Music for the holidays: Two Lennon songs

John Lennon’s view on Christmas (or X-Mas in the official title) is unfortunately just as timely today as ever. It’s a song I always make sure to listen to every year around this time. I had also thought about posting “Imagine” here as well (if you’ve seen the icon I often use on the web, you’ll have figured out I’m a big fan of “Imagine”), but I decided to post another, lesser-known song of Lennon’s entitled “God”. If anyone has a doubt as to whether or not John Lennon was religious, this song should put it to rest. People don’t need gods or celebrities to idolize. We can learn from the good (and bad) examples of the past, but we should believe in ourselves, and our own ability to do good in this world.

Another non-traditional holiday song — Christmas in Fallujah

“There is no justice in the desert / Because there no god in Hell.”

There aren’t many songs by Billy Joel that I can say I saw the world premier of; in fact, this is the only one! My wife and I attended his concert in Chicago in Dec. 2007 and, lo and behold, he announced that there was a new song that he and a new singer named Cass Dillon would be performing that night for the first time ever, and which would be released officially the following Monday. He joked (correctly) that it would probably be uploaded by someone onto YouTube before then.

As you might guess, the song talks about the Iraq war, but focuses on the experiences of soliders, whom Joel mentioned he received a number of letters from. The song touches on the topic of religion briefly at several points. Some people may not know that Joel at least was an atheist earlier on in his life, saying in an interview in a book called Rock Stars from 1982:

As an atheist you have to rationalise things. You decide first of all that will not ask Daddy – meaning God in all of his imagined forms – for a helping hand when you’re in a jam. Then you have to try and make some sort of sense out of your problems. And if you try and find you can’t, you have no choice but to be good and scared – but that’s okay! When animals are afraid, they don’t pray, and we’re just a higher order of primate. Mark Twain, a great atheist, said it best in The Mysterious Stranger, when he stated in not so many words, “Who are we to create a heaven and hell for ourselves, excluding animals and plants in the bargain, just because we have the power to rationalise?”

Death is death, and the ego can’t handle the consequences. We should all struggle to the last to hold on to life, and religion encourages people to give up on making this life work because the supposed next life will be fairer. Religion is the source of too many of the world’s worst problems.

More recent reports show he may have become at least somewhat spirtual or religious, saying in 1994:

I still feel very much like an atheist in the religious aspects of things…But there are spiritual planes that I’m aware of that I don’t know anything about and that I can’t explain.

When I saw him in concert, he played as interludes a number of Christian Christmas songs (which doesn’t necessarily indicate anything), and Celebrity Atheist cites reports of him saying “God bless you” to people in recent years (and not after sneezes). I believe he made one or two vague mentions of God during the concert. I remember thinking at the time that I wonder if he was using it as a figure of speech (à la “Oh my God”, etc.) or literally. The song does contain a brief Biblical reference to it: “Peace on earth / Goodwill to men”.

So it’s possible Joel may have become either religious or spiritual, or at the very least has become more circumspect about his disbelief or doubt in god. But if so, it would appear from his lyrics that he and I can agree on the fact that Iraq is not a God-sanctioned war, unlike what George W. and company either sold it as or actually believed. (At the beginning of the song, Joel also includes the presumably ironic/satrical lyrics “We came with the Crusaders / To save the Holy Land” and later on, “We came to fight the Infidel.”)

With troops still dying in Iraq and 30,000 more on their way to Afghanistan, it’s sad that this song is just as topical today as it was back then.

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.

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.

Just imagine…

While I’m working on trying to convert my old posts, and a new post that I probably won’t finish tonight, here’s my "Just imagine… " post, my most-viewed post from my Xanga blog. It talks about the Steve Well’s (from Skeptic’s Annotated Bible fame) proposed death total for people God is said to have killed in the Bible. Since it sums up pretty well some of my feelings on God and is also a big reason I decided to expand my website, it’s an appropriate post that I hope you enjoy.

