Saturday, April 3, 2010

210: The (Other) Virgin Birth

Isaiah 5-8
"Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel." - Isaiah 7:14

The first part of chapter 5 is a rolling metaphor about Israel being destroyed by God. God calls all of the Israelites "bad grapes". And I guess when your vineyard is producing bad grapes, you have to burn the vineyard. Is it better to have bad grapes or no grapes, God?

The rest of the chapter is a list of "woes". The majority of these woes are people who drink too much. "Woes to those who rise early in the morning to run after their drinks," and, "Woe to those who are heroes at drinking wine and champions at mixing drinks." Sorry, bartenders, God hates you (while simultaneously loving you, as usual).

The beginning of chapter 6 is interesting. Isaiah says that he sees God sitting on a throne, with six winged seraphs flying around him.

Seraphs and God

Isaiah starts screaming because he thinks he's going to be killed. One of the seraphs flies down to him and touches Isaiah's lips with a hot piece of coal. The seraph then says, "See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for." First of all, Isaiah just had his face touched with a hot coal and he doesn't seem to care. Second, why didn't God just atone for everyone's sin by touching them with coals instead of doing the whole Jesus thing?

God then tells Isaiah this:
He said, "Go and tell this people:
" 'Be ever hearing, but never understanding;
be ever seeing, but never perceiving.'

Make the heart of this people calloused;
make their ears dull
and close their eyes.
Otherwise they might see with their eyes,
hear with their ears,
understand with their hearts,
and turn and be healed."
Is God telling Isaiah to go confuse the people so they will die? God goes on to say that he should close their eyes until their cities are ruined and everyone is dead. Why is our all loving God telling Isaiah to go lead everyone to their death?

Chapter 7 is probably the most talked about chapter of Isaiah. Isaiah tells the king of Israel (Ahaz, at the time) that God will send a sign. The sign will be a virgin birth. The name of the child will be (*Drum roll*) Immanuel. This is taken to be a prophecy of Jesus' birth. To me, Immanuel is clearly not Jesus. Isaiah implies that this miracle will happen within Ahaz's lifetime (otherwise it wouldn't be much of a sign), and obviously Jesus is named Jesus, not Immanuel. So Jesus is, in fact, not the only virgin birth in the bible. By the way, in today's section we never hear about Immanuel actually being born, maybe later on in the book of Isaiah (though I suspect not).

All of chapter 8 just describes how God is going to use Assyria to destroy Israel.

I didn't think I was going to church this Easter, but I may just be flying down to Texas to go to Bay Area Fellowship Church in Corpus Cristi.

Why, you ask? They are giving away 2 million dollars worth of prizes to anyone that attends this Easter. The prizes include 16 cars, 15 flat-screen TVs, and furniture sets. The church got businesses from all around to pitch in, in an effort to get people to come to church that wouldn't otherwise. The pastor says, "They're coming for the loot and they're going to leave with Jesus."

While I commend the effort, I predict that exactly zero people will be saved by this. And on top of that, two million dollars that could have gone to help needy people has just been wasted. They seem to be under the false impression that all someone needs to be converted is to step foot inside a church and hear the message of Jesus. Not to mention that Jesus is probably rolling in his grave ("One thing you lack," he said. "Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me." - Mark 10:21).

What's next, paying people to say they believe in Jesus? ($40,000 a year should do)

(via The Christian Post)

Friday, April 2, 2010

209: Does God Care If I'm Gay?

Isaiah 1-4
"The LORD says, 'The women of Zion are haughty, walking along with outstretched necks, flirting with their eyes, tripping along with mincing steps, with ornaments jingling on their ankles. Therefore the Lord will bring sores on the heads of the women of Zion; the Lord will make their scalps bald.' " - Isaiah 3:16-17

We finally get to hear from God again today. Almost the entirety of today's section is God speaking through Isaiah. Unfortunately, it's nothing new or particularly exciting. Israel has been naughty again, and God is telling them how he's going to destroy them if they don't straighten up.

