Saturday, July 31, 2010

329: Original Sin

Romans 4-7
"Consequently, just as the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men, so also the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life for all men. For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous." - Romans 5:18-19

Paul continues his rather dry monologue.

Chapter 4 starts with Paul talking about circumcision again. This time with respect to Abraham. Abraham, Paul says, was able to be righteous before his circumcision (considering he was the first to receive the revelation of circumcision). I didn't think that was quite the way it worked. I thought the point was that circumcision was the new covenant with the people. That is, the good that's supposed to come from circumcision (I'm still not quite sure what that is) only took effect after the covenant.

Paul goes on to say how awesome Jesus was for dying for our sins. Because the average person would not even die for a righteous man, and Jesus died for all the ungodly people. Of course, Jesus never really mentioned that he was dying for the forgiveness of our sins. He said he was dying to fulfill the words of the prophets.

Paul then talks about original sin, and how Jesus is the perfect antithesis to Adam's original sin. One of the results of Adam's sin is that we die. So Jesus's death gives us eternal life. Of course, to the rational observer it still looks a lot like people die. It seems like a cop out to say that even though Adam would have had eternal (physical) life had he not sinned, that humans must suffer a physical death even after Jesus forgave the original sin. Not to mention that Christians would be much more convincing (and have much more of an opportunity to bring salvation to the masses) if they didn't die a physical death.

The next big question (and one I have a lot) is, if Jesus forgives everyones sins, then why not sin all the time? Paul attempts to answer this. He says that when we sin we are being a slave to sin, where we should be a slave to righteousness. I'm not even going to begin to try to reconcile this with "free will". More important than the free will issue is that this really doesn't fix anything. By this definition someone can be a "slave to sin" for 99% of their life, have a deathbed conversion, and be saved. This is by no means consistent with an "all just" God.

The last part of this section is just strange. Paul tries to explain that the laws of the prophets actually cause people to sin. I'll try to give an example: I make a law that says "don't think about elephants". The very first thing you do is think about elephants, so my "law" has caused you to break it. In the same way, Paul says that when God says "do not covet" the first thing he does is immediately covet everything he can think of.

This actually seems kind of insightful until you realize that God wants to kill you and/or send you to hell for coveting things. Then it just sounds like God is looking for an excuse to kill people. It adds yet another layer of absurdity when you realize that God is supposedly the creator of covetous feelings in the first place.

The answer to all this nonsense, Paul says, is Jesus. I guess the millions of pre-Jesus people are just screwed. As are the people today that, through no fault of their own, are unable to access the gospels of Jesus (people in fundamentalist Islamic countries come to mind). I guess God still sends them to hell for their stray thoughts (which God himself originally implanted in their brains).

*News*
This isn't the first atheist conversion story, and it probably won't be the last. But it's certainly the most absurd:
A former atheist says he has been forced to rethink his religious views after Jesus' image appeared to him twice.

A year later, the man who is a university scientist has decided to finally speak about his experience because he wants others who have had similar life-changing experiences to come forward.
These two images must be pretty convincing to convert a die hard atheist. Let's take a look:


To be perfectly honest I don't even see the second one. Moral of this story: pour the coffee in your mouth, not all over your nasty cups. I was hoping this was a joke, but then I kept reading:
"It was 11.30pm on a Sunday," he recalls.
"I had switched the television off and I said: 'Give me a sign, show me something, I know I am arrogant'.

"Then I said: 'Talk to me, show me' and then I went to sleep."

The next morning, the man says he woke up and noticed the strange image as he went to wash his mug.

Even a year later, it is easy to see why the man was so struck by the picture - the brownish-coloured stain clearly shows the crown and head of Jesus, slightly titled, with his arms stretched out wide and his feet together.
What it "clearly shows" is a coffee stain. The man seems to forget that he asked God to talk to him, not show him his dirty cup.
Now the man says he is desperately searching for answers from all religious sectors and experts.
"I know I have a soul which I cherish and I know I must be careful of what I say," he says.

"I plead with anyone to examine the mugs and explain how the pictures were formed."
He's supposed to be a scientist. Take the cup to a lab. See if the stain was from coffee (which is what my layman's observation tells me). If it is, in fact, coffee, he can reasonably surmise that he just forgot to clean the cup before he put it in the cupboard. Next time, ask God for something a little more convincing.

(via iol)

Friday, July 30, 2010

328: Lesbians, Finally

Romans 1-3
"Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion." - Romans 1:26-27

Romans is written by Paul as a letter to the people of Rome. The time frame is a little unclear though. Paul says that he has longed to visit Rome, but has been unable to "until now". Does this mean he's about to go to Rome (right after his trial)? Or that he's already in Rome? If it's the latter there's not much reason for him to be writing a letter.

