The Good Friday Turtle stops by (while James Madison does a facepalm)

The yummy treats that the Good Friday Turtle (if he exists) might bring us next year!

Unlike Christmas and Easter, which unfortunately have become widely commercialized and somewhat secularized, Good Friday remains very unambiguously a religious holiday: specifically a Christian one. Very few people would claim that Good Friday is a secular holiday. There is no Good Friday Turtle that crawls around giving presents to good little girls and boys, no exchanging of Turtles chocolate and pecan candies, no TMNT marathons on TV, no playing of music from The Turtles (though “Happy Together” would make a nice holiday song!).

Although it’s nice to think about, no Virigina, there is no Good Friday Turtle. The only reason that someone would treat Good Friday differently than any other day is for religious reasons. It is a religious observance of the day that some guy named Jesus, who only some people believe was the son of their god, died on a cross before going to hell for a couple of days, after which he miraculously (magically) rose from the dead to go back to heaven. All this trouble just so daddy would agree to let some people up into heaven, while leaving the rest burn for all eternity.

Personally, and for the record, I like the Good Friday Turtle idea much better, but the Constitution says people have a right to believe that whole God-sent-his-son-to-be-tortured-to-death mumbo jumbo. The Constitution also tells us however that government cannot endorse one religion over another. So when the Shelby County Clerk in Tennessee reportedly closes on Good Friday, or the state of Wisconsin recognizes Good Friday as a holiday, these government entities certainly seem to be celebrating a Christian-only holiday.

So what’s the harm in these and other government agencies closing for Good Friday? What’s wrong with people having a day off or people having to wait until Monday to renew their licences? Giving this strictly religious holiday preferential treatment shows an official bias in favor of that religion (Christianity) over other religions or non-religion.

Despite what many religious folk claim, the founding fathers did not intend the US to be a Christian nation, unless you think the entire Constititional Convention did a collective facepalm once they realized they had accidentally left “The United States is a Christian nation” out of the Preamble. Doesn’t seem likely to me.


A photo of James Madison after realizing he and other founding fathers forgot to establish the United States as a Christian nation in the Constitution??

The country was intentionally founded with freedom of religion in mind. People may celebrate their religious holidays if they so please, but government is not and should not be involved. Holidays of other religions besides Christianity are generally not observed or usually even mentioned by government bodies, and this is the way it should be. An occasional nod to Jewish or Muslim holidays may occur, but they normally don’t shut down government just because some religion somewhere thinks a given day is important to their deity of choice. And that’s the way it should be.

Government agencies get around this issue for Christmas because it has now taken on a largely (if not predominately) non-religious life of its own. Few would dispute this fact, although many might justifiably object to it. The main objections to Christmas arise when government steps over the line and starts inserting Christian words and symbols into what has become a secular celebration. Easter has followed Christmas along the path to secularization to a lesser extent (with pagan and secular symbols such as the Easter Bunny, colored eggs, marshmallow Peeps); but since most government agencies are closed on weekends anyway, the issue of officially recognizing Easter by closing offices normally doesn’t come up.

But when government or government-funded agencies (schools, libraries, etc.) declare Good Friday to be a holiday and shut down in observance of that Holy Day, they are very clearly moving from secular celebration to religious observance. That’s something that government isn’t allowed to do. It wouldn’t be an honest argument to claim that Good Friday is just part of some sort of long weekend of a secularized Easter, since Christians obviously must separate Good Friday from Easter enough to want a separate day to observe it. Good Friday is clearly, in practice and by definition, a Christian-only holiday. One that most religions don’t recognize, and some people object to. I don’t want my government telling me or my fellow citizens (whether child or adult) that one religion’s primitive idea of human sacrifice to appease the gods is something to be respected and revered. And the Constitution has my back on this one. Religions can teach this, but governments can’t endorse it by saying Good Friday is a holiday.

Unless The Good Friday Turtle stops by Tennessee, Wisconsin, or elsewhere next year, bringing candies and presents for all, I expect government to drop Good Friday as a holiday and get back to the business of running the country, not promoting religion.

Source of Turtles image: http://www.candyfavorites.com/i/t_3822.jpg and facepalm image: http://scienceblogs.com/insolence/facepalm.jpg

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.

More festive tunes — 4 songs by Weird Al

For my second installment of holiday songs, I’ve decided to feature not one, not two, but count ’em — FOUR “Weird Al” Yankovic songs. As far as I know, Weird Al has never come out as being irreligious or a freethinker, and he may be Christian (in fact, a question from 1995 in the Ask Al archive from his site includes only a very brief answer to the question of whether he “would consider himself a Christian”. His response to the questioner is simply “Yes”). But nothing is sacred in Weird Al’s universe of songwriting, and I’m including four examples of this.

* “Christmas at Ground Zero” is one of my favorite Christmas songs because it definitely desacrilizes the Christmas season and has an anti-war message. It describes a “jolly” Christmas during a nuclear holocaust and includes vintage 50s and 60s video clips from the good old days when they used to scare kids by practicing for nuclear fallout by ducking and covering, as if that would really help if your city is hit by a nuke. (The song was written long before 9-11 occurred, in case you’re curious, so no relation to that Ground Zero). EDIT: click here to view in a new window if clicking on the embed doesn’t work.

