Atheist Scruples: And Bingo was his name-o

July 10, 2014

Today’s question:

You need one number to win the jackbot at BINGO. A stranger next to you also needs one and it has been called. Do you tell her?

This edition of A Question of Scruples came out in 1986, which was something of a heyday for Bingo obsession, if I recall correctly, and in 1991/92 our school band ran some Bingo nights to raise money for our upcoming trip to Vancouver. We all had to volunteer to work an evening. I was kind of shy at the time (hard to believe now) and stressed out over these women shouting at me for more cards and throwing money at me and barely waiting for me to figure out what I owed them for change. There was little time between rounds for cards and money to change hands. It also stunk like hell with cigarette smoke. I remember that overall. So disgusting. But, I digress.

Ultimately, I think it depends on what kind of jackpot we’re talking about. If this is a fundraising “top prize is a turkey” little thing for a kid’s school, or senior’s centre, then maybe I’d holler Bingo for the woman myself and then point to the spot she nearly missed. I have no room to store a turkey anyway. If this was a night of cutthroat gambling at a real Bingo hall where hundreds of dollars are up for grabs and everybody wants it, screw her. If she can’t see the spot she missed, clearly she’s playing too many cards at once. Greedy cow. (That’s assuming I even notice. I’d probably be too busy watching my own cards like a hawk watches for mice.)

Now a question posed by someone via Yahoo Answers:

Christians: Do you consider Bingo and the Lottery gambling?

The question was posed five years ago. Kerika answered:

Yes. Christians rightly avoid any sweepstakes or drawings that involve buying chances (such as raffle tickets) or putting up money for a chance to win some prize. Simply put, we avoid gambling, which certainly is an expression of greediness.—1 Corinthians 5:11;; 6:10; Ephesians 4:19; 5:3, 5.

She also quoted from some Jehovah’s Witness writings so maybe she’s not typical.

A different response from P?tsie:

I am a Christian. Are they gambling, of course. Are they a sin?… not as easy to answer. Personally, I believe that if you can control your spending and do not over indulge, then it is generally not. There are many who would disagree, but there is no verse that says “don’t play bingo”. What you believe is between you and God, and nobody else.

I bold the last line because that’s exactly the kind of thinking used to rationalize and justify a lot of behaviour including everything that shouldn’t be socially or legally acceptable anymore. And since I’m of the opinion that gods are created by the culture that wants or thinks they’re needed, I don’t think the question is ever really “What would Jesus do?” The question usually seems to be “What do I want to do and how can I interpret the Word to support my way of thinking?” The first way may be contrary to what I want to do, whereas the second way is ultimately win win…


“Don’t blame God for world’s heartaches”

May 7, 2011

Rev. Jeff Barnes of Newsong Fellowship Church has a piece in his local paper with the same title and it’s worth some comments from this peanut gallery.

The question that inevitably surfaces is, “Why doesn’t God keep all these bad things from happening?” Fair question. The answers is connected to human choice.

From the beginning, God gave humans the ability to make choices. However, He made it clear that our choices would have consequences. Ever since Adam and Eve chose to rebel against God, there have been negative consequences. Just read the first three chapters of Genesis. There you will discover that a “curse” fell upon this world and upon the human race.

Sigh. This is one of the sadder concepts we’ve lived under thanks to the existence of Genesis and those who continue to believe it’s a true history of how humans came to be.

The LORD God commanded the man, saying, “From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die.”

Let me compare this (Gen 2:16-17) with Gen 1:29:

Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food.”

Every plant and every tree will be yours for food. Every one of them.

Here’s a question that comes to mind: if this was the first version of this creation story, when did it get superseded by the second? Gen 1 just has God making everything, then a couple people in his image. And then he simply tells them that they have command over everything on earth and they should go forth and multiply.

By Gen 2, God’s suddenly being very specific about where Adam can live and what he can and can’t do there. God even makes the new tree rule before he makes Eve. It’s that important to Him. If this was meant to be an object lesson for humanity, what had humanity done by this point that compelled storytellers to alter and elaborate on the story?

The serpent slithers its way into the story at the start of Gen 3 and asks Eve if she’s familiar with the “Eat what you want unless you want THAT one” rule. Eve quotes the rule:

The woman said to the serpent, “From the fruit of the trees of the garden we may eat; but from the fruit of the tree which is in the middle of the garden, God has said, ‘You shall not eat from it or touch it, or you will die.'”

We’ll ignore the fact that this presupposes Eve already has a familiarity with the concept of death (how?) and would be actively trying to avoid it. The serpent pooh-poohs that notion and says (3:5)

“For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

Whether you want to argue rebellion on her part (as the Rev. claims), or deception on the serpent’s part, Eve’s “sin” was wanting to be wise (3:6).

