Friday, April 27, 2012

Another Bible

Considering how many different versions and translations of the Bible that already exist you have to wonder why anyone would bother with yet another one. I could see producing one if there were at least a few significant discoveries of previously unknown fragments but that is not the case. Stephen Walsh's brief post on CNN's Belief blog is pretty clear about there being no such reason behind this new translation. It is supposedly to make the Bible easier to understand. The Voice, as it has been named, is also suppose to be in more modern language. The Bible is not actually that difficult to read and understand. I'm assuming that this new version is more sanitized. It sounds like part of the release will involve a campaign to get more people to read the Bible. Anyone who has actually read and paid attention to what they read in the "Good Book" but still wants to maintain it as a source of authority must realize that it has to be cleaned up to be accepted by an equally discerning audience. Without massive amounts of interpretation and cherry-picking it is really horrible stuff. I will probably at some point look for a copy out of curiosity. I will be shocked if it is not cleaned up in the guise of modernizing the language.

It is rather telling that the central holy book of two major religions relies so heavily on people not actually reading, comprehending, and contextualizing its content. I have to question the value of any book, "sacred" or otherwise, that cannot be discussed openly and honestly without being afraid of personal consequences.

Misused and Abused: Ignorance

Fairly often, I get the impression that when people speak or write about others being ignorant what they really mean to say is that that individual or group is stupid. Even though it is quite possible that someone who is ignorant may also be stupid, it is still not a synonym.

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary:

ignorance \ig-n(-)rn(t)s\
noun (13th century) : the state or fact of being ignorant : lack of knowledge, education, or awareness.

So why is the distinction important? To some degree we are all ignorant about something at some point. The important thing is to be able to acknowledge it and if the topic is of any importance we should seek to mitigate or outright eliminate our ignorance. If an individual is unable or unwilling to do so then perhaps they really are stupid. Personally, I prefer dealing with ignorance. If it is a matter of ignorance then there is a chance that a healthy dose of knowledge may turn an individual or group who would otherwise oppose or hinder you into an ally. Ignorance is a matter of the individual's level of awareness and information on a given topic or set of topics so it is not a question of comprehension.

I also think it is important for the sake of intelligent discussion and debate. There is really no point in engaging an idiot. Nothing can be gained by either side. However, if you end up in a heated argument with someone who may be ignorant and intelligent there are any number positive outcomes. Win or lose, both parties can gain further insight into the topic of discussion. It is also possible to soften the other sides views even if they cannot be outright changed.

Essentially, ignorance is an obstacle but not a dead end. Ignorance can be alleviated or ended. Unfortunately, genuine stupidity is more of a road block than an obstacle.

America, sometimes home of the scary

Even though there is no direct link between these two posts beyond them being published on the same day both are frightening and serve as examples of how dangerously foolish we can be as a nation.

The posts in question are:

"Survey: Religion a key factor in determining support for Obama vs. Romney"

Religion should play no role in selecting a president. The country is far too diverse and religion far too contentious. The president is suppose to represent all Americans and do what is best for all Americans. Mixing religion into politics has never proved to be positive and I find it hard to believe it ever will.

"Kirk Cameron's Growing Circle of Reconstructionist Friends"

That a fool like Cameron is gaining influence among any group is disturbing enough, it is even worse that he seems to getting more media attention. I have no doubt some will still view him as the cute guy who once played a mischievous but lovable character on Growing Pains. They may be willing to overlook some of the details of his new career out of misplaced sentimentality. This thin veneer isn't likely to get him all that far but it may be just enough to gain more attention and resources to do real damage.

Put these two together and I can't help but start feeling pessimistic about our future. Little things can make big differences. Every little step forward  made by the religious right is a step back for all of us.

Female Gap

Even before the GOP candidate circus started winding down there were random comments about the lack of enthusiasm for any of the potential nominees among women voters. Now that it seems all but decided that Romney will be the Republican candidate, the talk of a "female" gap has increased. Unfortunately, the majority of media pieces on this aspect of the presidential campaign are incredibly superficial. Virtually all of them have focused on perception and strategy. The various pundits, politicians, and journalists have been talking about how to more effectively sell the Republican platform and/or Mitt Romney.

