Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Jesus the Markdown, aka The Gospel According to Mark

Most scholars believe that the Gospel according to Mark is one of two primary source documents for both Matthew and Luke. So reading Mark is a lot like re-reading Matthew or Luke. Rather than going through the whole tedious story again I'll discuss only the elements unique to Mark, plus any verses that catch my eye that I overlooked in Matthew. This won't be an exhaustive examination of all of Mark's unique elements, but rather just the parts I care about.
  • Chapter 5
    • Verses 1 - 13: a retelling of Matthew 8:28 - 32, the story of Jesus exorcising demons then sending them into pigs. One glaring difference between the two versions is that Matthew says that there were two men in the possession of the demons, while Mark says that it was only one man. An observation unique to Mark is that Jesus asks the demon its name. I know, a lot of people think that God asks questions not because he has to, but because he wants his victim to come clean. I can sort of understand this for humans, if I bend my mind a bit and imagine that God loves us and wants us to grow. Telling the truth is a growth experience. But the demons are already damned. Why would God do anything to help the demons in any way? I conclude that Jesus really didn't know the demon's name. Mark also mentions the size of the herd of pigs: 2000 animals. That just makes the whole scene more appalling. At least Matthew allows us to imagine just a few pigs.
    • Verse 39: Overlooked in Matthew 9:24: Jesus says that the girl is not dead, but asleep. Jesus wouldn't lie, would he? So he didn't perform any miracle here; he just woke the girl up. So maybe his miracle lay in correcting the inaccurate diagnosis of those attending to the girl?
  • Chapter 6, Verse 3: Jesus' audience asks themselves, "Isn't this the carpenter?" while Matthew 13:55 has them asking, "Isn't this the carpenter's son?" I have to guess that Matthew is more likely to be correct, given that Jesus never gave any carpentry-related parables. He didn't have any problem giving ridiculous farming- and shepherding-related parables, which were so obviously wrong that anyone with half a brain would have discounted most of what he said.
  • Chapter 8, Verses 22 - 26: Jesus seems to be tired or something, as he has to touch a blind man's eyes twice in order to restore the man's vision. The first time Jesus touches him, the man sees people but they look like trees. Also, Jesus has to ask the man, "Do you see anything?" As I mentioned before, I can understand God asking questions, like asking Adam in the Garden, "Where are you?" in order to get Adam to be brave and admit his fault. I can't think of any good reason for Jesus to ask the man whether he can see. There is no spiritual growth there. This is a request for information, which is inconsistent with an omniscient god.
  • Chapter 9
    • Verse 29: Overlooked in Matthew 17:20. Jesus has cast out a demon that his disciples could not manage. He explains to them that, "This kind can come out only by prayer." According to my NIV copy of the bible, some manuscripts add and fasting. The troubling aspect of this exchange is that Jesus didn't say something like, "I'm God, so the demon had to listen to me." Why would God have to pray (and possibly fast) in order to get a demon to heed his order? Some Christians might want to say that Jesus was telling his disciples that they had to pray (and possibly fast), not that his ability to cast out the demon was contingent on his own habit of praying (and possibly fasting). But surely his disciples prayed, didn't they? Back in Chapter 2, Verse 19, he says that his disciples can't fast while he is present, but it's not clear whether fasting really was required on their part. Again, my NIV footnote says "some manuscripts", nothing like "the most reliable manuscripts". So I have to guess that the part about fasting was added later by evil heretics. I can conclude only that Jesus meant a certain kind of prayer of which his disciples had no knowledge, therefore he himself had to pray to get the demon to come out, meaning that he is not the Almighty and makes no such claim.
    • Verse 49: "Everyone will be salted with fire." What the hell does that mean?
    • Verse 50: "...be at peace with each other." This is new. Matthew records no such command from Jesus. Seems like the early Christians who had only the book of Matthew (i.e., Matthewists) would not have known that Jesus had made this profound connection between saltiness and interpersonal peace.
  • Chapter 10
    • Verse 21: "Jesus looked at him and loved him." Ooh, steamy. Doesn't Jesus love everyone? What's the point of this statement? Or is "loved" mistranslated, perhaps a euphemism for "blew"?
    • Verse 24: "...how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God!" This is in rather stark contrast to Matthew 11:30, "My burden is easy and my yoke is light." Good thing Jesus kept these two principles separated between the Matthewists and the Markists. Otherwise, they might have been confused.
  • Chapter 14, Verses 27 - 31 and Chapter 15, Verses 66 - 72: The unskillful story of Peter denying Jesus three times before the rooster crows becomes--impossible though it may seem--even stupider than before. Now Peter denies Jesus before the rooster crows twice. But wait, there's more. All over the footnotes of my NIV copy of the bible, I see "Some early manuscripts do not have" all this baloney about twice, meaning that some early manuscripts agree with Matthew. Evil heretics again, I suppose.
  • Chapter 15, Verse 23: While Jesus is on the cross, "they" (whoever "they" were) offer him wine mixed with myrrh, not wine mixed with gall. I looked up the word gall and found that it means the contents of the gall bladder, also known as bile. I looked up the word myrrh and found that it refers to a kind of sap from trees in the genus Commiphora, family Burseraceae. Which of these conflicting accounts in the inerrant, inspired word of God are we to believe?

