Saturday, August 28, 2010

Double Stuffed Post!

Bear Attack in the Bible

That's right, this is a DOUBLE STUFFED POST. I'll be tackling two tough subjects today, so strap in and hold on.

First up on our roster of awesome is a heartwarming story from my favorite book of Fables (sorry Aesop) the Bible. The story takes us to the book of 2 Kings, Chapter 2. The events of this chapter happen soon after Elijah, a Prophet of the Lord, is taken up in a flying fiery Chariot into Tornado and lives. Elijah, according to Christian lore, never actually physically dies, being the only one besides Enoch to do so. Elisha, Elijah's friend and protege, has just inherited a "double portion" of Elijah's spirit... So in Star Wars talk Elisha has "become more powerful than you can possibly imagine". What is the first thing Elisha does? Why he heals a poisoned water supply... and the second thing? Well let's see what the Bible has to say. We'll be reading from the NIV translation:

2 Kings 2:23-24

'23 From there Elisha went up to Bethel. As he was walking along the road, some youths came out of the town and jeered at him. "Go on up, you baldhead!" they said. "Go on up, you baldhead!" 24 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 youths. '

So Elisha is insulted, they're calling him BALD and mocking him. Instead of verbally insulting them back Elisha decides it best to curse them and for some reason God goes along with this idea and sees fit to send two bears in to slaughter forty-two children. Once again Yahweh is a party to murdering children and his weapon of choice for the crime... bears. THIS IS THE JUST AND RIGHTEOUS GOD WE ARE MEANT TO BE WORSHIPING?

So what's the moral of the story? I suppose its about not making fun of bald people. The next time you see a baldy be sure to give them a wide berth and keep on the look-out for God's grizzly vengeance.

Misconceptions about Atheism (BONUS POST)

Few groups are more misrepresented than Atheists. The reason for this is simple, we're not a coherent group. While there are Atheist groups scattered across the world we still remain a massive minority and few Atheists speak out. Many keep it to themselves after they lose their faith. This is perfectly fine as Atheism does not require or even desire the spread of non-belief BUT it does lead to theists of various religious faiths being able to spread myths and rumors about Atheism that makes it sound like an untenable position.

The biggest myth is that Atheism means you believe there is absolutely no God. Many religious people and even some who aren't religious, mistakenly believe that Atheism is an outright rejection of the concept of deities. While there is a kind of Atheism that fits this description (known as Gnostic or Strong/Positive Atheism) most Atheists don't reject the possibility of God or even claim that there isn't one.

Atheism, at the base level, is a LACK of BELIEF in GODS. If you do not directly believe in any gods you are an Atheist but that doesn't mean you reject the possibility that a God exists. This definition also helps destroy another myth, that Atheism requires faith. The easiest way to answer this myth is to ask a question: Does not believing in Unicorns require faith?

Of course you don't need faith to disbelieve in Unicorns so why on Earth would you require faith to disbelieve in Gods? Faith is an assertion without evidence but Atheism, unless it is Gnostic Atheism, makes NO ASSERTION. A lack of belief in gods is different from an assertion that there are no gods.

Generally speaking there are four types of people:

Gnostic Theists - Believe in God(s) and claim to KNOW that God(s) exist
Gnostic Atheists - Disbelieve in God(s) and claim to KNOW that God(s) do not exist.

Agnostic Theists - Believe in God(s) but do not make a claim to KNOWLEDGE.
Agnostic Atheists - Disbelieve in God(s) but do not make a claim to KNOWLEDGE.

Many use the term Agnostic to describe themselves because they are afraid to admit they are atheists or because they have the wrong definition for atheism and agnosticism. One cannot be simply Agnostic, because that only describes whether you are making a claim to knowledge.

Another big myth put out there is that Atheism is a religion. Atheism is NOT a religion. Atheists are vastly different people, we have no unifying creed. We possess no sacred texts. We don't agree on political points, we have varying opinions on morality, etc. The only thing Atheists have in common is our disbelief in gods. You wouldn't claim that THEISM is a religion would you? You'd have to be downright stupid to claim that Theism is a religion, because theists can be Hindu, Muslim, Christian, etc.

