Russell Crowe to star in remake of Evan Almighty

June 18, 2012

Well, near enough, in my opinion. He’s part of the cast for a completely unnecessary retelling of Noah’s Ark:

As well as Crowe in the lead role, Aronofksy’s film boasts Logan Lerman, Douglas Booth and Emma Watson. Furthermore, Deadline suggests Jennifer Connelly may be in line to play Noah’s wife in what would be a repeat of the casting for the Oscar-winning A Beautiful Mind. John Logan, who co-wrote Gladiator, was reported in February to have rescripted a draft screenplay originally penned by Aronofsky and Ari Handel. Deadline does not offer a name for the Winstone character, described as Noah’s nemesis. Liam Neeson, Liev Schreiber and Val Kilmer had previously been linked to the role, but Aronofsky reportedly wanted an actor “with the grit and size to be convincing as he goes head-to-head against Crowe’s Noah character”.

Part of me sees it getting filmed like an even bigger CG version of A Perfect Storm. I wonder what version of the story they’ll tell, too.

In Genesis 6, God tells Noah to bring two of all living creatures including (as is logical) several of all birds. The King James translation makes it slightly more flowery, but the meaning “two of each” is still clear.

“You are to bring into the ark two of all living creatures, male and female, to keep them alive with you. Two of every kind of bird, of every kind of animal and of every kind of creature that moves along the ground will come to you to be kept alive.”

—Genesis 6:19-20[1]

In the next chapter, Genesis 7, God directly contradicts himself. Instead of two of every animal, male and female, God tells Noah to bring seven of every clean animal – although this is also read by many as seven pairs. How can one bring seven of some animals if he is already only bringing two of all animals? Genesis 7 also contradicts God’s statement in the previous book by stating that instead of two of all birds, seven of all birds were to be brought.

“Take with you seven of every kind of clean animal, a male and its mate, and two of every kind of unclean animal, a male and its mate, and also seven of every kind of bird, male and female, to keep their various kinds alive throughout the earth.”

I suspect it’s another example of the contradictions that befell Genesis. Different cultures were telling different versions of origin stories and rather than pick one version as right and drop the rest, the bible builders opted to hang onto all of them. Story telling was important as there was no way to pass on one’s history otherwise. These days (nearly) everyone learns to read and write and books are plentiful. In bible days? So not the case.

Well anyway, I’ll add it to the list of films I will probably never watch.


Old bones equal proof the bible is true!

June 16, 2012

At least, as far as Fox News is concerned. Here’s their headline: Mysterious bones may belong to John the Baptist

There’s no way to be sure, of course, as there are no confirmed pieces of John the Baptist to compare to the fragments of bone. But the sarcophagus holding the bones was found near a second box bearing the name of St. John and his feast date (also called a holy day) of June 24. Now, new radiocarbon dating of the collagen in one of the bones pegs its age to the early first century, consistent with the New Testament and Jewish histories of John the Baptist’s life.

What if the box was just owned or built by the dead guy and some family member thought it’d be nice to put it in with him? Isn’t that a more likely scenario than claiming we “just happened” to find John the Baptist? What a miracle! I’m thinking not.

“We got some dates that are very interesting indeed,” study researcher Thomas Higham of the University of Oxford told LiveScience. “They suggest that the human bone is all from the same person, it’s from a male, and it has a very high likelihood of an origin in the Near East,” or Middle East where John the Baptist would have lived.

Him, and how many thousands of other people?

Historical research by Oxford professor Georges Kazan suggests that relics supposedly from John the Baptist were on the move out of Jerusalem by the fourth century. Many of these artifacts were shuttled through the ancient city of Constantinople and may well have been gifted to the Sveti Ivan monastery from there.

None of this proves that the bones belonged to a historical figure named John the Baptist, but researchers haven’t been able to rule out the possibility, Higham said. Their study has not yet been published in a peer-reviewed journal, but a program detailing the research will be aired on the United Kingdom National Geographic Channel on Sunday (June 17). National Geographic funded the research.

