Sunday, September 5, 2010

365: The Bible: In Review

Revelation 20-22
"But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars—their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death." - Revelation 21:8

John sees an angel coming down from heaven. This angel also has the key to the abyss (along with the "star" from earlier chapters). The angel grabs the dragon (who is now being called Satan) and tosses him into the abyss. The dragon is locked away for 1000 years. John says that, after this 1000 years, the dragon will have to be set free again for a short time.

For these 1000 years, those who had not received the mark of the beast were resurrected and "reigned with Christ". I wonder if those people who died before the tribulation started were resurrected.

After the 1000 years are over, Satan is released (why?). He again goes out to the "four corners" of the earth and starts deceiving people.The army Satan gathered encircles the cities of Godly people. However, God finally intervenes and kills all the people who were deceived, and throws Satan into the lake of burning sulfur.

John then sees a great white throne, with an undescribed someone sitting on it. He also sees the dead, "great and small", gathered around the throne. The person on the throne (presumably God) starts reading names out of the book of life. John says that even death and Hades gave God their dead. What? Who are death and Hades? They are obviously not Satan, because after they give up their dead, God throws them into the lake of burning sulfur (Satan is already there). Anyone who's name is not in the book of life is also thrown into the lake of fire.

Next, John sees a "new heaven" and a "new earth" descending from the sky. God explains that he is making everything new (why?). God's conditions for getting into this new earth are quite strict though. He says that anyone who is cowardly, unbelieving, vile, murderous, sexually immoral, a magician, an idolater, or a liar will not be allowed onto this new earth, but they will be cast into the lake of fire. What happened to Jesus? I thought Jesus saved us from our sins. Now if we lie, or if we're even cowardly we're going to be tortured forever?

John goes on to describe this new earth, and the new Jerusalem upon it (he's taken "in the spirit" again). I'll spare you the boring details, but the city is basically made out of precious stones and metals. The twelve gates to the city are each made out of their own pearl. Either those are really tiny gates, or there are giant monster clams in this new earth. John says that this new city does not need a sun, because God's radiance will light it. Of course, no one is actually going to live in this city, because everyone (the bible says) has sinned.

John is then shown a clear river. On the sides of this river grows the tree of life. Jesus then says that he is on his way soon, and blessed are those who keep the words of prophecy in this book.

An angel also tells him not to "seal up" the words of prophecy in the book, because the end times are near. Then it's back to Jesus (the "Alpha and the Omega") who says again that he's coming soon. We get it! The end times are near. Except for not really, because this book was written 2000 years ago.

The book ends with Jesus(?) warning that if anyone adds or removes anything from this book they will suffer the wrath of God. The bible says that "he who says these things" (Jesus) says "Yes, I am coming soon!".

The end.

Revelation: In Review
Well I think Revelation is officially the craziest book in the bible. My biggest question is, where do people get the tribulation story? People have made this incoherent blathering into a rather interesting story.

First of all, the "beast" and the "prophet" are never formally introduced (besides the beast being described as having seven heads). And certainly neither one is introduced as the "antichrist". You could make these people (the beast and the false prophet) be whoever you want them to be. And indeed people have, from Ronald Reagan to Obama.

Second, the rapture is never mentioned in the book of Revelation. The only thing that vaguely resembles people's vision of the rapture are found in the book of Matthew and (some claim) 1 Thessalonians. And neither of these references mention people being taken up, leaving their clothes behind, which seems to be people's modern vision of the rapture.

People seem to have taken what looks a lot like incoherent rambling and made it into something way more than it actually is. Most of these visions aren't even said to be metaphors. The locusts with human faces and woman's hair is the first example that comes to mind. There is no indication that a true bible believer shouldn't be expecting grasshopper-people to invade the world at some point.

*News*
This letter to the editor is short today. But it's relevant:
A recent letter to the editor with a closing statement saying, "the Bible was written by men -- not God," is by someone who is totally misinformed. Let me attempt to clarify a very basic teaching of Christianity.

Yes, the Bible was written by men. but to say "not by God" tells me this person has never read the Bible from cover to cover.
And what exactly is reading the bible from cover to cover supposed to do for you? It's like reading the crazy for yourself is supposed to give you some magical revelation that God exists. Are you sure you've read the bible from cover to cover?
The Bible was written by men who were inspired by God. Have you never heard the Bible referred to as "God's word"? Perhaps that is why the Bible is known as the "Holy Bible."

You cannot pick and choose what you will believe about the Bible. Accept it as God's word, because, "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom."
Keep digging that hole. The bible is God's word because people say the bible is "God's word"? Or because it's referred to as the "Holy Bible"? That's really your argument?

"You can't pick and choose what you believe about the Bible." Therefore you believe in seven headed dragons, grasshopper-people, and eyeball-covered angel-monsters? The fear of a petty, man-made God that can never be proven is the end of wisdom, not the beginning.


The Bible: In Review
I've divided the bible into several subjects that I find relevant. This will also count as the "New Testament: In Review".

God/Jesus: The New Testament doesn't seem to have changed God's basic nature, as a petty and unjust being. God sends his son (or himself, depending on what you think about Jesus) to suffer a finite torment for the "salvation" of all of our sins. All we have to do now is believe in this being and we will be saved. Jesus also claims you have to do many other things to be saved, including eating his flesh and giving away all your money. But we'll ignore these for now and just include that with "believing in Jesus".

This is (as I said) both petty and unjust. Petty because Jesus's death was unnecessary. If God wanted to break the rules and forgive people, he could (and should) have just done it. Unjust, because people who have an affinity (for whatever reason) to believe in Jesus are not punished, irrespective of their crimes/sins. While people who (for whatever reason) are unwilling or unable (based on lack of evidence of his holiness) to believe in Jesus are punished.

To add insult to injury, the bible says in several instances that God chooses who he will allow to hear the message of Jesus. The universal salvation of Jesus is not so universal. It seems that God has merely made a loophole in his own rules so he can allow arbitrarily decided people into heaven. This is really no different from the Old Testament. Is this what we would expect from an all powerful - all just super being?

Satan: Based on at least the New Testament, Satan is a "bad guy". In that he will take every opportunity he can to kill people. Unfortunately, it seems like Satan only operates under the express consent of God.

First of all, we know that Satan can be defeated completely whenever God wants him to be. In Revelation he is cast into a lake of fire, never to bother humanity again. Why isn't this happening now? Why does God let Satan persevere?

Second, and along the same lines of logic, why does God let Satan go out and deceive people (causing their eternal doom)? The first example that comes to mind is God/Jesus letting Satan out of the abyss after 1000 years to roam the earth for awhile. Why doesn't he immediately cast him into the lake of fire? God ends up having to kill the people that Satan deceived.

In short, why does God let people be eternally damned if he has the power to prevent it by killing Satan? Is this what we would expect from an all powerful - all just super being?

Heaven/Hell: These concepts are still only vaguely described. And their short descriptions don't seem to match what people think of Heaven and Hell.

When we die, the bible seems to say that we stay dead until the end times. It's only after people are "resurrected" that they eventually go to heaven/the lake of fire. This is in direct contrast to what everyone (or everyone I know) thinks today. For example, when people say their dead relatives are "watching over them from heaven", they're not (in my opinion) making a biblically accurate statement.

"You just haven't read the bible": I look forward to immediately shooting down this ridiculous argument everywhere I hear it. If anything, after reading the bible I found Christianity to be less legitimate. Some portions of the bible are followed to the letter, while others are dismissed as being "only for a certain time in history", or said to be a metaphor.

This causes the bible to be 100% up for interpretation. Both the "God loves everyone" and "God hates fags" theology can be legitimized with the bible.

Conversion: It's probably obvious at this point, but I've not been converted. As I mentioned before, I think reading the bible has convinced me once and for all that it doesn't accurately describe the universe, the divine, or anything else for that matter.

What now?: At this point I don't plan to stop writing this blog. Obviously, I have no more bible to read, but I plan to continue doing the occasional news story (albeit not every day). Also, if I feel I have not done a particular verse/chapter justice, I may (in the future) go back over it to do a more in-depth study. If this seems at all interesting don't unsubscribe!

That being said, I may take a week or so off to relish in the fact that I don't have to write this blog every day :P. There will also probably be some big changes to the layout and/or title of the blog.

Credits:
E-Word Today: For dividing the bible into 365 sections.

Bible Gateway: This is where I looked up all my bible references.

Commenters: Thanks to everyone that has commented on any of my posts. Special thanks to gmal and Brent Aucoin for commenting every day for months at a time.

Friends/Family/Co-workers: Or anyone else that had to put up with me making time to write this blog. You know who you are ;).

If you have any other questions/comments, or feel like I should include something in this blog that I've forgotten about, let me know in the comments!

Saturday, September 4, 2010

364: King of Kings and Lord of Lords

Revelation 17-19
"Out of his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. 'He will rule them with an iron scepter.' He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written: King of Kings and Lord of Lords." - Revelation 19:15-16

One of the angels that just tossed the bowls of God's wrath on humanity tells John he wants to show him the punishment of the "great prostitute". The angel then carries John away "in the spirit". So he's having a hallucination.

