Saturday, December 12, 2009

God hates recliners

A couple of interesting stories came to my attention lately

Tillmon Webb of South Carolina injured his knee and chose a very novel way of dealing with it – he sat down in his recliner and waited for God to heal him.  According to his wife: “He read his Bible daily, he spent his full focus on God and he was literally waiting and praying for a Job miracle. If anybody knows the Bible and knows Job, he really and fully believed that God was going to heal him just like he did Job, because he said he couldn't think of a better testimony to go out and to tell people.”  So then, wearing nothing but a blanket, the 33-year-old didn't move from that recliner for the next eight months.  He insisted that his wife not call for help but after 8 months she did finally call an ambulance.  Greenwood County authorities say they found Tillmon covered with sores, and that he appeared to weigh about 800 pounds. They say he was stuck to his chair, and they had to saw the recliner apart. They cut a large hole around the front door to get him out.  He died at the hospital.  You can read the entire story here.

For 3 months Estelle Walker holed herself and her 5 children up in a cabin and during this time she made no effort to find food for any of them.  Instead of looking for a job or even asking for help she instead chose to wait on God to provide food for them. By the time police were at last summoned by neighbours, investigators found the children so malnourished they had difficulty talking.  You can read the full story here

In 2000 a young man noticed a bump on his neck.  Instead of going to the doctor he instead chose to spend the next eight years of his life in various prayer lines, prayer circles and spent a substantial amount of money on various “healing resources” from international Word of Faith ministries while the bump kept getting larger.  That young man was me.  Luckily my story had a happier ending than the previous two because I eventually got out of the prayer line and into the doctors office and it turned out I did it in the nick of time – by that time the tumor had started to squeeze my arteries and I was in immanent danger of a stroke.  Here is a picture taken around my 30th birthday which finally frightened me enough to take action:


 See as much as I would like to point at these people and call them names, I can’t because I am guilty of the same thing they are.  We all depended on a miracle when we didn’t need a miracle.  Tillmon Webb just had a torn ACL, hardly a lethal injury!  Estelle Walker was a qualified teacher who could easily have earned money for food and failing that she could have asked friends, family, her ex husband or anyone at one of the two churches within walking distance of the cabin for help.  All I had to do was just go see a doctor.  So why didn’t we?  Why the steadfast search for a miracle when the miracle clearly wasn’t coming – or needed?  I don't know about the other two but I'm normally a reasonably intelligent person.  How could I be so monumentally stupid then?  We were all holding the idiot ball, no point in pretending otherwise.  Whatever else we may have been we certainly acted like gullible retards.  However I do feel that the Charismatic/Pentecostal movement should shoulder a share of the blame here.  I don’t know about Mr Webb and Mrs Walker, but I know that the churches I grew up in, the books I read and the televangelists I watched all taught that we should expect the continual miraculous working of God in our lives.  More damning however is the common Pentecostal/Charismatic teaching that you should ignore circumstances, push past your common sense and close your eyes to the warning signs and just keep on believing for your miraculous breakthrough no matter how unlikely it looks.  To do anything else is to lack faith and if you don’t have enough faith you can forget about your miracle.  If you had spent any time in the Charismatic movement, you know exactly what I’m talking about.  Practical solutions are bad, faith in unnecessarily miracles are good. 

What stings the most is that this wasn’t just bad thinking, it was all bad theology too.  This is a religious idea with no backing in the Bible.  Yes, the Bible does say to trust in God but yet if you read the Bible you will see that the people in it still planted crops for food and still built walls and watchtowers to protect their cities (something I blogged about previously).  I bet you if you sat me or Tillmon or Estelle down and asked us about why evil exists we would have all explained the importance of free will and making the right decisions to you.  Likewise if you asked us about salvation we would have told you how important it is to make the right decisions because what you do has great impact on your life.  Yet when we had to make a choice to make a much needed impact on our lives we chose to do nothing instead.  How did we miss something so obvious?

Taking responsibility for your actions and their consequences isn’t just common sense, it’s Biblical too.  In the parable of the talents, Jesus doesn’t praise the servant who hid his talent, He praised the one who took what he had and worked with it.  The servant who hid his money didn’t get rewarded with a miraculous increase, no only those who earned an increase received it.  Then (as Tim recently reminded me) there is arguably one of the best Biblical examples of taking responsibility – Nehemiah.  Nehemiah didn’t receive an angelic visitation, he didn’t hear the voice of God and no prophet came to give him a word.  Instead he saw that there was something that needed doing, he realized he was able to do it and he then went ahead and did it.  When things started going wrong he didn’t quit either.  He didn’t try to back out by claiming that what he was doing must not be the will of God somehow.  Instead he got creative and he worked harder and he succeeded.  Now that is an example worth following!

Lack of critical thinking skills, gullibility and bad theology are bad enough when they are on their own, when you combine them you set the stage for disaster.  Moral of the story, God hates recliners.  That personal responsibility you’ve heard so much about?  Take some.  You want something to happen, get off your lazy ass and do your best to make it happen.  Alternatively, you could just sit back and wait for God to take responsibility for something you should be taking responsibility for yourself.   I have to warn you though, it will be a really really really long wait!

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Verily I sayeth unto thee, the world shall be thy urinal!

OK so when I ended my previous blog with the words:

“Honestly, who in their right mind would just base their behavior purely on some arbitrary thing they read somewhere?”

That was supposed to be a rhetorical question.  For serious.  But noooooooo.  Someone just had to step up (or is it down?) to meet the challenge like an acid tripping Don Quixote:

“Are male gynecologists professionals or perverts?

Jeremiah 17:9 reads, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?”  What kind of a man would go into a profession of examining women’s private parts?  Don’t tell me that he is not made of the same sinful flesh that every other man is made of.  No man can look at pornographic images and not be affected.  This is why God commands us repeatedly to set no wicked thing before our eyes.

Because of years and years of looking at and touching scores of women inappropriately, the male gynecologist no doubt has a seared conscience and a perverted mind (I will not go into detail of what goes on in the doctor’s office for decency’s sake, but any woman who has been there knows what I am referring to.).  His view of women and the marital bed has certainly been warped by his indecent involvement with countless women. 

May God help preachers in this generation to make the Bible their authority, not tradition, and call this ungodly practice what it really is – sin.  Any doctor that looks upon and touches a woman’s private parts in his office “hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.”  Sir, if you let your wife go to a male gynecologist, you need to get right with God.”

Yeah, I know what you’re thinking – you’re thinking “he got that from The Onion or some parody site, no way is anyone in the real world that dense.”  Yes gentle reader, you would be forgiven for thinking that but no, sadly for us as a species this is totally legit and what is more, it is only one section from a longer article.  Read it at your own peril here.

with thermonuclear fire

After running into this over at Fundies say the darndest things I felt glove slapped.  This is the kind of statement that manages to push almost all my buttons (not the good ones, the flashing red ones behind the glass with the sign that reads: DO NOT PUSH).  In one short sermonette this guy managed to mix legalistic religion, braindead literalism and complete ignorance and then boil it down to a thick sludge of toxic stupid which he then proceeded to pour out all over a group of people I have a world of respect for – doctors.

See unlike the reality challenged Pastor Steven I have some experience in this matter.  To be fair, I’ve never been to a gynecologist (for reasons I would hope are obvious) but I did have to go in for not one but two lifesaving surgeries.  Now seeing as how I am without medical and can’t afford a private hospital I had to go to a state hospital which happens to be a teaching hospital.  Both times I went my entire surgical team (except for the Professor) consisted entirely of young, attractive female surgical interns.  Now when they wheel you into surgery wearing nothing but an ill fitting little robe thing that doesn’t close at the back you may choose to cling to some vague hopes regarding modesty.  However when you wake up naked and catheterized you have to deal pretty quickly with the fact that a whole group of attractive twentysomethings just saw you naked (and clearly not at your best…).  You know what was awkward about that the next day?  Nothing!*  These ladies were barely out of med school and they were completely and utterly professional with not a trace of weirdness regarding the human body.  How much more then the men who spent years as practising OB/GYN's??

