Saturday, August 28, 2010

357: 2 Peter

2 Peter 1-3
"They have left the straight way and wandered off to follow the way of Balaam son of Beor, who loved the wages of wickedness. But he was rebuked for his wrongdoing by a donkey—a beast without speech—who spoke with a man's voice and restrained the prophet's madness." - 2 Peter 2:15-16

This is yet another rather short letter from Peter. The letter starts with the standard praise for God/Jesus. He also tells the people he's writing to, to remember to be godly.

The rest of chapter 1 is Peter's first hand account of Jesus. Interestingly, he doesn't bother to mention any of the miracles Jesus was supposed to have performed. He doesn't mention Jesus raising people from the dead, feeding 5000, or healing people of their paralysis. The only verification he does mention is when he heard God say "This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased".

The entirety of chapter 2 is about false teachers. He says that these false teachers, like sinning angels, will be sent to hell. Peter goes on to give examples from the Old Testament where God punished the people, and saved people from destruction (e.g. Noah). He tells us that this means God knows how to punish ungodly people and save godly people.

Peter goes on to say that these false teachers are so bold and arrogant that they even slander angels. Was slandering angels ever forbidden? I don't think God has ever spoken directly about angels. He just sends them down to slaughter people.

Finally, Peter retells the story of Balaam and his talking donkey. He says that this talking donkey "restrained the prophets madness". He was prevented from going mad by a magical talking donkey? That sounds like a sign of his madness.

In the last chapter, Peter talks about the end of days. For once, he doesn't seem to think that the end of days is particularly imminent. Saying that one day seems like 1000 years to God. However, he backtracks a little, saying that the people he's writing to should strive to stay blameless so that when Jesus returns they will be saved. Shouldn't Peter know (through the Holy Spirit) that Jesus won't be coming for at least another 2000 years?

*News*
Should the bible be taken seriously? The bible says yes!
Is the Bible nothing more than an old superstitious book, with some fancy fairytales? Maybe you think it can't be taken seriously and has been basically disproved. It may contain some helpful truths…but you'll have to decide for yourself what's true and what's not. Here's what God says: All Scripture is God-breathed (2 Timothy 3:16). Prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit (2 Peter 1:21). Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth (John 17:17). Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than man's wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man's strength (1 Corinthians 1:20-25).
You can't show that the bible is legit by saying that God says so in the bible. You've circled right back around to the very thing you were trying to disprove. Namely: "you'll have to decide for yourself what's true and what's not".

After giving us this airtight proof of the bible's validity, the writer goes on to answer several questions about the nature of God. With this elegant prose of illogic we can also prove that Islam, Mormonism, Scientology, or any other religion with holy text is completely legit. At least make an attempt to prove the bible is legitimate from non-biblical sources.
He wrote a message for us. He's trying to get your attention today. He's speaking to you through his word…the Bible. He's teaching some powerful truths. He's telling you that he loves you, despite your best efforts to fight him out of your life, despite your sins and failings. By all rights he could have and should have given up on you for good…but He loved you enough to give up his life for you...literally. Jesus Christ is the Son of God and the Savior of the world. His sacrifice has taken away your sin and makes you right with God. Trust that truth. Keep learning and growing in that Word of God.
Despite my best efforts to fight him off? Fighting someone off would require that they be present, and be - in some way - effecting my life. I'm not "fighting off" Zeus, or Thor, or Odin in my every day life, in the same way I'm not fighting off Jesus. Now, if Zeus were following me around every day, in bodily form, then you could accuse me of fighting him off if I didn't believe.

Friday, August 27, 2010

356: 1 Peter

1 Peter 1-5
"Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed." - 1 Peter 4:12-13

This is another pretty standard (read boring) biblical letter. Chapter 1 starts with praise for God/Jesus. Peter also says that suffering and grief serve only to prove your faith genuine. Who are you proving your faith to? Doesn't God already know how faithful you are (or if you would fail a test of faith for that matter).

Chapter 2 compares Jesus to a "living stone". I don't suppose this is terribly surprising, his dad is constantly called a "rock". Peter then, like Paul, tells us that we must obey earthly authority, because our leaders have been appointed by God. In fact, he says that our leaders have been sent to "punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right". I wonder what God's rationale was with Hitler.