So this is not Fox’s fault? I thought National Geographic put more emphasis on facts over sensationalism but maybe I’ve been living under a rock or something. I’m already aware that The History Channel offers up Pawn Stars and American Pickers. And it looks like the Learning Channel long since gave up on teaching people anything useful. Toddlers and Tiaras? Say Yes to the Dress? 19 Kids and Counting? Give me a break. And I see NatGeo offers up its own share of WTF TV, too. It’s all a ratings game, I guess.


Linkskrieg! (First pass)

June 7, 2012

It’s occurred to me that I’ve collected far more links than I have time to write about, so here’s a batch of things I did want to bring up at some point but never did. I may flesh out some of these at some point, though. Time will tell.

1. The Codex Gigas:

Lore behind the codex suggests the book was the effort of one monk’s labor in a single night. After breaking the rules of the monastery, he’d been sentenced to a slow death – he’d be walled up in a room of bricks. The night before his sentence would be executed, the monk decided to write his last work, an evil book written on animal skins. He realized that finishing the book before imprisonment would be impossible, so he made a Faustian deal at midnight with Lucifer to finish the book, with the devil signing the document by painting a portrait of himself on the 290th leaf.

2. A pastor’s controversial book on sex:

The book was written by Driscoll and his wife, Grace, to, in Mark’s words, “compel married couples to have important conversations about important things.”

In the first half of the book, the Driscolls discuss their own sexual issues using the lessons they learned to discuss how to reignite a marriage whose flame may have gone out. The book’s second half, which is getting most of the negative attention, discusses sex in detail.

In response, religious scholars and writers have blasted the Driscolls’ work on a number of grounds ranging from the logistical to the biblical.

3. Apocalypse tourism:

The Mexican government is expecting 52 million tourists to visit the five regions — Chiapas, Yucatan, Quintana Roo, Tabasco and Campeche, over the next 12 months, says the Latin American Herald Tribune.

According to goverment reports, the boom is part of Mexican President Felipe Calderon’s tourism campaign: “Mundo Maya 2012,” to promote Mexico as a unique destination.

4. Ancient document claims dozens visited Jesus, not just three:

The translation of the mysterious ‘Revelation of the Magi’ describes how the three wise men actually numbered over a dozen and came from a faraway land, possibly China.

(Since the bible never specifies how many wise men visited, I don’t see this as news, personally. Straight Dope dealt with this years ago.)

5. “Miracle” survival of a kid with flesh eating disease:

The pope on Monday signed a decree authenticating the miracle, clearing the way for Tekakwitha to be canonized as America’s first Roman Catholic indigenous saint.

“There is no doubt in me or my husband’s mind that a miracle definitely took place,” Jake’s mother, Elsa Finkbonner, told msnbc.com on Tuesday. “There were far too many things that could have and should have gone wrong with his illness. The doctors went through every avenue they could to save his life and he survived. It’s a miracle that all of the other things that could have gone wrong, didn’t.”

6. Utah’s festive season vs atheist billboards:

“We’re glad to share the Christmas season with Christians, but they have stolen Christmas, and it is not the birthday of Jesus,” said Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-president of the Wisconsin-based organization. “It’s a natural event, the winter solstice. … The shortest day of the year has been celebrated for millennia in the Northern Hemisphere with decorations and lights and celebrations. We just think it’s important to celebrate reason and celebrate reality.”

She added that the foundation has heard there’s a feeling of claustrophobia among non-Mormons and nonbelievers in Salt Lake City. “There’s a great dominance there, so we want to be there, too.”

7. Evidence from Dead Sea dirt may verify some bible tales:

Ben-Avraham, head of the Minerva Dead Sea Research Center at Tel Aviv University in Israel, noted that this is important because, when it comes to earthquakes, the last century in the Middle East was unusually quiet.

“People don’t take this into consideration,” Ben-Avraham said, “but we have mighty earthquakes.”

Looking farther back, one of the seismically active eras revealed by the core samples appears to have been about 4,000 years ago, he said.

“If you believe the biblical chronology, this is roughly [the time of] Sodom and Gomorrah,” he said. During this period, according to the Book of Genesis, God “rained fire and brimstone from heaven, and destroyed all.”

8. British PM and Dawkins disagree on need for faith schools:

David Cameron has said atheist campaigner Richard Dawkins “just doesn’t really get it” on the issue of faith schools.