Unrelated, but I wonder if it’s ever been argued that Eve cheated, that real knowledge should come from the effort put in to get it and if she and Adam had worked to learn instead of taking the fast track, this mess could have been avoided. Maybe knowledge isn’t what needs to be avoided; impatience (rather than temptation) is where the problem lies.

Back to the Rev., who perpetuates the myth that Eve’s desire to learn cursed the planet.

It is this general curse that causes the earth to produce tornados, hurricanes, drought, tsunamis, floods, earthquakes and other natural disasters. They are called “acts of God,” but they should be called “consequences of man.” The Bible reminds in Romans 8 that the whole earth is groaning, waiting to be delivered from the effects of the curse.

Right, because God created the world 6000 years ago and it was fault-free. Blame Eve for every earthquake and volcano ever since. Nice. Isn’t that some of the most ridiculous tripe ever to be published?

The truth, as anyone with sense and awareness of geology knows, the earth is way old and the whole reason we have mountains and volcanoes is because the tectonic plates that float on top of the magma have been rubbing up against each other for aeons. There were droughts, tsunamis and other natural disasters long before the first hominids roamed and no doubt the dinosaurs that preceded humanity found them to be problematic, too. Are we still debating what caused their end? Was it an asteroid or volcanoes or a combination of both?

In the same way, this curse has fallen upon humanity as well. Things like cancer, viruses, birth defects, unnatural sexual urges, mental disorders and the like can be traced back to the distorting effects of the curse.

I would love to see how.

I think this is long enough as is, so I’m going to stop here. I shall disassemble that bit of lunacy in a second post later today.

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

April 28, 2011

Here’s the question this time around:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Billy Graham and the one-sided view of spirituality

February 18, 2011

Yeah, it’s that (impossible to predict) time again, where I find a letter to Billy Graham and share my thoughts about his so-called advice.

DEAR BILLY GRAHAM: Someone loaned me a book that says that if you strongly believe something good is going to happen to you, then it will. Do you agree with this? The book seems very spiritual and even quotes the Bible some, although the author doesn’t really say anything about Jesus. — E.G.

Ask and ye shall receive… a diatribe on the stupidity that was The Secret. Rhonda Byrne hit the jackpot with that video and resulting book deal. She wasn’t even original. She nicked the whole idea from an earlier positive thinking manual called Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill. Personally, I doubt the universe owes us any favours nor is capable of caring about the fact that we might think it does. The universe is what it is and we are merely beings within it.

Spirituality is an interesting notion, though, and I recall the vocal atheist, Sam Harris, has given a nod to spirituality in the past. It’s not the sole property of one faith or belief system. It can be the state achieved by a very relaxed mind in some cases, if one should decide to call that feeling a spiritual one. Not everyone would.

Onto Graham:

DEAR E.G.: Although you don’t mention the book’s title, I hope you won’t be misled by what it seems to be teaching. Nowhere in the Bible does God promise to give us anything we want, if we’ll just believe strongly enough.

You 100% sure about that? Hmm…

Matthew 21:22 And all things, whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive.

(see more of those)

What we want may not be God’s will for us, and God’s will is always best.

Be on your guard also against any teaching that sounds good on the surface but leaves Jesus out of the picture. Why do some authors omit him? I don’t know the reason in this case, but often it’s because they deny that our most basic problem is our sin and believe instead that we have the power within ourselves to solve our problems.

I think it’s actually because most of us do figure out ways to solve our own problems, and at a very early age. We cry until someone does what we want. We learn to move so we can get around obstacles in our way. We learn to speak so we can ask for things we need instead of crying for them. We go to school and learn more ways to think and solve problems. We approach our jobs and our lives with a skill set we’ve developed since birth and I’d hope that most of us find enough success with problem solving to continue working and living until we can work and live no more.

Sin is such a generic term and it winds up being used to define anything or any behaviour individuals don’t like, and for such a wide variety of reasons. It also tends to be heavily subjective (even when many agree to call the same things “sinful”) and not always useful as an idea that will encourage growth or change.

But sin cuts us off from God, and it also weakens us and makes us unable to change our lives. Only Christ can take away our sins and change our hearts, and he will, as we humble ourselves and turn our lives over to him. The Bible says, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Corinthians 5:17).

I guess he’s not contradicting me completely, but I disagree with his suggestions. I’d never suggest religion as a necessary step to avoid human error and bad judgment. Religions tend to permit dubious behaviours that would never get a pass in any other arena. I could pick on Catholic priests here, or Muslim extremists, or Christian fundamentalists or any other group that can justify cruelty as a holy means to an end. We can’t change that belief/thought pattern/behaviour because it’s traditional and it’s in an old book we can quote verbatim and because God said so and nyer nyer nyer…

Don’t be misled by those who claim you can have spiritual power apart from God or Christ. Instead, by faith turn to Jesus Christ and commit your life to him. Then begin following him, and not those who urge you to take a different path.