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Jesus the Letdown: Revisiting Matthew, Chapter 27

Part 16 of my "Jesus the Letdown" series.
  • Verse 5: Matthew reports that Judas hanged himself. You've heard it enough already: Luke claims that Judas "fell headlong" in a field and his intestines burst out of his body. I'll try to make a point that you haven't heard: one of the big apologist arguments concerning the conflicting accounts of Judas' death is that the original manuscripts were mistranslated when rendered in English. Fair enough, look at the original manuscripts, or at least the best copies that we can find. But then take a look at the very first verse of the entire bible: "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth." But that's the English translation. Look at the Hebrew and you'll see that "Elohim" created the heavens and the earth. "Elohim" is plural. A correct translation would say, "...the Gods created the heavens and the earth." It seems inconsistent to dig into the original language in one part of the bible but to ignore that in another part.
  • Verses 6 - 7: After Judas throws the blood money into the temple, then goes to hang himself, the chief priests pick up the coins and use them to buy a field as a burial place for foreigners. But Luke says that Judas himself bought the field with the blood money. I've read a few lame apologies for this discrepancy, along the lines that the chief priests bought the field in Judas' name because they didn't want to be ritually defiled by buying it in their own names. But if this were the case, why wouldn't Luke say so? Why does he explicitly say that "Judas bought a field" with the blood money?
  • Verse 26: Pilate has Jesus flogged, then hands him over to be crucified. Mel Gibson recently made a movie that seems to focus on this atrocity to the level of being pornographic. What people forget is that Jesus, if he even existed, was just another schmoe being crucified by the Romans. This sort of thing, brutal flogging followed by crucifixion, was commonplace. Jesus has no special claim to have suffered more than anyone else, unless you buy the nonsense about him carrying the sin of the world during his final hours. As it turns out, according to Matthew, Jesus never said a word about carrying any heavy burden of sin. He did say, in Chapter 26, Verse 28, that his blood is "poured out...for the forgiveness of sins." Where do we get the idea that Jesus suffered some spiritual affliction beyond what other victims of Roman execution suffered? Certainly not from Matthew.
  • Verse 34: Someone offers Jesus some wine mixed with gall. Jesus, the purported Supreme, Omniscient Being of the universe, has to taste it before he realizes that he has broken his promise from Chapter 26, Verse 29, that he will not drink any wine again until he drinks it in heaven with his followers. Whoops! He knew that it was wine, didn't he? Why then did he taste it? Christians might wish to claim that he tasted it as opposed to drinking it, thereby technically keeping his promise. But Jesus and Yahweh put way too much emphasis on thought crime to be excused here. Jesus tasted the proffered drink because in his heart he wanted to drink it, and because he knew ahead of time that it was wine, he was breaking his promise in his heart. I won't give any breaks to a hypocritical god, especially one so overbearing as Yahweh-Jesus.
  • Verse 44: "...the robbers who were crucified with him also heaped insults on him." Yeah, the fact that this doesn't jive with the other Gospels has been beaten to death already. No comment.
  • Verse 48: Whoops, looks like Jesus drinks some of the "fruit of the vine" again. Some may say that Matthew claims only that it was offered to Jesus, not that Jesus drank it. But if Jesus didn't drink it, then why wouldn't Matthew say, as he did in Verse 34, that Jesus refused it? This is some seriously shaky ground here.
  • Verses 52 - 53: "...many holy people who had died were raised to life. They came out of the tombs...went into the holy city and appeared to many people." Uhh. Wow. "Many holy people"? So, probably more than two or three, one would guess. How many? Maybe 10? 20? Yet we have absolutely no historical record of this amazing event, other than two verses in the bible. Why would the resurrection of "many holy people" not be documented somewhere? Why wouldn't people hang on their every word and write down everything they said? Why wouldn't there be some reports of these same "many holy people" eventually dying the second time? And while we're talking about people who have died twice, it might be good to mention that Paul, in direct contradiction to Matthew, says that "...man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment." Again, you have to ask yourself whether you're a Jesusian or a Pauline. Or maybe, to be more specific, whether you're a Matthewist or a Pauline.
This concludes my analysis of the Gospel according to Matthew. There is one more chapter, Chapter 28, but I have already covered that in another article, in which I compare the four resurrection stories.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Jesus the Letdown: Revisiting Matthew, Chapter 26

