Christmas hits home, part II – Suffer, little children

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Christmas hits home, part II – Suffer, little children

While visiting family over Christmas, there were several other disappointing things that happened involving family members. One involves politics (hogwash), one involves teaching (brainwash), and one involves preaching (whitewash).

* POLITICS (aka hogwash): One thing deserves just a fairly brief mention: somebody suggested that there should be a religion-based party in the US, one based on their denomination, to make it easier to know who to vote for. We already have entirely too much religion in politics. Many Christians even think so. It’s sad that someone, much less a family member, would think that religion should be the main defining point of a party or candidate. Shouldn’t their positions on issues figure in there somewhere? Christians, even within denominations, often disagree very strongly on a number of important issues. JFK, in a famous speech I became (re)acquainted with thanks to the FFRF , stated that politicians should not take their policies from the Pope or any other religious authority. If you’re a Baptist, would you want a Catholic running the country based on the Pope’s dictates?!? Politicians should not use or abuse religion to run for office or run the country. People have a right to their opinion, but I don’t think one religion should be preferred over another, and I have the Constitution to back me up on this one.

* TEACHING (aka brainwash): One of the little kids in our family received a manger scene for Christmas. When his mom asked who the baby was, he knew right away it was Jesus. This cute kid, who is just barely a toddler, can hardly say anything at all, is still learning his numbers, etc. Yet, he’s being taught about Jesus already, so much that he immediately could say who the little baby figurine represented. He’s obviously been exposed to a lot of religion at home or with his parents in church. He went to Sunday School for the first time the Sunday after Christmas. Now I don’t know what they do or don’t teach a toddler in Sunday School, but I don’t think a child should be taught religion before he can even form full sentences or do enough math to figure out that 1 + 1 + 1 equal 3 and not 1 (a little reference to the Trinity there). People should be allowed to make informed decisions about their religious beliefs, and a small child isn’t mentally prepared to make such decisions.

I don’t know what age would be good, but I would think they should at least be in regular school before they can be in Sunday School. (People aren’t allowed to even vote until they’re 18, and isn’t religion an even more important choice?!) Most kids who are indocrinated with Christianity seem to turn out more or less normal, but other people like me who took religion very seriously can be seriously damaged by the threats of hell and suffering or the crazy, warped logic (or lack of logic) found in the Bible. At best, the child is not taught to think critically. "Why do we believe what the Bible says? Because that’s what Pastor says, that’s what your Sunday School teacher says, and that’s what Mommy and Daddy say." "You’re just supposed to believe it and have faith!" etc. Not a lot of people go to Sunday School and then decide to read the whole Bible to find out more. Instead, they just listen to what their teachers and preacher say, go to church, do and say what you’re supposed to, love or be afraid of God (or both) and be duped into believing that doing what your church says will make you live forever, and don’t ruin your chances by asking too many questions.

That’s maybe a cynical way of viewing things, but not an untrue way of looking at it. It may not be the parents’ intent (who are themselves presumably brainwashed), but it is the result. It’s sad to think I have a little relative who is going to be brainwashed by Christianity before he can see through it. Maybe eventually I can "come out" as a non-believer and be an example to him (or at least he might wonder why I’ve been disowned even though I seem like a nice enough person).

* PREACHING (aka whitewash) I have another family member who will soon be ordained. I will name this person Pat, for the purposes of this blog. Since I once considered this route myself, I am very sympathetic to Pat and find we share a lot in common. So I have been curious as to what sorts of things Pat believes in terms of the nitty-gritty of religion, and how Pat will preach. I got a good sample of it over Christmas, since the family went to service on Sunday and Pat delivered the sermon. I didn’t know until fairly recently that for many denominations, you don’t have to be ordained to give a sermon. Pat is well on the way and was invited as a guest minister for Sunday. I was actually almost looking forward to going to church, to satisfy my curiosity as to whether Pat would be a kinder, gentler love-and-peace sort of minister or more of a traditionalist, fire-and-brimstone type.