Chapter one starts with God being rather dumbfounded as to why Israel is still being bad. He says that all of their cities are burned, their fields are stripped, and they've been beaten. Maybe corporal punishment doesn't work? One of my favorite quotes from Albert Einstein seems particularly relevant here, "The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results." By this definition God is completely insane. He keeps beating the Israelites and burning their cities, and it's not working. Try something else, God!

God goes on to say he doesn't want the Israelites' meaningless offerings anymore. I'm not sure why he wanted them in the first place. What does God care if some measly little humans kill some insignificant animals?

Again, God says that if they go back to God's way they will be forgiven. Those who are still alive that is. At this point, God can't seriously think that the Israelites are going to turn around and stop being bad (actually, he should know they're not going to). It has to be almost 10 times now that the Israelites have gone against God's will.

Chapter 1 ends with God promising to straighten out the Israelites. So he's essentially saying "we can do this the easy way, or the hard way."

Chapter 2 talks about the "last days". It says mostly that in the last days the mountain of God will be raised above all the other mountains and everyone will want to go there. Well, we must not be toward the end of days then, because I don't even know what mountain they're talking about.

For the last couple of chapters God just goes on and on about how the Israelites have been bad. He says the women have been running around flirting (oh no!) so he's going to make them bald, and give them sores. He says he's going to make their perfume into a stench. Why are the women getting the rough end of this deal? I'm sure the guys they were flirting with weren't going "no, please stop, we hate flirting!"

Recently, billboards like this were found on Ontario buses.

When you went to their website, you got the answer "based on the Bible". Unfortunately, the Toronto transit system was so offended by this that they had this particular sign removed, saying that the content pointed to in the ad was "inappropriate". Seemingly in agreement, (aka Bus Stop Bible Studies) pulled it's answer to this question from it's website. If you go to the website now, all you get is a message saying why the content was removed.

Fortunately for the curious among us, what goes on the internet, takes awhile to get off the internet. Google still had the full text of the answer cached, and I caught it before it went into oblivion. Here is the original answer:
The quick answer is “Yes”. God cares about us and all aspects of our lives.

To answer the main question “Does God care if I’m gay [homosexual]?” one must place the matter in context by asking and answering several other questions:
[Show Full Text]
I personally didn't find the answer (or the sign) offensive at all. There is much more offensive anti-gay rhetoric out there, and I don't think these people were being dishonest from a biblical perspective. Do I disagree? Yes, but I don't think we should be taking down their signs, or pressuring them to take things off their website just because they have a different opinion. I think I just mentioned this a few days ago, even if I had found this sign offensive, I still don't think it should be removed. That's freedom of speech in practice.

(via The Vancouver Sun)

Thursday, April 1, 2010

208: Bible: Now Mandatory

Song of Solomon 1-8
Like an apple tree among the trees of the forest is my lover among the young men. I delight to sit in his shade, and his fruit is sweet to my taste. - Song of Solomon 2:3

Finally, we're at the Song of Solomon! I've been promised the most raunchy book of the bible.

The song is divided up into "Beloved", "Friends" and "Lover" sections. "Beloved" is the woman, and "Lover" is the man (Solomon). Friends are just random other people.

The book starts out with the woman fantasizing about kissing Solomon and bringing him back to her room. She talks about them sitting at a table, and how the smell of her perfume spread around the room.

The beginning of chapter two starts this "garden" metaphor that goes throughout the rest of the book. By the way, I know it's a metaphor (technically a simile, don't hurt me English majors) because it uses the word "like". If the rest of the bible used the word "like" when they were alluding to something else, I might actually understand what they were trying to say. For example:
Like an apple tree among the trees of the forest
is my lover among the young men.
I delight to sit in his shade,
and his fruit is sweet to my taste.
Yes, he's a tree, and she's tasting his fruits. I don't need a dirty mind to get that one.

The rest of chapter 2 talks about running around like gazelles.

Chapter 3 is the woman telling a story about how she woke up in bed and her lover was gone. She went to the city to look for him. She eventually found him and wouldn't let him go. Some time later she talks about seeing Solomon's carriage, and how wonderful and rich he looked.