I’m actually surprised Graham doesn’t end this by urging E.G. to cajole and witness to the friend who passed the unnamed book over and make that person into a Jesus-lover, too. I think it’s odd to see the man admit to the reality of other paths at all.

I say be Buddhist if you want. Be Hindu. Be a pagan. Be atheist if it suits you. Be Christian if you think that’s your best bet (but don’t be thinking Pascal’s Wager is the way to prove it). Be whatever will give you the best life you can get.

I like this headline: “Caught between God and Gomorrah”

January 12, 2011

It’s out of the National Post regarding a court case in Saskatchewan that involves religious marriage commissioners and whether or not they can use that excuse to refuse to perform gay marriages. Short answer, they can’t.

Gay rights always trump religious rights when the two come into conflict. In the case of Toronto printer Scott Brockie, for instance, Mr. Brockie refused a print job from a gay and lesbian organization. In a 1999 ruling, the province’s human rights commission concluded and a federal court concurred that while Mr. Brockie was “free to hold his religious beliefs and to practise them in his home, and in his Christian community,” but no Charter right protected his actions in business or in the public square.

Earlier in the case of the Saskatchewan marriage commissioners, that province’s human rights commission ruled the provincial government was under no obligation to accommodate commissioners’ religious beliefs. Less well reported, though, was a suggestion by the Saskatchewan court that the provincial government devise a system that accommodates both sides. The justices recommended that couples seeking civil ceremonies be required to seek a commissioner through the provincial government, rather than approaching an individual commissioner directly.

Part of me wants to gripe and say these people should have to do their job regardless of their personal thoughts on the morality of the relationship but the article goes on to add the court’s suggestion — taking a provincial route to find an available commissioner would ensure the couple gets one that won’t quote Leviticus at them. Sounds like a win-win idea to me.

The trouble for commissioners is that they are not religious officials; their role is legally defined as strictly nonreligious. One should not have to be ordained to have his religious freedoms protected. However, if someone signs on to perform a secular function under authority granted solely by the state, he or she should not be entirely surprised if the state’s objectives end up conflicting with his or her own.

There is no religious aspect to the commissioner’s licence, which is why the court’s reasonable accommodation suggestion is, well, reasonable. Let’s hope the Saskatchewan government has the good sense to act on it.

I bold that bit because I think that’s what’s important to remember here. People want to run around thinking marriage is somehow god’s property and can only exist the way they think their god wants it when it’s really a government-approved contract. Isn’t that why people sign marriage certificates, to make the partnership legally binding?

One other thing:

Homosexuality can not be called one of the sins of Sodom, Gomorrah or Gilbeah since it is not in any of the lists of their sins given in the O.T. Ezekiel 16:48-50 lists the specific sins of Sodom as pride, plenty, laziness, uncaring for needy, haughty and worshipping idols – which was an abomination – not homosexuality.

I quote from this site. The full list of sins attributed to Sodom can be found here.

Gay Mormons have it rough

October 25, 2010 maybe I should rethink that title. That winds up sounding kinkier than I intended. But I’m sure it got your attention, which is a good thing because an article I read focused on the fact that gays are treated very unfairly by the Mormon belief system. Elder Boyd K. Packer, one of the top dogs, had said a lot of dismal things about homosexuality in a sermon on Oct. 3, near the time all those boys committed suicide on account of bullying.

Utah’s gay rights activists, some with roots in Mormonism, were quick to draw a connection to their own situation. They say the painful isolation that some gays and lesbian experience can lead to suicide. Anecdotes about the suicides of gay Mormons from Affirmation’s website, posts on the PrideinUtah blog and other sites seem to support the contention.

“It’s an enormous problem, especially in Utah,”said Eric Ethington, who runs the PrideinUtah blog.

Mormon church officials take issue with the characterizations made by gay rights activists.

“It is disappointing when some try to use an emotional issue such as suicide to misrepresent the role of the church in the lives of its members,” said Mormon church spokesperson Kim Farah, in response to Ethington.

But when you have leaders of your church vocally condemning the gay lifestyle, it’s hardly a misrepresentation of your faith to say your faith has problems accepting gays. If your faith can’t do it, then a lot of the followers aren’t going to do it. Even if they would never in their lifetimes physically assault or mentally abuse people they know (or suspect) are gay, they aren’t speaking up and supporting gay rights, either, are they?

In decades past, church leaders had preached that homosexual feelings were a sin and sometimes ordered up prescriptions of vigilant prayer, marriage or reparative therapy to resist or reverse those feelings.

The rhetoric has softened since the 1990s, although the church has remained politically active in campaigns to prevent legalizing gay marriage in California and elsewhere. The church now differentiates between feelings and actions, with disciplinary action or excommunication limited to those engaging in homosexual relationships.