The first thing Paul talks about after his introduction is God's wrath against the world. He first talks about atheists (godless people). These atheists, claims Paul, are suppressing God's message, because God has so obviously made himself clear. He says this: "For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities - his eternal power and divine nature - have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse". Somehow I think believers in Thor and Zeus would debate you on how clear the Judeo-Christian God reveals himself.

Because of this godlessness, God "gave them over" to all sorts of sexual desires. Does this mean to say that sexual impurity is some sort of punishment for sin? The sexual impurity that Paul mentions is homosexuality. This is the first time that female homosexuals are mentioned.

Paul goes on to mention all sorts of other wickedness including greed, gossip, strife, deceit, disobeying parents, and being senseless. Paul says that all of these things are deserving of death. This would also imply that all these sins are about as bad as the homosexuality.

However, at the beginning of chapter 2, Paul says that nobody can pass judgement on anyone else, because we are all guilty of at least one of these aforementioned wickednesses. Paul says that the very things you condemn other people for are the things you do. Why do the people who use Romans to condemn gays then ignore this paragraph about not judging people?

Paul then goes on a rant about circumcision. And how someone who is circumcised, yet breaks the law, is like someone who isn't circumcised. However, he says that if you're not circumcised, yet follow the law, can still be righteous. Then what's the point of cutting of part of your penis? It seems to make absolutely no difference.

This all leads up to the end of chapter three where Paul says that we all sin, and that our only way to redemption is through Jesus. Finally, we receive this revelation. It seems that up to this point, Jesus has been more about bringing the Holy Spirit/wisdom to humanity than actually atoning for our sins.

*News*
A vicar from London says that Christianity needs some "street talk":
Rev Michael Land is encouraging worshippers to get 'streetwise' by swearing.

Offering up some encouragement he sermonised about a recent road rage incident where he told a motorist to ‘**** off ’ while wearing his dog collar.

The 67-year-old even claimed that Jesus regularly liked to swear and urged church-goers not to ‘place him on a pedestal’.
Where exactly does Jesus cuss up a storm in the bible? I think telling a fellow motorist to "fuck off" is rather contrary to the "love your enemy" concept. Jesus also said that hate coming out of your mouth would imply hate in your heart, and you're not supposed to hate anyone.

I would agree with him if he were merely saying that Christians should be allowed to use those words. I don't think there's anything about the word "fuck" that makes it inherently bad. It's all about the context in which the Reverend used the word.
He said: ‘The church needs to modernise and that means keeping up with the trends in language. People view Jesus through tinted spectacles and place him on a pedestal.

‘The reality is that he was poor, lacked any real education and did not fraternise with Pharisees or scholars. People today would probably be quite shocked at the language he used.’
Who's side is this guy on? The bible says that Jesus did fraternize with Pharisees and scholars. The bible says that Jesus was thoroughly educated on the Old Testament laws. Has this guy read the bible? Of course, everyone can choose for themselves whether the bible is absolutely true or not, but it seems like at least Reverends need to tow the party line.
The vicar also has a less than traditionally Christian view about doorstep begging, adding: ‘Whilst working in London I would often have people knocking on my door and asking for money. ‘I would never give in and usually shut the door on them. Just because I am a vicar I am not a soft touch.’
He wouldn't give to a poor person that came to his door? One of Jesus's biggest messages (if not the biggest) was to give all your money away. How could he have missed the mark this much?

In the name of experiment, I guess I should at least try this "street talk" thing (in the name of bringing myself closer to God, of course). So here it is: Dear Reverend Land, you're a fucking idiot. Yeah, that just made me sound like a douchebag.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

327: Sailing Around Europe & Acts: In Review

Acts 27-28
"We boarded a ship from Adramyttium about to sail for ports along the coast of the province of Asia, and we put out to sea. Aristarchus, a Macedonian from Thessalonica, was with us." - Acts 27:2

On Paul's trip to Rome the ship runs into a storm. This storm is so bad that the ships crew begin throwing supplies (including food) overboard. Paul continues to have visions and tells the men that and angel said everyone will be ok and only the ship will be lost.

After 14 days of this storm, the crew decides to run the ship aground on an island they've found. The Roman soldiers plot to kill the prisoners so they don't escape, but the centurion in charge wants to keep Paul alive.

When Paul reaches the shore, he starts to make a fire. As he is gathering brush, a viper jumps out and bites him. He has no adverse effects to this snake bite and the islanders declare him a god. I'll presume that this is meaning to imply that people with the Holy Spirit can withstand snake bites. For the sake of argument, lets presume that we can prove this was actually a venomous snake. Then why do people with the Holy Spirit die of snake bites today?

