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.


Not stopped, just busy

June 19, 2016

I don’t know what I have for readers anyway, but I’d gone to an auction this weekend for my uncle’s farm/house things.

Vinyl & 8-track combo

Vinyl & 8-track combo

I've only read some of these, they didn't sell

I’ve only read some of these, they didn’t sell

I loved this picture but not enough to bid on it

I loved this picture but not enough to bid on it

apple crates and other antiques sold well

apple crates and other antiques sold well

Note the fixed wooden pedal. So much riding of this.

Note the fixed wooden pedal. So much riding of this.

Nifty boot puller thing

Nifty boot puller thing

I spent a big chunk of my childhood in that yard, a 10 minute walk from my own yard. So many cousins around every summer from all corners of the country, and so much fun. Those were the days…


Today’s Facebook Find – the Devil’s bible

May 30, 2016

I feel too lazy to find things to write about sometimes so I think I’ll be grabbing from my Facebook feed once in a while so at least I can post content here more often.

This one from The Beast:

While the technical name for the manuscript is Codex Gigas (literally “giant book” in Latin), it is better known as the ‘Devil’s Bible.’ It is currently housed in the National Library in Stockholm, but it was created in the twelfth century in Bohemia (the modern Czech Republic), possibly at the Benedictine monastery of Podlažice. It was transported to Sweden as part of the booty seized at the conclusion of the Thirty Years’ war in 1648. It would have taken two men to steal it, as the book is around a meter tall and weighs almost 165 pounds.

It got its devilish moniker thanks to a half-meter tall illustration of the devil within it.

According to legend, the enormous book was the work of a single monk who had been sentenced to death by inclusion (being walled up alive). In an effort to delay or forestall his execution, the monk promised to produce in a single night a manuscript that would bring glory to the monastery. The task, it is said, was too enormous, and he turned to Satan for help.

The article reports on further study of the bookmaking itself which suggested a single writer and likely a life’s work put into it — 25 years of penmanship, at least, if the Devil really didn’t help the monk finish it.

Onto other books —

Good Omens is a joint effort written by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman and in it is an angel character named Aziraphale who’s supposed to be on the lookout for the anti-Christ but sine nobody knows exactly when the apocalypse is going down (he thinks) he bides his time as a rare book collector and has an assortment of Infamous Bibles, handwritten works with transcribing errors that render the original verse meaningless or misunderstood. Some included in the book really exist, but the authors added a couple other ones to Aziraphale’s collection for the sake of levity (pg 50-51 in my paperback copy) including this one:

The book was commonly known as the Buggre Alle This Bible. The lengthy compositor’s error, if such it may be called, occurs in the Book of Ezekiel, chapter 48, verse 5…

5. Buggre Alle this for a Larke. I amme sick to mye Hart of typefettinge. Master Biltonn if no Gentelmann, and Master Scagges noe more than a tight fisted Southwark Knobbefticke. I telle you, onne day laike thif Ennywone withe half an oz. of Sense shoulde bee oute in the Sunneshaine, ande nott Stucke here alle the liuelong dai inn thif mowldey olde By-Our-Lady Workefhoppe.

Aziraphale winds up with a book of prophecy by accident and is stunned once he realizes he’s now in possession of the very rare, one of a kind accurate prediction for when the end of days is due.. turns out to be that weekend…

It’s a funny twist on The Omen. Not being into horror, I didn’t know that until recently and have never seen the film. I highly recommend the book.


Can’t your god make a better miracle than poop stains in a diaper?

May 25, 2016

It was making headlines recently, a poop smear in the shape of a cross in a newborn baby’s diaper. Big poopie whoopie. Wonkette reports via Patheos that the mother, Katy Vasquez, took to Facebook to show the world this miraculous discovery.

This sign came in the oddest form. My babies poop. I went to change his diaper, and he pooped a cross. It might not be the prettiest sign, but he put it where he knew I’d see it. In my babies diaper. Lol. Hard to miss what’s right there in front of you.

If you can, or want to, feel free to share the message. That God is with us. And he gives us signs to let us know that things will be OK. It’s not always the prettiest sign, but he puts it where he knows we’ll see it. We’re good most of the time, but God is good all the time.

I’m sharing, all right — not because of gods, but because of belief in gods and how far gods appear to have fallen in terms of making themselves known to their believers. A poopy diaper? Really? Is that the best trick he’s got? Taking advantage of fabric and natural wrinkles and bodily functions?

