t mean you go to hell. She said she wasn’t sure what happens, and that there were other things that she wasn’t sure about, but that she still has faith in God.

This was the only thing that frustrated me during the conversation. She used the word "faith" a couple of times basically when there was something that she couldn’t explain. I realized that she doesn’t know that having faith in something isn’t really an answer, since I’m sure she’s heard this thousands of times in her life. I felt she thought this was a perfectly acceptable answer, so I though it would be counterproductive to try to tackle the issue of faith then. So I told her that I respect her beliefs and that I’m not trying to say that she’s wrong, but just that based on the Bible, on what I’ve read, and what I’ve thought about for a long time, I don’t have faith anymore. I did not say I’m an "atheist", because of the baggage attached to this term. But she knows now that I don’t believe in God.

She had said a few times recently that I "don’t like church", so I asked her why she said this. She said that she could tell from some comments I made. I asked her what these were (since I had tried very hard not to make any such comments!), and she brought up the Noah’s Ark incident that I had mentioned earlier, and the fact that I made comments about the Catholic Church after the tragic child rape / excommunication case that was in the news (where they excommunicated a mother and her daughter’s doctors for giving the girl an abortion after she had been raped by her stepfather. They did not excommunicate the father, however.) I also apparently mentioned at some point about religious displays on public property being against the constitution, which I might have thought was a safe topic to bring up since there are many believers who also think religion should be kept out of government.

I told her I wasn’t "against" churches, but that I just didn’t believe in some of the things they taught. She mentioned that churches do good things, and I said that while I know that churches and people who go to church do a lot of good things, you can do these same things without going to church — you don’t need to believe in the Bible to be a good person. She didn’t argue with this. I then asked her if she remembered the fact that I brought up the fact that the town we used to live in had an intersection of "Church and State", and I had told her it was my favorite intersection. She said yes and she said she thought that was another clue. So I guess she had suspected for quite a while, but just didn’t know exactly where on the spectrum I was.

The only time religion really came up between us, except for the Noah’s Ark occasion, was a few months after we met. I had told her that I was brought up a Lutheran, that I had considered becoming a pastor. I had read a whole lot about religion, and I wasn’t sure what I believed, but I was pretty sure what I didn’t believe. She had never asked me to elaborate on this. She’s a Christian, and even did some missionary work when she was younger, but in the years I’ve known her, I don’t think she’s ever brought up God just out of the blue — both before the Noah’s Ark thing and afterwards, and even when she’s with other believers. I hoped that this was a good sign, and since things turned out well, I think it was.

She had revealed a secret to me early on in our relationship, and I told her that I had a secret too that I would tell her someday. I told her this was the secret. She said "That was it?! I thought it was something more serious than that!" I laughed and I told her it was kind of funny then, because I thought she would think it was a big deal. She said she may not agree with me, but she respects it. She then asked if I mind if she goes to church.

This was another thing that the Atheist Nexus thread I mentioned earlier helped with. One of the commenters mentioned Unitarian Universalism as a possibility for atheists with companions who still want to go to church, and it’s something I had looked at from time to time. I had a friend who had said he had gone to a UU church. I didn’t tell him much about much beliefs (or lack thereof) on Christianity since I was afraid he would tell others, but I did tell him that I wasn’t a typical Christian. He had liked it overall, so I looked into UU again after reading the post on Atheist Nexus.

When my wife brought up church, I told her that I would be willing to consider going to a UU church. I don’t believe in going to church — since I don’t believe in God, I don’t see the need of going to church. But I know church is something that is very important to my wife, so I told her I would be willing to try it. She said she had heard of UU, and I explained a little more of what I understood about it. I said that I liked the fact that they welcome people who have all sorts of beliefs there, but that they were generally based on a Judeo-Christian model and that a lot of people who come from different denominations go to UU to find a common ground.