If Atheism is a religion than:

Not playing football is a sport


Not collecting coins is a hobby

I'd rather not beat a dead horse so I'll move on to yet another myth about Atheists, the myth that we want to destroy or forbid religion. While it is true that many Atheists dislike religion and would prefer to live in a world where reason and logic - instead of faith and dogma - were the norm, it is also true that most Atheists are big supporters of Freedom of Religion. After all, it wouldn't be a very REASONable position to seek to disolve religion via tyranny. As vehemently opposed to religion as many of us feel we also feel that the rest of the world are free to form your own beliefs and opinions, as odd as they may seem to the rest of us.

The last major myth I want to talk about is one put forth mainly by Creationists. It is the myth that Science, in particular Evolution, is Atheistic. The idea is that in order to accept Evolution you must also accept Atheism. This is not the case. MOST Theists accept Evolution and the reason is obvious, the evidence POINTS toward Evolution. Gods or no gods Evolution is true. You see most people are invested in finding out the truth, to some extent at least and if the evidence points toward Evolution they are willing to accept that in favor of myth. This should only weaken their faith in myth and is entirely separate from their God... But not for most Creationists, myth has replaced their deity - the Bible is their God.

There's another silly myth that, now-a-days, is actually used mostly by Atheists as a joke to the dark times, before the internets, when Christianity didn't have nearly enough critics. That is that ATHEISTS EAT BABIES - NOM NOM NOM NOM NOM NOM NOM NOM NOM NOM NOM

For the record I, personally, am an Agnostic-Atheist. I don't believe in a god but I do not rule out the possibility of their existence. Until theists can meet their burden of proof and provide evidence that a deity exists I will remain an Atheist. In the meantime I will continue to present issues I have with the Bible in an attempt to show people the illogical and irrational nature of religious fundamentalism and faith in general. What is faith?

Well, without getting into a whole THIRD POST, Faith is a belief that is not accepted on the basis of evidence. Belief in gods, ghosts, fairies, aliens and Bigfoot all fall under faith categories. That isn't to say one can't ENTERTAIN the possibility of the existence of ANY of those but merely that in order to assert their existence one would have to believe via FAITH.

Thanks for reading and be sure to spread the word about this Blog's existence... and the evidence for the existence of this Blog, well, you've just read it.

Friday, August 20, 2010

The Doctrine of the Rapture

The Doctrine of the Rapture

Many Christians and non-Christians alike instantly recognize the word Rapture and understand the implications of such an event. Most, however, do not know just how new this idea is to Christianity. The idea itself sprung up in the 1700s but it wasn't until the 1780s that the first hints of a Pre-Tribulation Rapture began. Many would assume that if this event was truly going to take place as it is interpreted that God's spirit would have explained this to believers long before 1780. After all seven centuries is a long time to wait and given that Jesus is supposedly returning "like a thief in the night" and that "no one knows the hour or the day" of his return it MIGHT have been crucial information. So is God withholding info that could save souls? After all having an end date set in stone and known to all man would certainly up the percentage of people willing to be saved...

But its much easier to scare people into believing something if the time of Judgment remains uncertain. If a returning Jesus can arrive like a ninja at any moment pouncing upon us from the Heavens than it keeps parishioners and church goers glued to the pews.

Even more confusing is the number of different interpretations of the Rapture event. There are a great many, even within one denomination you are likely to find differing opinions of how the event will go down. This is because the Bible is anything but clear. The Bible itself never mentions the Rapture by name. The Apostle Paul mentions an event in First Thessalonians in which Jesus scoops up the dead saints and the spirits of the living ones.

Paul was a big believer in bodily resurrection (while many others thought of rebirth as a spiritual one). It appears that he thought Jesus would return to summon the saints right from their burial plots and then take the living ones as well. Nowhere in the account does Paul put a time-frame on this or say whether it will occur before or after judgment day. Also Paul betrays a belief that this event will happen in the lifetime of the readers he is addressing the Epistle to.

