Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Abraham and Jephthah: Yahweh's great contradiction

Ask any Christian if the Bible is an accurate description of God's character, more than likely they will answer yes. If you ask them if genocide, slavery, rape, abortion and theft are morally reprehensible, they'll also likely answer yes. But when you offer them evidence that not only are these acts are approved by Yahweh but commanded, they'll do one of several things -- deny the evidence, give God carte blanche (he's God and he can do what he wants, might makes right, i.e.), respond "But that's the Old Testament. Jesus changed things," or if they're truly honest, begin questioning the veracity of the Bible.

Like many religions that were developed throughout Mesopotamia, Judeo-Christianity and Judaism embrace the concept of human and animal sacrifice for the forgiveness of sin. One would think that there is a better way for God to forgive sin than to spill innocent blood since he's omniscient. In reality, early Christians likely lifted the concept of blood sacrifice from Mithraism, which is said to have been born from Zoroastrianism. As astronomer E.C. Krupp states in his book, Beyond the Blue Horizon: Myths and Legends of the Sun, Moon, Stars and Planets:

"We don't know at what point in the year Mithras slaughtered the bull, and we don't know when this mythical act was reenacted in the Mithraic grottoes to baptize initiates in the blood of the bull. But the depictions of sacrifice displayed in the chapels are entirely consistent with the astronomical circumstances of a specific night, just after sunset, in spring."

Krupp confirms that Mithraic rituals of blood sacrifice and baptism were alive and well before the advent of Christianity. He also confirms another very subtle but strong relation between Christianity and worship of celestial bodies. It is interesting to note that Mithras' birthday was celebrated on December 25th as, by default, he was one of the embodiments of Sol Invictus, the Unconquered Sun. It is also interesting to note that a key tenet of Mithraic tradition was ritual meals, not unlike that of Christian communion.

While human/animal sacrifice is nothing new, there are two prime examples that can be found in the Old Testament -- the stories of Abraham and Jephthah. Of these two, the story of Abraham's desire to slay his own son as an act of obedience to Jehovah, is the most prominent. But the story of Jephthah is not so well-known. Not surprisingly, many Christians have never heard of Jephthah.

Jephthah, as the Book of Judges illustrates, was a warrior that served as a judge in Israel for six years. Jephthah led the Israelites in a battle against the Ammonites. But before the battle began, Jephthah prayed to Jehovah, asking for an assured victory in exchange for the first thing that walked out of his house to greet him after the battle. Jephthah's only daughter was the first to exit his house upon his return, exuberant and dancing with tambourines. Horrified, Jephthah told her that he had made an oath to God that couldn't be broken, and that she needed to be sacrificed.

She asked for two months of isolation with her friends because had never known marriage. At the end of those two months, Jephthah slew his only daughter, a virgin, of course.

At the opposite end of the sacrificial spectrum stands Abraham and his then only son, Isaac. The story takes places in Genesis 22:1-19 when Jehovah calls out to Abraham and instructs him to take Isaac to a mountain where he will be sacrificed. Abraham immediately obeys and sets out for the wilderness along with his son. At no point does the text say anything about Abraham questioning Jehovah's request, which I find rather interesting. Even the New Testament tells us that Jesus begged God to reconsider letting his blood spill. But no request can be found from Abraham.

After walking through the wilderness for three days, they finally arrive at the place where Isaac is to be slain. Isaac begins inquiring where the sacrificial lamb is, but Abraham insists that God will provide a lamb very soon. Finally, Abraham binds Isaac and lays him onto a makeshift alter.

Try to imagine binding your only son as he struggles, clawing, fighting and screaming, wondering why you're trying to plunge a knife into his neck. I can't help but wonder at what point a man would tell Jehovah that he's not worthy of worship, that he is an utterly horrible deity, and that the only way he could have his son is by going through himself first.

Just as Abraham raises his knife above Isaac's body, the angel the lord suddenly prevents Abraham from following through. Genesis 22:12 states "Do not lay a hand on the boy," he said. "Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son."

Many, if not most, evangelicals believe that this particular angel is Jesus himself. The inevitable question then should leap out to the astute reader, isn't God omniscient? If so, then he should know that Abraham truly fears him. As a matter of fact, he should have known that Abraham feared him millions of years before he was born. Why then does this particular angel say, "Now I know that you fear God"?

Many Christians will say that their god would never accept any human sacrifice, particularly virgin sacrifice, other than that of Jesus, which when you think about it, really wasn't a sacrifice at all. As Matt Dillahunty once said, "At least when Elvis died for my sins he stayed dead." But as we read the text in Judges, we do know that Yahweh is willing to accept human sacrifice.

