Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Thank You, Emma

If you haven't heard or read already, a few days ago Emma Watson gave an inspirational speech on feminism at the United Nations Headquarters in New York.

The text of the speech can be found here, and here's the video care of the HeForShe channel on Youtube:

I am so proud of her for her courage to deliver that speech at such an enormous venue.  Bravo, young lady!  Bravo!

In case you're wondering, she has accepted the role of the UN Women Global Goodwill Ambassador and has just started her HeForShe Campaign.  This campaign focuses on educating men that gender equality is not just a struggle to be led and fought by women.  Equality is everyone's right, not just the ones who just happen to have an X and a Y chromosome.

Also, one of the many goals of the HeForShe Campaign is to rid the world of the stigma of men considering themselves to be feminist.  I love that someone is finally addressing this issue.  Because if you haven't heard, YES, I am a staunch feminist!  For years I have wondered why some men refuse to stand behind their wives, daughters, mothers, or sisters and fight for their equality.  It's only in their best interests to do so!

Now repeat after me - feminism does not, nor has it ever been, anti-men.  On the contrary, feminism requires men.  For without men speaking out for the equality of the women in their lives, then those that do discriminate will someday find something about you that will give them the excuse to strip away your freedoms as well.

So thank you, Emma.  It's long past time that men stand together with all of the women in our lives, and move our world beyond this primitive, paternalistic madness left over from our sectarian and superstitious ancestors.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

RYBS: Which Two Tablets?

Read Your Bible Series - Week 16

Which Two Tablets?

Since there seems to be a perpetual pursuit of displaying the, "Ten Commandments" in many of the Southern states, I thought it prudent to review what it is these political and religious zealots are pushing.

First, let's look at the original set outlined in Exodus 20, given to Moses after he spent 40 days and nights on Mount Sinai (because there's no way a man could carve two stone tablets in 40 days):
And God spoke all these words:
I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.
* You shall have no other gods before me.
* You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.
* You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.
* Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.
* Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you.
* You shall not murder.
* You shall not commit adultery.
* You shall not steal.
* You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.
* You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.
You'll note that I placed an asterisk beside the verses that contain the commandments.

So we have two of these "laws" that make perfect sense - don't steal and don't kill.  We have three that should be done out of respect for your loved ones - don't lie, don't cheat on your spouse, and treat your parents respectfully - but none of these three are enforceable, much less reliably determined.  Plus, what about all these parents lying to their kids about Santa or the Tooth Fairy?  Or what if a person has horrible and abusive parents, or likewise a person with an abusive spouse?  In my opinion, people are perfectly justified at times to break any one of these three commandments if they have a legitimate reason to do so.

The other five?  Nothing.  Zilch.  The rest of the "laws of god" are nothing but victimless crimes invented with the sole purpose of unnecessarily burdening people with artificial guilt.  Nothing about rape, nothing about slavery, nothing about torture, and nothing about discrimination.  Nope, these human atrocities are simply not important enough to a loving, omnipotent god to be included in his top ten.

And as horrible as this list is, isn't everyone already aware that these ten were destroyed by Moses?  Hasn't everyone seen the white-bearded Charlton Heston chuck those two tablets at the golden calf in, "The Ten Commandments"?  (If you're interested, all this happens in Exodus 32.)  Those two tablets were lost when Moses threw a temper tantrum like a 3 year-old.

So what does god do?  Moses tells us that he ascended Mount Sinai for 40 days and nights AGAIN so god could create a second set of tablets for him.  What a patient and forgiving god... am I right?!?!?

Now you might think that the second set would match the first set, but you'd be wrong.  Oh, would you be wrong.  Exodus 34: 1-3:
The Lord said to Moses, "Chisel out two stone tablets like the first ones, and I will write on them the words that were on the first tablets, which you broke. Be ready in the morning, and then come up on Mount Sinai. Present yourself to me there on top of the mountain. No one is to come with you or be seen anywhere on the mountain; not even the flocks and herds may graze in front of the mountain."
One quick comment on these verses.  Isn't it hilarious that religious men that receive "messages" from the almighty creator of the Universe never seem to have or even want any witnesses?  For some reason, these guys always need to be alone to receive the word of their god.  Isn't that right, Joseph?

Moving on to the second set of ten...  Exodus 34: 14-26:
* Do not worship any other god, for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God.  Be careful not to make a treaty with those who live in the land; for when they prostitute themselves to their gods and sacrifice to them, they will invite you and you will eat their sacrifices. And when you choose some of their daughters as wives for your sons and those daughters prostitute themselves to their gods, they will lead your sons to do the same.
* Do not make any idols.
* Celebrate the Festival of Unleavened Bread. For seven days eat bread made without yeast, as I commanded you. Do this at the appointed time in the month of Aviv, for in that month you came out of Egypt.
* The first offspring of every womb belongs to me, including all the firstborn males of your livestock, whether from herd or flock. Redeem the firstborn donkey with a lamb, but if you do not redeem it, break its neck. Redeem all your firstborn sons. No one is to appear before me empty-handed.
* Six days you shall labor, but on the seventh day you shall rest; even during the plowing season and harvest you must rest.
* Celebrate the Festival of Weeks with the firstfruits of the wheat harvest, and the Festival of Ingathering at the turn of the year. Three times a year all your men are to appear before the Sovereign Lord, the God of Israel. I will drive out nations before you and enlarge your territory, and no one will covet your land when you go up three times each year to appear before the Lord your God.
* Do not offer the blood of a sacrifice to me along with anything containing yeast, and
* do not let any of the sacrifice from the Passover Festival remain until morning.
* Bring the best of the firstfruits of your soil to the house of the Lord your God.
* Do not cook a young goat in its mother’s milk.
Yeah.  You guessed it.  Nobody likes to talk about this set of ten because they're all completely worthless and even more stupid and empty than the first ten.  He even left out the only two from the original that had any worth at all!


Plus, if Moses was the guy that wrote both of these, you'd think he would have the wherewithal to make sure that the second list actually matched the first one.  I mean, he was the only one that ever set eyes on the first set of tablets before he destroyed them.  Even if he forgot the first ten, just write down that both lists matched and nobody would've ever been the wiser!  I admit that I'm no holy man, but it seems to me that the most important thing to religious folks is consistency.  But who am I to argue with perfection.

All sarcasm aside, if these idiots are going to argue that the, "Ten Commandments" is a historical document and can be displayed, "...along with other historical documents such as the Declaration of Independence and the Magna Carta," then why is it then, that they are ignoring the second set of ten?  Aren't these two tablets the ones that really matter, since Moses destroyed the first two tablets and god took the time to carve it into stone AGAIN?

The answer is simple - they don't bring up the second set of commandments because the new commandments are unconditionally stupid and they make reference to events we no longer observe.  Plus, the first set of ten are much easier for laypeople to grasp because there are at least two or three points that still bear any consequence in our society.  But if you're really honest with yourself, eight of those original ten really don't matter that much.  As a matter of fact, I think my ten are much better than either of these sets, and I've never even created a universe.

Let's face it, your local pastors and religious politicians don't like the second set of ten.  They never have.  It makes no sense for them to muddy the political waters with the real story behind the commandments.  So they continue to do what they do best - they cherry-pick the parts that win them votes, they gloss over the uncomfortable topics that might isolate a voting block, and they conveniently obfuscate any discussion that might educate their constituency about what's really written in that book.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

RYBS: Bridle Them With Guilt

Read Your Bible Series - Week 15

Bridle Them With Guilt

This week we'll review a strange passage that is found in Malachi, the final book of the Old Testament.  Here we have a supposed prophet, Malachi, issuing warnings to the people of Israel if they break various covenants with god.  I think you'll find that one of these warnings still finds a prominent place even in our modern version of this religion.

Starting with verse 6:
"I the Lord do not change. So you, the descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed. Ever since the time of your ancestors you have turned away from my decrees and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you," says the Lord Almighty.
Wait a second...  The Lord does not change?  Liar.  By my count, the "Lord" has changed more times than the Green Lantern!  Well, okay, maybe not THAT much.  But still, we do need to recognize that no matter what the Bible claims, or your local Pastor for that matter, the definition of what god is to our species seems to change as we evolve.

Funny how that works.

