Saturday, June 12, 2010

280: You're Not Meant to Understand

Matthew 13-14
"This is why I speak to them in parables: 'Though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand.' " - Matthew 13:13

So many people are following Jesus at this point that he has to go out on a boat to stay away from the crowd. From the boat he tells the crowd a parable about a farmer planting his crops. His disciples come to him and ask him why he speaks to people in parables. Jesus tells them that he's fulfilling the prophecy of Isaiah which says "You will be ever hearing but never understanding". So Jesus, to fulfill this prophecy, is making sure the people don't understand what he's talking about? Then what's the point of him talking at all?

He then goes on to explain the parable to his disciples. How can Jesus get mad at the people of Israel for not turning their life around if his words mean nothing to them? Maybe they just think he's miraculously healing people because he's a nice guy. If they don't know what he's talking about then they wouldn't know that he's giving them an obligation to be righteous.

Jesus goes on to give the crowd yet another parable. This one is more than a little disturbing. The only reason I know what it means, though, is because Jesus explains later in the chapter. The parable is about another farmer that plants his field of wheat. One of his enemies comes in the night and plants weeds in the field. The next day, the farmer's servants ask if they should pick the weeds from the field. The farmer says no because they may uproot the wheat. They wait till the harvest, and pick the weeds and wheat together. The weeds are burned.

This, Jesus explains, means that the good and the bad people will be allowed to coexist till the "harvest". At the end of days, the good and the bad will be separated. The bad people will be burned alive. I guess Christians ignore the fact that this violates all modern standards of human decency. I guess when God does it, it's not cruel and unusual punishment. When God does it, it's somehow "loving" and "righteous". I'm calling bullshit.

Jesus gives the crowd yet another parable about yeast and mustard seeds. He says the kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, or yeast. Though the mustard seed starts small, it grows to be the size of a tree. And though yeast starts as a small amount, it grows and becomes enough for a loaf of bread. As Jesus predicted, I have no idea what he's talking about. Why does the kingdom of heaven start out tiny? I don't even have a clear idea of what the kingdom of heaven is.

Jesus then tells a parable about a man that finds hidden treasure on someone else's land. After finding this hidden treasure, he reburies it. He then uses all of his money to buy that land (and thus the hidden treasure). The kingdom of heaven, Jesus says, is like the hidden treasure. I still don't get it. I guess Jesus is hiding the treasure from us? And then he's going to buy the land?

Jesus finally goes back home. Upon arriving, the people of his hometown question where he got his powers. They list the names of his brothers and sisters (yes, Jesus has brothers and sisters now), apparently noting how unremarkable they are. Jesus is so upset with this, that he refuses to perform any miracles in his hometown. A few random guys say your full of shit so you won't help people in need? I thought Jesus wasn't supposed to be doing his righteous acts for other people anyway. I hope nobody was in serious need of medical attention while Jesus was pouting.

At the beginning of the next chapter, John the baptist is beheaded. Jesus, upon hearing about this, goes into his boat for some privacy. The people of the town hear that Jesus is having a private moment, and apparently find this unacceptable. A crowd of over 5000 people comes to see him. Jesus comes out to them (we never hear any more about Jesus being sad about John the baptist), and begins healing their sick.

That evening, Jesus's disciples tell Jesus to send the people home because this is a remote place and the people need to eat. Jesus says that they can feed them there. The disciples object, saying they only have five loaves of bread, and two fish. Jesus takes the bread and fish and passes it around to all the people. All 5000+ of them eat from the bread and fish. The disciples pick up twelve basketfuls of bread and fish pieces (the people of Israel aren't very efficient eaters).

Why are we only given the shady details of this miracle? What happened between the five loaves of bread being passed out, and twelve basketfuls of bread crumbs? Was it a magic growing loaf? Were people exclaiming in awe as the bread asexually reproduced in their hands? There are so many details that are conspicuously left out.

Jesus then puts the disciples on a boat and sends them on their way across the lake while he dismisses the crowd. Why? Why couldn't they have just waited for him? By the time Jesus is done dismissing the crowd, the boat is already a considerable distance off shore. Jesus isn't scared of a little water and walks across it to the boat.

The disciples, upon seeing him, are terrified because they think he's a ghost. Jesus exclaims "Take courage! It is I". For some reason, the disciples don't believe him. Peter says that if it's really him, Jesus should tell him to come across the lake to meet him. Jesus does tell him to come meet him. Then Peter too walks on water and begins making his way toward Jesus.

Peter, however, isn't as good at the whole walking on water bit and begins to sink. Peter yells "Lord save me". Jesus saves him, then accuses him of having little faith. How was Peter having little faith? It didn't appear that Jesus was moving to save him, so he yelled for help. Is Peter supposed to somehow know that Jesus will save him at all times?

*News*
I can't pass up a good "atheists are really religious fundamentalists" article. This one's textbook.
Atheists remain a tiny minority, but they're far more vocal and combative than they used to be, an approach advocated by Dawkins and others. They have every right to state their views.
Minorities standing up for their beliefs? How terrible. It's only proper to be vocal and combative when you have a church behind you.
The irony is that this current brand of aggressive atheism is just another form of fundamentalism. These particular atheists are zealots on the subject of faith who see no shadings of gray, only black and white. They're dead-set against religion but weirdly obsessed with it.
I don't think being against believing things without evidence (faith) is fundamentalism. It's rational. If I said I had faith that there are pink unicorns living amongst us, you would surely ridicule me. But replace "pink unicorns" with "virgin born, resurrected God-man" and that's suddenly something we can't talk about with anything but respect.

