Saturday, June 19, 2010

287: The Passion of The Christ & Matthew: In Review

Matthew 27-28
"When they had crucified him, they divided up his clothes by casting lots. And sitting down, they kept watch over him there. Above his head they placed the written charge against him: THIS IS JESUS, THE KING OF THE JEWS." - Matthew 27:35-37

Early that morning, the elders sentence Jesus to death, and they send him off to the Roman governor, Pilate. Judas, upon seeing Jesus's conviction, returns the thirty silver coins to the elders and promptly hangs himself. Contrary to the popular image of Judas as a great villain, I see only a victim. Jesus, according to his own words, could have at any point stopped his execution. Or he could have turned himself over to the elders instead of having Judas (or another of his disciples) betray him. Would this not be the most compassionate approach? Especially if he could foresee Judas's death (and subsequent torture, if you believe Dante).

While Judas is hanging himself, Jesus is confronting Pilate. Pilate asks if he is king of the Jews. Jesus says yes. Pilate asks if he hears the testimony the priests are bringing against him. Jesus gives no answer.

The bible then says that Pilate has a yearly custom of releasing one prisoner. He gives the crowd the option of freeing either Jesus or the notorious criminal Barabbas. At this time, Pilate's wife sends him a message telling him not to mess with Jesus. She says that she's suffered a great deal in a dream on account of Jesus. Suffered how? The wording implies that Jesus was torturing her in the dream.

Pilate asks the crowd again (apparently ignoring his wife) which they would free. They all say "Barabbas". He then asks what they would have him do with Jesus, and they all say "crucify him". Pilate asks the crowd what crime Jesus has committed (doesn't he already know?). Instead of answering, the crowd just shouts "crucify him" louder.

Pilate sees that the crowd is getting out of hand, and washes his hands in front of the crowd. He tells them that he is washing his hands of Jesus's blood. He then tells the crowd that Jesus is their responsibility. The crowd responds by saying "let his blood be on us and on our children." Why would they wish for Jesus's blood to be on their children? Pilate then has Jesus flogged (why?) and hands him over to be crucified.

As Jesus is being held for crucifixion, the Roman soldiers put a red robe on him, give him a staff, and a crown of thorns. They then mockingly worship him, saying "hail, king of the Jews". Finally, they change him back into his own clothes and lead him to the crucifixion.

On the way to the crucifixion, the Roman guards see a man named Simon and force him to carry Jesus's cross. The bible doesn't explain why Simon needs to carry the cross. Also on the way, they offer Jesus wine mixed with gall, but Jesus refuses. The bible then says that Jesus is crucified (no description) and his clothes are divided up among the guards. They put a sign over his head that reads "This is Jesus, The King of the Jews". The bible also mentions that two robbers were crucified with Jesus, but gives no further description of them.

For awhile Jesus is mocked by the priest (who has apparently tagged along to see the crucifixion). In the same way, the bible says, both the robbers who are crucified with him hurl insults at him.

As Jesus's death approaches, the land grows dark. Just before his death, Jesus yells "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?". Doesn't Jesus know the significance of his death? Why is he asking a question that he knows the answer to? Someone then offers Jesus a sponge soaked with vinegar to drink. Yum?

Jesus yells in a loud voice one last time, and dies. At the point of his death, there is an earthquake. The curtains of the temple are ripped, and tombs are ripped open. The bodies that fall out of these tombs are immediately resurrected and start roaming the land. Well nobody ever told me that fun little factoid. Jesus's eventual resurrection is becoming less and less impressive with every other person that is miraculously resurrected. The bible makes resurrection sound almost common.

As evening approaches, Joseph (one of Jesus's disciples) gets Jesus's body from Pilate, and buries it in a tomb that he created. He then rolls a large stone in front of the opening to the tomb. Mary Magdalene and the "other Mary" (the virgin Mary, I presume) stay sitting opposite the tomb. The Pharisees come to Pilate the next day, and ask for guards to be placed outside of Jesus's tomb. Otherwise, they say, the disciples might steal the body and claim Jesus was resurrected. Only then do they go and place a seal on the tomb.

On that Sunday, Mary and the other Mary go to check on the tomb. There is then another earthquake (the bible doesn't say if the Marys are there yet) and the stone is rolled away from the opening to the tomb by an angel. The guards are so afraid of this angel that they have seizures and become "like dead men". When the Marys get there, they find and empty tomb. The angel tells them that Jesus has risen, and gone to Galilee.

On their way to Galilee, they see Jesus. He tells them to go get the disciples and meet him on a mountain. The disciples meet him, but the bible says that some of them doubt this resurrected Jesus. Why would they have doubts? Maybe this is a better question. If the disciples, who could see Jesus with their very eyes, have doubts, how are we (hearing this second/third hand 2000+ years later) expected to have no doubts?

The whole tomb scene seems very strange. After the bible spends all that time convincing us that the tomb won't be empty (with guards, seals etc.), it turns out to be empty. The only witnesses (the guards) are having some sort of neurological attack, so we don't get to hear from them what happened. As far as the bible says, the Marys got there and the tomb was (miraculously or otherwise) empty.

The idea that the tomb was guarded is undermined by the fact that the tomb was unguarded for a full night. Who cares if the guards sealed the tomb if the disciples already had plenty of time to take the body? This is not to mention that the tomb builder himself was one of the disciples. Considering we can't examine the tomb, it's impossible to rule out a menagerie of alternate explanations to Jesus's resurrection/disappearance.

Matthew: In Review
I think reading the bible has done more to hurt my preconceived notion of Jesus than any person ever could have.

I'll grant that Jesus seems to be reluctant to hurt people while on the earth. Though he seems to have no qualms with casting people into eternal hellfire for simply not acknowledging his omnipotence. I'm really not sure what's worse. I'd probably have to choose the finite torment of fire and brimstone over eternal hellfire.