So then, to not only spout a bunch of ignorant BS wrapped in Bible verses but to call these people I owe so much gratitude to and have so much respect for a bunch of sick perverts was like talking trash about my dead mother.  Them’s fightin’ words!  It was going to be on like Donkey Kong!  I was ready to go off big time and point out that if this is representative of what Independent Baptists believe then exposing children to Independent Baptists should be considered child abuse.  But then I realized why the name Pastor Steven L. Anderson sounded so familiar.  You may remember him as a minor viral video star from not too long ago:

It was kind of a surreal Wizard of Oz type moment when I looked behind the curtain and realized the guy I was about to unleash the blogging fury on was the guy who thought that a verse saying:

Therefore, behold, I will bring evil upon the house of Jeroboam, and will cut off from Jeroboam him that pisseth against the wall, and him that is shut up and left in Israel, and will take away the remnant of the house of Jeroboam, as a man taketh away dung, till it be all gone., 1 Kings 14:10

Was a command from God for him to go forth into the land of the Germans and stand up for sheer manliness by standing up to pee!  LIKE A MAN!!!

and yet somehow Past Steven manages to fail even stronger...

After realizing who I was dealing with my rage subsided and (after a whole lot of snickering) I realized that my rhetorical question was indeed still a rhetorical question.  See I would bet all my lands and livestock** that Past. Steve here didn’t believe one thing, then one day opened his 1611 King James Version Bible and then totally changed his beliefs on it all based on what he read.  No he always believed the way he did – clearly he remained stuck on the picture 12 year old boys have of gynaecology – and then just found whatever justification he could scrape from the Bible.  This is clearly a man with some serious issues and the Bible had nothing to do with it.  Because that is how things work in the real world.

*Well there was the pre-op prostate check which I daresay was at least a little bit awkward for everyone involved.  But I’m talking post-op here.
** Disclaimer:  I don’t actually own any lands or livestock

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Of Lions and Stepfathers

Seeing as how I very recently blogged about the whole “Darwinism inevitably leads to  Racism & Genocide” claim I was hoping to never ever have to write about this again.  Then in the aftermath of a debate between PZ Myers and Jerry Bergman on the topic "Should Intelligent Design be taught in the schools" I read the following in an email response by Ross Olson of the Twin Cities Creation Science Association (who organized the debate):

“The only point at which the crowd got rowdy was with the mention of evolution's influence on Hitler. Actually, that issue is not solved by shouting because there is a strong case that the desire to improve the race leads to eugenic and ethnic cleansing policies. Indeed, your claim that morality comes from our culture needs to answer the question, "What if my culture is the Mafia?" Other evolutionary apologists have candidly pointed out that the only morality that can come out of evolution is that I leave my genes, as many of them as possible, to the next generation.”

I was in the middle of my usual response to claims like these – a deep sigh and a facepalm – when I suddenly realized I could think of a better example than the one I gave in my previous post on the matter.

OK, let’s forget about evolution for a moment.  Any Creationist worth his/her salt will tell you that Evolution is not a scientific fact because it’s not observable and repeatable etc.  So let’s look instead at a scientific fact no one can deny.

Lets talk about lions.

Could you be any more majestic?

You think “lion” you tend to think of an animal with nobility, majesty, fierce power and beauty - and they are certainly all of those things.  Admit it, that's the kind of animal you would like to associate yourself with right?  But wait, there is one little thing about lions that they may have glossed over in The Lion King.  See there is something that happens in the wild that you probably won't enjoy seeing.  From time to time you find that the resident males in a pride will be driven off by other males and these new males will take over the pride.  Once that happens their first order of business will be to kill off all the cubs in their new pride ASAP.  This in turn leads to the females in their new pride becoming sexually receptive again and mating with the males who just killed their babies, bearing the new males new offspring.

If this was you and your mom met someone new you would look nervous too.

This is a reasonably well known - though understandably not popular - fact about lions.  We may not like to think of it much but it is a fact and in case you have trouble believing my claim I have included several sources at the bottom of this post.  A simple google search will find you even more.  Anyone who knows about lions from PhD's to Game Rangers will confirm that.  I'm not going to embed a video because (trust me on this) it's not pretty to watch but if you really need to see it for yourself, a couple of those links have video footage or alternatively you can simply go to Youtube and search for “lion infanticide” or “male lion kills cubs” and you will find plenty of documentary footage.  Heck if you still don't want to believe all that just go into the wild and study lions for yourself, you are bound to see it.  It's not like we are talking about the exception here, more like the rule.  This is a fact.  Not a nice one, not a pleasant one and certainly not an easy one to watch but an undeniable fact.

So if you are a Creationist and you think that an acceptance of Evolution inevitably leads to racism, ethnic cleansing and school shootings how do you react to this fact?  Do you think that this will inevitably lead to stepfathers killing all their stepchildren?  Should this fact not be taught in school for fear that it may cause the bloody collapse of the foster care system?  Now to be fair I used to be a Young Earth Creationist myself once so I don’t want to set up a strawman argument here.  I know the Creationist position is not so much that everyone bases their ethics and morals on nature (though you would be excused if you weren’t clear on this just from reading Creationist propaganda pieces) but rather that unless you believe that God supernaturally created human beings as and that we as His special beings therefore get all our morals and ethics directly from Him as our Creator, there is nothing stopping people from basing their ethics and morals on nature (or whatever they find to their liking).  I’m guessing there are a lot of non-creationist stepfathers out there though.  Do you honestly believe that if they all knew about this fact about lions the streets will be running red with the blood of stepchildren?  If you actually believe that then you (my hypothetical Creationist friend) are seriously out of touch with reality.  Here is why.

Remember when they taught you in grade school that you were a mammal?  I do.  I seem to also remember that at no point in time did that cause me to reject my moral upbringing, renounce my faith or change my feelings on genocide.  At no point did I figure this logically inferred that I needed to act like any mammal other than the human mammal I had been my entire life.  Similarly when I later learned that I was mostly water it never made me want to run away from home to go live in a pool.  Neither did learning that humans were carbon based make me want to burn people for fuel.  Now let’s imagine for a moment that I was either moronic enough or insane enough to actually think and do these things – would that make any of the scientific facts I just named any less true?  NoTotally, absolutely, positively not.

Seriously I can't stress the "no" part enough here

So for the millionth time, can we please drop this whole “Evolution is wrong because it would turn people into amoral eugenicist genocidal monsters” line of argument?  It has absolutely no basis in reality.  None.  At all.  Science doesn’t work that way, reality doesn’t work that way, morals don’t work like that and neither does ethics.  The veracity of our scientific ideas do not stand or fall based on the moral implications someone may or may not derive from it.  So pretty please, why not just let this entire stupid argument go?  In real life, people just don’t act like that.  Oh we learn from nature and we do apply scientific principles to our lives all the time, I’m not arguing that.  Take this lion infanticide thing for example.  We see it applied all the time.  When a new CEO, president or even pastor takes over then usually the first thing they do is to kill off all the pet projects of their predecessor and start their own – we've all seen it happen I’m sure.  But you know what we never seem to see?  Loving stepfathers who upon learning that lions kill their step-cubs decide that this must apply to them too (because it is a scientific fact after all) and then proceed to murder their stepchildren, thats what!  Doesn’t matter if you believe in God, evolution or the Celestial Teapot, that is just not how reality works!

Honestly, who in their right mind would just base their behavior purely on some arbitrary thing they read somewhere?