I'm not sure what atheist doesn't see everything as a shade of gray. Where did the universe come from? I don't know. That's about as gray as it gets. Do I know there wasn't a God that created the universe? No. But I can't prove there isn't a Santa either. I would still consider myself an atheist on the subject of Santa, in the same way I consider myself an atheist on the subject of God. Again, I'm making no assertion that there is no God.

Now lets contrast this with the religion this pastor proscribes to. I've never met a Christian that said "well, I'm pretty sure there's a God". Only, "there is a God, you must believe". That's as black and white as it gets.

I will concede that I'm mildly obsessed with religion (hence this blog). But not necessarily dead set against it.
The "new atheism," as it's called by its adherents, is itself a kind of church. An anti-church church, granted, but a form of lockstep belief nonetheless. It reminds me of Hazel Motes' Church Without Christ in Flannery O'Connor's novel Wise Blood.
First, I've never met someone that called themself a "new atheist". More importantly, I don't know how atheists could be any less of a church. Atheism only implies a general disbelief in God. Nothing else. You could believe that we are all descendants from people who used to live on mars. But as long as you don't believe in God, you're an atheist. Are most atheists rational/intelligent people? Maybe. But that has nothing to do with calling yourself an atheist. If holding one belief in common makes you a church, then yes, atheists are totally a church. But then there's also the church of speed limits should be higher.
Even as a longtime Christian minister, I still have days when I wonder whether this whole God thing is a figment of my imagination. I can't denigrate those who don't believe at all. That's between them and their maker — or, if they might prefer, them and their rational senses or their artistic sensibilities. My objection to the new atheists isn't that they're atheists.
Then what are you talking about? That's like saying "I don't object to Jews because they're Jewish, I just don't like that they're so cheap". You're blatantly stereotyping a group of people. But stereotyping is ok as long as you're talking about dreaded atheists.
It's that they strike me as hypocrites, which is the charge they unfailingly level, with mixed justification, against the religious. In opposing religion in the manner they do, they betray themselves as possessing the traits they profess to loathe.

They're smug, dogmatic and mean-spirited. They trot out tired, half-truthful stereotypes, and they cherry-pick historical examples of religious wrongdoing while ignoring the innumerable instances in which the faithful have performed great acts of decency and charity.
Please excuse me while I bash my head into something...

Ok, I feel better. You call atheists hypocrites, now lets look at some of the terrible traits you list. Smug. By writing this article you have to have some level of smugness. Trotting half-truthful stereotypes. You're trotting completely non-truthful stereotypes. Please, if you're going to call me (or atheists in general) hypocrites, at least get your own hypocrisy under control for a few paragraphs.
Christianity is a big, organic, complex system of beliefs with a long, diverse history. It's not just one thing.
I haven't even mentioned the varying theologies, contradictions and contributions of Judaism, Islam or Hinduism.
Paul, have you ever considered that all the atheists you meet seem angry because you make them that way? You claim that I'm lumping all Christians together, while you're lumping all atheists together. I'm sorry if I'm fitting the atheist stereotype, but I have to call you a hypocrite.

Atheists, as well as Christians, are not just one stereotype.

Friday, June 11, 2010

279: Jesus's Mommy Issues

Matthew 11-12
"Someone told him, 'Your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to you.' He replied to him, 'Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?' Pointing to his disciples, he said, 'Here are my mother and my brothers.' " - Matthew 12:47-49

After teaching his disciples, Jesus goes to Galilee. John the Baptist, who was apparently imprisoned, sends some of his disciples to ask Jesus if he is "the one" or if they should expect someone else. Jesus lists all of his miracles and tells John's disciples "blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me". A simple "yes" or "no" would do. Jesus seems to have to give the most cryptic answer possible.

Jesus goes on to tell John's disciples, and the crowd that's gathered, that there is nobody greater than John the Baptist in the whole world. However, Jesus says, the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than John the baptist. I guess there's maybe a half dozen people in the kingdom of heaven at this point, if that's the case.

In the next section, Jesus denounces the people of the cities he has visited. Even after his miracles, they have not repented of their sins. I guess nobody sent Jesus the memo about the Israelites. Miracles don't do the trick with them.

Next, Jesus says that nobody knows the son except the father, and nobody knows the father except the son, and the people that the son chooses to reveal the father to. I've heard this before in my many attempted conversions. Actually, I only heard the "nobody knows the father but the son" part. They didn't quite get around to saying that nobody knows the son but the father. If this is true, then what's the point of trying to learn about God or Jesus at all, if only they know each other?

Jesus goes on to say that all who are weary or burdened should come to Jesus and he will give them rest. He tells them to "take his yoke", because his burden is light. The burden of having Jesus is light? Jesus just said yesterday that you have to disown your family if they don't believe what you do. How is this a "light burden"?

The next chapter starts with Jesus's disciples picking grain on the sabbath. The Pharisees see this and declare that Jesus's followers are breaking the law. Jesus counters by saying that David's men ate consecrated bread when they were starving. Moral of the story: two wrongs make a right (?). Jesus also says that if their sheep feel in a ditch on the sabbath they would pull it out. Therefore it is ok to do good on the sabbath. What happened to not one letter of the law being changed? I guess it's ok to break the law when the law is inconvenient. And Jesus complains of other people's hypocrisy. "Takes one to know one" has never been so true.

After this little stunt, the Pharisees begin plans to kill Jesus.

Jesus again drives a demon from someone. People begin to wonder if this could be "the one". The Pharisees again say that it is only through the devil that Jesus drives out these demons. Jesus then says a house divided cannot stand (you've probably heard that quote as a result of Abraham Lincoln). He says if Satan is used to drive out Satan, then how can his kingdom stand. I'm not sure why Satan has a kingdom to start with, considering our "all good" and "all powerful" God hates evil.