It is sad that no one in the mainstream media is even bothering with assessing whether the platform is bad for women. Even when a brief comment gets made that women voters are wary of a given issue the line immediately goes into how this view can be changed rather than whether the view has merit or not. Personally, I see the platform and all the candidates as being very bad for the well being of everyone, especially women. Regardless of anyone's personal opinions the media should be assessing the issues and encouraging discussion rather than always playing up the strategy and marketing.

Another point that no one is bringing up at all is the role that religion has played in encouraging sexist policies and political positions. I do not think it is a coincidence that the major candidates all belong to denominations that are patriarchal and outright sexist. Just look at the last four contenders for the GOP nomination. They include two Catholics (Gingrich and Santorum), a Lutheran (Paul), and a Mormon (Romney). Though in theory each of these has liberal factions, the majority and, more importantly, the leadership is very conservative and quite sexist. None of these denomination allow for women in leadership positions or even in the clergy. The closest any of them come to female clergy are Catholic Nuns. Currently nuns are being rebuked by their own religious leaders.

A lot has been said lately about Romney's wife, Ann. Whether, women choose of their own accord to fulfill what are considered traditional roles is not really the issue. I am in no position to guess whether Ann really does like being a "homemaker" or not nor do I particularly care. What is not being examined is that the Mormon faith pushes women into those traditional sexist roles. According to the Latter Day Saint's (Mormons) doctrinal Family: A Proclamation to the World, "... father's are to preside over their families in love and righteousness and are responsible to provide the necessities of life and protection for their families. Mothers are primarily responsible for the nurture of their children." The Catholic Church is not that far from this position either. The entire gang of GOP candidates seemed to subscribe to the mentality that women should be barefoot and pregnant in kitchen.

Maybe, just maybe, that "female gap" exists for a good reason. The convergence in each of the candidates, Romney included, of the conservative movement and the religious right ideologies is just plain horrible when it comes to women.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

"The greater the ignorance the greater the dogmatism."
Sir William Osler

Monumental Crap

How is it that religious people end up being so clueless and gullible about matters they claim are so important? A recent post on CNN's Belief blog went on about how Kirk Cameron has recently emerged as a Christian activist. Really?! Apparently he's been so effective that most Christians were unaware that he has been the butt of jokes, rightly so, for over a decade. He has been Ray Comfort's (AKA the Banana Man) better looking sidekick since the early 2000's. The two of them founded The Way of the Master back in 2002.  If you want to laugh at some truly horrible cheesy bullshit check out their website.

Despite being around and routinely seeking to grab headlines with a variety of media aimed stunts* the Belief blog post was titled "With 'Monumental' Kirk Cameron emerges as Christian activist." Perhaps by "emerges" Marrapodi really meant "he's at it again." The only real difference between this and previous antics is that the media actually is paying a little more attention. I have no idea why, though. This project is no better than previous ones. However, about a third of the way into his fluff piece Marapodi reveals what is probably the most important detail about Cameron's Monumental film.

"The new documentary has faced criticism for its inclusion of self-taught evangelical Christian historian David Barton.

A favorite among evangelicals for his Christian-centric views of the Founding Fathers and his vast collection of historical documents, Barton is heavily featured in the film.

'The reason I went to go see David Barton is because he owns the largest collection of original source documents from the founding era that I can get my hands on and that you can go and see,' Cameron said.

'When you look at those documents it becomes incredibly clear there has been a lot of cherry picking of the evidence done to support a very particular worldview, and that’s the worldview our children are learning in school and it’s not the full and complete historical record because it doesn’t reflect the faith of our Founding Fathers,' the actor said."

If you are familiar with Cameron and Comfort it will come as no surprise that he gets things completely backwards. It is the religious right nuts who are doing the "cherry picking." The only way Barton could be seen as a "historian" is if repeatedly getting caught fabricating quotations and entire "sources" is a qualification (his most recent book is a prime example). That is the real reason Cameron went to him. There are no documents that support what he wants to claim. If he really wanted to get access to the real history of the US and a trove of documents that support that history a better place to visit would be the National Archive.

Basically, anyone who pays attention to the ongoing harmful dishonest antics of Religion would already be well aware of buffoons like Cameron. Unfortunately, idiots like him are as dangerous as they are amusing.
I always feel bad at how much I laugh whenever I watch the Comfort-Cameron Banana clip.