Paul then proceeds to cure a chief official on the island. This causes all of the islanders to bring their sick to Paul, and he heals them. This is the same situation as the snake bite. We're never told that Paul is endowed with any special power besides the Holy Spirit (he's not one of the twelve). So why are millions of people today who claim to have the Holy Spirit unable to miraculously cure people? This would certainly be a convincing conversion tool (which is essentially what Paul is using his powers for here).

Paul eventually does arrive in Rome. When he arrives there, he is given his own personal guard and allowed to wander around where ever he wants. He is even allowed to go to the Jews of Rome (weren't the Jews supposed to be kicked out of Rome?) and preach the message of Jesus. Isn't that the very thing he's being imprisoned for?

The book of Acts ends by saying that Paul stayed in Rome for two more years preaching the message of Jesus. Paul is getting a pretty sweet deal here. He got a free trip to Rome, and now he gets to hang out and do whatever he wants. Is he going to get a trial eventually? Maybe we'll find out it some other book.

Acts: In Review
Acts is interesting as the first New Testament book that's post-Jesus. It helps tell us how at least the disciples translated the messages of Jesus into action. Unfortunately, some of the ideas of Jesus seem to have been forgotten. Acts also helps illuminate what we (as mere humans) should be able to with this mysterious "Holy Spirit".

The new church run by Peter seems to be a tyrannical, money-centric organization. This is evidenced by people being killed for withholding money from the church. I'm not sure how this could be any further from what Jesus had in mind. Everyone was supposed to give away their money to the poor, not give it to the disciples. It's no wonder the Catholic church claims Peter as the first Pope. "Steal from the rich. Give to the richer and hope they'll give a little to the poor" seems to sum up both Peter's and the Catholic church's ideology.

My second problem is what the disciples (and others) seem to be able to do with the Holy Spirit. They are able to speak in tongues (actual other languages, not the gibberish of today), heal people, and withstand snake bites. This is all what Jesus predicted could be done with the Holy Spirit, but then why can't modern day people do these things?

Aside from the theological inconsistencies, Acts reads like a badly written fiction novel. Though it's still not as bad as anything from the Old Testament.

*News*
This is a lesson in how an argument becomes circular:
One lie that was in his letter is that "There is no God to save us from our undoing …"

The truth is that there is a God, the creator who created us and who tremendously loves us: "So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him, male and female. He created them." — Genesis 1:27.
This is the long version of "yuh huh, there is too a God". People can write down whatever they want and call it a holy book (see Scientology). This doesn't make it real. And until God can be proven in more empirical terms, "the bible says so" just won't do.
Mr. Kyde says, "… millions of normally rational and intelligent beings get on their knees to beg and worship a figment of their imagination." Let me emphatically state that God is not a figment of anyone's imagination. God exists from eternity past, exists now and will exist forever. God is worthy and deserves our worship.
Well, the writer emphatically stated it, so it must be true. In fact the writer makes a couple of giant leaps. First that God exists, and second that God is deserving of worship.

I haven't talked about this a whole lot, but even if someone could prove to me that God does exist, I'd have some major reservations about actually worshiping him. Is it really good to worship a being just because you're afraid of it? That's like saying an abusive spouse is deserving of worship. And an abusive spouse couldn't get close to the atrocities committed by God.
The reason it is possible to believe that this universe and every living thing was created in six days, some 6,000 years ago by God is simple. Faith. It takes just as much faith, or more, to believe in the theory of evolution. Evolution is a theory, not a fact.
Now we're getting somewhere. Faith: firm belief in something for which there is no proof (Merriam Webster). In fact, the writer's faith goes a step beyond that. The writer believes in something for which there is contrary evidence. No serious geologist/physicist/scientist believes that the earth is 6000 years old.

As for belief in the theory of evolution, I don't think that fits any definition of "faith". Unless you are in complete denial of all the evidence in it's favor. Incidentally, I think that's probably the problem here.
I and other Christians are praying for Mr. Kyde to accept God's gift of eternal life so you can truly know the truth and so you can be happy.
Yes, I'm sure if it's ever proven that there is a God that wants to send you to hell if you don't obey his every demand, Mr. Kyde will be just giddy with glee. Especially after reading the bible, I'm not sure how the existence of God is supposed to make me a happier person.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

326: Kiss Ass

Acts 24-26
"We have enjoyed a long period of peace under you, and your foresight has brought about reforms in this nation. Everywhere and in every way, most excellent Felix, we acknowledge this with profound gratitude. But in order not to weary you further, I would request that you be kind enough to hear us briefly." - Acts 24:2-4

[The blog is moving back to Eastern Standard Time. Hopefully this is the last time I have to fiddle with the time zone.]

The day starts with Paul on trial again. Paul's accusers make their case (while kissing the ass of the judge), and Paul denies all of their allegations. The judge says that he will make a decision when the Roman commander shows up. Days later the judge comes with his wife to hear Paul talk about Jesus (why?).

