Saturday, July 24, 2010

322: Zeus Makes an Appearance

Acts 14-15
"When the crowd saw what Paul had done, they shouted in the Lycaonian language, 'The gods have come down to us in human form!' Barnabas they called Zeus, and Paul they called Hermes because he was the chief speaker. The priest of Zeus, whose temple was just outside the city, brought bulls and wreaths to the city gates because he and the crowd wanted to offer sacrifices to them." - Acts 14:11-13

The chapter starts with Paul (who has completely stopped calling himself Saul) and Barnabas converting some Jews and Gentiles. However, some of the Jews that "refused to believe" rile up some of the gentiles and they make a plot to have them stoned. Paul and Barnabas end up finding out about this and run.

While Paul is preaching in another city he sees a crippled man. Paul looks at the man and can somehow tell that he has enough faith to be healed. When he sees this he tells the man to stand up, and he does. This would imply that Paul only reminded this man that he could heal himself, how is that a miraculous act on the part of Paul? It's important to note that Jesus also says "your faith has healed you" after several of his miracles.

The Lyconians are impressed by this non-miracle and decide that Barnabas is Zeus in human form, and Paul is Hermes. They all decide to start sacrificing cattle to them. The Lyconians only reluctantly stop after being begged by Paul and Barnabas. I guess they didn't make it very clear that they were there to preach about Jesus.

Almost the entirety of chapter 15 is about whether you need to be circumcised to be saved by Jesus. The chapter starts with some unnamed people coming and telling the early church that they (and more importantly the gentiles) have to be circumcised to go to heaven according to the law of Moses. Everyone is so disturbed by this (why?) that Paul and Barnabas agree to go ask the disciples about it.

Peter rebukes them, saying that it is through Jesus's grace that they are saved. This is interesting because Jesus says a couple of times that he's not here to interfere with the law of Moses. Because of this news of "false teaching" about circumcision the disciples decide to write an open letter to the gentiles, and pass it around. In this letter, they tell the gentiles the things they should do (presumably to go to heaven):
It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to burden you with anything beyond the following requirements: You are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality. You will do well to avoid these things. Farewell.
First of all, it seems like this letter is to the already converted gentiles. But wouldn't it be a good idea to at least remind them that the most important thing is to worship Jesus? Second, and more importantly, lets examine what the early church thinks are the most important things to follow: don't eat food sacrificed to idols, don't drink blood, don't eat strangled animals, and don't do unnamed sexually immoral things.

Is the commandment not to eat strangled animals even in the Old Testament? I certainly don't remember it. The command not to eat certain food is just more evidence that the early church is completely disregarding Jesus's assertion that "it's not what goes into your mouth, but what comes out of it". Jesus does mention that sexual immorality is bad (though he too doesn't give specifics):
What comes out of a man is what makes him 'unclean.' For from within, out of men's hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and make a man 'unclean.' - Mark 7:20-23
Jesus inspires my next question. Why aren't the gentiles discouraged from theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance, or folly? It seems that the disciples are trying to make it "easy" to come to the church. But nobody ever said it was supposed to be easy. In the name of growing the church, the disciples are distorting the words of Jesus, trying to make it seem easier than it actually is to be "clean".

The chapter ends with a dispute between Paul and Barnabas about who they should take with them to go back and check on the people they have converted. They can't decide and they end up splitting, Paul going with Silas, and Barnabas going with Mark.

*News*
This is an article called "Only way to heaven is spelled out in Bible". That's interesting, I've seen quite a few "only" ways to heaven so far.
Mankind's worst tragedy is the hundreds of millions of people who have been deceived by Satan by placing their faith in false religions. The Holy Bible records the words of Jesus Christ in Matthew 7:15 when he warned, "Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves."
That's really mankind's worst tragedy? I was thinking more along the lines of the holocaust.
In every instance recorded in the Bible when a person asked how to be saved, the answer is always the same: "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved." [chapter:verse??] There is no other way to heaven except by faith in Jesus Christ as one's personal Lord and Savior. Religion has never saved a single soul and never will.
In every instance you say? That's quite a claim. This Reverend is certainly not the only person I've heard this from. Lets look at a few of these instances where Jesus tells us how to get to heaven, example one:
If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters—yes, even his own life—he cannot be my disciple. - Luke 14:26
Some may argue that "disciple" means one of the twelve, but "disciple" is more commonly defined as "someone who believes and helps to spread the doctrine of another" (Princeton). So, if you don't hate your father, mother, and life you can't be a believer. Example two:
On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. "Teacher," he asked, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?"

"What is written in the Law?" he replied. "How do you read it?"

He answered: " 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind'; and, 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' "

"You have answered correctly," Jesus replied. "Do this and you will live." - Luke 10:25-28
In this case, Jesus doesn't even mention that you have to believe in him. He says you have to love God and your neighbor. This is the first example (the only one needed) to disprove the Reverend's hypothesis that the answer to every question of "how do I get saved" is answered with, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved". Example three:
A certain ruler asked him, "Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?"
"Why do you call me good?" Jesus answered. "No one is good—except God alone. You know the commandments: 'Do not commit adultery, do not murder, do not steal, do not give false testimony, honor your father and mother.' "

"All these I have kept since I was a boy," he said.