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Imagine for a second that an insane bloodthirsty maniac decides he is going to kill the entire population of the Earth. He’s a whiz at computers and breaks into the US Defense Department’s computers and gains access to the United States’ vast nuclear arsenal (hey, if Matthew Broderick can do it in WarGames, so can he).

To be thorough (and dramatic), our madman decides to start at the bottom of the list of countries in the world and work his way up one-by-one. (He uses Wikipedia’s list of countries and self-governing territories as a source because like many computer-savvy people, he’s a huge fan of Wikipedia.) He is able to launch nuclear weapons against the 41 least populous places in the world before he is found and his killing spree is stopped. The entire populations of these countries and territories either die immediately or in short order due to the nuclear blasts he launched.

Now, who do you think will have killed more people: this crazy mass-murderer, or the God of the Bible? If you said the insane madman, you’d be wrong. According to Wikipedia (as of Jan 5 2009), the 41 least populous countries or self-governed states have a combined population of 2,211,501 people. That’s a lot of people. But according to the Bible, God killed at least 2,301,417 people. Steve Wells, the author of the Skeptics Annotated Bible, did the calculations in his blog Dwindling in Unbelief, but the numbers come directly from the Bible itself. The figure includes people that God killed personally, plus ones he commanded or sanctioned the death of in the Bible. It only includes incidents for which death totals are given in the Bible. So God outdoes our fictional mass-murderer by almost 100,000 people!

But wait, you protest. The nuclear fallout from our imaginary madman would certainly kill millions more, so he still is the top killer. Well, it turns out that God has also killed millions more. The 2,301,417 people Steve Wells includes in his total of God killings are just the ones for which figures are given in the Bible. If we include estimates for all the times God kills or sanctions a killing when the Bible doesn’t even bother to tally the dead, Steve arrives at a much larger figure: 33,280,237. Our fictional madman would have to kill the inhabitants of Wikipedia’s 80 least populous places in the world to match this total (either by nuclear bomb, or some other ingenious scheme).

You may argue with some of the estimates Steve gives (who besides God would know how many people actually died in the Flood, for example), but since the Bible doesn’t think it’s important enough to mention how many people died in these massacres, Steve had to come up with his own estimates. He gives his reasons behind the numbers if you follow the links. Some are more exact estimates than others. But even if he’s a few million off, that’s still an amazing amount of killing for an entity many Christians believe is a loving God who is the source of all morality.

To get an idea of just how many people the Bible says God killed, according to the conservative total (2.3 million), the following 41 countries or self-governing territories could all have their inhabitants wiped off the face of the Earth and still not equal the killings God is credited with in the Bible: São Tomé and Príncipe, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, U.S. Virgin Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Grenada, Aruba, Tonga, Kiribati, Jersey, Seychelles, Antigua and Barbuda, Northern Mariana Islands, Andorra, Isle of Man, Dominica, American Samoa, Guernsey, Bermuda, Marshall Islands, Greenland, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Faroe Islands, Cayman Islands, Liechtenstein, Monaco, San Marino, Gibraltar, Turks and Caicos Islands, British Virgin Islands, Cook Islands, Palau, Anguilla, Tuvalu, Nauru, Saint Helena, Montserrat, Falkland Islands, Niue, Tokelau, Vatican City, Pitcairn Islands.

