Thursday, 16 December 2010

Why do atheists celebrate Christmas?


It’s a question that people who don’t believe in religion are often asked, so I thought I’d discuss my personal reasons for celebrating Christmas.

But first...
According to tradition, and the Matthew 1:18-25 and Luke 2:1-7 and some pretty music, Jesus was born in a stable, and placed in a manger (a long open box or trough for horses or cattle to eat from, usually filled with straw or grass). Three “wise men” came from the East, saw a star in the sky and came to worship him, bringing valuable gifts. When they arrived there were angels worshipping, all of which created the mythology of the birth of a man who was to save the people of the earth from themselves.

The story itself is, of course, total nonsense and I’m not going to go into great depths of analysis to say why. Suffice to say that there is no scientific evidence for the “Herod” sending out his minions to murder “innocents,” nor is their evidence for the bright star, or that the Romans demanded that people return to their homes for a census which also didn’t take place at the purported time. Then there is the date, that even the Catholic church admits was probably some time in April, and not at the winter equinox.

Also we are all more than aware that Christmas is really nothing more than the romantisation of the celebration of the winter equinox that long predated Christianity.

So with all this cynicism about the religious aspect of Christmas, why do I, personally celebrate it, and why do I enjoy Christmas carols, which I have often been heard to sing out with gusto?

The answer is very easy to understand. It’s because I rather like the idea of Christmas. The music is stirring because it evokes hope in humankind’s desire for “Peace on Earth” and “Goodwill to all Men.” 

Who can fail to be moved by lyrics such as...


Chestnuts roasting on an open fire,
Jack Frost nipping on your nose,
Yuletide carols being sung by a choir,
And folks dressed up like Eskimos.

Everybody knows a turkey and some mistletoe,
Help to make the season bright.
Tiny tots with their eyes all aglow,
Will find it hard to sleep tonight.

They know that Santa's on his way;
He's loaded lots of toys and goodies on his sleigh.
And every mother's child is going to spy,
To see if reindeer really know how to fly.

And so I'm offering this simple phrase,
To kids from one to ninety-two,
Although its been said many times, many ways,
A very Merry Christmas to you
 
...or fail to see the improbability of this song...

On the first day of Christmas,
my true love sent to me
A partridge in a pear tree.

On the second day of Christmas,
my true love sent to me
Two turtle doves,
And a partridge in a pear tree.

On the third day of Christmas,
my true love sent to me
Three French hens,
Two turtle doves,
And a partridge in a pear tree.

On the fourth day of Christmas,
my true love sent to me
Four calling birds,
Three French hens,
Two turtle doves,
And a partridge in a pear tree.

On the fifth day of Christmas,
my true love sent to me
Five golden rings,
Four calling birds,
Three French hens,
Two turtle doves,
And a partridge in a pear tree.

On the sixth day of Christmas,
my true love sent to me
Six geese a-laying,
Five golden rings,
Four calling birds,
Three French hens,
Two turtle doves,
And a partridge in a pear tree.

On the seventh day of Christmas,
my true love sent to me
Seven swans a-swimming,
Six geese a-laying,
Five golden rings,
Four calling birds,
Three French hens,
Two turtle doves,
And a partridge in a pear tree.

On the eighth day of Christmas,
my true love sent to me
Eight maids a-milking,
Seven swans a-swimming,
Six geese a-laying,
Five golden rings,
Four calling birds,
Three French hens,
Two turtle doves,
And a partridge in a pear tree.

On the ninth day of Christmas,
my true love sent to me
Nine ladies dancing,
Eight maids a-milking,
Seven swans a-swimming,
Six geese a-laying,
Five golden rings,
Four calling birds,
Three French hens,
Two turtle doves,
And a partridge in a pear tree.

On the tenth day of Christmas,
my true love sent to me
Ten lords a-leaping,
Nine ladies dancing,
Eight maids a-milking,
Seven swans a-swimming,
Six geese a-laying,
Five golden rings,
Four calling birds,
Three French hens,
Two turtle doves,
And a partridge in a pear tree.

On the eleventh day of Christmas,
my true love sent to me
Eleven pipers piping,
Ten lords a-leaping,
Nine ladies dancing,
Eight maids a-milking,
Seven swans a-swimming,
Six geese a-laying,
Five golden rings,
Four calling birds,
Three French hens,
Two turtle doves,
And a partridge in a pear tree.

On the twelfth day of Christmas,
my true love sent to me
Twelve drummers drumming,
Eleven pipers piping,
Ten lords a-leaping,
Nine ladies dancing,
Eight maids a-milking,
Seven swans a-swimming,
Six geese a-laying,
Five golden rings,
Four calling birds,
Three French hens,
Two turtle doves,
And a partridge in a pear tree!
 
...and then there’s the whole idea of a feast with loving family and gifts being handed out. 
So, before I wish you all a very Merry Christmas, and a peaceful, happy, healthy and prosperous New Year, enjoy it all in the spirit of love, kindness, charity, peace and the look on a child’s face when he/she wakes up on the morning of the 25th to find that “Santa” has visited and left at least one gift for every member of the family. Try to extend the goodwill to the people around you who don’t have family with them at this time of universal friendship, don’t drive if you’ve been drinking, and forget the world’s problems for 24 hours on this one day of the year. 

It’s not a matter of “Happy Holidays” to people who don’t believe in Jesus, it is a matter of one day when everyone on the planet can feel good about being alive and share that feeling with everyone else. That’s the true spirit of Christmas, and perhaps the only good thing that came from the stories in the Bible. 