Celibate gays can remain active in church callings and retain full membership, including performing sacred Mormon rites in church temples. Church leaders have counselled the faithful followers to reach out to gay Mormons with compassion and love.

“Their struggle is our struggle,” said Otterson.

But you only want them if they promise never to do anything gay. How is that even remotely considered to be compassionate and loving? It beats the hell out of me why gays would even want to remain with a church, let alone this one.

Have you missed Billy Graham? Me neither..

September 11, 2010

Still, I felt compelled to see what tripe he replied to lately because I’m craving a desire to mock something.

If Jesus rose from the dead (which I gather Christians believe happened), then where is he now? Could he be living in some far corner of the world, and someday he’ll reveal himself again? I don’t have a church background, but I’ve always been curious about this. — D.N.

Never thought to check Wikipedia, did you?

In Christianity the Resurrection of Jesus refers to the return to bodily life of Jesus three days after his death by crucifixion. It is a key element of Christian faith and theology. The Resurrection of Jesus is not to be confused with the Ascension of Jesus into heaven forty days after the resurrection.

Clicking the link provided in the quote, you learn that Christ supposedly resides in heaven and sits at the right hand of God the Father, but the Epistle to the Ephesians puts him even higher than that. The forty day thing is debatable, too, if one reads the Gospel of Luke literally, as he provides no information regarding how much time passed between the empty tomb prank and Christ buggering off. It could have been the same day as far as Luke is concerned. As a feast, Ascension Day has been a bit of a party since the 300s.

When I see Ascension Day written down or talked about anywhere, I just think of the Mayor of Sunnydale, myself. That was no party.

But anyway, onto Billy Graham’s answer.

DEAR D.N.: No event in human history was as important as what took place during the final days of Jesus’ public ministry: his death on the cross and his resurrection from the dead.

Oh, I can think of a lot of more important things – discovery of fire, invention of the television (thank you Science, and what has the Vatican done for you lately?), the toaster, tape. Tape should actually be first, given the nature of my job and how many things can be fixed with it. Indoor plumbing, discovery of the wheel, invention of Wheel of Fortune…

Why is this? The reason is because these two events — Jesus’ death and resurrection — were God’s way of bringing salvation to the human race. By nature we are lost and separated from God because of our sin, and no matter how hard we try, we can’t cleanse ourselves of our sins or make ourselves pure in God’s sight.

What really bothers me about this kind of thinking is how people bring this kind of thinking into the lives of their children and what kind of guilt they must ultimately be creating in the hearts and minds of their children. Kids have a hard enough time staying on the right side of what parents want as it is without their folks bringing some invisible force with an eternal doom for disobeying into the mix on top of it. Telling kids on a daily basis that they’ll always be sinners, never be pure, never be good enough unless they perform all the right bloody rituals to please an apathetic deity.. there’s a reason people like Richard Dawkins liken indoctrination to child abuse.

But God loves us in spite of our sin, and on the cross all our sins were placed on Jesus — the sinless son of God — and he took upon himself the judgment we deserve. And by his resurrection he conquered sin and death and hell, and opened heaven’s doors for us. His disciples could say with boldness that “God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact” (Acts 2:32).

If Jesus really conquered sin, why the hell do people continue to worry and fret over it? Why do they pray to avoid sin? Why insist people have priests and pastors on hand for death bed conversions? Why keep making people feel guilty about being people? IT starts to look like whatever Christianity might claim now was Christ’s reason for getting hung up in the first place, it wasn’t enough of a sacrifice.

Where is Jesus now? Forty days after his resurrection, Jesus was taken up into heaven, and now he sits at the right hand of God (i.e., in the place of authority and favor). And someday he will return to destroy all evil and establish his kingdom. But Jesus also resides in the heart of every believer, by his spirit.

I don’t mind that people want to believe the spirit thing. If it makes them feel cherished and loved in a dark and dirty world, who am I to call them deluded? Everyone has a coping mechanism and embracing faith is one of the easiest ways to do so. Everyone needs hopes and dreams, too, and if they find peace in the idea that someday Christ will come back and sort the world out properly, I guess that’s fine, too.

What’s not fine is how evil winds up being defined, as everyone who isn’t the Chosen Few. Evil is also every thought or act that doesn’t mesh with what authorities within that faith have told the Chosen Few are the only thoughts or acts permitted. And sure, the Chosen Few claim they want to save everyone, but do they really? Could they possibly? I’ve seen the stupid stats kept by the Joshua Project. It’s ridiculous to think they could change the hearts and minds of an entire world and ludicrous to think they have the right to push their religion into countries and cultures that have done well enough without it. By and large, they need food more than they need a different faith.

How to end this.. believe what you want, but leave room in your head somewhere for the very real probability that your beliefs aren’t any more right than somebody else’s, no matter how good and just and worthy they happen to make you feel.