Wikipedia article on infanticide
The Lion Research Centre
Prides, Coalitions and Infanticide Among Lions
The African Lion - Infanticide & Female Response

Friday, November 20, 2009


I was going to do my usual kind of blog post today but I simply can't.  Not today.  I simply do not have it in me to deal with fundies, dissect antiscience, discuss bad religion or to be snarky with anyone today.  I am too happy for any of that.  I am filled with deep joy and deep gratitude.  Today I just want to watch the Boom-de-yada video on a loop and play Beethoven's Ode to Joy for the entire neighbourhood!  Seriously, if you don't know it, look up the lyrics, especially the verse that goes:
"Freude, schöner Götterfunken
Tochter aus Elysium,
Wir betreten feuertrunken,
Himmlische, dein Heiligtum!"
and then tell me thats not 7 kinds of awesomeness right there.  See today is the day I got to wake up and know that I have been officially cancer free for one year.  So all my usual sarcasm, my questions, my opinions about life and struggles with my own stubborn faith can wait for another day.  Today I'm taking an intermission.

You know yesterday in the waiting room over at Nuclear Medicine there was this middle aged lady.  She said she had a singing and dancing ministry and asked if she could sing us a song.  She did that and she did the interpretive dance that went with that and if this was any other day I would be telling you all about that in the most amusing way I could manage.  But not today.  Not regarding this lady.  Sure, she was full of all the usual Pentecostal weirdnesses that I usually like to poke some fun at but she was still wearing the bandaid from where the chemo needle went into her veins and I could never mock someone like that.  When I think of her I feel nothing but deep compassion.  We do what we have to do to survive the things that happen to us sometimes.  Over those things we have no control.  How we respond is all we have left in times like these.

So in this spirit of kindness and giving I am instead choosing to take an ad break.  Didn't see that one coming did you? Yep, just when you think I'm going to zig, I zag!  Now I realise that easily 90% of the people who show up at this blog do so because they were googling "Christian Clipart" and Google Images sent them to my Heaven and Hell blog.  But for my actual regular readers - I ♥ you both btw!! - I do want to just take a moment to recommend a book.

My bookshelf has been getting a little crowded and I'm considering a better system for my small (yet growing) personal library.  Yet at the same time I'm a little hesitant because looking at it is kind of like looking at the tree rings of my own journey of through life.  There are definite phases of my life represented there - the hyper charismatic days with Benny Hinn and Kenneth Copeland.  The really strange days of esoteric prophecy and visions with Rick Joyner and Paul Keith Davis.  There are a bunch of books on relationships, figuring out your life purpose, dealing with money, being a man, science vs. faith - all representing things I desperately tried to understand (so yeah, several books on figuring out women) at one or other point in life.  At the moment the older, rigid apologetics tomes have given way to more humorous and gently questioning books by the likes of Rob Bell and Don Miller and the drier works on Bible Doctrine to books delving deeper into the Hebrew roots of Christianity with a freshly growing collection of books on science, skepticism and critical thinking growing right alongside it.  I was chatting to RandomSue (who should strongly consider blogging again, srsly!!) yesterday and something she said made me realise something interesting about my books.  We were talking about Rick Joyner's books and how it never made much sense to her and suddenly I realised just how cliquey those books made a lot of us Christians at the time.  See those books (and several others on my shelf) you couldn't simply discuss with just anyone.  You could only talk about it with other Christians and not all other Christians at that.  It had to be likeminded Christians who were at your "level", people who were into the things you were into and "got it" the way you "got it" (would be very hard to define the "it" in question though so I'm not even going to try).  Basically you could only talk to people who read the things you did and liked them the way you did and it fostered this whole attitude to the rest of the world of "Tee hee, we are totally into something you can't begin to grasp!”.  This was a fundamentally retarded way of going through life now that I think about it.  There is a sharp contrast between those books and the ones I'm into these days.  In fact that's one of the things I like about my current reading list, it doesn't have that problem.  When I find something interesting in there, odds are it will be interesting to others as well - regardless of their faith, lack of faith, denomination, church attendance or level of "spiritual maturity and insight".

That is why I would like to just recommend Donald Miller's latest book "A million miles in a thousand years".  Now if you happened to have read my blog post about The Secret you would know that I have a deep and abiding hatred for books that offer you a magical way of changing your life for the better.  I hate pretty much all self-help books (with the fire of a thousand suns!!!) and I'm very much not fond of motivational books* and speakers.  Seriously, I get immediately suspicious of any book people call "life changing".  So I'm not going to make that claim about this book - the book certainly doesn't claim it about itself - and I'm not going to tell you that its going to transform you into "your best self" or any other Oprah-esque BS like that.  All it is, is a simple, very well written, very honest account of a man who wrote an autobiographical novel (Blue like Jazz) which became successful and was offered a movie deal.  As he starts working on the screenplay for his own life he realises just how boring and unfulfilling his life had become.  So as he learns the principles of storytelling and movie writing he starts applying them to his own life and they actually work.  Now I know what you are thinking - that sure does sound like a self help book with a magic formula.  It's really not.  Yes, in the book Don gets off his couch, loses some weight, meets people, starts relationships and becomes someone a lot less boring but it doesn't promise to do the same for you.  It could possibly but that would be up to you.  But at the very least it could give you a different perspective on your own life, why you are the way you are and why other people behave they way they do.  I don't lightly call things profound, but I found parts of that book to be very profound.  It also made me change a few things in my own life.  One of the reasons I'm not blogging as much as I want to is because I'm trying to change my own procrastinating ways and putting a bit more effort into my studies these days.  I'm also trying to get out of the house more and spend more time with my friends.  So far, I'm liking what reading this book has done for me.  Try it, who knows, you may just find it meaningful to you too.

*I do own Lance Armstrong's Bio and it is inspirational but I still maintain that if you want to give it as a motivational gift, give it to a single mother raising a son, not a cancer patient.  I think she would get the most out of that book.  However that too is just my unqualified opinion!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Commandment Confusion

When I think of The Ten Commandments, I tend to think of Mariska. Mariska was a girl in the small inter-denominational cell group I had in college and calling her a tad legalistic would be an understatement. I remember this one moment specifically, I wanted to arrange to do something on a Sunday and she didn’t want to because that would be “breaking the Sabbath” which compelled me to point out that the Sabbath was on Saturday, not Sunday. I forget all the other details but the one thing that will always remain with me is the look of sheer panic and fear on her face when it dawned on her that she had been breaking one of The Ten Commandments for virtually her whole life.

From this I learned two very important facts about Christians – first, The Ten Commandments is a matter of unbelievable importance and secondly, they don’t really know much about it. Now as Stephen Colbert demonstrates, this can be hilarious at times:

For the full interview go here  Copyright © 1995-2009 Comedy Partners. All rights Reserved

See people in this category seem to be very passionate about their idea of The Ten Commandments more than about the actual Ten Commandments from the Bible. This is the group that really wants The Ten Commandments posted everywhere and who sometimes write letters to the editor suggesting that we should throw out the constitution and just have The Ten Commandments. Now they may not all be as loveably clueless as the good congressman there, they may have actually read The Ten Commandments a couple of times. Yet they always give me the idea that on some level they think The Ten Commandments say a lot more than they actually do. They talk as if it represents the law in its most perfect form, even though it contains a couple of important omissions like, oh I don’t know, maybe laws against rape and child molesting. Sometimes they talk as if all their personal opinions on matters from homosexuality and immigration to taxes, politics and education are somehow fully addressed and endorsed therein.  As if the solution to every moral and legal dilemma and the answer to every issue out there is simply adding The Ten Commandments. But this group doesn’t concern me much. I save my ire for another group.

These guys!!