Thank you all for sharing my blog in 2010. I’ll be back again shortly after the start of the New Year.

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Miracles and Witchcraft


Most well-read people are familiar with the stories of witch-burnings during the middle of the second millennium, during the time of early Stuart kings in England and, of course, the Salem witch trials, as described in Arthur Miller’s play, The Crucible.

The justification for this behaviour is this verse from Exodus 22:18:
Do not allow a sorceress to live.
My question is: where do we draw the line between socery and miracles? How is an old woman who understands the efficacy of natural remedies, or who is able to dispense advice to lovelorn people, more dangerous than chariots of fire appearing out of nowhere (2 Kings 2:11) or Elijah’s separating the waters of a river with his cloak (2 Kings 2:14).

In 2 Kings 4:15-16 Elisha foretells the birth a son to a woman, for the sole purpose of his being able to “lay his hands” on the child later when he dies, in order to bring him back to life. But Harry Potter is a bad story for children to read? At least Harry Potter doesn’t cause children to be born, and die, simply so that he can prove his miraculous, magical abilities.

The New Testament has the story of Jairus’ daughter who Jesus brings back to life. For what purpose? To prove that he can? Then why can’t modern “miracle” workers cause amputated limbs to regrow, or children killed by cancer to be resurrected? Was there something special about Jairus’ daughter? Was she destined to become a great leader, or a world-renowned scientist? No, it was merely an attempt by the writers of the Gospels to prove that Jesus’ powers to perform miracles were equal to those of Elisha. In other words, mere propaganda.

And then we have stories of multitudes of people being fed (2 Kings 4:42, Matthew 15:29-39, Mark 8:1-10, Matthew 14:16-21, Mark 6:35-44, Luke 9:12-17, John 6:5-14), poisonous stews being made innocuous (2 Kings 4:39-41). To what end? Surely there are far more people without food today? How come God doesn’t perform some miracle that will make the Sahara desert into fields of grain? If he is capable of great miracles, how come there are so many starving people today?

The miracles continue: A man named Hazael is destined to be king, but there is already a king in place. So Elisha arranges for the king to die, drowned by the water in a thick cloth (2 Kings 5:14-15). Why? How is it permissable for Elisha to commit outright murder and have it called a ‘miracle’ yet Harry Potter’s triumph over the evil Voldemort is “witchery” and the books forbidden to the chldren of fundamentalists? I’m using Harry Potter because, with the release of the latest movie, it is again a topic being discussed on message boards, with fundamentalist parents saying that it is the “work of the devil.”And CS Lewis’ stories with talking lions is not? 

The double-standards of the Old Testament continue: 



2 Kings 13:21 Once when some Israelites were burying a man, they spied a band of these raiders. So they hastily threw the corpse into the tomb of Elisha and fled. But as soon as the body touched Elisha's bones, the dead man revived and jumped to his feet!
Micah 5:12 I will destroy your witchcraft and you will no longer cast spells.

What exactly does “casting spells” mean?


Then there’s more about ‘healing:’
2 Kings 5:10 And Elisha sent a messenger unto him, saying, Go and wash in Jordan seven times, and thy flesh shall come again to thee, and thou shalt be clean.
Matthew 5-7 Jesus came down the hillside followed by a large crowd. A leper approached Him, knelt before Him worshiping, and pleaded,  if You want to, You can heal me . Jesus touched the man, and said to him  I want to, be healed . And instantly the leper was healed.
Matthew 8:5-13, Luke 7:1-10 In Capernaum, a Centurion came to Jesus asking to have his servant, who was close to death, healed. When Jesus said He would come and cure the servant, the Centurion answered that he was not worthy to have Jesus come under his roof, but to only speak the word, and his servant will be healed. Jesus was amazed at this and told His followers, that not even in Israel had He found such faith. Jesus then told the Centurion  Go, let it be done for you according to your faith . And the servant was healed in that hour.
Matthew 8:14-15, Mark 1:29-31, Luke 4:38-39 After Jesus healed the possessed man in the synagogue in Capernaum, He and His disciples went over to Simon and Andrews home, where they found Simons mother-in-law sick in bed with a high fever. Jesus took her by the hand and helped her sit up, the fever suddenly left, and she got up and prepared dinner for them.
The problem with all the “healing” which I don’t really, mind, I’m all in favour of people being cured of horrible diseases, but why these people? Why not a ward full of cancer patients, or families that carry the haemophilia gene? Why some obscure centurion’s servant? All this is just nonsense to convince ignorant people that Jesus is able to perform miracles. Well, if he is able to perform miracles, how come in the Near East, why not in South America? Why did he allow the explorers to take smallpox to the Americas?

There’s more: sea storms being calmed, people being lowered through roofs to be cured, blind men, withered hands, water being turned into wine. I don’t understand. Surely there are more beliervers in Jesus today than there were then, would it have hurt him to send the planes flying into the Twin Towers off-target? Why did the Titanic sink if he was able to perform miracles? I’m sure there were more people who believed in Jesus on the Titanic than not, what was the reason for that disaster? 