Chapter 4 starts with Solomon describing how beautiful the woman is. In a modern sense, he fails miserably, but I'm sure it was great 3000 years ago.
How beautiful you are, my darling!
Oh, how beautiful!
Your eyes behind your veil are doves.
Your hair is like a flock of goats
descending from Mount Gilead.
Your hair is like a flock of goats? That's kind of like saying "your body is as wonderful as a cow". I've never noticed goats having great fur. Unfortunately, this failure in seduction isn't over yet:
Your neck is like the tower of David
Your hair is like goats, and your neck is long and skinny. Classy, David.

This book keeps getting more creepy, "How delightful is your love, my sister, my bride!" What? I certainly hope he means "sister" in the figurative sense.

After he's done describing the woman, she wants him inside her garden (*wink wink*):
Awake, north wind,
and come, south wind!
Blow on my garden,
that its fragrance may spread abroad.
Let my lover come into his garden
and taste its choice fruits.
Solomon doesn't need to be asked twice, he starts eating away at the beginning of chapter 5. The woman then describes Solomon, with quite a bit more success at not making him sound disgusting.

Solomon then describes his beloved again, this time saying her nose is like a tower. Well, they are Jewish (sorry, I couldn't help myself). He, again, makes her sound less than desirable. Finally, he says that her breasts are like fruits, and he wants to grab them.

The last chapter is about how the woman wishes Solomon was her brother, so they could kiss without people questioning them. That's more than a little creepy.

Overall, the Song of Solomon wasn't that bad. But they must have forgotten to include, "Oh by the way, don't eat those fruits till you're married."

In a shocking decision today, the supreme court declared that a Texas law, making bible reading mandatory, was constitutional.

After being arrested for publicly refusing to read the bible, Patrick Miller of DeSoto, Texas sued the Texas government (with the help of the ACLU). The seemingly obviously unconstitutional law was passed in 2006 with the blessing of many Texans. One woman said this:
I think this law will protect our state from those damn heathens. All you need is a little scripture and your life will be all straightened out.
The law states that all Texans must read the bible for at least 30 minutes a day. Unfortunately, the supreme court failed to see how this violated the first amendment rights of the people of Texas. As of today, police are on heightened alert, making sure everyone reads their bible for the allotted time.

Kansas and Louisiana plan to pass similar laws within the year.

(via Fox News)

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

207: The Dead Know Nothing & Ecclesiastes: In Review

Ecclesiastes 9-12
"Enjoy life with your wife, whom you love, all the days of this meaningless life that God has given you under the sun— all your meaningless days." - Ecclesiastes 9:9

Chapter 9 is one of the first places in the bible that what happens after you die is talked about. You go to heaven if you're good, and hell if you're bad. Right? Wrong:
For the living know that they will die,
but the dead know nothing;
they have no further reward,
and even the memory of them is forgotten.

Their love, their hate
and their jealousy have long since vanished;
never again will they have a part
in anything that happens under the sun.
The dead know nothing? Where is this afterlife I've been promised by so many Christians? I don't see how anyone can read Ecclesiastes and leave thinking every word of the bible is the word of an all perfect God. This is the perfect example of two conflicting narratives in the bible. This one says there is nothing after you die, everywhere else (I presume) says that there is an afterlife.

Solomon tells us to enjoy all the days of our meaningless lives. Thanks Solomon. You sure know how to brighten my day.

As if we didn't feel bad enough, Solomon calls some of us fools. "The heart of the wise inclines to the right, but the heart of the fool to the left." So you're a fool if you're left handed? Unless "right" and "left" have some wonderful metaphorical meaning.

Solomon finishes out the book by saying that young people should enjoy themselves while they're young. He mentions that God is going to judge you for enjoying yourself, but I guess you're supposed to do it anyway. His reasoning for this is that after you're young, you're going to realize that everything is meaningless so you won't be able to enjoy it anymore.

In the last paragraph, the speaker says everything said in Ecclesiastes is wise and true. So where am I going after I die, bible!?

Ecclesiastes: In Review
Ok, today made it official, this is the most contradictory book in the bible. My teen study bible keeps telling me that this is someone that's "fallen away from God". But that's not what the bible says. In fact, the bible explicitly says that all the words in this book are wise and true. If I had opened up the bible and flipped to this section, I would have a completely different view of the universe (namely, that everything is meaningless). The bible is a perfect book how?

