Today’s found on Facebook – Matthew McConaughey’s thoughts on religion

June 23, 2016

He has a new movie out (Free State of Jones) where he plays Newton Knight, a Confederate soldier who rebelled against the Confederacy. The Daily Beast provides this quote from the actor talking about the film and explaining what he thinks is wrong with America (and everything else):

“It is my personal belief that mankind has bastardized religion,” he says. “Religion actually means, if you look up the Latin root, ‘re’ which means again, and ‘ligare,’ which means to bind together. It means exactly the opposite of what and how we are often practicing it these days!

“All of this, the abolition of slavery in the Civil War at this time, they were almost all led by religious movements—Christian movements—that were trumping the ideals that everyone else had. They went further into it and said, ‘No, this is not right—because of the Bible.’”

Sigh. First, we’ll sort out the etymology of “religion” – turns out a few different thoughts on its origin are around. Related to monastic vows, belief in divine power, piety, respect for the sacred, etc…

However, popular etymology among the later ancients (Servius, Lactantius, Augustine) and the interpretation of many modern writers connects it with religare “to bind fast” (see rely), via notion of “place an obligation on,” or “bond between humans and gods.” In that case, the re- would be intensive. Another possible origin is religiens “careful,” opposite of negligens. In English, meaning “particular system of faith” is recorded from c. 1300; sense of “recognition of and allegiance in manner of life (perceived as justly due) to a higher, unseen power or powers” is from 1530s.

So, I’ll just throw a minor correction at Mr. McConaughey: mankind invented the idea of religion and, as evidenced by its changing definition, people have been changing their minds for centuries on what it means on a personal level and what it means culturally. It stands for different things at different points of history.

Much the same way as people for all of written history have reinterpreted the Bible and rewritten the so called Word of God for “modern” audiences. Tyndale Archive lists a shit ton more than a hundred of the ones in English alone. Old souls love to stick to the King James (1611) but I know the New International Version (1978) is also commonly quoted.

I love how he’s pointing to the Bible as the reason Newton decided to go against his compatriots and for the reason people aboloshed slavery. Have you read a Bible lately, Mr. McConaughey? Or thought to Google how often slavery is condoned and encouraged in there? The guys who wanted slaves could also point to the Bible as proof they were right to be White and continue to mistreat anyone who wasn’t. A couple easy finds right here:

Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ. (Peter 2:18:)

However, you may purchase male or female slaves from among the foreigners who live among you. You may also purchase the children of such resident foreigners, including those who have been born in your land. You may treat them as your property, passing them on to your children as a permanent inheritance. You may treat your slaves like this, but the people of Israel, your relatives, must never be treated this way. (Leviticus 25:44-46)

It’s called cherry picking, and everyone can use it to point to the Bible and claim they’re correct in whatever manner of thinking they feel is correct, all because they found a line or two in one of the books they happen to agree with.

The Smithsonian has a great article explaining the history of Knight and how the film got made, and what people around Jones County have to say about this man and this bit of local history. Sounds like his descendants are still struggling under his name and legacy. At least, the black ones.

Dorothy Knight Marsh and Florence Knight Blaylock are the great-granddaughters of Newt and Rachel. After many decades of living in the outside world, they are back in Soso, Mississippi, dealing with prejudice from all directions. The worst of it comes from within their extended family. “We have close relatives who won’t even look at us,” says Blaylock, the older sister, who was often taken for Mexican when she lived in California.

Both women appear in the film in a courthouse scene.

This is probably not a movie I’ll watch. I’m not much for historical drama. I will be listening to The Dollop later today, though, because they have a piece on this guy and if it’s anything like what they did for the story of Hugh Glass from The Revenant, it will be terrific.


Today’s found on Facebook — bare bum spanks for God?

June 4, 2016

Via Rawstory we learn of a Little League coach taking dubious advice from a Bible-based child-rearing book. Jonathan Shawn Russell was in court in North Carolina accused of spanking his players, ages 8 and 9 at the time. The book’s called Shepherding a Child’s Heart, written by Pastor Tedd Tripp and:

He read a passage from the book aloud on the stand that said, “If you fail to spank, you don’t take God seriously and don’t love your child enough.”

One of the children told his mother he was spanked for saying “dang it.”