The guys over at Way of the Master have decided to weaponize The Ten Commandments in order to use it for evangelism. Screw that whole bit about preaching Jesus, forget about letting the Holy Spirit convict people of sin and righteousness (because as we all know, Scripture is wide open for interpretation when you don’t need it to be literal in order for you to make your point), you don’t need any of that when you can use The Ten Commandments as a tool for breaking people down and make sure they know how undeserving of love they really are before you offer to build them back up by offering some conditional love. I mean sure it’s what cults do too but when you really think about it, it’s only a bad thing when cults do it. When you do it with good motives then that is totally awesome!

You can find plenty of videos of them practicing this technique (See how the Moral Law (Ten Commandments) humbles a young man as Ray shares with him at Seal Beach in Southern California.) and if you have flash enabled you can have some fun getting evangelized right where you are sitting!! Otherwise here it is in a nutshell: First ask someone if they think they are a good person and if they think they will go to heaven when they die. Most people will say yes at this point (unless they are atheists in which case sit back and watch the train of thought go off the mental rails). Then you go, “Oh, so you think you are good eh? Well let’s just see about that!” Then you whip out The Ten Commandments and remind everyone that these right here are the ten absolute rules by which God judges who gets in and who doesn’t – only if you can pass these can you fact be good enough. Then proceed to ratchet up and restate each of the commandments to make sure no one can answer yes even once. Feel free to frequently use obscene hyperbole as much as possible, for instance “Have you ever in your live ever ever stolen anything, even the smallest thing? Yes? Well you know what that makes you? A THIEF!!!” (Sure, by that logic if you have ever been late for anything ever you are TARDY!!! and if you have ever given any money to any needy person you are A PHILANTHROPIST!!! but this is no time to let logic get in your way!) Now if you done your job right you would have convinced the victim target person you are evangelizing that he/she is the kind of person God could never love because they totally peed all over His list of Ten Absolute Rules for getting into Heaven. At this point they should be totally ready for some Jesus or suicide. Try to get them to choose Jesus.

With all due respect to the scholarly minds over at Way of the Master (and I swear one of these days I will be able to say that with a straight face) there are a few teensy problems with that approach.

A) There aren’t Ten Commandments

I don't know about you but there is this one thing about The Ten Commandments that pastors (for they are the chief perpetrators of this howler) often say that that peeves me to no end. In a misguided attempt to make the audience go “Gee, God is so awesome but people are sooo dumb!” they make a statement along the lines of “You know how many rules God gave us? Ten! You know how many rules men made? Hundreds!!” Yes, they say this without seemingly realising they are in fact talking about the rest of the BIBLE – not sure if yon pastors ever thought this through... How do they think that went exactly? Do they picture God giving Moses the Commandments and Moses then thinking to himself on the way down from the mountain “Hmm, you know I’m writing these 5 books and all I have are a lot of genealogies and these 10 rules. You know what, I will just make up some more stuff to fill some space!! Sweet!” Sorry, but you can’t have your Torah and eat it too. You can’t claim that God gave only a ten point checklist for getting into heaven when there are clearly more than ten items on the list!! In fact, Judaism counts 613 commandments, the first being found not in Exodus 20:2 but in Genesis 1:28 namely “be fruitful and multiply”. Add to that the fact that those are just the 613 commandments God gave in the Old Testament – I’m not even sure how many the New Testament would add – I think it’s pretty clear that we are dealing with waaaaaaay more than 10 here! In fact, my learned brethren at Way of the Master may be surprised to learn that in Judaic teaching there is no such thing as THE Ten Commandments since that would imply that the other 603 Commandments given by God were somehow not important. Instead the Hebrew name for what we call The Ten Commandments, Aseret ha-Dibrot translates more to the Ten Sayings, the Ten Statements, the Ten Declarations, the Ten Words or even the Ten Things and are considered not as individual mitzvot (commandments); rather, they are categories or classifications of mitzvot.* Of course this is probably irrelevant to our intrepid evangelists because as any good Evangelical will tell you, the Jews really don’t understand their religion or their own Book (The Old Testament).  Duh! Only western people who may or may not have actually read bits of it in English understand what God really meant by it. Surely God understands that when you are explaining to people why they deserve to go to Hell there is a need to be able to be snappy about it! The whole 613 (plus New Testament) thing is probably just out of context or something.

and lets make it snappy ok?

B) There aren’t ten Commandments
Ok, just to clarify by saying they aren’t commandments I mean they aren’t the Ten Most Absolute Immutable Rules God Judges everyone by they are made out to be here. See you can run into some pretty sticky moral dilemmas if you treat them like that. This was beautifully demonstrated when the friendly fundie folks over at Answers in Genesis pointed out that since The Ten Commandments says “don’t lie” and that’s an absolute rule you should never ever break, if you happened to be a Christian during World War 2 and you were hiding some Jews from the Nazis and a Nazi asked you if you were hiding any Jews then – even though that would condemn the Jews to certain death – you were supposed to tell the truth and point out to the nice Nazi officer where you were hiding them. Whatever happens to the Jews were between them and God, your job was to not break one of the Ten Most Absolute Immutable Rules God Judges everyone by! Yes, these are the same people who will without a blush of irony tell you that they are “pro-life”... This is a whole lot different from the way Judaism sees the commandments of God. To them – you know, the them who received the Law and have been living it and studying it for millenniapreserving a life is worth far more than keeping rules. The Jewish Mitzvah of Pikuach Nefesh or The Daily Responsibility to Safeguard Human Life states:
Jews are commanded to pray and to participate in Judaism, but above all, to honor, respect and when necessary, defend the safety of a human life.
In fact such was the emphasis on preserving life that, as the noted scholar Dr BH Young** points out, that according to the Oral Law, all the commandments in the Bible could be suspended if it meant saving a life – with the only exceptions being idolatry, incest and murder.  Now our intrepid evangelists on the other hand understand that this is just not how it works!  You start treating even one commandment in the Bible as not totally absolute and before you know it you have descended into moral relativism and then the liberal gay Muslim Satanist Atheist Commies take over and cats and dogs start living together!!!!  The moral fabric of the universe will be torn asunder!  Civilization as we know it will collapse!  Why can’t anyone see this?! But let’s not get all bent out of shape here.  So maybe they believe in more than 10 Commandments and so maybe they don’t think they are all totally absolute, but since they aren’t Christians they probably just don’t get it.  However if you do ask them to just state God’s basic requirements for Heaven they are all going to say “The Ten Commandments” right?  Surely they have learned at least that much from all their fancy booklearning and millennia of painstaking Scripture study? Right?  Let’s see:

“Maintain justice and do what is right” Prophet Yesha’yahu (Isa 56:1)

“And what does the LORD require of you?  To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” Prophet Mikhah (Mic 6:8)

“Whatever is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow.  This is the whole Torah and the rest is commentary”  Rabbi Hillel the Elder

“ Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.  Rabbi Yeshua of Nazareth (Matt 22:37-40)

“It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to burden you with anything beyond the following requirements: You are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality. You will do well to avoid these things.” Official ruling from the 1st council at Jerusalem (Acts 15:28-29)

“Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.”  Rabbi Sha’ul of Tarsus (Rom 13:10)

Wow, it’s almost as if they don’t want you to threaten hellfire and damnation!  What is up with all this love and do right stuff?  It sounds suspiciously like things those heretical liberal preachers like Rob Bell would go on about!  How is any of this useful for scaring people into accepting God?? Seriously!