When they get to this woman, she's riding on the beast from yesterday (the seven-headed ten-horned bear-leopard). She holds a golden cup full of of "abominable things and the filth of her adulteries". On her forehead he has written "Mystery, Babylon the Great, The Mother of Prostitutes, and of the Abominations of the Earth".

This is the first obvious metaphor of Revelation. The woman is referred to as "the great city that rules over the kings of the earth". This is a strange kind of metaphor, though, in that John can actually see this woman. Like the other "metaphors", they seem to be physically acted out before John's eyes. Unless he's just making up the rather detailed physical description of these beasts.

The angel tells John that the beast is going to devour the woman and burn her with fire. It still isn't clear whether the beast is supposed to be a metaphor or not (people clearly interpret it as a metaphor). Nobody ever said the beast was actually a person. In fact, the word "antichrist" hasn't even made it into the book of Revelation.

John then hears many voices telling people to get out of Babylon, or they will share "her" torture. What did Babylon do that was so much worse than the rest of the cities of the world? Why are two full chapters of Revelation devoted to it?

After John hears these voices, the angel grabs a large millstone and throws it into the ocean. He says that with equal violence Babylon will be thrown down. Did he really need to throw a millstone into the ocean to illustrate his point?

After this, they are somehow back in heaven with the twenty-four elders and the eyeball covered monsters. They again fall down and worship God, saying "hallelujah". John tries to worship the angel that's been leading him around, but the angel tells him to worship God instead.

John then sees "heaven standing open". Isn't he already in heaven? Out of heaven comes a man riding a white horse. His eyes are blazing like fire, and he is wearing many crowns on his head. He is dressed in a robe that's been dipped in blood. This must be Jesus, because out of his mouth comes a large sword to "strike down nations". Why is the relatively peaceful Jesus now riding in on a white horse, covered in blood, personifying the wrath of God? Isn't Jesus's entire purpose to quell the wrath of God?

The army of the beast then gathers to try to kill Jesus. The beast and the "false prophet" are captured and thrown into a fiery lake of burning sulfur. Their army is killed with the sword that came out of Jesus's mouth. The bodies of the beast's army are devoured by birds (who somehow survived the multitude of plagues).

*News*
Apparently the Discovery Channel hostage taker was an atheist:
Another atheist extremist went on a rampage last week, taking hostages at the Discovery Channel building and demanding the network do more to proselytize evolution and fear about environmental Armageddon. Before he harmed anyone, police shot the terrorist dead.

The violence and the response of atheist evangelists, such as American shock-scientist PZ Myers, illustrate how organized atheism increasingly resembles religion.
Another? How many atheist extremists have gone on rampages recently? More importantly, do any of these people go on rampages in the name of atheism, or do they just happen to be atheists? I would contend that you have to already be completely insane to go on a rampage in the name of atheism. "I don't believe in something, therefore I must kill you", makes far less sense than "God tells me that I must kill you. I've devoted my life to God. Therefore I must kill you".

First of all, from reading this guy's writings, he's obviously insane. He wanted the Discovery Channel to start airing programs at least once a week telling people to stop having babies, and to sterilize themselves. This somehow had something to do with Darwinism(?).
The vast majority of atheists lead peaceful, moral and humble lives. They love their children and help their neighbors. A small fraction proselytize with confrontation, just as a small percentage of religious faithful proselytize and demonize others. Of the few atheist proselytizers, a tiny fraction kills people and blows things up for the cause.
It just so happens that all of that tiny percent of atheists are completely insane. Indeed, mental health experts are saying that James Lee suffered from paranoid schizophrenia. Why is it that none of the 9/11 hijackers have been diagnosed with a mental disorder? Oh, that's right, they weren't insane. They had a firm belief, based on their religion, that God was calling them to kill people. Ok, maybe that is insane, but that means that all other religion is equally insane. Some religions just call for good things instead of bad things.

Friday, September 3, 2010

363: The Number of the Beast

Revelation 13-16
"This calls for wisdom. If anyone has insight, let him calculate the number of the beast, for it is man's number. His number is 666." - Revelation 13:18

I would call this section completely insane, but I feel like I'm getting a little redundant. For brevity's sake, just pretend that after every paragraph I write today, I say, "What the fuck? How can anyone possibly believe this heaping pile of bullshit?". Even if this craziness is a metaphor, you'd have to be a little insane to come up with seven headed dragons and grasshoppers with human faces and long hair.

This section begins with yet another seven headed, ten horned beast. This time, instead of having crowns on his head, he has crowns on his horns. On each of this beast's heads is written a "blasphemous name". John goes on to further describe this beast as looking like a leopard, but having bear feet and a lion's mouth.

The dragon from yesterday comes and gives this new beast all of his powers, his throne, and his "great authority". John says that one of the heads of the beast "appears to have a fatal wound" but it's been healed (this appears to have no relevance to the narrative). The beast then starts wandering around the world, and people start worshiping him.

Then John sees yet another beast. This time coming out of the earth. This beast is described as having horns like a goat, but "speaking like a dragon". The new beast goes around the earth, performing miraculous signs, including causing fire to fall from the sky. He also (somehow) receives the power to kill anyone that doesn't obey him, and gives people a "mark" on their hands or foreheads such that they can't buy or sell without it. This mark is either the name, or the number of the beast, which is "666". I'm sure it's a complete coincidence (not), but the Roman Emperor Nero's name just so happens to add up to 666.

Where has God gone off to? Why is he letting (presumably) Satan kill people who are just trying to worship God? In short, why is any of this necessary?

Next, the seven-eyed seven-horned lamb-Jesus is back! He is standing on Mount Zion with the 144,000 saved people standing around him. That means if the apocalypse happened today, a whopping 0.0021% of the population would be saved. That's a 1 in 47,000+ chance, for those keeping track.

Then three angels fly around the world, shouting in every language that the judgement has come. They say that anyone who has the mark of the beast is going to drink wine out of the cup of God's wrath. These people will also be tortured with fire and sulfur in the presence of angels and of Jesus. This torment will go on "for ever and ever".

After this, angels start coming out of heaven with sharp sickles. A voice from heaven tells them to go down and "harvest the earth". They go down, harvest the "grapes" of the earth, and toss them into the wine press of God's wrath. When they crush these "grapes" blood comes out. Either these are special grapes with blood inside them, or the grapes are people.

There is then yet another set of seven angels. These seven angels have come to deliver the final seven plagues of God. Isn't everyone dead yet? I think we're up to about four thirds of humanity killed. Humanity has been crushed in a wine press, hailed upon, all the stars have fallen out of the heavens a couple of times.

Before these plagues begin, John sees all the people that resisted the beast on the edge of a sea of melted glass and fire. They are all playing harps (given to them by God, of course), and singing songs of Moses. I couldn't make this shit up if I tried. Aren't all these righteous people supposed to be dead? Wasn't the beast just given the power to kill anyone who didn't believe in him?

John then looks into heaven and sees the "Temple". Out of this temple come the seven angels with the seven final plagues. One of the eyeball covered six-winged creatures hands the seven angels seven golden bowls of God's wrath. I think my brain is melting. Bowls full of wrath? What does that even mean?

A loud voice from the temple (God) tells the seven angels to pour out the seven bowls of wrath onto humanity. I'll go through these seven plagues quickly. First is the plague of painful sores. The second plague turns all the oceans to blood, killing every sea creature. The third turns the rivers and springs to blood. The fourth makes the sun terribly hot and burns those who are alive. The fifth plunges the kingdom into darkness, and men gnaw their tongues in agony. The sixth dries up the river Euphrates, and frogs come out of the mouth of the dragon, the beast, and the "false prophet" (who I don't think we've actually been introduced to). All the kings are gathered together for battle at a place named "Armageddon". The final plague causes a massive earthquake, breaking up all the cities of the earth.

Today's section ends with 100 pound hailstones coming out of the sky, crushing people. Wonderful.

*News*
I'm sure most of you have heard about Stephen Hawking's assertion that there is no God. Or at least that God wasn't needed to start the universe. The Christian News Wire is on the case. They've decided that Stephen Hawking doesn't know what he's talking about because... wait for it... Ray Comfort says so:
An extract of Hawking's latest book, The Grand Design, was published in Eureka magazine in The Times, in which the professor said: "Because there is a law such as gravity, the Universe can and will create itself from nothing. Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the Universe exists, why we exist." Comfort, said, "It is embarrassingly unscientific to speak of anything creating itself from nothing. Common sense says that if something possessed the ability to create itself from nothing, then that something wasn't nothing, it was something -- a very intelligent creative power of some sort."
Wait, what? Here's Comfort's logic as I understand it: "If nothing can make itself into something, then the nothing isn't nothing, it's actually a super intelligent being". First of all, let me give you the disclaimer that I'm extremely skeptical of anyone that thinks they can say anything about the beginning of the universe. I obviously haven't read Hawking's book yet (it's not out) so I'll reserve judgement.