While relatively tame in comparison to casting people into hell, I wasn't expecting Jesus's selfish douchebaggery. First, he seems to call his disciples idiots at every turn. If they don't understand even one of his vague parables, they're suddenly "dull" and faithless. At best Jesus is a bad teacher. At worst he's intentionally setting people up to go to hell (i.e. speaking in parables with the intent that people not understand).

Second, and most recently, he denied the poor food so that he could have expensive perfume poured over his head. With the idea that the poor will always be around but he won't be around forever. Not only is this selfish, but none of us are going to be around forever. What's his point? I could just as easily say "I can't give to the poor because I'm going to die some day, WWJD".

Yes, Jesus says "love your enemy" and "treat others as yourself", but does he practice what he preaches? Or is he just really fun to quote mine?

On the good side, Matthew it mostly non-repetitive and had a bunch of interesting things to talk about. It's definitely (from a reading standpoint) much better than anything in the Old Testament.

*News*
Can the bible be trusted? One man thinks so, and has plenty of (bad) reasons:
The Bible is unique among the “holy books”; it is rooted in and intertwined with actual human history. The Bible is the word of God. It records the interaction of God with historical people and nations. It reveals the meaning of life and the responsibility of human beings to their creator.
I can almost guarantee that any Muslim would say the exact same thing about the Quran. It reveals the meaning of life, and the responsibility of humans to their creator... If you already believe that to be the case. I wouldn't call this something "unique" about the bible.
The remarkable structure of the Bible should also be stressed. Although it is a collection of 66 books, written by 40 or more different men over a period of 2,000 years, it is clearly one Book, with perfect unity and consistency throughout. The individual writers, at the time of writing, had no idea that their message was eventually to be incorporated into such a Book, but each nevertheless fits perfectly into place and serves its own unique purpose as a component of the whole.
Maybe I should stop reading this article. This guy is obviously talking about some other "bible" that I've never read. Perfect unity and consistency? The bible doesn't even have good unity, much less perfect unity. To me, most of the bible is clearly meant to be a standalone book. Why, if it were mean't to be one book, would there be so much shameless repetition (see 1/2 Chronicles, Psalms, Deuteronomy, etc.)? Not to mention that the Old and New Testaments openly contradict each other (e.g. eye for an eye vs. turn the other cheek). That's certainly not something I would expect one unified book to do.
Prophetic fulfillment…; The Bible stands superior because every prophecy written thousands of years ago continues to be fulfilled to this day. Fulfilled prophecy from the book of Genesis to the book of Malachi, the Old Testament abounds with anticipation of the coming Messiah. This relates to His birth, life, ministry, death, and resurrection. Here are some examples: Seed of a woman (Genesis 3:15), Virgin birth (Isaiah 7:14), Bethlehem as place of birth (Micah 5:2), ministry of miracles (Isaiah 35:5-6), sold for 30 shekels (Zechariah 11:12), and His resurrection (psalms 16:10, 22:22). [links added]
I don't have time to address all of these "prophecies" (I've already talked about a lot of them anyway). But I encourage you all to click on a few of them, and tell me if you think these are the clear, succinct, prophecies you would expect from and all knowing, all powerful creator.
Another striking evidence of divine inspiration is found in the fact that many of the principles of modern science were recorded as facts of nature in the Bible long before science confirmed them experimentally; Round of the earth, (Isaiah 40:22), almost infinite extent of the sidereal universe, (Isaiah 55:9), Law of conservation of mass and energy, (2 Peter 3:7), hydrologic cycle, (Ecclesiastes 1:7), vast number of stars, (Jeremiah 33:22), paramount importance of the blood in life processes, (Lev 17:11), gravitational field, (Job 26:7) etc. [links added]
If you're convinced by any of these "scientific revelations" I have no chance of having a logical conversation with you. None of these passages even seem remotely relevant to the scientific process they supposedly describe. Maybe you have to close your eyes and wish real hard before the genius of these passages reveals itself. For the sane among my readers, click the links if you need your daily dose of fundie illogic.

Friday, June 18, 2010

286: Cold Feet

Matthew 26
"Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, 'My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.' " - Matthew 26:39

The chapter starts two days before passover. On passover, Jesus says, he will be betrayed. Indeed, Matthew says that the high priests assembled to plot Jesus's capture. How Matthew knows about this meeting, I'm not sure.

As the time of his death approaches, Jesus gets even more cranky. While Jesus is visiting a man in Bethany, a woman pours some very expensive perfume on his head. The disciples are furious because, they say, she could have sold that oil and given the money to the poor. Jesus, however, is not angry. He says that he thinks what she's done to him is beautiful, then says "The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me." Huh? I think feeding the poor is a little more important than you smelling nice, Jesus. Even if you aren't going to be around forever.

In fact, Jesus is so pleased with this woman that he says "wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her." Now I ask you, average person who's probably heard the gospel of Jesus at least once, have you ever heard of this woman? I'm not sure why he likes what she did that much in the first place.

It's soon after this that Judas goes to the chief priest and agrees to betray Jesus for 30 pieces of silver.

Next is the last supper. While everyone is eating, Jesus says that someone in the room will betray him. This makes the disciples very sad, and one by one they say "surely not I, Lord?". Jesus says that it will happen just like it is written, but woe to the one that betrays him. He says that it would be better for his betrayer not to have been born. This doesn't make any sense. If the prophecy has to be fulfilled, then one of his disciples has to be the poor unlucky bastard that does it. Finally, Judas comes to Jesus and, like the rest of the disciples, says "surely not I, Rabbi?". Jesus replies "yes, it is you". I guess he whispered, because nobody else seems to react.

The final paragraph of this section is the basis for all of our modern symbolic cannibalism. Jesus breaks bread and says "take and eat; this is my body". Then he pours wine and says "This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins".

They then move to the Mount of Olives. Jesus tells the disciples that they will all fall away from him by the end of the night. Peter speaks up and says that even if all the other disciples deny him, he never will. Even if Peter has to die, he says, he won't disown him. Jesus tells him that by the end of the night he will deny him three times.

