Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Would you like poop with that?

For my birthday last year, I gave myself the gift of yoga.  Now I admit I was skeptical at first but, after getting my thyroid removed, I needed something to help keep my weight from ballooning and after seeing what it did for that yoga granny I was willing to give it a shot.

I mean look at her!   She's 83!  I couldn't do that at 23!
Of course being the manly man that I am I wasn't keen on the incense and sitar music type of yoga so I got myself something far more manly - Yoga for Regular Guys by the pro wrestler Diamond Dallas Page.  This book was all about manly exercise* and didn't try to impart any New Age spirituality.  Instead it had a foreword by none other than Rob Zombie and the book had tons of hot yoga babes demonstrating the poses.  The book really lived up to its promise of less "Namaste" and more "T&A".

I'm not sure exactly what I expected to get out of it but I have to admit, yoga turned out to be shockingly good exercise.  The first time I tried it I couldn't believe how worn out I got just from stretching and breathing!    Now I'm no yoga expert, I still can't do all the poses and I definitely can't twist myself into a pretzel.  However I am definitely stronger and more flexible than when I started, the regular neck and lower back pain I've had for years is gone so my painkiller use went from "alarmingly regular" to "almost never".  Best of all, the mysterious** leg injury that had me functionally crippled for over a year and that simply would not heal was gone for good within two months.

Here's the thing though, I never actually read all the way to the back of the book.  I stopped at the exercise descriptions, but there is a long chapter in the back that forced me to rethink my original judgement that this book contained no New Age Woo.  There is all kinds of questionable diet and health advice, most of it pretty much harmless*** but others - like suggesting that the right juice diet can cure cancer - maybe not so harmless.

One strange thing really stood out amid all the strange dietary advice though.  Way at the end there is an endorsement for something called "Ezekiel 4:9 Bread" which immediately caught my eye. I looked it up and found arguably the best demonstration of why you shouldn't treat the Bible like a book of magic spells (or in this case recipes).  Now if you look at the verse in Scripture you certainly do find a recipe for the 100% flourless bread promised by the Ezekiel bread people:

""Take wheat and barley, beans and lentils, millet and spelt; put them in a storage jar and use them to make bread for yourself." (Eze 4:9)

However, that is not all it said.  When you see something advertised like this it creates the impression that you are dealing with a magic recipe straight from God so surely it must be meant to provide great health benefits.  When you actually read the entire chapter 4 in Ezekiel you will however get an entirely different impression really quick.  See Ezekiel had to eat this - and apparently only this - for 390 days while lying on his left side.  (He then had to do 40 days on his right side.)  He only got to eat 8 ounces (about 0.2 kilogram) of this per day with 2/3 quart (about 0.6 liter) of water.  This was all part of a prophetic display of the horrible times about to befall the nation of Israel.  Verse 16 makes it pretty clear:

"He then said to me: "Son of man, I will cut off the supply of food in Jerusalem. The people will eat rationed food in anxiety and drink rationed water in despair, for food and water will be scarce. They will be appalled at the sight of each other and will waste away because of their sin."

See?  This wasn't about eating a healthy diet, this was about suffering with small amounts of terrible food.  The bread wasn't made without flour because flour is a bad dietary choice but rather because Ezekiel was telling the nation that things would be so bad for them that there would be no flour for bread!

Doesn't seem like such a magic health recipe now, does it?  I bet you the people who sell this product didn't even do the recipe correctly!  Pretty sure they left out an important ingredient:

Eat the food as you would a barley cake; bake it in the sight of the people, using human excrement for fuel." The LORD said, "In this way the people of Israel will eat defiled food among the nations where I will drive them." (Exe 4:12-13)

Yeah I'm pretty sure they left out the poop vapors...  Way to half ass a Biblical recipe guys!

And that, dear friends, is why you shouldn't use the Bible like a spell book.  You may just end up eating poo flavoured bread!


* It even renamed some of the poses to give it more manly sounding names.
** I still don't know what happened.  It was fine before I went in for surgery and then I woke up feeling like something was torn!
*** Or not, its pro Atkins and I've heard that it may be bad for you but since I'm not knowledgeable on the subject I'm letting that one slide.  I don't care how much you try testosteroning it up though, there is no way you can make eating a hamburger wrapped in lettuce leaves in lieu of a bun sound manly!