C) Those aren’t the Ten Commandments
OK so nothing I say can convince you otherwise.  In order for life and faith to make sense, in order to freedom to ring and for truth, justice and the Christian way to prevail there need to be Commandments and there need to be Ten of them and you don’t care what anyone else says – scholar or otherwise – you know that’s how God wants it.  Very well then.  But if you're going to insist then at the very least use the actual Ten Commandments.  Remember there were 3 sets of Commandments.  The first time Moses came down from Mount Sinai with commandments, he merely recited a list (Exodus 20:2-17), which is what most people call The Ten Commandments although they were not engraved on stone tablets and not called The Ten Commandments.”.  The first set of stone tablets was given to Moses at a subsequent trip up the mountain (Exodus 31:18) but Moses destroyed those tablets when he saw the people worshipping the golden calf (Exodus 32:19).  So he went back for a replacement. God told Moses: “Hew thee two tables of stone like unto the first: and I will write upon these tables the words that were in the first tables, which thou brakest. (Exodus 34:1).  Therefore Exodus 34:14-26 contains the only list the Bible actually calls The Ten Commandments:
“And he wrote upon the tables the words of the covenant, the ten commandments. (Exodus 34:28) So if you can find the Ark of the Covenant (and it doesn’t melt your face off) then these are the ones you will find, no other.  So here then are the actual Ten Commandments as they are listed in the Lord’s own Bible, the King James Version:

1) Thou shalt worship no other God.
2) Thou shalt make thee no molten gods.
3) The feast of unleavened bread shalt thou keep.
4) Six days thou shalt work, but on the seventh day thou shalt rest.
5) Thou shalt observe the feast of weeks.
6) Thrice in the year shall all your menchildren appear before the Lord God.
7) Thou shalt not offer the blood of my sacrifice with leaven.
8) Neither shall the sacrifice of the feast of the passover be left until the morning. 
9) The first of the firstfruits of thy land shalt thou bring unto the house of the Lord thy God.
10) Thou shalt not seethe a kid in his mother's milk.

Got it?  OK, ready, set, evangelize!!

* Source: Judaism 101: Aseret ha-Dibrot.
** Source: Jesus the Jewish Theologian by Brad H. Young, page 107

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Would you vote for Jesus?

I had a really good chat with someone yesterday regarding one of my favourite topics – Jesus in politics.  In fact the chat was so good I just had to explore the idea a little further.  I have no idea how things work where you live but here, everyone looooves Jesus come election time.  From the most hardcore right wing white supremacists to the socialists and communists on the other end of the spectrum all seem to think that Jesus is on their side and by extension, that if He was still hanging around, He would totally vote their way.  No, I take that back.  Listening to politicians invoke Jesus you get the idea that they don’t just think that He would have supported them, no He would have joined their party, high five'd everyone and signed up as their presidential candidate.  Yes, politicians are nothing if not a constant source of amusement to me*.

I think the idea of Jesus for President is hilarious because Jesus would be the most unpopular president of all time and no one would hate Him more than the very people who currently claim they would vote for Him.  Don’t get me wrong, its not that I necessarily think Jesus would be a bad president.  Some of His policies may make some of the people happy but on the whole it should take all of 5 minutes before they try to impeach and/or assassinate Him.

Disagree?  Think all would be joy and joyness under President Jesus?  Then tell me, have you really thought about what His policies would mean in practical terms?

President Jesus would most likely disband all the armed forces, close down the Department of Defense and institute a national policy of “Loving your enemy” and “Turning the other cheek”.  Under the “Do good to those that hate you” and “If your enemy is hungry, feed him” clauses of the “Loving your enemy” policy, foreign policy would look very different.  It would mean that if another state is hell bent on destroying you, the response would be increased aid packages.

Not quite sure what would happen to the Department of Justice under President Jesus.  On the one hand He is certainly pro-Law and pro-justice but you have to wonder how His “Turn the other cheek” policy would impact the prosecution of assault and battery.  I’m also unclear if robbery would still be a crime under the “give to all who demand of you” policy – kinda seems like the only people breaking the law would be those who try to defend their property!  Then there is the thorny matter of prostitution.  President Jesus’ policy seems to be that prostitution is wrong but prostitutes shouldn’t be punished.  That almost seems like a non-policy…

Education seems like a bit of a gray area since President Jesus never mentioned it much during His campaign.  If I had to hazard a guess based on His personal and cultural background, He would probably favour home based Bible education as well as trade schools.  No indication at this time if there will be special tax breaks for carpenters.

 Speaking of taxes I think the good news is that Jesus probably will not be raising taxes.  The bad news is that He probably won’t be lowering it either since He has a policy that all taxes must be paid in full regardless of whether they are fair or unfair.

The banking sector would be waiting with dread to find out whether President Jesus plans on applying His “lend without asking back” policy to them or if He is instead planning on falling back to the more traditional “interest free loans to citizens” policy.  Either way I’m sure they are as worried about that as the agriculture sector is regarding His proposed gleaning laws**.

Now if all of that sounds great to you then bully for you (you unwashed, hemp wearing, commune living, vegan hippy you), but even a person as insanely optimistic and idealistic as yourself must recognize that President Jesus would have very little support under the general population of any country.  And by “very little” I mean “virtually nothing”.

On second thought, now that I think about it I really would like to see Jesus as president - if only so I can watch the faces of everyone who ever bought a "Jesus for President" bumper sticker as they realise how few of the “Bible based” ideals they hold most dear are actually based on the Bible!  Worth it!

It’s almost as amusing as listening to guys like James Dobson claim that our democratic rights are from God/The Bible***.  Honestly the only way to claim that with a straight face is to never have read the Bible.  Go find the passage detailing our rights and privileges in the Bible, I dare you.  I double dare you!  If our rights were based on the Bible then for one thing we would still have slaves (and they wouldn’t have any rights worth mentioning) and for another women wouldn’t have any rights – they would be property.  There definitely would be no biblical base for freedom of religion.  Now no doubt that would be good news to some ears, but the people attached to those ears tend to believe that they and their group would be the advantaged ones.  No one ever seems to wonder if Matt 7:22-23 may apply to them for some reason…  Furthermore there would be no freedom of expression, not with death penalties for blasphemy, cursing your parents, etc.  Would we even have an art community if we put the “no graven images on pain of death” thing in the law books?  Let’s face it, you will have a far easier time calling a monarchy/dictatorship “Bible based” than democracy.

Now don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I think Jesus set a bad example.  On the contrary, I think the world would be a far less scary place if more people acted more like Jesus.  If you call yourself a disciple of Jesus then you are supposed to follow His example and live by His teachings.  Now despite what we get told at election time, Jesus never told anyone who to vote for so concerning politics, if you follow Rabbi Jesus then consider what He stood for and vote for whoever you can with a clean conscience.  Other than that, please stop trying to squeeze him into your favourite political ideology, its never going to be a good fit.  No matter what you do, while you may get some bits of Him into the box, other bits are going to stick out.  So stop trying.  Jesus had plenty of opportunities to go into politics during His brief stay on Earth, don’t you think if He had any interest in being a political leader He would have gone that way instead?  Does the fact that He steered clear of politics mean nothing to you?  He didn’t want to be crowned king, I’m pretty sure He is not that keen on being elected president either.