* He sort of attempted a debate with the Rational Response Squad in 2007 which in a heavily edited version appeared on Nightline. In 2009 he and Comfort handed out their own cut-and-paste edition of the On the Origin of the Species. They got far more laughs and jeers at the altered version of the book then they seemed to expect even in a country (sadly, I am talking about the US) that does not fully accept evolution. The pair also routinely release little videos meant to support their ministry.

We're All Assholes?

That's right you heard me. We're all assholes and I can prove it. Anatomically speaking we've all got one. Being flawed we all sometimes behave badly, sometimes very badly. So, we are as I've said. If you don't find my reasoning to be that convincing, good. I won't completely loose my respect for human intelligence.

Unfortunately, this kind of flawed and ludicrous rationalization is all too common. Huffington Post is always an excellent source for this kind of lame thinking, especially the Religion section. Rabbi Eric Yoffie jumps to this type of conclusion in his "There Are No Irreligious People" piece. Despite his own use of the statistic that "approximately 85 percent of the world's population is made up of 'religionists" he insists that religion is such a natural part of humanity that everyone is in fact religious. So what about that missing 15%? I can honestly say that I have never been religious. I know I'm not an alien. He goes on to state "that those outside of religious frameworks, even if they speak in secular language, find it impossible to suppress in their own lives the awe and wonder that religious people cherish." If you didn't catch what he's doing it is a matter of false comparisons. Even though people sometimes say that awe at the universe is part of why they are religious that is not an innate part of religion and is certainly not unique to religion. Being amazed by life and the universe does not imply religious ideas or feelings.

Personally, I have always been confused as to why people insist on connecting the two. To me, religion is in many ways the opposite of awe and wonder. It is restricting and denigrating. Rather than encourage curiosity and exploration it stifles it. The ready made answers that religion attempts to foist on us are pathetic, frequently unimaginative, and provably false. In short, I see religion as sucking the wonder out of everything it touches. According to Yoffie, that somehow makes me religious. That is some seriously fucked up logic.

Richard Land is Not an "Ethicist"

There are a lot of labels that fit Richard Land but "ethicist" is not one of them. I find that to be no different than labeling Jeffrey Dahmer a celebrity chef. Cutting people up in to steaks would not get you a show on the Food Network no matter how messed up you might think our entertainment/media system has become. Deceit and plagiarism are not exactly revelations when it comes to Land's career.

The apparent surprise expressed in Horton's "Richard Land's Trayvon Martin Comments Were Lifted From Washington Times Editorial" seems a little misplaced. If you have covered religious news for any length of time Land's past should be familiar ground. I found it interesting that the two labels that come to my mind any time I hear his name were never used. Conservative (and/or Republican) Activist and Religious Right fit him far better than "ethicist." I find it hard to believe that anyone in the field of ethics would claim that constantly using deceit is a positive attribute. Land has been corrected on any number of facts and yet he will often go right back to using whatever false information suits his purposes.

Richard Land is neither an ethicist nor ethical.

Difficulty Does Not Make It Reality

"Nothing in life is free," "No pain, no gain," "You get what you pay for"

All of these phrases and a number of others all seem to capture a similar meaning. Human beings seem to instinctively latch on to the idea that anything worthwhile requires work or sacrifice or both. There may be a grain of truth in this assumption and like many similar expressions it has both its uses and abuses.

Unfortunately, otherwise ridiculous ideas can be made to appear more credible simply by adding elements that require some effort. Long ago, religion learned how to make use of this simple but effective little trick. Heaven sound a little silly and maybe too good to be true? Try living a sinless life, especially when there are so many sins to commit. See, throw some difficulty in and it seems like you have earned something. After working hard there just has to be something in the way of rewards. The moment you attach demands to something it has an air of reality to it. It doesn't take long to create its own circular logic. It must be real if you have to earn it and if you work towards it it must be worth it.

This is not to say that there are not ideas, objects, or events that require effort but are worthwhile. There are. However, simply assuming that the level of difficulty automatically tells you something about the nature of whatever it is in question is absurd. It is an illusion that has been used routinely by virtually every religion.