When Jesus heard this, he said to him, "You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me." - Luke 18:18-22
We're getting a little closer, Jesus does eventually mention that you should follow him to be saved. But first he says you can't kill, steal, lie, or commit adultery. And you have to give away all your things. This is still far from "just believe in Jesus". Example four:
Jesus said to them, "I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day." - John 6:53-54
Now we have to feast on his flesh. This is also not "just believe in Jesus". Example five:
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." - Matthew 18:2-3
He's back to not even mentioning believing in him. I guess we now have to be like children to make it to heaven. Example six:
For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven. - Matthew 5:20
So we have to have the knowledge of the teachers and Pharisees (to be more righteous than them), yet still have the ignorance of a child. That's perfectly reasonable. This is still not "just believe in Jesus". Finally, finally, the quote we've been looking for:
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
I think what the Reverend meant to say was, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, throw out the majority of Jesus's teachings in the New Testament, and you will be saved". It's even more interesting if Jesus didn't actually say John 3:16. My red letter KJV bible seems to think that Jesus said it, but I don't recall Jesus talking about himself in the third person. Is universal salvation through just believing in Jesus a concept made up by John?
Any attempt to find salvation other than by faith in Jesus will result in spending eternity in hell. Sadly, many people believe they can earn their way to heaven by good works, or by church membership, or by baptism, or by putting their faith in the pope, or the virgin Mary, or Buddha, or Mohammed or some other human being.
It seems that, at least based on the bible, the idea of preaching that you only need to believe in Jesus is the real thing that's sending people to hell. Based on what they preach, many modern Christians have completely lost touch with the words that actually came out of Jesus's mouth. I only find people later on in the church that preach "just believe in Jesus".

I'm left with an open question to Christians: If you like Jesus so much why do you ignore what he says?

(via The Augusta Chronicle) [list of Jesus quotes via GodisImaginary.com]

Friday, July 23, 2010

321: God, Still Killing People

Acts 11-13
"Immediately, because Herod did not give praise to God, an angel of the Lord struck him down, and he was eaten by worms and died." - Acts 12:23

Chapter 11 starts with Peter explaining to the early church why he gave the Holy Spirit to the gentiles. Why does he need to explain himself? Didn't Jesus make it pretty clear that he wanted Christians to spread the word to everyone (i.e. not just Jews)?

The chapter goes on to tell about the Christian church spreading to Antioch (a Greek city). Barnabas and Saul are the head of this offshoot church. This story doesn't seem to have much significance other than to tell us that the church is spreading to Greece. In this story we see one of the very few times (three, if my googling is correct) that the followers of Jesus are actually referred to as "Christians".

Chapter 12 is all about Herod arresting members of the church. He first arrests, and executes, James. He then arrests Peter, presumably planning to do the same thing. However, the church earnestly prays for him (were they not earnestly praying for James?) and the night before his trial an angel comes and breaks him out of jail. When Peter meets back up with the disciples, he immediately tells them to go tell James of his miraculous release. Does he mean the James that just died? This constant use of first names only is getting old.

On a bit of a tangent, the disciples seem to have lost their concern for having twelve disciples. James dies and they make no move to replace him. I guess if you're a good person and die, it must have been God's will.

The chapter ends with Herod giving a speech to the people of Tyre and Sidon. After he gives this speech they all shout, "This is the voice of a god, not of a man". Immediately after this, Herod is killed by an angel of God for not properly praising the Lord. Of all the things Herod could have been killed by God for (namely, killing disciples and taking part in the execution of Jesus depending on which gospel you read), he was executed for not correcting a rowdy crowd?

Anyway, I thought Godly killings were supposed to be over. It's the New Testament after all. Of course, I have little biblical evidence for this claim. But it seems that any Christian you ask will claim that God just sits around playing with kittens in the New Testament.

In chapter 13 we're back to Saul and Barnabas. This time the Holy Spirit sends them off to Cyprus. While they're on the island they meet a sorcerer/false prophet. Saul, who the bible says is also referred to as Paul, looks this sorcerer straight in the eyes and says, "You are a child of the devil and an enemy of everything that is right!" This sorcerer is going to be immediately executed by an angel, right? After all, "child of the devil" is surely worse than someone who fails to properly acknowledge God. Wrong. This sorcerer is just blinded.

The remainder of the chapter is just more converting by the disciples. This is a lot of stuff we've already heard, including the repeated assertion that Jesus was hung from a tree. At the end of this conversion attempt, the bible says that, "all who were appointed for eternal life believed". This would again imply that God has preselected the people that he's going to allow to believe, and thus allow into heaven.

*News*
Are the tea partiers following the bible? They seem to be the only ones that think so:
That's what some progressive Christian leaders are arguing as battle lines are drawn for the 2010 mid-term elections. They say Beck and his Tea Party followers are, in a word, unbiblical.

Not so fast, say Tea Party activists, who claim biblical grounds for a libertarian-minded Jesus. He didn't like tax-based welfare programs, they say, and encouraged his followers to donate from the heart.
First of all, I'm 99.9% sure that Jesus had no opinion on tax-based welfare programs. I also don't recall him telling us to "donate from the heart" anywhere. He tells us to give to the needy (which tax based welfare programs would seem to do), and he mostly tells us to get rid of our money at all costs (forgive the pun). Remember, its easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than it is for a rich man to get into heaven. So, as a Christian, you're really encouraged to give for your own eternal welfare. That is, you should give for the primary purpose of not burning in hell.
Lloyd Marcus of Deltona, Fla., a spokesman for the Tea Party Express, is a born-again, nondenominational Christian who says flatly that "Jesus was not for socialism."

''Yes, the Bible advocates giving, but out of the goodness of our own hearts, not out of government confiscation of wealth or re-distribution of wealth," he said.
Jesus may not have been a fan of socialism or re-distribution of wealth. But there seems to be solid bible-based evidence that the early church was. Lets look at Acts 2 and 4:
All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. - Acts 2:44-45
Note, this doesn't say "they gave to the people when their heart called them to". It says they gave to anyone in need. Sounds a lot like a welfare system to me.
All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had. With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and much grace was upon them all. There were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales - Acts 4:32-34
First of all, they shared everything. That's redistribution of wealth taken to it's most extreme. Then, if anyone is needy, the people sell their houses and give them the money. What did these needy people do to deserve this money? They need to stop being lazy and get a job (note: this is not my opinion, I'm just channeling my inner tea partier). And remember what happens if you try to keep a little money from the sale of your house? That's right, Peter has you killed. Talk about "socialist nightmare".
"When Jesus talks about clothing the naked, feeding the hungry, he's talking to us as individuals," Farah said. The Bible does not "suggest that government is the institution that he designed to help the poor." Government social welfare programs are akin to "coercively taking money from people and redistributing to other people, which, at the end of the day, is legalized stealing," he said.
I'm beginning to wonder if these people have ever opened their bibles. This "coercively taking money from people and redistributing it to other people" is exactly what happened in the early church (see previous paragraph). Is this early church the utopia we're supposed to be aspiring to, or the socialist nightmare that's going to end America?