*Laughter is my preferred option because it keeps me from a politically induced weeping depression.  
** Nicknamed the “Pacman Policy” because it lets everyone who pass by your property eat as much as they want from your crops.  For free.
*** The best part is when they say something along the lines of “but if your rights are from the state then the state can take it away!”  Seriously, are these people living on a different planet than the rest of us?  Governments take rights away all the time!  Think Apartheid, think internment camps, think Patriot Act – the list is gut wrenchingly long.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Deep Madness

Pop quiz:  You call yourself a Bible believing Christian.  You belong to a mainstream evangelical church and you have strong conservative values.  You are a family values kind of person who knows their right wing from their wrong.  You love nothing more than Jesus, Capitalism and Patriotism (though not necessarily in that order).  Just to reiterate, you are not in a fringe sect of some kind at all and furthermore you are very insistent that you base all your morals and values on a literal reading of the Bible.  Now, lets say you – the conservative, Bible based Christian – come across certain things in the Bible that doesn’t quite mesh with your ideas about society and politics.  Do you:

a) Change your political and societal ideas in order to be in line with Biblical teaching
b) Rewrite the Bible so that it better reflects your opinions

If you chose option a then you must be some kind of liberal, left-wing, baby killing, tree hugging, freedom hating, Nazi communist.  Well you are as far as the fine folks over at Conservapeadia are concerned at least, because these good Christian folks have decided to save us all from all that “liberal bias” the Bible seems to be full of.  Instead they are publishing a new improved Bible with all that liberal hippie nonsense removed.  Here are some of the problems with the Bible that desperately need fixing according to the Conservative Bible Project:

“Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”
Is this a liberal corruption of the original? This does not appear in any other Gospel, and the simple fact is that some of the persecutors of Jesus did know what they were doing. This quotation is a favorite of liberals but should not appear in a conservative Bible.”

"Socialistic terminology permeates English translations of the Bible, without justification. This improperly encourages the "social justice" movement among Christians.
For example, the conservative word "volunteer" is mentioned only once in the ESV, yet the socialistic word
"comrade" is used three times, "laborer(s)" is used 13 times, "labored" 15 times, and "fellow" (as in "fellow worker") is used 55 times."

Makes sense doesn’t it?  You can’t have all these loopy ideas about forgiveness and fairness and caring for the poor and destitute in the feakin Bible!  I mean surely waarglh baraaghe laaagne graaahgelaht…

OK, I’m sorry but try as I might I can’t really hope to ridicule this.  I like to think of satire as weaponized laughter and normally it is perfect for defeating bat guano insane wackaloons like these but this has gone way too far.  When they came up with The Conservative Bible Project they shattered the WTF-barrier and didn’t even slow down.  It is so ridiculous that I honestly don't think it can be ridiculed.  It’s officially beyond satire as there is nothing left to exaggerate or mock.

Poe's Law states:
“Without a winking smiley or other blatant display of humor, it is impossible to create a parody of Fundamentalism that SOMEONE won't mistake for the real thing.”

Methinks it would be fair to say that Poe’s Law has been demonstrated beyond reasonable doubt here.  This seems like the kind of thing you would read in The Onion but alas, this is really happening and it’s no joke.  Actual Christians have actually gone this far off the reservation.  I have been trying to come up with words to joke about it for weeks now but after a while it all just becomes gibberish as the absurdity of it all overwhelms me.  So since words fail me, I’ll have to resort to posting a picture of my WTF face:

 I think what gets to me is the fact that these people would most probably proudly state that Protestant Christianity is superior to Catholic Christianity due to the doctrine of Sola Scriptura.  These are probably the same people who denounce Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses for trumping the Bible with secondary writings.  The hypocrisy of it all astounds me!  How irony deficient do you need to be in order to call yourself “Bible believing” while you are altering the Bible?  How oblivious do you have to be to claim with a straight face that you base your opinions on Scripture while you are changing Scripture to fit your opinions?

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Darwin, Racism & Things that Don't Matter

Finding a Creationist argument against evolution that is filled with ignorance and completely out of touch with reality is like finding someone named John – if you can’t find it you must not be looking very hard.  Yet there is one Creationist argument that manages to surpass its peers.  It is more ignorant than the “evolution is just a theory argument.  It’s more devoid of fact than the old receding moon argument*.  Yes, I am referring to the old “Darwin was a racist and so is evolution!1!1!!” argument.  Here is a fun recent example,  from a review of a new book called “DARWIN'S RACISTS - YESTERDAY, TODAY AND TOMORROW” (no, I didn’t add the ALL CAPS, that was all them):

“DARWIN'S RACISTS - YESTERDAY, TODAY AND TOMORROW exposes the real Charles Darwin: a racist, a bigot and 1800's naturalist whose legacy is mass murder. This well written book shows that Adolf Hitler, along with other genocidal mass murderers, was influenced by Darwin's half-baked Theory of Evolution. This book exposes Darwin's Theory of Evolution for what it is: an elitist and racist dogma that has infiltrated our every area of culture thereby undermining sense and sensibility.”

It would be hard for any other argument to fail this hard on so many levels.  Adding insults to ignorance is no way to win debates and this entire argument is utterly meaningless.  Let me count the ways.

It’s meaningless because it doesn’t matter if you like the facts.  Let’s pretend every single nasty thing the Discovery Institute, Ken Ham, Kent Hovind and all the rest ever said about Darwin and evolution leading to genocide and evil is 100% true.  In fact, let’s make up some more even worse things and let’s say they are true too.  So what?  Truth is not a democracy.  We don’t get to vote out our least favourite facts American Idol style.  Truth is truth, regardless of where it comes from or where it takes you.  Facts are facts no matter their implications. 

It’s meaningless because we don’t use scientific theories to determine our behaviour.  The Creationist insistence that exposing kids to evolution will turn them into raping, pillaging homicidal maniacs is about as out of touch with reality as you can get.  Do you stop thinking that your loved ones are special because atomic theory tells you they are just the same atoms, electrons (and lots of empty space) as everyone/everything else?  Do you push people down stairs because the theory of gravity compels you to?  Of course you don’t because that is ridiculous!  Scientific theories describe how the natural world functions and that is all they do.  They are descriptive, not prescriptive and therefore how we behave towards one another is on us, not the laws of nature. 

It’s meaningless because defaming the inventor does not defame the invention.  This is theological thinking at work – prove the prophet is a fraud and you render his message meaningless (See Swaggart & Haggard).  However while this may be the case in the field of ethics and morality, it hardly applies anywhere else.  If I could prove to you that the Wright brothers were paedophiles, would you stop flying?  If I could demonstrate beyond a shadow of doubt that the inventor of the wheel was a cannibal would you stop driving?  No?  Then why do they imagine that bigotry in Darwin’s life should be the silver bullet that kills the Theory of Evolution?  Many of our greatest scientists had some seriously kooky beliefs but we consistently don’t care because it’s irrelevant to their accomplishments.  Over here in the real world we don’t care that Newton stuck a needle in his eye just to see what would happen or that Tesla dreamed of death rays – their science stands independently of their eccentricities.

It’s meaningless because Darwin wasn’t the lord and king of racism.  If you listen to Creationists talk about Darwin you would swear the whole world was just filled with liberty, equality and brotherly love until he wrote The Origin of Species and ruined it for everybody.  The truth is that slavery, racism and bigotry was around for millennia by the time Darwin was born.  Darwin was not the evil racist he is made out to be, in fact he was very enlightened for his time - opposing slavery and treating people of all races with compassion.  The key words though being for his time.  Of course you can find racist statements by Darwin, he was a product of his time.  Look for instance at these words by a contemporary of Darwin:

“I will say then that I am not, nor ever have been in favor of bringing about in anyway the social and political equality of the white and black races - that I am not nor ever have been in favor of making voters or jurors of negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people; and I will say in addition to this that there is a physical difference between the white and black races which I believe will forever forbid the two races living together on terms of social and political equality. And inasmuch as they cannot so live, while they do remain together there must be the position of superior and inferior, and I as much as any other man am in favor of having the superior position assigned to the white race. I say upon this occasion I do not perceive that because the white man is to have the superior position the negro should be denied everything.”

The person speaking here is none other than the great emancipator himself, Abraham Lincoln**.  See, while both Lincoln and Darwin were very liberal and enlightened for their time regarding race, we would still consider them incredibly racist.  It’s really pointless to go throwing around quotes by Darwin without considering the historical context of those words.