Friday, September 17, 2010

The Pope is calling the kettle black

Just the other day Pope Palpatine thought it would be a good idea to point his finger at others.  Maybe his mom never told him that when you point at someone else, three fingers point back at you.  During a speech in England, he made the following statement:

Even in our own lifetime, we can recall how Britain and her leaders stood against a Nazi tyranny that wished to eradicate God from society and denied our common humanity to many, especially the Jews, who were thought unfit to live. I also recall the regime's attitude to Christian pastors and religious who spoke the truth in love, opposed the Nazis and paid for that opposition with their lives. As we reflect on the sobering lessons of the atheist extremism of the twentieth century, let us never forget how the exclusion of God, religion and virtue from public life leads ultimately to a truncated vision of man and of society and thus to a "reductive vision of the person and his destiny".

Now I finally understand why the Pope has to wear a dress - it's to hide his massive balls!!  It takes of an incredible amount of chutzpah to blame Nazi Germany on Atheism!  Best of all, he managed to make it sound as if dehumanizing and persecuting Jews was something other people did.  That is simply... astounding.  If it was anyone else I would have been willing to entertain the notion that maybe he was just ignorant on the matter but not with Ratzinger.  FFS, the man was in the Hitler Youth*, there is no way he made those statements out of ignorance!

OK, obligatory disclaimer time.  Unlike Jack Chick, I do not believe the Holocaust was a Jesuit orchestrated Inquisition against the Jews.  The Pope isn't all wrong, there were plenty of Christians who stood up to the Nazis and many of them were Catholics.  Furthermore I would certainly agree that Hitler was in no way a Real True Christian and the Nazis certainly didn't act in a way Jesus would approve of.  Nevertheless it is utterly dishonest to claim that they were Atheists.  Hitler hated atheism.  Any survey of his speeches and writings quickly show that his rhetoric was incredibly religious, not secular.  As much as the Pope would like to rewrite history to show the Vatican in a more flattering light, it is a historical fact that the Catholic leadership  and the Nazis got along like a house on fire (for a time at least).  To illustrate just how well, I've included some of the pictures I found online in this post.  To now try and blame it all on Atheism is a cheap shot.  Hitler banned Atheist and Freethought groups in Nazi Germany but signed treaties with the Vatican (who chose to remain neutral for most of the war).  You do the math.

However blaming the Holocaust on atheism, doesn't even come close to pretending that persecuting the Jews is something that nasty old nonbelievers did.  No Pope Ratzinger, you don't get to do that.  Not when you are the head of an organization that has been dehumanizing, persecuting and executing Jews for centuries!  Putting Jews in Ghettos, forcing them to wear a mark, murdering them in mass - Hitler didn't invent these things, the Catholic Church had been doing all that and more for over a thousand years by the time Hitler came to power.  For crying out loud, the official Catholic charge of Deicide (the teaching that the Jewish people were collectively accountable for the death of Jesus) was only repealed in the 1960's!

So nice try but no cigar.  Point the finger anywhere you want old man, we weren't born yesterday.  You don't get to just wash your hands of your entire past and you don't get to make a scapegoat of anyone else.

"God With Us"

*To be clear, I'm only pointing this out to make it clear that his remarks were dishonest, not ignorant.  I'm not trying to imply that he was actually pro-Nazi and pro-Holocaust.  I'm satisfied by the research that showed that he was forced to join and that he didn't take part in any atrocities.  He was right there though, he knows the truth and he's choosing to not tell it.

EDIT 19 Sep 2010:
OK, I've calmed down a little bit since writing this and here is the moral I was getting at which may have gotten lost in the general rant.

The Pope's statements were more than just dishonest, it destroyed the most important lesson of the Holocaust. This horrible thing happened and it was perpetrated by people just like us. They weren't aliens, they didn't belong to another species. The Nazis went to church, had pets, loved their kids, enjoyed chocolate, loved good music and beer - just like anyone else. The moment you start thinking that this is only something that some alien, "other" people can do you lose sight that it can happen again at any time, right where you are.

Whenever a religious leader starts blaming all these atrocities on "Atheists" or "Darwinists", they conveniently lose sight of the fact that the vast number of Nazis were church going Christians.  Yes, they acted in a way completely in opposition to the teachings of the New Testament.  That is exactly why Christian leaders should not pretend the Holocaust was the act of "others".  It was the act of people who went to the same churches you do, who read the same Bible you do and prayed to the same Jesus you do who nevertheless did all these things because a charismatic leader using religious language convinced them it was good and right - even though their actual doctrine should have convinced them that it was an abomination.  If you are a Christian leader you need to realize that and allow it to scare the living crap out of you on a regular basis.  That is one of the best ways to prevent history from repeating itself.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

As any Pentecostal can tell you

I freely admit to forgetting a lot of the things I've learned in Bible study over the years but one of the things that stuck with me was when someone described the Pharisees as the Pentecostals of their day.  That description still makes me snicker because Pentecostals tend to really dislike the Pharisees - about as much as the Catholics and for pretty much the same reasons.  Firstly there is the whole "they believe in works based salvation" thing.  Secondly - and this is the part that really makes us feel superior - there is their reliance on oral law and the traditions of the elders.  Que headshakes, smiles and faux exasperated sighs.  Why couldn't they simply listen to The Bible without adding all this extra stuff?  You know, the way we do it!