Peter next tells slaves to be obedient, even if they have a master that beats them for doing good things. Taking a beating is "commendable" to God. I guess getting beaten by your master is just another "test of faith" anyway.

Chapter 3 repeats the idea that women should be obedient to their husbands. Peter claims that if husbands see how obedient their wives are, they will be convinced of the power of God.The bible does mention that husbands should respect their wives, but only as the "weaker" partner.

The rest of chapter 3 and all of chapter 4 is about suffering. Peter says that, as a Christian, you should expect to suffer. And that's a good thing because it will bring you closer to Jesus. This sentiment is echoed in the words of Mother Teresa, "The suffering of the poor is something very beautiful and the world is being very much helped by the nobility of this example of misery and suffering". Needless to say, if all Christians followed this doctrine they'd be rather disinclined to actually help people.

Chapter 4 also mentions that "the end of all things is near". Why does every writer of New Testament gospel seem wholly convinced that the end of the world will happen in their generation? A better question: Why do people still think the biblical apocalypse is on it's way?

Chapter 5 talks about the young being submissive to the old. Peter also tells the old to be shepherds and teachers of the gospel.

*News*
Billy Graham wouldn't want us to join a cult:
[Question] Some people came to our door recently and offered to explain the Bible to us, which we let them do since we’d never thought much about God. But how do I know if they are a cult? I don’t want to get sucked into a cult, but they’re friendly and have interesting ideas.
I guess it depends on what you think the word "cult" means. The word cult can be defined as "formal religious veneration". Of course, that would apply to Christianity too, and Billy Graham can't have that:
Cults often claim that the Bible isn’t sufficient, and they add other books to it (usually written by their founder). Cults also claim that they, and they alone, know the way of salvation, and you must be a member of their group to be saved.
It's convenient that this definition seems to fit perfectly with Mormonism (they add books to the bible written by their founder). I didn't realize that it was so common with cults to add books to the bible. Billy lets slip a little that cults "claim that they, and they alone, know the way of salvation". Does Christianity not claim to know the only way to salvation?
The most serious disagreement between Christianity and cults, however, concerns Jesus Christ. The Bible clearly teaches that Jesus was God’s unique son — fully human and fully divine — sent from heaven to save us from our sins by his death on the cross. As the Bible says, “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23). Cults, however, deny this.
I was under the impression that Mormons did believe Jesus was divine. I guess by Billy Graham's definition, you could be a fanatical everyone-commit-suicide group, but as long as you agree that Jesus is fully human and fully divine (whatever that means) you probably don't have any serious disagreement with Christianity. He may as well just say what he means, "if you're not a Christian group, you're a cult".

Thursday, August 26, 2010

355: James

James 1-5
"You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord's coming is near. Don't grumble against each other, brothers, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door!" - James 5:8-9

James starts by telling us that we should be thankful when we run into hardship, because it's merely our faith being "tested". Presumably this "test" is being performed by God. However, James says that when we are tempted, we should not blame God because God doesn't tempt people to sin. Jesus didn't seem to be aware of this when he gave the disciples the Lord's prayer ("And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.").

Chapter 1 ends with James telling us to follow the words of the "law". It's unclear if James means the law of Jesus or the law of the Old Testament.

The letter continues with James forbidding favoritism, with respect to wealth. This is because the poor are "rich in faith". This is probably the first passage that's actually true to Jesus's teachings since we started reading Paul. James goes on to say that if you break one of the commandments of the law (he's clearly talking about Old Testament law now), that you are guilty of breaking all the laws. But wait, I thought we weren't under the law any more (according to Paul). There seems to be something fundamentally wrong about lying being just as bad as murdering in the eyes of God.

The latter half of chapter 2 is about doing good deeds, not just having faith. In fact, James goes so far as to say, "faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead". I know a lot of Christians that only ever go to church on Sunday, or give money to the church. The example James gives as action is "feeding the hungry". I don't think "feed the pastor with church donations" counts as feeding the hungry. I guess faith is dead.

Almost the entirety of chapter 3 is about not cursing. James goes on to give us several metaphors about how cursing can lead you astray. He compares your tongue to a rudder on a ship, and a spark that starts a forest fire. He also says that our mouths are like a spring, in that salt water (cursing) and fresh water (praising God) cannot come out of the same place.

