Old news: it’s official. Real Ark found… again

January 11, 2012

It’s in Turkey. Seriously. I mean it. Totally there. If you can believe the researchers, that is. Chinese researchers planted evidence on Mount Ararat when they went hunting for a documentary (wrote about that here) but the Pravda piece takes readers back through the history of the Noah’s Ark story and why people have concluded the ark really did land up there. It takes a special kind of person to want real proof that God’s mass genocide of every species on earth. I think these people must also love to think that they’re descendents of God’s chosen few. Never mind just how inbred humans would have been after several generations of nothing but close relatives to mate with; all that would have resulted was a race of people as bad off as Charles II of Spain. Yes? But anyway, on with quoting Pravda’s piece:

In 1960, Lihan Durupinar, a captain of the Turkish army, made several aerial photos. On one of those photos, Durupinar saw a strange object staying at the height of 6,350 feet in Ararat Mountains. The object was shaped as a ship and was nearly 500 feet long. A mission of US and Turkish scientists set off on a mission to the mountains soon after the photo had been published.

At the height of nearly 7,000 feet above the sea level, they saw a flat plot of land covered with grass. The plot looked like a ship indeed. The size of the plot of land was very close to that mentioned in the Bible. The scientists did not conduct a detailed examination of the site. They simply concluded that the strange formation was nothing else but a natural phenomenon.

And it’s a pity things didn’t just end there. Too bad a detailed examination wasn’t done to prove it truly was a naturally occurring plot of land that was vaguely ship shaped. An American doctor and amateur archeologist by the name of Ron Wyatt saw the picture and became obsessed with proving the Ark had landed up there. He managed a trek to the mountain in the ’70s and found rocks there that he believed had been used as anchors for it.

Ron had seen the photos of those rocks in archeology books before. The rocks with holes drilled in them served as anchors for ancient vessels. It turned out that there were crosses engraved on all local rocks.

Which makes me ask what difference the crosses make. Were these actually Noah’s rocks, the crosses wouldn’t have been on them when he used them since the cross as a symbol of God was something of a late addition. And let’s be honest — those holes could have been drilled in those rocks any time after 1960 once locals realized there were people gullible enough to think the ark had actually been there. None of those sensible ideas came to Wyatt at the time, though, and more treks to the site happened over the years, each excursion revealing more “proof” he was on the right track.

In December 1986, Turkish officials representing interior and foreign ministries, as well as a group of researchers from the city of Ataturk approved the official solution saying that the formation discovered by Ron Wyatt and his colleagues contained the remains of Noah’s Ark indeed.

Many discussions have taken place since the “official” discovery of Noah’s Ark. Some scientists say that Wyatt indeed discovered the Biblical vessel, whereas others deny this theory. The search for the Ark still continues.

And it beats me why people bother. As a story it’s kind of a grim one. The rainbow connection (sorry) is just plain daft and again I bring up the fact that two – or even seven – pairs of each type of animal is not going to work to repopulate a world. “But it was a miracle!” Blah blah. It was a story, probably the spawn of several different stories told by cultures at the time attempting to explain why the world was how it was. I don’t think any of them should have been taken as real answers to whatever the questions may have been. It’s a waste of time, energy and resources to work on proving it all to be true.


Last night the Saskatoon Skeptics told ghost stories

October 27, 2011

It was a small turnout compared to some nights but the six of us had a merry spooky time telling tales anyway. Sucks to be one that missed the fun…

David brought along a printout of a story Pliny the Younger told of a haunted house back in his day (his day being AD 61-115) which can be read here. Todd brought several folk tales about trolls that weren’t scary, but cool all the same. I provided special effects of the “clippity clop” variety for his quick retelling of the Three Billy Goats Gruff (see a version here). A newcomer whose name I’ve forgotten told us a story of a haunted house here in Saskatoon that a friend of hers had visited where a poltergeist wasn’t a fan of Canada AM and didn’t care to have company in the house either, making something of a pest of itself by rocking chairs and slamming doors. David asked us if we’d ever been in the Marr Residence here in the city. Apparently it has a couple ghost residents, one of which is a misogynist in the basement who doesn’t like having women down there. Dale mentioned a ghost train, or at least ghostly lights visible north of Saskatoon near a town called St. Louis, which I’d never heard about before. Dale also brought some Korean tales with him, which I’ll get to momentarily.

I thought of a few stories myself, one being about a family mausoleum somewhere in the States, probably, where there was a mystery surrounding the coffins inside moving under their own power. The door would be sealed between uses but every time people went in there again, it seemed the coffins would be moved, or tipped over, or what have you. It was really freaky for the family. Later on, it was discovered that the mausoleum was prone to flooding at certain times of year and enough water would get in to raise the coffins off the ground and deposit them elsewhere in the room once the water receded. I also told one of a spooky face hanging in the bushes near a bog that later turns out to be a cow who liked eating the grasses that grew there. I don’t know if that was a true one, or if I found that in some fiction story and have forgotten that’s where it originated. Minds play tricks, after all.