I could go on, however, the answer is really quite obvious. The people who wrote the Gospels were selling a product. They wanted their readers to buy the product, in exactly the same way that the peddlers of religion still want their congregations to put money into their coffers, so they sell the idea of miracles, and “mysterious ways,” and “we don’t always get our prayers answered” and so on. It’s really a no-win situation for those of us who don’t support religion. There is no defence against the blind faith that makes people who believe the magic (also known as miracles) in the Bible is miraculous, while people who learn how to make their assistants disappear are evil, or that Harry Potter is casting real, effective spells, when they believe that Moses actually did cause an army of Egyptians to be drowned in an opened, dry seabed. 

Thursday, 2 December 2010

The Bible has a bit of an obsession with sex...

The Pope’s recent acquiescence on the use of condoms and 1 December being World AIDS Day, prompted me to bring up this topic.

The Bible has a lot to say about sex, it is almost obsessive about it. This obsesson was responsible for the sexual repression that was part of western civilisation up to the sexual revolution of the late 20th century. It is also the reason that Orthodox religions still regard women as possessions and sex as something dark and dirty, not to be spoken of and to be indulged only behind closed doors, preferably with clothes on and only for the perpetuation of the species. So let’s take a look at the what it says.

The sexual discussions begin at the very beginning of the Book: it speaks of aphrodisiacs...

Genesis 30:14 And Reuben went in the days of wheat harvest, and found mandrakes in the field, and brought them unto his mother Leah. Then Rachel said to Leah, Give me, I pray thee, of thy son's mandrakes. 
Song of Solomon 7:11-13 Come, my beloved, let us go forth into the field; let us lodge in the villages. Let us get up early to the vineyards; let us see if the vine flourish, whether the tender grape appear, and the pomegranates bud forth there will I give thee my loves. The mandrakes give a smell, and at our gates are all manner of pleasant fruits, new and old, which I have laid up for thee, O my beloved.

… the sin of masturbation or the wasting of seed, for which the punishment is death...

Genesis 38:7-10 And Judah said unto Onan, Go in unto thy brother's wife, and marry her, and raise up seed to thy brother. And Onan knew that the seed should not be his; and it came to pass, when he went in unto his brother's wife, that he spilled it on the ground, lest that he should give seed to his brother. And the thing which he did displeased the LORD wherefore he slew him also.    

 and adultery.

Leviticus 19:20 And whosoever lieth carnally with a woman, that is a bondmaid, betrothed to an husband, and not at all redeemed, nor freedom given her; she shall be scourged; they shall not be put to death, because she was not free. 
Leviticus 20:10-11  And the man that committeth adultery with another man's wife, even he that committeth adultery with his neighbour's wife, the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death. And the man that lieth with his father's wife hath uncovered his father's nakedness both of them shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them. 
Ezekiel 23 19-21 Yet she multiplied her whoredoms, in calling to remembrance the days of her youth, wherein she had played the harlot in the land of Egypt. For she doted upon their paramours, whose flesh is as the flesh of asses, and whose issue is like the issue of horses.
Matthew 5:28-30 But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.
…and puts “adulterers” right up there with “perverts, slave traders, liars and perjurers.”
1 Timothy 1:10  ...for adulterers and perverts, for slave traders and liars and perjurers—and for whatever else is contrary to the sound doctrine.

We are all familiar with the Bible’s attitude towards homosexuality, but I thought I should point out the verses that condemn what must have been fairly common at the time it was written, otherwise why would they bother to write about it? Perhaps it was David’s obvious love for Jonathan that drove the people who were writing the law to make a point about how  much homosexuality bothered them:

Leviticus 20:13: If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination they shall surely be put to death; their blood [shall be] upon them. 
1 Samuel 20 40-41 Then Jonathan gave his weapons to the boy and said,  Go, carry them back to town. After the boy had gone, David got up from the south side [of the stone] and bowed down before Jonathan three times, with his face to the ground. Then they kissed each other and wept together—but David wept the most. 
2 Samuel 1:26 I am distressed for thee, my brother Jonathan very pleasant hast thou been unto me thy love to me was wonderful, passing the love of women.  
Romans 1:26-27: For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature: And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet.

The obsession with sexuality extends to men who are injured or who have medical conditions involving their sexual organs, and the children of “illegitimate” relationships. I’ve never been able to understand why the innocent children of extra-marital relationships were made outcasts in these societies. Nobody asks to be born, so why should the children suffer because they were conceived outside of “marriage?”

Deuteronomy 23:1-2 He that is wounded in the stones, or hath his privy member cut off, shall not enter into the congregation of the LORD. A bastard shall not enter into the congregation of the LORD; even to his tenth generation shall he not enter into the congregation of the LORD.

The nakedness of parents is strongly condemned in the in the story of Noah being found naked by his son, Ham. In South Africa, the Apartheid government used these verses to explain the phenomenon of people who looked different to the settlers, and as justification for their virtual enslavement...

Genesis 9:22 And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father, and told his two brethren without. 23 And Shem and Japheth took a garment, and laid it upon both their shoulders, and went backward, and covered the nakedness of their father; and their faces were backward, and they saw not their father's nakedness. 24 And Noah awoke from his wine, and knew what his younger son had done unto him. 25 And he said, Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be unto his brethren.

Joyful appreciation of a young man’s beauty is also highly condemned, and is regarded as “shameful”...