If we take Steve Well’s estimated total of over 33 million, here’s the list of places that could all have their entire populations slaughtered without reaching God’s glorious total: Slovenia, Lesotho, Botswana, Gambia, Guinea-Bissau, Estonia, Trinidad and Tobago, Gabon, Mauritius, East Timor, Swaziland, Qatar, Djibouti, Fiji, Cyprus, Bahrain, Guyana, Comoros, Bhutan, Montenegro, Cape Verde, Equatorial Guinea, Solomon Islands, Luxembourg, Western Sahara, Suriname, Malta, Brunei, Bahamas, Iceland, Maldives, Barbados, Belize, Vanuatu, Netherlands Antilles, Samoa, Guam, Saint Lucia, São Tomé and Príncipe, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, U.S. Virgin Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Grenada, Aruba, Tonga, Kiribati, Jersey, Seychelles, Antigua and Barbuda, Northern Mariana Islands, Andorra, Isle of Man, Dominica, American Samoa, Guernsey, Bermuda, Marshall Islands, Greenland, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Faroe Islands, Cayman Islands, Liechtenstein, Monaco, San Marino, Gibraltar, Turks and Caicos Islands, British Virgin Islands, Cook Islands, Palau, Anguilla, Tuvalu, Nauru, Saint Helena, Montserrat, Falkland Islands, Niue, Tokelau, Vatican City, Pitcairn Islands

Sure, if you’re like me and most people, you probably don’t recognize or know a lot about some of these places, but certainly you recognize a good number of them. But in case a list of random countries don’t hit home, maybe a few other examples might help:

• The entire region/continent of Oceania has around 30 million people, according to Wikipedia. If our crazy murderer could just make Australia, New Zealand, and the population of most of the Pacific Islands die overnight, that would still be less than how many lives God took in the Bible.

• The top 20 cities in the US could have their entire population croak on the spot (32.4 million people in all), and God’s total would still be almost 1 million more.

• According to Wikipedia, 185 countries/territories out of the 221 (about 4 out of 5) in the world have a population of less than 33 million people. If our madman could randomly take any one of these countries and just kill all of its inhabitants with a snap, he would likely have killed less people than the biblical God killed.

• With those odds, he could even just pick to destroy any one country in the world at random and he’d have about a 4 out of 5 chance of killing less people than God did in the Bible.

• The Bible was written (primarily) in Hebrew and Greek. God has killed more than the current populations of Israel and Greece combined (plus you can easily throw a country like Cuba or Belgium in for good measure).

• The Beach Boys (or what’s left of them) could go butcher all the inhabitants of the places they mention in the song Kokomo, and it would only add up to around 4.7 million people. They could also go ahead and easily bump off any tourists who might be there at the time, too, and still fall far shy of God’s 33+ million estimated deaths.

I could go on and on, but you get the idea. The Bible depicts a God with the blood of millions of people on his hands. Is this a good model for us or our children?

Fortunately, I have good news. Besides being mass-murders, our insane bloodthirsty maniac and our insane bloodthirsty God have one other thing in common: they’re both fictional. Unfortunately, at least some of the people in the Bible probably did die because people thought God wanted them to do it. Not to mention the Crusades, the Inquisition, witch-burning, and countless other cases where people have killed in the name of God. Or other deaths some people have recently attributed to God (Katrina, etc.). Or all the future deaths certainly still to committed in God’s name.

Couldn’t an all-powerful, all-knowing God and his followers think of a better way to get things done than death? Instead of thinking of all this senseless killing, wouldn’t it be nice to imagine a world without God? Just imagine…

Posted 1/5/2009 10:12 AM
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Genesis 25 — Give me your birthright, or die!

Friday, February 13, 2009

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Genesis 25 — Give me your birthright, or die!

Abraham dies in this chapter, but not before finding another wife and keeping busy siring more boys. It doesn’t say why he does this (other than the obvious explanation), since he just sends all his other kids all away so that Isaac can inherit everything and God could bless him. The Bible doesn’t criticize Abraham’s complete disregard for his lovers and offspring. This certainly sets a poor example! (We’re perhaps supposed to be consoled by the fact that he gave them some unnamed "gifts".)

We’re told that Ishmael’s offspring fight with everyone (the KJV however only says "in the presence", an interesting divergence that according to the TNIV [Today’s New International Version] may be due to a confusion with a word or expression that could mean "east" or "hostility"?)