So there are two great contradictions here that few Christians will ever accept. The first of these is that they will say their god is omniscient, but the text in Genesis 22 proves otherwise. The second contradiction is that, assuming Yahweh really is omniscient, he could see millions of years in advance before Abraham ever raised a knife above his son's body, he would send his angel to stop it. If this is true, then he certainly had the ability to stop Jephthah from slaying his only daughter. He had three days to stop Abraham and prevented him from going through with Isaac's sacrifice, but had two months to stop Jephthah from sacrificing his daughter, yet chose not to.

Most Christians, no doubt, will either ignore this or rationalize in some way that Jephthah's daughter really wasn't sacrificed at all. Or, if they do accept the evidence at face value, will claim that there is a greater plan in God's vision than we can see. Yet, for all the biblical doctrine they know (which is actually very little), they will never state what that reason is. They would rather proclaim that it's a mystery to us and only God knows why, adding yet one more piece of evidence why their god is immoral.

One further addition to this problem for Yahweh is that not only does he condone lying, he actually rewards it. Starting in Genesis 22:7-8 we read:

Isaac spoke up and said to his father Abraham, "Father?"
Yes, my son?" Abraham replied.
"The fire and wood are here," Isaac said, "but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?"
Abraham answered, "God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son." And the two of them went on together."

The only reason these two journeyed into the mountains is so that Abraham could sacrifice Isaac. At no point did he expect God to intervene, nor did he expect a lamb as a substitute for Isaac. The reward for Abraham, as Genesis states, was that his descendants would be as numerous as the stars, which we know is false.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Follow-up: God rescues 33 miners in Chile. Wait. What?

Last week I left this post about 33 miners in Chile and the widely held belief that each person rescued was a miracle, which has thoroughly been trashed. But let's suppose for a moment that a miracle did happen in Chile last week.

Today, Chinese rescuers recovered the final 5 of 37 bodies that were trapped inside a mine near Yuzhou. It should be noted that China has a pretty bad track record for safety when it comes to mining. Now back to that miracle in Chile.

Why didn't a miracle happen in China today? Why didn't Jesus reach into the ground and save these 37 people as he did the 33 in Chile? No doubt, many if not most Christians will claim that China is an atheist country, and that these 37 men either had it coming or because they didn't accept Jesus before the explosion, God didn't hear their prayers. Such a God who choses not to answer the desperate prayer of a dying man is not worthy of admiration. If this is the god you serve, you can keep him.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Why no one at FNC should be permitted to talk about science - Glenn Beck, 10/15/2010

The level of stupidity and ignorance that is displayed by Fox News and their guests never cease to amaze me. Then again, I'm not so sure that it's stupidity on the part of Beck, Hannity, and O'Reilly, as much as it is the naivety of their viewers. These three make their livings on the fact that most of their viewers are too stupid to lift a finger to do any kind of research to their claims.

Take, for example, the October 15th edition of the Glenn Beck show as he, along with David Barton and Calvin Beisner, spent an hour ripping environmental protection to shreds. I didn't know whether to laugh myself or be scared that millions of people are believing what they were saying. Among the claims made by these three:

Environmentalists worship Ba'al.
Totalitarianism existed before it was actually conceived.
Ba'al was the god of the Babylonians.
Only 9.7% of scientists alive today believe in God.
Birds pre-date reptiles.
The Judeo-Christian God ended slavery.
The Ten Commandments are still relevant to today's society.
The daily activities of mankind play no role in climate change.
Progressives believe that social justice is evil; Glenn Beck is its champion.
Progressives think that mankind is horribly evil and wicked while earth is inherently good (this one will make you laugh).
Atheism is a religion.

In particular, the three were discussing a recent article released by the Tides Foundation titled "Let There Be...Stuff". Go to the Story of Stuff website here. Watch the Story of Stuff on Youtube here. The real problem that they have with the Story of Stuff is that George Soros is funding it, not the science behind it. They'd rather attack Soros than try to examine the information being presented.

Throughout the program Beisner, Beck and Barton spoke as if they have God's cell number on speed dial and just had dinner with him last night. Furthermore, they know God's will, which is the supreme height of arrogance. "But we're not just splitting hairs when what we see is pantheism being brought into the churches, saying that God is the Universe, that the Universe is God instead of saying God made the Universe," said Beisner. "That's not splitting hairs. That's a fundamental doctrine of historic Christianity called creation ex nihilo, creation out of nothing. Otherwise, you think that God created the Universe out of himself, and that's Buddhist and Hindu thought, not Christian."