Ecclesiastes says dozens of times that life is meaningless. How can every word of the bible be completely inerrant if these words so clearly contradict all of the others.

Should this sign be taken down?

My answer is an unequivocal no. This sign is absolutely protected under freedom of speech.

One atheist was so offended by this sign that he is filing suit to have it removed. I certainly hope his attempt fails. First of all, I think if you're offended by this sign, you're a little too sensitive. Second, even if this sign read "Atheists are complete idiots, and they have no friends" it's still protected under the first amendment. If we ban everything that offends anyone, then nothing will be allowed.

Don't think I'm picking on atheists. The Indiana atheist bus campaign had to go to court to be able to put "In the beginning, Man created God" on Bloomington buses. Free speech goes both ways.

(via News 24)

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

206: Atheist Day

Ecclesiastes 5-8
"In this meaningless life of mine I have seen both of these: a righteous man perishing in his righteousness, and a wicked man living long in his wickedness." - Ecclesiastes 7:15

In chapter 5, Solomon (or whoever is talking), talks about how riches are meaningless. Again, this is all very pessimistic, yet surprisingly insightful (though I may be biased, based on how un-insightful the bible usually is). He says that whoever has money will never have enough. Even when you have all the riches in the world you still want more. This makes money meaningless (I guess). Is Solomon being a Communist?! Riches can't be meaningless. I see why Glenn Beck is telling people to leave their churches.

Solomon eventually concludes that it's good for a man to toil meaninglessly, because that is the lot he's been given by God. Huh? So you're either toiling endlessly for nothing, or you're toiling endlessly for God. That's so much more meaningful.

Solomon also thinks it's meaningless for men to gain prosperity and not enjoy it. Unfortunately, his example of prosperity is a little dated, "A man may have a hundred children and live many years; yet no matter how long he lives, if he cannot enjoy his prosperity and does not receive proper burial, I say that a stillborn child is better off than he." Yes, that's what makes everyone happy, a hundred kids. These days you get a TV show about how terrible your life is if you have eight kids. Also, if you don't have a proper burial, you are better off being stillborn. Sorry, millions of people that get cremated.

In chapter seven, Solomon talks about even more of his pessimism. He says that the day of death is better than the day of birth. He doesn't say this is because the dead person is going to heaven, but because it's better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting. Apparently mourning is good for the heart, and makes a man wise. Or maybe Solomon is feeling gloomy and emo so he thinks everyone else should feel the same way.

Solomon says that he's seen people live long lives, yet be wicked, and live short lives but be completely righteous. This isn't the first time this has been said in the bible, and I still think it contradicts the concept of an all powerful, all just God.

The last chapter today is about how everyone should obey the king. And who said the bible wasn't biased? Solomon (the king) says that whoever obeys the king shall come to no harm. Yeah, right.

Reverend James Snyder has a hilarious/infuriating (I choose hilarious) view of the proximity of Easter and April Fool's Day this year.
What [my wife] was referring to were the two holidays celebrated within several days of each other. The first being, of course, April Fools' Day and the second, Easter Sunday. I had to agree with her it was rather a strange sort of affairs. There could not be two more diverse holidays to celebrate then these.

On the one hand, we have April Fool's Day. This is the primary atheist holiday and I base that on the Bible. "The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God. They are corrupt, they have done abominable works, there is none that doeth good" (Psalms 14:1 KJV).

[Emphasis is mine]
Atheists have a holiday?! Woo! As I said in the opener, I can either choose to find this hilarious or infuriating. This one is so ridiculous that I have to laugh. He was likely being facetious, but just in case he was serious, you can follow this link to read all about the origins of April Fool's Day. I promise it has nothing to do with atheism.

The absurdity continues:
Of course, I do not believe in atheists. I have never met an atheist in my entire life. I have met people who said they were atheists, but I never believed it. Every time an atheist gets in trouble, he blames it on God. Remember 9/11? Now, if he really does not believe in God, why does he blame things on God?
Yeah, 9/11, all the atheists blame God for that. Wait, what?! What the hell are you talking about? I have to admit, I haven't heard this one. Congratulations Reverend Snyder on reaching a whole new level of absurdity.