However, I'm at a loss as to how God suddenly coming into existence makes more sense than a homogeneous singularity suddenly coming into existence. As usual, the reaction from the fundies is "this is not what I believe, therefore it's wrong". It's hard to immediately reject just about any argument (unless it's seven headed dragons) without first reading the whole story (i.e. what was Hawking's line of thinking?).

Needless to say, the book should be an interesting read.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

362: The Bible, Now with Dragons

Revelation 9-12
"Then another sign appeared in heaven: an enormous red dragon with seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns on his heads." - Revelation 12:3

As you'll recall from yesterday, the seven angels are blowing their trumpets. This section picks up with the fifth angel blowing his trumpet. This causes yet another star to fall out of the sky. But this isn't a normal star. This "star" is referred to as "he" and "he" is given a key to an abyss.

"The abyss" is described as a giant furnace. I can only assume that this supposed to be hell. When the star opens up the abyss, a swarm of locusts come out. These locusts are given the powers of scorpions, in that they have stingers. These locusts are not actually given the power to kill people, but only to sting and torture them mercilessly.

That's not the only think peculiar about these locusts. They are described as looking like "horses prepared for battle". On their heads they are wearing crowns of gold, and they all have human faces. They also have long, womanlike hair, and breastplates made out of iron. What. The. Fuck. I don't think I actually have anything intelligent to say about this. Anybody who claims John wasn't on drugs when he wrote this needs to rethink their lives.

Next, the sixth angel sounds his trumpet. This causes the four angels who were bound up near the Euphrates to be released, killing one third of humanity. What four angels bound up near the Euphrates? Why is none of this ever mentioned in the other gospels, if this is legit? With these angels come horses with lion heads, that breathe sulfer-fire breath. I guess that seems pretty reasonable at this point.

We now take an almost two chapter long break from blowing trumpets (I suppose they're building the suspense for the final trumpet). In the meantime John sees an angel come out of the heavens. This angel is robed in a cloud with a rainbow over his head, with a face like the sun and fiery legs. So there is a naked, flaming angel coming out of the sky with a big rainbow over his head. I believe this holds the record for the gayest angel of all time.

This angel is holding a "little scroll". The angel plants his feet, one in the ocean and one on the land. He then shouts, and the voices of "seven thunders" speak. John says that he was about to write down what they said, but then an angel told him not to.

The angel voice then tells John to take the little scroll from the angel and eat it. No, that's not a typo. He's supposed to eat the scroll. This has actually happened already in Ezekiel, so I'm not sure why I'm surprised. After John eats the scroll, his stomach turns sour. No shit, eating an entire scroll will probably make you sick. Thanks for the insight, John.

The next story is about a creature from the abyss coming up to earth and killing a bunch of people. Their bodies lay in the streets for three and a half days, until God breathes life back into them. These newly formed zombies then go around terrifying people. They all then go up to heaven. Wait, why do they get to go to heaven? And why do I want to go to heaven if there are zombies up there?

Finally, the seventh trumpet is sounded. This causes the twenty-four elders to start worshiping God with even more vigor. Then heaven opens up, and the ark of the covenant is revealed. The ark of the covenant? I guess God just carries it around for shits and giggles now.

This is where it really gets crazy. I know what you're thinking, "how can it get crazier". That's easy: an enormous dragon!

Yes, along with a woman "clothed with the sun" with a crown of stars on her head, comes an enormous red dragon. This dragon has seven heads, all with crowns, and ten horns. The woman is about to give birth, so he waits near her to devour her child as soon as he comes out. Why doesn't he just eat the woman?

When the woman does eventually give birth, God snatches the child away. The woman then flees into the desert where she is taken care of for 1,260 days. At the same time, the dragon invades heaven, where he has an epic battle with the angel Michael, ending in the dragon (now called Satan) being cast out of heaven. Why did God allow this battle to happen? Why didn't he just snap the dragon out of existence?

The dragon, finding that he's back on earth, decides to go chasing after the woman again. God gives the woman great wings so she can fly away from the dragon. She then flies to a place in the desert where she will be taken care of for "a time, times a half a time". Wait, a time times a half a time (1 * 0.5) is just a half a time. Not that this gives us any clue as to how long she was actually protected for.

Finally, the dragon spews water out of his mouth to try to drown the woman. The earth (yes, the earth) seeing the woman is in trouble, swallows the water coming from the dragon. The dragon, frustrated, decides to go try to kill the woman's offspring. And that marks the end of today's giant clusterfuck of crazy.

*News*
What should Christians think about MMA (Mixed martial arts)? They should hate it because it's too violent:
Psalm 11:5 says, "The LORD examines the righteous and the wicked. He hates the lover of violence." This is a hard verse for at least two reasons. First, it does not say that God simply hates violence, but rather, that God hates those who love violence. Second, it confronts our culture's lust for violence, a lust which many Christians indulge rather than reject.
Really? You're really going to try to convince me that God hates violence? The bible is chocked full of instances of God not only committing, but condoning violence from the Israelites. That's not to even mention his orchestration of Jesus's crucifixion. For someone that hates violence, he certainly seems to be the perpetrator of a lot of it.
UFC and MMA amounts to violence porn, a term which has been applied to movies with wanton violence such as "SAW," where violence is not part of the plot, it is the attraction. Violence for violence's sake, as opposed to instrumental or redeeming violence, desensitizes the viewer to the graphic horror of watching two people pummel each other for the sake of entertainment. UFC and MMA offer exactly the kind of violence condemned in Psalm 11:5. Ezekiel 7:23 decries, "the city is full of violence." Why are Christians supporting violence in the city?
Desensitizes people? What the hell does the bible do then? What's killing a few hundred people in the name of defeating terrorism, if God has commanded that thousands be killed. That is being desensitized. In fact, I have witnessed Christians talking, bemusedly, about how much it must have "sucked" to be one of those worshipers of Baal in the Old Testament.

No, it doesn't just "suck", it is genocide. It is an atrocity. That's like laughing about how much it would have sucked to be a Jew in the holocaust. The other major difference is that Hitler, who killed millions, is hated. While God, who has also killed millions (if you believe the bible), is loved.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

361: Down the Rabbit Hole

Revelation 4-8
"In the center, around the throne, were four living creatures, and they were covered with eyes, in front and in back. The first living creature was like a lion, the second was like an ox, the third had a face like a man, the fourth was like a flying eagle. Each of the four living creatures had six wings and was covered with eyes all around, even under his wings. Day and night they never stop saying: 'Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come.' " - Revelation 4:6-8

This vision goes from moderately unreasonable (in biblical terms) to simply crazy. I realize that most people think this is "metaphor", but the bible gives no indication that that's how we're supposed to interpret it.

Jesus finishes dictating the letters, and John sees an open door to heaven. He hears a voice that says "come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this". Immediately John is swept up into heaven. When he arrives, he sees a man that looks like "jasper and carnelian" sitting on a throne with an emerald colored rainbow (what?) encircling him.

Around this throne are twenty-four other thrones. On these thrones are twenty-four "elders". In front of the main throne are seven blazing lamps, holding the seven "spirits of God". God is kept in seven pieces in lamps now?

Also around the main throne are four creatures, covered in eyes. Each of these creatures has six wings. One has the face of a man, one of an ox, one of a lion, and one of an eagle. These creatures seem like a weird amalgamation of Isaiah's seraphs (who have six wings) and Ezekiel's wheels filled with fire (covered in eyeballs). These creatures' only job is to sit around all day chanting "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come".

John then sees at the right hand of the person (thing?) on the main throne, a scroll. This scroll is sealed with seven seals. An angel asks if anyone can break the seals on the scroll, but nobody responds. John starts crying because nobody can break the seals. What does he care?

The angel tells him not to fear because the lamb of God has come to open the seals. John then sees a lamb, "looking like it's been slain". I'm going to presume this is Jesus, even though the bible says that it actually looked like a lamb. Is Jesus a shape shifter now?

We haven't gotten to the weird part yet (seriously). John describes this "lamb" (Jesus?) as having "seven horns and seven eyes". Even if this isn't Jesus, it's still the weirdest shit ever. Anyway, this seven-horned seven-eyed lamb-Jesus takes the scroll from the right hand of the jasper-man. After lamb-Jesus takes the scroll the entire cast of characters (eye-covered angels, elders, and jasper-man) bows down and sings songs about how awesome lamb-Jesus is (they just call him "the Lamb", capital L).

Lamb-Jesus then starts opening the seals. When he breaks the first seal the eye-covered angels yell "Come!" and a man rides in on a white horse carrying a bow. The bible refers to him as the "conquerer".

Jesus then breaks the second seal and the angels again yell "Come!". This time a man rides in on a red horse. This horseman is given the power to bring peace, or make people kill each other. He is also given a large sword.

The next seal is broken, and this time a black horse rides in carrying scales. One of the angel-creatures says "A quart of wheat for a day's wages, and three quarts of barley for a day's wages, and do not damage the oil and the wine!". What the hell does that mean? I don't think this is the right time to set the minimum wage.

The fourth seal is broken and the final horse rides in. This horse is pale, and it's rider is none other than Death himself. Followed closely behind this horse is "Hades". Hades? Is this someone different than Satan? I was under the impression that Hades was only followed in Greek mythology. Death and Hades are given a fourth of the earth to kill by the sword, plague, famine, or with wild animals.