The Prime Minister made the comments as he answered questions from well-known figures for a Guardian newspaper article. Mr Cameron said he thinks faith schools are “very often good schools” and he noted that the church had provided “good schools long before the state got involved”.

Dawkins would rather see more schools promoting secularism and critical thinking instead of traditions and indoctrination.


Pride week is not far away

May 7, 2012

But I found this now and don’t want to forget to post it. I found out about it via recordnet.com and their article about North Carolina’s gay marriage issue.

One hopes that plea is heeded. Vines’ speech is long – a little over an hour – but well worth the time, particularly for those seeking to reconcile first-century faith with 21st-century social concerns.

Many in North Carolina – many around the country – are swimming against the tide of human freedom and blaming God for it. Again, this is not a new thing. We saw it back when God was for segregation and against women’s suffrage.

How convenient it must be to lay your own narrowness and smallness off on God, to accept no responsibility for the niggardly nature of your own soul. Vines’ video is a welcome, overdue and eloquent rebuke of the moral and intellectual laziness of throwing rocks, then hiding inside Scripture. It is a reminder, too.


Creationist propaganda matters more than education in Kentucky

January 25, 2012

Based on were they want their money spent, at any rate. From Forbes:

In one of the most spectacularly mis-prioritized state budgets in recent memory, Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear (D), is suggesting over $50 million in cuts to education – while preserving $43 million in tax breaks for the Ark Encounter, a creationist amusement park centered around a life-sized Noah’s Ark. The park is sponsored by Answers In Genesis, a non-profit organization that promotes a “literalist” interpretation of the Book of Genesis while promoting an anti-evolution (and other sciences) agenda.

There are a number of reasons why this is a bad idea.

Oh my non-existent god, are there ever. The author, Alex Knapp, hit on a few. Cuts to education only work if previous work has been done to reform the system first so standards can still be met even with less funding. Apparently that’s not the case here. Plus, the park is a luxury more than it is a necessity.

in a time of austerity, surely it makes most sense to eliminate wasteful subsidies first, rather than essential public services. Especially subsidies that are of dubious value to begin with, whether its this “Ark Park” or a football stadium.

I add a link because I didn’t know what he meant. Austerity is an economics term, a policy intended for cutting spending and increasing taxes in order to decrease debt. Public services often face cuts when governments go this route and education falls under that, unfortunately.

I agree on the “dubious value” of a creationist theme park (anywhere, not just Kentucky), but I suppose Kentucky is assuming the tourism dollars will make it worthwhile? Knapp notes that the move to give them a tax break is close to crossing a line – maintaining separation of church and state. P.Z. Meyers notes that a further $11 million is going toward infrastructure: “highway improvements for the Ark Park” itself. Hopefully properties other than the Ark Park benefit from that little windfall. That cash isn’t going towards their personal driveway and parking lot, right? Right?

Quoting Friendly Atheist now because he’s so succinct:

In summary, Governor Beshear has basically used $54,000,000 of taxpayer money to help the Biblical Ark Park. And he took $50,000,000 away from the education budget.

In other words, the Governor just took away $100,000,000 that could have gone toward educating people.

There’s no real education to be found at Ark Encounter. Mythology treated as fact is
what they offer. Mythology as entertainment is one thing, and probably a fun thing, but this gets sold as if it’s more true than anything science has taught humanity about our origins and existence. Add to that a government essentially encouraging this business to continue unabated and it equals a very serious problem for the future. It’s a pity education has to take a hit just so this junk heap can stay afloat.


Pagan mom casts spell on bible takers

January 20, 2012

Not quite, but I found at article at Fox News yesterday about a school in South Carolina that received some bibles from a well-meaning group most will know by name: Gideons International. The “sacred books” were dropped at the school office for any kid who wanted one. Ginger Strivelli’s 12 year old son wanted one, apparently, but being pagan and a practicing witch, she found this troublesome. After talking it over with school officials, they stated that anyone could donate their religious texts to the school. Strivelli chose to test that by bringing some spells books to the school. She was turned away.

“Buncombe County School officials are currently reviewing relevant policies and practices with school board attorneys,” the district announced in a written statement. “During this review period, no school in the system will be accepting donations of materials that could be viewed as advocating a particular religion or belief.”