Now on the first matter, Pentecostals are entirely consistent - for better or worse they certainly never preach about the necessity of good works.  However on the second matter the difference is entirely imaginary.  We might like to think that all we believe comes with a solid foundation in Scripture but that is simply not the case.  I can't speak for all denominations but Pentecostal Churches as I know them have plenty of teachings and doctrine based almost entirely on "oral law" and "the traditions of the elders". 

For instance, if you've spend enough time in a Pentecostal Church you are bound to have heard human beings described as "being a spirit, having a soul and living in a body".  You would probably also be familiar with the notion that your soul contains your "intellect, will and emotions" as well as some other teachings about the role of your "spirit man".  None of that is in the Bible.  Seriously.  Go do a word study, the Bible uses the words "soul" and "spirit" interchangeably - everything attributed to the soul in one verse is attributed to the spirit in another.  Doesn't mean that the church is wrong about humans being tripartite beings of course, just that most of the details assigned to said parts have no actual basis in Scripture.

Then of course there is the matter of Satan, demons and Spiritual warfare.  Based on many Pentecostal sermons you would be forgiven for thinking these were some of the most prominent themes of the Bible.  If you actually read the Bible though, it is another matter.  You would be hard pressed to find 2 consecutive chapters dealing with the matter!  The extrabiblical ideas in the church regarding the devil and evil spirits is a blog post all on it's own.  Suffice it to say for now that for most "Deliverance Ministries" the nonscriptural source material vastly outnumbers the Scriptural.

All other oral traditions pale against the mack daddy tradition of the elders - The Rapture!  Now I know, I know, all supporters of the Rapture and the whole premillenial dispensationalist shebang are shocked, no shocked AND hurt that I would even suggest that!  After all, they frequently claim that what they believe is based on nothing but a straightforward and literal interpretation of the book of Revelation.  To which I say, bollocks!  I'm willing to bet all my worldly treasures that if you gave the Book of Daniel, the Book of Revelation as well as every other book in the Bible containing a hint of prophecy to someone who has never heard of the Bible or Premillenial Dispensationalist teachings they would not reach the same interpretation in a 100 years.  Yes, the Bible does say that Christ will return.  It does not however say that there will be a Second Coming: Beta Release where Jesus only comes half way down to scoop up believers followed by a Second Coming: Premium Edition where He actually touches down.  While the Rapture may be a central belief to millions of Christians, the fact remains that the Bible doesn't mention it even once.

If you are interested in an excellent discussion on the Rapture and the End Times and the contents of Revelation I strongly recommend The Rapture Exposed:  The message of hope in the Book of Revelation by Barbara R. Rossing.  If you read only one book on the subject, read this one.  Alternatively if you've read all the Left Behind books and/or the many other works on "End Times Prophecy" then you owe it to yourself to hear the counter argument.  The book traces the history of the Rapture idea from its start 200 years ago in the visions of a 15 year old Scottish girl, right through to its present day incarnation.  It also provides an alternate interpretation for the Apocalypse of John, which quite frankly makes a lot more sense than the commonly accepted Pentecostal one.

Now for the most part, these oral traditions in the Church don't matter much to me.  Most of them, to paraphrase Thomas Jefferson, do not pick my pocket or break my legs so I don't really feel too strongly about them.  However, Jesus spoke out against some of these traditions for a reason:

Then some Pharisees and teachers of the law came to Jesus from Jerusalem and asked, "Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? They don't wash their hands before they eat!" 

Jesus replied, "And why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition? For God said, 'Honor your father and mother' and 'Anyone who curses his father or mother must be put to death.' But you say that if a man says to his father or mother, 'Whatever help you might otherwise have received from me is a gift devoted to God,' he is not to 'honor his father' with it. Thus you nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition.

Today, just like in the time of Jesus, people are still using their passed down traditions to overrule the basic good and decent things Jesus commanded them to do.  In this way the completely unbiblical ideas of many Christians regarding the "end times" are a very real obstacle.  Jesus said "Blessed are the peacemakers" but because of their eschatology, many Pentecostals are anti-peace and for bloodshed and war in the Middle East.  That to me is a clear case of nullifying the word of God for the sake of your tradition. 

Guess the Pharisees and the Pentecostals aren't so different after all...