Part 15 of my "Jesus the Letdown" series.
  • Verse 6 -13: A woman pours a very expensive jar of perfume over Jesus' head. His disciples are rightly indignant, noticing that the jar could have been sold for a lot of money, which could then have been given to the poor. Sounds like these guys were more Christ-like than Jesus himself, who defends the woman for preparing him for burial. Umm, if he knew that he was to be resurrected in three days--wait, no, in just over a day and a half; I'll come back to this. If he knew that he was to be resurrected in less than 36 hours' time, why would he let this woman waste the perfume on burial preparations? Seems that either Jesus didn't really expect to be raised from the dead, or was indulging in a little vanity; his body would hardly have had time to smell bad in the tomb for a few hours.
  • Verses 14 - 16: Judas conspires to betray Jesus. My only problem with Judas' behavior and that of the chief priests is that they allowed Jesus to become a martyr. If they'd just allowed him enough rope, he would have hanged himself, as have done many of his followers: the Bakkers, Swaggart, Hovind, Haggard, half the Catholic clergy, and the latest doofus, Rekers.
  • Verse 18: "Go into the city to a 'certain man'"? Now, did Jesus actually use the words "certain man" or did Matthew (or some future evil heretic), not knowing which man Jesus intended, supply "certain man" in an attempt to make sense of the story?
  • Verses 26 - 28: "Take and eat; this is my body...drink from it, all of you. This is my blood..." Disgusting. The Supreme Being of the entire universe wants blood sacrifice? That's not only gross, it's just stupid. Why is Yahweh so similar to all of those so-called heathen gods, demanding death and blood? I'd say that this one, sick characteristic proves that Yahweh is the same as all the other gods: imaginary.
  • Verse 29: Jesus promises not to drink any wine until he can drink with his followers in heaven. So...although in Chapter 22, Verse 30, he said that at the resurrection people will be like the angels in heaven, which I've always assumed to imply something like sexlessness, the men (including himself) who go to heaven will have penises, right? Otherwise, how could they drink anything? This is more of the Muslim/Mormon Jesus I've been seeing. The men, in spite of being sexless, get to keep their equipment, but the women apparently don't. And what use is a body once you've gone to heaven? It will still need fuel, and it will still produce waste, won't it? Or will everyone be some kind of strange mannequins that can drink, but never have to pee?
  • Verses 39, 42, and 44: More "if's" for the record books, as Jesus prays to God (meaning that he was talking to himself) to wonder whether it's possible to avoid this whole crucifixion plan.
  • Verses 40, 43, and 45: His disciples fall asleep? Seriously, if you had a close friend who had told you repeatedly that he expected to be betrayed and killed soon, and who asked you to keep watch, would you fall asleep? I think not. The whole Gethsemane episode sounds fabricated, or at least considerably embellished.
  • Verse 52: "All who draw the sword will die by the sword." Another whopper of a lie from Jesus. This is clearly not true. Plenty of people have drawn their swords and died from non-sword-related causes.
  • Verses 69 - 75: Peter, true to Jesus' prophecy, denies Jesus three times, and just after the third time, a rooster crows, again according to Jesus' prophecy. Why can't Christians (I mean Paulines, because obviously no one really listens to what Jesus ever said) see that this is an obvious fairy tale? The Master of the universe, who sees all of time from the outside and knows what will happen in advance, makes a cheap prediction about Peter's behavior in the immediate future, and a rooster crows "immediately" to show that the prophecy is true. Take a step outside of the story and change the names or something. Imagine someone telling you this story with the characters Papa Smurf and Smurfette. You'd see the foreshadowing and the amateurish resolution, and you'd wonder how the writer could manage to hold a job. Why do we give such huge breaks to a being who is supposedly infinitely wiser than we are? It can't even write worth a crap.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Jesus the Letdown: Revisiting Matthew, Chapters 24 - 25