Misused and Abused: Relativism

Many conservatives, especially the religious right, seem to think that relativism is a synonym for immoral but that is not even remotely true. They also fail to realize that there are actually two distinct forms of relativism. That they lack the ability to think in nuanced and complicated ways should come as no surprise to anyone who has kept track of their lunacy.

According to the Cambridge Dictionary of Sociology, the strong form of relativism is essentially the "attitude to knowledge is that any claim to knowledge is as good as any other." While the weaker form, "accepts that knowledge is culturally and historically situated."

Right wingers probably have trouble grasping these positions since their own is so laced with arrogance and absolutism. They, of course, always know what is right and true. It is ironic that they are even more relativist than most who self-identify with the label. At least, they are in terms of the weak version. For the most part the religious right's knowledge and sense of morality are tied to a fairly narrow interpretation of iron age ethics. They also routinely compare and pass judgement on behavior and attitudes present today with what they believe to have been true in the past. To a certain degree you can not make comparisons without making use of the weak form of relativism.

Personally, I do disagree with the strong form. I think there are ways of determining a better standard of knowledge. Not all knowledge is equal. That is not to imply that we will ever find the "best" way. Knowledge is also never absolute. Seeking the truth in the most objective testable manner possible trumps basing beliefs on opinions and whims.

As for morals, I find it far more moral to consider what is right or wrong based on how it impacts other people rather than on some pre-set rules that are incapable of adjusting to individual and societal needs and interests. Yes, that makes me a relativist (in the weak form).  Relativism is compatible with a strong sense of ethics and morals. I have yet to see how morality is compatible with authoritarianism/absolutism/totalitarianism. All labels that seem to fit the religious right quite nicely.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Saturday, April 14, 2012

"Corruption. The surest way to corrupt a youth is to instruct him to hold in higher esteem those who think alike than those who think differently."
Frederick Nietzsche
The Dawn

MLK was Smarter Than That

I'm not going to spend much effort on this idiotic notion but I have to make at least a brief comment. I'm sick of hearing about how it was Martin Luther King Jr.'s faith that made him such a champion of Civil Rights. Bullshit! Is it really that hard for people to accept that a black man may have just been fed up with being treated like shit? It does not take a genius to figure out that when racism becomes so ingrained in society it is not going to just go away. It also doesn't take a genius to figure out why at least a small percentage of those being discriminated against will rebel and demand better. No faith is required to see injustice and oppose it. Yes, MLK was a man of faith. Yes, I'm sure it played a role in his actions but it was not the only aspect of his personality that matters.

And one final point, if God is so benevolent why the racism in the first place? Freewill doesn't cut it. Who in their right mind chooses to be treated as sub-human? How many children were born into a culture of racism? Where was their "freewill"?

Ehrman's Disappointing Failures

I am still curious enough to want to read Bart Ehrman's latest book despite my rapidly declining expectations. There have been a handful of reviews and articles about his recently published Did Jesus Exist?: The Historical Arguments for Jesus of Nazareth that have not exactly instilled much confidence in me that it won't turn out to be the worst thing he has ever written. Ehrman's own article and interviews have been particularly disappointing and annoying. It is not the conclusion, as baseless as it is, that most disturbs me but rather his resorting to personal attacks on those who do not agree with his conclusions.

Despite claims to the contrary by ignorant reviewers like Yonat Shimron, Ehrman's insistence that Jesus was a real person is not new. If Shimron had actually read any of the previous books he should have known that. It is actually one of the aspects of of his books that has always seemed odd to me. In more than one book Ehrman takes the time to lay out what constitutes legitimate historical research and then throughout the book rigorously applies them with one major exception, Christ's historicity. He clearly shows, by using valid methods and criteria, that all the miracle claims and the various folkloric/legendary aspects of the Jesus narratives are fabrications. However, when comes to the overall historical account of Jesus he simply refuses to use the same criteria. He doesn't seem to even notice that he has discarded the standards he uses in all other aspects.