Next is the famous (or infamous) unforgivable sin. Jesus says that every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven, but blasphemy against the holy spirit will not be forgiven. So I could personally kill every person on the planet, and that would be fine if I asked for forgiveness. But the moment I say the Holy Spirit is bullshit, I'm forever damned? Oh wait, did I just commit the unforgivable sin?! Oh shit! Just kidding. I took the blasphemy challenge when I was young and impressionable.

Jesus goes on to say that, like Jonah, he will be entombed for three days and three nights. But instead of in the belly of a fish, he will be in the heart of the earth. Keep that "three days and three nights" in the back of your mind. I predict it will be relevant.

While Jesus is still talking to the crowd, his mother and brothers ask to speak with him. Wait a minute. Jesus had brothers? This concept is actually hotly debated, even though the text seems pretty clear. For some reason, people find it impossible to believe that the "virgin" Mary didn't stay a virgin for her entire life. That debate is for another blog, because it seems rather irrelevant.

Someone from the crowd goes up to Jesus and tells him that his mom and brothers want to talk with him. Jesus responds by saying "who is my mother, and who are my brothers?". He points to his disciples and tells the person that these are his mother, and brothers. Uh, sorry Jesus, wrong answer. Don't be a dick, go talk to your mom.

*News*
We have yet another fundie losing his mind over the Muslims trying to take over the world. There's something wrong with me being more religiously tolerant than an evangelical Christian.
“Sharia,” or Muslim law, is arbitrary and discretionary. A custom-based body of law based on the Quran and the religion of Islam, it covers civil and criminal justice, as well as regulating individual conduct both personal and moral.
A law based on religion that covers civil, moral, and conduct issues. This seems terribly familiar. If only I could remember where I'd seen that before.
The integration of the justice system and the church, under Sharia law, is so thorough that Sharia courts are essentially religious courts and the judges are usually local mosque officials.
Religious courts where the local priests are judges. I'm getting crazy deja vu. If only I could remember where I'd heard all of this before. Oh, that's right, this is almost exactly the same as biblical law. In fact, switch "mosque" with "temple" and "sharia law" with "the laws of the prophets" and it's exactly the same. The only difference is that Islam has an absolutely insane faction that actually follows their holy laws.
We are engaged in a war with a totalitarian system, a war being waged to conquer us, but neither our government nor our citizens seem to care. You will when you wake to the 6 a.m. call to prayer, at the mosque they built near you. But that will be too late.
If we allow Muslims to build a mosque it would almost be like we had freedom of religion in America. I don't understand what people are thinking. I daresay it brings a teaching of Jesus to mind, namely Matthew 7:3-5's lesson on hypocrisy. These people worry about sharia law, but can't see the terrible laws of their own bible.
Right now, Europe’s Muslims are disillusioned and bitter. The more dangerous and committed can volunteer for the jihad against the West, with passports from their resident country. Jump on the Internet and see what’s going on over there.
I can't believe I'm going to say this. If you let terrorism make you fear an entire group of perfectly normal people you're letting the terrorists win. You're supposed to be loving your enemy anyway, and turning the other cheek. Remember?

(via TCPalm)

Thursday, June 10, 2010

278: Know Jesus, No Peace

Matthew 9-10
"Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn 'a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law - a man's enemies will be the members of his own household.' " - Matthew 10:34-36

Jesus again crosses over the lake and comes back to "his own town". The people bring him a paralytic. Instead of immediately healing him, he tells the man that his sins are forgiven. Some of the teachers of the law say that Jesus is blaspheming. Jesus responds to this by saying that he will prove that he has the power to forgive sins by healing the man.

If we assume for the moment that Jesus can, somehow, heal people. I'm not sure how that proves anything about his ability to forgive people's sins. Supernatural powers have never meant that you're the "good guy" in biblical terms. Remember the Pharaoh's magicians that could turn rods into snakes? The text of the bible, if taken at face value, seems to only prove that Jesus has supernatural powers. Not necessarily that he's the son of God, or that he has the power to forgive anyone's sins. Of course, stage magicians seem to have supernatural powers too, and priests claim that they can forgive sin.

The next paragraph is about Jesus meeting "a man named Matthew". I guess Matthew talks about himself in the third person. Matthew is a tax collector. Jesus tells Matthew to follow him and they have dinner at Matthew's house. The Pharisees ask Jesus's disciples why Jesus hangs out with sinners. Jesus overhears this question and says that he has not come to call the righteous, but the sinners (which is everyone by Jesus's definition).

John's disciples ask Jesus why his followers don't fast. Jesus says that it doesn't make any sense for them to fast (mourn) while he is with them. But they will fast when he is gone.

Next, a man comes to Jesus and says that his daughter has died. He asks Jesus to come and revive her. At the same time, the bible mentions that a woman is healed by touching the edge of Jesus's cloak. Jesus continues on to the mans house. Jesus, upon seeing the girl, says that she is just asleep, and awakens her. Did Jesus lie? I only say this because I'm not sure why Jesus waking up a girl would make it's way into the bible.

Jesus heals some more people, and drives out some more demons to end the chapter. The Pharisees, upon seeing this, say that only the prince of demons can drive out demons. It makes sense that they think this, considering Jesus did drive demons into pigs upon their request yesterday.

Chapter 10 considerably lowers my opinion of Jesus.

In the first part of the chapter he imbues all of his disciples with his powers of healing and exorcism. He sends them out with orders to visit all of the cities in Israel and heal everyone they find. Jesus says something strange upon sending them out. He says that they will not be finished going through all of the cities when "the son of man comes". Comes from where?