The school board is expected to address the issue at its next meeting Feb. 2. According to legal experts, the First Amendment gives public schools two clear choices when it comes to the distribution of religious texts.

“You can either open your public school up to all religious material, or you can say no religious material,” Michael Broyde, a professor and senior fellow at Emory University’s Center for the Study of Law and Religion said. “You can’t say, ‘You can distribute religious material, but only from the good mainstream faiths.’”

Of course, Fox quotes the ones beaking about the country “being founded on Judeo-Christian principles” like that’s going to put the foot down and stop the argument in its tracks. But at least they don’t stop there.

While many Weaverville Christians see recent events as a threat to tradition, others see a purpose in enforcing church-state separation in public schools, because even the nation’s traditional faiths have divisions.

“Many Christians have stood up and said they agree with me too,” Strivelli said. “Because, as much as they may like the Bible, they don’t want Jehovah’s Witnesses coming in with Watch Tower (magazines) or Catholics coming in and having them pray the Rosary.”

CBC caught the story via Fox as well and set up a poll – Should schools allow the distribution of religious texts to students? 63% of people who’ve responded so far picked “No, religion has no place in schools.” They also include a link to an incident with the Gideons in Charlottetown, PEI.

Last week Arsenault received a notice from the school asking him to fill out a form if he wanted his daughter to opt out of getting a bible from The Gideons.

Arsenault called the school board.

“I’ll be held responsible for my child’s belief system, not the schools,” Arsenault told CBC News Tuesday.

“I’m not against religion, any form or fashion. We’ve got a wide variety of Bibles here. We even went as far as to spend money to buy an English version of the Qur’an, I just don’t like how the schools are getting involved in handing out these religious books.”

Especially if the school is supposed to be a public secular one instead of a separate Catholic or Protestant one. School teachers can teach kids about morality and ethics and good behaviour without trying to push the bible on them at the same time. Schools should push for a secular equality for their students, not promote one religion over others, either by design or accident. Leave that tactic to the parents.


Store bans sale of Bible. Finally.

November 27, 2011

What makes it particularly laughable, though, is the fact that it’s the Lego bible (The Brick Testament) and Sam’s Club deemed it too racy to be sold there as it was originally published. It’s since been modified to be “acceptable” for their store.

On his Web site, Smith’s Brick Testament contains a series of interpretations of sexually suggestive passages of the Bible, but in the latest book version, those sections were removed.

“I have just been informed that Sam’s Club is pulling ‘The Brick Bible’ from the shelves of all of their retail locations nationwide due to the complaints of a handful of people that it is vulgar and violent,” Smith wrote on his Facebook page on Monday. “This despite the book containing only straightforward illustrations of Bible stories using direct quotes from scripture.”

With Lego, no less. I laugh over the “vulgar and violent” line, too. It’s not like Smith’s making shit up. He’s illustrating key stories out of their most holy of holy books. Is the violence and incest somehow coming as a shock to readers? How is that possible?

In response to a request for comment from CNET, a Sam’s Club spokesperson said, “We offered the print version only of ‘The Brick Bible’ in our clubs….Sam’s Club received numerous concerns from our members and parents about the mature content in what is perceived as a children’s book. Accordingly, Sam’s Club made a business decision to discontinue sales.”

Why did customers assume it was meant for children in the first place? The bible is no way in hell a children’s book. Sure, there are a few stories in there that can be modified to tell kids and sell to parents (I had a set of Noah’s Ark bedsheets as a kid that were pretty cute) but the bulk of it is completely adult oriented and the last thing kids ought to be exposed to.

Smith said that the only complaint he’d managed to uncover himself is one post on the Sam’s Club Facebook wall contending that “The Brick Bible” [was] created by someone who doesn’t believe in God.”

Heaven forbid.

The article goes on to report that Smith’s publisher was asked by Sam’s Club to take the sexualized images out of the book before they’d go through with the purchase of 12,000 of them. Personally, I kind of wish Skyhorse Publishing had told them to go to hell but Wal-mart has too much power over companies. No one feels comfortable alienating them lest it affect future sales.