17 After that, WE WHO ARE STILL ALIVE and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. 18 Therefore encourage each other with these words. - 1st Thessalonians 4:17-18 (Emphasis Added)

Why would they need to encourage each other if the event wasn't about to happen at any moment? How could a book inspired directly by the Holy Spirit have this error? Was the Spirit not telling Paul the truth, that it would be another two millennia or more before Jesus would get his butt off of the throne to gather the Saints?

So the Bible is being vague again and as a result there are

Pretribulation Rapture believers, who believe before God pours out his wrath on us heathens they will be saved.

Midtribulation believers, who believe the rapture will come in between the tribulation, since according to their interpretation only the last half the of the tribulation is really going to be bad, the first half is three years of peace.

Posttribulation - these people are hardcore, they think the Saints will be here for the anti-Christ, the Mark of the Beast and all that tribulation stuff.

Amongst a myriad of beliefs the Bible stays silent on the subject other than to offer its vague and entirely useless account in Thessalonians. There is supposedly another in Matthew 24 but most believe that is depicting the return of Christ long after the Rapture is meant to happen.

So now that we understand the lack of a solid Biblical basis for such an event we can look at the fear tactics involved in this event. For this I will actually be using an anecdote. I know, I know, such personal stories are hardly the basis for a good argument... hear me out.

I used to be a Christian because I was raised in a fundamentalist household (its the main reason this blog exists in the first place). We got fed material about the Rapture basically from birth. When the Left Behind film series came out I was forced to watch it. Yes that's right Left Behind, starring Creationist Kirk Cameron:

At the time all this was happening I was growing up. I'd hit puberty and immediately began fantasizing about girls. At school, at home, anywhere, it was all about girls. I'd also begun, naturally, telling dirty jokes and using a handful of curse words when with my friends. All of this was seen as sinful by my family, we weren't even allowed to watch Scooby Doo (because it mentions the Occult once or twice) or a movie with over a G rating (other than Star Wars). So needless to say I was doing things I'd been taught were sinful and when I discovered masturbation the guilt only sky-rocketed.

I didn't stop doing any of the things I wasn't supposed to. In retrospect all of them were perfectly natural parts of growing older and none of them merit punishment, let alone the eternal brimstone variety. That didn't stem the steady stream of guilt into my brain though. Then along comes the 911 terrorists attacks, there was an announcement over the school inter-com that "Something big has happened in New York and it might be effecting the whole Eastern Seaboard"... I'm in Middle School Algebra at the time I hear this - I BLEACH WHITE, my heart races, I feel like I'm about to vomit. I thought for sure this was it, this was the Rapture, I was left behind by Jesus for my impure thoughts, minor lies and a little harmless masturbation... We got to our next class where it was explained what had happened, that planes had hit the World Trade Center, I breathed a sigh of relief, and I shit you not, said "Phew, is that all. That's not so bad."

I was so relieved that I wasn't about to be living through the Tribulation only to get beheaded by the Beast (what the Bible says will happen if you profess Christianity in the End Times) or go to Hell. Only days later did the gravity of the attacks finally hit me. My Father attempted to spin the attacks as a sign of the End Times (for the record he did the same thing with Katrina, claiming that Jesus return was imminent).

My story says it all. This is the fear and guilt that religion creates. By claiming that simple things like curse words and sexual thoughts are sinful the Bible puts ever teen's soul in immortal peril and creates shame and guilt where NONE should exist. By bringing up the imminent return of Jesus Pastors and Priests the world over keep people afraid. I spent years wracked with guilt afraid that at any moment I might find my family missing and the world in Chaos.

Another scary aspect is that Christians WANT this to happen, and they really don't, for the most part, give a shit about those of other faiths and religions who will be left behind to dwell in a chaotic post-Rapture world. People who are desperate for the world to end have NO place in politics and generally frighten me a great deal.