Like minds that insist on seeing ghosts where lights or bugs are creating disruptive images on cameras. After story time we talked about the work people do to debunk this kind of thing and the challenges they face. Jeremy mentioned some superhero style guy who has a series on Youtube and that’s his popular/unpopular mission. A quick Google gets me CaptainDisillusion, which looks to be the guy, based on Jeremy’s description of his mask.

I mentioned watching That’s Incredible as a kid and insisting on sitting through the weekly ghost story even though I knew it’d mean three nights sleeping with my back to the wall and my closet light on. I also brought a book of “true” tales assembled by John Farman, called The Short and Bloody History of Ghosts. It has several entertaining stories in it about ghosts from around the world. I didn’t read this part last night but it winds up leading well into Dale’s Korean tales so here it goes (from page 23):

Old Japanese spirits, particularly from the 1100s to the 1300s were very odd. There were women ghosts with bad haircuts wearing long white robes and legless Samurai warrior-ghosts. There were foxes that could change into beautiful women and then bewitch anyone who crossed their path.

Dale brought a printout of Heinz Insu Fenkl’s collection about “Dangerous Women” from which he and David read. “The Fox Sister” is very well known in Korea and according to Fenkle:

It is a cautionary Confucian story about the dangers of wishing for a female child. She literally destroys the family, and it is up to the disowned brothers to restore the order of patriarchy by killing her.

Nice.

Korean fox lore, which comes from China (from sources probably originating in India and overlapping with Sumerian lamia lore), is relatively straightforward compared to the complex body of fox culture that evolved in Japan. The Japanese fox spirit, or kitsune, is remarkably sophisticated, probably due to its resonance with the indigenous Shinto religion, and the fox spirits of Japan can be male or female, malign or benign. In Korea, the demonic fox is called a kumiho; they are almost exclusively female, and almost always evil. Korean fox women are generally seductive creatures that entice unwary scholars and travelers with the lure of their sexuality and the illusion of their beauty and riches. They drain the men of their yang (their masculine force) and leave them dissipated or dead (in much the same way as the fairy woman in Keats’s poem “La Belle Dame Sans Merci” leaves her parade of hapless male victims).

All in all, it was a very entertaining evening.

If you care to, feel free to share some of your favourite ghostly tales or other creepy stories in the comments.


Why not picket the New Jersey Devils then?

October 25, 2011

According to folklore acquired via Wikipedia:

Most accounts of the Jersey Devil legend attribute the creature to a “Mother Leeds”, a supposed witch, although the tale has many variations. According to one version, she invoked the devil by saying “let it be the devil” while giving birth to her 13th child, and when the baby was born it was named Lucas, it either immediately or soon afterward transformed into a devil-like creature and flew off into the surrounding pines.[2][3]

The Jersey Devil remained an obscure regional legend through most of the 18th and 19th centuries until a series of purported sightings in 1909 gained it press coverage and wider notability. Today, the Jersey Devil is considered to be more in the realm of popular culture than folklore.

The site lists the amusing series of “sightings” of this thing over the years. Makes me wonder what might be in the water in New Jersey, but no matter. Onto what I was really going to write about.

A pastor in Georgia took issue with a local school’s devil mascot and decided to picket over it. That was back in August of 2010.

Donald Crosby, pastor of God’s Kingdom Builders Church of Jesus Christ in Macon, was charged with disorderly conduct, a misdemeanor, for “excessive noise” for using a bullhorn to shout across the street and disrupt students, said Tabitha Pugh, public information officer for Warner Robins police. Crosby, 36, was released on a $150 bond, Pugh said.

Crosby was arrested Monday outside the school and charged with disorderly conduct and picketing without a permit, both misdemeanors, after he refused to comply with officers’ requests to leave, Pugh said. He was released on a $650 bond.

Thursday, Crosby had a permit to picket. However, the city’s separate noise ordinance prohibits the use of the bullhorn while on a public street, sidewalk, city park or other public place, City Attorney Jim Elliott said.

And as one who’s dealt with noisy neighbours in the past, I think that’s a fair law. He had a right to picket with a permit, but he should have been respectful and kept the protest down to a reasonable volume so he didn’t alienate the people he hoped would support him.

What do you think has been the result since then? More politely law-abiding protests of the school’s team? Tail between the legs? Preaching doom and damnation from the pulpit every week on account of a whole town supporting devil worship?

Any, all or none of that, I don’t know.

What I do know – he’s suing the city of Warner Robins, claiming he’s the victim in this because his First Amendment rights were violated.

Crosby said in the lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Macon, that he was shaken by the experience [of being arrested] and forced to move out of the central Georgia town for fear of continued harassment.

“Maybe I’m completely crazy and I don’t know what I’m talking about. Or maybe all of their allegations are true,” Crosby said in an interview. “But the fact of the matter is I believe I have the right to be heard.”

He does have the right to be heard – but at a reasonable volume. Clearly people were bothered by his louder than necessary derision of the school mascot, and team name in general, and had every right to get authorities involved to quiet him a little.

Crosby said he was unfairly targeted by city officials who disagreed with his message.