2 Samuel 6:14-16 And David danced before the LORD with all his might; and David was girded with a linen ephod. So David and all the house of Israel brought up the ark of the LORD with shouting, and with the sound of the trumpet. And as the ark of the LORD came into the city of David, Michal Saul's daughter looked through a window, and saw king David leaping and dancing before the LORD; and she despised him in her heart. 
2 Samuel 6:20 Then David returned to bless his household. And Michal the daughter of Saul came out to meet David, and said, How glorious was the king of Israel today, who uncovered himself today in the eyes of the handmaids of his servants, as one of the vain fellows shamelessly uncovereth himself! 
Isaiah 20:1-6 In the year that Tartan came unto Ashdod,  when Sargon the king of Assyria sent him,  and fought against Ashdod, and took it; At the same time spake the LORD by Isaiah the son of Amoz, saying, Go and loose the sackcloth from off thy loins, and put off thy shoe from thy foot. And he did so, walking naked and barefoot.And the LORD said, Like as my servant Isaiah hath walked naked and barefoot three years [for] a sign and wonder upon Egypt and upon Ethiopia; So shall the king of Assyria lead away the Egyptians prisoners, and the Ethiopians captives, young and old, naked and barefoot, even with [their] buttocks uncovered, to the shame of Egypt. And they shall be afraid and ashamed of Ethiopia their expectation, and of Egypt their glory. 
Micah 1:8 Therefore I will wail and howl, I will go stripped and naked I will make a wailing like the dragons, and mourning as the owls.
Nahum 3:5-6 Behold, I am against thee, saith the LORD of hosts; and I will discover thy skirts upon thy face, and I will shew the nations thy nakedness, and the kingdoms thy shame. And I will cast abominable filth upon thee, and make the vile, and will set thee as gazingstock.    Look, I am against you!- declares Yahweh Saboath- I shall lift your skirts as high as your face and show your nakedness to the nations, your shame to the kingdoms. I shall pelt you with filth.

The New Testament regards celibacy as “righteous” but concedes that men had better marry if they are not able to control their “natural urges" and celibacy makes a man "worthy."

Matthew 19:10-12:The disciples said to him,  If this is the situation between a husband and wife, it is better not to marry.  Jesus replied,  Not everyone can accept this word, but only those to whom it has been given. For some are eunuchs because they were born that way; others were made that way by men; and others have renounced marriage because of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it. 
Luke 20:34-35 Jesus replied,  The people of this age marry and are given in marriage. 35 But those who are considered worthy of taking part in that age and in the resurrection from the dead will neither marry nor be given in marriage.
1 Corinthians 7:9 But if they cannot contain, let them marry: for it is better to marry than to burn.

… and Revelation says that only men “undefiled by women” will be chosen for eternal life…

Revelation 14:3-4 ...but the hundred [and] forty [and] four thousand, which were redeemed from the earth.These are they which were not defiled with women; for they are virgins. These are they which follow the Lamb whithersoever he goeth. These were redeemed from among men, [being] the firstfruits unto God and to the Lamb.

It is perhaps difficult for people born after the 1960s to understand the way that sex was regarded, and still is, by the people who did not benefit from the sexual freedom that the birth control pill brought. Even among today’s “baby boomers” sex is a little of a sensitive subject for discussion around the dinner table and older people who allow their children to see them unclothed are still thought of as “odd” by their less-progressive friends. There are still parents who see their unmarried children who live with their partners as “married but not churched” or as “living in sin,” and virginity pledges among teenages are regarded as praiseworthy, and the way to “prevent diseases.” 

Isn’t it time that we threw away the stupidity about nudity and our sexuality and simply accepted that it is as natural as any other bodily function? One of my pet peeves about attitudes towards sex is that even though we imagine that we are progressive and open about it, we still insist that sex organs are different. While we have come up with words to describe non-sexual parts of our bodies, “knees,” “elbows” “eyes” “noses” etc., we still either use cute names “peepee,” “winkie” and “flower” or the cold, clinical, medical terms for penises and vaginas. How come the lexographers haven’t yet come up with names for sex organs that don’t sound like clinical terms? Is it because underneath the use of the words “penis” and “vagina” there is a still small part of us that makes those organs a little “sinful?”

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

What does the Bible say about Knowledge and Learning?

During the middle of the first millennium of the current era, the Roman Empire went through some changes that brought, first, a split in its governance, and which placed an Emperor in the East, at Byzantium, and in the West, at Rome. Then a “barbarian” chief attacked Rome, for reasons that are not pertinent to this discussion, which caused the collapse of the Western Empire. Non-theists tend to hold the belief that this happened as a result of the rise of Christianity. This is not true. Christianity was the religion of the Eastern Empire, and that survived until the eighth century when it was overrun by Islam.


Another mistaken belief is that Christianity was the cause of the “Dark Ages.” 

There is some truth and some untruth in that. While the church did not encourage secular learning and often punished people, sometimes rather harshly, for inventions that ran counter to its teaching, the church was directly responsible for the establishment of the ancient universities of Europe. The children of the upper classes were very well-educated. Most of them spoke, read and wrote, several languages, knew their history, and had an understanding of mathematics and some basic science, all of which, albeit biased by the teachings of the church, were taught at the universities.

Islam promoted learning in the fields of medicine, and more advanced science and Islamic teachers brought that knowledge to the West. 

However, ordinary people were not given the privilege of learning before the invention of the printing press and general widespread ownership of Bibles, which ownership was not overtly forbidden, but was not encouraged, simply because it was expensive to mass produce and before the invention of Gutenberg’s printing press was handwritten by monks. 