Malachi continues:
"But you ask, 'How are we to return?'
"Will a mere mortal rob God? Yet you rob me.
"But you ask, 'How are we robbing you?'"
How indeed!  Now there's a good question!  How does a mere mortal rob from something that created everything?
"In tithes and offerings."
Oh, of course!  Tithes and offerings - something that you are commanded to give to someone that owns, or could create, anything and everything.  Got it.

And technically, I don't think this is robbing at all.  To me, this sounds more like an example of, "failure to make timely payments."  But then again, how could the author of Malachi guilt everybody into doing something they likely can't afford if he didn't make them feel as if they had committed a crime against god?  I mean, the "Lord" had to eat, right?
"You are under a curse - your whole nation - because you are robbing me. Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this," says the Lord Almighty, "and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it. I will prevent pests from devouring your crops, and the vines in your fields will not drop their fruit before it is ripe," says the Lord Almighty. "Then all the nations will call you blessed, for yours will be a delightful land," says the Lord Almighty.
Let's understand this correctly.  The "Lord Almighty" needs a proper tithe of food in his house in order for him to provide even more, "blessings" of bountiful food, crops and fruit.  I will grant the apologists out there that there isn't a direct threat of repercussions against those that didn't tithe properly.  But this directive from Malachi does suggest that if the people of Israel continue to rob the almighty, they would be missing out on a much larger prize, what with the opening of the floodgates of heaven and whatnot.

I find this absurd.

Why does this god always need people to do something before it is willing to do the right thing for people?  As a supreme being, I would see no point whatsoever in this exercise.  If you have the means to help people, or provide enough food and water for everyone, or protect their crops from being decimated by insects, then you should do it, no questions asked.  Why require those people to give you something first?  Something that you already have or could create!

Furthermore, this is direct proof that even the men that lived that long ago knew precisely how to manipulate people in such a way as to make them willing to do something against their own best interests.  It's the greatest con ever invented.  And over the past two thousand years, the techniques of that deception have done nothing but get more devious and more manipulative.

Don't believe me?  Just take a Sunday - any Sunday - at any of the various local churches and sit in on one of their services (if you're not there already.)  Then make sure you pay attention to how hard they go about selling that whole ten percent thing.

There's almost a magnificence in its cruelty.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

RYBS: Jacob and the Holy Smackdown

Read Your Bible Series - Week 14

Jacob and the Holy Smackdown

Inside the pages of the Bible exist some of the most exaggerated stories presumed to be authentic.  One of the most exaggerated stories that is perfectly suited for this series is the story of Jacob - the only man on the planet who, according to the holy word of god, had the unique distinction of battling the god of the universe in a bout of vigorous, heterosexual hand to hand combat.

Never heard of it?  That shouldn't be a surprise.  At week fourteen, you should be realizing that by now there are a multitude of topics in the Bible that most Pastors consider too bizarre and too outlandish to cover on Sunday.

Let's begin this week with Jacob, preparing to meet with his brother Esau.  Jacob had selected hundreds of goats, sheep, camels, cows and donkeys to give to his brother.  Jacob then ordered his servants to look after the animals and then decided to setup camp for the night:
That night Jacob got up and took his two wives, his two female servants and his eleven sons and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. After he had sent them across the stream, he sent over all his possessions. So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak. When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob's hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man. Then the man said, "Let me go, for it is daybreak."
Okay, hold on a second.  TWO WIVES?!?!  Religious leaders on cable news networks told me that god intended marriage to be between one man and one woman, not one man and TWO women.  What is this Bible telling our children???

Also, is it me, or did the Bible just profess that god of the Universe cheated?  Jacob made sure that he was alone by ordering his two wives and two female servants on their way.  I'm thinking he just needed a night to himself.  Then, apparently, he did what most men did in this time frame... he "wrestled" with another man until daybreak.  Now, there's nothing homoerotic about that at all because dudes love to wrestle other dudes.

And obviously Jacob was the better man that night, since the Bible says that  he had the other "man" overpowered.  However, since god is god, and god doesn't lose, it recognized that the best course of action was to use its infinite power to cheat its way to victory by touching poor Jacob's hip and inflicting pain.

Come on god!!!  What kind of message is this sending to our children?  Is this the best the maker of all energy and matter could muster?  A severe muscle cramp?

Okay... now that god can finally win his totally heterosexual wrestling match, with Jacob's sweaty skin glistening in the moonlight while his masculinity slips comfortably through god's holy fingers, his muscles throbbing with each beat of Jacob's heart...  Jacob grudgingly relents to the power of god:
But Jacob replied, "I will not let you go unless you bless me."
At this point, the reader is free to assign whatever meaning he or she deems appropriate for Jacob's response of, "bless me".  I'm not here to judge.
The man asked him, "What is your name?"
"Jacob," he answered.
Hold on a sec...  God didn't know who it was wrestling?  That seems... odd.

Moving on:
Then the man said, "Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome."
Jacob said, "Please tell me your name."
But he replied, "Why do you ask my name?" Then he blessed him there.
So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, "It is because I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared."
The sun rose above him as he passed Peniel, and he was limping because of his hip. Therefore to this day the Israelites do not eat the tendon attached to the socket of the hip, because the socket of Jacob's hip was touched near the tendon.
 So in wrestling with the creator of the Universe, Jacob gets... what?  An unsophisticated allegory and a limp?  Plus, Jacob claims to have seen the "face of God" and lived!  You'd think god would be generous enough to give the guy the courtesy of being able to walk normally the rest of his life.

Furthermore, what is it with Jacob and his incessant begging to be blessed?  Has the definition of "blessed" changed since the age of goat herding?

Fine.  Let's just focus on the moral of the story - if you're a man of god that has found yourself in a totally heterosexual wrestling match with the omnipotent and omnibenevolent god of Christianity, make sure you get blessed before you release it from your half-nelson.

Oh, and keep your hips clear of that magical finger.  (Nothing homosexual at all in that statement.... Not in the least.  Nothing to see here...  Move along.)

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Predicting Pascal's Wager

On our way to drop off my son at Camp Quest Texas, we drove by a peculiar billboard that caught the attention of everyone in the car.  In bright yellow text, with an amateurish speech balloon around the date "8/2/2027", and what looked like a stock picture of a total solar eclipse as the backdrop, the billboard read, "Christ Stands on Mt. Olivet Amos 8:9 - At NOON."  Of course, they also provided a link to their website.  As much as I hate even giving these guys the network traffic, if you're interested in their claims you are more than welcome to follow the link.

(I'll update this post with a picture of the billboard if I can get one.)

Before anyone starts snickering and scoffing, let's see what the Bible actually says in Amos 8.  I'll skip the first few verses of the chapter where the "Sovereign Lord" showed Amos a basket of fruit and then threatened to fling bodies everywhere, and just give the relevant verses for this prediction:
The Lord has sworn by himself, the Pride of Jacob: "I will never forget anything they have done.
Will not the land tremble for this,
    and all who live in it mourn?
The whole land will rise like the Nile;
    it will be stirred up and then sink
    like the river of Egypt."
"In that day," declares the Sovereign Lord,
"I will make the sun go down at noon
    and darken the earth in broad daylight.
I will turn your religious festivals into mourning
    and all your singing into weeping.
I will make all of you wear sackcloth
    and shave your heads.
I will make that time like mourning for an only son
    and the end of it like a bitter day."
"The days are coming," declares the Sovereign Lord,
    "when I will send a famine through the land -
not a famine of food or a thirst for water,
    but a famine of hearing the words of the Lord.
People will stagger from sea to sea
    and wander from north to east,
searching for the word of the Lord,
    but they will not find it.
In that day the lovely young women and strong young men
    will faint because of thirst.
Those who swear by the sin of Samaria -
    who say, 'As surely as your god lives, Dan,'
    or, 'As surely as the god of Beersheba lives' -
    they will fall, never to rise again."
So excluding the intimidating first portion of Amos 8, and excluding everything else I've provided from that chapter, these people focus their prognostication on verse 9 only.  The one with, "I will make the sun go down at noon and darken the earth in broad daylight."  Since this is the word of god, I'm guessing that we are to believe that the Sun will actually "go down"; not be hidden by the Moon mind you, but actually go back down.  Oh, and then  it really gets nasty with worldwide famine, dehydration, fainting, and of course the sheer brutality of being forced to shave your heads and wear sackcloth.

The horror!  EEK!