Chapter 4 echoes some of the sentiments of Paul that we heard over and over again. Namely, don't quarrel among each other. James says that we should submit ourselves to God rather than quarreling among each other.

Chapter 5 is probably the most interesting chapter of James's letter. He implores the people he's writing to (whoever that is), to be patient for the coming of Jesus. He promises them that the coming of Jesus is near. What could he possibly mean aside from promising Jesus will be coming within his generation (which is what Jesus has said all along)?

James ends the chapter by saying if someone is sick in the church, they should ask the church elders to pray over them. This is surely where the idea that you don't need modern medicine came from. The children that have died of treatable illnesses as a result of "faith healing" should attest to the falseness of this claim.

*News*
This is just too stupid for words:
Why has President Barack Obama on at least two occasions told specifically Muslim audiences that America is a nation of -- among other things -- "non-believers"?
Yeah, why does Barack Obama pretend that there are some people that aren't religious in America? And why, for Jesus's sake, is he telling the Muslims?
The Pledge of Allegiance says America is one nation under God, our national motto says in God we trust, the Declaration of Independence says we are endowed by our Creator with certain inalienable rights and since the time of George Washington our presidents have placed their left hands on the Bible as they raise their right hands and swear to defend our Constitution.
"Under God" was added in the 1950's, our national motto was originally "E Pluribus Unum" ("One From Many"), and the founders probably meant "creator" in a decidedly more deistic sense than what this article is implying. [Way more info] Even if all these things were not the case, nobody is implying (or nobody should be implying) that the founders of the United States weren't violent defenders of freedom of religion.
The Census Bureau's official Statistical Abstract of the United States says a miniscule 0.7 percent of American adults -- or 1,621,000 out of 228,182,000 -- are atheists.
The smallness of the U.S. population number betrays just how old the study he's quoting is. Not to mention that "atheist" is not the only measure of non-belief. There are also agnostics, and people who simply say "none".

Here are the current statistics: First of all, the US population is estimated at a little over 310 million (not 228 million); according to a Pew research poll (done in 2008) 16.1% of the US population define themselves as "none", 1.6% and 2.4% refer to themselves as atheist and agnostic (respectively). Using 310 million, and combining atheist and agnostic (the groups that generally don't believe in God), the number comes out to a little over 12 million atheists and agnostics (as opposed to the writer's estimate of 1.6 million).

If you do this same combination of atheists and agnostics (4%), they out number the Jewish (1.7%) and Muslim (0.6%) populations combined. The question then becomes, if the president acknowledges Muslims and Jews (he does), why wouldn't he acknowledge non-believers?

The writer of the article spends several paragraphs giving instances where Obama spoke of religious diversity (including the phrase "non-believer"). I'll spare you his repetitiveness. Moving on:
Is Obama's repeated declaration -- including to Muslim audiences -- that America is, among other things, a nation of "non-believers" truly accurate? Does it comport with Obama's professed strategy of reaching out to the Islamic world and improving America's standing there by increasing understanding of our true nature as a nation?

The answers are: No and no.
First answer, yes (for the reasons stated above). Second, it may not "improve America's standing", but it certainly doesn't hurt us any more than saying we're a "Christian nation". Either way we're horrible infidels.

In the end, Obama is just trying to be as inclusive as possible in his religious diversity speeches. By mentioning Christians, Jews, Muslims, and non-believers he's probably included upwards of 98% of the US population. I didn't, until now, think it was possible to criticize someone for trying to highlight diversity and acceptance of others. Thanks, Terence Jeffrey, for lowering my opinion of humanity.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

354: Faith & Hebrews: In Review

Hebrews 11-13
"Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for." - Hebrews 11:1-2

Faith, according to the mysterious writer of Hebrews, is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. Sure of what we hope for? Unfortunately there's a disconnect between this line of thinking and reality. I hope I don't ever die, and I'm sure I won't ever die should not be the same statement (at least for those of us that are sane). There are many things I do not see (Santa, invisible unicorns, the easter bunny), but I don't blindly believe any of them.