Then we’re told Isaac’s story. His wife Rebekah, like his mom, was apparently barren. God comes through again as the world’s premier fertility expert, and Isaac’s wife Rebekah conceives. The babies start fighting in the womb through, foreboding the fighting they and their descendants will have.

The twins are Esau and Jacob. We’ve all heard of Jacob, right? Well this is because Jacob forced his brother to give up his birthright. Esau, who’s described as the ugly brother, came home starving. Instead of Jacob giving his brother food, he tells him Esau he must give up his birthright or starve. Nice example of brotherly love! Brother, can you spare a meal so I don’t starve to death? Only if you make it worth my while!

Another important thing to note is that mom and dad play favorites. Isaac loves Esau (because he brings him venison) and Rebekah likes Jacob (a quiet young lad, the first stereotypical momma’s boy perhaps?). If the Bible is meant to be an example, should it discourage playing favorites with your children? Or blackmailing your near-death brother before feeding him? Or birthrights in general? Why should you favor a son or daughter just because he or she was born first?

I’m sure the response would be "Those were different times, etc." It’s too bad God didn’t realize this story, and many other objectionable ones, would be in there for modern readers to either have to ignore, explain away, or (in my case) reject as unjust.

PS Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, TODAY’S NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. TNIV®. Copyright© 2001, 2005 by International Bible Society. All rights reserved.

Genesis 24 — looking for SWF, no Canaanites, please!

Friday, February 06, 2009

Currently
Half Breed
By Cher
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Genesis 24 — looking for SWF, no Canaanites, please!

This is a long-winded, but interesting story. I think it reveals a lot about the mindset of the author and/or the people of the day.

First, you would think a marriage would be important enough for someone to take care of personally, but not so in the Bible. Not only does Isaac not try to find a wife, his father doesn’t either: he sends a slave to take care of it. It was the "chief servant" though (24:2, NIV), thank goodness! Some translations have "oldest" or "eldest", but I think the idea is the same.

We see that racial purity is important. God doesn’t want Isaac to be breeding with those Canaanites apparently. No reason is given, but what other reason would there be than to maintain a "pure" bloodline? No mixed breeds allowed I guess. I wonder what God thinks of Obama….If Abraham’s story is any sign, God would rather you marry your half sister than someone from outside your clan. He didn’t seem to mind Lot’s daughters having children by their dad, either…

The way the servant, who is a complete stranger sent by the father of a complete stranger, convinces the family to give up Rebekah to him, is funny in my opinion. It’d be sad if it actually happened, but I suspect and hope not. Rebekah offers the stranger and his camel water. Later, this random guy comes in to her parents’ place and says, after the fact, that he knew if a beautiful girl offered water to him and his camels, then she would be the girl for his master’s son to marry. That proves that God wants her to marry his son!

And the best part is, they completely buy the story. "This is from the LORD; we can say nothing to you one way or the other." (NIV 24:50) Just mention Yahweh, and people believe the strangest things I guess.

What is interesting, though, is that the family wants a 10-day waiting period first. Why, we don’t know. But when Abraham’s servant refuses, the family actually asks Rebekah if she will go with the servant, and she agrees. Now, they’re probably only asking her how soon she will go (they had already agreed, without consulting Rebekah, that she would go with the servant), but it’s still a good thing that she has at least SOME say in the matter. This surprised me.

Another thing that is good is that it says Isaac loved Rebekah. Unless my memory deceives me, the Bible really hasn’t talked about love up until this point. It’s mostly been about having children to carry on the line. If Isaac truly loved her, then that is a good model for people. We’ll see in future chapters if something comes up that goes against this.

Two other quick observations:
• The oath by Abraham and the servant at the beginning of the chapter is weird. Why should putting your hand under someone’s thigh (or perhaps this is a euphemism for somewhere higher up??) seal the deal? Is it to prove that the servant wasn’t crossing his fingers behind his back, or something???