“The majority of the community applauded the demon and here I was going against it,” he said. “They wanted me silenced and they were willing to bend the law to make sure it happened.”

His attorney, Gerry Weber, called the city’s restrictions “blatantly unconstitutional,” an argument Elliott vowed to vigorously fight. Crosby, for his part, is treating his brush with the law as a point of pride.

“I felt honored getting locked up. Every hero in the Bible, every apostle, every prophet, every real preacher got locked up for standing up for Christ,” he said. “I’m not ashamed it happened and I’d do it again.”

They were disagreeing with the need to be that bloody loud while preaching the message, guy. If it’s a point of pride, why did he turn tail and leave town then? Now that he has a lawyer on his side he feels a bit bolder, I guess.

What was a protest going to do except make them look juvenile and silly? “That demon mascot is making baby Jesus cry!” If he has a problem with the school team name and its mascot, why not take it up with the school itself or get a petition going or something? Don’t just stand around, waving signs and screaming about it. See what the whole community thinks about the name, if they feel it degrades their faith too much, or whatever they want to believe the problem is. I think it’s a daft thing to get worked up about, myself.


Roadside proselytizing rarely works

September 19, 2011

There’s a church I walk by on the way to my closest library that tends to have pithy and clever write-ups on their lawn sign. I had no camera on hand yesterday but thanks to a pen, paper and the Church Sign Maker, I can reproduce them for you.

Do people suddenly feel compelled to park in the lot and take in a service because the sign was amusing? Has anyone ever experienced being converted thanks to a lawn sign, or would it actually take some work on the part of a pastor and congregation to make it stick?

During my walk on Saturday, I was deep into my music when a random woman came up to me, asked me a question I can’t remember because I didn’t really hear it and then pressed a small piece of paper of paper into my hand. I looked down and discovered this:

All I recall thinking was, “This is the stupidest way to witness to an atheist,” and then tucked the paper into my purse. I had half a mind to turn around, track her down and point out the pointlessness and sheer laziness of her method but in the end I kept walking. How will handing out something that’s been photocopied a thousand times change hearts and minds?

The Saskatoon Freethinkers had a member and former Mormon talk to us about his life growing up in that religion and how he discovered the way out of it. Dustin’s story was very fascinating and the more he talked about the weirdness that is Mormonism to an outsider, the more I was grateful I grew up without much indoctrination. Certainly nothing that stuck, anyway. Back on topic now, someone asked him about his missionary days in Arkansas and Tennessee and how many converts he created. In the two years he wandered around doing that, he figures six or so took him seriously enough to join up at the time but of that number only one lasted a year. Nobody asked how he discovered that, but he said the Church of Latter Day Saints is very concerned about the low conversion success rate and it’s been a problem for a long time so they must have some method of tracking that information. All they can do is encourage their missionaries to do their best and pray for the best.

Look back the image of the handout I was given. It asks, “Do you need freedom from…” and then lists 12 issues around it that affect most everyone at some point in their lives. Who doesn’t worry or feel fear once in a while? Who doesn’t get depressed or confused? Who hasn’t experienced lust or rejection lately? What gets me about that whole list is how it appears to treat all those things as problems, a set of feelings and behaviours that all require curing by the injection of Jesus into one’s heart.

Someone else asked Dustin about targeting and if Mormons pick on certain groups they know will be more receiving of Joseph Smith’s message. IE, are they poor, or uneducated or immigrants? He said it’s never anything that obvious in terms of a group goal or ambition but if they can be said to have one, it’s families. They want to convert Mom, Dad, and all the little kiddies thus eliminating the risk of a close loved one being able to pull the new convert out easily. If the whole family has invested its time and money into the new faith, one might find more reasons to stay in. (Dustin’s own family back in Lethbridge AB still remain with LDS but have been very supportive of his decision to leave and he’s grateful for it. Other ex-Mormons he knows can’t claim the same.)

Dustin’s advice to everyone was a suggestion to improve critical thinking. Hear what’s said but be able to ask good questions that will force the Mormon (or generic Christian, for that matter) to reexamine his or her own spiel and see it in a different way. Attack the circular reasoning, the belief that a “feeling I’m right” is proof of actual rightness. Challenge the beliefs and present solid arguments for why beliefs are flawed. And hopefully that person will turn out to be someone open minded enough and capable of learning from the experience.


Where 1minion argues with a 5 year old article

August 31, 2011

Reposted recently but still old, an article by someone named Phillip Owens titled Interpretation versus belief. I’ll split this into two parts, the second coming later today.

“Interpreters” explain or give the meaning of words from one language to another language. No one would knowingly say of a competent interpreter, “Well, that’s just his interpretation,” meaning that his translation is only an opinion, has no solid basis to support it, and should be discounted as unworthy of any consideration. If he knows both languages and is honestly doing his work, he can be depended on.