The rest of chapter 11 is a list of Old Testament characters. The writer commends these ancients one by one for their faith. Interestingly, he refers to all of these people as having died. So it is possible to cease existing. Why does God feel the need to torment some people eternally (post-Jesus)? Why doesn't he just allow the good people into heaven and blink the other people out of existence?

There's also a bit of a problem here. These Old Testament prophets weren't operating on faith (faith having been just defined as things not seen). Moses was given a burning bush, and a cloud of fire. God spoke to Abraham in person and told him to kill his son. How were these acts of faith? I wouldn't require faith if God were holding conversations with me.

Chapter 12 tells us that we should accept "discipline" from God. When we suffer hardship this is really God disciplining us. Disciplining us for what? Aren't we forgiven from all of our sins? Even if hardship is discipline, why is God completely inconsistent in his discipline. The bible compares God all the time to a father (it makes the comparison here too). Isn't inconsistent punishment the first indicator of shitty parenting?

The chapter goes on to tell us to live in peace with everyone. But then immediately says that we should allow no one to be sexually immoral or Godless. These people will be "bitter roots" that will grow up and defile many. What happened to not judging each other? How can we live in peace if we have to rid ourselves of one another?

Chapter 13 starts by telling us to love each other as brothers. Again, we have to love each other, but certain people we have to get rid of. The beginning of the chapter also tells us to entertain a lot of strangers, because some people have accidentally ended up entertaining angels. Strangers can also be axe murderers. Somehow I think axe murderer is more likely than angel.

The final interesting thing in the chapter is a quote. "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever". I've actually had this very quote used to validate the theory that Jesus must have been around since the beginning of the universe. I guess it depends on how you want to define "the same". Was Jesus the same the day he died as the day he was resurrected?

Hebrews: In Review
As with the letters of Paul, I feel like I've been more enlightened about modern Christianity in this book than I was with Matthew/Mark/Luke/John. At least in those books there was some facade of legitimacy. Those were "first hand accounts". Even if that's not true, I can understand that people could be convinced of it's truth.

I could even go so far as to say that I can understand people's believing the words of Paul (even though he's pretty obviously full of shit). But believing the words of some random Israelite from ~2000 years ago is taking absurdity to a whole new level. What's the standard here? It's old? It sounds pretty? Even Paul himself admits there are people running around preaching the message of Jesus "incorrectly" around this time. Who's to say this isn't one of those people?

In the end this letter obviously failed to convert at least some of the Hebrews.

*News*
This article starts out well but goes down hill:
There should be no question about it: it is a violation of the entire ethic of modern education when "faith schools" teach alternatives to evolution for explaining humankind's origins. Critical education rests on imparting a sceptical approach to claims about the world, clearly contradicted by presenting as equal choices – as Erfana Bora suggests – religious dogma alongside reasoned, and continually contested, scientific truth claims.
The writer goes on to say the downside of our scientific progress is that some people (namely, atheists) have forgotten about an "important" area of study. Metaphysics:
Contrary to modernist folklore, metaphysics is not just some relic of pre-Enlightenment thought. In two ways its relevance persists. The first relates to our understanding of the world in ways that escape the empirical method. For instance, in my own doctoral research I am examining the idea of events: non-phenomena with no physical, or testable properties, yet which appear indispensable for making sense of questions relating to causality and transformation. Second, and more important, there are the big "Why?" questions that also play an irreducible role in existential thought about life: "Why is there something rather than nothing?" or "What happens to individuals' sense of existence after death severs individual existence?"
How exactly does one study events with no physical or testable properties? Do you sit around and wait for one of these "non-phenomena" to happen? How do you know when a non-event happens?

I understand that there are big "why?" questions. But if you can't answer them empirically I don't see the point in answering them at all. My "metaphysical" answer could be that the Flying Spaghetti Monster made the universe, and your answer could be something else entirely. What have we accomplished?