This does not mean that, even the people who were educated, or the ones who eventually owned their own Bibles, were actively encouraged to learn more than what was contained in those Bibles, because learning is not encouraged in the Bible itself. While the Middle Ages gave rise to the ancient centres of learning and produced some of the most erudite politicians in the history of the world (for example Queen Elizabeth I), that learning was encouraged only to the extent that it did not contradict the teaching of the "Holy Scripture."

In our time of global communication, and the ease with which we are now able to research whatever subject captures our interest, it appears that there is some correlation between lower levels of education and general knowledge, and the depth of the religious belief.

My comments in this website are directed towards specifically Judeo-Christian attitudes towards learning, which includes other religions which were founded on the principles of the Old Testament. This attitude tends to make people closed-minded and to base all their learning on the idea that God is all one needs to know and that the Bible explains everything, which eliminates the need to know anything else.

Deuteronomy 30:9 The Lord your God will then make you successful in everything you do. He will give you many children and numerous livestock, and he will cause your fields to produce abundant harvests, for the Lord will again delight in being good to you as he was to your ancestors.
Joshua 1:8 This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it; for then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have success.
Nehemiah 2:20 …”The God of heaven will give us success; therefore we His servants will arise and build…”

It encourages humility and in that humility, allowing God give you everything you need and want:

Psalm 37:4 Delight yourself in the Lord; And He will give you the desires of your heart.
Proverbs 22:4 The reward of humility and the fear of the Lord are riches, honor and life.
Isaiah 1:19 If you consent and obey, you will eat the best of the land;
Matthew 6:24 No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other you cannot serve God and wealth.
Matthew 23:12 Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted.

The New Testament says that the only learning required is to be able to understand parables:

Mark 4:11 He told them,  The secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you. But to those on the outside everything is said in parables 12 so that they may be ever seeing but never perceiving  and ever hearing but never understanding otherwise they might turn and be forgiven!
Luke 8:10 He said,  The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of God has been given to you, but to others I speak in parables, so that, though seeing, they may not see; though hearing, they may not understand.

In order to obtain this knowledge, it is necessary to remain forever a child. Thus obedience to God, and the acceptance of the “faith” 

Luke 10:21 At that time Jesus, full of joy through the Holy Spirit, said,  I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure.
Luke 16:15He said to them,  You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of men, but God knows your hearts. What is highly valued among men is detestable in God's sight.
Luke 18:17 I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it. 

Believers are discouraged from questioning authority: any rebellion towards religion, authority and particularly parents, is worthy of death...

Romans 1:29 They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, 30slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents;31they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless. 32Although they know God's righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them. 

… and knowledge of the world, i.e. secular knowledge is “foolish:”

1 Corinthians 1:20 Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe.
1 Corinthians 2:2 For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified….so that your faith might not rest on men's wisdom, but on God's power.
1 Corinthians 14:38 If he ignores this, he himself will be ignored.
Ephesians 3:20 Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us. 
Colossians 2:8 See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ.
1 Timothy 6:4:...he is conceited and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy interest in controversies and quarrels about words that result in envy, strife, malicious talk, evil suspicions 5and constant friction between men of corrupt mind, who have been robbed of the truth and who think that godliness is a means to financial gain.
1 Timothy 6:20 Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to your care. Turn away from godless chatter and the opposing ideas of what is falsely called knowledge.

The above verses certainly indicate that the Bible advocates leaving all responsibility in the hands of God. It appears that all the believer needs to do is to remain obedient to God (and his representatives on earth), trust that God will provide for his every need, and then spend the rest of his life (and I say “his” here because, as I pointed out in a previous post, women are insignificant) allowing God to direct his decisions which will show him how to provide for his family. In the early history of education that I referred to above, people were also discouraged from owning Bibles, even when they could afford them, simply because the ruling church hierarchy knew that reading and studying the Bible would lead to critical questioning of its validity. Thus keeping people ignorant and dependent on priests for its interpretation, kept priests employed and money rolling into the church’s coffers. 

Thus the low standards of literacy and secular knowledge are explained, but then what about the believers who do enter the fields of medicine, the law, architecture and even the sciences?

Doesn’t the very fact that there are people who practice medicine (and sometimes make vast fortunes as a result of their career choice) go against the teaching of the Bible? And what about captains of industry who fight for less government control in the running of their businesses? Surely that too is against the rules of poverty, humility and “amassing wealth” on earth? How do these people justify collecting vast fortunes against what the Bible says? I can understand theologians and clerics, they’re needed to interpret the Bible, but why wealthy farmers, lawyers, company directors and so on? Isn’t it a little hypocritical to encourage people to become wealthy so that they are able to contribute more to the church?

It seems to me that the religions of the Bible have an agenda and it is this: any learning that encourages people to give up their religion is discouraged. Otherwise, learning is acceptable as long as it doesn’t detract from the main aim of the religion, and that is to keep the religion flourishing, especially its bank account. The evolution of monasteries into universities, the development of the printing press, the general distribution of Bibles to the ordinary people, and the continued education of believers only to the extent that they understand their religion, is all part of the idea of encouraging the masses to remain ignorant of anything that is not related to religion. The purpose in this is to keep dogmatic belief and religion flourishing so that the churches will continue to amass wealth, and the discouragement of learning is not with the intention of saving the souls of the world’s population. Instead it is with the direct intent to relieve people of the money they accumulate in their labour and thereby to add to the wealth of the churches and the people who control them. Ron L Hubbard, the man who formulated Scientology is known to have said “if you want to make a lot of money, start a religion!”