Prove that your God created the Universe, Mr. Beisner, and prove that the Universe isn't a spiritual, sentient being that couldn't have created itself. This argument is already dead in the water. But, by the end of the first segment of the show, Beisner resorted to Genesis 1:28 as another example of how to use the Bible to justify stupidity. Not to be outdone, Barton offered the following as evidence of his argument:

Wow. Mind-bending.

Coincidentally, Glenn, the writers of the Hebrew Bible turned Ba'al from a god of rain, fertility, and agriculture to a demonic deity. None of these things sound demonic to me. Furthermore, the chief deity of the Babylonians was Marduk. Marduk later became Ba'al by default as the term means "lord". Ba'al was more of a title, much like Christ, than a deity. Glenn later corrected himself by stating that environmentalists are more likely to worship Gaia.

All of this aside, I do consider myself an environmentalist, at least to the extent that I'm conscientious of decisions that may impact my world. I make an honest effort to recycle every plastic bag and bottle, every glass jar, every newspaper, and every sheet of office paper I come across. I don't drive one of these; I drive one of these. I don't throw trash out of my car, nor do I let it idle for hours. And while I love kids, I think that irresponsible pricks like this misogynistic, brainwashing, control freak really need to have their tubes severed and seared and their tax-exempt status revoked.

That said, just like there are dangerous ideologues in the far right-wing, so are there in the far-left environmentalist movement. And yes, there are many mentally unstable environmentalists who would rather see humanity go the way of the dodo and that man is horrible and evil. But long before any environmentalist held this belief, Paul had already scribed Romans 3:10.

But this entire hit piece by Beck, Barton and Beisner has absolutely nothing to do with trying to suppress environmental extremism or even understanding climate change and environmental protection. It has the smell of New Age earth-worship, and these three hate it. Even Beisner is the founder of the Cornwall Alliance, which is dedicated to environmental protection, or as the website states, "stewardship". If this organization truly has the best interest of humanity and the environment at heart, then that's something I can get behind, even if it is a Christian organization. But they shouldn't expect any donations from me anytime soon.

Is there common ground that can be reached here? Yes, but very little. For the first time in years, Glenn actually said something that I agree with -- that we're too wrapped up in materialism to even notice what it means to be alive. Also, there are very unstable people within environmentalism. Other than that, the three offered no scientific evidence to support their claims, only ad hominem attacks and propaganda.

I need to remind Christians, including Barton and Beisner, that the Constitution protects every citizen and religion, not just them and their idealized version of Christianity. If they don't like it then I suggest they pack their bags and move to any of these countries.

David Barton has a B.A. in religious education from Oral Roberts University. He has no background in science, climatology, geography, environmental studies, ecology, or meteorology. Even though he and his idea that separation of Church and State is a myth have been thoroughly debunked, he still proclaims that the Founders were Christian and meant the United States to be a Christian nation. How then can we believe anything that comes out of his mouth? And if you're reading this Mr. Barton, I have a question for you; if the Founders meant this to be a Christian nation, why does the Constitution prohibit any kind of religious test in order to hold public office?

Calvin Beisner earned his B.A. in Interdisciplinary Studies in Religion and Philosophy at USC, an M.A. in Society from International College (he doesn't mention which International College), and a Ph.D. in Scottish History from The University of St. Andrews. He graduated magna cum laude in his chosen majors at USC and International College, so he's clearly an intelligent individual. Personally, I think Beisner genuinely believes what he teaches and is a decent, kind human being. I don't think he's out to hurt anyone, but I do believe he has a certain disdain for science and definitely has a Christian agenda to push and books to sell.

Glenn Beck graduated from high school. That's it. He has no post-secondary education of any kind in any discipline. No background in biology, history, ecology, astronomy, cosmology, meteorology, physics, economics, demography, geography, theology, or even basket weaving. The most admirable accomplishment in Glenn's life is overcoming alcoholism and drug addiction. Other than that, all he has going for him is the ability to spin arguments and confuse people. Nearly every other word that comes out of this man's mouth is either a distortion or a bold-faced lie in an attempt to promote his agenda and get rich off people's stupidity.

So what do the backgrounds of these men have to do with climate change and the environment? Absolutely nothing. They combined their knowledge about ecology, physics, meteorology and climate change and the best evidence they can provide is an idealized chalkboard representation of God vs. Man? Please.