This is where the trouble starts for my opinion of Jesus. Jesus says that whoever acknowledges him before men, he will acknowledge before God. If you don't acknowledge him, you're screwed. Why does the act of acknowledging Jesus make you a better person? This isn't the worst part.

Jesus goes on to tell his disciples to not suppose that he's come to bring peace. What? Turn the other cheek, love your enemies, but screw peace? Jesus says that he has not come to bring peace, but the sword. He has come to turn son against father, daughter against mother, and to turn all the members of your family into your enemy. I guess this is one of those passages where Christians plug their ears and say "lalala".

Jesus isn't done yet. He says that anyone who loves his father or mother more than Jesus isn't worthy of him. Anyone who loves his/her child more than Jesus is also not worthy of Jesus. Whoever "finds his life" will lose their life, but if someone loses their life for Jesus, they will find life. I must be reading this wrong, because Jesus sounds like an egotistical douchebag right now. Why have I heard "love your neighbor" and "turn the other cheek", but none of these things (yes, I've been to church, and had plenty of opportunities to hear these revelations)?

I'm quickly losing respect for the people in my life that have tried to convert me. When were they going to spring this shit on me? "Oh, by the way, if you love your parents or your children more than Jesus, you are unworthy of Jesus". The common Christian is either ignorant of what is actually in the bible or is deliberately trying to deceive me about the nature of Jesus.

*News*
Following the theme of uninspiring condemnation, the Christian Post decided to go on yet another superiority trip.
If you are right with God, then hearing that Jesus could come back at any time will motivate you. It will purify you. It will cause you to want to be right with God. And so it should. But if you are not right with God, then hearing about end times events will frighten you. It will alarm you. The person who is not where he or she ought to be spiritually will not be looking forward to the return of Jesus at all.
To summarize, if hearing about the utter destruction of humanity in any way alarms you, then you're a shitty Christian that isn't right with God. There's something fundamentally wrong with looking forward to the end of the world. How can someone on one hand be horrified at the destruction of 9/11 (killing 3000+ people), while at the same time be looking forward to the destruction of all of humanity?

To any of the Christians out there (or anyone else for that matter) who is not looking forward to death and destruction. Let me personally assure you that you are a well balanced, rational individual.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

277: Judge Not, Lest Ye Be Judged

Matthew 7-8
"Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you." - Matthew 7:1-2

From the very first sentence today we have yet another commandment of Jesus that most Christians choose not to follow. "Do not judge, or you too will be judged." Pat Robertson judging that people deserve natural disasters immediately comes to mind. As a side note, actual judges are in big trouble.

Continuing on this theme, Jesus bemoans the fact people notice a speck of sawdust in another's eye, while they themselves have an entire plank of wood in their eye.

In the next paragraph, Jesus makes the powerful claim that anything anyone asks for from God will be given to them. "Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you." If only this were true. The countless people who have asked sincerely for their loved one to be saved from a chronic disease are a testament to the falseness of Jesus's claim. Jesus ends this by saying to do unto others what you would have them do to you. Jesus claims that this "sums up" the law and the prophets.

As much as I agree with the golden rule, it in no ways "sums up" the laws of the bible. It may sum up the laws of Jesus. But it certainly doesn't sum up the Israelites conquering the promised land, or killing people who work on the sabbath. And it certainly doesn't sum up the dietary laws.

The next paragraph is interesting. Jesus explicitly says that he will disown anyone who prophecies in his name, or uses his name to drive out demons. Isn't Jesus the main name invoked in exorcisms?

In the beginning of the next chapter, a man with leprosy asks Jesus to cure him. Jesus agrees, and the man is immediately cured. Immediately eradicating leprosy for everyone would have been far more impressive. I guess all the people from then till now that have suffered from leprosy have only suffered so that we (in the modern day) would be impressed by Jesus's magical curing ability.

The next paragraph is a little confusing. Jesus is visited by a centurion (a roman commander) and asked to heal one of his servants. Jesus immediately agrees, but the centurion says that he is not worthy of having Jesus come under his roof. So he tells Jesus to just speak a word and his servant will be healed. An astonished Jesus exclaims that he has found no one in Israel with such faith. The centurion didn't want you in his house, so he's somehow the most faithful person in Israel? It sounds like he just didn't want to be seen with Jesus.

The bible mentions that Jesus goes around healing many, and driving out demons.

The next section is titled "the cost of following Jesus". Jesus gives orders to his followers to cross to the other side of a lake. A "teacher of the law" tells Jesus that he will follow him where ever he goes. To which Jesus replies "Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head". I'm not sure what that has to do with anything. One of his disciples asks Jesus to wait to cross the lake until he's had a chance to bury his dead father. Jesus tells him to follow him, and let the dead bury their own dead. Excuse me? That was a bit of dick move.

Jesus gets on a boat to cross the lake, and immediately falls asleep. While he is asleep, a giant storm forms and threatens to sink the ship. His disciples run to awaken Jesus, and ask him to save them. As soon as they wake him up, he accuses them of having little faith. But then he does calm the storm. If they were just having too little faith then what was the point in Jesus stopping the storm? Except, of course, for his disciples'/the readers' amazement. What was that about hypocrisy?

Jesus isn't quite done being an ass hole today. As soon as they get across the lake, they meet two demon possessed men. They ask what Jesus wants with them, and if Jesus is here to torture them "before the appointed time" (why is any entity, even a demon, worried about Jesus torturing them?). It's interesting that there is apparently an "appointed time" for demon torture.