Jesus then takes all of his disciples to Gethsemane, and tells them to sit down while he goes and prays. He takes Peter and two other disciples with him to pray. He tells the disciples to "keep watch" while he prays. I'm not sure what they're keeping watch for. Is Jesus impatient for the fulfillment of the prophecy?

Jesus then prays, "My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me." I can only take this to mean that he's getting cold feet on the whole crucifixion thing. I'm not sure what else he could be talking about. Jesus returns to the disciples he put on watch and finds them sleeping. He rebukes them and tells them to watch and pray so they won't fall into temptation. What temptation? Betraying Jesus? I thought Jesus already knew that Judas was betraying him. If he's so concerned about not being betrayed maybe he should have kept better tabs on Judas.

Twice more he goes to pray, and twice more he finds his disciples sleeping. The second time he returns and rouses them because, he says, his betrayer is on his way. He says "rise, let us go!" Is Jesus considering running? We will never know, because before he is done speaking, Judas comes around the corner with a small army.

As Jesus is arrested, one of his "companions" (I guess the bible means disciples, because it doesn't say anyone else is with him) grabs his sword and chops off the ear of one of the priest's servants. Jesus tells them to put down their swords or they will be killed. He tells them that, on a whim, he could call a whole army of angels to kill his capturers, but that would ruin the prophecy. Could he really? He just spent half the night praying that God would free him of his responsibility, why does he think that God would save him now?

Later (it's still pre-dawn), Peter follows Jesus to his trial. I haven't mentioned this much before, but it's blatantly obvious here. This is at best a second hand account. It doesn't say Matthew followed Jesus, only Peter. Anyway, at the trial, the priests (for some reason) have a hard time finding evidence of Jesus's blasphemy. They finally ask Jesus if he is the son of God. Jesus says that he is, and in the future he will be sitting at the right hand of God.

This is all the blasphemy the high priest needs to hear, and he sentences him to death. The people in the courtyard then proceed to spit on Jesus, punch him, and slap him.

The final event of the chapter is Peter disowning Jesus. Three people, one after the other, come up to Peter and say that they saw him with Jesus. Each time Peter denies that he even knows who Jesus is. Peter sure had a quick change of heart. Just a matter of hours ago he was willing to die for Jesus. When Peter remembers his promise, he weeps bitterly. I guess Peter isn't necessarily disloyal, he's just terribly forgetful.

*News*
This article, attempting to link biblical prophecy to the gulf oil spill, starts bad and gets worse:
If followers of the Christian blogosphere are not yet familiar with Revelation 8:8, they soon will be:

'And the second angel sounded and as it were a great mountain burning with fire was cast into the sea: and the third part of the sea became blood; and the third part of the creatures which were in the sea, and had life, died; and the third part of the ships were destroyed.'
In fairness, the writer of the article uses the "isn't this interesting" approach, rather than fully endorsing this "prophecy". I'm not even sure why she thinks this is interesting, considering the wording of this passage seems to have nothing to do with anything gulf-oil related. I guess sea life is dying, so that makes the entire prophecy match perfectly. Unfortunately, any good thoughts I was having about this writer are wiped away by this sentence:
It is intriguing to reflect on the historical fact that the very foundations of BP were laid on a prophetic message from the Psalms: 'That he may bring out of the earth oil to make him a cheerful countenance.'
The fact? Lets examine this prophecy. It turns out this Psalm is Psalm 104:14-15 (she doesn't bother to mention that, lest we reveal the bullshit). Let me quote it in it's entirety (NIV of course):
He makes grass grow for the cattle, and plants for man to cultivate— bringing forth food from the earth: wine that gladdens the heart of man, oil to make his face shine, and bread that sustains his heart.
Somehow I don't think the ancient Israelites were smearing sweet crude on their faces to make themselves "shine". Not to mention that "coming out of the earth" probably refers to whatever was growing in the earth to produce this food oil (olives?). Yet somehow this is a historical "fact".

I wonder what preachers think of this misrepresentation. Oh wait, we have some priestly reactions in this very article:
What a lot of nonsense. I do not believe in biblical interpretation in that kind of way. It brings classical scholarship into disrepute. It is a disgrace. - Lord Carey (former Archbishop of Canterbury)
Bravo, sir. I'm not sure why she included this. Considering she just called this prophecy a historical fact. She must have a strange definition of "fact".

(via The Times)

Thursday, June 17, 2010

285: Jesus Will Return... 2000 Years Ago

Matthew 24-25
"I tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened." - Matthew 24:34

All of chapter 24 is about the "end of the age" (aka Jesus's return). Jesus spends a long time making sure we don't fall for any "false Christs" before his actual return. He says many false Christs will come before him and perform great miracles. If these "false" Christs can perform great miracles then what is "false" about them? Jesus says the true sign will be when flies down from heaven, angels blow trumpets, the "elected" are gathered from "the four winds" (what?), and the abomination that causes desolation is in the holy place (again, what?). This has to be the most vague prophecy I've ever heard.

As if this isn't all crazy enough already, Jesus drops a bombshell. "I tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened." So all of these prophecies about Jesus's return were supposed to have happened in the writer's generation?Then what are all these Christians waiting around for? Either all this has already happened, or the prophecy is bullshit. If there's some other interpretation of this passage, I can't find it.

Jesus spends the rest of the chapter explaining how this prophecy will be fulfilled when people least expect it. This all seems pretty irrelevant now, considering he's talking about something that happened 2000 years ago (or didn't happen at all). Even if we throw out Jesus saying all this will happen in his generation, this passage makes people that try to put a date on the end of the world seem silly. They're putting a date on something that the prophecy deliverer himself says can't be dated.

The next parable is about ten virgins. Five of the virgins are "foolish", and five are "wise". The stupid virgins decide not to put oil in their lamps, the smart ones do. They are all waiting around for the bridegroom to come, but he takes forever and they all fall asleep. At midnight, the bridegroom arrives. By this time, the stupid virgin's lamps have gone out. They beg the smart virgins for oil, but they tell the stupid virgins to go to the market and buy some.