He also admitted to spanking his own kids, but that’s not the issue here.

Arrest warrants obtained by the paper [Citizen Times] say he was accused of “pulling down child victim’s pants and his underwear and spanking him on his buttocks multiple times with his hands.”

The assaults happened in 2014 and 2015.

He gets 60 days in jail for this and 18 months probation prohibiting him from being alone with any children for any reason under the age of 18.

I wonder if this goes for time with his kids, too. Seems like it should.

From the original article:

When Russell took the stand, he told the families of those he abused he was wrong after allegations surfaced and was charged by authorities.

“I recognized the misapplication in the sense that these weren’t my children and this wasn’t my place,” he said. “I never tried to hide it from their parents, but I didn’t have their permission either.

“I’m sorry,” he continued. “I want to seek forgiveness … I understand the affect it has had on everyone and from the bottom of my heart I did not mean to do any damage.”

Russell’s actions would not have been illegal had he been given permission for the spankings by parents of the boys, Newman said.

Alarming last sentence there.


Christian metal band loses singer to atheism

May 28, 2016

I’m snagging this from United Humanists where they’ve posted the story of Shannon Low who’d been in a metalcore band called The Order of Elijah.

In his younger days he’d gone through the drug and sex problems that are common in the music industry. He’d been religiously keen in his youth, though, and soon found himself pulled back into the church life as a way to deal with these personal problems. That’s when the band started. That’s also when he started to think more deeply about what the Bible brings to the table in terms of ideas and themes but questioning Old Testament God’s use of violence was a no-no where his peers were concerned. “Jesus condoned parts of the OT, therefore it’s all okay” seemed to the rationale they were going with. Not Low.

Low credits Richard Dawkins’ book The God Delusion for helping him figure things out.

It answered so many questions that my Christian friends would literally get furious for me to even address,” Low stated. “Sometimes I would lose Christian friends by simply pondering certain questions. I would see these same Christians publicly calling my other friends ‘abominations’ for being gay.”

Low then asserted that if God’s message was so important, it shouldn’t be filled with “contradictions.”

“Why allow his message to be spread by fallible humans and sit by idly while falsehoods are spread in his name?” Low asked. “Why sentence [two-thirds] of the world to Hell for being born in the wrong culture? I’d think a perfect God would never need to correct His Word if our literal souls depended on it.”

It wasn’t an easy or quick transition from belief to unbelief, but he got there. Well done.


“God loves sex,” according to new Church billboard

September 2, 2014

This is a case of a billboard doing what a billboard is supposed to do: drum up business. In this case, the business is a church, and the choice to add sex into the mix is a good way to get the public and the media into a frenzy talking about it. That link has since died but I already quoted parts of it:

A non-denominational church in Wilkes-Barre put up the billboard and it is already doing what it was intended to do: attract attention, mainly because it says that God loves sex.

Some pastors had a plan when they ordered the design for this billboard along Route 309.

Restored Church is trying to bring in new visitors but some people driving by think this message crosses the line.

Big surprise.

Pastor Dan Nichols says his congregation of 100 has been meeting for just one year. He hopes the billboard will draw new people to the church next month when the sermons will focus on sex in the bible’s Song of Solomon.

“If the culture can be so bold, I think the church can be so bold and speak directly on the subject and be up front about it.”

I don’t know a ton about the bible, but I know that the Song of Solomon is one of the most beautiful and poetic books the bible has to offer. I also know that there’s a theory about the Song of Songs – that it’s an allegory to Israel and its people who (at the time of writing the book) were encouraged to not turn their back on the country and all it had to offer.

Jewish interpreters, as represented by the Targum of the book (ca. seventh century a.d.), thought that the lover of the Song was Yahweh and the beloved Israel. Thus, when the woman pleads with the king to take her into his chamber (1:4), this has nothing to do with human lovemaking but rather describes the exodus from Egypt, God’s bedroom being the land of Palestine.

Early Christian interpreters also desexed the Song in this way, but, of course, identified the main characters with Jesus Christ and the church and/or the individual Christians. Hippolytus (ca. a.d. 200) was the first known Christian to allegorize the Song. From fragments of his commentary we learn that he takes the statement in 1:4 to mean that Christ has brought the worthy ones whom he has wedded into the church.