It’s meaningless because evolution did not influence Hitler.  I should probably just mention Godwin’s Law and move on, but since every Creationist ever seems the feel the need to connect Hitler to Darwin I feel I need to address this issue.  So then, here we go – you can’t blame Darwin for what Hitler did because:
- Hitler was not a fan of Darwin, in fact The Origin of Species was banned by the Nazis. 
- The only time Hitler ever used the word evolution in his book it was to refer to the development of political ideas in Germany.
- In Mein Kampf, while Hitler never mentions biological evolution, Darwin or eugenics he did in fact use God and Creationism as motivations for his ideas: “It is a sin against the will of the Eternal Creator if His most gifted beings by the hundreds and hundreds of thousands are allowed to degenerate in the present proletarian morass, while Hottentots and Zulu Kaffirs are trained for intellectual professions.”***
- Hitler didn’t need Darwin to whip the German people into a racist frenzy since anti-Semitism had been going strong in Europe for centuries (See Martin Luther’s fun little book “On the Jews and their lies”).
Seems to me like it’s a lot easier to make the case that Hitler was influenced by Christianity (just check out these Nazi artifacts) than to wangle a connection to Darwin!

It’s meaningless because racists always find reasons.  Hitler may have used the Christian faith to fuel his agenda but I don’t believe for a second that following Jesus turns you into a hatemongering anti-Semite.  It is as wrong to blame Christianity for Hitler as it is to blame Darwin.  Hitler did what he did because he was just that evil.  I believe he would have used the Grimm Brothers Fairy Tales to further his agenda if he believed it would have helped.  Racism will always find a justification.  I don’t doubt that you can find people out there who really do use evolution as an excuse for their racism.  However when I grew up under Apartheid it had the full backing not of Darwin but of the church.  Pretty much all the Christian churches from Reformed to Pentecostal supported the idea that segregation was God’s idea and to a lesser extent that black people were supposed to be subservient due to the curse of Ham.  Again, I say this not to show that Christianity = racism but instead that people will always find reasons to justify racism.  I believe you will find racism in some form all over the world and I bet that every culture finds really sensible sounding reasons to justify it.  It’s probably a remnant of our tribal days, this sense of our side is totally good and their side is  totally bad****.  But as we grew more civilized we found more civilized reasons for it.  Whether it’s science, religion, your upbringing, because you got mugged or because they bombed Pearl Harbour – if you are being racist, the odds are you will find a reason to make it all sound logical and sensible to your own ears.

It’s meaningless because evolution must be the worst possible reasoning for white supremacy.  There are plenty of reasons why evolution does not equal racism, but here is just one.  Creationists seem to think that the evolutionary term “survival of the fittest” means that only the strongest, fastest and smartest will survive and that it therefore implies an elitist, winner-takes-all mentality.  It does not.  In evolutionary terms, “fittest” means “best at having offspring”.  Now take a look at population growth statistics and tell me if you think white people are “fittest”...  Far from supporting evil behaviour, “survival of the fittest” tends to undermine it.  Altruism makes you “fit”, being a good parent makes you “fit” – basically all the things that are good for family and community increase our “fitness”.  Being genocidal does not.

However I guess in the end the most meaningless thing to do is to try and convince those who buy into this fallacy regarding Darwin and racism that they are wrong.  I’ve had this conversation too many times to still believe it makes an actual impression on anyone who has their mind made up.  Somehow the facts will always be irrelevant.  For some reason they will still expect the organ music to swell and the ladies to faint when they reveal that the full title of Darwin’s book is (...wait for it...) “On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life.”  Nevermind the fact that we already know that.  Nevermind the fact that the only reason we call it “The Origin of Species” or simply “The Origin” is because saying “On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life” everytime you mention it is ridiculous.  Nevermind the fact that if you actually read “On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life” you would see that “races” refer to varieties of plants and animals, not black, white and Asian.  No they will still whip out that title in debates as if it’s a clove of garlic and you’re a vampire.  Guess that us vs. them thing is stronger than we like to admit.  No wonder we have such a hard time getting rid of racism…

 *  If you ever watched one of Kent Hovind's videos you know he loves this argument.  He claims that since the moon is moving away from the earth, if you go back in time the moon would be closer and if you go back millions of years the moon would have been so close it would have been pretty much on the surface of the earth (he makes a lame joke about the dinosaurs getting "mooned to death") and therefore it proves the earth is 6000 years old. You have to wonder how much time Hovind spent working this out.  Just using a pocket calculator I found the following:
The moon recedes at 4 cm per year (4 cm = 0.00004 km)
Rewinding 4500000000 years = 180000 km closer to earth
On average, the distance between the Moon and the Earth is 384403 km
Therefore at a recession of 4 cm per year the earth would have been approximately 204403 km away from the earth 4,5 billion years ago.  Science - It works, bitches!!

** Source: ABRAHAM LINCOLN, fourth debate with Senator Stephen A. Douglas, Charleston, Illinois, September 18, 1858.The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, ed. Roy P. Basler, vol. 3, p. 14546 .

*** Since there is no way I'm linking to Mein Kampf, rather check out the very informative article:  Creationists, Hitler and Evolution

**** You have to love the irony here - the same engine that powers racism is powering this Creationist assault on Evolution.  When they ignore the Christianity of the Nazis and the KKK and instead blame evolution for every social ill ever it all comes down to the ancient instinct of "Our people good, your people bad!"

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Empty lament

I really miss knowing everything.  A decade or so ago you could have asked me anything and I would have had a clear, precise answer for you - no waffling, no maybe's, no if's or but's.  Be it God, Christianity, right, wrong, sin, politics, history or how the world works I knew the simple, obvious truths of it all.  What happened to me?  I thought you are supposed to become wiser with age.  I must have missed a turn somewhere because it seems to me that the older I get the less I understand.  The only thing I know now is that I don't really know much of anything.

Why is that?  Shouldn't I know a lot by now?  Why do I feel like I used to be full and now I am empty?  A lot has happened since the days when I knew everything about everything.  I have experienced joy and loss, hunger, death, disease, friendship, rejection, communion and loneliness.  These are the things that are supposed to make you wise aren't they?  I should really have a better grasp on the facts of life now than I ever did before.  Why do I have more questions than answers then?  For instance I used to think I understood being alone since I grew up alone and spent a lot of time alone but then I was locked in an isolation ward for 4 days - with no tv, radio, internet or any human contact except for when they shoved my food through the door - and suddenly I learned that I really didn't know a damn thing.  Four days is a long weekend, it's nothing, that's just a taste, what must true isolation be like?  Similarly, being sick and being poor just gave me enough of a glimpse to know that I know nothing of what those in severe poverty or with terminal illness go through.

So here I am, many years later.  Instead of everything I know nothing, instead of wise I feel foolish and instead of full I feel empty.  Where did I go wrong?

The Holy Darkness of Words

The people remained at a distance, while Moses approached the thick darkness where God was.

  Exodus 20:21

Then said Solomon, The LORD hath said that he would dwell in the thick darkness.
 2 Chron 6:1  

I will give you the treasures of darkness, riches stored in secret places, so that you may know that I am the LORD, the God of Israel, who summons you by name.
Isaiah 45:3

"Remember when I moved in you; the holy dark was moving too, and every breath we drew was Hallelujah"[1]

Usually I’m not a very big fan of artists adding their own tweaks to classic songs but I make an exception for Rufus Wainwright.  When recorded his version of the Leonard Cohen classic Hallelujah and he changed the words “holy dove” to “holy dark” he gave me a name for something I have been struggling to put my finger on for years.
"I remember that time you told me
"Love is touching souls"
Surely you touched mine
'Cause part of you pours out of me
In these lines from time to time"

Words.  They bring us joy and sorrow.  They fill us with rapture and disgust.  We use them, abuse them, learn them, rhyme them, we define and redefine them. We love (with) them and we hate (with) them.  They have so much power* and I have to wonder, do words serve us or do we serve them?  We may shape them but they shape us as well.  They are the stuff of our thoughts.  They are the hammers and chisels that carve our very souls.