• When Rebekah approaches Isaac for the first time, she suddenly puts a veil on. Why would she do this? It isn’t explained. If it’s some sort of decorum, I don’t see why you would NOT wear a veil in front of a strange man but would wear one in front of your future husband. I don’t see why you’d wear a veil at all, but that’s another story. If it’s similar to Islam tradition, then it’s degrading to women to say they have to cover themselves up. Instead, God should have created men with a little more self-control and respect for women…

No one dies in this chapter, making it tame compared to many others I’ve read so far. Isaac and Rebekah appear to actually love each other. But the way they meet and marry is not a model, and the fact that Abraham excludes an entire clan of people from possible wives for his son shows his and/or God’s bigotry.

PS Scripture quotations marked (NIV) are taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. NIV®. Copyright© 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. All rights reserved.

Obama throws us a bone

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Currently
I’m A Believer (and other hits) : Flashback Vol. 49
By Monkees
I’m A Believer (not!)
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Obama throws us a bone

I really wish I had more time!! I wanted to post about Obama’s inauguration when it happened, but life got in the way. Anyway, here are some of my thoughts.

I was frankly shocked when Obama said "non-believers" during the inaugural address. Here is the passage in context, from the Associate Press (via Yahoo News )

We know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness. We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus — and non-believers. We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth; and because we have tasted the bitter swill of civil war and segregation, and emerged from that dark chapter stronger and more united, we cannot help but believe that the old hatreds shall someday pass; that the lines of tribe shall soon dissolve; that as the world grows smaller, our common humanity shall reveal itself; and that America must play its role in ushering in a new era of peace.

When Obama started "we are a nation of Christians and Muslims…", I thought, oh great, he we go again with the religion bit. When he said "non-believers", my initial reaction was one of shock, then disbelief (no pun intended), then I got this huge smile on my face. I was watching the inauguration with a colleague at work, and I don’t know if he saw my reaction or not. I’m still not "out" in real life, but I couldn’t help my facial expression at such a surprising event. A president of the United States not only mentioning non-believers, but not immediately saying something nasty about them à la George H. W. Bush.

There was a lot of God during the inaugural events, not to mention the word "God" showing up 5 times during the speech itself. I won’t rehash the whole debate over whether or not there should be benedictions or inuagural prayers, and Obama’s disappointing picks for these (in particular Rick Warren , who hilariously thinks being open-minded means being able to say Jesus in several languages). There was too much God for a secular occasion.

But Obama did not have to mention non-believers. In fact, he has many reasons not to in the current climate of hyper-religiosity in the country. But he reportedly wrote the speech himself, and decided to include it. Not only include it, but put it in a section of the speech that says "our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness." This would seem to be a reference to his own mixed heritage. So I don’t think he would have chosen the words in the next sentence lightly.

There have been rumors that, like his dad, Obama may have agnostic or even atheistic leanings. We’ll probably never know, but what this speech proves I think is that he accepts it as a valid viewpoint. For Obama to include nonbelievers in a paragraph about our diversity being our strength puts nonbelievers in a positive light. We’re a long way from being seen as equals by most Americans, but with Obama’s address I feel that we are one step closer.

Genesis 22 — If you love me, kill your son

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Currently
Real Love
By The Beatles
Real Love
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Genesis 22 — If you love me, kill your son

If you really love me, prove it by killing your son! That’s what God says to Abraham in this chapter.

God doesn’t make Abraham go through with it, though, so all’s well that ends well, right? There is so much wrong with this story that it’s hard to know what to say.

Let’s say God never intended for Abraham to kill his son, he just wanted to see if he would. To which I say, Doesn’t God know everything already? This is a perfect example of the sort of mind control that cults try to have over people, getting them to the point that they would do anything for you, including kill your own son.

Maybe God wanted to prove that Abraham would do anything for him. To which I say, why does God always have to prove how great he is? Did some other god give him an inferiority complex? Certainly he must already know how great he is, and such a great God could find a better way to prove it other than having his biggest fan almost sacrifice his son to him.