The bible says that the judge keeps coming back to Paul in the hopes that Paul will give him a bribe. Two years go by like this. I guess that Roman commander is taking his sweet time to come testify. He takes so long to get there that the judge is replaced with a new one (Festus).

This causes Paul to have yet another trial under the new judge. This new judge asks Paul if he is willing to go to Jerusalem to be put on trial. Have they forgotten about how bad that worked out before? Paul says, instead, that he is in Caesar's court and wants to be heard by Caesar himself. The judge agrees to this strange request. Why would Caesar care about some unruly Jew?

Festus ends up talking to a king, who he tells about Paul's case. This king is so interested that he too wants to hear Paul. The king is also told to figure out what exactly Paul is being charged with so they can tell Caesar.

When Paul is brought before the king he again tells his entire life story (about Jesus appearing to him etc, etc). Upon completion of his story the king says that he's obviously gone insane (was it the voices or hallucinations that gave it away?). Paul responds by saying he's perfectly sane. This is, incidentally, exactly what an insane person would say.

Paul says that he will pray the king will become a Christian (only the second time the word "Christian" is actually used in the bible). As the king is walking out he tells one of his associates that Paul is not doing anything that deserves death or imprisonment.

*News*
What's it like to be a "true Christian"?:
I'm a Christian. Why? "I was raised in church." "I obey the church creed or sacraments." "I live a good, clean life." "I believe in God." Sorry, you're probably not a Christian. Romans 10:9-10 makes it very simple. Confess aloud that Jesus is your master and that God raised him from the dead to pay for your sins.
Don't forget that you have to drink Jesus's blood, eat his flesh, and give away all your money, among other things. Her letter is actually titled "Bible says true Christian believing requires more than just talk". It's interesting that the writer immediately quotes a passage that essentially says all you have to do is talk (about believing in Jesus).
You never know what God will do. Wrong. Jesus always did the will of God. How? He listened to God and did what he said. Ignoring the Bible is the only reason for not knowing God's will.
Ignoring the bible? I didn't think the bible had anything to do with it. Isn't the Holy Spirit supposed to tell you the will of God/Jesus? Does ignorance of the bible make the Holy Spirit not want to talk to you?
I can do all things through Christ. I hear Christians complain frequently about not being able to do things because they don't have the money, the education, the ability, etc.
...
Jesus says if you ask anything in his name, God will provide it. Try I John 5:13-14.
This argument is just fundamentally absurd. People ask things of Jesus all the time. Namely, those Christians the writer talks about that complain they can't do things. Does the writer think they haven't asked? Maybe they're not asking "for the right reason" but where in the bible does it say you have to ask for something for the right reason?
The point is very difficult days lie ahead, and most Christians aren't prepared. The devil, through people, is out to steal from you or kill you. You have mighty spiritual weapons, but most aren't loaded.
Speaking of "true Christian". What kind of true Christian worries about people stealing their things or killing them? Stealing what exactly? The money and possessions that Jesus told you not to have? Killing you? So you can exist in eternal prosperity? I think if I were a true Christian I'd be hoping every day for someone to steal all my shit and kill me.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

325: Paul is Greeted in Jerusalem

Acts 21-23
"The whole city was aroused, and the people came running from all directions. Seizing Paul, they dragged him from the temple, and immediately the gates were shut. While they were trying to kill him, news reached the commander of the Roman troops that the whole city of Jerusalem was in an uproar." - Acts 21:30-31

On Paul's way to Jerusalem many people urge him not to go to Jerusalem "through the Spirit". Can't the Holy Spirit just tell Paul directly what it thinks? Regardless, how can he disobey the Holy Spirit and still be called righteous?

Paul is then confronted by a man who steals his belt. The man uses this belt to tie himself up. He tells Paul that the Holy Spirit has told him that this is how Paul will be tied up in Jerusalem. Paul says that he's willing to die in Jerusalem and "The Lord's will be done." Again, if it's the Lord's will to have him killed then why is the Holy Spirit persuading all these people to try to stop him?

Paul eventually gets to Jerusalem and meets up with the disciples. He tells them all the progress he's made with the gentiles and they all praise God. Not to beat a dead horse, but why didn't the Holy Spirit tell them this good news? I guess the Holy Spirit only tells you the bad things that have happened/will happen.

After being in Jerusalem for awhile, Paul is told about a rumor that spreading among the Jews. The rumor is that Paul has been telling the Jews to stop being circumcised and stop following Moses. Because of this false accusation Paul is arrested (more like kidnapped by a large mob), as the Holy Spirit apparently predicted. Of course, it could also be that the people of Jerusalem already knew about this rumor against Paul and used their reasoning skills to conclude that he was going to be arrested. "The Holy Spirit told me" sounds better though.