The result was somewhere in between, but the message of the sermon simply infuriated me. It may have been the worst message I’ve ever heard in a sermon. I say "may have been" because I don’t know what sort of craziness I heard as a kid. The few sermons I’ve heard as an adult and after deconverting have been surprisingly tame and overall positive. Not this one.

To give Pat credit, it did something that I accused most Christians of not doing normally: linking Christmas with Easter. The reading was Matthew 2:1-16 , and was apparently what is normally taught the Sunday after Christmas. But Pat’s take on it was an interpretation that is inhuman, inhumane, and for lack of a better word, crazy. The fact that several family members thought it was a good sermon shows how much people just can’t get past the idea that they have to accept the Bible as the truth, no matter what atrocities are commitment or what flimsy excuse, or lack of any excuse, is given for it.

In these verses, we find out how King Herod supposedly had all children (presumably "just" the boys, but it doesn’t say) under 2 killed in Bethlehem in an attempt to have the rumored son of God killed. Herod figured having all kids under 2 killed should make sure God’s son was killed and that Herod’s power would go unchallenged. But Mary et al. had fled to Egypt (to fulfill prophesy, according to Matthew), so Jesus was spared. The lesson was that even though Christmas is a season of joy, we have to remember why Jesus came down to Earth. We sinners are responsible for Jesus’ coming to Earth and dying on the cross because, like Herod, we want to be king instead of God. We put our selfish desires first and God second. We are selfish with our time and think and say bad things (soon-to-be pastor Pat gave the example of us not wanting our life from last week to be displayed on film to the congregation). But in spite of the fact that we all do this, God still loves us anyway, so much that Jesus would come down to Earth and die for us. That is the reason we should be joyous on Christmas.

There is so much wrong with this sermon, and I am getting so upset again, that I don’t even know where to begin. So I’ll just do bullet points

* Why Jesus came down to Earth: God decided he wanted to send him here. Instead of just forgiving our sins, God the father was out for blood. He wanted someone to pay, and that someone was Jesus. He took on human flesh so he could suffer in our place and appease the bloodthirsty father.

* We want to be kings instead of God: The continual use of lord and king to refer to God is appropriate, but people don’t think behind this. In America, we got rid of kings centuries ago because no one should have to put a king ahead of what is important for the people. Why should we put God’s desires first? What should matter is what’s important for people, not some ruler (divine or not). I’m not saying that people aren’t too selfish, but the whole idea that we should devote ourselves to Christ the King is very harmful. People should not be taught unquestioning obedience to anyone or anything. Wouldn’t it be a much better idea to teach people compassion and justice instead of being taught to serve a master? Then maybe we wouldn’t have so many killings in the name of religion, or in the name of blind obedience to one’s leaders (I was just followin’ orders).

* We don’t want our lives displayed on movie for all to see. The old make-people-feel-unworthy trick. We humans are horrible beings that think and do disgusting things. We should be ashamed! We don’t deserve to live! This is a very negative vision of humanity, that I still have trouble shaking sometimes. Yes, humans do, say, and think horrible things, but they also do very positive things. Why don’t we put up a film of all the generous, kind, and thoughtful things congregants did in the past week, and then do a reel of all the good things God or Jesus did this past week. We haven’t heard from God in almost 2000 years, so the second half of the presentation would be rather short. Some people have undoubtedly done good things in Jesus’ name, but Jesus hasn’t bothered to show up in millennia.

Some would argue that Jesus does good things: save kittens from trees, etc., but just doesn’t show himself to us (he’s too camera shy? Yahweh would have to pay him more if he had a speaking part?). But if we’re going to say he does good things, then he obviously either does bad things as well or lets bad things happen. Let’s show all the bad things that people in the congregation did in the past week, and all the bad things God did or let happen in the past week. I’ll betcha God’s total active or passive wickedness is much higher than the whole congregation put together.

* One important thing that was not explained in the sermon was: why did all those innocent toddlers in Bethlehem have to die? Couldn’t God have struck down Herod instead of letting him kill all those kids? What purpose did their deaths serve? Why should they be killed and baby Jesus spared? God’s responsibility for allowing these deaths was whitewashed by the message of us being unworthy of his love and sacrifice. But what of the sacrifice of those little children? We don’t know how much a 2-year-old or so deity can do, but I would think he or his father could have just stayed in Bethlehem to ward off Herod’s men, or persuade them not to kill those kids.