By the time the stupid virgins get back from the market, the bridegroom has already taken the five smart virgins to the wedding banquet. When the stupid virgins beg to be let into the banquet, the bridegroom says "I don't know you". And this is all a huge metaphor for God (the bridegroom) and humanity (the virgins). We're all supposed to have our oil lamps full, because we never know when the bridegroom (God) is going to come. Hopefully God doesn't take advantage of us after getting drunk at the wedding banquet. I think I just took the metaphor too far.

The next parable is about a man with three servants. He gives one servant five talents, the next servant two talents, and the final servant one talent. The first servant uses his five talents to gain five more. Likewise, the second servant uses his two talents to gain two more. However, the last servant buries his talent so he doesn't lose it.

Upon the master's return, he praises the first two servants for doubling their money. When he gets to the last servant he calls him wicked, and gives his talent to the man with ten talents. This is a metaphor for the end of times. He who has more will be given even more, and he who has less will be thrown into hell (why?). It's settled, God is a Republican.

The last part of the chapter is about sheep (good people) and goats (bad people). At the end of days people will be divided into sheep and goats. Jesus will tell the sheep they are blessed because they fed him when he was hungry and gave him water when he was thirsty. The righteous sheep answer that they don't know what he's talking about, because they never fed him or gave him drink (maybe they should have just said "you're welcome"). Jesus says that if they feed the least of his brothers they have fed him.

The goats, on the other hand, Jesus will send to hell for not feeding him. The goats ask when they ever refused to feed him. Jesus responds by saying that if they refuse to feed a stranger they refuse to feed Jesus. Eternal torment seems a bit harsh for not feeding one stranger.

*News*
Even some Christians recognize that Jesus isn't all roses and butterflies:
Go into most churches, and you’ll rarely hear a sermon about the firm, confrontational, and courageous side of Jesus’ personality. Churches sing about “The Old Rugged Cross,” but preachers and teachers seldom mention the rugged side of the Savior. For many women, this is not a problem because…let’s be honest…the rougher side of Jesus can make women uncomfortable and even lead to an occasional cringe.
The churches are hiding Jesus's true identity so they don't make the women uncomfortable? I must secretly have gender identity issues, because a lot of Jesus's actions make me cringe. The writer goes on to list a few of Jesus's "rough side" moments. Then he continues being a misogynist:
Far too often, when women come to these passages in the Bible, they just skip over them or try to explain away the stronger side of Jesus. They rationalize, “Jesus wasn’t really angry in the temple courts. No way. He was calm and amazingly detached as he swung that whip around.” They read in the NIV Bible translation that Jesus rebuked Peter with a stern “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me” (Matthew 26:23), and somehow their NGB (Nice Girl Bible) translation turns that into “Jesus got a little annoyed with Peter and tactfully suggested that it would be best for Peter to give him some space to regroup and have a little ‘me time.’”
Turn the word "women" into "Christians" and this article will not only be more accurate, but considerably less douchey. I'm not sure why only Christian women are getting blamed for this gross misrepresentation of Jesus. Unless all the Christian guys I know are really cross dressing woman.
Fortunately, Jesus Christ doesn’t need damage control or help from an image consultant. As presented in the Gospels, Jesus is most definitely not one-sided. He is the complete embodiment of healthy, balanced human personality; thus, Jesus is immensely compassionate, kind, and gracious while also being assertive, forceful, and firm when necessary. He is good, but he’s definitely not “nice” or as safe as many Christians want to believe.
Clearly Jesus does need image control. I say this because (as this article says) Jesus's image is controlled by the vast majority of churches. Would Jesus be as well liked if people fully accepted that he calls random women "dogs" and kills fig trees because they don't please him? I certainly like him less.

If this article has taught me anything, it's that the writer needs to take a long look at his calendar. It's 2010, not 1910. It's time to stop blaming women for Christianity's problems. It's also time to stop implying that women somehow can't handle any type of violence. There are women in the army, there are women that are doctors, and nurses, and all the other "manly" professions where they might see violence. Your gender stereotypes are just as bad as racial or religious stereotypes, get over them.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

284: The Greatest Commandment

Matthew 22-23
" 'Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?' Jesus replied: 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' " - Matthew 22:36-37

The first parable of the day is about a man that invites a bunch of people to his son's wedding banquet. When he sends his servants out to tell the people to come to the banquet, the invitees kill the servants. Maybe the man should have spent a little more time considering who he was going to invite.

When the man hears about this he kills all of the people that killed his servants, and instead invites everyone to the banquet. The man then runs around throwing out all the bad people he just invited. This is, of course, meant to imply that God is going to throw out the Israelites and invite everyone into his good graces. Then go around throwing out the bad people.

Next, people approach Jesus and ask if they have to pay the unfair taxes. I'm not sure why they're worried about this, considering Jesus told them to give all their money to the poor. Jesus asks to see the coin used to pay the taxes, and when he sees Caesar's portrait he says, "Give to Caesar what is Caesar's, and to God what is God's".

The Sadducees then ask Jesus a question about the end of days (where everyone will supposedly be resurrected). They say that when a man dies, his brother is supposed to marry the widow. Following this logic, they ask who's wife the widow will be when both husbands are resurrected.

Jesus says they are wrong because they do not know the scriptures (he doesn't mention where their logic when wrong). He says that when everyone is resurrected nobody will be married to anyone (where does the scripture say this?). Jesus then says that God is not the God of the dead, but of the living. What? God stops being God when you die?

Jesus goes on to tell the crowd what the greatest commandment is. He says that the greatest commandment is to love God with all your heart. Why, then, did he fail to mention this commandment when he was listing the commandments you need to follow to get into heaven? It's somehow the greatest commandment but you don't actually need to follow it to get into heaven?