What seems possible is that those who complained to Sam’s Club about the book didn’t realize that the sexually suggestive material had been removed. Indeed, Tabitha Grace, the woman who posted about her feelings that Smith is an atheist wrote that “I came home and did some research…And would NOT recommend this as a gift for children…Please research this book if you have intentions of getting this for someone. I wanted to share this concern because it is being portrayed as something it is NOT.”

Again, why the fuck did she think it was for children? Because it was Lego? The Lego is just a gimmicky way to tell bible stories. Adult-oriented bible stories. The bible is for adults, not kids. Adults, lady. Adults. You want child-level bible stories, look for them in the Children’s section where the fluffy lambs and lions live.

Grace may not have understood that the material she was objecting to did not appear in the book version. “When I got home went straight to the Web site in hopes to see if there were more stories,” Grace wrote. “This is where it all went downhill for me. While the Web site does have a content warning on it, I feel the [paraphrasing] of the bible stories are not age appropriate and should be identified both on the Web site and the book itself.”

Maybe next time she won’t ignore the content warning. She didn’t have to check the site and put herself at risk of being offended by what was in there. She’s certainly right about needing to be careful about age-appropriateness though. Clearly she’s not mature enough to be in there…


Reader writes: “How was James Brayshaw?”

November 26, 2011

My reply: Whoops. This Man having has really cut down on my blogging time. Also it’s dark in the mornings and I’ve gotten lazy in terms of getting up early to write. None of those are good reasons to forget to write about an interesting Saskatoon Freethinker’s meetup, mind you. I’m just saying.

So yeah, James Brayshaw. I don’t know how well known he is, but he’s published three books so far on the history of the idea of Satan in Christianity/Judaism and a fourth book is planned for release next year. These are incredibly detailed volumes going back to the earliest of the Biblical writings, looking at the history of Babylonia, Persia and every other place the early storytellers and writers would have put their feet up after a long desert slog. His new one, Who’s the Devil Jesus Knew, looks at the notion of Satan throughout the New Testament. I don’t think he said what the fourth would focus on.

He’s not the only one doing research into the contextual history of the Bible but he was the one easiest for us to get, being somewhat local. He mentioned a few of his sources during his talk, specifically a book called The Origin of Satan by Elaine Pagels and earlier writers like Celsus that she quoted. (Breaks added)

What makes the Christians’ message dangerous, Celsus writes, is not that they believe in one God, but that they deviate from monotheism by their “blasphemous” belief in the devil. For all the “impious errors” the Christians commit, Celsus says, they show their greatest ignorance in “making up a being opposed to God, and calling him ‘devil,’ or, in the Hebrew language, ‘Satan.’ ” All such ideas, Celsus declares, are nothing but human inventions, sacrilegious even to repeat: “it is blasphemy … to say that the greatest God … has an adversary who constrains his capacity to do good.”

Celsus is outraged that the Christians, who claim to worship one God, “impiously divide the kingdom of God, creating a rebellion in it, as if there were opposing factions within the divine, including one that is hostile to God!”” Celsus accuses Christians of “inventing a rebellion” (stasis meaning “sedition”) in heaven to justify rebellion here on earth. He accuses them of making a “statement of rebellion” by refusing to worship the gods-but, he says, such rebellion is to be expected “of those who have cut themselves off from the rest of civilization. For in saying this, they are really projecting their own feelings onto God.”

Brayshaw explained a bit of his own history to us, coming from a Pentecostal upbringing filled with the notion of Satan’s hand in everything horrible to the place he’s at now, believing in God but arguing that Satan as a being at cosmic odds with God is strictly a human invention brought on by misinterpreting biblical writing over thousands of years like the meaning of the term Satan/sawtawn.

The bible is full of allegory and metaphor, he further explained. Storytellers the world over have loved to embellish their tales with fanciful, flowery prose because it’s a hell of a lot more interesting to listen to than a dry report of facts. One story he talked about was of the fall of the King of Tyre. It’s written about in the bible, but couched in metaphorical descriptions of a man who thought he was a god, specifically the god Venus, the one “star” that beats the sun up in the morning. Oh Lucifer (lit: light bringer, used on account of some ancient idea that Venus caused the sun to rise?) …

“How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! how art thou cut down to the ground, which didst weaken the nations!”