I'll give the last word today to Michael Lindsay from Rice University:
"I would like to think that Christians are generous," he said, "but sadly the truth of the matter is that their rhetoric is much stronger than their action."

Thursday, July 22, 2010

320: Peter Makes Zombies

Acts 9-10
"Peter sent them all out of the room; then he got down on his knees and prayed. Turning toward the dead woman, he said, 'Tabitha, get up.' She opened her eyes, and seeing Peter she sat up." - Acts 9:40

Chapter 9 picks up with Saul going around throwing Jesus lovers in jail. On Saul's way to Damascus, he falls to the ground and hears a voice that says, "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?". Saul asks the voice who it is, and the voice replies, "I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do". How is Saul persecuting Jesus? He's persecuting people that he feels are breaking Jewish law by worshiping a false idol. I'm not sure how that's a personal affront to Jesus.

Saul stands up, and the bible says that the people who were with him "heard the sound but did not see anyone". What sound? The sound of the voice? The bible doesn't say. When Saul opens his eyes, he finds that he is blind.

Saul is blind for three days until a disciple of Jesus is sent to him. This disciple tells Saul that he has been sent by Jesus to fill him with the Holy Spirit. As soon as the disciple says this, scales fall out of Saul's eyes and he can see.

When Saul gets to Damascus he begins preaching about Jesus. When the Jewish elders catch wind of this, they conspire to kill Saul. Saul somehow finds out about this conspiracy and sneaks out of the city by night.

Saul returns to Jerusalem and attempts to join with the twelve. They are reluctant because they think it's a trap. Wait, shouldn't the Holy Spirit be telling them that it isn't a trap? After all, Saul is supposed to be filled with the Holy Spirit now. Some guy I've never heard of (Barnabas) vouches for Saul, and the twelve welcome him.

The focus shifts to Peter and the bible tells a story of him healing a paralytic. When he heals the man, he says "Jesus Christ heals you". I thought he was using the Holy Spirit to heal people, not Jesus. Isn't Jesus supposed to be staying at the right hand of God (at least till the end of the world)?

Next is a story about a woman named Tabitha. The bible says that she was a follower of Jesus, but she died of some sickness. Her friends call for Peter (who is in an adjacent town) upon her death, to come resurrect her. Peter goes to them and tells everyone to leave the room. He then tells Tabitha to get up (who is witnessing this if nobody is in the room?). She does, and everyone is convinced. We are given no clue as to why Tabitha is special in the early church. Unless this is meant to imply that all sufficiently righteous people in the early church were immediately resurrected upon their death. Somehow I doubt that.

In chapter 10, Cornelius (a centurion) has a vision about an angel telling him to go get Peter. He sends two of his servants and a soldier on their way to fetch Peter from the town he's staying in.

As these men are on their journey to get him, Peter collapses and has a vision. In this vision a large sheet is let down on the earth. This sheet somehow contains "all kinds of four-footed animals, as well as reptiles of the earth and birds of the air". Then a voice tells him, "Get up, Peter. Kill and eat." Peter says surely not, he would never eat anything unclean (which seems to defy people's notion that Jesus made all things good to eat). The voice responds by saying, "Do not call anything impure that God has made clean".

Ok, but what has God made clean? I guess this is meant to imply that all the animals on the sheet are good to eat? It's important to note that God still excludes all sorts of fish, and you still can't eat those four legged insects. That's if you assume that the animals on the sheet are the ones that God now means to imply are clean, which the bible doesn't explicitly say.

As this vision is wrapping up, the centurion's servants arrive at the gate of the house where Peter is staying. The Holy Spirit tells him to go with Cornelius's men, and he does.

When Peter arrives at Cornelius's house, he falls at Peter's feet. Peter tells him to get up because he is only a man. Peter goes on to give a long speech about how God doesn't show favoritism, and that he will treat everyone equally if they are God fearing. But I thought you also had to love Jesus now, lest you will be sent to hell? In any case, this seems to show extreme favoritism (at least at this time in history) toward the Jews, since they were the first ones to receive the Jesus message.

It's interesting to note that Peter reiterates that Jesus was hung from a tree (not a cross). As Peter is speaking, the Holy Spirit is given to everyone that is listening. The chapter ends with all of the gentiles being baptized.

*News*
This is an interesting story. And I promise it has something to do with the bible, bear with me:
Nmachi Ihegboro was born yesterday in London, England, with blonde hair, blue eyes, pale-pink skin, and other completely typical Caucasoid (that is, "white") features. The only thing that makes her birth unusual, aside from her African-sounding given and family names, is that both her parents are black, not white, and in fact she has two black siblings who look little different from their parents.
As they say, "Pics or it didn't happen", here it is:


African albinism is actually surprisingly unremarkable. Some sources say that it happens in 1 of every 20,000 births. However, the claim here is that this is a truly caucasian baby. That is, somehow this couple, that claims to have no white ancestors, held all the recessive genes to make a white baby:
...their doctors began to suspect that Nmachi suffered from albinism, or the total absence of bodily pigment. Albinism is a very serious disorder that places the patient at permanent risk of sunburn from even the slightest sun exposure, and often makes the patient's eyes permanently light-sensitive and can even lead to blindness. But the color of the skin, hair and eyes would tend toward an extreme, and the eyes would be pink, not blue. Therefore, as Professor Bryan Sykes of Oxford University suspects, this child is not an albino.
Unfortunately, instead of doing any research, the writer of this article just used his own idea of what an albino is and stated it as fact. Turns out, the Oxford University Professor is right (shocking). Allow me to point you to a gallery of African albinos that look exactly like this baby (that is, blonde, and mostly non-pink eyes). As for this baby's "white features", that's up to your own opinion.