Some distance away from these demon-men is a herd of pigs. The demons beg Jesus, if he is going to drive them out, to drive them into the herd of pigs. Jesus, who apparently takes suggestions from demons, agrees. The demons are driven into the pigs, who subsequently kill themselves by drowning. When the owners of the pigs hear about this. They rush down to Jesus and beg them to leave the land. Jesus pretty well botched this one. He's taken suggestions from demons, and managed to ruin several people's livelihood.

*News*
The people opposing the mosque near ground zero sound more ridiculous as time goes on. This time, they start with a completely irrelevant Aesop's fable:
It is best illustrated by a fable. Aesop tells us of a rooster, scared by the sight of a fox sneaking towards him, who runs to the safety of a nearby tree's branch. "Why are you running from me?" asks the fox in surprise. "Haven't you heard that a universal peace has been proclaimed? I will not hurt you; please get down." "O, that's wonderful news!" replies the rooster. "I just want to ask the pack of hounds chasing a deer that I see from my perch if that is true. They'll be here in a moment." "Hounds running this way?" says the fox. "I better get out of here -- looks like they haven't yet heard the good news of the universal peace!"
We'll disregard his butchering of this story and focus on how utterly irrelevant this is. I guess every Muslim is somehow a fox waiting in hiding to eat the poor rooster-Christian(?). This just isn't based in reality.
Which is precisely the point that needs to be made. The news that Islam is a peaceful religion -- discovered by our press and our politicians on 9/11 and repeated day in and day out since that terrible day -- has been well absorbed by many Americans who are perfectly willing to believe it. The Ground Zero mosque, as we hear from its promoters as well as the New York officials and other opinion makers, is to continue hammering that message into Americans.
I know and work with people who profess Islam. We have an Islamic center on campus. The thought of them hurting anyone is just as absurd as any of the Christian organizations rallying to destroy anything. People point to the "violent" Koran as evidence that Islam is universally violent. I have bad news, the bible is chocked full of violence, and commands to kill. If violence by someone that professes a certain religion makes that religion violent, then there is no such thing as a non-violent religion.
Bottom line -- the advice to the backers of the Ground Zero mosque is this: a nice mosque is a wonderful idea. But what matters is "location, location, location." Ground zero is simply not the right location for it. Build it in Mecca, or North Waziristan, or Teheran, or Kabul -- and you will put the free world in your debt.
What happened to "freedom of religion"? There is absolutely no grounds to prevent a mosque from being built anywhere (aside from fair zoning laws, of course). If we can prevent mosques from being built, then how long is it going to be until we can prevent churches from being built. If this doesn't get the founding fathers rolling in their graves I don't know what will.

I can't believe I'm arguing that new churches/mosques should be built. I guess reading this article has officially fried my brain.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

276: Don't Even Think About It

Matthew 5-6
"You have heard that it was said, 'Do not commit adultery.' But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart." - Matthew 5:27-28

Jesus sits down with his disciples and begins talking to them. He first lists people that are especially blessed. This is the first time we hear Jesus talk at length. Among these blessed people are the meek, the poor, the merciful, and the peacemakers. Jesus gives a pretty good first impression. Unfortunately it goes downhill from there.

In the next paragraph Jesus tells his disciples they are the salt of the earth. He then asks, "But if salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again?". What? I didn't realize salt could lose it's saltiness. I think if salt loses it's saltiness, it's not salt anymore.

Jesus goes on to make a very powerful statement. He says that he is not here to abolish the laws of the Prophets, he is here to fulfill them. Not even the smallest letter, he says, will disappear from the law until heaven and earth have passed away and "everything is accomplished". Whatever that means. If we assume that everything hasn't yet been accomplished, then every Christian should still be abstaining from work on the sabbath (one of the most repeated laws in the old testament), and be avoiding pork like the plague. I realize some do, but most don't. Why?

Next, Jesus expands on the law not to murder. He says that anyone who even curses his brother (as opposed to killing him) will be subject to judgement. And anyone who says "you fool!" will be in danger of the fire of hell. What is this hell you speak of, Jesus? The bible has never mentioned it before. Assuming that hell is what I think it is, then isn't this new punishment a little severe?

Jesus then expands on the laws about adultery. He says that anyone even looking at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery. This, again, puts you in danger of going to this yet-to-be-described hell. I guess this means that all men, and I daresay most women, are on the fast track to hell. This punishment is not only too severe, but basic biology prevents you from being righteous. Jesus has the perfect solution for this. He says if your eyes cause you to sin, then you should gouge them out. And if your hand causes you to sin, you should cut it off. Why haven't I seen more self-mutilated Christians?

Jesus isn't quite done with adultery. He says that anyone who divorces his wife makes her an adulteress. And anyone who marries a divorced woman becomes an adulterer. The only way out of this conundrum is if the divorce is caused by marital unfaithfulness. Wait a minute. The only way to get out of becoming an adulterer is to commit adultery? So you're screwed either way?

Next is the famous "turn the other cheek". Jesus says that if someone strikes you on the cheek, instead of striking back (an eye for an eye), you should present to him your other cheek. However, there is more. Jesus says that if someone sues you for your tunic, give him your cloak as well. You are also to give to anyone that asks, and never turn away from someone who wants to borrow from you. The world would be a very strange place if all Christians followed these rules.

The final revelation of chapter 5 is that you should love your enemies. George Bush has failed this one with flying colors.

Nearly the entirety of chapter 6 is about keeping your religion to yourself. Again, the world would be a strange and much different place if Christians followed these rules.

First, Jesus says that when people help the poor, they should do their best to make sure this isn't seen by men. In fact, Jesus says if their right hand gives to the poor, not even their left hand should know about it.