Saturday, 20 November 2010

The Bible contains some strange taboos and promotes bigotry

Most people don’t read the Bible critically. Or, if they do, it’s with the intention of gaining some inspiration from its words. I thought it would be interesting to point out the verses that lay down some very strange laws that most Bible readers simple choose to ignore, or, and I’ll come to the law in another post, they simply say “Jesus nullified all the old laws.” Fine, that’s fair enough -- but what about the people who still live according to the old laws, such as Orthodox Jews and puritanical Protestants? How do they feel about the following:


Mixed livestock and cloth:
Lev 19:19 Ye shall keep my statutes. Thou shalt not let thy cattle gender with a diverse kind thou shalt not sow thy field with mingled seed neither shall a garment mingled of linen and woolen come upon thee.  
Thus the believer breaks the law every time he farms with modern cattle, who are mostly hybrids genetically modified to produce more milk, or modern grains. or whenever he pairs a cotton shirt with a pair of woolen trousers? Or how about polyester-cotton shirts?

Tattoos and surgery?
Lev19:28 You shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor print any marks on you I am the LORD. 
Deuteronomy 18:1 goes further, it speaks about “making baldness between your eyes.”  There must have been some very strange customs among the people of the Near East during the first millennium BCE, otherwise why would the writers make this law? A believer would argue that the law applies to cutting flesh and getting tattoos “for the dead,” and not generally cutting the flesh for surgical reasons. My logic and my knowledge of the people of this period tells me that surgery was not in general practice, and if general “cutting of the flesh” “for the dead” was frowned on, how much more would a superstitious person frown on the removal of an infected part of the body?

In both Orthodox Jewish and Islamic custom, it is preferred that dead bodies not be autopsied because of this law. They want to bury the whole body, and not leave parts behind. Therefore, in strict adherence of this law, surely it is also forbidden to remove body parts while the person is alive? So every time a Muslim or a Jew undergoes surgery to remove some diseased part of the body, they are breaking this law. This must really get Allah/Yahweh riled up.

Washing in blood
Revelation 1:5 And from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, and the first begotten of the dead, and the prince of the kings of the earth. Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood.
I’m commenting on this one purely from the point of view of “grossness” and its “yuck” value. Imagine that you are washed in human blood when your sins are forgiven? I don’t know if I like this metaphor. Why did they not simply say that he died as a sacrifice, and leave it there? Why drag the nastiness of blood-smearing into the picture, and imagine how children feel about this?

Antichrists, liars and gossips
I’ll have more to say about “antichrists” in another post. On the one hand, the New Testament preaches about judging, and on the other it calls people, like myself and other atheists, “antichrists.”
1 John 2:22-23  Whoever denies  that Jesus is the Christ  is a liar and an antichrist. 
1 John 4:3 but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world. 
1 John 1:8-10 If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives.
2 Timothy 2:16-18 Avoid godless chatter, because those who indulge in it will become more and more ungodly.17Their teaching will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, who have wandered away from the truth. They say that the resurrection has already taken place, and they destroy the faith of some.
The words in “Timothy” speak of “godless chatter.” Does this mean that all conversation has to be about Jesus? It is apparently very wrong to read the tabloids, or to discuss the silliness of celebrities if you are an adherent of New Testament religion.  Watching Oprah has to be a really terribly sinful act, as is the viewing of award shows or perhaps even the news. Is this the reason that most believers don’t bother to read newspapers? Then what about the politicians on the religious “right” who go out of their way to defame their opponents, and who revel in the downfall of the other party? Surely they are sinning and showing themselves to be infected by the “gangrene” of “idle chatter?”

Racism and bigotry
Genesis 9:26-27 He also said, Blessed be the LORD, the God of Shem! May Canaan be the slave of Shem. May God extend the territory of Japheth; may Japheth live in the tents of Shem, and may Canaan be his slave.  
Joshua 9:27 And Joshua made them that day hewers of wood and drawers of water for the congregation, and for the altar of the LORD, even unto this day, in the place which he should choose
Matthew 6:5-6 And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly. 
Matthew 23:33 Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell
Titus 1:12 The people of Crete are  always liars, evil beasts, slow bellies. 
2 Chronicles 14:12 So the LORD defeated the Ethiopians before Asa and before Judah, and the Ethiopians fled.
I don’t really have to point out that these verses incite racism and bigotry. Noah’s son, Ham, who “uncovered his father’s nakedness” in Genesis 9:22, was removed from the family to Canaan, to become a “slave” to his brothers. The Nationalist Party in Apartheid South Africa used these verses as their justification for their racist policies. 

If the law of the Old Testament is no longer valid, do the words of Titus justify bigotry towards metaphorical people of “Crete?” Or are those words to be interpreted as meaning the actual people of the Mediterranean island? In which case, adhering to the strict word of the New Testament means that God approves of his followers judging the people of Crete as “liars, evil beasts [and] slow bellies.” 

Apart from that one direct mention, note the comment about “hypocrites” who openly pray before others, such as people who loudly intone prayers around their relatives who are in hospital, or who pray over food in public.  I wonder if praying in church counts as openly praying?