I’d argue that “translation” and “interpretation” aren’t exactly interchangeable concepts. Translation should be direct and objective, with the intention being to maintain the original idea or concept as expressed in one language by using the closest possible words from another. That’s how language to language dictionaries function and someone well familiar with both languages can potentially do the same. Maybe another translator might pick a different synonym or phrasing but the original meaning will still make it through. To my way of thinking, interpretation is a loaded word filled with the opinions and experiences of he who interprets. I’d say it’s fairly subjective in its make-up, with synonyms chosen reflecting the mood of the interpreter rather than the mood of the piece being interpreted. I could be wrong about that, but it’s my interpretation of interpretation, so here it stands.

Most don’t need an “interpretation” of the daily newspaper. It is fairly self explanatory. If there are several articles in one newspaper on one breaking story, reading all the articles gives on a clearer picture of the event.

And it’s likely each article was written by a different desk writer, all of whom would be interpreting the story through their own lenses of experience and knowledge base. Many might reflect the bias of that particular newspaper and its expected audience instead of remaining totally neutral, too. It’d be better to sample articles from a variety of papers to get an expanded, more well-rounded report of what went down. Every journalist will focus on a different moment from the event, perhaps interview different people — assuming their papers aren’t merely lazily pulling one author’s story off the wire and running it unaltered, of course. Money and deadlines can get in the way of decent journalism pretty easily.

On the whole, this is true of the Bible. It has been my observation that “interpretation” or understanding what the Bible says is not that big a problem. Believing it is!

And that’s his interpretation of his observation. Clearly he doesn’t look at this the same way I do because I come to a different conclusion based on observations. Most of what’s in the bible is unbelievable, I’ll grant him that, yet so many believer can blindly ignore reality and scientific fact on a daily basis to promote every ludicrous thing in it without seeing the illogical nature of the books within.

I can’t know how much actual bible history this guy knows but I can admit that I’m aware of the difficulties presented when trying to define Hebrew concepts via suitable Greek approximations. Nothing ever translates word for word, after all. Word order, grammar rules, lack of vowels. Mysterious turns of phrase and local/historical cliches and analogies. A completely different cultural way of thinking and reacting to the world around them. Those who worked on the Septuagint really had their work cut out for them. I quote from Wikipedia, explaining how Greek Jews aided in writing their holy book into Koine Greek, what they spoke in Alexandria in the 3rd century BCE:

According to the record in the Talmud,

‘King Ptolemy once gathered 72 Elders. He placed them in 72 chambers, each of them in a separate one, without revealing to them why they were summoned. He entered each one’s room and said: “Write for me the Torah of Moshe, your teacher.” God put it in the heart of each one to translate identically as all the others did.’

Laughable notion. Beautiful thing to believe, but laughable.

Back to the article. “Understanding what the Bible says” is a huge problem. Otherwise why would there be so many flavours of Christianity all preaching different things? Some focus on the anti-gay. Some focus on silencing or at least diminishing the role of women. Some promote huge families and home schooling lest their kids learn “the wrong things.” Some ignore evolution and teach the 6000 year old earth tripe. Some buy transubstantiation. Some take a completely literal route about rising from the dead. Some accept the likelihood that whole swaths of text were altered heavily. We can’t even know by how much in most cases because what translators had to work from were copies of copies.

Reliable translations of the Bible use English words understandable to most people. Where then does the problem lie? It lies in rejecting what is the obvious.

If it were easy and truly obvious, there’d never be an argument over how to interpret it. There’d only be one translation for all languages.. oh wait. I wrote above that nothing ever translates word for word across languages so every language would wind up with a different book. Problems again. People who’d study it in Greek would learn to read the English at some point perhaps and see major differences in phrasing and word choice, revealing a means of interpreting the verses in other ways. Anyone ever read Shakespeare in German or Italian or Russian? How does Shakespeare’s early Middle English dialect transfer over? Same rhythms? Same rhymes? Same japes? Or do they wind up with what’s essentially a modernized Cliff Notes prose version that tells the story but loses the aim of the author in the process? Shakespeare was considered low-brow in his day and look at the pedestal we’ve placed him on since.

Getting back to the bible, I have to ask what’s obvious? People find a problem with the language used in the bible all the time. PETA was up in arms over all the animals referred to as “it” a while back. They thought “she” should be used instead because they think using “it” belittles the fact that animals have consciousness and can feel pain and it makes it too easy for humanity to justify killing and eating them if they are described in a holy book like unthinking objects akin to rocks and trees.

Is Jesus Christ Deity (God’s Son), Or Merely A Historical Character?

He gives several examples from scripture that are supposed to prove Christ’s godliness. They don’t prove anything to me except the fact that he believes in Jesus as a deity.

These passages are straightforward. If one believes the Bible to be God’s Word, how much “interpretation” does one need on this subject? It is as straightforward, and I would say much more so, than most headline stories in newspapers. He was both a historical figure and Immanuel, God with us (Matthew 1:23).

And if you don’t believe it’s god’s word? If you, like me, believe that it is instead a collection of crap thrown together by a bunch of guys with a clear ambition toward propaganda and c/overt population control, then everything in there needs to be read with an eye toward the past and what they hoped to accomplish then, and another eye on the present to confirm their successes. It’s dismal what this book has done to humankind, frankly. For every pretty, peaceful, pleasant quote that changed a life for the better, there must be a dozen disturbing ones that changed thousands of people’s lives for the worse.