Jesus then asks the Pharisees who's son the "Christ" is. They reply that he is the son of David. I'm not sure how they know this. Jesus then asks them how it is that David (speaking "by the spirit" whatever that means) calls him "Lord". Jesus contends that if he were David's son, he would never call him "Lord". Wait a minute. Didn't Matthew just spend almost an entire chapter trying to convince us that Jesus is the son of David? Isn't Jesus completely contradicting himself here?

At the end of the chapter, everyone is so terrified at Jesus's response that they don't dare ask him any more questions.

For the entirety of chapter 23, Jesus chastises the Pharisees for their many hypocrisies. Unfortunately, Jesus is starting to repeat himself. There's really not too many new things in this chapter.

The only thing mildly original (albeit mostly irrelevant) is Jesus's condemnation of what the Pharisees swear on. Jesus says that the Pharisees swear on what is on the altar, instead of the altar itself. He asks which is greater, the altar itself, or what is on the altar. He says, therefore that anyone who swears on the altar also swears on whatever is on it. I thought we weren't supposed to be swearing on anything.

*News*
Is being open to the existence of aliens irrational, or even a religion? These questions have been brought up as a result of new findings on Titan, one of Saturn's moons:
New findings have roused a great deal of hoopla over the possibility of life on Saturn's moon Titan, which some news reports have further hyped up as hints of extraterrestrials.

...All this excitement is rooted in analyses of chemical data returned by NASA's Cassini spacecraft. One study suggested that hydrogen was flowing down through Titan's atmosphere and disappearing at the surface. Astrobiologist Chris McKay at NASA's Ames Research Center speculated that this could be a tantalizing hint that hydrogen is getting consumed by life.
I agree that this is an interesting revelation. However, I am as skeptical as the astrobiologist at NASA is. According to the writer of this article, many people are less than skeptical:
"Suggested..." "speculated..." "could be..." "tantalizing hint..." And based on these incredibly weak pegs I guarantee you there is a plethora of folks out there hoping, praying that there are Methane Messiahs on Titan just waiting for the moment to offer us salvation from our many sins, including political, environmental, and budgetary sins.
What? Even if there does turn out to be life on Titan (which is still very unlikely) it would probably be microbial life. I don't think anyone is even considering intelligent life, much less a "Methane Messiah".
Think I'm kidding? Then try this experiment. Go up to a friend and say something like the following:

"I just don't think there is any other intelligent life in the universe based on the fact we have been searching for signals in the cosmos for decades with absolutely no results."

I guarantee you will get a much angrier reaction than if you had denied the existence of a Supreme Being. In fact the most famous atheist of them all, Richard Dawkins, is quoted as saying, "Life could conceivably have been seeded on Earth by an alien intelligence from another planet." So despite the fact Dawkins fervently denies the existence of God, the idea of "Space Messiahs" bringing life to our planet is entirely within the realm of possibility according to Mr. Atheist.
This guy obviously hasn't lived in the bible belt. Either that or he's never actually bothered to deny the existence of a supreme being. If he had, he'd realize that at least a small percentage of Christians freak out if you even imply there is no God. While on the other hand, I've never heard of a Christian (or anyone from any other religion) that had terribly strong feelings about the existence of alien life.

What would make alien life more unlikely than a deity? Would alien life be inconsistent with reality? I would certainly consider an all powerful, all good deity inconsistent with the pain and suffering that exists.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

283: Jesus Steals a Donkey, Trashes the Temple

Matthew 20-21
"Go to the village ahead of you, and at once you will find a donkey tied there, with her colt by her. Untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, tell him that the Lord needs them, and he will send them right away." - Matthew 21:2-3

The first parable of the day is about a man with a vineyard. At the beginning of the day he hires some men and promises to pay them one denarius (however much that is) for their day's work. About every hour, he finds more people standing around and hires them as well. At the end of the day, he pays everyone one denarius. This includes the people that have only worked one hour. The original people he hired, who worked twelve hours, obviously have a problem with this and confront the land owner. The land owner says this:
Friend, I am not being unfair to you. Didn't you agree to work for a denarius? Take your pay and go. I want to give the man who was hired last the same as I gave you. Don't I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?
Jesus says this is how it will be (he doesn't say where or when), the last will be first, and the first will be last. Why is this supposed to make us want to follow Jesus? I can't think of any good implications from this parable. Jesus is pro unfairness in the workplace?

Next, a mother approaches Jesus and asks if her sons can sit at Jesus's right and left. Jesus says no, because a place at his right and left is not for him to grant. He says that those places have been reserved by God. I really don't know what the implication is here.

In the next chapter, Jesus is finally ready for his triumphant entrance into Jerusalem. As usual, he remembers the prophecies, and realizes that he needs to ride in on a donkey. Not having a donkey, he uses his psychic powers to figure out that there is a donkey and a colt tied up in the village ahead. He sends two disciples ahead and tells them to take the donkey and the colt. If anyone approaches them, they are supposed to tell them that the Lord needs the colt and the donkey. The Lord needs them? That's definitely my new excuse if I ever steal anything.

Jesus says that he will return them right away. But does he? The bible never says. Not that stealing isn't stealing if you promise to return it. I think taking without asking would fall under anyone's reasonable definition of "stealing". Which brings up the big question, didn't Jesus just sin? Remember that little "do not steal" commandment?

Upon entering Jerusalem, Jesus "drives out" all the people buying and selling in the temple area. He then runs around overturning tables and benches of those doing business there. Isn't Jesus having a bit of a temper tantrum? What happened to turn the other cheek? Maybe that passage was smudged. Maybe it really read "Turn the other cheek, then break their shit." Jesus's reasoning for his tantrum is that people aren't supposed to be buying and selling in the temple area.

Then Jesus really goes off the deep end. Hungry after his little hissy fit, Jesus goes to a fig tree to pick (read "steal") some figs. When the fig tree has no figs, Jesus says "may you never bear fruit again" and kills the fig tree. What? I guess the takeaway from this is that if you're ever hungry, and a fruit tree doesn't have fruit, you should chop that bastard down. It's lack of fruit is obviously a personal affront to anyone that is hungry in it's general vicinity.