The mob of Jews seizes Paul and starts trying to beat him to death. News that Jerusalem is in an uproar comes to the commander of the Roman troops in the area. The commander sends some men to break up the riot and arrest Paul.

When the commander gets there he asks the crowd who Paul is and what he has done. The commander can't get a straight answer so he orders that Paul be taken to the barracks. Once Paul is in the barracks the commander asks him if he is the Egyptian that started a revolt. I'm not sure where he got that from. Paul answers that he is a Jew, and asks the commander if he can speak to the crowd. Strangely, the commander agrees. Why would he allow the person causing the riot to go talk to the crowd?

Paul proceeds to defend himself with the story of how he was converted by the heavenly voice of Jesus and had visions sent by God. After this impassioned defense, the Jews yell "Rid the earth of him! He's not fit to live". I guess they're not convinced by a man hearing voices and having psychotic visions.

The commander orders that Paul be taken back into the barracks and flogged to make him tell the commander why the Jews hate him. As Paul is about to be flogged, he asks if it's legal to flog a Roman citizen who hasn't even been charged. The commander takes him on his word that he's a Roman citizen and decides that he can't be flogged. Why doesn't everyone use this "get out of flogging free" card?

The commander then orders that Paul be brought before the Sanhedrin so he can figure out why the Jews hate him. Paul claims, before the Sanhedrin, that he is a Pharisee and is being persecuted because of his "hope in the resurrection". The Pharisees, apparently, believe in the possibility of resurrection while the Sadducees don't. This causes a big argument among the Sanhedrin and the commander orders Paul be brought back to the barracks.

The next day 40 Jews start conspiring about Paul. They end up vowing not to eat or drink until Paul is dead. They tell the Sanhedrin to ask the commander to see Paul again, to get more information about his trial. It's when he's before the Sanhedrin that they will kill him. Long story short, the commander finds out about this and decides to transfer Paul to a different city.

The commander ends up sending two hundred soldiers, seventy horsemen, and two hundred spearmen to escort Paul. Why is this one Roman citizen so important to the Roman commander that he sends a small army to protect him? The chapter ends with Paul waiting for his accusers to arrive at this protected location for his trial to begin.

I think this was the most boring/most scripturally unenlightening section of the New Testament thus far.

*News*
An Augusta State University graduate student has been ordered to drop her Christian religion or drop out of college. Of course, there's a little more to this story:
“Augusta State ordered Keeton to undergo a re-education plan, in which she must attend “diversity sensitivity training,” complete additional remedial reading, and write papers to describe their impact on her beliefs. If she does not change her beliefs or agree to the plan, the university says it will expel her from the Counselor Education Program.”

The nature of Ms. Keeton’s beliefs were ascertained through private conversations with classmates and classroom discussions. The teaching staff decided on this basis that “Jen’s ability to be a multiculturally competent counselor, particularly with regard to working with gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and queer/questioning (GLBTQ) populations.”
Oh, so this actually has nothing to do with her religion, it has to do with her homophobia. As a part of this "diversity sensitivity training" Keeton has to prove that she has denounced her homophobic beliefs or be kicked out of the program. Keeton obviously disagrees with this and is suing.

The real question here is should this woman have to change her beliefs, even if those beliefs are (some say) a basic tenant of her religion? I'm not even sure why this is a question. Hint: the answer is "hell yes she has to change her beliefs or get the fuck out".

If a medical student has the solemn belief that he can cure his patients with the Holy Spirit (this could be justified with the bible), then that's perfectly fine. But if he decides that, instead of using modern medical science, he's just going to lay his hands on people, then we don't give him a medical license.

In the same way, a counselor can have the solemn belief that being gay is a sin and is wrong. Of course, this is also contrary to modern medical science. So why should Augusta State University be obligated to keep her in their program?

The final nail in this bigot's coffin (and hopefully the coffin of her lawsuit) comes directly from the American Counseling Association's website:
Counselors who conduct this type of [gay conversion] therapy view same-sex attractions and behaviors as abnormal and unnatural and, therefore, in need of "curing." The belief that same-sex attraction and behavior is abnormal and in need of treatment is in opposition to the position taken by national mental health organizations, including ACA. [FULL TEXT]
No legitimate mental health association thinks that homosexuality can be "cured" (nor is it abnormal or unnatural), just as no legitimate medical association thinks Spirit healing works. Why can we kick crazy medical students out, but not crazy prospective counselors?

Monday, July 26, 2010

324: Paul Bores People to Death

Acts 18-20
"Paul spoke to the people and, because he intended to leave the next day, kept on talking until midnight. There were many lamps in the upstairs room where we were meeting. Seated in a window was a young man named Eutychus, who was sinking into a deep sleep as Paul talked on and on. When he was sound asleep, he fell to the ground from the third story and was picked up dead." Acts 20:7-9

The day starts with Paul settling in Corinth for awhile. Silas and Timothy meet him there and he "devotes himself" to spreading the word of Jesus to the Jews. However, when the Jews begin opposing/abusing him (as usual) he gets fed up and says, "Your blood be on your own heads! I am clear of my responsibility. From now on I will go to the Gentiles."