When the fifth seal is broken, John sees, "under the altar", the souls of those who have been slain because of the word of God. They seem eager to have others suffer their fate, and ask God when the rest of humanity will be judged. They are all given white robes, and someone (God?) tells them to wait a little longer. Again we see indications that the end of the world is supposed to be only a little further in the future.

When the sixth seal is opened, there is an earthquake, the sun turns black, and the moon turns red. The bible also says that the "stars in the sky fell to the earth". Excuse me? How can the stars fall to the earth? Someone obviously doesn't understand that stars are thousands, if not millions of times larger than earth. Then the sky recedes like a scroll, and all the mountains and islands are removed from their place.

Lamb-Jesus then takes a break on the seal breaking. John says he sees four angels standing at the four "corners" of the earth. Right, because the earth is flat and has corners. These four angels are holding back the "four winds". Whatever that means. An angel then comes out of the east with the official "seal" of God. He then goes around putting God's seal on people's foreheads (144,000 in all). These 144,000 seals are distributed among the 12 tribes of Israel (12,000 each).

John then sees a hoard of people wearing white robes. John describes the number of people as too many to count. One of the elders asks John who all these people are. What? Aren't people in heaven supposed to have the knowledge of the universe, or something? John, who somehow knows, tells the elder that these people have come out of the great tribulation.

Lamb-Jesus then breaks the seventh seal. There is then silence in heaven for a half hour. Well that was massively anticlimactic. Then the "seven angels who stand before God" are given seven trumpets. Yes, we have yet another group of characters.

Yet another angel takes a golden censer and fills it up with fire from the altar. He then takes the fire and throws it onto the earth. What an ass hole.

The seven angels then sound their trumpets one by one. The first trumpet brings a hail of fire mixed with blood upon the earth. A third of everything on the earth is burned up with this fire-blood. The next trumpet brings a huge mountain that is thrown into the sea. A third of the sea is turned to blood, and a third of the sea creatures die.

The third trumpet brings down the star named Wormwood (I thought all the stars had already fallen). This "star" turns the water bitter and kills many people from drinking it. Right, because all the people aren't already dead from the mountain being thrown into the ocean or global fire-hail.

The fourth trumpet blocks a third of the sun. Wait, I thought the sun was already blotted out by the breaking of the seals. A third of the stars are also "struck". The stars have now fallen out of the sky from the breaking of the seals and been blotted out.

The cherry on top of this pile of bullshit is a magic talking eagle flying by. This eagle says "Woe! Woe! Woe to the inhabitants of the earth, because of the trumpet blasts about to be sounded by the other three angels". That's the most articulate eagle I've ever heard. The chapter ends there, you'll have to come back tomorrow to see the atrocities the other three trumpets bring.

tl;dr A seven-eyed, seven-horned lamb-Jesus broke seven seals, while six-winged animal-headed eyeball-covered creatures shouted "come" to four horses with magical powers. Sounds legit to me.

*News*
It just had to be today when someone tried to argue how wonderful the bible is:
I wonder why it is that Christianity and its tenets are so troublesome.

Is it because the Bible, above all other books, holds us more accountable for our actions and to a single God? Is it because we become threatened by the truth of our own lives when measured by such guidelines as “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” or “love your neighbor as yourself”?
No, it's because the Bible, above all other books, is unadulterated bullshit. Seven eyed goats? You really believe this shit? Anyway, *pissed off mode, deactivated*. Some people judge their lives on "do unto others as you would have them do unto you" without the bible. That's not even an original Christian idea (a quick wiki search of "The Golden Rule" is revealing).

The writer seems to forget that there are other Christian tenants besides the golden rule. Namely, the oppression of women and the acceptance of slavery. If all of Christianity was the golden rule, I don't see myself having a problem with it.
As a nation, we need to come back to what was fought for in 1776, and that was freedom.

Our forefathers fought for our right to express our beliefs without condemnation from others.

Our country was founded on Christian principles that should not be pushed aside just because another culture protests. Keeping America on its Christian foundations will let freedom reign.
Sorry, incorrect answer. The forefathers did not fight for the right to express beliefs without condemnation. In fact, the first amendment guarantees the right to express your condemnation of any religion you'd like. What is protected is your right to express your beliefs without government prohibition or endorsement.

Keeping America on it's foundation of creating a "wall of separation between church and state" (as Thomas Jefferson put it) is the only way of truly letting freedom reign.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

360: The Alpha and the Omega

Revelation 1-3
" 'I am the Alpha and the Omega,' says the Lord God, 'who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.' " - Revelation 1:8

Chapter 1 starts with the bible telling us that this is a revelation from Jesus to John. It says that "blessed is the one" who reads this text. It must be good.

John then greets himself and goes right into his story of how he received this revelation. John says that on the "Lord's day" he was "in the spirit" (aka high on drugs?) and he heard a loud voice behind him. When he turned around, he saw seven gold lampstands. Walking among these lampstands was a man with white hair, eyes that glow like fire, and feet that glow like bronze in a furnace. In his right hand he is holding seven "stars", and there is a double edged sword coming out of his mouth. There seems to be a slight misunderstanding of what a "star" is.

When John sees him, he falls on the ground and plays dead until Jesus tells him not to be afraid. I say this is Jesus, because he describes himself as being dead and alive again. I'm not quite sure how Jesus is speaking when there is a sword coming out of his mouth. Jesus goes on to say that he wants John to write a letter to the angels of the seven churches of Asia. The rest of today's section is Jesus dictating those letters to John.

First to the angel the church of Ephesus. Jesus first introduces himself as the one who "holds seven stars" and walks among the lampstands. Jesus goes on to say that he's proud of what they've done (or, I should say what the angel has done), but he'd like them to repent anyway. Wait, the angel has to repent? Who is he talking to? He says that if they do not repent, he will come take away their lampstand. I'm not sure what that means, I didn't even know they had a lampstand.

Next to the angel of the church of Smyrna. Jesus says that they should not be afraid of what they are going to have to suffer. He says that the devil is going to put them in prison for ten days. But if they are faithful Jesus will give them the "crown of life". I'm not sure why these are addressed to the angel of these churches. Jesus seems to be talking directly to the people. He even refers to them as plural (e.g. "some of you will suffer").

Third, to the church of Pergamum. Jesus refers to Pergamum as the place where "Satan has his throne". Doesn't Satan live in hell? Jesus also tells these people (or the angel?) to repent.

Next is the church of Tyatira. Jesus seems to be very upset that this church tolerates a woman named Jezebel. She apparently leads many of Jesus's servants into sexual immorality, and leads them to eat food sacrificed to idols. Jesus says that if adulterers don't repent, he is going to cast them onto a bed of suffering.

The fifth letter is to the church of Sardis. This time Jesus introduces himself as the one who holds the seven spirits of God. That seems like a very arbitrary number of spirits. Jesus says that those who have not "soiled their clothes" will not be blotted out of the book of life. Jesus really doesn't like it when you take a dump in your clothes hamper. Oh wait, was that a metaphor? I can never tell.

The sixth letter is to the church of Philadelphia. Jesus says that he has placed before them a door that can never be shut. He also says that since the people of Philadelphia have endured so patiently that they will be exempt from the hour of judgement. He ends the letter by saying that he is on his way "soon". Jesus has a pretty ridiculous definition of "soon".

The final letter is to the church of Laodicea. This time, Jesus introduces himself as "the Amen". Whatever that means. In this letter, Jesus berates the Laodicians for being neither hot nor cold, but lukewarm. Jesus, a famous hater of lukewarm food, says that he is going to spit the Laodicians out (why were they in his metaphorical mouth?). He ends with, of course, telling them to repent.

Does anyone actually take this book seriously?

*News*
One church has decided it's never too early to start bible lessons:
One Salt Lake area church believes babies are not too young to learn Bible stories.

The idea behind Bible study for babies at New Pilgrim Baptist Church is that hearing stories, touching objects, and seeing pictures will help children build a strong religious foundation.
Yes, you have to get in there and crush free thought before there's even the slightest chance of it's existence. The simple fact is that if you began indoctrinating someone when they were a baby, you could convince them to blindly worship a rock. If your religion is so perfect and true, why not teach them about Jesus when they're teenagers? Surely God has made a loophole for those younger than 10, who surely have no chance of fully understanding who/what Jesus is.
Reggy admits that some babies don't understand some of the activities all the time but what they manage to learn will have a lasting impact, especially if they stray from the fold for a while.

"Now we live in such a pluralistic society, they have a lot of choices out there," says Reggy. "We're praying that when they get to that age, that will be at least one of the options that will be available to them."

Reggy says more often than not, she sees kids in her congregation who have grown up learning the tenets of their Christian faith and those kids have grown into adults who live by those beliefs.

The youngest child in this year's class was 9 months old.
Isn't having to begin indoctrination at 9 months old to keep people in the pews a bit of a warning sign that your ideas might seem like bullshit to unbiased observers? You shouldn't be teaching your children your religion any more than you should be teaching them what political party they should belong to.