The writer then accuses atheists of not pursuing these big "why" questions. First of all, I don't think science can hope to answer "why" the universe began. It might eventually be able to determine "how" the universe began. And to say there is no one pursuing that problem is disingenuous. As for an after life, there is very little empirical evidence for any after life. That's not to say that nobody is "asking the question":
Of course, my argument runs against the grain of a lot of what you could call a strand of smug, self-satisfied atheist sentiment. When faced by the big questions that draw people to faith, all too often the self-righteous atheists' defence is to decline to enter into debates with the religious, by turning their own lack of reflection on such matters into a hallmark of maturity. "Unlike you, a believer," the smug atheist boasts, "I don't need to know everything, and I lack the hubristic will to know about life, the universe, and everything."
"I don't know" therefore I'm declining to have a debate about it, is different from "I don't need/want to know". How is it self-righteous to say that you don't know about something for which there is no empirical evidence? If someone asks me how the universe came into existence, I say I don't know. That's not because I don't want to know, or I just haven't looked hard enough. It's because there is no information. Am I supposed to make something up so I can have a debate?

I was reading through the comments, and someone had a much better rebuttal than mine:
I take it you'll be devoting a large chunk of the time on your doctoral thesis to studying the implications of the choice of sock colour made by the fairies at the bottom of your garden - thus making sure that your work doesn't run against the grain of a lot of what you could call a strand of smug, self-satisfied afairyist sentiment. - Or are you a hypocrite?

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

353: It's a Dreadful Thing

Hebrews 7-10
"It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God." - Hebrews 10:31

Chapter 7 seems to be trying to convince us how great Melchizedek was, and how Jesus is a priest like Melchizedek. Again, whoever this is, is just pandering to the Hebrews. If Jesus was a "priest on the order of Melchizedek" you'd think he, or one of the gospel writers, would have mentioned it. In fact, you'd think he would have used this argument to avoid execution.

Chapter 8 talks about a "new covenant". The writer says that Jesus's new covenant is better than the covenant of the Old Testament. Jesus does speak of a new covenant when he is telling his disciples to eat his flesh and drink his blood. Why doesn't the writer of Hebrews mention that you have to cannibalize Jesus to ratify this new covenant?

Chapter 9 starts by telling us all about the old tabernacle. As if I ever wanted to hear about the tabernacle again. The writer explains (needlessly, he is writing to Hebrews) that the priests could only enter the tabernacle once a year, and they had to enter with offerings (animal blood).

The writer goes on to compare this to Jesus. He says that Jesus entered his metaphorical ("Not of this world") tabernacle, and used his own blood instead of the blood of goats and cattle. The writer then asks us if the blood of goats can sanctify someone, how much more will the blood of Jesus sanctify us. Uh, I don't know. It kind of seems like comparing apples to oranges. I thought God didn't like human sacrifices anyway.

The bible then concludes that because we are so sanctified by Jesus, he is the mediator for the new covenant. The chapter ends with the bible saying that Jesus has once and for all sacrificed himself for our sins. However, Jesus will return to "bring salvation" to those who are waiting for him. Didn't he already bring us salvation?

The beginning of chapter 10 just reiterates that Jesus was sacrificed once and for all for all our sins. The end of the chapter, however, says that if we continue sinning after we have heard the knowledge of Jesus's salvation, no sacrifice for sins will be left. The writer says that people were killed for disobeying the laws Moses, and tells us to consider how much more someone would be punished for "trampl[ing] the Son of God under foot". He says that it is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of God. According to the writer of Hebrews, God is still the same fear inducing being that he's always been.

*News*
This is the Christian Post's review of John Loftus's "The Christian Delusion":
Like most of the contributors to The Christian Delusion John sets out fists a flyin’ with a cold slap from Isaac Asimov who barks out:

“Properly read, the Bible is the most potent force for atheism ever conceived.” (181)

It is right there that I got held up. Let’s call this sentence the “Village Atheist Challenge”. In order to analyze it, allow me to present a parallel. I call it the “Tree Hugger Challenge”:

“Properly driven, the Ford GT is the most potent force for horseback riding ever conceived.”
I didn't realize someone could "bark out" things in writing. Nor do I imagine that Isaac Asimov meant his words in spite. This "parallel" is probably the most obvious example of a straw man argument I've ever seen. Let's here more about this Ford GT:
“The proper way to drive the Ford GT is on a narrow, rugged dirt path. But it is horribly inept at doing this. Horses, by contrast, are very adept at doing this. So we ought to be riding horseback instead of driving GTs.”