Isaiah 14:12 KJV

He talked about Job and his adversaries; they were most likely to be men he knew, not some ethereal being sent from God to ruin his life. He also mentioned Jesus calling out to Peter, “Get thee behind me, Satan” (Matthew 16:23). Based on his research, and the sources he used, he’s certain that calling Peter a satan, or sawtawn, was meant to be an insult, a derogatory word for a person opposed to what God wants. A chapter earlier in Matthew (15:19-20) it’s stated that the real adversary is ourselves and our thoughts. What is more likely, that God created an enemy for us, or we created our own problems by the way we think? Jeremiah 17:9 blames our hearts for it instead. Either way, it’s our own damn fault and nothing else’s.

(I’m bouncing around a bit but I’m stuck going by scribbles I made in a margin six days ago. Sorry.)

Brayshaw put up a great list during his talk showing just how similar God and the Devil wind up being in terms of abilities. Both can kill and cure, both answer prayers, both have tremendous power over human beings, etc etc. This winds up being part of the basis of his argument that people created Satan to be a god as well, even if they don’t tend to think of him as one. Christianity wound up with this dualism on account of the Jews going into the area that became Persia and being influenced by Zoroastrian ideology and the Magi there. They were there long enough to assimilate some of those beliefs into their own culture and take it away with them when they left. The modified belief system of those post-exile Jews is how the dualism of God vs. Satan got started.

Plus, Christians got into the habit of considering every other cultures’ gods to be demonic interlopers on the strength of scripture. He listed many places in the bible where verses “prove” the existence of only one God (thus acting as “proof” that Satan couldn’t be one). It was an important distinction in an era where neighbours and enemies had all manner of gods in their own pantheons. It was necessary to insist the Jews had the best and only one. (Heaven forbid if they were wrong about that.) Everyone wants to feel special and it was important for the Jews to believe they were specially chosen by their God. It helped justify all the shit they had to go through. Tests from God…until the Jews left Persia, anyway. Then every evil thing that happened had to be the fault of Satan instead, apparently. Unless I misunderstood the history lesson.

He said a lot of interesting things and I wish I could remember more of them. I have a notation on my paper here about him thinking that the New Testament never should have been considered holy writ. The bulk of it is a series of letters written by various people including Paul (and those who forged letters under his and other names) and he made the point that none of them men writing letters then would have been thinking of them as potential doctrine or scripture. It’s just correspondence that happened to get saved long enough to make it into the collection of works. It’s stories and letters intended for a different audience than the one today.

Speaking of audience, I quote from the email I received this week:

I’m so curious because on Gormley on Tuesday he mentioned that he met with CFI, to which Gormley unaffectionately replied, Oh those are the Atheists!” It wasn’t nice. Much to Gormley’s relief, Brayshaw confirmed that he is still a Christian and believes in the personal God of the Bible. Did Brayshaw discuss this discrepancy at the meeting – how, for God he suspends the critical thinking that he so aptly applies to support the non-existence of Satan?

It’s so good to see the courage of Brayshaw to discount Satan in such a scholarly way and that is a big chunk of the delusion, but I wish that he would take the next inevitable step.

The Freethinkers were very polite and didn’t grill him on that critical thinking disconnect, unless it happened after I left. He’s certainly come a long way and maybe he will reach a point where he realizes that since people made up Satan then it’s entirely possible they made up all the gods as well. Then he’d have to conclude that he invented the personal one he believes in, the one that fits what he needs his God to be right now, perhaps a different god than his wife invented, or his pastor, or his friends. It’s nothing I had to go through, being atheist all my life, but I know that’s a hard step to take and one that tests all who are faced with it.


I feel kind of bad for Reverend Peter Anamo

November 9, 2011

Maybe he’s getting more press locally in Ghana, but there’s not a lot to be found online about him and his predictions for the end of the world this month. Harold Camping and his followers certainly knew how to stir the waters and got a hell of a lot more press. I can’t find much about Anamo’s predictions beyond this article from April.

Promising to do better than biblical men of steel, Prophet Anamo said he was relying on numerology to make his prediction. “Numerology is the mystery of numbers which the Church does not know but that is unfortunate because our divine God is God of numerology that is why the Bible has a whole book on numbers.”