Of course, if we let them think for themselves, they might come to a conclusion that's not insane. And we can't have that.

(via KSL.com)

Monday, August 30, 2010

359: Three Books in One

2 John 1
"If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not take him into your house or welcome him. Anyone who welcomes him shares in his wicked work." - 2 John 1:10-11

This is the shortest book of the bible by verse and word count in the NIV. If my googling is correct, 3 John has the honor of being the lowest word count in the KJV.

That being said, I don't have a whole lot to say about his one. John says (to whoever he's writing to) that he's overjoyed at her children's finding Jesus. He then tells her to love everyone and follow "his [God's?] commands". Again, I'm not sure what he means by "commands". Old Testament commands? Commands of Jesus?

John goes on to say that if anyone comes to them and does not bring the teaching of Jesus that they should not let them into their house. This person is doing "wicked work".

John ends this letter by saying that he's saving the majority of his teachings for when he visits this woman in person. Hopefully we didn't miss any life changing revelations on account of John's brevity.

3 John 1
"Dear friend, do not imitate what is evil but what is good. Anyone who does what is good is from God. Anyone who does what is evil has not seen God." - 3 John 1:11

As if it weren't bad enough that 2 and 3 John are competing for the title of shortest book of the bible, they are also almost exactly the same.

John again starts out by saying that he is grateful that the children are "walking in the truth" with Jesus. And he again ends by saying that he's got a lot more to say in person.

John complains to whoever he's writing to that he wrote to the church, but the leader will have nothing to do with him. He says that this church leader will not even accept the brothers into the church.

John ends by telling his friend to imitate what is good, not what is evil. He also says that anyone who does evil has not seen God. Wait a minute. Just yesterday he said that no one had "seen" God.

Jude 1
"But even the archangel Michael, when he was disputing with the devil about the body of Moses, did not dare to bring a slanderous accusation against him, but said, 'The Lord rebuke you!' " - Jude 1:9

Jude starts out by saying that he was originally going to write about shared salvation, but decided it was more important to write about all the false teachers among them. These people, Jude says, are like the people of Sodom and Gomorrah. And he says they serve as an example of the people that will "suffer the punishment of eternal fire".

Jude says that these people even slander celestial beings (angels). To show how bad this is, Jude tells the people about the time when the archangel Michael was arguing with the devil about the body of Moses. You know, that time. Oh, right, the bible has never actually mentioned that incident before. Way to make that one up Jude.

Anyway, the moral of the story is that even the archangel didn't slander the devil. Therefore it's unfathomable that a mere human would slander a celestial being.

Jude ends by telling the people to persevere through all these false teachers.

Onward to Revelations!

*News*
You know you're crazy when an organization calling themselves a "Christian militia" says "whoa, that's over the line":
An armed Christian organization which had pledged to protect a Florida church as it holds "International Burn a Quran Day" withdrew its support from the event Wednesday, saying it "does not glorify God," according to a posting on its website.
It gets better:
Right Wing Extreme founder Shannon Carson told CNN. "We don't want to be a part of inciting violence and racism anymore."
Is this the twilight zone? Is it possible that they could have empathy for Muslims?

Maybe they just realized that "International Burn a Quran Day" is the dumbest idea ever. What is this event accomplishing? First of all, how about reading the Quran instead of burning it. I'd venture to say the vast majority of Christians (including the ones who plan on burning Qurans) have never read a word out of the Quran. Shouldn't you at least fix your ignorance before you show the world your idiocy?

Second, I can't even begin to imagine the repercussions if someone created "International Burn a Bible Day". More than just insulting the religion, it seems like a militant act.

In the end it's only going to piss people off. I'm not saying we should be stepping on eggshells so that we don't upset the Islamic world. But blatant provocation is probably a bad idea too.

(via CNN)

Sunday, August 29, 2010

358: The Antichrist

1 John 1-5
"Dear children, this is the last hour; and as you have heard that the antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come. This is how we know it is the last hour." - 1 John 2:18

We have yet another mysteriously written letter. It's written in the first person, but the writer never identifies himself or the people he's writing to. I'll call the writer "John" for convenience.

The first chapter (which is very short) is devoted to saying that God is light. John says that we must not "walk in the darkness" if we want fellowship with God. The chapter ends with John saying if anyone claims to not be a sinner, they are liars.

Chapter 2 begins by John saying that he is writing this letter so that the recipients will not sin. Wait, didn't he just say that sinning was inevitable? Indeed, he said that anyone who says they don't sin is a liar. John now says that if we happen to sin, that Jesus is there to give us salvation. John goes on to say that we must all love our brothers.

Midway through chapter 2, John tells us that we must not love the world, or anything in the world. In fact, if anyone loves the world, the "love of the Father is not in him". What? I know a lot of Christians that "love the world". John says that we shouldn't love the world because of all the sinful things that come out of it. Why can't we love the world for the good things that come out of it? By the way, John just told us to love our brothers. Aren't our brothers "in the world".

The rest of the chapter is about the "antichrist". John is another gospel writer that thinks the world is going to end any minute (any minute 2000 years ago). He says that the antichrist is coming, and many have already come. This clearly indicates, says John, that they are in the last hour. John goes on to give a very ambiguous description of the antichrist. He says that the antichrist is "the man who denies that Jesus is the Christ". Right, that narrows it down to about 4 billion people.

Chapter 3 begins with John going on and on about how great the love of God is. And how wonderful it was for him to send his son. However, he goes on to say that "no one who continues to sin has either seen [Jesus] or known him", and "No one who is born of God will continue to sin". So if you're a Christian you are no longer allowed to sin? In fact, if you do sin, you weren't even a Christian in the first place.

The rest of the chapter is about loving you "brother". The term "brother" seems rather ambiguous, but I'm assuming he means a fellow Christian. Which - of course - is nobody, based on John's definition of "Christian" being people who no longer sin. Anyway, John says that we should lay down our lives, like Jesus, for our Christian brothers.

John says that if we see someone in material need, and do nothing, we do not have the "love of God" in us. I find it hard to believe that this concept couldn't be applied to welfare, or universal healthcare. Why is the Christian right so opposed to giving their tax money to others?

Chapter 4 starts with John telling us to "test" spirits to see if they are from God. If these "spirits", whatever they are, tell us that Jesus was from God, then the spirits are trustworthy. If, however, the spirit does not acknowledge this, the spirit is from the antichrist. If you're having this much of an in depth conversation with a spirit you should probably be consulting the nearest mental health facility.

The rest of chapter 4 is about loving people. This time John says you should love your neighbor, not just your brother. He says that, though "no one has ever seen God", if we love each other then God will be in us. No one has ever seen God? If this isn't a biblical contradiction I don't know what is. Practically every character in the bible has "seen God" if you believe the bible's account of the story.

Near the end of the chapter John says "God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him". Does this mean we get to skip Jesus? I've been told numerous times we can't have a personal relationship with God without Jesus, but John seems to think that you just have to "live in love". The chapter ends with the command "Whoever loves God must also love his brother."

Chapter 5 is all about carrying out the commands of God. Wait, what are the commands of God? Old Testament law? I thought we weren't bound by that anymore. John then says, absurdly, that the commandments of God "aren't burdensome".

John then slips into some incoherent ranting. He says that there are "three who testify", the Spirit, the water, and the blood. Testify what? Is this the trinity? John also throws in this gem of stupidity: "We accept man's testimony, but God's testimony is greater because it is the testimony of God". My testimony is great, because my testimony is great. It makes perfect sense.

The chapter ends with John alluding to the unforgivable sin. John says that if a brother commits a sin that does not "lead to [his] death", then we should pray for him. However, John says, "there is a sin that leads to death". If a brother commits this sin we should not pray for him. I can only assume that this solitary sin is the unforgivable blasphemy.

*News*
Just in case you missed it, here's Glenn Beck from yesterday:


This wasn't at all what I was expecting, in that this was a sermon. My favorite part was when the "descendant of the people on the Mayflower" Pastor talked about how America has been forgiven for stealing the Indian's land in front of the descendant of one of those Indians. If anything, shouldn't he turn around and ask that guy for forgiveness?

It's interesting that a large crowd of (presumably) Christians, is perfectly ok receiving a religious lecture from a Mormon. Glenn Beck's delivery style seems to work out much better than the normal M.O.:


Saturday, August 28, 2010

357: 2 Peter

2 Peter 1-3
"They have left the straight way and wandered off to follow the way of Balaam son of Beor, who loved the wages of wickedness. But he was rebuked for his wrongdoing by a donkey—a beast without speech—who spoke with a man's voice and restrained the prophet's madness." - 2 Peter 2:15-16

This is yet another rather short letter from Peter. The letter starts with the standard praise for God/Jesus. He also tells the people he's writing to, to remember to be godly.

The rest of chapter 1 is Peter's first hand account of Jesus. Interestingly, he doesn't bother to mention any of the miracles Jesus was supposed to have performed. He doesn't mention Jesus raising people from the dead, feeding 5000, or healing people of their paralysis. The only verification he does mention is when he heard God say "This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased".