I dare say, with a rationale like that our tree hugger doesn’t know if he is afoot or horseback. How would you respond to this reasoning? Would you fall off your chair? Hurl a quart of Penzoil at the tree hugger in disgust? Pull out all your bling that sports the Blue Oval and provocatively jangle it in his dreadlock-framed face? Whatever you might do, you certainly would not be satisfied with his explanation.
I'm not even sure what this has to do with the bible any more. First of all, I think there's a fundamental misunderstanding of what Asimov meant by "properly". I don't think he meant "correctly", I think he meant "thoroughly". I base this assumption (not knowing the context of his quote) by how throughly Asimov read the bible. In fact, he wrote a 1296 page book about it.

Most people read the bible, but they don't give it a proper reading. That is, they quote mine and pick at the good parts, and then conclude that it must only say good things. Anyway, lets pretend for a moment that Asimov thought he had figured out the "proper" way to read the bible. Back to the straw man:
Here’s the obvious problem: his rationale is silly and question-begging. On my view, the GT was meant to be driven on the Nürburgring or Route 66, not on a rutted horse path. And so long as I find it so enormously capable of driving in those conditions I shall continue to do so.
Again, the writer of this article is doing a great job of ripping down his straw man, but he's still not actually talking about the original statement. It's not even a good analogy. The analogy would imply that the bible is only good in some situations, which most Christians would vehemently deny.
Now back to the Village Atheist Challenge. What, according to Isaac Asimov, is the proper way to read the Bible? One that assumes it commends immoral behaviors and actions which are inconsistent with the authorship of a divine being. (You see, Asimov is an atheist to begin with so of course this is how he reads the Bible.)
There's no assumption, the bible does condone (if not commend) immoral behaviors. The bible regulates slavery, I see no way you could honestly read the bible and deny that. But, in fact, it was only after I read the bible that I knew most of the immorality it commanded (killing people for adultery, killing people for being homosexual, subjugating women, and many more). I made no assumption (nor do I think Asimov did) about what the bible contained before I read it (except possibly making some overly positive assumptions about Jesus).

Monday, August 23, 2010

352: Don't Crucify Jesus

Hebrews 1-6
"It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age, if they fall away, to be brought back to repentance, because to their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace." - Hebrews 6:4-6

Hebrews is another letter, and it's actually more than one day long. This time, finally, the letter is not written by Paul (or, attributed to Paul I should say). This letter seems to be solely dedicated to convincing the Jews that they can achieve salvation through Jesus.

The introduction has some strange revelations. The writer says that it was through Jesus God created the universe. And that Jesus is the "exact representation of his being".

First of all, why didn't we hear about Jesus in the book of Genesis, or anywhere else for that matter? One could argue (unconvincingly) that there are references to Jesus's eventual existence in the Old Testament. But there is certainly no mention that he already existed in the Old Testament times. You'd think the messiah being right there while God was creating the universe (or Jesus doing the creating himself) would at least be worth a mention.

Second, how is Jesus an exact representation of God's being? If this is meant to be a physical description, God is generally described as a ball of fire, or made out of metal. If this is meant to be a character description, Jesus seems to defy most of the Old Testament laws. How can God defy himself?

The rest of the first chapter is devoted to quoting scripture to convince the Hebrews that Jesus is superior to the angels.

Chapter 2 begins by saying that we should not ignore the salvation of Jesus. This salvation was apparently testified by God through various "wonders and miracles" and by passing out the Holy Spirit according to his will.

Chapter 2 continues, giving us the same spiel about Jesus sacrificing himself for our sins. The bible then says that Jesus had flesh and blood, and was tempted like men. Later in Hebrews this is clarified to being tempted in every way. The problem here is that Jesus says anyone who looks upon a woman lustfully (the only way I can imagine you'd be tempted) has already committed adultery. The real issue here is, how can you be tempted without thinking about it?

Chapter 3 tells us that Jesus is superior to Moses. This is because Moses is but a servant and Jesus is the son. The chapter ends by saying that those who don't believe in Jesus will not be able to enter "God's rest".