God then speaks to Paul in a vision and tells him not to fear because he will not allow the people of the city to harm him. So he stays in Corinth for another year and a half, exclusively preaching to the gentiles, if we're to take him on his word.

After this time the Jews bring a united front against Paul and send him to court. I'm not sure why they don't just run him out of town like usual. The proconsul (governor) tells them that since it is a matter of Jewish law he will not judge Paul, and tells them to judge him among themselves. The Jews respond by turning on their synagogue leader and beating him in front of the proconsul. I have no idea what that was supposed to accomplish, and neither, it seems, does the proconsul.

Some time later Paul heads to Syria. On the way there he cuts off all his hair because of the "vow he had taken". What vow? Paul then goes to the synagogue in Syria and tries to reason with the Jews. So much for only preaching to the gentiles.

Paul preaches in Syria for awhile but then goes back to Ephesus (in Turkey). He finds some followers of Jesus and asks them if they have received the Holy Spirit. They reply by saying they haven't even heard of the Holy Spirit. Well, they seem to have missed the point entirely. Paul re-baptizes them and has to lay his hands on them for the Holy Spirit to go into them.

Where did the idea come from that we all have a little Holy Spirit inside of us? I've heard countless times that all morality comes from the bit of Holy Spirit God has put inside you. Why, in the time of the early church, do the disciples have to manually insert the Holy Spirit into every non-believer they come across? I feel certain that someone would have tried to lay their hands on me if they didn't already think I had the Holy Spirit.

Paul continues to preach and argue with the Jews for two more years. Paul was so blessed, the bible says, that even handkerchiefs and aprons he touched were turned into magical healing tools. Evil spirits were also driven out with these magical aprons.

The next paragraph is interesting. A group of Jews are going around driving out demons in Jesus's name. One day, an evil spirit talks back to them and says "Jesus I know, and I know about Paul, but who are you?" The man with the demon proceeds to kick the asses of seven men. He also apparently rips off their clothes, because they all run away naked with bloody noses. I guess the whole "in Jesus's name" thing doesn't work so well after all.

Paul then decides to go back to Jerusalem. Before he leaves, though, a silversmith claims that Paul has interfered with his idol making business, and blasphemed his god. Soon, this silversmith has gotten the whole city in an uproar. The city clerk decides that he doesn't want a riot, so he gets up in front of the crowd. He says that the whole world knows that the city of Ephesus is the guardian of the image of Artemis, who fell from heaven. And that Paul hasn't even blasphemed their goddess (yes he has). This seems to appease the crowd and they disperse.

In chapter 20 we get a shift in perspective. The writer switches from saying "Paul did this... Paul did that" to "we did this... we did that". Somewhere on Paul's journey back to Jerusalem he's picked up the writer of this gospel.

In a city named Troas, Paul is preaching the gospel to a group of people in an upstairs room of a house. Since it's Paul's last night in the city, he goes on and on about the gospel. A man is listening to Paul while sitting in the window. Paul goes on for so long that the man falls asleep and falls out of the window. He falls three stories and the bible claims that he's dead. Paul runs downstairs and jumps on the man, wrapping his arms around him and says, "Don't be alarmed. He's alive!" We're, of course, meant to believe that Paul brought this man back from the dead (says my NIV bible). Even though, like Jesus, he claims that the object of his magical resurrection isn't actually dead.

On the boat to Jerusalem, he passes by Ephesus (where he came from, was he going the wrong way?). He stops and says a heartfelt fair-well to all of his friends there. This fair-well consists mostly of him telling them to keep doing what he preached, and saying how righteous he is.

*News*
Sex: The bible is apparently all for it. I guess that's why it spends so much time condemning so many forms of it:
WOMEN'S and girls' magazines are full of advice on better sex, from how to catch and hold your man down to detailed instructions on sexual techniques. Now it seems the oldest written recipe, the Bible's, might be the best.

Neuroscientific studies suggest that ''life-long heterosexual monogamy'' is most likely to provide both sexual satisfaction and excitement, a Melbourne conference heard at the weekend.
Life-long heterosexual monogamy in the bible? Maybe life-long, and certainly heterosexual, but monogamous? I seemed to have missed the bit where polygamy was condemned. In fact, most of the kings of Israel had many wives (thousands in the case of Solomon) and God never made a peep. He certainly had every opportunity to say "oh by the way, only one wife".