I found a couple of UU churches online the next day, sent the links to her and we separately looked at them. We both looked at other ones as well, and we both decided on the same one, which I thought was a very good sign. We went to the first service this weekend, and overall I was pleased with how it went. The service started with a welcome to newcomers, which was very warm and funny; a thoughtful and at times funny sermon that my wife and I said we both enjoyed; and included several Christian hymns that we both recognized, with some altered lyrics. My wife said this  after the service, and it was funny because even the pastor pointed it out that for the one hymn, he would understand if some people accidentally did the old lyrics since he liked those, too.

Although there were a couple of things on the website I find mildly objectionable, and I don’t feel comfortable with the mentions of God, even if I understand it’s not meant in the same way that it would be in a Baptist church for example, there was nothing in the service that I found objectionable (no "massacre of the innocents" moment, for example). The pastor mentioned non-belief and embracing doubt several times in his sermon, even though from references in church and on the site, it seems clear he believes in some sort of higher power personally. I very highly disagreed with this, but thought the repeated nods to doubt and non-belief in a God were good and inclusive, and I was glad in a way that God was mentioned since I thought this would be more welcoming to my wife. I was worried after the service because of what I would deem, with no offense meant to any UU followers, to be a "watered down" version of God, as compared to the one mentioned in Christianiaty. But my wife said she really liked the service and would like to go again.

Not only that, but she thanked me for going to church with her. I didn’t think she would thank me for asking her to go to a different church that she grew up in and did missionary work in. I think she very much likes the fact that I’m willing to go to church, and since she doesn’t bring up God herself very often she might be interested in more than just the God speak found in many services (she’s mentioned before that she really likes church music, so familiar hymns probably helped).

In turn, I thanked her for being willing to try out a different church that’s more inclusive of people. She mentioned some of the elements of the service that were like other churches she had been at, so I thought it was good that we were both trying to find common ground. She said that the sermon and other parts of the service seemed like it would be more my kind of thing than other churches we’ve gone to probably were, and I said I agreed. Hopefully we will both get something out of it.

I wouldn’t say I’m a UU, I don’t believe in a god of any kind, and I don’t think all atheists would be comfortable about this solution, but I think it will work for us for now. I would like to imagine a day where no one feels the need to talk about god, heaven, or hell, but that day is far off. For now, I feel like a great weight has been lifted off my shoulders and that I don’t have to keep my stance on religion secret from my wife, and she gets to go to church. Since we disagree, I won’t go out of my way to bring up various things I disagree with, but if she asks I feel like I can talk with her openly about it.

My coworkers and other family are another story. My grandmother just retired as church secretary after decades of service, and my future sister-in-law is becoming a pastor in about year, to give you an idea of some of the believers in my and my wife’s family. My mother seems to be becoming more religious and not less. Plus, I’m in a profession that does not lend itself to religious discussion in theory, although it comes up surprisingly often. Two of my coworkers have discussed religion with me — one very religious and one not very religious at all — and I’ve tried to be as vague as possible on my own views to avoid any problems down the road.

So for family and professional reasons, I’m not coming out to the whole world just yet, although someday I hope to do so. Hopefully this post will help someone who also hasn’t told their significant other yet about their atheism: it doesn’t have to be a bad experience.

I will continue posting and seeking out atheist news under my assumed name for now. I am out to the most important person for me now, which was a very huge step.

Robert Wright’s “new atheism” delusion

"The God Delusion" by Richard Dawkins

Robert Wright , who I mentioned in a recent post is the author of The Evolution of God , has now gone on the offensive to attack in an opinion piece in the Huffington Post what he calls "new atheism."

His book, reviewed in episode 58 of the podcast American Freethought , gives a history of the evolution of the Abrahamic God (of the Jewish, Muslim, and Christian faiths). Wright reportedly gives an account of the historical reasons behind the development of these religions, leading up to the modern day. While not taking an openly theistic stance in the book, he does include some enigmatic references to notions such as a "greater purpose".