Ah, but rather than cower in the corner waiting for August 2, 2027, to do whatever it's going to do, let's do some science instead!

First of all, I'm sure we're all well aware that the Earth is a spheroid spinning about an axis to give us day and night depending upon where you happen to be standing on the planet.  So, even if the Earth were to miraculously spin faster for a few minutes to make the Sun dive back down below the horizon, we'd all be dead anyway!  After the massive earthquakes, tremendous volcanic eruptions, extensive seawater flooding about the equator and subsequent rebound, etc, etc, just about everything on the planet over the size of an amoeba would be killed.

Second, eclipses are nothing more than the Moon casting it's shadow as it passes in front of the Sun. From anywhere other than behind the track of the Moon's shadow, the Sun will appear perfectly normal.  Nothing magical about it.

Also, total eclipses  in Jerusalem are not all that uncommon - just as total eclipses are not uncommon ANYWHERE on our planet.  Here is a total eclipse from August 30, 1905 with a very similar track to the one coming in 2027.  And another total eclipse (annular) from March 28th, 1922.  And another from August 21, 1933...

You get the idea.

The point is that our species understands basic celestial mechanics whereas the authors of the Bible did not.  We can reliably predict when and where these events will occur on the Earth and can let everyone know precisely what time to go outside to enjoy it.  Thus, using celestial events like this as a forecast to some localized Biblical phenomenon does nothing more than announce your profound stupidity to the rest of the world.

Next, if you look at the track of the eclipse on August 2, 2027, the totality doesn't actually pass over Israel - much less the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem.  This means that all of Israel will get a partial eclipse, not a total eclipse that this billboard suggests.  The maximum total eclipse occurring at noon in that region's standard time zone will be seen from El-Ghanayem, Egypt.

And this point may be a bit petty, but keep in mind that Israel observes daylight savings time.  So there's an issue here with the "Sovereign Lord" not realizing that his chosen people might be late to the party because they all have their watches set an hour ahead.

Finally, why concentrate on just that single chapter and verse in Amos?  Did they not bother to read on to chapter 9?  The almighty really goes on a mass murdering spree in that chapter - with a sword no less.

Granted, the producers of this website make sure to include concessions such as:
  • This is NOT the exact day of the rapture
  • This is NOT the exact day of the second coming
  • This is NOT the exact day of the return of Christ (same as above?)
  • This is NOT the end of the world
Okay, fine.  But what it IS doing, is trumping up fear in anyone gullible enough to believe it.  So they make sure to admit that some of this may happen, and the Bible suggests that an eclipse might be a sign... So what?  They're still preying upon those that are simply not educated enough to realize that the verse they quote has happened countless times and will continue to happen countless more so long as Earth still has the Moon we all know and love.

Now mark my words - as the date of that solar eclipse approaches, more and more Christians will steadily convert from mellow skepticism to cautious acceptance for no other reason than a dependence upon a bare bones, celestial version of Pascal's Wager.

Just wait and see.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

The Abortion Curse

Read Your Bible Series - Week 13

The Abortion Curse

Numbers 5

I'm moving back into the Old Testament this week to examine another chapter in the Bible that you will likely never hear during your average, run-of-the-mill Sunday morning thumping.  Oh you'll most assuredly hear the other side of abortion - the side where the church firmly opposes any and all types abortion.  However, what religious leaders always seem to hide from the eager masses is that the Bible actually outlines a precise method of aborting fetuses.  Especially fetuses currently gestating in the womb of a suspected "unfaithful" wife.

It's a childish, barbaric, and shamelessly misogynistic method, but we are talking about the god of the Old Testament here.

We begin with the god of the Universe, speaking with Moses:
Then the Lord said to Moses, "Speak to the Israelites and say to them: 'If a man’s wife goes astray and is unfaithful to him so that another man has sexual relations with her, and this is hidden from her husband and her impurity is undetected (since there is no witness against her and she has not been caught in the act), and if feelings of jealousy come over her husband and he suspects his wife and she is impure - or if he is jealous and suspects her even though she is not impure - then he is to take his wife to the priest. He must also take an offering of a tenth of an ephah of barley flour on her behalf. He must not pour olive oil on it or put incense on it, because it is a grain offering for jealousy, a reminder-offering to draw attention to wrongdoing.
I know what you're thinking...  How can a man even know if his wife is unfaithful and, "goes astray" if this woman's whole sexual escapade is hidden from the poor sap?  It says it right there!  "There is no witness against her and she has not been caught in the act"!  Thus far, this whole thing sounds to me like a pathetically insecure momma’s boy with a severe case of little man's syndrome.

Oh, and did you also catch that god made a point to command Moses to tell Mr. Jealousy-pants to make sure and bring an offering of flour?  Just FYI - this is not an amount to shake a stick at.  We're talking roughly a half of a gallon dry weight.  So yes, even the ever providing god of the Universe knew never to skip a chance to guilt people into giving the priest - oops, I mean the Church - free food.  Because, you know, the lord provides, right?


Moving omnipotently forward:
"'The priest shall bring her and have her stand before the Lord. Then he shall take some holy water in a clay jar and put some dust from the tabernacle floor into the water. After the priest has had the woman stand before the Lord, he shall loosen her hair and place in her hands the reminder-offering, the grain offering for jealousy, while he himself holds the bitter water that brings a curse. Then the priest shall put the woman under oath and say to her, "If no other man has had sexual relations with you and you have not gone astray and become impure while married to your husband, may this bitter water that brings a curse not harm you. But if you have gone astray while married to your husband and you have made yourself impure by having sexual relations with a man other than your husband" - here the priest is to put the woman under this curse - "may the Lord cause you to become a curse among your people when he makes your womb miscarry and your abdomen swell. May this water that brings a curse enter your body so that your abdomen swells or your womb miscarries."

"'Then the woman is to say, "Amen. So be it."
So... holy water, clay jar, dust from the floor, stand before the Lord, let the woman's hair down and... guilt trip her.  Oh wait, then command god to curse her AFTER the guilt trip.  Yeah, sounds totally plausible, right?

As a matter of fact, this is all very similar to modern infomercials where the company throws so much utter nonsense at you that after a while your mind simply forgets to be analytical and begins to believe that with all those ingredients, it must be legitimate.  I mean, all those sciency words, coupled with people that swear that this concoction worked...  What's not to believe, right?  RIGHT?

Okay, at this point we all know that this pathetic process is no more effective than a really bad mystery movie where they isolate the poor woman in a very dark room and shine a really bright light in her face in hopes of a confession.  This guy just throws in a priest, some celestial wizardry, and a nasty drink with "dust" from the floor.

Oh, and one quick point before we continue.  Being a man, I certainly would never presume to speak for women, but I’m quite sure that no mentally stable woman would accept any of that crap, and she certainly wouldn’t be so submissive as to say, “So be it.”

But that's not all!  Remember the infomercial?  That's right - even in the Bible, they knew that something like this needed to be as complicated as possible and repeated enough times so that people would begin to believe it:
"'The priest is to write these curses on a scroll and then wash them off into the bitter water. He shall make the woman drink the bitter water that brings a curse, and this water that brings a curse and causes bitter suffering will enter her. The priest is to take from her hands the grain offering for jealousy, wave it before the Lord and bring it to the altar. The priest is then to take a handful of the grain offering as a memorial offering and burn it on the altar; after that, he is to have the woman drink the water. If she has made herself impure and been unfaithful to her husband, this will be the result: When she is made to drink the water that brings a curse and causes bitter suffering, it will enter her, her abdomen will swell and her womb will miscarry, and she will become a curse. If, however, the woman has not made herself impure, but is clean, she will be cleared of guilt and will be able to have children.

"'This, then, is the law of jealousy when a woman goes astray and makes herself impure while married to her husband, or when feelings of jealousy come over a man because he suspects his wife. The priest is to have her stand before the Lord and is to apply this entire law to her. The husband will be innocent of any wrongdoing, but the woman will bear the consequences of her sin.'"
You got all that?  Is it complicated enough for you yet?!?!?

Just make sure you memorize these crucial steps if you want to help some poor sap that's fallen victim to a wily, unfaithful woman who has managed to keep her torrid liaisons hidden from everyone (even god itself.)  Sure, you could just keep looking this up every time you needed the curse.  But if you make sure to memorize it, you'll look far more priestly while you're busy divinely and miraculously aborting a fetus in the name of god...