Next, Jesus talks about prayer. He says that hypocrites love to pray standing in synagogues, and standing on street corners. But, Jesus says, you should go into your room, lock your door, and pray in private. I'm starting to wonder if any Christians actually read the bible. Why do a strong majority of Christians get pissed off if they aren't allowed to pray openly at graduation ceremonies, and before sports games? Even Jesus thinks you're a hypocrite.

Jesus then gives the disciples the Lords prayer. This is another one of the very few quotes I actually know from the bible. As much as I love the NIV, KJV just sounds better:
Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen. - Matthew 6:9-13 [KJV]
His entire point of giving his disciples this prayer was so that they would know how to pray quickly and quit "babbling like pagans". As someone who's been to quite a few church meetings/bible studies, the common Christian is still babbling like a pagan.

Jesus then talks about secretly fasting. He says that when you fast, you should wash your face so that people will not know you're fasting. This is yet another teaching that Christians aren't following. Why do I have to hear what every Christian on earth has given up for lent every year? That is clearly against this teaching.

The rest of the chapter is about not worrying. Jesus says that worrying cannot change anything. For the most part I agree, but at some point a little worrying is good for you. Jesus says that if you're worrying, it's a sign that you have little faith. But if you don't worry about being hit by a car, you won't look both ways when you cross the street. I guess all Christians should walk into traffic with full faith that God will save them from oncoming vehicles. This is another teaching of Jesus that's just a little impractical.

*News*
We have a news story that's directly out of the pages of Matthew 5-6.
The head of the Egyptian Coptic Church threatened Tuesday to excommunicate priests who perform second marriages after a court ruled that divorced Copts could remarry.

Pope Shenouda III strongly condemned the verdict issued last month, which he said goes against the law of the Bible. He said priests who perform these marriages, along with those requesting to remarry, will not be allowed to enter the church again as they are considered "deviants." He explained only those divorced on grounds of adultery can remarry.
This is the direct application of Jesus's rules about adultery from today's reading. I guess some Christians actually take this rule seriously. If you really want to get out of your marriage in Egypt, apparently you have to go have sex with some random woman. Then divorce is no problem. The Coptic pope doesn't say if the person that committed adultery to have a legit divorce is excommunicated (Jesus doesn't talk about it either).
"The Pope has every right to condemn such a verdict as it's a direct attack against the church," Sidhom said. "It is a blow to the church's body. Marriage cannot go against the Bible and this new verdict does just that."
I guess the "Christians are being oppressed" sentiment extends to foreign countries. How is upholding the Constitution of Egypt an attack on a particular religion? In fact, how does this change how the church operates? Just because priests legally can, doesn't mean the church will allow them to divorce people (and it's clearly not going to). What's the problem?

Monday, June 7, 2010

275: Jesus Christ

Matthew 1-4
"This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit." - Matthew 1:18

The first chapter of Matthew goes through a long line of genealogy, linking Abraham to David, and David to Joseph (the "father" of Jesus). Of course, the fallacy in this is that, if you believe the bible's story, Jesus is not the real son of Joseph. What's the point of linking David to Joseph if Joseph isn't the real father?

Next, the bible describes how Mary was pledged to marry Joseph, but she became pregnant with the Holy Spirit. I don't have any idea what this "holy spirit" business is, the bible has never mentioned it before. I'll ignore the obvious possibility that Mary had sex and didn't want to tell anyone. Isn't this adultery in any case? God somehow had to contribute those 23 chromosomes, that sounds a lot like sex to me. I guess his own rules don't apply to him.

Joseph decides to be a nice guy, and not kill his future wife for committing adultery (which he has every right to do under biblical law). Instead he plans to quietly divorce her (but they aren't married yet, I don't know how that works). However, an angel comes to him in a dream, and tells him the child is of the Holy Spirit. Does this mean the dream I had about having a million dollars is also real? Should I check the bank?

The bible goes on to say that this was all to fulfill the prophecy that reads as follows: "The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel". Joseph, who is apparently terrible with names, names his son Jesus. So Jesus almost fulfills the prophecy, close enough.

In chapter 2, Jesus is born in Bethlehem. No manger is mentioned. An unknown number of Magi (not three) come to visit Jesus. They do give him gold, incense, and myrrh. The king at the time (Herod), it turns out, had sent the Magi to figure out where Jesus was. Upon finding Jesus, they are supposed to return to Herod and tell him where Jesus is so he can "go and worship him".

The Magi are warned in a dream not to return to Herod, so they take another way home. In yet another dream, Joseph is warned to flee with his family to Egypt. They do. Soon after, Herod figures out that the Magi aren't going to tell him where Jesus is.

Herod then decides that he should kill all the children under 2 years old in Bethlehem. What happened to wanting to go and worship Jesus? Now you want to kill him? A safe assumption would be that he was attempting to deceive the Magi, but the bible doesn't say that (I can sense the Christians trying to read between the lines). After Herod's death, Joseph's family goes back to Israel. This time they settle in Nazareth.

The entirety of chapter 3 is about John the Baptist. John's clothes, the bible says, are made of camel hair, and he has a leather belt. The only thing he eats are desert locusts and wild honey. In other words, if you imagine the creepiest looking guy you can think of, that's probably John the Baptist.

Somehow the people of Israel know that he's out in the desert, and think that he is specially qualified to baptize all of them. The Pharisees (who are apparently nasty people) come to John to be baptized. He does baptize them, but warns that soon there will be one that will baptize them with the Holy Spirit, and with fire.