The entirety of chapter 2 is about false teachers. He says that these false teachers, like sinning angels, will be sent to hell. Peter goes on to give examples from the Old Testament where God punished the people, and saved people from destruction (e.g. Noah). He tells us that this means God knows how to punish ungodly people and save godly people.

Peter goes on to say that these false teachers are so bold and arrogant that they even slander angels. Was slandering angels ever forbidden? I don't think God has ever spoken directly about angels. He just sends them down to slaughter people.

Finally, Peter retells the story of Balaam and his talking donkey. He says that this talking donkey "restrained the prophets madness". He was prevented from going mad by a magical talking donkey? That sounds like a sign of his madness.

In the last chapter, Peter talks about the end of days. For once, he doesn't seem to think that the end of days is particularly imminent. Saying that one day seems like 1000 years to God. However, he backtracks a little, saying that the people he's writing to should strive to stay blameless so that when Jesus returns they will be saved. Shouldn't Peter know (through the Holy Spirit) that Jesus won't be coming for at least another 2000 years?

*News*
Should the bible be taken seriously? The bible says yes!
Is the Bible nothing more than an old superstitious book, with some fancy fairytales? Maybe you think it can't be taken seriously and has been basically disproved. It may contain some helpful truths…but you'll have to decide for yourself what's true and what's not. Here's what God says: All Scripture is God-breathed (2 Timothy 3:16). Prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit (2 Peter 1:21). Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth (John 17:17). Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than man's wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man's strength (1 Corinthians 1:20-25).
You can't show that the bible is legit by saying that God says so in the bible. You've circled right back around to the very thing you were trying to disprove. Namely: "you'll have to decide for yourself what's true and what's not".

After giving us this airtight proof of the bible's validity, the writer goes on to answer several questions about the nature of God. With this elegant prose of illogic we can also prove that Islam, Mormonism, Scientology, or any other religion with holy text is completely legit. At least make an attempt to prove the bible is legitimate from non-biblical sources.
He wrote a message for us. He's trying to get your attention today. He's speaking to you through his word…the Bible. He's teaching some powerful truths. He's telling you that he loves you, despite your best efforts to fight him out of your life, despite your sins and failings. By all rights he could have and should have given up on you for good…but He loved you enough to give up his life for you...literally. Jesus Christ is the Son of God and the Savior of the world. His sacrifice has taken away your sin and makes you right with God. Trust that truth. Keep learning and growing in that Word of God.
Despite my best efforts to fight him off? Fighting someone off would require that they be present, and be - in some way - effecting my life. I'm not "fighting off" Zeus, or Thor, or Odin in my every day life, in the same way I'm not fighting off Jesus. Now, if Zeus were following me around every day, in bodily form, then you could accuse me of fighting him off if I didn't believe.

Friday, August 27, 2010

356: 1 Peter

1 Peter 1-5
"Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed." - 1 Peter 4:12-13

This is another pretty standard (read boring) biblical letter. Chapter 1 starts with praise for God/Jesus. Peter also says that suffering and grief serve only to prove your faith genuine. Who are you proving your faith to? Doesn't God already know how faithful you are (or if you would fail a test of faith for that matter).

Chapter 2 compares Jesus to a "living stone". I don't suppose this is terribly surprising, his dad is constantly called a "rock". Peter then, like Paul, tells us that we must obey earthly authority, because our leaders have been appointed by God. In fact, he says that our leaders have been sent to "punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right". I wonder what God's rationale was with Hitler.

Peter next tells slaves to be obedient, even if they have a master that beats them for doing good things. Taking a beating is "commendable" to God. I guess getting beaten by your master is just another "test of faith" anyway.

Chapter 3 repeats the idea that women should be obedient to their husbands. Peter claims that if husbands see how obedient their wives are, they will be convinced of the power of God.The bible does mention that husbands should respect their wives, but only as the "weaker" partner.

The rest of chapter 3 and all of chapter 4 is about suffering. Peter says that, as a Christian, you should expect to suffer. And that's a good thing because it will bring you closer to Jesus. This sentiment is echoed in the words of Mother Teresa, "The suffering of the poor is something very beautiful and the world is being very much helped by the nobility of this example of misery and suffering". Needless to say, if all Christians followed this doctrine they'd be rather disinclined to actually help people.

Chapter 4 also mentions that "the end of all things is near". Why does every writer of New Testament gospel seem wholly convinced that the end of the world will happen in their generation? A better question: Why do people still think the biblical apocalypse is on it's way?

Chapter 5 talks about the young being submissive to the old. Peter also tells the old to be shepherds and teachers of the gospel.

*News*
Billy Graham wouldn't want us to join a cult:
[Question] Some people came to our door recently and offered to explain the Bible to us, which we let them do since we’d never thought much about God. But how do I know if they are a cult? I don’t want to get sucked into a cult, but they’re friendly and have interesting ideas.
I guess it depends on what you think the word "cult" means. The word cult can be defined as "formal religious veneration". Of course, that would apply to Christianity too, and Billy Graham can't have that:
Cults often claim that the Bible isn’t sufficient, and they add other books to it (usually written by their founder). Cults also claim that they, and they alone, know the way of salvation, and you must be a member of their group to be saved.
It's convenient that this definition seems to fit perfectly with Mormonism (they add books to the bible written by their founder). I didn't realize that it was so common with cults to add books to the bible. Billy lets slip a little that cults "claim that they, and they alone, know the way of salvation". Does Christianity not claim to know the only way to salvation?
The most serious disagreement between Christianity and cults, however, concerns Jesus Christ. The Bible clearly teaches that Jesus was God’s unique son — fully human and fully divine — sent from heaven to save us from our sins by his death on the cross. As the Bible says, “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23). Cults, however, deny this.
I was under the impression that Mormons did believe Jesus was divine. I guess by Billy Graham's definition, you could be a fanatical everyone-commit-suicide group, but as long as you agree that Jesus is fully human and fully divine (whatever that means) you probably don't have any serious disagreement with Christianity. He may as well just say what he means, "if you're not a Christian group, you're a cult".

Thursday, August 26, 2010

355: James

James 1-5
"You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord's coming is near. Don't grumble against each other, brothers, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door!" - James 5:8-9

James starts by telling us that we should be thankful when we run into hardship, because it's merely our faith being "tested". Presumably this "test" is being performed by God. However, James says that when we are tempted, we should not blame God because God doesn't tempt people to sin. Jesus didn't seem to be aware of this when he gave the disciples the Lord's prayer ("And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.").

Chapter 1 ends with James telling us to follow the words of the "law". It's unclear if James means the law of Jesus or the law of the Old Testament.

The letter continues with James forbidding favoritism, with respect to wealth. This is because the poor are "rich in faith". This is probably the first passage that's actually true to Jesus's teachings since we started reading Paul. James goes on to say that if you break one of the commandments of the law (he's clearly talking about Old Testament law now), that you are guilty of breaking all the laws. But wait, I thought we weren't under the law any more (according to Paul). There seems to be something fundamentally wrong about lying being just as bad as murdering in the eyes of God.

The latter half of chapter 2 is about doing good deeds, not just having faith. In fact, James goes so far as to say, "faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead". I know a lot of Christians that only ever go to church on Sunday, or give money to the church. The example James gives as action is "feeding the hungry". I don't think "feed the pastor with church donations" counts as feeding the hungry. I guess faith is dead.

Almost the entirety of chapter 3 is about not cursing. James goes on to give us several metaphors about how cursing can lead you astray. He compares your tongue to a rudder on a ship, and a spark that starts a forest fire. He also says that our mouths are like a spring, in that salt water (cursing) and fresh water (praising God) cannot come out of the same place.

Chapter 4 echoes some of the sentiments of Paul that we heard over and over again. Namely, don't quarrel among each other. James says that we should submit ourselves to God rather than quarreling among each other.

Chapter 5 is probably the most interesting chapter of James's letter. He implores the people he's writing to (whoever that is), to be patient for the coming of Jesus. He promises them that the coming of Jesus is near. What could he possibly mean aside from promising Jesus will be coming within his generation (which is what Jesus has said all along)?

James ends the chapter by saying if someone is sick in the church, they should ask the church elders to pray over them. This is surely where the idea that you don't need modern medicine came from. The children that have died of treatable illnesses as a result of "faith healing" should attest to the falseness of this claim.

*News*
This is just too stupid for words:
Why has President Barack Obama on at least two occasions told specifically Muslim audiences that America is a nation of -- among other things -- "non-believers"?
Yeah, why does Barack Obama pretend that there are some people that aren't religious in America? And why, for Jesus's sake, is he telling the Muslims?
The Pledge of Allegiance says America is one nation under God, our national motto says in God we trust, the Declaration of Independence says we are endowed by our Creator with certain inalienable rights and since the time of George Washington our presidents have placed their left hands on the Bible as they raise their right hands and swear to defend our Constitution.
"Under God" was added in the 1950's, our national motto was originally "E Pluribus Unum" ("One From Many"), and the founders probably meant "creator" in a decidedly more deistic sense than what this article is implying. [Way more info] Even if all these things were not the case, nobody is implying (or nobody should be implying) that the founders of the United States weren't violent defenders of freedom of religion.
The Census Bureau's official Statistical Abstract of the United States says a miniscule 0.7 percent of American adults -- or 1,621,000 out of 228,182,000 -- are atheists.
The smallness of the U.S. population number betrays just how old the study he's quoting is. Not to mention that "atheist" is not the only measure of non-belief. There are also agnostics, and people who simply say "none".