“I am a prophet; my job is to make sure God is able to redeem a lot of people in November.” Grounding his argument, Prophet Anamo cited Japan which was hit by a disastrous earthquake on March 11 and also on April 11, and that that was a prelim to what will happen to the world on 11 November (the 11th month of 2011).

There is this interview, though.

He uses the Book of Daniel as the basis for all his goofy numerology math, and 5/6 minutes in he uses some other funky number trick on the woman doing the interview. She adds up 80 (1980 being the year she was born) and her age (31) and gets 111 for an answer. He tries to sell this as a sign the end is nigh because everyone who tries the same thing will get the exact same number and the longer he goes on, the more loony he starts to sound. I’m almost surprised he got to speak as long as he did but I suppose everyone’s allotted a certain number of minutes for their segment no matter how ridiculous they may get.

It’s stated in the article that he’ll turn himself in if his predication fails so I’ll make sure to check if anything gets written about him later on. Statistically speaking, he may wind up right by accident about an earthquake hitting this weekend, especially since he isn’t being very specific as to where it’ll be. The National Earthquake Information Center registers at least 50 a day with their sensitive equipment and it’s also noted that if it seems like we’re having more earthquakes these days, it’s mostly because we have a lot more equipment around the world tracking the earth’s constant shifting.

In 1931, there were about 350 stations operating in the world; today, there are more that 4,000 stations and the data now comes in rapidly from these stations by telex, computer and satellite. This increase in the number of stations and the more timely receipt of data has allowed us and other seismological centers to locate many small earthquakes which were undetected in earlier years, and we are able to locate earthquakes more rapidly.

Another factor has to do with just how many humans are on this planet (we’re nearing or past the seven billion mark already) and the fact that some of us can’t help but live in regions where earthquakes have a higher probability of being large enough to be damaging. The site lists more explanations than these, too.

Bottom line, I think the bulk of us will be able to rest easy on Friday and spend the day however Remembrance Day tends to be spent. I expect mine will go quietly; I’ll be away to Dial Up Land for the weekend since it works out to be a long one. Aside from getting my fix of Canasta and Hoarders, I have no plans.


Lacking other ideas, more Billy Graham

November 2, 2011

Maybe I should do an all call for topic ideas and let readers post suggestions on things I should look up and write about. Sometimes I’m kind of at a loss. Do some thinking, readers, and get back to me.

Until then, here’s this weekend’s letter.

DEAR BILLY GRAHAM: How can I know if something is really wrong, or if it’s just something people think is wrong but it actually isn’t as far as God is concerned? Some people have a long list of things they think are wrong, but how do they know? — J.L.

I was going to do a whole post about this but I think it’ll work better to just mention it here instead. Did you know that Bible apps are incredibly popular for smartphones? The Christian Post reports on the “digital Bible explosion.”

iPhone Life magazine reported that Logos Bible Software was the #4 most popular Bible App download, and “BibleReader broke into the top 10 highest grossing book apps for the iPad earlier this year.”

Logos Bible Software is a leader in Bible software, offering Mac and PC versions of their program with advanced Bible study tools. 
Dan Pritchett, vice president for Logos Bible Software, told The Christian Post that even though the Bible hasn’t changed, new apps and software are making it more accessible to people.

And because people look to their smartphones for all their entertainment and boredom-buster needs these days, having bible quotes and devotionals a mere button tap away has been.. well, a god-send.

Bible app creators and marketers know the Bible’s content hasn’t changed in the digital age, but more and more people are turning to technology to fulfill their need to have hands-on experiences with Scripture. The goal of most Bible software makers is to make the Bible become, as YouVersion users have often said, “more seamlessly integrated into their lives.”

Having a digital bible on hand 24/7 certainly will make it easier to look to the book for some quick guidance about the right and the wrong one might do in life but let’s look at some things that are wrong and right according to the bible. For one thing, it’s probably important to decide what book you want to go by when deciding.

Take Leviticus, for example, one that’s popular with atheists and fundamentalists alike. Those rabidly against homosexuality get their notion of rightness from the verse in there regarding homosexuality as a sin (18:22). Atheists point to other passages that are anti-shellfish (11:10) or preaching against mixed-fiber clothing (19:19). The devouring of crustaceans while dressed in one’s Sunday best should be just as big a sin as two men in a bed when going by that book and yet how popular is Red Lobster after service? I don’t actually care to know; that’s just rhetorical.