Slavery
Most people are aware that the Bible approves of slavery...
Exodus 21:7 And if a man sell his daughter to be a maidservant, she shall not go out as the menservants do. 
Exodus 21:5-6 And if the servant shall plainly say, I love my master, my wife, and my children; I will not go out free Then his master shall bring him unto the judges; he shall also bring him to the door, or unto the door post; and his master shall bore his ear through with an aul; and he shall serve him for ever.    
Leviticus 25:44 Both thy bondmen, and thy bondmaids, which thou shalt have, shall be of the heathen that are round about you; of them shall ye buy bondmen and bondmaids. You may also buy some of the temporary residents living among you and members of their clans born in your country, and they will become your property. You can will them to your children as inherited property and can make them slaves for life, but you must not rule over your fellow Israelites ruthlessly.
Luke 12:47 And that servant, which knew his lord's will, and prepared not himself, neither did  according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes. 
...but is the boring of an ear really necessary? Also note the justification in Luke for the disciplining of recalcitrant slaves, or servants. This from a religion that also preaches treating your “fellow man” the way that you would wish to be treated. 
Alcohol, drunkenness and abstinence
Gen.9:20  And Noah began to be an husbandman, and he planted a vineyard
Genesis 19::32-33 Let’s get our father to drink wine and then lie with him and preserve our family line through our father. That night they got their father to drink wine, and the older daughter went in and lay with him. He was not aware of it when she lay down or when she got up.
Leviticus 10:9:You and your sons are not to drink wine or other fermented drink whenever you go into the Tent of Meeting, or you will die. This is a lasting ordinance for the generations to come
Numbers 6:3 he must abstain from wine and other fermented drink and must not drink vinegar made from wine or from other fermented drink. He must not drink grape juice or eat grapes or raisins.
Deuteronomy 29:6:You ate no bread and drank no wine or other fermented drink. I did this so that you might know that I am the Lord your God.
1 Kings 16:8:In the twenty and sixth year of Asa king of Judah began Elah the son of Baasha to reign over Israel in Tirzah, two years. And his servant Zimri, captain of half [his] chariots, conspired against him, as he was in Tirzah, drinking himself drunk in the house of Arza steward of [his] house in Tirzah.
Matthew 26:29 I tell you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it anew with you in my Father’s kingdom. 
Ephesians 5:18 Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit.
Timothy 5:23 Stop drinking only water, and use a little wine because of your stomach and your frequent illnesses.
The planting of vineyards is good, but the drinking of wine is not? Or should the believer drink wine rather than water, but not get drunk? It seems that the water in the old days wasn’t any better than the water we’re supplied with today, and that people were just people then, as they are now. Someone should tell all the believers in “temperance” and “sobriety” that God approves of drinking, he just doesn’t approve of drunkenness.

Wastefulness and profligacy
Luke 15:13 And not many days later, the younger son gathered everything together and went on a journey into a distant country, and there he squandered his estate with loose living.
John 6:12 When they were filled, He said to His disciples, “Gather up the leftover fragments so that nothing will be lost.”
I’m not too bothered about the Bible disapproving of wastefulness. I only wish that the people who believe in the Bible would note that the New Testament advocates that believers should not be wasteful. However, my posts here are not intended as a platform my own opinions on pollution and the environment. All I’m doing with these verses is pointing out that there are some good ideas but that it’s a pity that the people who deny scientific warnings about the dangers of a “throwaway” society, don’t bother to heed the words of these writers.

Summary
It seems to me that believers pick and choose which of the Bible’s verses still apply. My knowledge of those who believe indicates that they disapprove of tattoos based on the Old Testament verse, but (most of them) don’t worry too much that the same verse forbidding surgery. It also seems that treating servants badly, and racial discrimination, are quite alright but gossip is not, except when it comes to pointing out the mistakes that celebrities make. Furthermore, it seems as if the Bible holds the view that drinking is fine, as long as it doesn’t lead to drunkenness, and, finally, that the verses warning against waste are simply to be ignored. None of this makes sense.

Monday, 8 November 2010

The Nicene Creed

The Nicene Creed


What is it? It’s the expression of faith that all Christian children in the old orthodox religions, Roman Catholic, Church of England and so on are taught to recite, in the early stages of the Christian indoctrination. It was first formulated at the Council of Nicaea in 323 CE and then revised at the Council of Constantinople in 381, both versions are published on the Wikipedia page cited above, as well as an analysis of the differences between them. My purpose here is not to analyse the differences or even to discuss the insecurity of faith that made them change the wording, instead, I want to talk about the hold it has on the people who believe in it.

I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.
And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds; God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God; begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made.
Who, for us men and for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary, and was made man; and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate; He suffered and was buried; and the third day He rose again, according to the Scriptures; and ascended into heaven, and sits on the right hand of the Father; and He shall come again, with glory, to judge the quick and the dead; whose kingdom shall have no end.
And I believe in the Holy Ghost, the Lord and Giver of Life; who proceeds from the Father and the Son; who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified; who spoke by the prophets.
And I believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church. I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins; and I look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.

In discussions with believers, atheists ask for evidence for the existence of God. An atheist is someone who does not believe in the existence of gods, it is not a religion or a cult or an organised group of people who seek to discredit the beliefs of others, all I seek from believers is that they furnish me with evidence that their god exists, and that he/she has some power over my life. So far, no one has yet been able to do that, until this week, when a believer told me that I would find evidence for God, and for the basis of the belief in God within the Nicene creed. Therefore, I want to take it to pieces to see whether there is anything in there that will convince me that I ought to believe in things I can’t experience with my five senses.