Jesus, son of the all-powerful God, being carried off to Egypt and letting those kids be slaughtered is nothing short of an act of cowardice . If Jesus was too young in his human form to know better, then his father should have done something about it. It’s inhuman for God to have let those babies die, it’s inhumane to have let them and Jesus be killed just because God was still upset about our sins, and the reasoning behind the whole thing is absolutely crazy. Allowing the mass slaughter of children is not justifiable, which is why Pat, either consciously or unconsciously, chose not to dwell on the most striking and appalling part of this story.

And yet, I heard more than one person say that this was a good sermon. It explained nothing about why Jesus had to come to Earth or why the children had to be killed. It unnecessarily ruined the joyous mood that many certainly had going into church on the Sunday after Christmas by telling people how bad and unworthy they are of God’s love because we don’t love God enough and we do or think bad things. I really doubt that made most people "joyous" as promised. Perhaps ashamed and falsely grateful to God for dying for and forgiving us. But I guess that’s what people expect sometimes from a sermon. I think I may have just been lucky in the few recent sermon’s I’ve heard.

Fortunately, I’ve read that it’s pretty unlikely this massacre of the innocents actually took place historically. But the fact that it is being taught as the gospel truth and being used to brainwash people into submission to a supposedly merciful God is so disappointing and frustrating. If God were really merciful, he wouldn’t have let those children be killed. If God were really loving, he wouldn’t have needed to send Jesus to Earth on Christmas to suffer and die on Easter, he would just forgive us and love us as the imperfect beings we are. Does Pat truly not see what is wrong with all this?!

So I am deeply upset by the fact that one of my relatives will be teaching hundreds of people (and probably thousands over a lifetime) lessons like this one. I’m sorry that I probably sound really upset about all this, but I was really hoping Pat would have a more enlightened take on Christianity than "You are not worthy, bow down to your master." or "You’re a very bad person, but God loves you anyway even though you don’t deserve it." or "The slaughter of children while Jesus was safe elsewhere is okay because Jesus was coming to die to save wretched old humanity." Pat delivered the sermon very well: very filled with what appeared to be genuine emotion. If only people of Pat’s intelligence and talent could work towards improving humanity instead of beating down children and adults alike with the same old myths.

The King James version of Luke 18:16 reports Jesus as saying "Suffer little children to come unto me". This "suffer" is in the olden sense of "allow" or "let". But by perpetuating violent, morally harmful stories such as these among adults, and teaching them to kids too young to know what a horrible story this is, I feel that "suffer, little children" would be an appropriate motto for Christianity. Let’s hope someday children won’t have to suffer because of their parents’ religion and can make an informed choice as adults whether or not they want to listen to this crap.

Christmas hits home, part I – Nothing fails like prayer

Monday, December 29, 2008

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Nothing Fails Like Prayer
Dan Barker Salutes Freethought Then & Now

Christmas hits home, part I – Nothing fails like prayer

I hope everyone has had or is having a happy holiday season, no matter what you do or don’t believe!

I’ve just spent Christmas with family. I had a very nice time overall, a nice break from the craziness that has been my life the past year or so.  I have to say though that I am getting more upset and frustrated by religion. I tried not to be affected with it and ruin my visit with my family, because it was so wonderful to get to see everyone and have some great times with people I don’t get to see often, but now that I am back home I need to vent.

The next couple posts I do will be the most personal I’ve done since my very first post. I will get back to blogging the Bible soon, and plan on doing it several times a week now. I’ve been inspired by recent events to ramp-up my exploration of the Bible (more on this in a future post).

My mother is apparently getting more religious as she gets older. She said a prayer at dinner the first day I was home, and the only day we had dinner at my folks’ place. We never, ever used to pray before dinner. This used to only happen at my grandparents’ house. Since my grandfather passed away some years ago and my grandmother is getting older, we no longer have Christmas at her house. This may partly explain the situation (a desire to carry on tradition), but there have been other hints as well that she is going back to the fold, so to speak. Quotes on email signatures, little asides on the phone or in emails, etc.