The Targum and Hippolytus are just examples of an interpretive tendency that was dominant from early times until the nineteenth century and still is occasionally found today.

Some biblical scholars (like the one who wrote this article) poo-pooh both allegorical takes on the tale but admit they may still have relevance.

When read in the context of the canon as a whole, the book forcefully communicates the intensely intimate relationship that Israel enjoys with God. In many Old Testament Scriptures, marriage is an underlying metaphor for Israel’s relationship with God. Unfortunately, due to Israel’s lack of trust, the metaphor often appears in a negative context, and Israel is pictured as a whore in its relationship with God ( Jer 2:20 ; 3:1 ; Eze 16,23). One of the most memorable scenes in the Old Testament is when God commands his prophet Hosea to marry a prostitute to symbolize his love for a faithless Israel.

I wonder how often that may come up during a bible study.

Oftentimes, the bible is a book on par with so many others in terms of the sheer number of attempts made to understand it and keep it relevant to today’s audiences.

I very much enjoyed the annotated version of Oscar Wilde’s classic, The Picture of Dorian Gray. It was so much easier for me to enjoy the tale by having the details about his history, the characters, his influences (people and art) and other factors that led up to the publishing of the story. I didn’t get a similar effect from the annotated Huck Finn, but I didn’t like that book as much, either.

Websites and books that try to sort out biblical tales based on the history of the people and the places at the time are always of enormous interest to me. It shows that people are willing to look into the stories, not just take them all at face value. I can’t help but wonder, though, how often this deep research leads people closer to atheism rather than cementing their faith in scripture as the inerrant word of god. I’m probably not the only one to wonder about this.

I think the bible makes for an interesting piece of history. I don’t see a point in living by it, necessarily, but I see how laws common to some of the books are still relevant for any society that hopes to prosper in this world and move forward. Other parts of it are evidence (to me at least) of a gross misunderstanding in how the world works and operates and how it came to be.

Continuing to hold as truth anything that contradicts current scientific thought is baffling and ludicrous to me. Admit for once that the book is flawed due to its age and be willing to adapt to current understanding about life, the universe and everything. There doesn’t have to be a schism here. There are still good ideas in the book at large, but when the book clashes with current thought processes, please don’t automatically assume the book is right and the prevailing culture is wrong.

The only way we can really flourish as a society is if we are willing to change. The book can’t change that much, but its readers can choose to change at any time.


The most important question ever asked: How long was Jesus’ hair?

September 1, 2014

I wave my hands up in the air
How long was Jesus’ hair?
I wave my hands up in the air
and wonder just who would care!

How long was Jesus’ hair?
Could he braid it down his back?
How long was Jesus’ hair?
Was it blond or was it black?

I wave my hands up in the air
How long was Jesus’ hair…

I could go on, but I’m laughing too much as it is. Does it look like I have a future as a rapper? I think so. Maybe the Man can throw some music onto that and we can record it for release on this blog. I’ll ask him. Oh dear, that’s some funny.. I throw my hands up.. Oh my. I’d want video, but we’re not equipped here.

Until then, watch this one (I can’t find a better sound quality version):

(The library does not have the film version of Hair. Damn it all to Hades!)

Anywho, this article:

The apostle Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians offers an insightful commentary into the Jewish attitude of men’s hair. It notes, “Does not nature itself teach you that if a man wears long hair it is a disgrace for him?” Paul’s argument is that men were not to be known for hair that looked like that of women. While this does not indicate the length of Jesus’ hair, it does reveal that He likely had hair shorter than Jewish females of the time. Though some exceptions are found in the Bible of men with long hair (such as Samson and John the Baptist), most Jewish men kept shorter hair to distinguish themselves from women as well as for practical purposes.

Samson’s story is one I can say I’m slightly familiar with. His hair gave him strength for some reason. God magic, essentially. He falls in love with Delilah and all would have been well but the leader of the Philistines wanted to know his secret and insisted Delilah find out so they could defeat him. They bribed her with what sounds, even now, like a hell of a lot of money. Samson outwits all of them repeatedly but then at Judges 16:15,

Then she said to him, “How can you say, ‘I love you,’ when you won’t confide in me? This is the third time you have made a fool of me and haven’t told me the secret of your great strength.” 16 With such nagging she prodded him day after day until he was sick to death of it.