In all seriousness, consider that during the this time frame, it is certainly plausible that our species was already well aware of very effective naturally occurring poisons that would most assuredly induce an abortion.  And in general, priests were the most educated people in the area.  So my bet is that those magic curse scrolls mentioned in the second set of verses could certainly be marinated premeditatively with just such a poison.

Either that or just let one of these poor girls off the hook if the priest was fond of the girl's family.  And we all know how convincing it had to be to the uneducated masses, not to mention how convenient it had to be for the priest when the fetus of a known harlot was magically aborted based solely on the whim of a man and what he happened to know about the carnal habits of the girl.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

A Divine Blunder

Read Your Bible Series - Week Twelve

A Divine Blunder

This week I would like to discuss a fairly serious Biblical issue about which, I would wager, most Christians are completely unaware.  As a matter of fact, it's fairly easy to recognize whether a person of the faith has ever been introduced to the subject.  All you have to do is listen to what they say to each other about Jesus or read what they write about him.  More than likely, you will find statements similar to the following:
Jesus had to be perfect, so he could die for our sins!
We should all strive to be as perfect as Jesus!
And my personal favorite:
There's only been one perfect person, and he died on a cross for all of us!
It's the most popular message of Christians.  Jesus was transcendentally aware, without sin, without fault... the consummate example of perfection in human form.  And yet, omniscience appears to have goofed on the history of his own religion.  Mark 2: 23-28:
One Sabbath Jesus was going through the grainfields, and as his disciples walked along, they began to pick some heads of grain. The Pharisees said to him, "Look, why are they doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?"
He answered, "Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need? In the days of Abiathar the high priest, he entered the house of God and ate the consecrated bread, which is lawful only for priests to eat. And he also gave some to his companions."
Then he said to them, "The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath."
The Pharisees apparently had caught Jesus and his disciples committing a crime by "working" on the Sabbath.  While I don't agree with these clowns that picking a few seeds of grain qualifies as "work", these Pharisee guys sure seemed to think it was.

But you know Jesus... he was able to wiggle his way out of their mistake by going all, "Son of God" and, "Lord of the Sabbath".

However, that wasn't even the error that the Pharisees should have ultimately been able to catch Jesus making.  That tiny, simple little paragraph before Jesus went full diva should have set off alarms in the Pharisees' heads!  The story of David and his companions was not in the days of Abiathar the high priest, it was in the days of his father, Ahimelek the high priest!  Check it for yourself in 1 Samuel 21: 1-9:
David went to Nob, to Ahimelek the priest. Ahimelek trembled when he met him, and asked, "Why are you alone? Why is no one with you?"
David answered Ahimelek the priest, "The king sent me on a mission and said to me, 'No one is to know anything about the mission I am sending you on.' As for my men, I have told them to meet me at a certain place. Now then, what do you have on hand? Give me five loaves of bread, or whatever you can find."
But the priest answered David, "I don’t have any ordinary bread on hand; however, there is some consecrated bread here—provided the men have kept themselves from women."
David replied, "Indeed women have been kept from us, as usual whenever I set out. The men's bodies are holy even on missions that are not holy. How much more so today!" So the priest gave him the consecrated bread, since there was no bread there except the bread of the Presence that had been removed from before the Lord and replaced by hot bread on the day it was taken away.
Now one of Saul's servants was there that day, detained before the Lord; he was Doeg the Edomite, Saul's chief shepherd.
David asked Ahimelek, "Don't you have a spear or a sword here? I haven’t brought my sword or any other weapon, because the king’s mission was urgent."
The priest replied, "The sword of Goliath the Philistine, whom you killed in the Valley of Elah, is here; it is wrapped in a cloth behind the ephod. If you want it, take it; there is no sword here but that one."
David said, "There is none like it; give it to me."
Not only is the name, "Ahimelek the priest" mentioned in this passage, it's mentioned no less than three different times that David was talking to Ahimelek, not his son, Abiathar.  And the true, "Son of God" and, "Lord of the Sabbath" should have known this.  Sure, Abiathar did eventually take over the family biz from his father and he became high priest, and sure Abiathar was most likely alive when his father provided David and his companions with the "consecrated" bread...  But the story that Jesus references is not the story of Abiathar!  And I don't care hard Christian apologists try to dance around it, Jesus was flat wrong.

So let this point soak in for a few minutes: by getting the story of David wrong, Jesus can no longer be considered perfect.  You cannot be sinless and you cannot be sacrificed for all of mankind if you are not perfect.  Repeat it if you have to, just so you understand how important these points are.  And do not underestimate the importance of Jesus' historical gaffe.  To anyone that really and truly studies the Bible, this issue remains one of the most important in the entire book, so much so that there have been many former religious leaders who openly discuss this issue as the first step in their disbelief.

So yes, it's that important; and if you're still reading your Bible, then Mark 2: 23-28 should be committed to memory.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

You're a FEMINIST?

Thanks to an old friend, I just saw the perfect button to pin to my collar.  (Notice I didn't say AGED friend, in case anyone decides to call me out for calling her "old".)  The button read, "I am the liberal, pro-choice, outspoken feminist you were warned about."

YES!  I LOVE THIS!  WOOT WOOT!  Where can I get me one of those beautiful buttons, I say?

And therein lies my problem...  Every online store that I found that's selling this button/t-shirt/etc., is advertising their merchandise using only women for the models.  So of course my first question was, what about us feminist men, dangit?!?

You read that right.  I am a proud feminist.

Let's take a step back.  For those of you that haven't heard yet, I encounter certain situations in my life, just here and there mind you, where I tend to speak my mind.  That's correct - I don't generally hold my tongue when the situation necessitates a sincere, candid, albeit witty response.  Anti-feminism, in general, is one of the topics that, for me, triggers an immediate and very vocal response.  I simply can't help myself; I want the same rights for my daughter and my wife that my son and I enjoy simply by being born with a Y chromosome.

Okay, wait... I will admit that the whole, "here and there" thing was a lie and probably made several people reading this spit their drink all over their display.  Those that did, you have my most sincere apologies for the mess...

But back to my original thought.  As a man who's also a staunch feminist, I was a bit shocked by the lack of male representation in these pictures.  I mean, let's think about what the advertisers are doing to themselves.  By showing only women wearing these buttons and t-shirts, they are subconsciously delivering a message that runs counter to the message on the button!  We feminists need to make sure that both men AND women are included in this movement, and care needs to be taken to advertise as such.  By displaying only women in their product photos, they are inadvertently isolating the men that stand resolute for all women's rights.

One last thing here before I go.  I'll post a list of a few things that men (and some women) need to remember if we're to build a better life for our children and grandchildren:

  • Stereotypes don't belong in our society, so stop it with the, "Women have their place," crap.  Women don't have a place any more than men do.
  • Sexist jokes are not funny - that goes for both men AND women, but especially to men who keep telling idiotic jokes about nonexistent, one-dimensional women.  It's not funny.  Stop it.  NOW.
  • Even today, the rights that women do have are currently under direct attack by a very small group of people in our country.  All of you women and feminist men please do our future generations a favor and VOTE.
  • If you have children, raise them with strength, dignity, and belief in themselves - regardless of the child's sex.  Daughters can succeed in math.  Sons can succeed in English.
  • If you're a teacher, and you honestly believe boys are better at math and science and girls are better at English and home economics, then please, do the future generations of students a favor and retire.  (See above.)

So there you go.  If you're a man and not a feminist then you should be.  And shame on you if you think otherwise, because your mother or sister or daughter - whatever the case may be - deserves to be treated as an equal.  Period.

Now I need to go order myself a button.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

RYBS: God, Afraid?

Read Your Bible Series - Week Eleven

God, Afraid?

Genesis 11: 1-9

If we take the Bible at it's word, then there would most assuredly be emotions that an all-powerful supreme being could never feel.  Jealousy, for example.  With there being just the one true god in existence, there simply cannot be any physical way that god could feel that emotion.  How about desire?  For a being this powerful, desire seems downright laughable - if it wasn't so logically unfeasible.

But if you believe that god could never be afraid, the Bible tells us that you'd be wrong.