Jesus's disciples come up to him and ask him how that fruit tree whithered so quickly. Jesus says that if they had faith they could not only kill fig trees, but they could toss mountains into the ocean. That's great Jesus. Don't use your powers for good things. No, that's not impressive enough. Use your powers to kill plants and toss mountains into the ocean (which would cause terrible tsunamis by the way). Jesus ends by again saying (with no qualification) that whatever you ask for will be given to you if you believe.

Jesus enters the temple courts, and the priests approach him. They ask him by what authority he does these things. I assume they're talking about trashing the temple market. Jesus, instead of answering, asks where John the baptist's authority came from. He gives them two options, from heaven, or from men. The priest discuss it, and decide that they don't know. Jesus says that since they can't answer his question, he's not answering theirs. Why the hell not? Why can't Jesus tell them by who's authority he's trashing temples, stealing donkeys, and killing fig trees?

Jesus ends the chapter with two more parables. The first parable is about a man with two sons. He asks his first son to go work in the vineyard. The first son tells his father no, but changes his mind later and goes to work. The man then asks his second son to go work. His second son says he will go work, but later changes his mind and stays home. Jesus asks the people which son did what the father asked. They answer "the first". Jesus somehow concludes that this means tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the kingdom of heaven before the Israelites.

By the way, what does Jesus have against tax collectors? Shouldn't he have a problem with the king/emperor who's demanding that taxes be collected in the first place? He's obviously never heard of "don't kill the messenger".

The second parable is about a landowner and his tenants. The landowner rents his land to the tenants and tells them to harvest his fruit for them. The landowner then goes away on a journey. When the landowner sends his servants to go collect his share of the fruit, the tenants kill the servants. After sending a few more rounds of servants, the landowner finally sends his son, who is also killed. Jesus asks the crowd what the landowner should do to the tenants.

The crowd says that the landowner should kill the tenants and put in new, more obedient, tenants. Jesus says this is what God is going to do to the people. God is going to take away the earth from us undeserving people and give it to people who will "produce fruit". So much for Jesus preventing God's wrath.

*News*
The FFRF (Freedom From Religion Foundation) is at it again with more bus adds.

Those of you who have read this blog for awhile know that I'm not the biggest fan of the FFRF. Namely their opposition of the Mother Teresa U.S. postal stamp. Definitely not, in my opinion, a battle they should have picked.

Their newest bus add says "Sleep in on Sunday". With the obvious implication that you should stop going to church. The co-president, Dan Barker, had this to say about the bus add:
Obviously, there are many reasons to reject religion, most of them intellectual. But face it — one of the immediate benefits of quitting church, besides getting a 10 percent raise because you can stop tithing, is getting to sleep in on Sundays! What the world really needs is a good night’s sleep.
Then go to bed earlier Saturday night. I fully agree that this is the most non-intellectual bus add they've ever produced. I'm not sure why they chose to go with the non-intellectual argument, rather than the many intellectual one.

While I think these bus adds are a little silly, I'm obviously not upset about them, and I'm certainly not offended. Fortunately (or unfortunately if you don't like reading fundie rage), plenty of fundies are taking huge offence:
Still, the implication of the ads is that those who do subscribe to a faith tradition are somehow not "free thinkers." I object to this characterization.
Wait, what? Did we read the same add? What does sleeping in on Sunday have to do with not being a free thinker? I honestly can't imagine anyone taking personal offense to such an obviously irrelevant add.

But wait, there's another person that's offended:
I certainly understand the right of free speech and am a fervent believer of it. Thus I find it also necessary to voice my right of free speech and acknowledge not only my offense of the advertisements by the Freedom From Religion Foundation attacking religion and suggesting people would do better to simply sleep in on Sundays. But I also think it is poor taste to be on city buses.
This is attacking religion? I would imagine this guy's head would explode if he'd seen the "there is no God" bus adds. How is this "poor taste"? It must be the liberal, socialist "sleep in" agenda. He goes on:
In a day when values and respect of life seem to be at an all time low it seems sad that in the search for funds CTA would approve such ads for our citizens and in particular our children who ride these buses to and from school to be reading each day.
On what grounds would the bus company deny this add? Didn't this guy just say that he is pro freedom of speech? He needs to walk the talk a bit more. I have bad news for this guy, the children reading these adds would already rather sleep in on Sunday. They're not going to have any revelations after reading this add.

Maybe FFRF has accomplished something. Maybe someone will see these bus adds and immediately renounce their religion. I find this unlikely, but I didn't think people were going to be offended either.

Monday, June 14, 2010

282: Who is the Greatest of Them All?

Matthew 18-19
"At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, 'Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?' He called a little child and had him stand among them. And he said: 'I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven." - Matthew 18:1-4

Jesus starts the day by saying that you have to be like a child to be the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. If anyone ever tells you to "grow up" just tell them that you're trying to become great in the kingdom of heaven. Jesus goes on to say that whoever welcomes a child in Jesus's name, welcomes Jesus himself. But if anyone causes a child who believes in Jesus to sin, they would be better off drowning themselves.

Jesus then says woe to the things that cause people to sin. But at the same time he says that those things must come, and woe to the people through which these sinful things come. So these sinful things must come into the world, but we have to punish those through which they come. How do you get chosen to be the unlucky sin deliverer? Jesus again repeats the idea that you should cut off your hands and gouge out your eyes if they are causing you to sin.

Next is a parable about a lost sheep. Jesus says that if you lose one out of a hundred sheep, you will leave ninety nine behind and search for the one you've lost. When you find that one sheep you will be more happy about that sheep than the other ninety nine you left behind. Jesus says it's the same way with God. So no matter how good you are, God is always happier when a non-believer is converted than he will ever be with you. Nice guy.