Damn, chick! Three different nights you set the man up to be attacked by Philistines in the bedroom and you’re pissed off because he got the better of you every time? Alas, this love bribery works on him and he confesses:

17 So he told her everything. “No razor has ever been used on my head,” he said, “because I have been a Nazirite dedicated to God from my mother’s womb. If my head were shaved, my strength would leave me, and I would become as weak as any other man.”

So, she tells the Philistines this and they slice his braids off with a razor, defeat him, and pay her all they agreed to give.

Sigh.

At that point, I don’t know who we’re supposed to root for in this story, or for what outcome specifically.

Samson get tortured, his eyes get cut out, and the Philistines put him in prison sentenced to hard labour. They promptly forget about his magic hair power and let the stuff grow, however. They continue to worship and rally around their god, Dagon, and one day call for Samson the loser to be put on display to entertain the priests and three thousand other people at the temple.

28 Then Samson prayed to the Lord, “Sovereign Lord, remember me. Please, God, strengthen me just once more, and let me with one blow get revenge on the Philistines for my two eyes.” 29 Then Samson reached toward the two central pillars on which the temple stood. Bracing himself against them, his right hand on the one and his left hand on the other, 30 Samson said, “Let me die with the Philistines!” Then he pushed with all his might, and down came the temple on the rulers and all the people in it. Thus he killed many more when he died than while he lived.

All’s well that ends dead? Revenge is a dish best served flattened and crushed? It’s the bible. What more do you expect?

Moving forward to the new testament and John the Baptist — a writer at answers.com calling himself WisdomOfSolomon notes that John was probably a Nazerite like Samson and therefore would have had long hair at the time. Details out of Luke seem to suggest that was his culture and lifestyle based on the verses indicating what he would and wouldn’t drink or eat.

Unrelated to the hair thing, but a good example of what makes bible translation so hard to do let alone get “right”:

John the Baptist’s diet has been the centre of much discussion. For many years it was traditional to interpret locust as referring to not the insect, but rather the seed pods of the carob tree. The two words are very similar, but most scholars today feel this passage is referring to the insects. Locusts are mentioned 22 other times in the Bible and all other mentions are quite clearly referring to the insect. Locusts are still commonly eaten in Arabia. Eaten either raw or roasted they are quite nutritious and a source of many vitamins. While most insects were considered unclean under Mosaic law, Leviticus 11:22 specifically states that locusts are permitted. Albright and Mann believe the attempt to portray John the Baptist as eating seed pods was concern for having such a revered figure eating insects and also a belief that a true ascetic should be completely vegetarian.[5] What is meant by honey is also disputed. While bee honey was a common food in the area at the time, Jones believes that it refers to the tree gum from that tamarisk tree, a tasteless but nutritious liquid, rather than the honey made by bees.[

Short of inventing a time machine to go back and find out if any of these people ever lived at all, the debate will rage on in the circles of those who care. Not me, overmuch, but I’m a fan of fact as much as any other skeptic. Aim to be as accurate as possible, even in terms of biblical storytelling.

So much confusion is sown by misinterpretation and misunderstanding. Aim to get it right. Do whatever research into the history of those ancient peoples might be required in order to do that. Don’t just quote the text and smile because you remembered the verse verbatim. Aim to understand the culture and history that led up to that verse getting written down anywhere at all.

Even an atheist can respect that level of commitment to a faith. I certainly do.


Think you know the bible? There’s a Bible Bee

August 18, 2014

The first one was in 2009 (I know because I wrote about it) and I see it’s still running. Ken Ham is promoting it on his blog.

August marks the start of regionals with the finalists to be head-to-head at the finals in Orlando, Florida at the end of October.

This year’s theme for the AiG ministry is “Standing our Ground, Rescuing our Kids,” based on Galatians 1:4. It’s one of the reasons we support something called the National Bible Bee in the USA.

Now, the Bible Bee is a family discipleship program—with a competition at the end of the year—for students ages 7–18. Through the summer, families will be memorizing Scripture and studying God’s Word, preparing to be tested on their general Bible knowledge. The format has changed this year. You can read about the changes at BibleBee.org.