Here's where the bible comes in: The writer, operating on the assumption that the baby is not an albino, starts drawing ridiculous conclusions:
But creationists know that in fact all human beings alive today have two common ancestors: Noah, the builder and captain of the largest lifeboat ever built, and his wife. Their son Ham happens to be the common ancestor of southern Africans and the ancient Egyptians. So Nmachi could be expressing genes long suppressed but passed along since the Babel Incident, and inherited either directly through Ham's son Cush or perhaps introduced to her family by an Egyptian soldier or two.
Whoa, what? I didn't realize that the Tower of Babel had anything to do with people's race. The most important, possibly false, assumption that the writer is making is that Noah and his wife were white. There is no biblical evidence of this, and there is certainly no historical evidence of this. As far as I remember there is no mention of (black/white) race anywhere in the bible.

Of course, nobody seems to want to do a genetic test that would put this case to rest.

If you want to do your own research/draw your own conclusion about this case, here are some relevant links:
Albinism,
Lighter eyes vs. Lighter skin (mentions African albinism sometimes comes with blonde hair blue eyes),
and the real origins of human skin color.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

319: The Old Testament, Again

Acts 7-8
"Brothers and fathers, listen to me! The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham while he was still in Mesopotamia, before he lived in Haran. 'Leave your country and your people,' God said, 'and go to the land I will show you.' " - Acts 7:2-3

Stephen is taken before the Sanhedrin and they ask him if the charges against him are true. The charges were, if you'll remember from yesterday, that he blasphemed against God and Moses. Stephen decides to give the longest, and most completely irrelevant answer of all time.

Stephen gives the Sanhedrin an almost complete synopsis of the Old Testament. He starts with Abraham and goes to the story of Solomon. The only thing worth mentioning is something Stephen says toward the end of his rant:
However, the Most High does not live in houses made by men.
In fact, he does:
Then have them make a sanctuary for me, and I will dwell among them. Make this tabernacle and all its furnishings exactly like the pattern I will show you.
This is just a random example from Exodus (25:8-9), God is represented as living in the tabernacle many times in the Old Testament.

Factual errors or not, I don't see how any of this answers the question of whether he blasphemed against God or Moses. Just because he's a scholar of Old Testament history doesn't make him somehow incapable of blaspheming. The Sanhedrin seems to agree, as they immediately drag him outside and stone him. Stephen prays that they will be forgiven for their sin, and falls asleep.

On this same day, the Christian church in Jerusalem is disbanded. All but the twelve are scattered throughout the land. One of the main perpetrators of this split up is Saul. Saul, the bible says, goes from door to door dragging Christians away and tossing them in jail.

Some of the church that is scattered in Samaria comes across a man named Simon. This Simon can perform magic, and many of the Samarians say that he has divine power. I guess some people can perform magic without the assistance of God.

When Peter and John come for a visit, they start laying their hands on people, giving them the Holy Spirit. Why is this necessary? I thought the Holy Spirit was going to be given to us by God, not through any of the disciples. Simon sees this, and offers Peter money if he will give him this power. Peter says that Simon will have no part with this ministry because he tried to buy God. I thought God liked to be bought. The Old Testament is filled with people giving their earthly possessions in sacrifice to God.

The chapter ends with one of the disciples converting a eunuch. The eunuch is at the side of the road reading Isaiah, and Philip convinces him that Isaiah is full of clear prophecy about Jesus.

*News*
Speaking of shoddy biblical prophecy:
Many people have heard about a book called the Bible, some have read it, others have studied it as an old dusty history book, and others have seen the marvelous reality of its power and knowledge tell us things hundreds and thousands of years before they ever happen.
I've haven't yet seen a thoroughly convincing biblical prophecy. But maybe I just passed something up, let's see what he has to say:
Around 6,000 years ago, Genesis tells us that Eve’s seed will crush Satan’s head. This tells us that a virgin without a man’s seed will give birth to the Son of God to destroy Satan’s power.
Genesis does say that Eve's offspring will crush the head of a serpent (not explicitly said to be Satan). But it's quite a momentous leap to say that this implies that a virgin will give birth to the son of God to destroy Satan. This isn't his last momentous leap:
One of King David’s psalms is called the Lord’s passion, describing right down to the last detail of His crucifixion, what He was feeling and how He was watching the soldiers cast lots for His robe, 1,076 years before the Romans at the request of the religious Jewish leaders crucified Him. This is psalm 22 if you care to read it.
Right down to the last detail, that's quite a claim. It turns out that Psalm 22 is one of those "woe is David" Psalms. In the Psalm, David says "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" and David has his clothes divided by lots. Not even David phrases this as a prophecy. Are we to take what is clearly a coincidence (at best) and turn it into a prophecy, against the writer's will? I guess if I get mugged, and write a story about it, I'm really writing a prophecy that someday one of my great great great great grandchildren will be mugged.
I have had many people try to tell me that the men who wrote the Bible just made circumstances match up with what happened and pre-dated the event. Sorry! The ancient manuscripts found in Bedouin caves are within one-thousandth of total accuracy with our present Bible, translated by King James’ People.
I don't know about any of that, but it's clear that Jesus was intentionally fulfilling prophecies. Many times the bible says that Jesus does things "that they may fulfill the prophecy". An easy example of this is Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a donkey (and/or colt). Jesus went out of his way to grab a donkey to fulfill the prophecy. I believe the name for that is "self-fulfilling prophecy".