For further reading on the Rapture check out the wikipedia page here:


Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Salvation - By Works or Faith?

Salvation - By Works or Faith

Many people, both theist and non-theist, know that the Bible contradicts itself but most would assume that the majority of these contradictions are present in the Old Testament. Few are as familiar with the contradictions of the New Testament. One in particular is very pressing as it could decide the after-life of a believer. That is the issue of whether Salvation is by following the Jewish law or good deeds or by the simple act of believing in Jesus. Forgiveness, according to most Christians is a freely offered gift and all one must do is believe on the name of Jesus to be saved from Hell forevermore. But this idea raises a problem... if Salvation is by faith alone what point is there to following things like the Golden Rule? Why turn the other cheek if that has no bearing on one's eternal destination?

The key verse of scripture to look at is one that is considered a cornerstone of modern Christianity. I am speaking, of course, of John 3:16. Paraphrased it says that God sent his son and whoever believes in him shall never die, but will have eternal life. The scripture makes no mention of good deeds and promises immortality. One must wonder if the immortality offered is actually a spiritual one, the verse makes no clarification on whether Jesus was offering physical immortality or just a seat in the after-life. The verse suggests that faith alone is all that is needed but other verses contradict this.

Many verses, however, support this idea. Most of them come from the Apostle Paul. For those that don't know his story the Apostle Paul, formerly Saul, was a religious Jew known for his persecution of the new Christian sects that were cropping up in the aftermath of Jesus’ death. (as a quick note, if Jesus actually had been resurrected one would assume that Christianity would go forward UNITED, since he supposedly appeared before them after his death and gave the great commission - perhaps they were just unsure of taking the advice of a zombie). The Apostle Paul started out with a hatred of Christian. While on the way to the ancient city of Damascus Paul has a blinding vision in which a being he cannot see assumes Jesus’ identity and converts him. Paul never sees Jesus, so for all we know this being was Satan (or some other fictional character), the desert heat, or a complete fabrication.

Paul was known to write pro-faith and against the idea that a Christian NEEDED to behave a certain way in order to be saved. In Romans 3:20 Paul writes:

"Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin."

So Paul doesn't find the old law entirely useless but he apparently doesn't think it will do much good in the Salvation or righteousness departments. A few verses later he repeats the same sentiment in verse 28 of the same chapter claiming that a man is justified by faith without following the Law. Of all the verses in Paul's writing Romans 10:9 is probably the most often one brought up by those Christians who are on his side of this argument.

"That if you confess with your mouth, "Jesus is Lord," and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved."

That settles it apparently, all it takes is the confession that Jesus is Lord. Accepting Jesus as your Lord and Savior is a one way ticket to Heaven, a veritable Get out of Hell Free Card (why there needs to be a hell to begin with and why that is the default after-life for all humans is beyond me). Some other verses you can look at for similar sentiments: Galatians 2:16 and Ephesians 2:8-9

But the thing is those verses don't settle anything. Other scriptures that litter the New Testament paint a vastly different picture of Salvation, one that requires both faith and deeds. In fact the idea that God judges by deeds began in the Old Testament. Many believed that God smote the wicked and upheld the righteous. When a man was obedient to God he would see his life blessed but if a man turned his back on the law of God and sinned he would be punished. This didn't hold true in all cases, after all there was that whole Job debacle, but for the most part this was the sentiment held in the time of Jesus.

One such verse comes straight from the Savior's mouth in the Gospel of Matthew Chapter 16 verse 27:

"For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father's glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what he has done."