Will do, Ken.

First, though, Galations 1:4 — “who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father” (via)

I wonder what particular evil is on the minds of organizers this year. “Standing our Ground” really puts me in mind of the shooting deaths of several Americans over the years, whether they possibly “deserved” a bullet or not. I doubt a nine year old did. Maybe the intent with the theme is something like, “Use your bible as your gun and your knowledge of verses your bullets to pierce the souls of the heretics and light them with the fire of the Lord our Jesus amen…”

At the Bible Bee website, I learn that the first round starts on August 23rd and serious money is up for grabs by the end of this event, available in cash and scholarships. (Award breakdown here.)

The site offers a multitude of study tools, all which entrants (or their parents) must pay for, in order to make memorizing the bible a lot easier and supposedly more fun. It’s still the bible, though, and at the end of this nobody’s really more educated or enlightened by memorizing entire chunks of it.

The Shelby Kennedy Foundation (also referred to as “SKF”) is the parent organization of the annual National Bible Bee. SKF sponsors the Bible Bee to help families strengthen their personal relationships with the Lord and dynamically impact the world as ambassadors of Jesus Christ. The vision for the Bible Bee is to encourage parents as they disciple their children through in-depth study of the Word of God, Scripture memorization, and prayer.

That’s from the scholarship website just mentioned. I’ll quote another article from 2012’s contest.

This year, organizers cut back on the amount of information students were required to study in preparation for local competitions. With the help of special guidebooks, parents can now effectively lead their children in their Bible Bee studies in about 20 minutes per day.

Those who qualify for nationals, however, are eventually faced with much greater intellectual challenges, including the memorization of several hundred verses of Scripture.

“The top 300, when they come here, it’s a whole different ball game. They’re the Olympians, they’re the ones that have really studied and worked hard,” said Widdoes.

It’s not intellect, it’s memorization. Two different things, isn’t it?

I Google to find a definition of intellect for proof of this. The Free Dictionary offers these:

a. The ability to learn and reason; the capacity for knowledge and understanding.
b. The ability to think abstractly or profoundly

I’ll bet a cookie that none of that is happening at a bible bee. They aren’t being asked to write essays on the cultural impact of these verses and what they mean for society as a whole or debate the value of this interpretation of a verse other another. They don’t have to show they’re learning anything while they recite a shit ton of verses. They just have to memorize them.

I highly doubt this contest results in winners being smarter, more intelligent people. This just turns kids into bible parrots. How does that really help them in life and career prospects? The Atlantic pointed out something similar during the 2010 contest.

The obvious question in all this: Just what is the implicit value of memorizing the Bible word for word? Just because a kid can spell “appoggiatura” doesn’t guarantee he or she can string together a coherent sentence; likewise, does the memorization of vast swaths of scripture actually “plant a godly heritage in the next generation”?

Not surprisingly, the Bee’s proponents have answers to these questions. LaFleur, Widdoes, and Lawrence each talk about the power of “hiding the word in your heart,” an allusion to Psalm 119:11: “I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.” Replace “heart” with “head” and you have a pretty clear idea of the theory behind the Bee.

The article also points to a part in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer where Tom cheats his way to the top of a similar contest. I never read that book. My Banned Book club read Huck Finn recently, though. Tom might need a reading now just so I can say I’ve done it.

For LaFleur, the ability to instantly summon verses makes it that much easier to live according to the Bible’s dictates. “It’s so ingrained in my heart that I can just say it. I know it without looking it up,” she says. “It becomes so much more a part of every moment of your life. As you lie down and go to sleep, whenever it’s quiet, verses will come to mind.”

Well, okay. If that’s the ultimate goal for the bulk of the participants so be it. If it somehow gives them peace at the end of a long and trying day to call up verses that sooth and stimulate them, who am I to condemn it? I think the amount of time devoted to memorizing them could be spent in so many better ways but whatever. Their lives, not mine. Their time, not mine.

Thoughts? I always ask. Don’t keep them to yourself if you’ve got ’em…


The Gospel of Barnabas and a 1500 year old bible

August 16, 2014

I’m a couple years late to this story; the original article is from 2012.