At this point, this writer must feel that he has his audience reeled in. Because he decides it's a good time to go to crazyland:
What really blows my mind is our July Fourth celebration, declaring our Independence from Great Britain, found in Daniel Chapter 7 verse 4. July Fourth, 7-4, Daniel 7:4, just a coincidence, or does God have a sense of humor? The Bible didn’t have any chapters or numbered scripture verses until the printing press came into existence in the middle of the 14th century, about 226 years before we were even thinking of becoming a Nation. Daniel even tells us our emblem will be an Eagle and will become a man (Uncle Sam) to represent our Nation! How accurate is that?
Oh, my mind is blown alright. Let's look at Daniel 7:4:
The first was like a lion, and it had the wings of an eagle. I watched until its wings were torn off and it was lifted from the ground so that it stood on two feet like a man, and the heart of a man was given to it.
To put this in context, this is one of Daniel's dreams. In this one there are four great beasts "America" is the first one). In the dream he ends up talking to one of the horns of one of the beasts.

The writer mentions that verses were not included until after the bible was written. I'm not sure if this is supposed to help his "July fourth" case or not. I guess God not only added the verses by hand, but also oversaw the universal adoption of the Gregorian calendar and made Uncle Sam an American symbol circa 1812. All for one, not very convincing, mention of America in the strange dream of someone thousands of years ago.

Let's review. The United States is in the bible. It's personified by a winged monster in the form of a lion. This lion has it's eagle wings ripped off (thus the eagle became our national symbol?), and stands up like a man (Uncle Sam?). Wait, does this mean Uncle Sam is secretly a lion?

I think people are getting crazier and crazier every day.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

318: Socialists!

Acts 4-6
"All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had." - Acts 4:32

The day starts with Peter and John being taken before the Sanhedrin (the Jewish court). They are arrested for teaching that Jesus was resurrected. But when Peter speaks to the Sanhedrin he seems to think that he's being persecuted for healing the crippled man.

The Sanhedrin then, the bible says, feel outclassed. They tell Peter and John to leave so they can talk among themselves. Somehow we can still hear their conversation. The Jewish elders say that they cannot deny the miracles that the disciples have performed, but they need to stop this Jesus myth from spreading. I get the feeling that's not quite how the conversation went. It seems that Luke decided to fill in this gap with his own propaganda.

The Sanhedrin then calls the disciples back, threatens them, and tells them not to preach about Jesus. Then they let the disciples go. The disciples go back to their people and give them a speech about how they're not going to stop preaching about Jesus. In this speech they mention that both Pilate and Herod persecuted Jesus. This would seem to lend credence to the people that think Luke wrote this gospel. Considering Luke is the only one that mentions Jesus even coming before Herod.

Chapter 4 ends with a story about the early church. Luke says that, in this early Christian church, everyone shared all their possessions with each other. From time to time, people would sell their houses and give all the money they garnered from the sale to the disciples. The disciples were the one's in charge of distributing the money to the needy people.

First of all, it sounds a lot like this early church followed the basic tenants of Socialism. I wonder what Tea Partiers think of this "Socialist" bible. It's interesting that many Christians are so against this idea of Socialism that they're supposed to be aspiring to. Second, why is it that the disciples are getting filthy rich out of this whole setup? Shouldn't the people immediately distribute the money to poor people instead of first giving it to the disciples? After all, Jesus says sell your things and give the money to the poor, not sell your things and give the money to the disciples.

My objection turns to shock with the first story in chapter 5. Ananias and Sapphira (his wife) are two members of this early church. They are one of the families that sell their house and give the money to the disciples. However, Ananias, with his wife's knowledge, holds back some of the money from the disciples.

Peter somehow finds out about this and calls Ananias before him. He says that Satan has filled his heart, and he has lied to God. When Ananias hears this, he drops dead. Yes, you read that right. Peters servants then take his body outside and bury it.

Peter then calls Sapphira, who doesn't know that her husband has died. Peter asks her if the money that they gave him was the full price of their house. When she says yes, Peter asks her how she could have agreed to test the Holy Spirit. He tells her that the people who buried her husband are outside the door, and that they will take her too. She then, like her husband, drops dead. She is also taken outside and buried.

What the hell is this? This makes the early Christian church seem at least as bad as the worst of today's cults. Once you're in the church, if you don't give up all of your money, then you are ruthlessly killed. Why wouldn't Ananias and Sapphira just be kicked out of the church? Were they killed so that others may fear God? Indeed the bible says that these events struck fear into the early church. So nothing has changed since the Old Testament. The penalty for disobedience is still death. Except now, instead of just dying, you get to suffer eternal torture in hell. How does this God meet anyone's understanding of what is morally "good"?

The chapter continues with the disciples performing miracles. The bible says that people brought the sick into the streets so that Peter's shadow might be cast on them. I guess miraculous healing can be performed by merely casting shadows on people now. That's wonderfully inconsistent with anything we've heard thus far.

The Sanhedrin again arrest the disciples (this time all of them). During the night an angel comes and frees them from jail, and they begin preaching in public. Aren't I told all the time (with respect to illegal immigration) that good Christians are supposed to follow the laws of the land? In what way does the disciples breaking out of jail align with this?

The next morning the Sanhedrin assembles and they call for the jail to get the disciples. Someone tells them that they've broken out and are preaching in the temple courts. The Sanhedrin sends their guards to seize them, and the disciples don't put up much of a fight. In the end, breaking out of jail was a pointless stunt anyway.

The Sanhedrin tells the disciples that they were not to preach in Jesus's name. Peter, again, decides to give a long monologue. This is an interesting excerpt:
The God of our fathers raised Jesus from the dead—whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree.
Wait, how was Jesus killed? He was killed by being hanged on a tree? I've got four gospels that tell me that Jesus carried (or had carried for him) a cross, with which he was crucified. I'd love to hear the mental gymnastics you have to do to make this fit. I supposed this is a metaphorical "tree" or some such other bullshit.