Christians deemed “heretics” after claiming no historical Adam and Eve

August 10, 2011

Well, almost. This NPR article was a good find; some evangelicals are starting to realize that the truths being uncovered by geneticists and other areas of science are making it harder and harder to maintain the fiction that the whole of the earth got populated thanks to two people some celestial being molded together out of clay and a rib 6000 years ago.

conservative scholars are saying publicly that they can no longer believe the Genesis account. Asked how likely it is that we all descended from Adam and Eve, Dennis Venema, a biologist at Trinity Western University, replies: “That would be against all the genomic evidence that we’ve assembled over the last 20 years, so not likely at all.”

Venema says there is no way we can be traced back to a single couple. He says with the mapping of the human genome, it’s clear that modern humans emerged from other primates as a large population — long before the Genesis time frame of a few thousand years ago. And given the genetic variation of people today, he says scientists can’t get that population size below 10,000 people at any time in our evolutionary history.

To get down to just two ancestors, Venema says, “You would have to postulate that there’s been this absolutely astronomical mutation rate that has produced all these new variants in an incredibly short period of time. Those types of mutation rates are just not possible. It would mutate us out of existence.”

Others would likely try to say God miraculously made all those mutation rates possible in order to maintain the delusion of a functional biblical timeline, so it’s great to see logic and rationality taking charge here instead. Three cheers for science and minds open enough to accept its findings, even when they run counter to earlier, long-held beliefs. (That said, later down the page he appears to credit God for the evolutionary process as a whole so it’s clear he’s not willing to scrap the notion of a god’s interference completely. Can’t help some people…)

In fundamentalist circles these admissions are less than popular.

“From my viewpoint, a historical Adam and Eve is absolutely central to the truth claims of the Christian faith,” says Fazale Rana, vice president of Reasons To Believe, an evangelical think tank that questions evolution. Rana, who has a Ph.D. in biochemistry from Ohio University, readily admits that small details of Scripture could be wrong.

“But if the parts of Scripture that you are claiming to be false, in effect, are responsible for creating the fundamental doctrines of the Christian faith, then you’ve got a problem,” Rana says.

One of those problems being cognitive dissonance. Hundreds of years of telling believers that the bible has everything right. Here come all these great minds devoting themselves to scientific inquiry and discovering so many examples where that’s clearly not the case. Yet, believers will turn away from all those the strange and frightening facts because their (outdated) beliefs are old and comfortable friends. They can’t possibly be wrong…

Of course they can.

A religion like Christianity is built on precepts that require believers to assume the world is other than it is in order to work. To trust those errors are not really errors at all.

To have faith. Faith in Genesis.
Faith in the Ark and the flood wiping out all but God’s chosen few.
Faith in a prophecy about a new king of the people. Faith in a story about angel visitations,
a guiding star in the sky and a baby born in a stable who,
wonder of wonders, will grow up to be that
King of heaven and earth and rise from the dead one day, too.

I’m impressed by how that part rhymes. You’d think I planned it…

“When Adam sinned, he sinned for us,” Mohler says. “And it’s that very sinfulness that sets up our understanding of our need for a savior.

Mohler says the Adam and Eve story is not just about a fall from paradise: It goes to the heart of Christianity. He notes that the Apostle Paul (in Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15) argued that the whole point of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection was to undo Adam’s original sin.

“Without Adam, the work of Christ makes no sense whatsoever in Paul’s description of the Gospel, which is the classic description of the Gospel we have in the New Testament,” Mohler says.

The fault lies in the need for humans to interpret everything. That must have been of evolutionary benefit at some point, because we’re so damned good at it. We’re really good at misinterpreting things, too. Something else we’re really good at is taking stuff for granted when we think someone else has interpreted everything correctly for us already. Why do people believe Paul was right? There’s nothing wrong with building lessons out of a story you’ve learned, and it’s easy to see why people want to believe he’s right, but that still doesn’t make him factually accurate. He just jumped to that conclusion and whole chunks of the world ultimately followed in his footsteps.

Creation myths exist across cultures. Some of them are very beautiful you’d just love for them to be true for that reason alone. Others sound so ridiculous you have to wonder what kind of dopes ever came up with them. Everyone wondered where things came from and how people came to be. The Judeo-Christian version is just one of hundreds, and easily determined to all be equally false once people finally get around to comparing them to what the reality of our history can really tell us.

Back in the article, some scholars liken this origin rift to the high stake action of the battle between Galileo and the Catholic church. Others are reluctant to make that comparison but admit evolution is a sore point and getting trickier to deny outright. Still, they continue to insist on doing so.

others say Christians can no longer afford to ignore the evidence from the human genome and fossils just to maintain a literal view of Genesis.

“This stuff is unavoidable,” says Dan Harlow at Calvin College. “Evangelicals have to either face up to it or they have to stick their head in the sand. And if they do that, they will lose whatever intellectual currency or respectability they have.”