Atheists like to drag the bible’s approach to slavery to the forefront. Jesus Christ himself supported slavery. It was the way of the world and completely acceptable in Christ’s time, and in Paul’s. How best to treat slaves was important enough to mention but abolishing slavery wasn’t even a germ of an idea in their minds back then, or else that would have gotten a mention, too. God was completely OK with the notion of slavery.

People who say they want to use the bible as their inspiration for right and wrong must read the book with mental blinders on, I think. True, some of the rules in there seem downright universal. Don’t kill, don’t steal, treat your parents right, do unto others, etc. Other stuff was clearly written down for the time those people were living in and have little to no basis in our current reality. These days we know that slavery is one of the worst injustices mankind can do to mankind and great strides have been taken across the world to fight against that practice. (I continue to follow the shellfish ban to the letter, though — “But anything in the seas or the rivers that has not fins and scales, of the swarming creatures in the waters and of the living creatures that are in the waters, is detestable to you.” Damn straight. Yucky.)

Billy Graham answers the question as if he can read God’s mind:

God cares how we live — because he knows that if we follow the wrong path in life, we’ll end up hurting both ourselves and other people. But he loves us and he doesn’t want that to happen.

This is why he’s given us a “yardstick” or standard by which we should live — and that “yardstick” is the Bible. In the Bible, he tells us how to live — both what we should do, and what we should avoid doing. Think how many problems and heartaches we’d avoid if we only followed the Ten Commandments and Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount (you’ll find them in Exodus 20 and Matthew 5-7).

With this advice, Graham is essentially asking J.L. and the rest of the readers to ignore whole centuries and books worth of scripture and insist they use his own mental measuring stick to gauge what parts are most important to follow. Graham may want Christians to live by those two sections alone, as if they’ll just save those bits and throw the rest into the trash as unnecessary, but as I’ve pointed out, there’s more in the bible than just those two sections. It’s a big book with more than just rules for living in it and people are willing to believe whole chunks of nonsense — and a lot of it is nonsense when compared to everything we now know about earth’s history, biology and the universe at large.

The Bible says, “What does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8).

And God also insists that children have to be killed if they curse their parents. (Leviticus 20:9) He means it, too. In 20:8 he says, “Keep my decrees and follow them. I am the LORD, who makes you holy.”

You can set any behaviour as right behaviour if you pick the “right” place in the bible to quote from. It’s quite fortunate that Graham is selecting sections that tend to mesh with current thought on appropriate human behaviour.

Although I think this one gives some people a few too many delusions of grandeur:

Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

That’s Matthew 5:10 and likely some of the basis for why some Christians are quick to get their freak on when asked to remove crosses or religiously patriotic posters. “I’m being persecuted for my beliefs!” (Thank God! I’m assured of heaven just for stating that!)

At the same time, the Bible isn’t just a list of rules. In fact, it tells us that we can never win God’s favor by keeping a set of rules. God’s standard is nothing less than perfection — and no matter how good we are, we fall far short of that standard. That is why we need Christ, because only he can forgive us and bring us back to God.

This thought-process is a large chunk of what’s wrong with our society in general, I think, and why there is a self-help movement and why plastic surgeons keep getting richer. The notion that there is a perfection we’re supposed to be aiming for winds up creating people who don’t have faith in their own abilities and are never satisfied with what they have. (As an aside, other theories of perfection once hobbled scientific progress, too. I’ve finally finished watching all of Cosmos, Carl Sagan’s genius documentary and one of the best parts was in episode 7 where he discussed Pythagorus and Plato and how their collective ideas both helped and hindered those who came after.)

Graham ends by pleading for readers to accept Christ as their personal saviour if they want to live righteous lives but I’ll suggest something else. I say look at the world we’re living in and what it needs in terms of care. Look at what people need in terms of care. Are you being kind and honest and approaching life in a way that improves your well being and the well being of those around you? Ask yourself if there’s more you should do. Should you be volunteering? Donating more to charity? Giving blood? Those are all things I know I should be doing more of. It’s not about living righteously as dictated by some old book so much as it’s about being the best person you can be, however how you might want to define the word.


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