Here are the current statistics: First of all, the US population is estimated at a little over 310 million (not 228 million); according to a Pew research poll (done in 2008) 16.1% of the US population define themselves as "none", 1.6% and 2.4% refer to themselves as atheist and agnostic (respectively). Using 310 million, and combining atheist and agnostic (the groups that generally don't believe in God), the number comes out to a little over 12 million atheists and agnostics (as opposed to the writer's estimate of 1.6 million).

If you do this same combination of atheists and agnostics (4%), they out number the Jewish (1.7%) and Muslim (0.6%) populations combined. The question then becomes, if the president acknowledges Muslims and Jews (he does), why wouldn't he acknowledge non-believers?

The writer of the article spends several paragraphs giving instances where Obama spoke of religious diversity (including the phrase "non-believer"). I'll spare you his repetitiveness. Moving on:
Is Obama's repeated declaration -- including to Muslim audiences -- that America is, among other things, a nation of "non-believers" truly accurate? Does it comport with Obama's professed strategy of reaching out to the Islamic world and improving America's standing there by increasing understanding of our true nature as a nation?

The answers are: No and no.
First answer, yes (for the reasons stated above). Second, it may not "improve America's standing", but it certainly doesn't hurt us any more than saying we're a "Christian nation". Either way we're horrible infidels.

In the end, Obama is just trying to be as inclusive as possible in his religious diversity speeches. By mentioning Christians, Jews, Muslims, and non-believers he's probably included upwards of 98% of the US population. I didn't, until now, think it was possible to criticize someone for trying to highlight diversity and acceptance of others. Thanks, Terence Jeffrey, for lowering my opinion of humanity.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

354: Faith & Hebrews: In Review

Hebrews 11-13
"Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for." - Hebrews 11:1-2

Faith, according to the mysterious writer of Hebrews, is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. Sure of what we hope for? Unfortunately there's a disconnect between this line of thinking and reality. I hope I don't ever die, and I'm sure I won't ever die should not be the same statement (at least for those of us that are sane). There are many things I do not see (Santa, invisible unicorns, the easter bunny), but I don't blindly believe any of them.

The rest of chapter 11 is a list of Old Testament characters. The writer commends these ancients one by one for their faith. Interestingly, he refers to all of these people as having died. So it is possible to cease existing. Why does God feel the need to torment some people eternally (post-Jesus)? Why doesn't he just allow the good people into heaven and blink the other people out of existence?

There's also a bit of a problem here. These Old Testament prophets weren't operating on faith (faith having been just defined as things not seen). Moses was given a burning bush, and a cloud of fire. God spoke to Abraham in person and told him to kill his son. How were these acts of faith? I wouldn't require faith if God were holding conversations with me.

Chapter 12 tells us that we should accept "discipline" from God. When we suffer hardship this is really God disciplining us. Disciplining us for what? Aren't we forgiven from all of our sins? Even if hardship is discipline, why is God completely inconsistent in his discipline. The bible compares God all the time to a father (it makes the comparison here too). Isn't inconsistent punishment the first indicator of shitty parenting?

The chapter goes on to tell us to live in peace with everyone. But then immediately says that we should allow no one to be sexually immoral or Godless. These people will be "bitter roots" that will grow up and defile many. What happened to not judging each other? How can we live in peace if we have to rid ourselves of one another?

Chapter 13 starts by telling us to love each other as brothers. Again, we have to love each other, but certain people we have to get rid of. The beginning of the chapter also tells us to entertain a lot of strangers, because some people have accidentally ended up entertaining angels. Strangers can also be axe murderers. Somehow I think axe murderer is more likely than angel.

The final interesting thing in the chapter is a quote. "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever". I've actually had this very quote used to validate the theory that Jesus must have been around since the beginning of the universe. I guess it depends on how you want to define "the same". Was Jesus the same the day he died as the day he was resurrected?

Hebrews: In Review
As with the letters of Paul, I feel like I've been more enlightened about modern Christianity in this book than I was with Matthew/Mark/Luke/John. At least in those books there was some facade of legitimacy. Those were "first hand accounts". Even if that's not true, I can understand that people could be convinced of it's truth.

I could even go so far as to say that I can understand people's believing the words of Paul (even though he's pretty obviously full of shit). But believing the words of some random Israelite from ~2000 years ago is taking absurdity to a whole new level. What's the standard here? It's old? It sounds pretty? Even Paul himself admits there are people running around preaching the message of Jesus "incorrectly" around this time. Who's to say this isn't one of those people?

In the end this letter obviously failed to convert at least some of the Hebrews.

*News*
This article starts out well but goes down hill:
There should be no question about it: it is a violation of the entire ethic of modern education when "faith schools" teach alternatives to evolution for explaining humankind's origins. Critical education rests on imparting a sceptical approach to claims about the world, clearly contradicted by presenting as equal choices – as Erfana Bora suggests – religious dogma alongside reasoned, and continually contested, scientific truth claims.
The writer goes on to say the downside of our scientific progress is that some people (namely, atheists) have forgotten about an "important" area of study. Metaphysics:
Contrary to modernist folklore, metaphysics is not just some relic of pre-Enlightenment thought. In two ways its relevance persists. The first relates to our understanding of the world in ways that escape the empirical method. For instance, in my own doctoral research I am examining the idea of events: non-phenomena with no physical, or testable properties, yet which appear indispensable for making sense of questions relating to causality and transformation. Second, and more important, there are the big "Why?" questions that also play an irreducible role in existential thought about life: "Why is there something rather than nothing?" or "What happens to individuals' sense of existence after death severs individual existence?"
How exactly does one study events with no physical or testable properties? Do you sit around and wait for one of these "non-phenomena" to happen? How do you know when a non-event happens?

I understand that there are big "why?" questions. But if you can't answer them empirically I don't see the point in answering them at all. My "metaphysical" answer could be that the Flying Spaghetti Monster made the universe, and your answer could be something else entirely. What have we accomplished?

The writer then accuses atheists of not pursuing these big "why" questions. First of all, I don't think science can hope to answer "why" the universe began. It might eventually be able to determine "how" the universe began. And to say there is no one pursuing that problem is disingenuous. As for an after life, there is very little empirical evidence for any after life. That's not to say that nobody is "asking the question":
Of course, my argument runs against the grain of a lot of what you could call a strand of smug, self-satisfied atheist sentiment. When faced by the big questions that draw people to faith, all too often the self-righteous atheists' defence is to decline to enter into debates with the religious, by turning their own lack of reflection on such matters into a hallmark of maturity. "Unlike you, a believer," the smug atheist boasts, "I don't need to know everything, and I lack the hubristic will to know about life, the universe, and everything."
"I don't know" therefore I'm declining to have a debate about it, is different from "I don't need/want to know". How is it self-righteous to say that you don't know about something for which there is no empirical evidence? If someone asks me how the universe came into existence, I say I don't know. That's not because I don't want to know, or I just haven't looked hard enough. It's because there is no information. Am I supposed to make something up so I can have a debate?

I was reading through the comments, and someone had a much better rebuttal than mine:
I take it you'll be devoting a large chunk of the time on your doctoral thesis to studying the implications of the choice of sock colour made by the fairies at the bottom of your garden - thus making sure that your work doesn't run against the grain of a lot of what you could call a strand of smug, self-satisfied afairyist sentiment. - Or are you a hypocrite?

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

353: It's a Dreadful Thing

Hebrews 7-10
"It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God." - Hebrews 10:31

Chapter 7 seems to be trying to convince us how great Melchizedek was, and how Jesus is a priest like Melchizedek. Again, whoever this is, is just pandering to the Hebrews. If Jesus was a "priest on the order of Melchizedek" you'd think he, or one of the gospel writers, would have mentioned it. In fact, you'd think he would have used this argument to avoid execution.

Chapter 8 talks about a "new covenant". The writer says that Jesus's new covenant is better than the covenant of the Old Testament. Jesus does speak of a new covenant when he is telling his disciples to eat his flesh and drink his blood. Why doesn't the writer of Hebrews mention that you have to cannibalize Jesus to ratify this new covenant?

Chapter 9 starts by telling us all about the old tabernacle. As if I ever wanted to hear about the tabernacle again. The writer explains (needlessly, he is writing to Hebrews) that the priests could only enter the tabernacle once a year, and they had to enter with offerings (animal blood).

The writer goes on to compare this to Jesus. He says that Jesus entered his metaphorical ("Not of this world") tabernacle, and used his own blood instead of the blood of goats and cattle. The writer then asks us if the blood of goats can sanctify someone, how much more will the blood of Jesus sanctify us. Uh, I don't know. It kind of seems like comparing apples to oranges. I thought God didn't like human sacrifices anyway.