Part 14 of my "Jesus the Letdown" series.

Chapter 24
  • Verse 5: "For many will come...claiming, 'I am the Christ,' and will deceive many." Hoist by his own petard, as they say. How can we know whether someone claiming to be the Messiah really is the Messiah? In Verse 30, he says that "...the Son of Man will appear in the sky..." so I guess that's how we'll know. But how do we know that Jesus himself is what he claims to be? We have to examine his teachings, his behavior, his knowledge. I've covered 23 chapters already and have found very little to recommend Jesus.
  • Verse 22: "If those days had not been cut short, no one would survive..." Not long ago he was talking about eternal life. Now he's talking as though this life is the only one we have. If he really expected eternal life for some, he wouldn't have to say anything about "surviving".
  • Verse 35: "Heaven and earth will pass away..." So much for eternal life.
  • Verse 36: "No one knows...not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son..." The first thing I notice is that my NIV copy of the bible says, "Some manuscripts do not have nor the Son." So was nor the Son added later by evil heretics, or was it removed later by evil heretics? And if God loves us so much, why would he leave us in confusion like this? Maybe there's not much explicit doctrinal difference between the two versions of this verse, but how can we deem any of these manuscripts the inerrant, inspired word of the Supreme Being of the universe when they don't even agree with each other? The second thing I notice is the one that probably a zillion people have already commented on: how can Jesus not know, if he's God? As it turns out, nowhere in Matthew's Gospel does Jesus claim to be God. I've visited a few apologist websites to see their interpretations of Matthew concerning Jesus' claims in this area. Every one of the interpretations requires quite a bit of mental gymnastics and stretching even to come close. Sure, Jesus is presented as the Son of Man, and the Christ, but never God. As far as I can tell, Matthew's readers would have thought that Jesus is the son of Yahweh, and was resurrected and given a special place in heaven, and might be a deity or demi-deity by virtue of his dad raping poor Mary and cuckolding poor Joseph. But Jesus never claims any kind of supernatural status. Seems that he thought of himself as a prophet specially blessed by Yahweh.
  • Verse 37: "As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man." Exactly: Yahweh is pissed off about our sex lives, and therefore will subject all of us, not to mention billions of kittens, puppies, piggies, and various other cuddly animals, to a horrible death.
  • Verse 51: The master will cut the ostensibly wicked servant to pieces. Nice display of mercy there. And of course Jesus has to get in another dig against the people he hated the most: hypocrites. Sure, Jesus, hypocrites are far worse than child abusers and rapists, about whom neither you nor your followers ever had anything to say.
Chapter 25
  • Verse 1: "At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom." This must be where the Mormons get permission for polygamy. The more I read, the more I suspect that Jesus was a Muslim.
  • Verses 8 - 9: The apparently foolish virgins don't have any oil, but the purportedly wise (but manifestly not very kind) virgins refuse to share their oil, out of concern that there won't be enough for everyone. Here Jesus endorses selfishness and indifference to suffering, provided that one can convince oneself that the suffering is due to "foolishness". I've said it before: a god of mercy and love would not torment us just for being foolish.
  • Verse 12: "I tell you the truth, I don't know you." I don't know anything about ancient Jewish culture other than the idiotic bigotry I've read in the bible, but I sort of tend to assume that the man would know the ten virgins who have been reserved for him. Further, how could Yahweh-Jesus, who knows everything, truthfully claim that he doesn't know us? Sounds like a father claiming, "You're no son of mine." That's a cruel thing to say, especially when the result is torment.
  • Verses 14 - 25: A man gives each of his servants a sum of money to invest, "each according to his ability." The apparently less-able servant receives only 1/8 of the money. The man goes on a journey, and on his return calls his servants to pay up. The least-able servant is afraid of the master, because the master is obviously a gangster of some kind, "harvesting where [he has] not sown and gathering where [he has] not scattered seed." How does this mafia don respond to his servant's fear? "You wicked, lazy servant!" Hmm, seems like this bully overestimated the ability of his servant in giving him any money at all. So Yahweh gives us resources not according to our ability, but according to a standard that is beyond our ability, given that we're terrified of him and can't understand a word he says, and then he'll throw us out to be tormented.
  • Verse 29: Suspicious repetition of Chapter 13, Verse 12: Jesus' nasty invention of unbridled capitalism: "Everyone who has will be given more...Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him." This is horrible. How can people read this stuff and conclude that Yahweh-Jesus is good and kind and merciful?
  • Verse 30: "...weeping and gnashing of teeth." Man, give it a rest already. This is the sixth time he has said this in the Gospel according to Matthew. Again, frequency suggests importance: this horrifying punishment is more important to this sadist than restoring amputated limbs.
  • Verses 31 - 46: Wow, a long stretch of 16 verses where Jesus actually encourages people to treat each other well. Too bad the punishment for those who don't treat others well is eternal. Sick. It's great that Jesus requires us to feed the hungry, water the thirsty, shelter the stranger, clothe the naked, look after the sick, and visit convicts. Wait--Jesus' bigotry rears its ugly head again in Verse 40: we only have to do these things for Jesus' "brothers," whatever that means. It must mean other Christians. Actually, I should make a distinction here: people who follow Jesus' teachings should be called "Jesusians" and those who follow Paul's teachings, which flatly contradict practically everything Jesus ever said, should be called "Paulines". No one should call him/herself a Christian, as that word, if it hadn't already lost all meaning back in the first century, has certainly lost all meaning in the intervening 20 centuries.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Jesus the Letdown: Revisiting Matthew, Chapters 22 - 23