Jesus goes on to give us a long process on what we are supposed to do for a brother who sins against us. First we are to approach him alone. If he doesn't listen, we should grab a few friends and try to convince him of his wrongdoing. If he still doesn't listen, then we are supposed to inform the church. Finally, if he doesn't listen to the church, then you are supposed to treat him like a pagan or a tax collector. And how are we supposed to treat them, Jesus? Aren't we supposed to love everyone, even pagans and tax collectors?

[edit: I missed an important paragraph here. Jesus says that if any two people on earth agree to something, then it will be done by God in heaven. Excuse me? What if two people agree to kill someone else? Jesus says that God will do anything, no qualifiers. Jesus goes on to say that where two or three come together in Jesus's name, Jesus will be there. What was that about locking yourself in your room, alone, to pray? Jesus says if you're praying alone, he's not there.]

In the last section of the chapter, Peter asks Jesus how many times he should forgive his brother when he sins. Peter suggests forgiving him seven times. Jesus says not to forgive him seven times, but seventy seven times. Could this number be any more arbitrary?

The last parable of this chapter is about an unmerciful servant. The servant owes the king ten thousand talents (however much that is). The king orders that he sells his wife and children to pay his debts. The man begs the king not to make him do this, but have patience with him. The king relents and allows the man and his wife and kids to go. As soon as the man leaves he goes to someone who owes him money and demands that he be repaid. When the second debtor can't repay the first debtor he has him locked up. The king is infuriated when he hears how his mercy was not passed along and has the debtor locked up. This parable seems incredibly familiar. It seems like this was a story from the Old Testament. I'll give you a million internet points if you can figure out where this story is in the Old Testament (keep in mind that I could be sending you on a wild goose chase).

In the beginning of the next chapter, Jesus again talks about divorce (uh oh, he's starting to repeat himself). The Pharisees ask if it's lawful to divorce someone, to test if Jesus has the right answers. Jesus repeats that it is not lawful, except for the case of the wife being unfaithful. The Pharisees say, "Why then, did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?". Good point, considering Jesus isn't supposed to be changing the laws of the prophets. Jesus says that Moses only did this because the Israelites' hearts were hard, but it was not that way from the beginning. Are the Israelites' hearts less hard now? Regardless, the Pharisees' point still stands. Jesus continually contradicts his original assertion that he's not here to change the laws of the prophets.

The next section is about Jesus touching little children. Jesus says "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these". Then he "places his hands on them". I'm not going to imply anything here. But I think if some thirty year old creepy dude wanted to "lay his hands" on your kids, you'd be more than a little hesitant.

A man comes up to Jesus and asks what he needs to do to have eternal life. Jesus tells the man to follow the commandments. When the man asks which commandments he has to follow, Jesus says "Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, honor your father and mother, and love your neighbor as yourself." That's it? What about not being gay, or not working on the sabbath, or worshiping God, or following Jesus (I'm probably leaving out hundreds of other commandments that the Old Testament demands you follow)?

The man says that he has done all these things, and asks Jesus if there is anything else. Jesus tells him to sell all of his possessions, give the money to the poor, and follow him. When the man hears this he is terribly sad, because he is very wealthy. Jesus then says the famous "it's easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God." What does someone's richness have to do with how good they are? Sometimes being rich gives you unique ways to help people (see Bill Gates).

Jesus's disciples are disappointed and ask how it is possible for any man to get into heaven. Jesus says what with man it's impossible, but with God all things are possible. Yes, especially when God is holding the keys to the kingdom of God.

*News*
What's the best way to stop oil flowing into the Gulf of Mexico? Some people say we should do nothing pray.
Pray for Our Coast is urging people to pray from 10 am to 2pm everyday for “the healing of the land”. Blaming and shaming they say won’t resolve a thing.
People are praying for four hours a day?! It turns out no, the website this article links to says that they are praying at 10am and 2pm for one minute each. The telephone game is at work. Whether it's 2 minutes or four hours, contending that "blaming and shaming" does less than praying is just silly.

"Blaming and shaming" BP means that if they don't work harder to fix this problem, they will lose more money. What if we hadn't blamed BP at all? Would they even be doing anything? What does BP (as a corporation) care about killing animals?

If praying makes you feel better, then fine. But how often has God come down and plugged an oil leak, or helped clean oil soaked birds? As a side note, every prayer is a test of Jesus's assertion that anything asked for in his name will be given to you. Keep in mind that even one unanswered prayer would be enough to disprove this hypothesis. All these people seem to be doing by praying twice a day is proving that Jesus is full of shit.

I can think of no more relevant saying than "Two hands working are better than a thousand clasped in prayer". And blame and shame is just what BP needs to get their hands working.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

281: Poor Disciples

Matthew 15-17
" 'Are you still so dull?' Jesus asked them. 'Don't you see that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and then out of the body?' " - Matthew 15:16-17

The day starts out with the Pharisees asking Jesus why his disciples don't wash their hands before they eat. Jesus replies by saying that the Pharisees break the law of God (namely "honor your father and mother"). So what? Jesus doesn't actually address the Pharisees's point, he just accuses them of breaking another one of God's laws. As a side note, I had someone tell me that one of the redeeming scientific takeaways from the bible was the "washing your hands" concept. I guess Jesus didn't get that memo.

Jesus then says that it's not what goes into your mouth that makes you unclean, but what comes out of it. No, sorry, wrong answer. You can't say that the laws of the prophets will remain unchanged (down to the letter) and then say that the dietary laws are irrelevant. The majority of some Old Testament books are about what you can and can't eat. Is Jesus changing the laws of the prophets or not?

Jesus's disciples tell them that he's offended the Pharisees (as if he cares about offending the Pharisees), and they ask him to explain his parable. I guess the Pharisees get it, but the disciples don't. Jesus, before he explains the parable, asks the disciples if they are still so dull. What? Did this add to anything? Did it help your disciples understand more? Surely not. What's the point in belittling the disciples? Sorry we can't all be the "son of God", stop being a pompous douchebag.