Take, for example, one of the more popular stories in Genesis, the city of Babel.  The story begins in Genesis 11:
Now the whole world had one language and a common speech. As people moved eastward, they found a plain in Shinar and settled there.
They said to each other, "Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly." They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar. Then they said, "Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth."
The first portion of this story makes complete sense if you remember that Noah had just finished saving himself, his family, and a select few of the billions of species that had once inhabited the Earth, from God's wrath against humanity.  And he saved them all with a magic wooden boat.

After wiping the Earth clean with water, God instructed Noah and his family to go and do what humans LOVE to do - be fruitful and multiply.  Now, why these descendants of Noah were afraid they would be scattered all over the face of the Earth is not clear, but by golly they knew they needed to build a city with really, REALLY tall tower.

God should be proud of his chosen ones, right?  Let's see:
But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower the people were building. The Lord said, "If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other."
So the Lord scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city. That is why it was called Babel - because there the Lord confused the language of the whole world. From there the Lord scattered them over the face of the whole earth.
Since these people went to all this trouble so many years ago, we should probably try to put all of this in perspective.  The best that these poor saps could muster would have been just under 500 feet or so.  That's roughly one and one-half of a football field, straight up.  As impressive as that sounds, to our standards that's so short it's almost adorable.  Modern architecture has reached heights of over five times that, with the Burj Khalifa reaching heights of 2,722 feet above sea level.  Judging by those astronomical heights, god should be huddled in a holy corner shaking in his celestial sandals.

Okay, let's not bother with the obvious question of why god needed to descend from - wherever - to the plains of Shinar to see the tower that these budding new engineers were building.  To me, the biggest, most glaring question about this is, what could humanity ever do that would scare an omnipotent being to do such a thing?  These poor people were just doing what humans do best - they were practicing their ingenuity and engineering a fancy new high-rise.  Good for them!

And what's all this "us" nonsense from god?  Are we to believe that the god of the Universe needs the unscrupulous equivalent of a depraved bathroom buddy?  If you're going to curse humanity like this, then you shouldn't need a rotten little toady to keep you on task.  Sheesh, don't be a sissy and do it yourself!

Besides, what kind of message is this?  The minute people begin to work together to build something awe inspiring, you curse them with confusion?  Is the message of the almighty really supposed to be so anti-intellectual?

Or perhaps, just perhaps... the message here is something that the authors never really intended to convey.  Perhaps the message that our society should recognize is that someday, given enough time of course, humanity will finally figure out that the belief in the supernatural is no longer necessary.  Perhaps even they were unconsciously aware that humanity might reach a point that was once thought to be impossible: our species will eventually evolve beyond the necessity of a maker and free themselves of the restrictions that a maker creates.  Why else would someone write a story about a god that was afraid of technological advancement?

And one last thing - did you notice that the poor saps got scattered all over the Earth anyway?  Talk about tragic!

Stories like these should give us all pause, as by the very nature of the anti-intellectual messages they express, they cultivate an adherence against what makes us all human - our insatiable quest for knowledge.  And how could a being that created us ever want that?

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Sons of Confederate Traitors

An article I read this morning bothered me so much that I simply had to write something.  According to the Dallas Morning News, the "Sons of Confederate Veterans" won their case to have specialty license plates in Texas.

The federal appeals panel, who voted 2-1 in favor of this group of sore losers, claimed that the group's First Amendment rights were violated by something called, "viewpoint discrimination."

Well, if your viewpoint is that the South had it right and people were considered property, then yeah, your viewpoint deserves to be discriminated against.  Especially by the government!

You know how the right loved to call Bowe Bergdahl a deserter and a traitor?  Well, the "Confederate Veterans" actually WERE deserters and traitors.  You get that?  Every single politician and military leader associated with the Confederacy took a direct stance to against the United States, with the ultimate objective of overthrowing the federal government.  Every single soldier in the Confederate army who pointed a firearm against a United States soldier was, by definition, a traitor to the United States.  Plain and simple.

And how many times do we have to say this...  Those traitors LOST.  They betrayed their country, killed American soldiers, lost the war... and you're celebrating it?  It takes a serious breakdown of rational thought to believe that any one of those people that were fighting for the cause of the Confederacy deserves to be "honored" with a vanity plate.

My favorite quote from the article is from one of the sponsors for the proposal for the specialty plate design, Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson.  (And of course, he's an old, white guy.)  Patterson claims that the plate, "is meant to honor Confederate soldiers, not cause controversy."

Oh obviously!  Just like the wearing of white hoods is meant to honor the six veterans of the Confederate Army who founded the Ku Klux Klan, not to cause controversy...

Give us a break, Jerry.

He went on to say that, "It’s a victory for free speech and for those who are sick and tired of folks being offended at the slightest drop of a hat."

Okay, asshat.  Unless you and your family were subjected to slavery, then you don't get to tell anyone when they should or should not get offended.  The battle flag for the Confederacy does not qualify as a, "slight drop of the hat", sir.  That stupid flag is a hell of a big drop - and you damn well know it.

In my opinion, the diversity of the group is what gives it legitimacy.  And I don't think it's too big a stretch to assume that only white people like old Jerry here will be the ones that would consider paying for and displaying one of these stupid, racist plates.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

RYBS: Abuse or Misuse?

Read Your Bible Series - Week Ten

Abuse or Misuse?

This week I'd like to consider the original context of a couple of very popular verses that are, within our current society, either completely misunderstood or just openly abused.  These two are the verses that I hear being used the most frequently, but of course, your experience may differ.

Starting with Philippians 4:
I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that at last you renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you were concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.
There it was... "I can do all this through him who gives me strength."  You know, the Sports Illustrated Tim Tebow eye black verse.

Yeah, that one.

The problem with these folks is that they never bothered to read what was written before the verse that they love to flaunt.  Paul even went out of his way to make sure that the reader understands that he had known and appreciated what it was like to both live with and live without.  And yet, most - if not all - people that quote this verse do so as some kind of haughty display, enthusiastically parading themselves around town as the righteous person that the rest of us should envy.

How commendable.

Now I will admit that if you've been beaten, left to rot in prison without much food or water, and you're still completely happy with where you are in your religion, then by all means use this verse.  Otherwise, you're doing it wrong.

So let's look at Luke, chapter 11:
Then Jesus said to them, "Suppose you have a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say, 'Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have no food to offer him.' And suppose the one inside answers, 'Don't bother me. The door is already locked, and my children and I are in bed. I can’t get up and give you anything. I tell you, even though he will not get up and give you the bread because of friendship, yet because of your shameless audacity he will surely get up and give you as much as you need.
So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.
I'm sure many readers have heard this verse being exploited just after a colleague, a friend, or a family member received some very good news.  Whether it's a new job, a raise, or a good deal on a new car...

You know the drill:
"Praise Jesus!  Ask and ye shall receive!!!"
The problem here is, that's not even remotely close to what Jesus was trying to teach.  Barely one chapter before, the man had just gotten through scolding a woman named Martha for ignoring his impromptu lecture simply because she felt like there was too much to do while he was there and she was stuck doing all the housework.  (Martha was stuck doing it, by the way, because her sister Mary was busy "listening" to Jesus speak instead of helping, which is the equivalent of conveniently excusing yourself to the potty when the dishes need tending to.)

Plus, Jesus tells his disciples quite plainly that you will get, "as much as you need."  This doesn't seem to fit the popular narrative that as a Christian, you'll get whatever you want...  And yet these five words are so willfully ignored by so many.  Not to mention that it takes some serious gall to think that you are so special to the creator of the Universe that it is willing to ignore the desperate cries of starvation and acute dehydration from all over the world, just so you can have your petty little warm fuzzy over having your wish magically fulfilled.

If your worldview is this narrow and your thinking is this narcissistic, then it is your blatant abuse of these verses that bother me the most, not the somewhat odd messages that the Bible is conveying.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

RYBS: Let's Talk About the Bears

Read Your Bible Series - Week Nine

Let's Talk About the Bears

There are a multitude of stories in the Bible where the sole purpose of the message is to illustrate the overwhelming power and swift apportion of the Christian God's justice.  Yet given the brutal, barbaric nature of humanity in the Iron Age, most of these delightful tales never seem to make the final print of children's coloring books.

After this week, I think you'll agree it's probably for the best...