After some research, it seems that even apologists recognize that polygamy is not condemned. They contend, instead, that monogamy was the original plan that we should all be aspiring to. This seems dubious at best. But lets move on:
In a joint paper with her son, Sydney Presbyterian minister Kamal Weerakoon, she said non-religious people expected the church to be fearful, ignorant, defensive, repressed and hypocritical with only one message about sex: don't do it.

But a biblical understanding of sex was deeply positive - ''do it, God made us for it'' - while also being honest about human imperfections and limitations.
I never thought that the church would say "don't do it" *period*. But I did (and still do) expect them to try to tell me with whom I can have sex. "Sex is wonderful, you just have to wait till you're 26 [average age of marriage in the U.S.]. Oh, and if you're gay, you're out of luck." That seems like a lot of "don't do it" and not very much "do it".

Where in the bible does it say that God made us to have sex? I was under the impression that we were made to worship God. Sex is but a means to and end (the end being more people to worship God).
''Biologically, we are wired to desire sex, to fall in love with the person we desire sex with, and for that love to develop into deep attachment. Our bodies are wired to operate best with one sexual partner for life,'' he said. ''Both academia and pop culture assume that biblical, Christian sexual ethics are at best outdated and irrelevant, and at worst repressive and harmful. We are seen as legalist, repressed, hypocritical killjoys who spend all our time trying to stop everyone from having a good time.''
We seem to have strayed from science into the land of religious based speculation. I'm fairly certain that the thousands of practicing polygamists would disagree with the assertion that they would be happier if they were monogamous. But again, the basic premise of this article is flawed. The bible doesn't take a particularly convincing stance on the virtue of monogamy.

(via The Age)

Sunday, July 25, 2010

323: Jailbreak

Acts 16-17
"Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everybody's chains came loose. The jailer woke up, and when he saw the prison doors open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself because he thought the prisoners had escaped." - Acts 16:26-27

We're still following Paul today (even though he split from Barnabas). He is now traveling with Silas. They come upon a Greek city and find a fellow follower of Jesus named Timothy. Paul wanted to take Timothy along with them, so he had him circumcised. The bible implies that this circumcision is for the benefit of the Jews in the area.

Theres a couple of things wrong with this. First, we just went over yesterday how it was supposed to be ok to be uncircumcised (indeed Paul is supposed to be delivering this message). What would illustrate this better than going around the country with an uncircumcised guy in toe? Second, who's going to know the difference? Does everyone in ancient times walk around with their penis on display?

All three of them come to the border of an area called Mysia (in modern day Turkey). When they try to cross the border to Bithynia the "Spirit of Jesus" (is this the Holy Spirit or something different?) would not let them enter. Did this spirit put up some physical barricade?

They then decide to go the other way. In the night Paul dreams that someone from Macedonia is calling for his help. The next day they are on a boat to Macedonia. When they arrive, they are met by believers, who they spend the night with.

On their way to a place of prayer, they are met by a slave girl with the gift of prophecy. She starts following them around saying, "These men are servants of the Most High God, who are telling you the way to be saved." She follows them around for several days saying this, until Paul gets fed up with her. He turns around and says, "In the name of Jesus Christ I command you to come out of her!" Couldn't he just tell her to go away?

Her owners (who were making money off of her prophecies) are angry at Paul and have him locked up. I thought the Holy Spirit was supposed to give you the gift of prophecy, now apparently it can take it away. Paul and Silas (where did Timothy go?) are locked up for taking away her ability to prophecy.

At midnight, while they are in jail, there is a great earthquake and all the prison doors fly open and everyones chains fall off. I didn't realize that earthquakes somehow picked locks without harming the people in the locks. None of the prisoners are feeling very frisky and decide to stay in their jail cells (?). The jailer sees that all the doors are open, and draws his sword to kill himself because he thinks his prisoners have escaped. I thought Seppuku was only for Samurai.

Paul tells the jailer to stop trying to kill himself because everyone is still in their cell. The jailer then has some kind of religious experience and comes to ask Paul and Silas what he needs to do to be saved. Paul tells him all about Jesus and the jailer is immediately converted. This entire story seems suspiciously like bullshit. Especially since this story is a second hand account of a later retelling.

The bullshit continues with Paul and Silas going to this jailers house. When the morning comes the magistrate sends a message to the jailer telling him to release Paul and Silas. Why would they release them now? Paul and Silas demand that the magistrates escort them out of town, because they are Roman citizens and they were beaten without being charged. The magistrates are apparently surprised that they are Roman citizens and agree to escort them out of town.

They then end up in Thessalonica where they are chased out of town by a mob of angry Jews (as usual). They then go to Berea, where they have better luck converting. That is until the Jews of Thessalonica hear that they've started preaching there. Paul runs out of town (before he can be chased out by the usual mob of angry Jews) to Athens.