This monologue so infuriates the Sanhedrin that they want to have the disciples stoned. A Pharisee, however, orders that the disciples be put outside for awhile, while he talks to the Sanhedrin. Again, we are somehow privy to this conversation. This Pharisee explains that once the leader of a movement is killed, the movement eventually dies (just like the death of Martin Luther King destroyed the civil rights movement). I guess the idea of martyrdom hasn't occurred to these people yet. The Pharisee goes on to explain that the only way a movement can survive once it's leader is killed is if God is really in charge.

The Sanhedrin buys this, and sets the disciples free after a good flogging. The disciples (who are apparently a bunch of sadists) are grateful for this flogging, because they got to suffer in the name of Jesus. Whatever floats your boat.

Chapter 6 starts with a dispute between the Grecian Jews and the Hebraic Jews (whoever they are). The Hebraic Jews claim that their widows aren't getting a fair share of food. The disciples say that it wouldn't be fair to neglect the ministry to fairly distribute food, so they decide to choose seven people to be in charge (of food distribution?). I hope these seven turn out to be a little more than over hyped waiters.

One of these seven, Stephen, does miraculous signs among the people. Members of the Synagogue of Freedom (whoever they are) decide that they don't like him (for some unknown reason), and decide to give false testimony against him. They testify that he blasphemed against Moses and God. Stephen, like the disciples, are taken before the Sanhedrin, and the chapter ends. Tune in tomorrow for the shocking (or boring, I don't know) conclusion.

*News*
Can the bible be used as a counseling tool? Apparently this is a serious question:
“I’m not ashamed to tell you I’ve had years of counseling. I’ve been on four anti-depressants, three kinds of anti-anxiety prescriptions and a menu of meds for bipolar disorder. I’ve been suicidal at times and basically thought I’d never be happy.” That’s what Deborah, a 33-year-old wife and mom related after her life transformation courtesy of Dr. Greg Cynaumon, and his Unlocking The Bible’s Secrets to Happiness program. “I could have avoided years of pain and counseling and tens of thousands of dollars if I’d discovered this earlier in life,” she concluded.
Surely, because this program is based on the bible, he's going to give you this program for free. Or perhaps he will charge $2 (the approximate cost of 6 dvds, which the program comes on). Nope, if you want to participate, it's going to cost you $99.95 (plus shipping, of course). But maybe it's worth it, let's see what this program is going to do for you:
Look, I get that counseling is valuable and medication is absolutely beneficial – if not life-saving to many, many people. But if you’re depressed, anxious, stressed-out, can’t sleep, have a bad marriage, have difficulty setting boundaries and really aren’t at all sure what your bigger purpose for being here on this earth is - this program will change your life.
Yes, this will not only fix your depression, anxiety, and insomnia, but it will also fix your marriage! And if you believe that, I'm selling some high quality snake oil that you might be interested in.

Even if the bible can somehow miraculously cure you of your depression, you can get that for free at any church. And you'll probably get much more fellowship (which is what I would contend really cures depression) from a church than you would sitting at home by yourself, watching overpriced dvds. Of course, you can also get fellowship from your local atheist group. Then you won't have to try to be inspired by a book that promotes: killing people for not giving money to the church, sending bears to eat little children, and an assortment of other ghastly things.

(via PRWeb)

Monday, July 19, 2010

317: The Deaths of Judas

Acts 1-3
"So Judas threw the money into the temple and left. Then he went away and hanged himself." - Matthew 27:5

"With the reward he got for his wickedness, Judas bought a field; there he fell headlong, his body burst open and all his intestines spilled out." - Acts 1:18

The Acts (of the Apostles) starts with the writer addressing Theophilus. The writer tells this Theophilus that he has a former book in which he writes about Jesus. My teen study bible claims that this book was written by Luke, but a little research tells me that this is debated. I'll attempt to draw my own conclusion.

The first story is about Jesus ascending into heaven. After his ascension the disciples are confronted by two men (angels?) who ask them why they are looking up into the sky. These men claim that Jesus will return the way that he has left.

The next story is about the disciples' replacement of Judas. There is no explanation given to why they have to replace him. Is twelve an important number of disciples for some reason? This then launches the writer of Acts into a small side story about how Judas dies. This time, as opposed to being hanged like in Matthew, Judas falls headlong into his field and his intestines spill out.

This story is a pretty famous contradiction in the bible, and there are some pretty hilarious attempted reconciliations. I've read everything from Acts being a metaphor, to Judas both hanging himself (failing) then throwing himself off a cliff (the bible doesn't say a cliff was involved), to the even more absurd claim that he hung himself over a cliff. The actual story in the bible makes it sound like Judas just falls down and his guts explode from within him. I don't see any reasonable way of reconciling Matthew and Acts.

Back to the story of choosing the new disciple. It ends up coming down to two people. The disciples pray for God to show them which one of the men is the best. This should be easy, the Holy Spirit will simply point them to which one they should choose. After all, the Holy Spirit is supposed to be a pocket-Jesus that tells you everything you need to know. Sadly, this is not the case, they end up casting lots to decide God's will. No need for the Holy Spirit, I'll just carry around a coin to flip when I need to know God's will (oops, did I just commit the unforgivable sin again?).

As it turns out, I may have given too much credence to John's account of the Holy Spirit. Because at the beginning of chapter 2 there is a long story about the disciples receiving the Holy Spirit. First I'll tell you the story, then I'll explain my confusion.

The disciples are together on the day of Pentecost. Suddenly the house is filled with a violent wind and "tongues of fire" go into them. All the disciples then start speaking in foreign languages (not the gibberish that people call "tongues" these days). There is, however, the interesting assertion from some in the crowd that the disciples have just had too much to drink. Maybe it did sound like they were just speaking in gibberish?