In American Freethought, Wright criticized some of the so-called atheist leaders (Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, Dawkins, etc.), while co-host John Snider made it clear that atheism is not a unified movement and these people do not speak for all atheists. In the Huffington Post piece, however, Wright again depicts atheism (or at least "new atheism") as one voice. In the Huffington Post , Wright says:

When it comes to foreign policy, a right-wing bias afflicts not just Hitchens’s world view, but the whole ideology of "new atheism" […]

Atheism has little intrinsic ideological bent. (Karl Marx. Ayn Rand. I rest my case.) But things change when you add the key ingredient of the new atheism: the idea that religion is not just mistaken, but evil — that it "poisons everything," as Hitchens has put it with characteristic nuance.

This does not represent all atheists, and not even all the prominent he mentions. Richard Dawkins specifically counters such a notion in The God Delusion . In response to the title of a television program(me) on BBC 4 that was entitled "The root of all evil?" (the title of which he had reportedly fought against), Dawkins said on the very first page of the Preface:

From the start, I didn’t like the title. Religion is not the root of all evil, for no one thing is the root of all anything.

The Wright article is filled with mischaracterizations and overgeneralizations about both atheism and historical events. Does he truly think the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is "basically" unrelated to religion? Does he know for a fact that most atheists agree with Hitchens’ right-wing views on the war on terror? Where is the proof that new atheists think religion is completely evil? It makes me wonder what his agenda is, but it does seem like he is more openly criticizing atheism when before he seemed to be straddling the fence. The fact that he would still present atheism as some organized mass conspiracy, with no proof of this, is disheartening.

For a more in-depth critique of the article, see John Snider’s post on the American Freethought website.

YouTube cartoon — Jephthah’s daughter (Judges 11)

I just saw a funny yet thought-provoking video mentioned on the blog Asking the God Question . The video is about the story of Jephthah and his daughter, in Judges 11. It features God talking to Jephthah and a dramatic, but biblically-accurate ending.

If you aren’t familiar with the story, you can just watch the video or see the Brick Testament version for a quick overview. The video also mentions a number of related issues in it and gives the Bible verses referenced.

Remember the Sabbath, to spit on journalists

A reporter for Australia’s ABC was recently attacked by Orthodox Jews. Her story is here . (Thanks to Richard Collins for posting a link to an article on End Herediatary Religion about this.)

An ultra-Orthodox Jew is carried away by Israeli police officers during a Jerusalem protest (Getty Images: Darren Whiteside)
A protester being carried away by Israeli police
Getty Images: Darren Whiteside

Basically, ABC Middle East correspondent Anne Barker took a wrong turn while covering a protest by (ultra) Orthodox Jews over a city parking lot being open on the Sabbath. And this is how she was treated. From the ABC Australia article by Anne Barker:

As a journalist I’ve covered more than my share of protests. […] I’ve been at violent rallies in East Timor. I’ve had rocks and metal darts thrown my way. […] But I have to admit no protest – indeed no story in my career – has distressed me in the way I was distressed at a protest in Jerusalem on Saturday[…]

Orthodox Jews are angry at the local council’s decision to open a municipal carpark on Saturdays – or Shabbat, the day of rest for Jews. […] I was mindful I would need to dress conservatively and keep out of harm’s way. But I made my mistake when I parked the car and started walking towards the protest, not fully sure which street was which. […]

Suddenly the crowd turned on me, screaming in my face. Dozens of angry men began spitting on me. I found myself herded against a brick wall as they kept on spitting – on my face, my hair, my clothes, my arms. It was like rain, coming at me from all directions […] Somewhere behind me – I didn’t see him – a man on a stairway either kicked me in the head or knocked something heavy against me. wasn’t even sure why the mob was angry with me. […]

In fact, I was later told, it was because using a tape-recorder is itself a desecration of the Shabbat even though I’m not Jewish and don’t observe the Sabbath.

Because they believe Yahweh doesn’t want anyone to break the Sabbath (after recently rereading Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers, I know this is supposed to apply to both Jewish people and strangers), they think they are justified in repeatedly assaulting a reporter just because she has a tape recorder running.