“If so, that’s simply the price we’ll have to pay,” says Southern Baptist seminary’s Albert Mohler. “The moment you say ‘We have to abandon this theology in order to have the respect of the world,’ you end up with neither biblical orthodoxy nor the respect of the world.”

I don’t see why that would be true. People tend to respect anyone willing to admit he or she was wrong. If there’s a reluctance to take that step and admit the whole premise of the faith is flawed, and was always flawed, people will continue to be taken in by it all. That said, I just know that if every theologian threw up his hands tomorrow and admitted it was all a damn sham and the Pope himself took his fancy hat off to apologize for lying to the masses, there’d still be thousands of people flocking to churches to pray to god, “Say it ain’t so! Give me a sign!” Then they’d convince themselves that every piece of fluff and feather was a sure sign pointing to God’s way being the right way and they’d change nothing.

But this is a good start. People should be willing to challenge long held beliefs. People should be brave enough to set those beliefs aside if enough evidence can be collected to refute them.

Which reminds me. Christopher DiCarlo will be in Saskatoon to promote his book, How to Become a Really Good Pain in the Ass later this month. The focus of the book is to train one’s self to think critically about all sorts of things and if you’re in the area and that sounds like something you’d like to learn, too, all the details are here.


Churches to preach “No King but Jesus” on July 3rd

June 22, 2011

It’s all part of a rededication ceremony, apparently. The U.S.A. isn’t godly enough already so God has to be officially invited by as many churches as possible or the States are doomed. Doomed!!1eleventy1

It’s hard to tell by the article, but Pastor Steven Andrew, the author of Making A Strong Christian Nation might be the one behind the push by USA Christian Ministries to flood their market with glossy posters and pamphlets preaching their message. Their aim is to remind everyone of the American Revolution with their motto and what they claim the Founding Fathers stood for in the first place.

“We are encouraging all churches to include the covenant insert in their bulletins on Sunday, July 3rd,” said Pastor Steven. “We also ask individuals and other patriotic groups like the Tea Party, homeschool groups and pro-life America to distribute the handout and to pray the covenant on July 4th.”

“Pastors know that a national covenant with God brings God’s blessings, including God’s presence, protection and economic prosperity,” adds Pastor Steven Andrew. The Bible shows us King Asa called the people to affirm their covenant with God and God blessed them (2 Chronicles 15).

I won’t quote the prayer he thinks everyone needs to say this very second to make sure this really works.

They can do what they want, of course. Free country, freedom of speech and all that stuff. Never mind that the Founding Fathers also had some kind of separation of church and state thing in mind when they planned things out. Creationists want to claim it’s a myth, funny enough, but I think it’s fair to state that the writings speak for the men themselves.

I feel compelled to quote Thomas Paine from his book, Age of Reason, via rationalrevolution:

“Of all the systems of religion that ever were invented, there is none more derogatory to the Almighty, more unedifying to man, more repugnant to reason, and more contradictory in itself, than this thing called Christianity.”

He was a deist and of the opinion that belief in a god, however defined, should be enough for anyone. Creating religions and myths to fill them with was a waste of time and energy and brain power.

As far as belief in gods goes, if people want to believe, I don’t really care that much. I think opposite, is all. Belief in a god isn’t the problem; it’s what people do because of the belief that gets problematic. If believers would just stop at “I believe” instead of adding, “and so should you or you’ll go to hell and burn for eternity,” I think we’d all be better off.

I’ll quote from rationalrevolution again:

The Declaration of Independence would have been clearly recognizable as deistic at the time it was written. The Declaration did not, for example, state: “In the name of The Lord God Jesus Christ,” as would have been a much more traditional reference to the Christian God in a manner that was used by Europeans at the time. The Declaration was written during the height of the Enlightenment when Deism was popular and widely known. Deistic language was easy to recognize by people of the time because Deists avoided all of the traditional references to the Christian God.

Pastors like Steven Andrew deliberately ignore that distinction in order to sell their ideology to the masses. All that tea party crap, all the “America’s a Christian Nation!” garbage.. it’s all deliberate misrepresentation of history in order to promote a specifically Christian-themed future for the country and its people. If they have to rewrite history in order to “prove” it, that should be more than enough evidence that they have no legs to stand on in the first place.


Read a book about sex and the bible

May 18, 2011

It’s called Unprotected Texts: the Bible’s surprising contradictions about sex and desire by Jennifer Wright Knust. She covers a lot of ground in a relatively short book. I dog-earred many pages of it so I’d remember specific things that were interesting or downright hilarious. I had a lot to choose from, like:

- She notes the conflict in Genesis regarding two creation stories, “two seemingly immutable principles: in sexual intercourse, men and women seek to reunite the flesh they once shared, and, in marriage, women neccessarily accept subordination, which is rooted in their desire for husbands.” (p.49) Desire is a big, big problem all over the bible, apparently and should be avoided whenever possible.