Here's my confusion. Rewind a day to John 20:20-23:
Again Jesus said, "Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you." And with that he breathed on them and said, "Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven."
To put this in context, this is directly after Jesus returns. Before his ascension (you know, the ascension that doesn't actually happen in the book of John). This seems to be further confirmed at the beginning of Acts:
In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen.
This seems to support at least the claim that the twelve already had the Holy Spirit (otherwise how were they receiving commands through it?) before Jesus ascended. This all seems like someone was very confused while writing Acts.

Moving on. Peter gets up in front of the crowd and tells them that the disciples are not drunk, as they seem to presume, because it's only nine in the morning. This seems to be his only evidence that they're not all completely hammered. Needless to say, it's possible to get drunk at nine in the morning.

Peter goes on an interesting tangent about David's relationship with Jesus. This is a bunch of stuff we've heard before, till near the end:
God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact. Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear. For David did not ascend to heaven, and yet he said...
David didn't go to heaven? Wasn't he one of the most loyal kings of Israel to God? Aside from that little snafu with killing his girlfriend's husband, he seemed to be a God fearing man.

This speech ends up convincing around three thousand people to be baptized. The bible says that the members of this early church sold everything they had and gave it to those in need (sounds like socialism to me). What would the Christians today think of someone that sold everything they had and lived only on the kindness of others? Or maybe a better question, what if everyone did this? We wouldn't have much of an economic system if people's only goal was to sell all their belongings. Who would they sell their things to?

Chapter 3 is all about Peter healing a crippled man. This isn't any more or less convincing than the miracles of Jesus, but it brings up an important question. Why can't we all (or at least faithful Christians) heal on demand? Peter's only new tool seems to be the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit is supposed to be freely given to any who believe in Jesus. I've certainly seen completely faithful people unable to heal their ailing loved ones. Maybe Peter has some especially potent Holy Spirit that I don't know about?

*News*
God shows himself in mysterious (read "trivial") ways:
With the exception of a copy of the Holy Bible, all other items, including paints, chemicals, electrical gadgets and personal belongings, were destroyed by fire at the Ark Paint ventures, a paint company at Takoradi on Friday morning. The opened Bible was not touched by fire, even though it was on a suitcase which was burnt.
First of all, this is a vague anecdote at best. We have no way of confirming where the bible actually was. Has someone tried, say, a lighter? Is this bible's paper somehow miraculously immune to fire? Or was this just, as any reasonable person would assume, a coincidence?

For the moment, let's roll with this and say that God himself came down and prevented the fire from consuming this bible. What does that say about God? Let's hear some details about this story:
Mr. Archibald Deman, owner of the company said owing to accommodation problems, he had packed a lot of goods, including his personal belongings into one of the office, intending to transfer them to a house on Sunday. Unfortunately, he said all the belongings, together with the paint chemicals for the production of paints and furniture, were consumed by the fire.
So God, presumably, allowed this fire to start in the first place. Then proceeded to allow the fire to consume not only this man's source of income, but all of his belongings. But when the flames reached the bible, that's when God stepped in. If the bible were burned that would've been a true tragedy.

But surely nobody actually thinks this was an act of God. Only a morally repugnant God would would do such a terri... Wait, *Scrolls down to the comments*:
Comment #1: HEAVEN IS INDEED REAL. MAY ALL WHO DO NOT BELIEVE STOP AND THINK AGAIN. OUR SAVIOUR LORD JESUS REIGNS.

Comment #2: that is the power of God.this is a lession to allnot to play games with the mighty God.i rest my case.

Comment #3: God is good.
Well I guess trying to make a logical point after that just seems a bit silly. I guess I'm done for the day.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

316: Finger Me and Believe & John: In Review

John 19-21
"Then he said to Thomas, 'Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.' " - John 20:27

The day starts with Jesus being flogged. Why is Pilate having Jesus flogged? He just got finished saying (at the end of chapter 18) that he finds no basis for charging Jesus. After this unnecessary flogging, Jesus is put in a robe and crowned with thorns.

As soon as Pilate brings Jesus before the Jews they start yelling "crucify him" over and over again. Pilate tells the Jews to go crucify him themselves, because he can find nothing to charge him for. Why does Pilate keep insisting that the Jews execute him if it's illegal for the Jews to execute people?

Pilate then questions Jesus again, and Jesus says that he is sent from above. From then on, the bible says, Pilate "tried to set Jesus free". Tried? Is he not the Governor? If he really wanted Jesus set free why didn't he just say the word? The Jews claim that Jesus is not a friend of Caesar (because he claims to be king). But so what? There is no explanation as to why Pilate cares what the Jews think of him, or of his rulings.

At the end of all this, the bible says that John hands Jesus over to "them" to be crucified. He hands him over to the Jews? Those were the last people he was talking about. But this surely can't be true. And, in fact, Jesus is given to Pilate's guards (not the Jews) to be crucified. Either the translators of the bible or John confused their pronouns.

Jesus then carries his own cross to the place where he's to be crucified. There's no Simon to carry the cross for him in this gospel. Then he's crucified as per the other gospels.

While Jesus is on the cross, he says he is thirsty. Someone (it's not clear who) offers him vinegar to drink. As soon as Jesus drinks the vinegar he says "It is finished", and uneventfully dies. What happened to the sky darkening in the hours before his death? What happened to the earthquakes and the temple curtain being torn at the moment of his death?

Only in this gospel is Jesus speared in the side to make sure that he is dead. The bible says that when he is speared there was a sudden flow of blood and water. I'm not a doctor, and from what I've seen there are various explanations as to why blood and water may have come out of a wound to the side. So I wouldn't necessarily see this as inconsistent, but for the fact that it's not mentioned in any of the other gospels.