In Athens Paul finds a variety of different "false" idols. He even finds an altar with an inscription written, "to an unknown God", which I find rather amusing. Paul only finds a few converts among the Athenians. They seem especially skeptical of the various resurrections Paul talks about.

*News*
We've got some interesting mental gymnastics today:
As the consciousness revolution hots up, it's becoming pretty clear that what's really holy about the Holy Bible is the person reading it. We may imbue the book with holiness, but surely, isn't it even more valuable to see it as a mirror in which our soul is reflected? Isn't the Bible about us? About God's purpose for us? How he created us as an expression of himself? How we lost awareness of our divine nature? And how we can restore it?
I'll largely agree with this besides the "soul reflection" bit. I would certainly agree that the readers of the bible are the ones imbuing it with it's holiness. If not for them it would be a badly written, generally disturbing work of mostly fiction.
Take Genesis. Let's face it, we know for sure that
  • The universe was not created in seven days;
  • Man is not made from dust;
  • Serpents do not hold conversations with naked ladies.
Orthodox doctrine maintains that everything must be taken literally and that the Bible is a full, final, immutable transcription of God's Word -- mess with it at your peril!
If you can't take something as blatant as "a woman talked to a snake" literally, then what can you take literally? We know for sure that people can't prophecy, and that people can't heal other people with magic touch. So every miracle of Jesus was a metaphor? We also know that, in recorded medical history, nobody has ever come back from the dead after three days. I declare it all a metaphor!
As told in the story of Jacob, God may want us to struggle with his teachings in order to receive enlightenment. My working hypothesis is that God leaves us clues. Scripture is poetry that speaks through our minds to our souls. Perhaps our spiritual evolution occurs as we use these clues as a catalyst for looking within ourselves for meaning and truth. This would be fully consistent with the first commandment, "Have no other gods before me." He may be saying, "I, God, am within you. I am your true self. Don't look out there and worship symbols or you'll get lost. Use the symbols to go deeper inside."
Oh, that's what it means. And all this time I though it meant "Have no other gods before me". It's so clear that it really means that God wants you to search the bible for hidden clues about what God really means by (metaphorically) killing millions of people and generally being a douchebag.
Take Genesis again. The Bible offers us three versions of the creation story: Genesis 1, Genesis 2, and John 1. Why? Maybe this is a clue, a pointer?

Perhaps the anomalies are the portals to the hidden meaning. If John says it is "the Word" that is the causative factor in creation, why is it not mentioned in Genesis 1? Maybe it is. Maybe 6,000 years before John came along, they used a different word for the same thing? That's hardly heresy, is it? So where does Genesis 1 tally with John?
Oh. My. God. "The word". That's that segment on the Colbert Report. Stephen Colbert started as a correspondent on the Daily Show. The Daily Show is the reason I know about Viacom. Viacom also owns BET. BET, black, first black President, Obama! Obama is the Word! The Word is Jesus, Obama is Jesus! Is that it? Did I get the right hidden meaning?
Throughout Genesis 1, the expression "the waters" is used seven times, culminating in verse 20: "And God said, 'Let the waters bring forth abundantly the moving creature that hath life ... '"

Could the missing word for "Word" in Genesis be "waters"? In Genesis 2, "the waters" as a creative force has morphed into the river that "went out of Eden to water the garden; and from thence it was parted, and became four heads." The four forces of the universe, perhaps? Imagine that: has Genesis been telling us all along what science is now discovering?

Could these metaphors be God's inscrutable way of telling us who we are and why we're here?
Dammit, God was really telling us to go along with science, not that Obama is Jesus. Incidentally, my logic wasn't any more or less convoluted than his, so I claim we're both equally right. But the symbolism goes on:
John 1 gives us more clues, "And the light shineth in the darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not." Here, "light" and "darkness" are not physical electromagnetic light energies; they are obviously symbols for awareness and ignorance, respectively!

As we step past the miasma of the mind and move into our holy consciousness, it sheds light on verse 1. What if "heaven and earth" is not the universe but us, who we really are? The dual elements of consciousness? The spiritual touching the physical, like Da Vinci's "Creation of Adam"? Our purpose here, then, is God's simply stated purpose:

"Let there be light."
Wait, so when did God create light if he was talking about metaphorical enlightenment? For once I think someone has made a contradiction in the bible where there isn't one. John says "in the beginning was the Word". I'm told that "the Word" is Jesus (John says this a lot too). That doesn't mean that God didn't use literal words (e.g. "let there be light") in the beginning. It's just trying to imply that Jesus was also there.

This is a bit of a tangent. But I once had someone try to explain to me how Jesus and God were one at the beginning of time. Apparently they were some type of super being until Jesus was crucified. Then they were torn apart forever (except not really, because they're still one being). I'm not sure what the obsession is with making God and Jesus one being. Monotheism isn't worth these sorts of mental gymnastics.

 

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