Jesus's assholery hasn't even begun. A Canaanite woman comes crying out to Jesus to save her daughter (who is possessed by a demon). The disciples tell Jesus to make her go away because she won't quit following them. Jesus says that he was only sent for the lost sheep of Israel. Now, if he'd just stopped there and healed her, I would have no objection. However, Jesus continues. The woman kneels before Jesus and pleads with him, he responds by saying, "It is not right to take the children's bread and toss it to their dogs." The woman says that even dogs eat the crumbs that fall at the children's feet. Jesus proclaims that the woman has much faith and agrees to heal her daughter.

As usual, I was sure that some Christian website had an explanation for why our all loving Jesus would call a woman a dog (other than being a racist, immature ass hole). The only explanation I've found is that the two were obviously having a great laugh:
So the dog reference was a joke really and Mark’s original readers would have thought of Jesus and the woman having a good laugh. But those Roman readers would have been laughing too. After all, in breaking boundaries and including all the Gentiles in God’s plan of salvation, Jesus had gone to the dogs!
Needless to say, I'm calling bullshit. This woman is on her knees begging for her daughter's life. This is the time for a good joke? Not to mention that this in no way comes across as a joke. The dog, if you'll remember, is an unclean animal. If we put this in Jesus's Jewish context, there's no reason that he means anything other than calling her unclean. If you find any other explanation, I'm happy to hear it.

Jesus goes on to feed another four thousand people. This time with seven loaves of bread and two small fish. We are again left uninformed about how Jesus actually accomplishes this.

The Pharisees come to Jesus and demand a sign from heaven. This doesn't seem unreasonable, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. Jesus says that the only sign he's going to give them is the sign of Jonah (aka the resurrection).

Jesus again goes across the lake. His disciples forget to bring the bread. Jesus says "be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees". His disciples, dumbfounded (as usual), discuss what Jesus said and conclude that he must be concerned about them forgetting to bring the bread.

Jesus overhears them and accuses them of having little faith again. I'm becoming convinced that he only addresses his disciples as "you of little faith". Considering misunderstanding has nothing to do with someone's level of faith (or so I thought). He again belittles his disciples saying "Do you still not understand?". Well, obviously they don't. How about you just explain it to them without belittling them first.

Jesus finally explains that the Pharisees "yeast" is really their words. How the hell were they supposed to figure that out? If you say "yeast" then why do they have little faith if they assume you're talking about bread. Forgive them, oh Lord, for having common sense.

Jesus goes on to predict his own death. He says that he will have to go suffer at the hands of the elders. Where does this leave Judas (Matthew has already mentioned that Judas will betray Jesus)? Why is Judas vilified if Jesus knew all along he had to be betrayed? In fact, where would Jesus be without Judas? Would we have even heard about him?

Six days later, Jesus takes Peter, James, and John up to a high mountain. Jesus is transfigured before them into a being made of light. Suddenly, Moses and Elijah appear before them. No shit, the long dead Moses and Elijah are back. While Jesus is talking to Moses and Elijah, they are enveloped in a cloud and God speaks to them. The disciples are scared shitless and fall face down. Jesus comes and tells them to get back up. When they look up nobody is there but Jesus.

What the hell just happened? I again feel like I've stopped reading the bible and gone to LSD land. As they are coming down the mountain Jesus tells them not to tell anyone about this till he's is resurrected. Jesus then reveals to them that John the baptist was actually the resurrected (reborn?) Elijah. What, is this Buddhism now?

In the next section Jesus is approached by a man who begs for his son to be healed. He had apparently been to all the disciples but they could not heal him. Jesus asks how long he's going to have to put up with these people, and agrees to heal the boy. Why does Jesus now precede his good deeds with douchey statements? Notice that Jesus doesn't use his famous "you're a dog" joke with a begging Jewish man.

His disciples ask him why they were unable to cure the ailing boy (Jesus was supposed to have imbued them will all of his powers of healing). Jesus says it's because they have so little faith. In fact, he says that if they even had faith the size of a mustard seed they would be able to move entire mountains. Why did Jesus pick such shitty disciples? He complains all the time about them, but he's the one that picked them.

The last story today is about Jesus paying the temple tax. The Pharisees ask Peter if Jesus pays the temple tax, and he says yes. Peter goes back to Jesus and Jesus tells him to pay the tax so they don't offend the Pharisees (since when does Jesus care about offending them?). Jesus tells Peter to go cast his fishing line into the lake. The first fish he catches will have, in it's mouth, enough money for the taxes for the two of them. Was that the only way they could have gotten money? I'm under the impression that the disciples were relatively rich before becoming Jesus's disciples.

Jesus is really letting down my lovely preconceived notion of Jesus.

*News*
I'm a little behind on this news story (this all happened almost a month ago now). But it's too good to pass up.
Two Broward teachers have been removed from their classrooms for allegedly pouring holy water on another teacher because she is an atheist.
Reread that a couple of times and let it sink in. That's not even the worst part, this whole stunt was in front of their students.

It turns out that the "holy water" turned out to be perfume (so what?). And the teacher never got around to actually pouring it on the other teacher. From what I understand she sprayed it at her from across the room. The teachers are claiming it was all a big "joke". This is about as good as Jesus's "you're a dog" joke.

Unfortunately, the school corporation only "reassigned" them. I wonder if the sentiment would be the same if someone performed a Satanic ritual on someone in front of students. Somehow I think they would be fired, even if it was a big hilarious "joke".

One Reverend is calling foul (why, I'm not sure):
"If we are going to ban talking to students about God, then the atheists should also be banned from telling kids there is no God," said Rev. Kirby Thurston.
What gave this man any indication that this dreaded atheist teacher was in any way telling her students that they shouldn't believe in God? Not to mention that even the offending teachers weren't talking about God. They were blatantly promoting prejudice/bullying.

(via Just News)
 

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