- The adam, the creature made by God may have started life as androgynous as an angel, not male or female but both. God split the being, resulting in two incomplete forms that seek to reunite and even Paul thought we’d get those kinds of proper bodies back in heaven. “Among later Christians, the separation of the two genders was sometimes interpreted as the moment death and sorrow entered the world.”(p.52)

- Genesis is a creation myth that holds a lot in common with the Babylonian Epic of Gilgamesh (they both feature snakes and a trick with some fruit, for one thing) and Atrahasis (where humanity’s created specifically to till the created land, something Adam is told he’ll have to do “by the sweat of his brow”). The writers of Genesis also thought it was important to highlight agriculture and its connection to raising families. People and the land all have to be fertile to make it work, and work it is. (p54) She also notes that the Israelites back then were trying to live on land not ideally suited for agriculture. The mountainous steppes required terracing and and knowledge of water conservation techniques to make the most of it. Not an easy task at all.

- Jesus has conflicting lessons about love and relationships. He bought into the heaven/androgyny theory and appears to be against divorce (in Mark at least) because marriage “anticipates the ressurection to come” so “the additional mixing of one flesh with another could not be tolerated.” (p70-71) You can get a different answer in every gospel, judging by the table she provides a few pages later. (In Matthew, for example, divorce is cool so long as it’s the woman’s fault for why you want one. Remarriage is still a no-no for all parties.)

- Paul believed single people shouldn’t even bother getting married. He believed time was getting short anyway and they all should want relationships with God more and that the desiring of flesh was evidence of “the depravity of the world.” New bodies were soon to be available in heaven, bodies free of all desires of the flesh. (92)

- She notes the cultural similarities that existed between the Canaanites and Israelites. Always thought to be complete enemies of each other based on scripture (i.e. Joshua) and usually with the Canaanites being sexual deviants of some kind, it’s not a theory that bears fruit historically or archeologically. They were all neighbours who mingled lifestyles and belief sets for generations – including the times when it was okay to think Yhwh had a consort named Asherah. She was a goddess native to Israel at the time, and so was Baal. The writers of Judges remarked on the fact that not everyone thought Yhwh was the only one worth worshiping. Of course, they thought it was akin to prostitution, this throwing one’s self at other gods and all. Disgusting. (136-38)

- Chapter 5 is devoted to the sins of angel lust. I didn’t know that the idea of speaking in tongues was to talk like angels, hence the reason women had to cover their heads in church. If they didn’t, then angels might desire them and bring about another reason for God to flood the earth. The “sons of God” that got it on with the “daughters of men” created the Nephilim, the Watchers that supposedly taught evil and wickedness to humanity.

- Chapter 5 also touches on Sodom and the idea that desiring “strange flesh” is the big worry. It’s less about man on man sex and more about wanting to screw foreigners (angels included). It’s about keeping a race pure. If you intermarry, then you’re wasting seed and polluting the blood of your ancestors. You are honour-bound to put travelers up for the night (in the days when hotels were non-existent) but don’t you dare want carnal relationships with them.

- There used to be a Cult of the Holy Foreskin (a whole swath of the book is devoted to the history of circumcision also) where the relic in question came to be in the hands of Charlemagne, along with parts of Christ’s umbilical cord, supposedly delivered to him by the Saviour himself. “Now preserved in at the Abbey of Charroux, as well as in other locations, the foreskin became an object of veneration too precious to deny.” (215) and the reason why later Christians were encouraged to not bother with circumcision had to do with a belief that Christ let himself go through that agony so nobody else would have to anymore. He did you boys a favour, see… But the debates about the need to cut bits off are still there in the bible for anyone who wants to read them.

Last thing, a quote from the very end of the book (p.247):

Anyone who would use God and the Bible to deny touch, love, and affection to others has failed to present a valuable interpretation, not only of the Bible but also of what it means to be human, whether or not some biblical passage somewhere can be found to support their claims. Those who attempt to belittle or demean a class of people, denying them rights on the basis of an unexamined interpretation of a few biblical passages, are expressing not God’s will but their own limited human perspective, backed up by a shallow and self-serving reading of the biblical text.

The bible is a set of stories best enjoyed with an awareness of context. What laws and rules were in place for those people at that time? What was acceptable behaviour and what wasn’t? How did people treat women? How did women handle the punishments and low status they often held? What did people do to get around restrictions and have a bit of fun? It’s important to understand the cultural history that led to these ideas getting written in books in the first place.


“I love cannibals!” I mean, Catholics…

April 29, 2011

Eat of my body, drink of my blood… The whole mass tradition winds up sounding kind of creepy. Cannibalism has an interesting history though and remains a fascinating intellectual exercise. For some other time, though.

When Catholics aren’t symbolically eating Jesus, they’re revering pope blood. John Paul II is on the fast track to beatification and part of getting him there has justified hanging onto his blood “donations.” They will be used as part of the ceremony and then kept among the collections of holy relics the Church already covets around the world.

The Vatican made the announcement Tuesday, putting to rest questions about what relic would be presented during Sunday’s beatification.

In a statement, the Vatican said four small vials of blood had been taken from John Paul during his final days for a possible transfusion, but were never used. Two of the vials were given to John Paul’s private secretary, Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, and another two remained at the Vatican’s Bambin Gesu hospital in the care of nuns.