Jesus is then buried. There are no guards, and there is no seal on the tomb.

Early on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene arrives at the tomb before the sun comes up (two people generally arrive after the sun has risen in the other gospels). Mary sees that the stone has been rolled away and runs to tell Peter that Jesus's body has been stolen. Peter and "the one Jesus loved" (who?) sprint back to the tomb. They both go into the tomb and only see Jesus's death shroud. Nobody else is there. They return home, but Mary (arriving after them) stays.

She goes into the tomb (alone, not with the other Mary) and sees two angels sitting at the head and the feet of Jesus's death shroud. They ask Mary why she is crying and she explains that someone has taken her Lord away. They again ask why she is crying. Mary, thinking the angels are the gardeners (they must not look very angelic), asks them if they are the ones that took the body. Jesus then appears out of nowhere and says "Mary". After a brief discussion with Jesus, she runs back to tell the disciples that she's seen Jesus.

That evening, the disciples are meeting with the doors locked (for fear of the Jews). Jesus magically appears among them. He shows the disciples his still wounded hands and side. The bible says that he then goes around and breathes the Holy Spirit into his disciples. I thought only God was allowed to give people the Holy Spirit.

Jesus then disappears and Thomas (one of the twelve) arrives. The other disciples tell him that they've seen Jesus. Thomas ("Doubting Thomas") says that unless he puts his finger in Jesus's nail holes, he won't believe. Shouldn't Jesus be healed? Jesus really is a zombie in John's gospel Unless John isn't mentioning that blood is still gushing from his wounds, his heart must be stopped. Either that or the wounds are actually healed, and God just left the holes for posterity.

A week later they meet again (with the doors locked). Jesus again magically appears amongst them. This time, Thomas is with them. Jesus tells Thomas to put his finger in his nail holes, and shove his whole hand in his side (where he was speared). My skepticism is reaching a crescendo. Why does no other gospel even mention that Jesus is still wounded, much less that the disciples were going around shoving their hands in his side.

Some time later, Simon and the "disciple that Jesus loved" are fishing. They aren't catching anything till Jesus appears on the shore. Jesus tells them to throw their net back in. This time they catch (exactly) 153 fish. The bible says that none of them dared ask who he was. Why would they need to ask? This makes it sound like Jesus doesn't look like Jesus (like the other gospels).

Jesus then asks Peter three times if he loves him. Every time Peter says yes, and Jesus responds by saying "Feed my lambs" or "Feed my sheep". I'm assuming that Jesus is talking about his metaphorical sheep again. Didn't he say he was going to stop speaking in metaphors?

The chapter ends by saying two things. First, that this "disciple Jesus loved" was the one that wrote the gospel of John. That only tells us that someone thought John was this mysterious disciple that is especially loved by Jesus. Second, the bible says that Jesus did a bunch of other things, but if it were written the world would not have room for all the books about Jesus's life.

Wait, that's it? Jesus is supposed to ascend to heaven. I guess this is one of those things that the bible isn't mentioning, lest the book be too long. I wish some of the Old Testament writers had such concern about making books too long.

John: In Review
The end of the gospels about Jesus's life leaves me woefully unconvinced. The four gospels seem to do a great job of undermining each other. John especially seems illegitimate because his stories are so different from the stories in the other three gospels.

The first thing that comes to mind (because I just read it today) is Jesus's wounds. It really seems like John is just making this all up as he goes along. Where did John get this idea that Jesus's wounds were still there? How did he have get this revelation 40+ years after Jesus's death?

As boring as it would be, shouldn't these four gospels agree exactly on their major details? What did Jesus say on the cross? I don't know because none of the gospels agree. How many people and who came to Jesus's tomb? I don't know. Who saw Jesus, and what happened when they did see him? I don't know. Was Jesus recognizable after his resurrection? I don't know. Did Jesus carry his own cross? Everyone but John says no. These seem like pretty important things to get right.

Some complaints more exclusive to John. I think that I would be terribly confused about some concepts (e.g. the trial of Jesus) if I hadn't already read the other gospels. John randomly leaves out pretty big details (e.g. Jesus convicted before Caiaphas), either assuming that we already know what happens, or just forgetting to include them. None of this leads me to believe that this is the one true word of an all powerful all knowing God.

*News*
If you haven't heard (it's been in the news a bit), the "Atheists of Florida" are suing the Lakeland City Commission to stop them from opening their meetings with a prayer.
EllenBeth Wachs, director of the Lakeland chapter of Atheists of Florida, says the Lakeland's invocation policy to open City Commission meetings violates the separation of religion and state provisions in the First Amendment.

Ms. Wachs would do well to read the First Amendment. In it she would find no mention of "separation of religion and state," only "that Congress shall make no law respecting establishment of religion or prohibiting free exercise thereof."
The writer of this article would do well to read some Supreme Court opinions with regard to the establishment clause. Those of you who have taken any Political Science should be familiar with the "Lemon Test" which is applied to establishment clause cases. All of these conditions must be met for a government action to pass the Lemon Test:
1. The government's action must have a secular legislative purpose;
2. The government's action must not have the primary effect of either advancing or inhibiting religion;
3. The government's action must not result in an "excessive government entanglement" with religion.
The only one that this case may pass is number three. But prayer before public city meetings certainly doesn't have a secular legislative purpose, and it does have the primary effect of advancing religion. Back to the article:
The point of this lawsuit is clearly not to protect to Constitution, but rather to alter it, to fit the atheist's worldview. It seems to me that the atheists here are actually the ones who are in violation of the First Amendment, which states there shall be no law "prohibiting the free exercise of" religion, City Commission members included.
This lawsuit seems appropriate based on Supreme Court precedence. If this case is an atheist conspiracy to promote our worldview, then this writer must be calling the Supreme Court Justices of the early 70's a bunch of atheists. Sorry, Supreme Court opinions constitute law in America.

 

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