Part 13 of my "Jesus the Letdown" series.

Chapter 22
  • Verse 7: "He sent his army and destroyed those murderers and burned their city." Jesus is definitely the son of Yahweh, destroying entire cities because of a few people there that he didn't like. The apple really does fall not far from the tree.
  • Verse 14: "...many are invited, but few are chosen." Chosen? This god who constantly nags us about our unrighteousness is going to choose who gets to go to heaven? Why should we bother obeying him, losing the only chance we'll ever get to have fun before our eternal torment, when he's just going to choose who gets to go?
  • Verses 22, 33, 46: When they heard this, they were amazed. So they left him and went away. When the crowds heard this, they were astonished at his teaching. No one could say a word in reply. This sounds about right: Christians think that there is some connection between the truth and the ability to win debating points. Take a survey of the pro-science arguments and the pro-Yahweh arguments, and you'll see a clear trend: the pro-science camp enumerates facts and provides detailed explanations, while the pro-Yahweh camp, when their factual claims are debunked, just hunker down into ad hominem. I'm not saying that atheists never engage in silly debates or less-than-honorable tactics. I'm just saying that there's a clear distinction between the usual methods of the pro-science people and those of the pro-Yahweh people, and Jesus is the epitome of pro-Yahwists, spouting interpretations of ancient myths rather than telling people to wash their hands before they eat so they won't get sick.
  • Verse 37: "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind." The only kind of love a human could experience toward this god is the same kind of love that Winston Smith felt for Big Brother at the end of Orwell's 1984. Is this a good god, who wants this kind of coerced love, who accepts it as a good thing?
Chapter 23
  • Verse 4: "They tie up heavy loads and put them on men's shoulders..." Oh, you mean like when he earlier said that anyone who doesn't deny himself and take up his cross is not worthy of Jesus? Sounds like a pretty heavy load.
  • Verse 5: "Everything they do is done for men to see..." Oh, you mean like all of these cheap, so-called miracles Jesus has been doing in public all this time, when he could have easily--if he's God--healed all disease everywhere without even batting an eye? When he could have easily explained pathogenic microbe theory and saved millions from horrible disease? For that matter, he could have just planted the knowledge in everyone's heads, Matrix-style. Whoa, I know open-heart surgery!
  • Verse 9: "Do not call anyone on earth 'father'..." Oops, Catholics, are you guys using the same bible as everyone else? And not just Catholics, practically everyone on Earth, except for smart-alecks like my daughter who addresses me by my first name, calls their father 'father' or 'dad' or the like. Think Jesus was disallowing only the word 'father'? What about later on in the Gospel of John when he calls God 'Abba', that is, 'Dad'? Christians, you guys don't seem to listen to Jesus very much.
  • Verse 13: "You yourselves do not enter [heaven], nor will you let those enter who are trying to." What happened to "many are invited but few are chosen"? Seems like Jesus will prevent quite a few people from entering heaven.
  • Verses 16 - 35: The pivotal event in the entire history of the universe, the coming of God to earth in human form, and he has to go on about oaths and the hypocrisy of the Pharisees. Was their hypocrisy really the worst thing going on in the world at the time?
  • Verse 23: "But you have neglected the more important matters of the law--justice, mercy, and faithfulness." Oh, so this is where Christians get the idea that Jesus cared a lot about human well-being. I claim that the stuff he talks about the least is the stuff that he cares about the least. And what does the law have to do with faithfulness? What kind of faithfulness is he even talking about? Marital fidelity? Doesn't he have bigger fish to fry?
  • Verse 36: "...upon you will come all the righteous blood that has been shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah..." I suppose that not a single one of the myriad children who were slaughtered on Yahweh's orders was righteous. I suppose that the only righteous blood that had ever been shed on earth was Jewish blood.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Jesus the Letdown: Revisiting Matthew, Chapters 19 - 21