I maybe blame 9/11 on religion (that's not God). But mostly I blame it on the hijackers, and the people who orchestrated the hijackers. Would the attacks have happened without religion? Maybe not. But if I've learned anything from reading the bible, it's that you can make holy texts say whatever you want them to say. Not only that, you can make people believe your interpretation. So no, Reverend, I don't blame "God".

But wait! There's more crazy:
Take the controversy between evolution and creationism. After all the efforts by so-called experts, nobody has come up with any solid proof supporting the theory of evolution. Despite the labors of many to prove otherwise, the evidence supporting creationism is overwhelming. For someone to reject solid facts and then cling on to an unproven theory has to be the epitome of foolishness.


As my wife and I continued talking about this, she made a very good point. Her point being, that after 2,000 years of vicious attacks on the Bible to prove it wrong, nobody has ever come up with any proof that it is false. Not one word of the Bible has ever been proven to be false or in error.
First of all, more than you ever wanted to know about evolution, and 261 citations if you don't believe Wikipedia. Saying there is no evidence is just blatant intellectual dishonesty. As for the second paragraph, there are internal inconsistencies within the bible. What more do you need to prove that the bible is in error? Beyond internal inconsistencies, it's hard to prove that anything is false. For that matter, it's hard to prove that anything is true. But again, saying that no part of the bible is incorrect is intellectually dishonest.

Unfortunately, the Reverend didn't look very far ahead on his calendar. In 2018, Atheist Day and Easter are the same day! That's going to be a very confusing holiday.

(via The Post Chronicle)

Monday, March 29, 2010

205: Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust

Ecclesiastes 1-4
"All go to the same place; all come from dust, and to dust all return." - Ecclesiastes 3:20

Oh boy, Ecclesiastes is worse to type than Deuteronomy. Ecclesiastes, Ecclesiastes, Ecclesiastes... Got it.

The title of the first chapter is "Everything is Meaningless". This should be an inspiring day. The speaker is a son of David (Solomon, presumably, but the bible never says explicitly). He basically says that life is meaningless, because everything you do or say will eventually be forgotten. The sun and the earth continue in their orbits regardless of what you do in your life. I don't know what's turned a son of David into such a Debbie downer. Though this passage is incredibly pessimistic, it also seems insightful. The questions he asks, and the things he brings up are things we all need to answer for ourselves. What is the meaning of life? Why are we here? (It's definitely not within the scope of this blog to answer those questions :D)

After he tells us that everything is meaningless, he goes on to categorize things, and call them meaningless one by one. His first target is wisdom. He says that he has gained the most wisdom in all of Jerusalem, and it's all turned out to be meaningless. In fact, he says that the more knowledge he has gained, the more sorrowful he's been (ignorance is bliss?).

He then goes on to pleasure. Yes, even pleasure is meaningless. He says that he did everything that he could imagine that was pleasurable, he built houses, planted fruit, and acquired a harem. Still, even after all of this, he decided that life was meaningless.

The next thing he tried was being wise, and being a fool. He decided that being wise was better than being a fool. But in the end he concluded that both were meaningless because both the wise man and the fool will be soon forgotten after they die.

Next he started to grieve. Because he realized that if everything in life was meaningless, then all of the work he had done in his life was also meaningless.

I have a fun fact in chapter three. Many of you have probably heard the phrase "Ashes to ashes, dust to dust". What you may not have known is that this phrase isn't found anywhere in the bible. The closest we get to the phrase is from this forlorn son of David, "All go to the same place; all come from dust, and to dust all return." (Ecclesiastes 3:20) It's interesting that this is said at so many funerals when, in context, it's so pessimistic. You're essentially saying "your life was meaningless" when you say that at someone's funeral.

Chapter four just repeats that work is meaningless.

I hope nobody is reading Ecclesiastes wanting to make themselves feel better about life.

In honor of Easter week, we need some Jesus news. Molleindustria has created a 10 second game called "Run, Jesus Run" based on the life of Jesus. This is far more fun/awesome than it sounds.