So it seems that Jesus’ words should trump Paul's (despite the fact that Paul's work is dated to before the Gospels, but that's another story entirely) seeing as he is the Savior. So what is the deal here? Why is the Bible once again fighting it out with itself? This is exactly what should be expected when you have a book that is actually a composite text of numerous authors and sources. If the Bible is indeed the Word of God one would expect those under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit to come to similar ideas and to express those ideas in simple non-contradictory language. So what do we have here? Well if you believe the fundamentalists and accept this as the Word of God what we have is a massive failure to communicate coherently by Yahweh, Jesus or the Holy Ghost. But if you're open minded enough to see the Bible for what it is you'll understand that the Bible was written by men about another man who, though being a brilliant philosopher, was every bit as human as they were and died leaving a legacy of myth and teachings that would grow into a story of the supernatural. The embellishments are clear and the fact that his followers are left arguing in his absence is a hint that nothing supernatural is afoot.

Later on, in Matthew 19, Jesus says that in order to enter into life we should keep the commandments.

In Matthew 25 Jesus again tells a story that points to the author's emphasis on deeds over simple faith. In the story Jesus judges the dead by asking them if they were kind to the hungry, to the lonely, etc. If they were not friends to their "neighbors" than they would be sent away from Jesus for eternity.

James says that faith without works is dead, once again in opposition to Paul's notion of faith trumping works every time. Likewise he even espouses a different version of Abraham's story.

Both he and Paul use Abraham as an allegory to prove their point. James claims that Abraham's actions and deeds prove his loyalty to God and is therefore righteousness (James 2:21-25). Paul, however, claims that it was Abraham's unwavering faith in God's promise that was his righteousness. (Romans 4:13).

And then, last but not least, there is Revelation 21:8 in which, according to deed AND belief, people are sentenced to burn in the Lake of Fire. Those that believe in the wrong God or have no belief at all are sent to Hell but so are MANY who commit deeds such as lying, murdering, and being a magician.

So the New Testament is home to a battle royale of sorts. Two ideologies are battling it out and God is strangely silent on the topic regardless of how much faith they put in him to show them the way... Odd how that works isn't it? So I guess today we learned that the Bible disagrees with itself in the New Testament easily as often as it did in the Old and is not the coherent inerrant narrative fundamentalists would like you to believe it is. Thanks to this error literally BILLIONS of souls are on the line, if Christianity were true.

I have a few topics currently in the running for the next post:

- Clearing up misconceptions about atheism

- The Rapture


- Bear Attack in the Bible (the story of Elisha and the bears)

I probably won't be posting a new post for at least a week so that gives you (and by you I mean my one follower lol) time to decide which topic to do next.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Talking Animals and Fantastic Creatures in the Bible

I was mulling over what topic to do for this weeks post. The battle ended up between:

Is Salvation by Works or Faith?


Talking Animals and Fantastic Creatures

It should be quite obvious which one won. Don't let that dismay you fans of the battle between the Apostle Paul and the Apostle James who had a theological war on salvation going on in the middle of the Bible itself - I will be covering that topic in the next post.

Now the first and seemingly strongest evidence of mythical creatures in the Bible's pages is the Unicorn. In the King James Version, often touted by believers as the most accurate translation, the Unicorn is used in the book of Numbers, Deuteronomy and Job, among others. The issue here isn't that the writers of the Bible believed in Unicorns, they didn't. In fact it is clear that in the original Hebrew the word translated as Unicorn is actually a word for a kind of Bull known as an Aurochs. These now extinct animals were used as religious symbols and were symbolic of strength.

So you may be asking yourself, if the authors of the Bible never intended Unicorns why even bring it up? Because, this is evidence that mistranslation can dilute the meaning of the text. The original authors meant to reference the Aurochs, not the mythical Unicorn of European lore. The fact that the King James is espoused by many Bible believers as the most accurate is called into question by mistranslated passages like those mentioning Unicorns.

The second such passage comes, once again, from that magical King James Bible. In this one another mythical creature is spoken of. The Satyr. These half-goat half-man mythical monsters were widely believed to exist in Europe, though whether the writer of Isaiah had any knowledge of them is beyond me. Other translations translate this, more accurately, as referring to simple goats. Many apologists readily admit the King James has a translation error here.. and yet if the Bible is open to such errors how could it be the word of an unchanging God?