Religion can be dangerous when it says it applies to not only people who follow it, but to everyone around you. I guess considering how God acts in the Old Testament, if you believe it literally I can understand why they’d want to make it clear to God that they were not condoning her breaking of the Sabbath. Exodus 35:2-3 (KJV) says

Six days shall work be done, but on the seventh day there shall be to you an holy day, a sabbath of rest to the LORD: whosoever doeth work therein shall be put to death. Ye shall kindle no fire throughout your habitations upon the sabbath day.

Since they were specifically upset about the tape recorder, my guess is that was because of the electricity ("fire") it uses. Dogma Free America recently reported on a claim by an Orthodox Jew couple that it is a "human right" not to have motion-sensor lights, since they believe they must stay out of the hallway so as not to trip the "fire" of the lights on the Sabbath.

The big question for me is this: the Bible is clear in a number of places that if you break the Sabbath,  you should be put to death. But they left her alive. Why would they think that they still need to keep the Sabbath, but not apply the punishment? I guess it’s some small consolation at least that they didn’t decide to kill her.

I know that not all people who believe in Judaism or religion in general are like this, but it shows what can happen when people take dogma too literally. It’s sad when people hold ridiculous beliefs like this, but an outrage when they attack other people for not holding the same beliefs.

Jesus didn’t appear after his death (at least, in the oldest version of Mark)

This undated picture made available by the British Librar... (The British Library / AP)

The Telegraph has posted an article announcing the online publication of the Codex Sinaiticus (thanks to Cynical-C Blog for the link). This is a version of the Bible which is estimated to have been written in the 4th century A.D. It is missing most of the first part of the Bible (up to 1 Chronicles), but contains all of the rest of the Bible except occasional fragments missing here and there.

I will have to investigate this more, but one notable difference between modern Bibles and the Codex is the lack of the resurrection story in Mark. According to the Telegraph:

It offers different versions of the Scriptures from later editions of the Bible, notably in St Mark’s Gospel which ends 12 verses before later versions, omitting the appearance of the resurrected Jesus Christ.

It is also noteworthy I think that a number of articles I came across from American sources (such as the San Francisco Gate , Houston Chronicle , etc.) picked up the story, but are leaving out the part about missing and changed verses that the Telegraph article and Wikipedia mention. Here is the translation from the website of the Codex Sinaiticus (it may take a while to load; unchecking "Images" in the display options may help.

16:1 And when the sabbath had passed, Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, that they might come and anoint him.

2 And very early on the first of the week they came to the sepulcher, the sun having risen.

3 And they said among themselves: Who shall roll away for us the stone from the door of the sepulcher?

4 And looking up they see that the stone had been rolled away; for it was very great.

5 And they entered the sepulcher and saw a young man, sitting at the right side, clothed in a white robe; and they were amazed.

6 But he says to them: Be not amazed. You seek Jesus the Nazarene who was crucified; he has risen, he is not here: see the place where they laid him.

7 But go, tell his disciples, especially Peter, that he goes before you into Galilee: there you shall see him, as he said to you.

8 And going out they fled from the sepulcher; for trembling and astonishment had seized them; and they said nothing to any one, for they were afraid.

So here, we only have it on the authority of some guy in a white robe sitting in an empty tomb that Jesus is "risen", with no report of anyone actually seeing him again. Not very convincing proof. In fact, it says that the two Marys and Salome just ran away amazed and scared and "said nothing to any one."

Most other versions of the Bible since then have contained additional verses which claim that Jesus came back a week later, exorcised Mary Magdalene, appeared to his disciples telling them they’ll baptize, heal the sick, drink poison without getting hurt, speak in tongues etc. Then Jesus goes back to heaven. Here’s the King James Version, for example:

9 Now when Jesus was risen early the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had cast seven devils.

10 And she went and told them that had been with him, as they mourned and wept.

11 And they, when they had heard that he was alive, and had been seen of her, believed not.

12 After that he appeared in another form unto two of them, as they walked, and went into the country.

13 And they went and told it unto the residue: neither believed they them.

14 Afterward he appeared unto the eleven as they sat at meat, and upbraided them with their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they believed not them which had seen him after he was risen.