Run, Jesus Run: Level 1

You're supposed to read each passage in the upper right hand corner and act based on that passage. However, since I haven't gotten that far, it turned into some enjoyable button mashing. The final scoring system is in "apostles". I got 12 apostles, can you?

(via Molleindustria [Run, Jesus Run])

Sunday, March 28, 2010

204: The Mystery of Three and Four & Proverbs: In Review

Proverbs 30-31
"The eye that mocks a father, that scorns obedience to a mother, will be pecked out by the ravens of the valley, will be eaten by the vultures." - Proverbs 30:17

Psalm 30 is written by Agur, who is some random oracle.

Agur asks two things of God. He asks God to keep falsehood away, and he asks that he not have poverty or riches. Agur is convinced that if he's given riches that he will forget all about God, and that if he has poverty he will have to steal and dishonor God.

This is a phrase I don't understand "There are three things that are never satisfied, four that never say, 'Enough!' ". He then goes on to list four things:
1. The grave.
2. The barren womb.
3. The land.
4. Fire.
Are these the four things that never say "enough", or the three things that are never satisfied (obviously there's an extra one if this is the case)?

There are several more instances of the 3/4 strangeness, but before we get to that we have another wonderful feel-good bible quote:
The eye that mocks a father,
that scorns obedience to a mother,
will be pecked out by the ravens of the valley,
will be eaten by the vultures.
Moral: Don't mock your father or scorn your mother, or your eyes will be pecked out by ravens, then eaten by vultures.

Now on to this 3/4 discrepancy, "There are three things that are too amazing for me, four that I do not understand."
1. The way of an eagle in the sky.
2. The way of a snake on a rock.
3. The way of a ship on the high seas.
4. The way of a man with a maiden.
First of all, what's to not understand here? Second, this is again four things. So what happened to the three things that he mentioned?

Again, "Under three things the earth trembles, under four it cannot bear up."
1. A servant who becomes king.
2. A fool who is full of food.
3. An unloved woman who is married.
4. A maidservant who displaces her mistress.
These things make the earth tremble?

If anyone can explain this (or if you have any speculations), I'd love to hear it.

The final chapter of Proverbs is written by King Lemuel. It starts out with his mom telling him not to spend his strength on women, or get drunk. Ok, mom.

The rest of the chapter is spent with Lemuel describing his perfect woman. This generally consists of her doing everything, making food, tending to the fields, and having babies. In fact, Lemuel doesn't mention that he ever helps her, with anything.

Proverbs: In Review
As always, the sayings in the bible are a mix of common sense and crazy. There are passages that tell you to help the poor and embrace wisdom. But in the same breath it tells you to beat your children, and that you are a pervert if you wink at people.

In general, the quotes don't seem very extraordinary. Most of them have obvious bias for royalty, based on who wrote them (Solomon). This contradicts the assertion that it was "God breathed". In the end, I'm not leaving Proverbs with anything to live by.

We have another crazy letter to the editor today. He is responding to someone that said the bible can be used to support slavery, just as it can be used to condemn homosexuality.

He responds:
Miller's suggestion that you can make the Bible say anything is erroneous. You cannot make the Bible say that, using a base of 10, 1 plus 1 equals 5.
Obviously you can't make the bible say things that are incredibly specific, but in general, the bible promotes both side of every argument. However, for the sake of argument "One ... added ... to ... one ... is ... five" Genesis 1-18. It's actually the hidden message of the first 18 chapters of Genesis! Take that, math people.

He goes on to take an argument out of the fundie handbook:
The moral teachings of the Bible are absolute and not ambiguous. The Bible teaches that it is a sin to murder; this is not relative to time or situation. If not, one could not claim that it was evil for Hitler to massacre millions of Jews.
First of all, people can claim whatever they want. But I think I know what he's trying to say. Basically the logical conclusion of this argument is that if the bible didn't exist these people wouldn't feel anything if they went out and murdered people. This is clearly ridiculous (I hope).
Of course, someone may say that the Bible teaches that a triangle has four sides, and there would be some who would agree.
This completely contradicts the point he tried to refute in his first paragraph. If someone can say there is something ridiculous in the bible and have people believe them, that's proof that you can make the bible say whatever you want.

(via Dallas News)

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