John the Baptist is apparently so famous that Jesus himself comes to be baptized by him. Where has Jesus been since he was a baby? John, who apparently also knows about Jesus, says that Jesus should be baptizing him, not the other way around. Jesus says that it is proper to do it this way to fulfill all righteousness. Whatever the hell that means.

The moment Jesus is baptized, the sky splits open and Jesus sees the Holy Spirit descending on him. A voice says "This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased."

The majority of chapter 4 is about the temptation of Jesus. Satan is back. My complaint from yesterday still seems valid, Satan just doesn't seem that bad. Jesus is lead by the Holy Spirit into the desert to be tempted by Satan. Again, it seems that God has to approve of any bad thing Satan does.

Satan tells Jesus that if he is the son of God, he should be able to turn stones into bread. Jesus says that men don't live on bread alone, but the word of God. Ok, that's a lame excuse for not turning stones into bread. Hasn't Jesus heard of "Just say no".

Next Satan tells Jesus to throw himself off a cliff, because if he is the son of God, angels will save him. Jesus says that it is written that he shouldn't test God. Well that's convenient. I can make gold bars appear out of thin air... Just don't test me on it.

Finally, Satan shows Jesus all the lands of Israel and says that if only Jesus will bow down and worship him, he will give him all of it. Finally, Jesus tells Satan to (I'm paraphrasing here) fuck off. Surprisingly, Satan leaves without protest. For being the father of all evil, he seems pretty cooperative.

The chapter ends with Jesus beginning to preach, and collecting his first disciples. News about Jesus spreads throughout the land and people start coming to him to be healed.

*News*
Helen Thomas has resigned (read been fired) for statements against Israel. It was about time for Helen Thomas to retire anyway.

She was fired for saying that the Israelites should "get the hell out of Palestine", and go home (to Germany, Poland, America, etc.). I have mixed feelings about this. Mike Huckabee, on the other hand, does not. In fact, he says the Israelites are home, because the bible says so.


Transcript:
There was a little bit of a lame apology given by Helen Thomas, but it was pretty lame. Her comments were outrageous, anti-Semitic, racist, indefensible. She says that the Jews ought to go home. Helen, they are home. They are home. Read Genesis 15, Exodus 23, Numbers 34, that’s why they are where they are. Helen, I’ve got a suggestion, maybe it’s time for you to go home.
Excuse me? The Jews should live in Israel because a 2000+ year old book says so? I guess that means we should all go back to the land that our distant ancestors lived on. Sorry Huckabee, that means back to Europe with you. We have to give the Indians back their land.

I don't think for a moment that Helen meant her comments to be anti-Semitic, or racist. The Israelites seem, to me, to be a violent oppressor. I think if the Israelites left Palestine there would be an immediate decline in violence. Is that anti-Semitic? I think not. Telling them to "go home" to Germany, Poland, or the U.S. was a little silly, however.

Let's, for a moment, disregard the zoning laws of an ancient book. The current land division between Palestine and Israel has been in effect for over 60 years now. This is enough time for 2+ generations of people to have been born and grown up under the current law. It's time for the Israelites to stay in Israel, and the Palestinians to stay in Palestine. I don't think the Israelites could "go home" to where their great grandparents lived before WWII any more than I believe the Palestinians can go live elsewhere in the middle east.

The past is the past. It doesn't matter if the Israelites took the land of Israel 3000 years ago, or even that what is now "Israel" was all Palestine 60 years ago. A new page in history has been turned. It's time for peace.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

274: The Old Testament: In Review

Malachi 1-4
"When you bring blind animals for sacrifice, is that not wrong? When you sacrifice crippled or diseased animals, is that not wrong? Try offering them to your governor! Would he be pleased with you? Would he accept you?" - Malachi 1:8

God is his usual whiny self today. He spends almost the entire first chapter complaining that the Israelites sacrifices aren't acceptable to him. God still hasn't explained why sacrifices are necessary, much less why it matters if the animals are blind or lame.

God asks in indignation whether a blind animal would be an acceptable offering to a governor. Probably not. But that's because the animal may be diseased, and it would hurt the governor if he ate it. God, on the other hand, isn't eating the sacrifice (as far as I know) and even if he did he would surely not get sick. Of course, a logical explanation would be that the priests (who are sometimes allowed to partake in the "sacrifice) don't want that shitty meat. But "God is pissed" sounds a little more convincing than "the priest is pissed".

In chapter 2, God says that if the priests don't set their hearts to honor God, he's going to curse their blessings. In fact, he says that he's already cursed their blessings. Isn't that an oxymoron? Maybe he means curse their sacrifices? In the latter half of the chapter God bemoans the fact that the Israelites have married outside of the faith.

God starts chapter 3 by saying that the Israelites have wearied him. The Israelites ask how they have wearied him. God says the Israelites have been going around saying "all who do evil are good in the eyes of the Lord". I've said it before and I'll say it again, God needs to rethink his message delivery strategy. The Israelites' actions and words are a testament to God's failure to deliver his message.

For the rest of chapter 3 God accuses the Israelites of robbing him, because they aren't giving offerings any more. Isn't God robbing the Israelites? I don't think the act of creating humanity gives God the right to take our belongings for forever. That's like saying just because my parents created me they deserve a portion of my income for the rest of my life. Not to mention that God still doesn't tell the Israelites why he needs those offerings. Maybe they would do it if he gave them a decent reason.

The final chapter of Malachi, and the final chapter of the Old Testament, is a short one. God says that there will soon be a day when the wicked will be ashes under the feet of the righteous. He also says that if you don't follow the words of his prophets he will curse you. I guess God didn't want to end the book, or the Old Testament, on a happy note.