Many Christians will protest my attack of these verses because many of them openly admit the errors exist. But the fundamentalists attempt to ignore these things or claim that only the King James has these sorts of absurdities, magical creatures and the like. This claim breaks down when one looks at certain stories within the Bible which actually depict animals talking.

The first, and foremost of these, is quite obvious to anyone familiar with the Bible. Genesis. The story of humanities Fall from Grace borrowed, partially, from older Sumerian myths. Those that take the story of Genesis literally are faced with quite a conundrum, a talking serpent. Many apologists support the Satan as Snake idea which is that Lucifer himself had taken the form of the serpent in Eden. This, however, is not supported by the Bible, the story itself says nothing about Satan. In fact it is open in saying that the Snake is merely the craftiest creature in Creation.

Genesis 3:1 Says:

"1 Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the LORD God had made..."

That is from the New International Version, since I picked on King James a bit much earlier we will be using the NIV for the remainder of the post... So the serpent is crafty. Not only crafty but apparently talkative as in the same verse the Snake begins his seduction of Eve:

"...He said to the woman, "Did God really say, 'You must not eat from any tree in the garden'?"

So God has granted the serpent the ability to speak to Eve. If taken literally this is a magical creature. No snake found today can speak and the funny thing is that when God get's around to punishing the snake for what he's done God's only punishment is to force the snake to crawl on its belly. Assumedly before this the snake had legs. God does not revoke the snake's ability to speak so, if taken literally, one has to wonder why today's snakes aren't traveling fruit salesman.

Many Christians accept that this cannot be a literal story, that it is in fact a metaphor, a fable of sorts. But then if the story is merely a fable than why believe any of the other stories within the Bible? Why believe the Jesus story, for instance, if it too could be a metaphor. Indeed Jesus often spoke in parables and used figurative language, could not his entire story be figurative?

The next event of an animal speaking in the Bible comes from Numbers 22:21-35. It is the infamous incident in which a man named Balaam runs into an angel who is apparently invisible to him. Many Christians and Jews believe elements of this story to be figurative as well but many others take this literally.

The story runs like this, God is angry at Balaam and blocks the road, as he rides his donkey, with an angel. The donkey, apparently smarter than Balaam, sees the angel. So God apparently can't make the angel visible to the guy he's trying to stop?

Balaam gets pissed and beats the donkey three times and then the donkey complains. The Donkey asks what she has done to deserve such treatment and only then does God reveal the angel to Balaam. So what is the lesson here? Do not beat your donkey because it can see invisible angels? I've mentioned in many of my posts that the God of the Bible is often depicted as being malevolent or evil... in this story however he's merely being a dick by letting the Donkey see the angel and not Balaam and embarrassing the man as he gets into an argument with an ass.

Along with animals at times gaining the ability to speak in the Bible there are also moments where inanimate objects or plants too get to speak. The most well known of these incidents is Moses’ encounter with an incendiary shrub - the legendary burning bush. Long days in the desert herding sheep had apparently done something to Moses because he stoops to taking advice from a plant, a talking plant, but a plant nonetheless. It is truly odd that the Hebrews never attempted to build a Golden Bush to worship.

Yet another such incident is when Jesus says that the rocks will cry out if his followers are silenced in praising him (Luke 19:40). This, of course, only implies that the rocks will cry out, they never get their chance to sing but the fact that it is a feasible occurrence raises some fundamental questions about the nature of geology. Apparently Yahweh has designed the rocks with the ability to cry out, if ever Jesus stops being praised, whether they are sentient or merely set to react to a lack of praise is never addressed.

We're running short on time and by that I mean that this post is becoming a bit long-winded and wearing out its welcome.

A few other fantastic Biblical creatures for you to research in your spare time:

the Leviathan
the Behemoth
the Beast of Revelation
those evil grasshopper, scorpion, lion things from Revelation =D

To be honest to take the Bible seriously one might have to treat stories like Little Red Riding Hood and the 3 Little Pigs with respect.