I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.

The believer attests here that he/she believes in God and that God created heaven and earth and all things that can and cannot be seen. Dare I say that the implication of the ‘unseen’ here is the metaphysical, rather than whatever exists outside of my immediate presence? Is belief enough for the metaphysical to exist, a little like saying that if I believe in Santa Claus, he really will exist? I don’t think so. I’m no scientist but my (brand new) intense interest in science has taught me a few things in the last year. One is that God (whether he is the Father Almighty or not) did not “make heaven and earth” and that the rest of it came about as a result of the creation of the universe as a result of the “Big Bang” 13.7 billion years ago. This can be measured, there is ample evidence for both the Big Bang and the length of time that our universe has existed, therefore the first sentence of this creed, is nothing but a statement of ignorance of what really happened. 

The second thing that science is teaching me is that everything that was previously thought to be metaphysical in origin, can be examined and explained, by science. Poltergeists, the ghost in the cupboard under the stairs and aliens in "Area 51" don’t exist, and the events attributed to them are easily explained with a little physical examination.

And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds; God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God; begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made.

Here we have the explanation of the “monotheism” of Christian religion. Jesus, an ordinary man, born to an ordinary Jewish family, who may have lived during the first few decades of the first century, was just a man. There is no evidence that he was conceived by a virgin, or ascended into the sky. Without any evidence for it, the “only-begotten Son of God” declaration is again, merely the subjective idea of the believer. However, I do like the “before all worlds” bit. But then again it says again that all things were made. So this sentence can also be discarded. Until someone produces valid evidence that Jesus was anything more than an ordinary person who happened to make some interesting friends, I, and I’m sure I can speak for my fellow atheists, will continue to refuse to believe that there is anything more to his story.

Who, for us men and for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary, and was made man; and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate; He suffered and was buried; and the third day He rose again, according to the Scriptures; and ascended into heaven, and sits on the right hand of the Father; and He shall come again, with glory, to judge the quick and the dead; whose kingdom shall have no end.

Pontius Pilate has been spoken about by various historians, so he’s a real person. The whole crucifixion story has already been discussed in an earlier post. I keep having problems with the “third day” business. How did these people, living almost four hundred years later have such absolute belief that there was going to be a return to the earth by Jesus? The story they believe was told by Jesus said that it was going to happen within the lifetime of the people in his audience. In Matthew 24:34 he says:
Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled.
Was he lying? Or were the writers of Matthew simply writing their version of what they thought he might have said being asked “when will it happen?” 

Thuycidides has been accused of inventing direct speech in his story of the Peloponnesian War, when we read pieces where he could not have overheard the conversation and where, even if he did get the story from an eye-witness to the discussion, what he wrote could not have been verbatim. 

In Ancient Historiography and its Contexts Studies in Honour of A. J. Woodman 
Kraus, Christina S. Kraus, Professor of Classics, Yale University,  John, Leon Golden Marincola, Professor of Classics, Florida State University and Christopher, Regius Pelling Professor of Greek, University of Oxford, John Moles discusses this problem and how it was common in the ancient world (before the historical method) to report what the writer thought the speakers might have said in a particular situation. Other writers of the time have done this as well,  Homer, Hesiod and Herodotus, so why should the writers of the Gospels have been any different? 

The only thing that this sentence in the creed proves, is that the people who wrote the creed believed that Jesus would indeed come down from heaven to rescue them. My opinion about the second coming was that the idea originated from fear, of death but more likely, of the power of Rome in the first century. By the time the creed was written, it was part of the indoctrination process, reward for being obedient believers, a belief that still exists today. Thus believers waste the lives they have and that they ought to be experiencing now in favour of an empty promise of something yet to come. 

And I believe in the Holy Ghost, the Lord and Giver of Life; who proceeds from the Father and the Son; who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified; who spoke by the prophets.

Well, why not invent some mysticism. The people of the first millennium were as superstitious of the things they could not explain as the people of the Old Testament were. So the Holy Ghost, the “giver of life” the “carrier of the soul” was invented to explain what they could not explain about the first breath a child gasps as it is born, and the last breath a dying person breathes. We can explain this, with science, fairly easily today, so is it not time to put the Holy Ghost to bed?

And I believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church. I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins; and I look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.

And then finally. This is not a metaphysical inexplicable thing. It’s the Church. The organisation that will take your money and give you nothing but empty promises in return. Pay the church your money, tell the priest how bad you are, get dipped into a bath of water and for as long as the money keeps rolling in, you can be assured that you no longer have to fear death, and the nothingness that comes afterwards.

I find nothing that proves the existence of God to me in this piece of writing, as I found no evidence for him in the Bible. All I find, the more I read and learn about the religions who use the Bible for the basis of their religion is the irrationality that I’ve spoken about in my previous posts. There is nothing inspirational in there, nothing that I want to use as a signature or to remember in the way that people memorise pieces of text. I still fail to see what the reason is for religion. I continue to ask the questions “why do people still need religion?” “What purpose does it serve?” If people need someone to talk to, or for social purposes, to relieve loneliness, insecurity and other emotional problems, why not simply find other people who have the same problems and form a support group? “Charity?” How much charity is there in keeping the people of under-developed countries ignorant and under-educated while you refuse them condoms and birth control? I can’t see any purpose. 
I shudder to think that children are still indoctrinated with this nonsense, rather than the story of how the universe really happened, and where people really came from.