Instead of mounting anything that resembles a substantial argument Ehrman resorts to a mixture of ad hominem attacks, distortions, conflations, and false comparisons. He starts by trying to claim that those that don't support the idea that Jesus was real are unqualified to make any such claim. This would be true if all scholarship were dependent on holding both degrees and professorships. Unfortunately for Ehrman that is not the case. He also in a few separate instances tries to characterize all of those who fit the label "mythicist" as "internet kooks" and conspiracy nuts. He never makes any distinctions between the various individuals he associates with the label. By his rather low standards for such a characterization he is himself not free from the accusation. Men like Richard Carrier and Robert Price are just as knowledgeable about scripture and early religious history as Ehrman.

Ehrman's grasp on reality only gets worse. Among other things he tries claiming that the Roman's were bad record keepers and that is why there are no records of Jesus existence. Bullshit. We know plenty about the Roman Empire in large part due to what they left behind. He also conveniently leaves out that the few instances where claims in the New Testament about Jesus life can be tested against what we do know about that time-frame end up being thoroughly refuted. For example, the claims about Joseph and Mary having to travel to Bethlehem for a census. Wrong. No census was taken at that time and we know that the Romans did not conduct their census in that manner even if one had been conducted.

His comparisons are equally misleading and invalid. Ehrman tries using the recent incident where Rush Limbaugh savaged Sandra Fluke. It is his sad way of defending scriptural sources from the minor criticism that they are biased. He points out that sources on the Limbaugh/Fluke incident being biased does not mean the incident itself never occurred. True. But it is also true that non-biased sources can be found to verify the existence of both individuals. That is the more valid criticism of scripture in regard to Jesus. Not that they paint a particular view about him but that there are no outside sources that even come close to confirming that he actually existed in the first place. This is also a good example of how he conflates proof of the existence of Christians with proof of the existence of Christ. It is not the same thing. There are still Taoists in the world but that does not mean that Lao-Tzu was a real person. Taoist scholars long ago conceded that their founding figure probably never existed.

Ehrman in some ways ends up refuting some of his own writing. He goes on about "independent accounts of his life in sources lying behind the Gospels (and the writings of Paul)." The problem is that they no longer exist and may never have existed. Think about that for a moment. Basing the conclusion of an extraordinary figure on what amounts to religious propaganda. Then claiming, despite no existing copies, that the original sources of the propaganda pieces that you know to have been altered and amended over centuries are somehow able to verify historical facts. Are you fucking kidding?! And Paul? Most of what we know about Paul are based on his own writings. Ehrman writes, "Paul, who acquired his information within a couple of years of Jesus' life and who actually knew, first hand, Jesus' closest disciple Peter and his own brother James. If Jesus did not exist, you would think his brother would know it." To which, I would add that that is all according to Paul. Being associated with the presumed founding figure of Christianity would not have helped Paul's career, would it? Preachers and missionaries never exaggerate or lie? Oh, wait, YES they do! Ehrman himself has more often than not pointed out the inaccuracies and manipulations within the scriptures we do have copies of.

To top it all off, after spewing all sorts of nonsense Ehrman has the balls to claim, "compelling historical evidence." I'd love to see anything resembling evidence let alone compelling evidence. Though I have always been an atheist, I once simply assumed Jesus (the teacher/reformer/rabbi not the miracle working god or demigod) was real. I became curious and sought out information on his life and was genuinely upset and disappointed that I could not find any. That is how I came to the conclusion that he never existed. It was not a matter of falling for some conspiracy theory or wanting to mess with Christians. He is simply the only alleged "historical" figure I have never been able to find any valid sources of information on. If you cannot verify a single historical fact about an individual it does not matter how beloved that figure is they simply are not "historical" but rather mythical or legendary. That is "compelling... evidence."

*John Blake's "The Jesus debate: Man Vs. Myth" on CNN was probably the best article on the topic but was still a bit misleading. He fell for some of the bullshit being spread about those who do not simply assume Christ existed. For example, not all who have been slapped with the label "mythicist" insist or assume that the fabrication of the Christ figure was deliberate or nefarious. Plenty of myths evolve without any individuals outright controlling the process.

Separation of Church and State is not an Opinion

The Sunday morning news shows (Face the Nation, Meet the Press, This Week) could easily be sub-titled "windbags on parade." I was not really surprised by the level of ignorance, delusion, and old-fashioned stupidity on display this past Sunday. I still found the Easter edition of Face the Nation especially infuriating. Most of the guests I pretty well knew what they were going to say before they ever opened their mouths. It was as predictable as it was worthless. Sally Quinn, however, did catch my attention more than the others. The level of bullshit coming from her was truly amazing. That she would so brazenly present such idiotic opinions as fact was nauseating. It was her portrayal of Separation of Church and that really riled me up.