While looking for this particular news story, my search also highlighted Yahoo Answers where the question is asked, Did Jesus poop on the cross? The “best” answer comes from someone going by the handle of Non-Believers are Dead Inside (spelling errors kept as found):

Well first of all the crucifixes are actaully censored they have Jesus wearing a loin cloth but actually He was naked as a form of public embarisment for the crucified prisoners. And yes they went to the bathroom hanging upon their crosses. In fact when a person is dying it’s not uncommon for that person to wet and soil themselves.
You make fun of things like this now but one day when you get old or when your dying your going to have accidents yourself. There is a reason why companies make diapers for adults.

No sources cited to verify any little factoids here regarding loincloths but I did find an abstract at the National Library of Medicine:

Death, usually after 6 hours–4 days, was due to multifactorial pathology: after-effects of compulsory scourging and maiming, haemorrhage and dehydration causing hypovolaemic shock and pain, but the most important factor was progressive asphyxia caused by impairment of respiratory movement. Resultant anoxaemia exaggerated hypovolaemic shock. Death was probably commonly precipitated by cardiac arrest, caused by vasovagal reflexes, initiated inter alia by severe anoxaemia, severe pain, body blows and breaking of the large bones. The attending Roman guards could only leave the site after the victim had died, and were known to precipitate death by means of deliberate fracturing of the tibia and/or fibula, spear stab wounds into the heart, sharp blows to the front of the chest, or a smoking fire built at the foot of the cross to asphyxiate the victim.

So, really, pooping yourself would have been the least of your worries.

Back to gods and miracles, though. I’ll have to invoke The Great God Om now. As a Terry Pratchett fan from way, way, way back, I highly recommend his book Small Gods.

The one true god of Omnia has gone through a bad time. Om transformed himself into a tortoise at some point in the past but, due to the lack of true believers now, he’s stuck in this low form. The loudest, most obnoxious religious folk don’t believe in him as much as they pretend they do so they don’t hear him call for help, or writhe in agony as he curses them. In fact, the only real believer he has left is Brutha, a pathetic novice at the temple who can barely hoe the lettuce but knows the books of Om upside down and sideways and Believes in him completely. Om must take Brutha on the path to becoming the next prophet, no matter how difficult a task it may be.

The Turtle Moves. And it should move into your bookshelves immediately.


Atheist Scruples: Church costs too much! Tear it down!

September 30, 2014

Actually, that headline is just for the clicks. This is a big issue in terms of history and traditions versus practicality and costs.

The gracious old church where you worship is an inspiration, but the declining church membership can’t support it. A big developer offers big money to demolish it. Do you vote to sell?

In August of 2013 the North Buxton Baptist Church in Chatham, Ontario faced this problem.

The First Baptist Church that was built in 1883 is being torn down, and Shannon Prince, curator of the Buxton National Historic Site Museum says part of it like pews and windows will be saved, but that doesn’t make it easier.

“It is going to be a sad day, very sad,” she says, “A piece of your community a piece of what has been built has been lost.”

She says the decision was made as a community. The church has been closed for some time, and with limited resources to keep up old properties the decision was made to tear it down rather than let if fall down.

It’s not just churches that fall victim to the possibility of demolition or sale. Heritage Canada has a running list of “Worst Losses” of Canadian history. Saskatoon winds up with a few on the list, like the Gathercole building:

Gathercole Building (1931), Saskatoon, Saskatchewan — [2004 List]
Despite the efforts of a coalition of cultural and heritage organizations to convert the historic Gathercole Building into a combined market and arts centre, City Council, led by the Mayor, chose to let the private sector redevelop the waterfront site by tearing down the landmark and using the ensuing property taxes to fund surrounding amenities.

Schools get closed up, too. Saskatchewan has many little towns. When there aren’t enough kids left in Rinkdinkville to make it worth heating the school and keep teachers on staff, the school closes and the kids are bused to neighbouring towns. Same goes for neighbourhoods in larger centers with aging populations. Schools will shut in those areas if there aren’t enough kids to fill the seats and new schools will be built where the kids are now.

Changing demographics within a city will affect churches for the same reason. If the population isn’t enough to fill the place anymore, maybe there is a better use for that space.

Back to the question, I’d wonder if the building itself could be repurposed rather than torn down. Advertise it as concert space, public speaking venues beyond religious ones, daycare, museums, art galleries.. find something useful to do with it if nobody really wants to pray there anymore. Yoga classes, book clubs, music practice space. There are always people looking for space to set up that kind of activity. Hell, see if the atheists want to borrow it for their secular services. Lots of atheists like the notion of church-style gatherings these days. It’s a big deal.

Or, if the building is old enough to qualify as a heritage site, maybe look into going that route and try to save it for historical reasons. I don’t know how successful those projects tend to be, though.

Ideas? Other thoughts on the topic? What happened to old buildings in your city?


“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.