In chapter 4 this mysterious Godly "rest" is clarified (sort of). This "rest" is really a sabbath rest. But not the sabbath rest of the Old Testament. This is a new sabbath rest, through Jesus, that only happens after you die. That is, the new sabbath rest is heaven (at least that's what I can discern from this chapter).

The end of chapter 4 is when Jesus is said to have been tempted "in every way" yet remained free of sin. By Jesus's definition of sin, this seems rather impossible. It also seems like you'd have to have a certain level of depravity to be tempted in every way possible. Was Jesus, for example, tempted to [insert the strangest sexual fetish you can think of]?

In chapter 5, the writer tries to convince us that Jesus was a "high priest". The bible says that after Jesus died, he was appointed to be a high priest in the order of Melchizedek. I'm not sure how the writer of Hebrews figured out that God had done this. All this high priest business seems to be solely for the benefit of Jewish readers.

Chapter 5 ends by saying that the writer has a lot to teach the Jews but it's hard because they're so slow to learn. Maybe if the writer would stop speaking in vague half-metaphor it would be easier to comprehend. Also, what makes this guy an expert on all things holy? At least the other books were written by "eye witnesses" or "friends of eye witnesses" or Paul (that's a whole different story). Now it's just some guy telling us what we should believe. Is "sounds good" the sole criteria for making it into the bible?

In chapter 6 the writer begins the arduous task of explaining Jesus to us. Because we, and the Jews, are apparently idiots. The writer promises to explain to us "baptisms, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment".

The first lesson is that people who have found Jesus, but subsequently turned away from him are actually recrucifying Jesus and subjecting him to public disgrace. The Catholics must love that one. I guess this is a metaphorical crucifixion, otherwise Jesus is being constantly crucified by millions of ex-Christians. The writer says that, because these ex-believers have crucified Jesus, they cannot be "brought back to repentance". Is this another one of those unforgivable sins?

Our education by some random guy will continue tomorrow.

*News*
We haven't had a good completely-misunderstands-atheism letter recently:
The author of The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins for example doesn’t believe in God (admittedly of the Abrahamaic tradition for the most part) because He is an abrasive, angry, jealous, vengeful being who constantly plays favourites, commits genocide and delivers plagues on a regular basis — besides testing followers’ faith from time to time and demanding human sacrifice. It’s really no big deal rejecting this. So Dawkins doesn’t believe in a God he wants to believe in.
Of course, Dawkins never says that's the only God he doesn't believe in. In fact he clarifies that he doesn't believe in any God (including Zeus, Thor, etc). I don't think any legitimate atheist is arguing that the sole reason for their disbelief in God is his personality. His childish douchebaggery is more like icing on the cake of his nonexistence.
As for those who say their atheism rejects the existence of any divinity, it makes no sense. How can something that doesn’t exist be rejected? At least the very worst that can be said of believers is that they conjure up a God out of nothing and then accept it as real. But the very worst that can be said of atheists is they do the same thing and then reject it as unreal. It’s an act of faith by both. Say this about the power of faith — we can’t seem to live without it.
I reject the existence of Santa and the Flying Spaghetti Monster. Did I just prove their existence by rejecting them? Did I just take a position of faith? I think the confusion here is that I'm rejecting the idea of Santa, not the person of Santa. I don't imagine that I've somehow conjured Santa into existence so I can reject him.

Faith is belief in the absence of evidence. I have disbelief in the absence of evidence. I think they call that, oh what's the word, sanity.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

351: Titus/Philemon

Titus 1-3
"Even one of their own prophets has said, 'Cretans are always liars, evil brutes, lazy gluttons.' This testimony is true. Therefore, rebuke them sharply, so that they will be sound in the faith" - Titus 1:12-13

This book is a letter to Titus from Paul, telling him some commands to give to the Cretans. Unfortunately Paul doesn't have a single new thing to say.

The first chapter starts with Paul repeating the qualities of a good leader. Namely: having one wife (implying that other people don't have to have only one wife), having obedient children, not quick-tempered, etc.

The most interesting part of this book is what Paul has to say about some of the Cretans. This group of Cretans still says that their members have to be circumcised. Paul, to refute this, says that one of their own (Cretan) prophets says "Cretans are always liars, evil brutes, lazy gluttons". So a Cretan prophet says that "Cretans are always liars". Which must mean this prophet is lying. Therefore all Cretans tell the truth? This is commonly called the "Epimenides paradox".