Part 12 of my "Jesus the Letdown" series.

Chapter 19
  • Verses 7 - 8: The Pharisees challenge Jesus' anti-divorce sentiment by pointing out that the Mosaic law allows for divorce. Jesus then decrees, "Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard." Isn't Jesus saying here that Moses was fallible and was the source of at least some of the Mosaic law? Whatever happened to the bible being the inerrant word of God? If the hard-heartedness of the Israelis resulted in an erroneous law concerning divorce, then what other erroneous laws might have come through fallible Moses? Like maybe owning slaves is not really ok, but since the Jews were hard of heart Moses allowed slavery against God's will? Why didn't Jesus criticize Moses on that score? Because Jesus was ok with slavery, that's why.
  • Verse 14: "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these." This must be the verse where modern-day Christians get all of their family values. That's some pretty amazing exegesis, guys.
  • Verses 16 - 17: A man asks Jesus what he must do to get eternal life. Jesus' inexplicable response is, "Why do you ask me about what is good?" Who the hell else should we ask about what is good, if we can't ask God himself?
  • Verses 17 - 21: "If you want to enter life, obey the commandments: " don't murder, torture, rape, steal, exploit, enslave, trash the environment...no, just kidding. He had much lower standards for us and assumed that torture, rape, exploitation, enslavement, and trashing the environment were just too inviting for us to pass up. He has some further instruction for the man: "...sell your possessions, give to the poor, and come, follow me." Hmm, obey six commandments, give everything to the poor, and follow Jesus. That's how to be saved? That's not what the Apostle Paul has to say on the matter. Paul says that all we have to do is believe that Jesus is lord and be sure to "confess" that to others. I wonder whose plan of salvation is the correct one.
  • Verse 29: "And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life." Didn't he just tell the other guy a completely different story about how to live forever? And we can be saved if we leave our children for the sake of Jesus? Some impressive family values, there.
Chapter 20
  • Verse 15: "Don't I have the right to do what I want with my own money?" Most Christians seem to buy into this deplorable attitude. Sure, if God has some money, it's his right to do with it what he wants. But we aren't money. We aren't property. We are living creatures with a huge capacity for suffering. The rules that apply to money don't apply to us. Being creator of the universe does not give God the right to torture us eternally.
  • Verse 23: "...to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared by my Father." How can this be, if Jesus is God? It is very much for him to grant, and he could even have told the two disciples who will get to sit at his right and left, if he's God.
  • Verses 30 - 34: Suspicious repetition of Chapter 9 Verses 27 - 30: two blind men call out, calling him "Son of David" and asking him to have mercy on them. He touches their eyes, and in doing so gives them sight. At least in this version he doesn't burden them by insisting that they keep their new-found sight a secret.
Chapter 21
  • Verse 3: "If anyone says anything to you..." Thunderf00t has already addressed this if (on YouTube), which is a ridiculous word for an omniscient being.
  • Verse 12: Jesus makes a big scene in the temple, objecting to the crass capitalism going on there. But is this really the best thing he can think of to pick on? Why didn't he make a big scene about the way women and children were treated?
  • Verse 22: "If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer." So, in two thousand years, not one single Christian amputee in the entire world has ever believed enough to have a whole limb restored, is that it?
  • Verse 38: "This is the heir. Come, let's kill him and take his inheritance." So Jesus thought that the Pharisees hoped to take his inheritance, whatever that is supposed to mean? Some Christians might object that this is a parable, not to be taken literally. But I claim that if he's the Supreme Being, every word he says should have some meaning; he himself explicitly condemns the speaking of careless words back in Chapter 12, Verse 36. What exactly would Jesus' opponents inherit if they killed him?