The bible had been seized in 2000 when a group of smugglers were charged with illegal evacuations, smuggling antiques and being in possession of explosives as well. A manuscript had been tucked inside the bible with gold lettering spelling out various verses. The thought at the time was that the manuscript could be anywhere from 1500 to 2000 years old. The bible sat in Ankara until 2012 before getting transferred to the Ankaran Ethnography Museum via police escort. Nobody stepped up to claim either piece. The Vatican was very interested in getting a look at it, for obvious reasons.

Experts were however divided over the provenance of the manuscript, and whether it was an original, which would render it priceless, or a fake. Other questions surround the discovery of the ancient bible, whether the smugglers had had other copies of the relic or had smuggled them from Turkey.

Let’s move forward to the article linking to the National Turk article I already quoted. This one’s from May 2014 at Higher Perspective:

This discovery turns modern Christianity on its head! This bible, dating as far back as 2,000 years, details the Gospel of Barnabas, a disciple of Jesus Christ, which shows that Jesus wasn’t actually crucified and doesn’t claim him to be the son of God, but instead a prophet. The book charges that Apostle Paul was “The Impostor.” The story is completely different. In the Book of Barnabas, Jesus wasn’t crucified, but ascended to heaven alive, and Judas Iscariot was crucified instead.

The Turk didn’t have any mention of what books were included in that old tome so I have no idea where HP found this nugget of Wow.

Barnabas is available to read at Sacred Texts but in an ugly format. The fun starts at chapter 215 where Judas is bringing the soldiers to where Jesus is. God and his angels come to collect Jesus and take him to the “third heaven” before the soldiers get there. God then gets back at Judas by transforming him to look and sound like Jesus. Judas doesn’t realize it and is in the room where he last saw Jesus. As the disciples wake, he asks where their “master” is and the disciples find that kind of hilarious since Judas is currently the spitting image. The soldiers then assume he’s Jesus and the rest of the disciples escape with their lives. In 217, Judas gets crucified instead and utters the famous line, ‘God, why hast thou forsaken me, seeing the malefactor hath escaped and I die unjustly?’

Verily I say that the voice, the face, and the person of Judas were so like to Jesus, that his disciples and believers entirely believed that he was Jesus; wherefore some departed from the doctrine of Jesus, believing that Jesus had been a false prophet, and that by art magic he had done the miracles which he did: for Jesus had said that he should not die till near the end of the world; for that at that time he should be taken away from the world.

I have to break in here to remind readers that Barnabas, “He who writeth” this version of events, should have also been tricked into thinking Judas was Jesus because no one saw the transformation occur. See how it’s foolish to think of these stories as first hand accounts of real events? Interesting as literature, though. I’d never come across this version before.

I suppose that false prophet notion is part of why Barnabas is considered a Muslim gospel in some circles. Also, nobody can conclusively determine, Christian or Muslim, whether the Barnabas book is a product of fraud or an authentic record. I suppose the jury is still out on that. Read more about Barnabas from an Islamic point of view at Answering Islam.

Back to HP:

Experts believe that during the Council of Nicea, the Catholic Church went through and hand picked the gospels that form what we know the bible to be today and omitted the Gospel of Barnabas (among others) in favor of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. These original texts surfaced over time, and this new discovery is especially worrying to the Catholic church.

Believe? I thought the hand picking was an established fact, although maybe this author meant nobody’s sure if Barnabas’ version was known of at the time of the Council and purposefully omitted by them or if it turned up years later.

Barnabas is not a new discovery, though. Sacred Texts notes that Spanish and Italian manuscripts of the book date back to the 14th century and experts uniformly agree it’s probably fraudulent. The Catholic Church is hardly shaking in their boots because of Barnabas.

As an antiquity, though, that bible is one hell of a find and it’s great that a museum was able to procure it for study. Its value is its history and whatever books are within it might illustrate very nicely how the bible itself has altered over time. It was written in a dialect of Aramaic that would have been spoken around the time Jesus supposedly lived. If people can still decipher it, that’s pretty nifty. Every translator from Hebrew to Greek to Latin to whatever you’re speaking today would have put his own spin on the text and worked hard to bring it to their audience in the most understandable and hopefully accurate way. It’d be fascinating to see a good translation of the 1500 beside an NIV or King James now and really see how it varies from how we interpret the bible today.


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