"There's a blaze of light In every word
It doesn't matter which you heard
The holy or the broken Hallelujah"

I suspect sometimes that words have a secret life of their own.  I know it sounds crazy but there are times when I listen to a song or read a piece of poetry or prose and I get the sense that the words are barely contained by paragraphs and punctuation.  They buckle and strain against their confinement, trying to break free, trying to take you deeper, show you more.  Sometimes they roll around your mind like snowballs, picking up thoughts and becoming ideas.  Sometimes they leave you with a sense of otherness, something hard to explain.  It’s like the words are bigger than they look.  They seem to show you something just outside your field of vision, something you can just glimpse through the corner of your mind’s eye.  You can’t really name it, you can’t really explain it but its there and it’s transcendent and big and very real and somehow unreal at the same time.
"I've always felt consumed by an air as thick as fever
All the way through my childhood
Even today your birthmark burns
In a sunshine haze you stay vulnerable"

So I guess calling it the holy dark is as good a term as any.
"I am elated in the twilight"[3]

There are many examples of times it seemed like there was something bigger behind the mere words.  Sometimes it took a bit of life experience to get it.  The Counting Crows have all these profound sounding lyrics that on closer inspection must be in-jokes (or just nonsense) because they make no rational sense.  But the song Long December suddenly made sense to me with my mom’s long illness, especially the line that talks about “the smell of hospitals in winter, and the feeling that it’s all a lot of oysters but no pearls”.  What does that mean?  I can’t tell you exactly.  And yet on some level that makes complete and utter sense to me now.  It resounds with me on a level I cannot quite express.  Similarly, I can’t tell you why the lines from Book of Love that goes:

“The book of love is long and boring
and written very long ago
it’s full of flowers and heart-shaped boxes
and things we're all too young to know”

I hear that last line and something inside me goes “Yes, that’s exactly right” but when I reply “What is?  What do you mean?” I find that I can’t answer me.  There is just something there, something almost tangible, something I almost understand.  It’s a holy darkness.  It’s nothing short of a numinous experience.

"The book of love has music in it
In fact that's where music comes from
Some of it is just transcendental
Some of it is just really dumb"

Now I grant you that the evolutionary explanation for why we experience the numinous - namely that our ancestors who felt there was something out there (even when there wasn’t) tended to live longer than those who didn’t feel there was something out there (when oftentimes there were) - is a very plausible explanation.  But I can’t help but wonder if the reason we have a sense of the numinous could instead be because our species grew up around the numinous, because there truly was something wholly other around us from our infancy – a seldom glimpsed mystery we could only reach for but never truly grasp.

"And even though It all went wrong
I'll stand before the Lord of Song
With nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah"

This is one of the reasons why, for all my love of reason and rationality, for all my skepticism, I’m still a believer.  Try as I might, I simply cannot shake the conviction that there is something greater than myself, greater than us all out there.  I can’t tell you exactly why but that’s the holy dark sense that some words leave me with.

* George Orwell (in the brilliant and dreary Nineteen eighty four) suggested that he who controls the words control all – because if you cannot word it you cannot think it (and even if you could manage you could never express it) – something I find utterly profound and incredibly frightening.

[1] Hallelujah - Leonard Cohen / Jeff Buckley / Rufus Wainwright (Pick your favourite version)
[2] A case of you - Tori Amos (The cover far surpasses the original IMHO)
[3] In the Twillight - aKing
[4] Book of love - Peter Gabriel (Again, not the original artist but my favourite version)

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Fact vs Truth

I recently had the pleasure to see made for TV version of Terry Pratchett's Hogfather.  Sure, it wasn't as good as the book but adapting a Pratchett book for the screen will always be a daunting task and if you ask me they did a pretty good job.  If you are a fan of Terry Pratchett but you haven't read The Hogfather - basically the plot revolves around the Auditors of Reality hiring the Assassins Guild to kill The Hogfather and Death stepping in to help save him.  If you haven't read The Hogfather and you don't know Terry Pratchett's work - well honestly I wouldn't even know where to begin catching you up.  Go read the Discworld novels, they are brilliant and they will make you laugh so hard you'll probably pee a little.  However they are not just funny, they are just as often quite profound.

After watching this I was especially struck by a conversation at the end of the story between Death and his granddaughter Susan:

“All right,” said Susan. “I'm not stupid. You're saying humans need... fantasies to make life bearable.”
“Tooth fairies? Hogfathers? Little-“
“So we can believe the big ones?”
“They're not the same at all!”
“Yes, but people have got to believe that, or what's the point---“
She tried to assemble her thoughts.
“Yes, but people don't think about that,” said Susan. Somewhere there was a bed...
“You make us sound mad,” said Susan. A nice warm bed...

I often like to ponder life's big questions (sometimes even without beer!).  Questions like:  Do things happen for a reason or do they happen due to random chance? Do I have a purpose in life or is the universe ultimately devoid of meaning and purpose?  After listening to that conversation I think I finally know the answer.  The answer is: Yes.

It's strange how sometimes things manage to be astoundingly complex and stunningly simple all at the same time.  But that's what you get when you put people in a universe.  Thanks to people, the truth is sometimes bigger than the facts.  Surely if the universe had no people in it, it would contain nothing but facts.  Alas, it does have us and so instead it is filled with so much more.  It is quite an amazing talent we have, something so amazing it's hard to not be utterly amazed by it and yet...  And yet somehow we don't even seem to notice it at all.  We can take random chance and give it meaning.  We can take the cruelty of an indifferent universe and craft it into purpose.  Can we not see what a miracle it is when we turn accident and tragedy into something deeply meaningful?  When we take the senseless and force it to make sense?  When instead of settling dutifully under the yoke of happenstance and coincidence like every other creature we instead reshape it and make it work for us?  Who else in all of creation can even dream of doing as we do?

See that is why I have no problem believing that the tale told in Genesis is true.  I don't think it is factual though - I in no sense believe the world was made as is 6000 years ago complete with dinosaur fossils to fool the heathen scientists.  Yet who can watch humanity craft nothing into something and salvage beauty out of tragedy and still not comprehend that we are made in the Image of God?

Well I guess I know the answer to that too - we can.  Humans are hands down the strangest beings in existence.  We are bursting at the seams with awesome majesty and yet somehow we manage to become bored.  Bored!  Can you imagine that?!  We can behold, understand and create beauty and splendour far beyond the dreams of anything else that breathes and yet we can content ourselves with sleepwalking through our brief lives.  We can dream so much bigger than lives we know and yet we can satisfy ourselves with scraps of mediocrity.  I think the fact that we even manage to use the term "self fulfilling prophecy" as a derogatory term is mind-blowing!!  What madness is this?!  We can imagine a possible future for ourselves and then make it happen and then somehow manage to snort at the very idea of it - as if it were some trifling thing!! 

Therefore, to our storytellers, our poets, our singers and our artists.  To our dreamers, our planners, our thinkers and philosophers.  To everyone who can look at that which is not true and turn it into truth (or at the very least convince us that it could become true).  To all who remind us that we are so much more than we think we are.  To those who show us that what doesn't destroy us can indeed make us stronger.  To everyone who turns randomness into purpose and  to those who make the meaningless mean something.

Thank you.  Thank you for creating the true, the beautiful and the wonderful where once it was not, for reminding me that everything that isn't but should be, can be.  Thank you.

The photos are of graffiti by Banksy on the Israeli West bank barrier and Bethlehem.  I think his art shows the juxtaposition of facts and truth far better than I could ever hope to.