About thirty minutes into the program that was about the mixing of religion and politics Sally Quinn had this to say:

"SALLY QUINN (The Washington Post): I think that separation of church and state is in the eye of the beholder. And I think if you look at not only what is going on in politics, you will get Cardinal Dolan to say one thing about his view of separation in church and state and-- and we have several different views at this table. We say we have separation of church and state, and yet on our coins it says "In God We Trust." The Pledge of Allegiance is one nation under God. We have-- we have ministers and pastors and Senate chaplain who say prayers in the Senate. The-- the academies and military academies are very religious and have prayer groups and-- and sometimes mandatory prayer groups. And so those are all not separation of church and state, and yet everyone accepts them. So I think that what I have seen in the last five years and what I see every single day is that who-- whatever your point of view, you might-- I mean there are plenty of people, I don't know whether you all think that we are a Christian nation or not, there are plenty of people who are religious who would say this is a Christian nation. Other people will say, as Obama does, this is a nation for all faiths and no faith, so I think that when you talk about separation of church and state, you are not talking about one thing, you are talking about a lot of different attitudes and opinions."

Actually, Sally, everyone does not accept the crap you think to be true. There have been various lawsuits over both "In God We Trust" and "one nation under God" in our Pledge. It should also be noted that both of those were added in the 1950s. That our founders make it quite clear that this is a secular country and set into the constitution the concept of separation of church and state even if they did not use the term explicitly. As I have noted in other posts the only references to religion in our constitution are cautionary (1st Amendment and clause on no religious oaths/qualifications). Those are facts. No amount of delusional puffery and partisan punditry will make them otherwise.

Atheist, Agnostic, or Both

People seem to have a hard time grasping even the most basic of definitions. Mark Cheney's April 8th Going Mental blog post, "Neil deGrasse Tyson: Atheist or Agnostic?" was not that unusual but still incredibly annoying. I'd say it is ironic that his blog is hosted on the Big Think aggregator but there are far too many on the site that are not thoughtful in the least. In just three short paragraphs he manages to cram in a whole slew of ignorance, distortion, and plain old stupidity.

Just to set a few things straight I'll give the briefest possible definitions.
Atheist: an individual who does not hold any belief in or related to a god or gods
Agnostic: an individual who acknowledges that supernatural/metaphysical claims either cannot be known with any certainty or is unknowable by its nature.

In effect an individual can simultaneously be both an atheist and an agnostic. I do not believe in God nor do I insist with absolute certainty that my view is definitive. By conceding the possibility of being wrong, not that I actually think I'm wrong, I am by definition both an atheist and an agnostic. Despite the common misconception, agnosticism in no way means that the individual cannot make up their mind.

Cheney doesn't seem to be capable of grasping this. He makes the moronic statement that, "Richard Dawkins, the most famous atheist in the world, created a stir when he recently declared that he was not an atheist after all, but an agnostic." NO, he didn't. He said what he has been saying for decades. Though he is confident in his position that there is no God, as a scientist he cannot and will not claim absolute certainty. He has also pointed out that it is virtually impossible to be certain about any knowledge claims. That would make him an agnostic as well as an atheist not an agnostic instead of an atheist.

As for Neil deGrasse Tyson, he is also both an atheist and an agnostic. The only difference in his case is that he does not like the label atheist. Whether he chooses to use the word or not he does fit the definition. He has on more than one occasion confirmed that he does not believe in God. He simply does not like all the connotations and assumption that have become ingrained in the term.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

"In some strange, paradoxical way, atheists tend to take religion more seriously than the practitioners."
Jonathan Miller

Atheists + Gathering = Evil

Atheists + Gathering = Evil. Unfortunately, to many theists this simple equation is a foregone conclusion. Adam Lee did a pretty decent job summarizing the Christian right's reaction to the recent Reason Rally. I find it difficult to fathom why there are any atheists left that keep insisting that the tone with which we speak matters. As far as I can tell the rally was well organized, very civil, and at no point advocated unprovoked hostility towards believers. Yet, every believing pundit who commented on the gathering made it out to be a horde of barbarians with the sole agenda of wreaking havoc on all around them.