15 And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.

16 He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.

17 And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues;

18 They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover.

19 So then after the Lord had spoken unto them, he was received up into heaven, and sat on the right hand of God.

20 And they went forth, and preached every where, the Lord working with them, and confirming the word with signs following. Amen.

This is a very different ending. Jesus comes back, exorcises Mary Magdalene, appears to the incredulous disciples and tells them to baptize everyone, or else they’ll be damned to hell. Plus, they get to do magic tricks like heal the dead, drink poison, and speak in tongues. Very different endings than the oldest version of the text we have, which doesn’t even mention Jesus coming back. And yet, the mainstream American press apparently doesn’t find this worthy enough to mention.

I’ve read and heard about the final verses in Mark before (see a discussion of the resurrection discrepancies between gospels by Dan Barker here ), but it’s mostly scholars who know about this. No wonder some believers are still believers: their church, their pastor, their media, and their Bibles either leave out or gloss quickly over important details like known inconsistencies in Bible versions, and what implications this might have on the text. [Update: please see comments, some churches or Bibles may be more open about this than I had thought, but the jury is out as to how widespread this is.]

Jesus appearing or not appearing are two very different endings to Mark, wouldn’t you say? We don’t know for sure why those verses were added later, or by whom, but we do know they don’t belong there. Something tells me the significance of this will not be a topic of [most] sermons on Sunday…

I think it’s very good that more resources are being made freely available for people to inform themselves. As I said before, I will have to look more into the Codex project and the differences between the Codex and other versions. But at this point, I think it’s wonderful that it’s online for all to view and read freely, with translations in 4 languages (including English). Who would have thought 20 years ago that you could consult the actual manuscripts from the oldest Bible found in the world from the comfort of your own home? Hopefully it will lead people to consider the progress we’ve made as a race and consider whether some of the content in the Bible still deserves be taken literally in the modern world.

Fourth of July — Celebrate true freedom

When I was out and about recently, I saw this church marquee.

As with many church marquees, I assume it’s meant to be a clever reference to both God and a topical issue, in this case Independence Day / The 4th of July in the US and being Jesus freeing us from sin, or something similar I would guess.

But is being a Christian really about celebrating freedom? If you actually read the Bible, it talks a lot about slavery, going as far as to say that we should serve God as a slave!

Ephesians 6:6Slaves, be obedient to those who are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in the sincerity of your heart, as to Christ; not by way of eyeservice, as men-pleasers, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart. (Scripture quotation taken from the New American Standard Bible, NASB . )

This is the New Testament we’re talking about here, not the endless rules about what you can and can’t due to slaves in the Old Testament. We are to be "slaves of Christ ", according to the Bible.

The King James Version would have you believe it’s "servant", but if you check nearly all more modern versions, you will see "slave" as the translation. It seems clear to me from this and other contexts that it means "slave." You’re not just supposed to serve God, you’re are a slave unto the Lord. You must serve him! "Down on your knees! ", as proclaims the song "O Holy Night."

Can one find "true freedom" in being a slave?? Slavery is freedom apparently, according to this church; sounds Orwellian to me.

To me, freedom means making up your own mind about what you believe or don’t believe, what religion if any you will choose, who you love or don’t love, who you marry or don’t marry (and whether or not you can get divorced if the need arises), without the threat of eternal punishment looming over you.

Some more liberal Christians would argue that God is love and grants us all these things because he loves us; and some may say that hell doesn’t even exist, or is only for truly evil people (even some non-believers and pets can come along). But that’s the thing: the United States doesn’t have freedom of religion (and from it ) because some god gave it to us.

We, just like many other nations around the world, created our own government. We are only truly free when we take our lives into our own hands and decide for ourselves what our destiny will be. For me, that means breaking away from the chains of religious dogma and being a freethinker.

On the 4th of July I will celebrate true freedom: the freedom to not be a slave to any god or government, the freedom to think and say what I believe. Now that’s something worth celebrating this 4th of July.

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.

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!

Heavenly Father not so heavenly

Monday, June 22, 2009

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The Very Best of Cat Stevens
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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).