Chapter 2 is more of Paul's theory about whom should be subservient to whom. As he's said before, women should be subservient to men, and slaves should be subservient to their masters.

The last chapter is about being good servants to the rulers. Paul also tells us to "slander no one" and to be "peaceable and considerate". Paul seems to have forgotten he just got finished slandering the Cretans, calling them lazy gluttons. Finally, Paul says that we should warn someone who is divisive (someone who argues about Old Testament laws and genealogies) three times to stop being divisive. But after the third time we should have nothing more to do with them. I guess after three times, Jesus is ok with letting the person suffer eternal hellfire.

Philemon 1
"Therefore, although in Christ I could be bold and order you to do what you ought to do, yet I appeal to you on the basis of love." - Philemon 1:8-9

The book of Philemon (all one chapter of it) is a letter from Paul, asking that Philemon welcome his slave (Onesimus) back to him. The first thing he says is that he could have commanded Philemon, in the name of Jesus, to take the slave back. But he's decided not to.

This slave had apparently run away and ended up with Paul. Paul then befriended and converted him. He now asks Philemon to accept Onesimus as a "brother" and not, say, kill him. The question I have is, why does Paul think it's necessary to send the slave back at all?

Now that he is sending the slave back, why wouldn't he (as he said he was able to) "command" Philemon to peaceably take the slave back? Does Paul care at all for the safety of his "very heart" (how he refers to the Onesimus). Who's to say that Philemon won't just say "no", and either put Onesimus into hard labor, or kill him. Paul says that he will pay back whatever debts Onesimus owes to his owner, hopefully that will be enough.

We never end up hearing the fate of Onesimus.

*News*
A Yale professor has decided that we should all study the bible:
Yale professor David Gelernter tells Big Think that America should acknowledge its identity as a Judeo-Christian society and mandate teaching of the Bible in our public schools.

America is a pluralistic society, but the “humane and liberating power of the American idea” which allows for such diversity is a direct result of the Judeo-Christian tradition upon which our nation was founded, says Gelernter. “Judeo-Christian thinking and teaching has been the most progressive, spiritually-liberating and humane phenomenon in human history.” Plus the Bible is the most influential book in history, he says. “How can we afford to let our children grow up ignorant of it?”
Of course, Judeo-Christian principles can be used to squash diversity as well. Indeed if we followed Christian principles there would be no women in the workforce, and we would still own slaves. Not to even mention diversity in sexual orientation.

My big question here is what does David Gelernter think is so important here? At least the public school I went to had no mention of the bible. I don't feel as if I've missed much, or that learning about this particular superstition has made me a more productive member of society. I don't think it's the responsibility of public schools to make people feel "spiritually liberated".
Americans, in particular, should understand the Bible’s unique role in the founding of our nation, which Gelernter calls “the most important political advance in human history.” Not only did America reintroduce the modern world to democracy (guaranteeing freedom of speech, press, and religion)—it also introduced the idea of a national government with no national church. Paradoxically, this freedom of religion and absence of a national church were made possible because of our founders’ progressive Judeo-Christian beliefs, "especially the 'Hebraid Christianity' of the Puritans and of many 17th and 18th-century Anglicans or Episcopalians," he says.
I seem to have missed the great revelation of Representative Democracy in the bible. If anything the bible seems to condone theocracy. In fact, Paul seems to think that rulers are "appointed by God" in Romans. How can a ruler be appointed by God if they are elected by the people? Unless God influences people's votes, which seems like a free will issue.
America is and always has been a ”biblical republic,” says Gelernter. He concedes that America and Christianity have failed at times to live up to their high ideals.
A biblical republic? I'm not even sure what that means. The Treaty of Tripoli (ratified by Congress and signed by John Adams a mere 8 years after the founding of the United States), clears up any arguments about the founding of the United States for me:
[Article 11] As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion,—as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquility, of Mussulmen,—and as the said States never entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mahometan nation, it is declared by the parties that no pretext arising from religious opinions shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.
The United States is not a Christian nation. And I see no overall redeeming value that would tell me mandated bible study is necessary in public schools.

(via Big Think)
 

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