Overall, these three offer no credible evidence for their arguments, while ignoring the overwhelming evidence against theirs - 1, 2, 3, 4. The only one who even came close to making a reasonable argument was Beisner. This link has the video in three parts, plus some pretty interesting commentary by readers about why these three are wrong, and others who agree with them. Also, it is interesting to note that Beisner gave a speech in 2008 at the International Conference on Climate Change, sponsored by the Heartland Institution, which gets funding from Exxon Mobil.

Friday, October 15, 2010

God rescues 33 miners in Chile. Wait. What?

Here are some of the headlines from around the world regarding the recent rescue of 33 miners in Chile:

"Chilean Mine Rescue; At Long Last a 'Miracle' Comes to Pass"
"In Our View: A Miracle an Hour"
"Chilean Miners: Rival churches claim credit for the miracle"
"Chile's miner 'miracle'"
"Chile's 33 trapped miners all rescued in 'miracle'"
"Chilean miners' health is a miracle, say doctors"
"Miner miracle: Rescue in Chile warms the world"

Of all the headlines I read about the rescue of these 33 Chilean miners, only one by Roger Ebert got it right:

"What do you mean by a miracle?"

As Ebert so rightly states, "there is a common compulsion to describe unlikely outcomes as miraculous -- if they are happy, of course. If sad, they are simply reported on, or among the believing described as 'the will of God.'"

The truth is that mine explosions have resulted in tens of thousands of deaths. My great grandfather was killed in a mine explosion when my grandfather was only 10. Where was the miracle to save his life? Oh wait! It was God's will that my great grandfather died.

There was no miracle in Chile this week. What happened is that tens of thousands of hours of education, engineering and training were used to save lives. Bad things happen and good things happen. This was one of the days where good things happened.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Glenn Beck mocks humanity

Just when I think Glenn Beck couldn't sink any lower depth of depravity and inhumanity, he proves me wrong. Again.

On September 29th, firefighters in South Fulton, TN refused to respond to a call to put out a fire that burned Gene Cranick's house to the ground. The local fire chief, David Wilds, stated that the reason no firefighters were dispatched is that he refused to pay an annual $75.00 fee for fire services. Cranick stated that he forgot to pay the fee. In reality, it doesn't matter whether he Cranick forgot to pay the fee or not. Also, the town's mayor, David Crocker (Republican, of course), is reported to have said "You're out of luck" to Cranick. Later that day, Cranick's son sustained an injury to his hand after knocking the living daylights out of Wilds.

Wilds' response to the whole situation? It was a "stressful" and "emotional" day. Cry for me. At least you and Crocker still have a house to live in.

Enter Glenn, who, along with trusty sidekick Pat Gray, mocked Cranick.

I seem to remember Beck talking about the finer points of "faith, hope and charity, the essential teachings of Christ." Where is your heart for charity now, Glenn? More importantly, where are the hearts of firefighters who took an oath to protect life and property, only to watch a fire burn down with three dogs and one cat inside? I can understand a filthy-rich, right-wing coward like Beck having no heart, but to be a firefighter and watch a house burn down?

I took the liberty to browse the Obion County website for directives of this stupid, inhuman policy that county executives have implemented. I came across this pdf and read this:

"The only rural property owners guaranteed to receive fire protection services are those who choose to pay for it. It they choose not to purchase an annual subscription and require fire protection services, they fall on the mercy of a municipal department who provide services on an as needed basis. When such occurs, the responding fire department normally provides those services without compensation."

In other words, David Wilds is a cold-hearted prick who simply chose not to do the right thing. Case closed. Also, although I can't find a reliable source, apparently Obion County firefighters must respond to calls, regardless of whether the $75.00 fee was paid or not. This story should never have made local news, other than firefighters were dispatched to put out a fire at the Cranick residence.

Anyway, I'm proud to live in a country where citizens in financially distressed areas are forced to pay a subscription fee in order to enjoy safety and security when it should be assumed as a common service to all, regardless of income.

Read more about Beck's so-called "charity" here.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Take the religious knowledge survey!

The results of a recent survey by the Pew Research Center reveal something that we've known all along: atheists know more about Christianity and world religions than most Christians. Not surprising. What really busts me up is that nearly half of the evangelicals who took the survey apparently have no clue who Job is.

You can take the survey here. You can read the phone interview version of the survey here.

My results reveal that I know more than 87% of those who took the survey, scoring 12 out of 15 or 80%. I missed 4, 14 and 15. I'm a little disappointed. Also, it seems that Muslims were not involved in the survey.