* “The Night Santa Went Crazy” is a (slightly) less macabre and funnier take on the Christmas holiday. As the title might suggest, a “disgruntled” Saint Nick finally snaps and goes postal in the North Pole. The video I’ve embedded below is a claymation-type take on the song that someone apparently did for their thesis. An “extra gory” alternate live version of the song can be seen here. With his two Christmas songs being so violent and laughingly depressing, you get the impression that it must not have been his favorite holiday growing up. (Rumor has it, he got notebook paper as a present one Christmas!)

* “Weasel Stomping Day” is perhaps the least obvious choice to include here, but it actually may come the close to criticizing religion of the bunch. As you might guess, people go around stomping weasels in the song, but if you listen more closely to the lyrics, you’ll hear several subtle freethought-like messages (“Bash their weasely skulls right in / It’s tradition, that makes it okay”), and a few nods to Christmas in the video that suggest that he had religious holidays on his mind

* “Amish Paradise” is one of Weird Al’s best-known songs. It’s a parody of Ganga’s Paradise by Coolio (the other three are Weird Al originals). The song isn’t specifically about a holiday, so I’m bending the definition of “festive” tunes here, but it is the only one that openly pokes fun at religious extremism, that of the “crazy Mennonites” (isn’t that redundant?) the Amish are. It’s also the only video I know of that features both Florence Henderson (the mom from the Brady Bunch) and a depiction of hell!

I wonder what Weird Al, who pokes fun at the Amish for “shunning fancy things like electricity”, would think of the recent stories of extremist orthodox Jews attacking a journalist using an electronic device on the Sabbath, or complaining about electric lights turning on at their apartments on the Sabbath.

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.

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.

Genesis 11 — A bunch of Babel

Saturday, November 22, 2008

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Genesis 11 — A bunch of Babel

It’s actually almost funny to read the story of the Tower of Babel now as an atheist. It seems so obviously fake that I wonder how many people truly believe it happened. I don’t know if I ever did or not, I don’t think I really thought about it a whole lot, although I do remember us going over it in Sunday School.

Now though, for some reason, it seems even more fake to me than the Noah and the Ark story, maybe because this one is so short and to the point. I just envision a kid asking his dad, "Why do people speak different languages?", and the dad just makes up a story on the spot. And then somehow it ended up getting in the Bible and being taken for real.

But let’s look at the story itself. People all speak the same language. They start moving east. They decide they want a tower to reach up to the heavens. They give two reasons for this: to be famous, and to not be all spread out from each other.

The first reason is what is normally emphasized, from my recollection and understanding. Those uppity humans got too proud and wanted to be like God, so God had to do something about it. But even if we pretend God exists for a moment, what is wrong with us humans trying to "make a name for ourselves" (NIV)? It doesn’t say humans were trying to be better than God, that we were trying to usurp him or outdo him. I don’t think it even implies it. If anything, they were trying to get closer to God. (Like The Police song "O My God") But even if they were trying to show up God, certainly God would know that they could never build a tower high enough to reach him.

Maybe humans were just trying to be like God, like a son follows his dad around and tries to be like him. God created the universe, so humans were trying to do something great, too. What’s wrong with that?

But I don’t think people focus on the second part of the story here. The folks building the Tower of Babel wanted "not be scattered over the face of the whole earth." (NIV) No Google Earth or Street View back then, so building a tower so they could see everyone apparently sounded like a good plan. So basically, humans were spreading out, but didn’t want to be isolated from each other. What’s so wrong with that?

God’s apparently mad and/or threatened that humans would dare to try building a tower that could reach up to him, and jealous and/or threatened that humans would want to stay as one big family instead of being scattered into little groups. So he destroys the tower, makes humans all speak different languages, and spreads them out over the planet. That’ll teach them.

This brings up an interesting thing I had never thought of before. Let’s again pretend we’re in a Christian world and the Bible is true (for the second time in this post; it’s getting scary!). The Bible says it was God’s doing that people are spread out and speaking different languages. So when all the people living in the Americas and other lands unknown to Christians were being sent to hell because they didn’t know Jesus, it was God’s fault. If he hadn’t have taken down the Tower and scattered humans, they would have all kept nearby and in touch. There would have been no American Indians and Chinese thousands of miles away that God would have had to send straight to hell. They would have quickly heard of Jesus’ death-defying feat and at least have been able to be saved!

In his infinite wisdom, God certainly could have chosen a different punishment than ensuring millions of people would be sent to hell for thousands of years just because he spread them around the planet. I wonder what response Christians would have to this, other than we all deserve to die anyway because of original and continuing sin, so the unsaved deserve to die anyway. I think if most Christians took the time like I’m doing to actually go through the Bible and see how everything fits together (or rather doesn’t fit together), there would be a lot more agnostics or atheists.

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.