Anyway, our adventure begins in 2 Kings, chapter 2 with the tale of Elijah and Elisha just before Elijah was to be taken into heaven.  The first six verses gives the impression that poor Elijah must have been looking fairly debilitated since everyone felt the need to tap Elisha on the shoulder to point it out:
When the Lord was about to take Elijah up to heaven in a whirlwind, Elijah and Elisha were on their way from Gilgal. Elijah said to Elisha, "Stay here; the Lord has sent me to Bethel."
But Elisha said, "As surely as the Lord lives and as you live, I will not leave you." So they went down to Bethel.
The company of the prophets at Bethel came out to Elisha and asked, "Do you know that the Lord is going to take your master from you today?"
"Yes, I know," Elisha replied, "so be quiet."
Then Elijah said to him, "Stay here, Elisha; the Lord has sent me to Jericho."
And he replied, "As surely as the Lord lives and as you live, I will not leave you." So they went to Jericho.
The company of the prophets at Jericho went up to Elisha and asked him, "Do you know that the Lord is going to take your master from you today?"
"Yes, I know," he replied, "so be quiet."
Then Elijah said to him, "Stay here; the Lord has sent me to the Jordan."
And he replied, "As surely as the Lord lives and as you live, I will not leave you." So the two of them walked on.
Was I the only one that giggled a little reading that?  No matter how many times Elijah tried to ditch Elisha, he just never seemed to get the hint.  How thoughtful.

Verses 8 & 9:
Fifty men from the company of the prophets went and stood at a distance, facing the place where Elijah and Elisha had stopped at the Jordan. Elijah took his cloak, rolled it up and struck the water with it. The water divided to the right and to the left, and the two of them crossed over on dry ground.
Wow!  My man Elijah put on his big boy pants and pulled a Moses!  Sure, Moses parted a bit bigger body of water in the Red Sea, but Elijah parted the river Jordan - and he did it with one of the Deathly Hallows...

I don't know, though.  Now that I think about it, Elijah seems more like a drama queen than a Moses.  Seriously, nothing says, "flair for the dramatic" or, "misuse of power in the workplace" like rolling up your magic cloak and beating the hell out of a body of water just because you don't feel like doing it legally and crossing at the nearest river crosswalk.

And far be it for me to tell a prophet how to misuse his superpowers, but if old Elijah was thinking straight, maybe he should've used that magic cloak to beat some sense into Elisha in the first place.  Then maybe Elijah could have finally gotten some peace and quiet.

At any rate, we finally get to Elija's climactic exit:
When they had crossed, Elijah said to Elisha, "Tell me, what can I do for you before I am taken from you?"
"Let me inherit a double portion of your spirit," Elisha replied.
"You have asked a difficult thing," Elijah said, "yet if you see me when I am taken from you, it will be yours - otherwise, it will not."
As they were walking along and talking together, suddenly a chariot of fire and horses of fire appeared and separated the two of them, and Elijah went up to heaven in a whirlwind.
One thing I'll give the Bible: in days past, if you were an "anointed" man, you were taken into heaven with far more theatrical flair than today's paltry standards of just, you know... dying.  However, if you really think about it for a minute, the god of the Universe whisked old Elijah up not in some otherworldly, radiant display of luxurious omnipotence.  No, Yahweh decided to chauffeur this prophet into paradise with the celestial equivalent of a Lincoln Towncar.

That's right, the almighty sent... a chariot.  An astonishing, miraculous, mind-boggling, horse-drawn... chariot.  Of fire.  As if emblazoning a contemporary mode of transportation in the magic flames of Zion was some manifestation of ultimate power or something.  Sure, that worked for Katniss and Cinna, but come on, this is the god of the Universe we're talking about here!  You'd think he could come up with a far more climactic event than... a chariot.  Of fire.

Be that as it may, Elijah was finally gone, and Elisha was finally poised to take the prophetic reigns.  Elisha goes on to re-part the river Jordan by stealing his mentor's magic cloak (and stealing his gag, I might add) so as to prove that he was indeed the successor of Elijah and strong with the power of God.

Oh, and just in case you might be skeptical of this new found power of God,  Elisha "heals" the fresh water spring of Jericho... with salt.
The people of the city said to Elisha, "Look, our lord, this town is well situated, as you can see, but the water is bad and the land is unproductive."
"Bring me a new bowl," he said, "and put salt in it." So they brought it to him.
Then he went out to the spring and threw the salt into it, saying, "This is what the Lord says: 'I have healed this water. Never again will it cause death or make the land unproductive.'" And the water has remained pure to this day, according to the word Elisha had spoken.
Yeah, salt always works on natural springs, because salt is so mysterious.  What with all those mystical powers of one part Sodium and one part Chlorine.  Assuming, that is, that the Bible meant table salt.

Okay.  All sarcasm aside, we've finally reached the point of all of this.  That's right.  The bears.
From there Elisha went up to Bethel. As he was walking along the road, some boys came out of the town and jeered at him. "Get out of here, baldy!" they said. "Get out of here, baldy!" He turned around, looked at them and called down a curse on them in the name of the Lord. Then two bears came out of the woods and mauled forty-two of the boys. And he went on to Mount Carmel and from there returned to Samaria.
Just three simple verses, and yet so much barbaric, dopey and downright disgusting nonsense.  Then, Elisha just goes about his blessed business in Samaria as if the mauling of children was a perfectly acceptable and justified concurrence.

Here we have a revered prophet; a prophet chosen by the god of the Universe himself, getting flustered by a pack of worthless jackasses calling him, "baldy."  You got that right.  BALDY.

And what does a being of unlimited power decide to inflict upon these insolent jackasses?  Bears.  Not some out of this world display of transcendent power;  the kind of power that can literally create energy and matter.  No, not that.  He sent... bears.  That's all god could come up with for rowdy teenagers - a couple of run-of-the-mill, dumpster-diving bears to maul 42 bad-mannered adolescents diagnosing an older man's alopecia.

So let's think about the point of this narrative for a moment, shall we?  First of all, did anyone really learn anything from this exercise?  Is this really something that the all-powerful producer of the holy word would make allowance for?  And furthermore, was the punishment truly equal to the crime?  Is this really the only solution that an omnipotent being could come up with?  You're telling me that summoning bloodthirsty predators to maul 42 disrespectful kids is the ideal solution in this situation?

Well, of course it isn't!  And yet, it's the fact that I have been raised in this day and age that I know that this story is complete nonsense.  I mean, literally speaking, there's absolutely no way that two bears could move fast enough to maul 42 kids running for their lives.  Sure, human beings only use two legs to run, and the fastest individual in our species is still not even able to outrun your average, everyday house cat.  But give me a break... we're not THAT slow.  I mean, I get that two or three of the boys were mauled, but 42?  No.

Plus, why is mauling by bears even an option?  We're talking about idiotic kids here, aren't we?  KIDS!  Kids being jerks!  Now to me, if I was the almighty and I had to appoint a prophet, I would expect that prophet to behave in a manner commensurate to an all-powerful, merciful, and empathetic supreme being.  And surely the prophet that I chose would have the presence of mind to understand the timeless struggle between the older generations and the new.  I mean, I'm all-knowing and all-powerful, aren't I?  I should have seen this coming and been able to diffuse the situation so that 42 kids weren't mauled by flipping bears!

So I'd really love to to be able to tell you how to approach the subject of senseless Biblical violence in the future... but that would be a waste of everyone's time, wouldn't it?

How about a favor, instead?  A favor from one human being to another.  If you do happen to read this and you still consider yourself a true believer of the word of God - the next time you deliver your testimony and try to convince people how wonderful your life is because you follow a loving and forgiving your god... please do us all a favor.  Stop sugarcoating the violence, stop cherry-picking the easy bits, and talk to them...  Talk to them about the bears.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Facing My Own Predisposition

Yesterday I wrote a post on Facebook that attracted the attention of a person I had a casual friendship with in high school.  The exchange between the two of us was not heated, but it did get a bit adversarial.  Since I initially felt my post's relevancy would easily be applicable to the other side of the doctrinal wall, I was baffled by his responses as I read them.

Those that know me understand my immediate curiosity over what just occurred.  What happened here?  Why were we talking right past one another?  It was then I decided to put my old proverbial Sunday school clothes and go back and reread my post.

Just to set the scene, the person I had this written exchange with is the pastor of a church in Ohio, and I am openly atheist.  I'm not at all implying that it matters, but I thought I should at least give some background on the two players.  And other than the original post, I will not directly quote myself or the person I had the exchange with since it's easier to just paraphrase the conversation.