What about Isaac in all this? I would think it would be rather life-changingly scary to have your dad try to burn you alive. That’s the sort of abuse you don’t outgrow. It doesn’t say here how old Isaac was, but even if he was an adult, I think it is inexcusable torture to be tied up by your dad on an altar, knife in hand ready to kill you and burn you up.

I remember vaguely this story being taught to me as a kid, either in Sunday School or in church. Some explanation about showing that Abraham was willing to give up what mattered to him most. I think it is dangerous and sick that churches teach that this story is a model to look up to. No one should be willing to kill their son, or anyone else for that matter, just to prove how much you love someone. You shouldn’t have to prove love, not to God or anyone. That isn’t real love. Anyone who actually demands you do something to prove that you love them doesn’t deserve your love.

Here are a couple other reflections on this chapter:

* God makes a huge deal out of calling Isaac Abraham’s only son. What happened to Ishmael becoming a great nation? Why is he now completely disowned, and after worrying so much about him, Abraham seems not to care any more? Did God and Sarah wear him down? I guess if he’s willing to kill Isaac for crazy God, he’d be willing to forget his firstborn son as well.

* God has Abraham kill a ram instead of his son Isaac. What’s with the sheep? God could’ve just said that after all that almost killing your son stuff, you’ve done enough Abraham to prove you love me. But no, Abraham also has to sacrifice a ram. God loves the smell of burning sheep!

* The little ending about Nahor, whoever that is, includes a mention of a concubine. So God seems to be okay with having more than one sexual partner, since it’s not condemned here and I know even great kings later on have tons of concubines and wives.

Disowning your firstborn son, trying to commit a human sacrifice on your other son, having sex with whoever you want. True love, God style.

Genesis 21 — EweTube

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Currently
Peacenick
By Roy Zimmerman
Two brothers
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Genesis 21 — EweTube

Some more great family fun here, with some ewes thrown in at the end for fun!

Sarah the 90+ year old has a boy, Isaac. She thinks it’s hilarious that she would have a son at her age, as does everyone else. That rascal God, he really knows how to make people laugh.

But Ishmael laughed at his new brother, and Sarah is outraged. Laughing at what God does, okay. Laughing at your younger brother, not okay. Sarah wants rid of Ishmael and his mom. Abraham doesn’t want to kick out his son, but God sides with Sarah on this. God tells Abraham not to worry though, because Ishmael will also become a great nation after you kick him and his mom out.

After their meager supply of water run out (how nice of Abraham to abandon his son and the woman he slept with in the desert without enough water!), Hagar the mom tries to abandon her son to die, but just can’t go through with it. Turns out though that there was actually a well of water there, Hagar just couldn’t see it until God "opened her eyes" (21:19). From then on, God followed Ishmael wherever he’d go, kind of like the My Buddy doll from the 80s, I guess. Ishmael got to be an archer!

The story of Ishmael, Isaac, and the gang, along with some other related anecdotes from the Bible, is related in Roy Zimmerman’s song Two Brothers , which you can see on YouTube.

Speaking of you/ewe, the last part of this chapter is some more business between Abraham and Abimelech, the leader Sarah and Abraham duped in the last chapter. Abimelech makes Abraham promise God won’t pull any more shenanigans on him or his ancestors. There was this dispute about a well of water, but it was nothing that seven female sheep couldn’t clear up. I would have thought five ewe would have sufficed for such a minor matter!

Genesis seems to be obsessed with saying why places and people were named as they were. Beersheba is apparently named because of the oath between Abraham and Abimelech there. To me, it kind of sounds like they had the names for these places and people and then they just made up the stories, kind of like how parents make up stories for little kids when they don’t know why something is the way it is, or how kids just make things up when they don’t understand something.

Nah, that couldn’t be the case!

Update: The Skeptic’s Annotated Bible gives a possible explanation of why Ishmael was kicked out. Maybe it was more than just laughing at his brother…