Lets face it, when it comes to atheists it does not matter in the least what we say or how we say it. The fact that we exist and are willing to say we do is all the religious right need to viciously attack us. I am in no way condoning violence but I am say fuck being polite. If they are going to be rude to us and then slap us with the label why not own it. I'm not Christian. I don't have to go by that "turn the other cheek" bullshit (not that they do, either).

Another Silly Season

Another silly season is about to end. Easter doesn't seem to last quite as long and has not been commercialize as much as Christmas. That may have something to do with the smaller surge in stories about Jesus or it may just be coincidental. In either case there is a bit of irony that this Holiday does not get the same level of hype since in terms of theology it is far more important. The birth of the Christ figure, though notable in Christian Theology, pales in comparison to the resurrection upon which the faith is founded. I have to admit that the articles that have been popping up are more interesting this time around. Among the more interesting over the past month and a half are:

Tomb Exploration Reveals First Archaeological Evidence of Christianity from the Time of Jesus
Did Jesus Exist?
Hunt for the Historical Jesus
The Archaeological Evidence For Jesus
If Jesus' Crucifixion Is the Solution, What's the Problem?
Why Did Jesus Go To Jerusalem? A Holy Week Reflection
Andrew Sullivan: Christianity in Crisis

Some of these I find interesting because they are either well written or make at least one decent point. While others fascinate me due to the level of ignorance dressed up either in scientific or intellectual terms. A chunk of them are centered around a relatively recent archeological discovery that is generally referred to as the "Patio Tomb." The work being conducted on this site could very well lead to a better understanding of the formation of Christianity. Unfortunately, a number of pieces on the discovery are highly misleading or outright false. It has yet to be determined that the ossuaries or "bone boxes" in the tomb are Christian. There are two pieces of evidence that are still being evaluated that may end up confirming this assumption. There is a symbol on the boxes that may be a fish. Many scholars are not convinced. It is possible that the symbol could be a roof. In either case a few are insisting that the fish symbol is automatically an indication of Christians. It isn't. The fish as a symbol has been used by virtually every culture around the world. Judaism is no exception. Tabor is convinced it is a reference to Jonah (which would be Jewish in origin) but doesn't seem to realize that the fish as a symbol of fertility among semitic people (Jews included) predates Judaism and therefore predates Christianity. The other proof is an inscription that has a handful of possible translations. Tabor and company have already concluded that it is a reference to Christ's resurrection. Assuming it can be interpreted to mean a resurrection at all it does not necessarily mean Christ. Resurrection is also a common theme.

There are a number of other foolish false conclusions made by Tabor but these do not directly involve the Patio Tomb. He reference another near by tomb with even more tenuous "findings." On a recent episode of Culture Shocks Barry Lynn interviewed Tabor and as a follow up Joe Nickell. It becomes pretty clear that Tabor reached conclusions ahead of any real findings. It also is very obvious that he is incapable of separating potential evidence of early Christians from evidence for the existence of Jesus Christ. The former does not prove the latter. Even if you didn't know up front it was a joke, finding evidence for the existence of Pastafarians would not prove the existence of the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

Once you get past the various pieces that drone on about the "historicity" of Christ you get a few pieces on the "true nature" of Christ. These don't tend to be as interesting. They are pretty standard and lack much in the way of originality or consistent critical thought. I found Sullivan's piece interesting mainly because I am fascinated by him. He is a walking contradiction of self-delusion and displaced self-righteous indignation. He tends to rattle on about the shortcoming of others without ever fully grasping his own or that he definitely contribute to many of the problems he sees. These interesting personality quirks go beyond his being a Christian conservative Republican homosexual. However, reread that last sentence and you got a good place to start thinking about why his ideas are such an odd jumble.In the end what he writes in regard to Christianity is not original or even much in the way of a variation.

Overall, these pieces and a few others did keep my interest longer than some of those I came across during the Christmas season. I hope that once the novelty wears off and the media loses interest that some more serious scholarship will be conducted regarding the Patio Tomb. Of course, religion is and will continue to get in the way. The Jewish Orthodox community has not allowed anyone to actually enter the tomb. Up to this point the "excavation" has been conducted by remote cameras.