But since my brother is openly not Christian (he’s another religion), I thought it was very rude, or at least unthoughtful, for her to lead a prayer. The prayer started "Dear Lord" and I don’t believe mentioned Jesus specifically, but if she’s the one praying it’s obvious that she’s talking about the Christian God and not a general, unitarian sort of god or about my brother’s religion.

She doesn’t know that I’m an atheist, so I haven’t decided yet whether or not to say anything to her. I may talk to my brother about it first to get his reaction. The problem with talking to my brother is that he isn’t areligious, although he flirted with this for a while. He is actually active and, from what I can tell, a strong believer in another, alternative religion. So we share an anti-Christianity point of view, but do not share a rejection of the supernatural in general. Since we differ, I do not talk to him much about religious matters as I once used to. He tends to be more open with his life and personal matters than I am, and I do not want him sharing my beliefs with others in my family (at least, not just yet).

I think he’s pretty much onto me though. A day or two later, when no one else was around, he brought up a funny line I had made up off the cuff once from "O Holy Night". The line "Fall on your knees", while I was still more on the Christian side of the spectrum, struck me as somewhat out of place. Why should we fall on our knees to God? So one year several years back, when I was more on the atheist side of the spectrum, I just came up with the line "Down on your knees, And beg for your supper". It doesn’t quite go in the beat, but it reflects my feelings at the time: why should people be going on our knees, a sign of submission, to a supposedly loving God?

And I’m fairly certainly he and I share the belief though that religion is a private matter and should not be forced on people. I think that was what I objected to most with my mother’s prayer. I am deeply saddened and disappointed that she is turning to religion more in her life, and don’t know if there’s anything that I can or should do about it. That is more of a personal issue that I won’t go into here.

But her beliefs aside, I am upset and do not find it acceptable that she feels she has a right to impose this on others, especially family. It would be different if she didn’t know my brother wasn’t a Christian, but she does. So she specifically did something we didn’t used to do that might make my brother uncomfortable. Was that a very "Christian" thing to do? I think praying around my brothers (or others who may not share her beliefs) is something that would be a legitimate thing to bring up to her. It’s a difficult decision about whether to do this, though.

I’m too afraid that it will be one of those stories where my relationship with my mother and/or other family members will worsen if people start getting wind of my unbelief. As I mentioned in my first post on this blog, I at one point considered becoming a pastor, for goodness sakes! I am not sure of my sister’s beliefs, but she wasn’t there for that first dinner. I know her significant other is either a very weak Christian or an agnostic/atheist, but I’ve never dared to bring up the topic. But everyone else either is very clearly, or is seemingly, either vaguely or strongly Christian. So finding out that I no longer believe in God, much less that I have this blog and am actively posting elsewhere in the non-believer universe, would be a shock to many.

I will talk more about my religious experiences over Christmas tomorrow in Part II, in which I will describe my thoughts on seeing a family member becoming a pastor, another wanting a new religious-based political party, and a nephew in the early throes of Christian indoctrination.

Baby Lord

Saturday, December 13, 2008

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Diana Ross & The supremes
Baby Love
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Baby Lord

I’ve written a festival holiday version of the Supremes song "Baby Love" called "Baby Lord". Here are the lyrics. Basically, it’s Mother Mary talking to Baby Jesus about the real reason behind Christmas.

Note: If you’d like to share this song, you can either link to this post (http://www.xanga.com/iamtheblog/685693349/baby-lord.html), or else you must include the copyright notices listed on top so that the original writers (and I) get credit. Hope you enjoy!

Edit: I’ve done a quick karaoke-style recording of the song. I’m not a professional singer, but this will give you an idea of what it would sound like. The complete lyrics (including back-up vocals) can be found below.

PS Here’s a link to some comments about the song.

Genesis 13 — Too rich for my blood!

Sunday, December 07, 2008

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With the Beatles
By The Beatles
Money (That’s What I Want)
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Genesis 13 — Too rich for my blood!