My post was written as follows:
"I need someone to explain to me how adults who had a... umm... let's just say, 'Biblically questionable' youth can go about ignoring the fact that the rest of us REMEMBER HOW YOU WERE."
At the time, in my own mind my message was clear.  But for now, I'll let whoever reads that statement to form their own opinion of it.  And don't hold back your initial reaction either!  Please, allow any opinions you may have of me, or any assumptions you have of my world view to dictate your perception of my statement.  For this analysis don't censor yourselves, because I prefer an honest reaction to what I wrote.  We'll look at the differences between intention and perception in a moment.

On to the exchange...

His initial written response to my post was one of religious acceptance, placing himself beside those that had, "strayed."  I get that - he's a pastor and this notion can be frequently heard while attending any number of local Christian churches.  What took me back was that I perceived his message to imply that it was okay to be a hypocrite, so long as you were "at home" with his God.

I answered...  He answered... both still talking right past each other.  It didn't hit home that perhaps something was amiss until he wrote that he completely understood why I would want to hold a person's transgressions against them.  When I read that statement, I knew this whole exchange had gone horribly wrong.

Okay, I will freely admit that I was a bit frustrated with the guy and wrote a terse clarification in the response thread.  However, after I read his final response, took a deep breath, and let the analyst in me take over, I realized that I had made the mistake of obscurity in my original post.

My initial intent was to come up with a cheeky way to post a message on Facebook against the judgment of others.  With all the various folks on that site throwing their Bibles about over sexuality and birth control, I thought it might be nice to remind them what it was like being young and inexperienced.  But my post was so poorly written that it left too much room for ambiguity.  Depending upon your current world view, or your personal opinion of me, I now recognize that my statement could legitimately be perceived in several different ways.

When the exchange came to a close, it was clear to me that he and I were essentially saying the same thing, albeit via different philosophical viewpoints.  And it was my own negligence in writing that left too much wiggle room for him to perceive that we held the same view.

Thus, my sincerest apologies to everyone for not being clear in my original post.

And so it goes...  No matter your age, sometimes it's best to go back and analyze yourself, especially your own written word, and learn from your mistakes.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

RYBS: Hypocrisy

Read Your Bible Series - Week Eight


Luke 6: 27-31Matthew 5: 43-48Matthew 10: 34-37Luke 12: 1-7John 7: 1-9

Oftentimes in our current social and political climate, a story of a hypocritical priest, pastor or other high profile religious leader will break almost weekly.  Whether it's the story of an LGBT bigot that gets caught in flagrante delicto with a partner of the same sex, or a religious leader who exhorts his religion of peace and love yet routinely displays a vile hatred of those who do not follow his religious tenets; it's easy to assume that hypocrisy comes as second nature to many of the leaders in the religious community.

I say that it comes that easy for them because the exact same behavior comes straight from the top.

Let's start with Jesus talking to a fairly large crowd in Luke 6: 27-31:
But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you.
That last bit should sound VERY familiar to everyone  "Do unto others..."  What a great message!  As a matter of fact, it's so great that this idea, or something very much like it, is so sound that it can be found in a multitude of cultures that predate Moses, Noah, Abraham, and most certainly Jesus himself.  Why?  Because there's really no way anyone could argue with that message.  Bravo, Jesus!

And here again, more messages of love in Matthew 5: 43-48:
You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
Love, even for thine enemies... that is, until you've had just about enough and you need to introduce thine enemies to the business end of your holy broadsword.  Here's Jesus speaking again in Matthew 10: 34-37:
Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law - a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household. Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.
Man against his father?  Daughter against his mother?  And what kind of monster would wish for this kind of violence and hatred between me and my children?  We just read about loving your enemy and turning the other cheek, yet if we follow that message, we're not worthy of Jesus.

Thanks, but no thanks, Jesus.  For the sake of my family, I'll take pride in my own lack of worth.

(Side note: Speaking of Mark 10, there's a fairly famous contradiction between this chapter and Mark 6.  Can you find it?)

Moving to a more specific message of hypocrisy, Jesus is speaking to a, "crowd of thousands," where he delivers this in Luke 12: 1-7:
Meanwhile, when a crowd of many thousands had gathered, so that they were trampling on one another, Jesus began to speak first to his disciples, saying: "Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy. There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. What you have said in the dark will be heard in the daylight, and what you have whispered in the ear in the inner rooms will be proclaimed from the roofs.
"I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after your body has been killed, has authority to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him. Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows."
Again, this message of courage in the face of death should also sound familiar.  Even though the thought of suicide is frowned upon, it is routine for Christians to celebrate their own death and ascent into an infinite afterlife in heaven; as if they welcome their own demise so they can forever be in the presence of Jesus and the almighty.

So "what would Jesus do" in the face of those that seek to kill him?  The author of John gives us the answer:
After this, Jesus went around in Galilee. He did not want to go about in Judea because the Jewish leaders there were looking for a way to kill him. But when the Jewish Festival of Tabernacles was near, Jesus' brothers said to him, "Leave Galilee and go to Judea, so that your disciples there may see the works you do. No one who wants to become a public figure acts in secret. Since you are doing these things, show yourself to the world." For even his own brothers did not believe in him.
Therefore Jesus told them, "My time is not yet here; for you any time will do. The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify that its works are evil. You go to the festival. I am not going up to this festival, because my time has not yet fully come." After he had said this, he stayed in Galilee.
WHISKEY TANGO FOXTROT, Jesus!?!?  Your time is not yet here?  What kind of excuse is that, you pansy?  Oh sure, the other guys can go about their business and get themselves killed, because you know, it's not yet your time and you're having a bad day where you're just not feeling up to facing your own doctrine...


It seems we've come full circle to yet another message that is older than Moses, Noah, Abraham, and even Jesus himself.  The creator of the Universe couldn't practice what he preached.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

RYBS: Catalog of Immaculate Practices and Procedures

Read Your Bible Series - Week Seven

Baptisms and Temptations

For this week's discussion, I'd like to cover a few verses where the Bible apparently implies that the divine being has its own, "Catalog of Immaculate Practices and Procedures", or CIPAP for short, that even Jesus (or God?) himself (or itself?) had to follow.

Starting with Matthew 3, verse 13:
Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John. But John tried to deter him, saying, "I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?"
Jesus replied, "Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness." Then John consented.
As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, "This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased."
John "The Baptist" had a really good point there, no?  If Jesus was his God in human form, why does he need to be baptized?  Just a few verses before these, in Matthew 3 verses 5 and 6, the writer of Matthew explains:
People went out to him from Jerusalem and all Judea and the whole region of the Jordan. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River.
These two verse state that people confessed their sins and then were baptized by John.  Jesus had no sin, thus required no baptism.  But then what does Jesus mean when he says, "... it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness"?  That would suggest that in order for Jesus to be fully righteous, he has to get baptized to wash away his sins.  Right there, Jesus admits that while it seems absurd, it's procedure, and the CIPAP has to be followed to the letter.

This whole dialogue between Jesus and John reminds me of a scene in Galaxy Quest where Jesus is essentially a frustrated Gwen DeMarco:
"Look, I have ONE job on this lousy planet... it's STUPID, but I'm gonna do it. OKAY!?!"
Speaking of procedure, right after Jesus is baptized, he is escorted into a wilderness by "the Spirit" to be tempted by Satan himself:
Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. The tempter came to him and said, "If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread."
Jesus answered, "It is written: 'Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.'"
First of all Jesus... you can't count the fasting thing because you did that to yourself.  Second, how is asking a magician to give away his tricks a temptation?  Had Satan bothered to offer an actual loaf of freshly baked bread instead of coming to such an important event like this one empty handed, then THAT would have been a valid temptation.

Besides, asking Jesus to do all the work is just plain lazy, Satan.  Not to mention you just gives Jesus the upper hand.

Did you notice how these verses portray an air of impatience from Jesus, as if this is all too easy?  But give Jesus some credit, he's just following the CIPAP!

And now, temptation number two:
Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. "If you are the Son of God," he said, "throw yourself down. For it is written:
'He will command his angels concerning you,
    and they will lift you up in their hands,
    so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.'"
Jesus answered him, "It is also written: 'Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'"
Okay, give us a break, Jesus.  How is this a temptation?  Satan has to be the least creative super angel being that I have ever read about!  You tempt a guy by telling him to hurl himself off of a building?  Even I could say no to that one, Satan.