A Repentent God?

Christians are not the only "monotheists" who have trouble with thinking through the God concept. A recent  post in the Patheos' Jewish Portal serves as a pretty good example. Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz March 25th post, "A God That Repents", seems intent on offering a concise rational summary of the theological underpinning for the month of Elul. The problem does not stem from his explanation of why the month is focused on repentance but rather his attempt at connecting the concept of God to both tradition and more modern understanding of the world we live in.

The tagline he uses before getting into the actual piece says far more than he probably intended.
"If the world evolves then God evolves, as God is in relationship to a progressive universe and is affected by humans while the foundational Divine virtues remain the same."
It sounds nice. It evokes science and rationality without any messy details and even connects humans to God in terms that are easy to understand and latch onto. Too bad it is a contradiction both directly in its wording and in its more abstract meaning. In the first half of the sentence you have talk of change while the second half ends with, "remains the same." Even metaphorically this does not work. How can anything change and yet remain the same. Even small details when altered can have an impact. There is, of course, a problem with the very notion that God can change at all. If God is perfect what can God progress or evolve into? You can not be more perfect than perfect. If he changes it would have to be a change to imperfection which would be self-defeating.

The overall substance of his piece is equally problematic. By definition, or rather definitions, "God" cannot "Repent." Repentance is about seeking forgiveness for sin(s). This causes a number of contradictions that simply cannot be reconciled with the basic understanding of God. God cannot make a mistake or have anything resembling regrets. To do so would mean that God was imperfect and therefore not God, or at least, not the one true God. There is another important reason God cannot repent. God cannot sin. As I pointed out in a previous posting the basic definition of sin involves thoughts or actions that separate an individual from God. How do you separate yourself from yourself?

I'd say the Rabbi needs to rethink what he was trying to say or at least the manner in which he conveys it. As an atheist I have no use for repentance. I do, however, see the value in coming to terms with regrets and attempting to right past wrongs. I agree with a number of thing he talks about when it comes to strictly human interactions and relationships. The piece would have been far more meaningful without all the theological window dressing. No matter how desperately the rabbi wants his version of theological explanation to be profound it still comes off as gibberish. As intelligent and well intentioned as the piece is in humanistic terms it is still another blatant example of how religion can take otherwise excellent lessons and turn them into crap.

Females Need Never Apply

Well ladies, here's a pleasant little theological Fuck You. Fr. Longenecker's tortuous justification for treating women as inferiors is entertaining only in terms of the level of bullshit he is able to pile on in such a short blog post. His March 26, 2012 piece titled "Why Women Cannot Be Priests" doesn't really contain anything new. It is mostly warmed over theocratic rationalizations. I just find it mind boggling that anyone with enough intelligence to tie their own shoes or complete a sentence still can't see this crap for what it is.

He dresses it all up in a considerable amount of verbiage, of course, but in the end his premise is not that sophisticated. According to the good father women are "co-equal" they just should never expect to put that equality into practical use. See woman are equal mainly because men need them to procreate. See how that works? Women are the other half of the coupling needed to produce more people. Since God commanded us to be fruitful women are needed. After that, women lose their significance in terms of theology. Fr. Longenecker, as you might expect, tosses out a few Biblical verses to justify the demand that women be subservient and like it.

He even goes further in pointing out that failure to accept this second-class role amounts to an assault on the Catholic Church. It's interesting how often abusers fall back on the claim that they are the victim. There was one aspect of the piece that did surprise me. In the last chapter Longenecker actually states that,"The Church does not have the authority to ordain women as priests." Really? I had gotten the impression over the years that most priests had long ago given about the delusion that the Church was entirely created by divine revelation. Most seemed willing to admit that the modern Church was predominantly a human affair, though still seen as divinely inspired. How can the Church not have authority? I haven't come across that justification before.

In the end, these excuses don't amount to much. The Church is still basically treating women as inferiors. Just saying the Church respects them as equals doesn't mean squat. And when most of the doctrines and policies are geared to treat women as an afterthought I fail to see why women put up with this kind of shit. I say flip the Golden Rule. To Father Longenecker and his fellow mysogynists I say Fuck You and your lame-ass excuses.