One of the hospital vials will be placed in a reliquary and presented Sunday; the other will remain with the nuns.

I wondered if there were other blood relics anywhere and found one at the basilica Saint-Basilius, AKA The Holy Blood of Bruges (in Bruges, naturally) where the faithful can gaze upon and venerate the relic every Friday.

According to the old tradition, Derrick of Alsace, Count of Flanders, brought the relic of the Holy Blood with him after the second crusade, having received it in the Holy Land (1150).

Because of his exceptional heroism during this crusade, Derrick received this relic, with the approval of the patriarch of Jerusalem, from the hands of his brother-in-law, Baldwin III of Anjou, King of Jerusalem.

Arriving in Bruges on april 7th 1150, Count Derrick, accompanied by his wife Sybilla of Anjou and Leonius, abbot of Saint Bertin’s abbey of Saint Omar, brought the relic to the Basilius chapel on the Burg, a chapel which he himself had built.

According to legend, some Templars had found a stone jar in the “Holy Grave” in Jerusalem on Christmas day and became convinced it held Christ’s blood. It held a liquid of some kind, for certain, which they poured into an octagonal bottle they had on hand and sealed the liquid inside it.

Sybilla of Anjou was a leper who suffered from terrible attacks of fever. After the sealing of the bottle, she held the precious Relic in her hands for just a moment, triggering in her a vision of “a New Jerusalem of the West”: the city of Bruges. In the same moment Sybilla and all lepers surrounding here had been miraculously cured.

If you can’t get to Bruges, there’s always the option to buy something that supposedly touched the blood itself, a bargain at ten dollars.

We will send you this very special package. Inside you will find a very special piece of material that has been touched to this rare Holy Blood relic that was preserved by Joseph of Arimathea.

Your package will come with a piece of material in a package that was touched to an authentic piece of Joseph of Arimathea’s cloth, certificate of authenticity, a history sheet, and a Holy Relic card.

And if this doesn’t interest you, they also sell tea.


New bodies await us in heaven? How could Billy Graham know that?

April 28, 2011

Here’s the question this time around:

I’m confused, because on Easter our pastor said that not only will our souls go to be with God, but we’ll also be given new bodies in heaven. Is this in the Bible? Why would we need new bodies there? — C.D.

I had to look this up because it’s an odd concept. What heavenly reason would there to have a corporeal form there? After death, isn’t the soul supposedly all that’s left? Would these bodies have to eat or sleep or anything? How can anyone even state as a fact that we’d get a new one?

A quick Google netted me a list of bible verses somebody put together “proving” this is the case.

Although we do not know exactly what our new bodies will be like, we know that they will be like Jesus. 1 John 3:2-3

Which one, the one on the pizza or the chewing gum?

According to the list, those who believe this bunk can look forward to being incorruptible, glorified, spiritual, eternal and powerful. Is it fair to say these people want to die so they can become gods in their own image?

We should earnestly desire to be clothed in our heavenly bodies. 2 Co 5:1-5

We should be confident and walk by faith not by sight, knowing that while we are at home in this body, we are absent from the Lord. 2 Co 5:6-7

Therefore, we should make it our goal to please God. 2 Co 5:6-11

We should eagerly wait with perseverance for the redemption of our bodies, even though we cannot see them now. Ro 8:23-25

We should seek insight and desire to lead others to God so that they, too, can be partake in God’s righteousness. Dan 12:2-3

We should keep our focus on the better resurrection – even to the point of receiving torture. Heb 11:35

We should be ready to suffer for Christ. Ro 8:16-20

The last three are the most alarming and troubling. I think these people are working under a delusion and encouraging more people to buy into it with them will cause nothing but trouble.

Graham’s response to this letter is to remind people that Adam and Eve were tempted by Satan into being sinful and punished them with death. It’s worth pointing out, however, that Adam supposedly lived to the ripe old age of 930 (Genesis 5:5) so God must have really punished him with life. Since all we are supposed to want is death and resurrection by his side forever, making Adam wait so long for that “gift” was particularly cruel and very much in line with the vengeful behaviour of the Old Testament God in general. Assuming those early Hebrews actually thought that was the life that awaited them after death. Did they? I know they had the concept of Sheol, a world of the dead, but their early idea of heaven doesn’t look like it has anything to do with the way Christians later defined it as a reward for service.

According to Graham, we have to have bodies in heaven to better serve Jesus (Revelation 22:3). What, I ask you, would we have to serve Jesus, a cookie? A volleyball? What possible needs would he have? He walked (Lk 24:15-16) so he can get up off his ass and get his own damn cookie.

So much explaining winds up going into these stories of the afterlife, but what’s the motivation to having them in the first place, to impress? To reassure? To make people who’ve never had a good life feel more relieved that it’s finally over? What about all the people who already lived a life of servitude and learn more of that is their reward for it? Thanks for all the good work, now do more and be happy to do it? Living to serve sounds bad enough, but now you don’t even get a break when you’re dead.

Craziness.


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