But then again, procedures are procedures...  and in order to do his job, Jesus had to be tempted by Satan.

Finally, the writer of Matthew wraps it up with number three:
Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. "All this I will give you," he said, "if you will bow down and worship me."
Jesus said to him, "Away from me, Satan! For it is written: 'Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.'"
Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.
This is the only temptation that Jesus totally missed a perfect opportunity to slam Satan for being a complete idiot.  How can Satan give away something that does not belong to him?  This would be like me trying to sell my house to the bank that holds my mortgage!  Instead, Jesus spews some silly verse about worshiping himself...  I mean, come on Jesus!  You already created the heavens and the Earth.  Why not rub Satan's nose in it a bit?

Ugh, I bet Jesus figured that out later and was kicking himself for not laying down that zinger.

One tiny thing before we wrap this up.  Now, I know I'm not the only one that thinks that surely one of those angels brought Jesus a sandwich.  Well...  unless, of course, Jesus was bright enough to recognize the loophole he gets in the whole "fasting" thing by just miraculously creating bread in his stomach or perhaps magically creating ATP for his cells...

But then again, this is the CIPAP we're talking about here, and even Jesus had to stick to his father's (or his?) blessed administrative protocols.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

RYBS: A Loving Message for Fathers

Read Your Bible Series - Week Six

A Loving Message for Fathers

For the Father's Day edition of Read Your Bible Series, I decided to take our weekly review in a slightly different direction by focusing on god, the father.  I'm quite sure there are a multitude of sermons being delivered today that are, in one way or another, focusing on how thankful we men should feel given all the blessings of fatherhood that the god of the Bible has given us.  So instead of taking the easy route, why not be creative and take the time to cover some of the other paternal messages in the Bible?

Let's begin with a message about disobedience from Leviticus 26: 27-29:
If in spite of this you still do not listen to me but continue to be hostile toward me, then in my anger I will be hostile toward you, and I myself will punish you for your sins seven times over. You will eat the flesh of your sons and the flesh of your daughters.
Since I've only been a father for 16+ years and do not have near the parenting skills that an eternity would bring, it must be my own ignorance that makes me question the lesson here.  I mean, this kind of punishment strikes me as a bit of an overreaction for a parent.  Plus, it just doesn't seem that productive in the grand scheme of things to cause a disobedient follower to slaughter his own sons and daughters and roast them rotisserie style over a fire pit.  What lesson does that teach?  But, I shouldn't be so disrespectful, because far be it from me to tell the god of the Universe how to raise his children.

Even if I think this level of punishment is disproportionate to the act of disobedience, it does appear to be a common parenting technique for god.  Deuteronomy 28: 53-55:
Because of the suffering your enemy will inflict on you during the siege, you will eat the fruit of the womb, the flesh of the sons and daughters the Lord your God has given you. Even the most gentle and sensitive man among you will have no compassion on his own brother or the wife he loves or his surviving children, and he will not give to one of them any of the flesh of his children that he is eating. It will be all he has left because of the suffering your enemy will inflict on you during the siege of all your cities.
The message here is clear.  Even the most gentile, the most sensitive, and the most compassionate among men will be too selfish to share the meat he has harvested from his own children.  Pish... stingy!

Now, if you haven't run out of children to slaughter for dinner, there are some other biblical techniques you can use that should help you with disciplining the ones you have left.  For example, every father has had the cheeky little one that likes to mock us behind our backs.  In the Bible, the solution is simple - Proverbs 30: 17:
The eye that mocks a father,
that scorns an aged mother,
will be pecked out by the ravens of the valley,
will be eaten by the vultures.
I hate to be so whiny toward my holy father, but sheesh!  Throw me a bone here!  (Pardon the pun.)  Okay, I'm all for making my children understand who is in charge in your family, but making me find a raven AND a vulture is just too much work!

There has to be something easier, right?  Perhaps we could just find some people to help with a problem child.  You know, the whole, "It takes a village" idea.  Exodus 21: 15 and 17:
Anyone who attacks their father or mother is to be put to death.
Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death.
Now we're getting somewhere...  Put them to death.  But how?  Deuteronomy 21: 18-21:
If someone has a stubborn and rebellious son who does not obey his father and mother and will not listen to them when they discipline him, his father and mother shall take hold of him and bring him to the elders at the gate of his town. They shall say to the elders, "This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious. He will not obey us. He is a glutton and a drunkard." Then all the men of his town are to stone him to death. You must purge the evil from among you. All Israel will hear of it and be afraid.
Perfect!  You can always count on the Bible to provide answers to the most difficult of questions.  Here we solve several issues at once.  We recruit some of the other fathers in our neighborhood, gather enough rocks heavy enough to break bone but still light enough to throw, and clobber the bratty kid to death.

So happy Father's Day to all you dads out there!  Remember to find your kids, give them a big hug, and use your Bible to scare them into submission and bring about the next four weeks worth of nightmares.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

The Cruelty of "Reparative Therapy"

Sometimes a local news story disturbs me to such an extent that I have a very difficult time trying to get my thoughts together and write something without lashing out with a carpet bomb of profanity.

If you didn't know already, the Texas GOP recently advocated for something that has miserably failed since before the time of Sigmund Freud.  We used to call it, "Conversion Therapy."  But since that term has been demonized, we have now the catchy new name: "Reparative Therapy."

Well, last night the CBS affiliate in Dallas, KTVT, ran a segment where they took, "a closer look at reparative therapy."

David Pickup, a licensed marriage and family therapist, is the Texas GOP's (a.k.a. Tea Party's) expert on the subject.  You see, he never considered himself gay but used to entertain homosexual "feelings" because he was sexually assaulted as a child.  He asserts that the assault caused his confusion and the therapy helped him to discover who he really was.

It should be noted that I could not find his credentials on his website other than a statement saying he was licensed.  So if he claims to be licensed, I'll have to take his word for it.

I think it's tragic what happened to Mr. Pickup when he was a child.  It sounds absolutely horrific and I truly wish that there was some kind of omnipotent being out there that could give us a hand protecting the innocence of little ones from the atrocities of sexual predators.  If only...

But here's the point that all of these GOP fools and Mr. Pickup are missing - they are admitting that there has to be some kind of experience, some kind of event that would make them all gay.  That's right all you Stetson wearing, gun carrying, GOP voting cowboys - Mr. Pickup thinks that you're all just one experience away from Brokeback Mountain.

Furthermore, if his view is correct, then the converse must also be correct.  In other words, if tragic experiences equals homosexual "confusion", then good experiences equal heterosexual identity.  I would love to ask Mr. Pickup what specific experiences contribute to my heterosexuality?   And as a scientist, I deserve to know the empirical evidence - not anecdotal - that I can find in my own life that made me straight.  But then, what about people that have been sexually assaulted and still identify as heterosexual?  Or how is it that some people that have never been sexually assaulted, that have never been raped, and that have never been molested identify as being gay?

From the interview with Mr. Pickup:
"There’s an automatic – this is what a lot of people don’t realize – there’s an automatic, spontaneous lessening or dissipation of homoerotic feeling toward men after therapy."
What the hell does that even mean?  Sounds to me like he's saying that he still has feelings for men, but now there's a, "lessening" or a, "dissipation" of the burning in his loins.  I think there's something obvious that Mr. Pickup is missing here.  What he just said fits the definition of lust, plain and simple.  Lust hits quickly and fades as your mind moves on.  And the fact that Mr. Pickup doesn't recognize that is the main reason why I pity him - he hates himself so much that he cannot be comfortable in his own skin.

Reparative therapy...

I detest that filthy term for the same reason I hate the term, "born sinners".  It's hateful and immoral to convince people that somehow they are broken, especially children and young adults.  And isn't it always convenient that the ones that claim there are "broken" people are ever so eager to sell them the cure to their problems?  At a discount price, of course.

Look, the LGBT community just wants to be happy, to love another person, and to stop being discriminated against.  The LGBT community is not broken.  The LGBT community deserves the same rights as everyone else.

Repeat after me - If you do not want gay marriage for yourself, THEN DO NOT GET GAY MARRIED.  And leave everyone else alone because it's none of your damn business who people fall in love with.