The Old Testament: In Review
As I alluded to in today's section, the Old Testament seems to be a testament (pun intended) to God's failure to communicate his wishes to the Israelites. For an entity that tries to paint himself as the father to humanity, he seems (at least based on the Old Testament) to be a bad one.

God doesn't seem to be able to "pick his battles". If he were a good parent, he would focus on the things that are truly important to keeping our society together (i.e. don't kill, don't steal, etc.). Instead, he focuses on not working on the sabbath day, and not being adulterous. In fact, "don't kill each other" (which I would argue is the most important rule of them all) seems to be mentioned very little. Not working on the sabbath and remembering to give offerings to God is mentioned much more.

God is bad at delivering messages. For a person that's supposed to be all powerful, and have unlimited resources, he's very bad at delivering his message/commandments. He picks one person (per generation), and makes them have visions (aka hallucinations) about God's message. This lone individual, in an age without the internet, is supposed to spread this message to the end of the earth. No wonder the Israelites are complete failures at following God's message, they probably don't even know what it is.

God is inconsistent with punishment. As much as I don't like to see people get killed, it would make more sense if God consistently did what he always threatens to do. Either that, or he should stop threatening to do it. If God says the punishment for adultery is death, then every adulterer should be killed (by God, don't make people do your dirty work). Either that, or no adulterers should be killed (the better solution). If God kills the occasional adulterer (or the occasional generation of Israelites), then who's to say that God even did it?

Which brings me to my next point, God doesn't make it clear who's being punished, and for what (or even that he's the one doing the punishment). For example, God has foreign nations invade Israel as punishment for their sins. Did the average Israelite know that God was punishing them? Or did they just think they were being invaded for their riches? I would venture to guess the latter, based on my previous complaint about God being a bad messenger. God also doesn't make it clear who precisely is being punished. Punishing the entire community for the sins of the few, or even the majority, doesn't make it clear who has followed God's word and who hasn't.

Enough about God, let's talk about Satan. From the bible so far, it seems like Satan is getting a bad rap. First of all, Satan doesn't seem to do anything that God doesn't patently approve of (see Job). His biggest "crime" so far is tempting Eve in the Garden of Eden. But wait, was that really Satan or was it just a talking snake? The bible just says it's a snake.

How many people does Satan kill in the Old Testament? The only people I can think of are Job's children, and however many servants Job had. Even this, to reiterate, was under direct permission from God. Other than that, Satan appears sometimes, but doesn't seem to kill or cause much trouble. Contrast that with God. Almost every time God appears he brings news of the upcoming destruction of Israel, or destroys Israel himself. In fact, contrast Satan with the other angels of God. Other angels are sent to assist in the destruction of entire cities, or to kill armies in their sleep. Satan almost seems mild in comparison.

Where is heaven? Where is hell? Is there even an afterlife? All of these questions are left completely unanswered in the Old Testament. Actually, if I only had the Old Testament as reading material, I would tell you that there is probably no afterlife. In all of God's talk of earthly punishment and torment, he never pulls the "hell" card. If his intent was to scare the pants off the Israelites (and surely it is) then why not mention that, oh by the way, you're also going to be tormented for eternity if you're bad in this life. After all, it worked for the Catholics (sort of).

Does God love me? You're going to have a very hard time convincing me that God loves the Israelites (who he occasionally mentions that he "loves" while killing them) but convincing me that God loves me personally seems to be an impossible task, just looking at the Old Testament. God has the occasional kind word to the Israelite, and says that they can achieve salvation if they would only be nicer to God. But I'm not an Israelite, and likely neither are you (unless I have a silent majority of Jewish readership). For us, the "alien", God rarely has a kind word. And rarely (if ever) does he mention our salvation. Of course, he doesn't mention the after life either, and I'm pretty happy with life right now. So I guess I've achieved all the salvation that there is. In summation, I've seen nothing thus far that would tell me God loves me (except maybe that I haven't yet met an early demise).

Overall, the Old Testament was not a good read. The content, which was usually not very entertaining to start with, was repeated over and over ad nauseum. I realize the bible isn't meant for entertainment, but you'd think if this was the most important message of all time the writer would go out of his way to make the book interesting, or at least readable. Of course, we've already seen how terrible God is at getting his message across.

Maybe God will step up his game for the New Testament. We'll find out tomorrow.

*News*
Comedy Central has a new show off the conveyor belt called "JC".

JC is going to be about, you guessed it, Jesus Christ. It centers around Jesus trying to live as a regular guy in New York City to get out of the shadow of his "apathetic" father. Needless to say, random Christians are pissed, especially while we're still in the aftermath of Comedy Central censoring Muhammad on South Park.

These Christians complain that there is a double standard at Comedy Central. Yes, congratulations, you are an expert at stating the obvious. Why is there a double standard? Because there is a rather large faction of Muslims that will kill you if you offend their prophet. Moral of the story: Sometimes life isn't fair and the bad guys win.

The righteously indignant are overlooking a few things. First, Comedy Central is joking. If you're not offending someone, you're probably not being very funny. People need to learn to take (or at least disregard) a joke, don't take yourself so seriously. Second, South Park has very regularly portrayed Jesus as a normal guy. In fact, they've had entire episodes that are essentially the same concept as this new show. Where is the indignant rage? Oh, that's right, they don't actually watch Comedy Central. Why would they start worrying about what's on Comedy Central now, even though they've never watched it before?

Christians on blogs all over the place are promising to boycott anybody that advertises on this show. Don't people have bigger things to worry about than a silly show that's probably going to fail (like most new shows on Comedy Central) after it's first couple of episodes?

(via Reuters [and a bunch of other places])
 

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