The bible then concludes that because we are so sanctified by Jesus, he is the mediator for the new covenant. The chapter ends with the bible saying that Jesus has once and for all sacrificed himself for our sins. However, Jesus will return to "bring salvation" to those who are waiting for him. Didn't he already bring us salvation?

The beginning of chapter 10 just reiterates that Jesus was sacrificed once and for all for all our sins. The end of the chapter, however, says that if we continue sinning after we have heard the knowledge of Jesus's salvation, no sacrifice for sins will be left. The writer says that people were killed for disobeying the laws Moses, and tells us to consider how much more someone would be punished for "trampl[ing] the Son of God under foot". He says that it is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of God. According to the writer of Hebrews, God is still the same fear inducing being that he's always been.

*News*
This is the Christian Post's review of John Loftus's "The Christian Delusion":
Like most of the contributors to The Christian Delusion John sets out fists a flyin’ with a cold slap from Isaac Asimov who barks out:

“Properly read, the Bible is the most potent force for atheism ever conceived.” (181)

It is right there that I got held up. Let’s call this sentence the “Village Atheist Challenge”. In order to analyze it, allow me to present a parallel. I call it the “Tree Hugger Challenge”:

“Properly driven, the Ford GT is the most potent force for horseback riding ever conceived.”
I didn't realize someone could "bark out" things in writing. Nor do I imagine that Isaac Asimov meant his words in spite. This "parallel" is probably the most obvious example of a straw man argument I've ever seen. Let's here more about this Ford GT:
“The proper way to drive the Ford GT is on a narrow, rugged dirt path. But it is horribly inept at doing this. Horses, by contrast, are very adept at doing this. So we ought to be riding horseback instead of driving GTs.”

I dare say, with a rationale like that our tree hugger doesn’t know if he is afoot or horseback. How would you respond to this reasoning? Would you fall off your chair? Hurl a quart of Penzoil at the tree hugger in disgust? Pull out all your bling that sports the Blue Oval and provocatively jangle it in his dreadlock-framed face? Whatever you might do, you certainly would not be satisfied with his explanation.
I'm not even sure what this has to do with the bible any more. First of all, I think there's a fundamental misunderstanding of what Asimov meant by "properly". I don't think he meant "correctly", I think he meant "thoroughly". I base this assumption (not knowing the context of his quote) by how throughly Asimov read the bible. In fact, he wrote a 1296 page book about it.

Most people read the bible, but they don't give it a proper reading. That is, they quote mine and pick at the good parts, and then conclude that it must only say good things. Anyway, lets pretend for a moment that Asimov thought he had figured out the "proper" way to read the bible. Back to the straw man:
Here’s the obvious problem: his rationale is silly and question-begging. On my view, the GT was meant to be driven on the Nürburgring or Route 66, not on a rutted horse path. And so long as I find it so enormously capable of driving in those conditions I shall continue to do so.
Again, the writer of this article is doing a great job of ripping down his straw man, but he's still not actually talking about the original statement. It's not even a good analogy. The analogy would imply that the bible is only good in some situations, which most Christians would vehemently deny.
Now back to the Village Atheist Challenge. What, according to Isaac Asimov, is the proper way to read the Bible? One that assumes it commends immoral behaviors and actions which are inconsistent with the authorship of a divine being. (You see, Asimov is an atheist to begin with so of course this is how he reads the Bible.)
There's no assumption, the bible does condone (if not commend) immoral behaviors. The bible regulates slavery, I see no way you could honestly read the bible and deny that. But, in fact, it was only after I read the bible that I knew most of the immorality it commanded (killing people for adultery, killing people for being homosexual, subjugating women, and many more). I made no assumption (nor do I think Asimov did) about what the bible contained before I read it (except possibly making some overly positive assumptions about Jesus).

Monday, August 23, 2010

352: Don't Crucify Jesus

Hebrews 1-6
"It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age, if they fall away, to be brought back to repentance, because to their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace." - Hebrews 6:4-6

Hebrews is another letter, and it's actually more than one day long. This time, finally, the letter is not written by Paul (or, attributed to Paul I should say). This letter seems to be solely dedicated to convincing the Jews that they can achieve salvation through Jesus.

The introduction has some strange revelations. The writer says that it was through Jesus God created the universe. And that Jesus is the "exact representation of his being".

First of all, why didn't we hear about Jesus in the book of Genesis, or anywhere else for that matter? One could argue (unconvincingly) that there are references to Jesus's eventual existence in the Old Testament. But there is certainly no mention that he already existed in the Old Testament times. You'd think the messiah being right there while God was creating the universe (or Jesus doing the creating himself) would at least be worth a mention.

Second, how is Jesus an exact representation of God's being? If this is meant to be a physical description, God is generally described as a ball of fire, or made out of metal. If this is meant to be a character description, Jesus seems to defy most of the Old Testament laws. How can God defy himself?

The rest of the first chapter is devoted to quoting scripture to convince the Hebrews that Jesus is superior to the angels.

Chapter 2 begins by saying that we should not ignore the salvation of Jesus. This salvation was apparently testified by God through various "wonders and miracles" and by passing out the Holy Spirit according to his will.

Chapter 2 continues, giving us the same spiel about Jesus sacrificing himself for our sins. The bible then says that Jesus had flesh and blood, and was tempted like men. Later in Hebrews this is clarified to being tempted in every way. The problem here is that Jesus says anyone who looks upon a woman lustfully (the only way I can imagine you'd be tempted) has already committed adultery. The real issue here is, how can you be tempted without thinking about it?

Chapter 3 tells us that Jesus is superior to Moses. This is because Moses is but a servant and Jesus is the son. The chapter ends by saying that those who don't believe in Jesus will not be able to enter "God's rest".

In chapter 4 this mysterious Godly "rest" is clarified (sort of). This "rest" is really a sabbath rest. But not the sabbath rest of the Old Testament. This is a new sabbath rest, through Jesus, that only happens after you die. That is, the new sabbath rest is heaven (at least that's what I can discern from this chapter).

The end of chapter 4 is when Jesus is said to have been tempted "in every way" yet remained free of sin. By Jesus's definition of sin, this seems rather impossible. It also seems like you'd have to have a certain level of depravity to be tempted in every way possible. Was Jesus, for example, tempted to [insert the strangest sexual fetish you can think of]?

In chapter 5, the writer tries to convince us that Jesus was a "high priest". The bible says that after Jesus died, he was appointed to be a high priest in the order of Melchizedek. I'm not sure how the writer of Hebrews figured out that God had done this. All this high priest business seems to be solely for the benefit of Jewish readers.

Chapter 5 ends by saying that the writer has a lot to teach the Jews but it's hard because they're so slow to learn. Maybe if the writer would stop speaking in vague half-metaphor it would be easier to comprehend. Also, what makes this guy an expert on all things holy? At least the other books were written by "eye witnesses" or "friends of eye witnesses" or Paul (that's a whole different story). Now it's just some guy telling us what we should believe. Is "sounds good" the sole criteria for making it into the bible?

In chapter 6 the writer begins the arduous task of explaining Jesus to us. Because we, and the Jews, are apparently idiots. The writer promises to explain to us "baptisms, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment".

The first lesson is that people who have found Jesus, but subsequently turned away from him are actually recrucifying Jesus and subjecting him to public disgrace. The Catholics must love that one. I guess this is a metaphorical crucifixion, otherwise Jesus is being constantly crucified by millions of ex-Christians. The writer says that, because these ex-believers have crucified Jesus, they cannot be "brought back to repentance". Is this another one of those unforgivable sins?

Our education by some random guy will continue tomorrow.

*News*
We haven't had a good completely-misunderstands-atheism letter recently:
The author of The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins for example doesn’t believe in God (admittedly of the Abrahamaic tradition for the most part) because He is an abrasive, angry, jealous, vengeful being who constantly plays favourites, commits genocide and delivers plagues on a regular basis — besides testing followers’ faith from time to time and demanding human sacrifice. It’s really no big deal rejecting this. So Dawkins doesn’t believe in a God he wants to believe in.
Of course, Dawkins never says that's the only God he doesn't believe in. In fact he clarifies that he doesn't believe in any God (including Zeus, Thor, etc). I don't think any legitimate atheist is arguing that the sole reason for their disbelief in God is his personality. His childish douchebaggery is more like icing on the cake of his nonexistence.
As for those who say their atheism rejects the existence of any divinity, it makes no sense. How can something that doesn’t exist be rejected? At least the very worst that can be said of believers is that they conjure up a God out of nothing and then accept it as real. But the very worst that can be said of atheists is they do the same thing and then reject it as unreal. It’s an act of faith by both. Say this about the power of faith — we can’t seem to live without it.
I reject the existence of Santa and the Flying Spaghetti Monster. Did I just prove their existence by rejecting them? Did I just take a position of faith? I think the confusion here is that I'm rejecting the idea of Santa, not the person of Santa. I don't imagine that I've somehow conjured Santa into existence so I can reject him.

Faith is belief in the absence of evidence. I have disbelief in the absence of evidence. I think they call that, oh what's the word, sanity.

 

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