Don’t you just hate it when you’re just too rich? That’s the predicament Abram and Lot are in for this chapter. They just have too much cattle and sheep, and too many people to tend all this livestock, that they just couldn’t live together anymore.

So they start fighting, perhaps it went something like this:
—Abram: You’ve got way too many sheep, bro! They’re giving my legions of shepherds headaches. Then they come complain to me, and make me lose count when I’m trying to count all my vast sums of money. What a buzz-kill.
—Lot: Oh yeah, well tell all your shepherd dudes to steer clear of my insanely large group of sheep, bro! I’m way too rich and important to be bothered by all this sheep nonsense.

Family counseling wasn’t available back then, but something had to be done. They decide that riches are more important than family. They could have given some of their sheep and riches to the poor, or given some to their shepherds so the shepherds could start a new life somewhere else. But then Abram and Lot wouldn’t be fabulously wealthy anymore. So instead of parting with some of their riches, they decide to part ways.

Lot ends up going to live by wicked people (which is a lot better than living next to a rich family member, I guess!), and after Lot leaves, God decides to give Abram all the land in sight to all his descendants, forever. That must have been a relief to Abram knowing that future generations of his family would always have land to live on.

That’s what really happened, right? All of Abram’s descendants have always had somewhere to live, haven’t they? God promised it, and you can always count on God to keep his word, can’t you? God’s promises are good as gold, right? Hmm, maybe that’s why Abram and Lot didn’t want to part with their riches so soon. It’s always good to keep a rainy-day fund when dealing with God.

Genesis 12 — Plagued Like an Egyptian

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

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Walk Like An Egyptian (Extended Dance Mix)
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Genesis 12 — Plagued Like an Egyptian

In this chapter, we see the Egyptian Pharaoh and the people in his palace punished because Abram and Sarai lie to them. Not very fair, but we’ve already seen (and I’m sure will see many other times) that God is anything but fair a lot of the time.

First though, God sends Abram on a wild goose chase so that he can go somewhere where there isn’t enough food to eat. He loves Abram, and blesses him, but doesn’t like him enough to let him and his family eat right, I guess. God shows him Canaan, but then says he can’t live there (his descendants will, lucky them). Then Abram moves on, because of a famine, has to settle in Egypt. God could have just stopped the famine of course, but apparently wasn’t in the mood.

His wife Sarai (who amazingly has a name, unlike many women in the Bible) is so beautiful, Abram decides the Egyptians would be too jealous if they knew she was already married to him. So they just lie and don’t tell anyone that they’re married. They tell the Egyptians that they’re just brother and sister. So the beautiful Sarai is taken to the Pharaoh’s palace. We’re told Pharaoh marries her, so we can only assume what else goes on behind closed doors…

Then God sends plagues on the Pharaoh’s house (which ones, we’re not told, but I have faith that God could come up with something violent or nasty like he does for the later plagues he sends the Egyptians), and Pharaoh of course figures out it must be because Sarai and Abram are actually married. That’s what I always assume when there’s a plague: I must have married someone who was already married, and God wants to punish me.

So to sum up, Abram lies and says Sarai is his sister, he lets her get taken to the Pharaoh’s palace, Sarai apparently says nothing and marries Pharaoh, and then God punishes Pharaoh for Abram and Sarai’s sins. How is this fair? God expects the Pharaoh to be psychic, I guess.

Why isn’t Abram punished for lying? The 10 commandments didn’t exist yet, so I guess it was okay for Abram to lie to the Pharaoh. No wonder Pharaoh sends them on their merry way. Why would he want anything to do with them or their God if this is how they act? Seems like God just entrapped Pharaoh.

And shouldn’t Sarai be punished for polygamy (and presumably adultery)? The Bible says nothing about her being forced into any of this, and she was already married to another man.

What is the moral of this story: men should not marry women who claim to have a brother, in case their brother is actually their husband, or else God will send you "great plagues" (12:17). Or maybe the moral is that, if you lie, then God will punish the people you fooled. I can’t even figure out what would be the moral of such a story. The Bible, your guide to morality.