    Monday, June 21, 2010

    Jesus the Letdown: Revisiting Matthew, Chapter 18

    Part 11 of my "Jesus the Letdown" series.
    • Verses 5, 6, and 10: Jesus promotes family values in a big way by dedicating three whole verses to the treatment of children. He told us emphatically that we should not torture them, abandon them, mutilate their genitals, enslave them, allow them to starve, have sex with them, marry them, buy and sell them...oh, wait. No, he didn't say any of that. I wonder why, if family values are so important to Jesus, he gives us such empty commands concerning kids: welcome them, whatever that means, don't look down on them, and don't cause them to sin. Wow, that's deep stuff.
    • Verses 8 - 9: Suspicious repetition concerning amputation of sinful appendages and gouging out of sinful eyes. Why do the people who insist on the literal interpretation of Genesis still have their hands, feet, and eyes?
    • Verse 12: Jesus seems to think that a man with a hundred sheep who discovers one missing will leave the other 99 unprotected in order to find the one lost sheep. Jesus really should have tried some carpentry parables. He obviously didn't know anything about simple economics. Only an idiot would risk 99 percent of his estate in order to recover a one percent loss.
    • Verse 14: "...your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should be lost." I guess he's talking about children again when he says "these little ones". But wait. God is not willing that any children should be lost? Haven't we already learned that even a sparrow, which is worth far less than a human, can't fall out of a tree apart from the will of God? How is it that children can be lost in spite of God being unwilling to lose them? And surely, children are "lost" all the time, when they get a little older and decide that the gods aren't real. And God knew all along that they would be lost in this way.
    • Verses 15 - 17: If your brother sins against you and you've exhausted all the ways of correcting him to no avail, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector. Didn't he say not long before that he wants us to turn the other cheek? How can you turn the other cheek and at the same time attempt to get your brother to repent of his so-called sin against you, even going so far as to disown him? Also, didn't Jesus set an example of being nice to tax collectors? Why didn't he say something like, "...treat him as you used to treat tax collectors"?
    • Verse 18: Suspicious repetition and total gaff. "Whatever you bind on earth...whatever you loose on earth..." Earlier he said this only to Peter, which apparently resulted in Peter becoming the first pope. But now he's saying it to all of his disciples. Sounds like Peter will have to share the keys of heaven with his pals.
    • Verse 19: Jesus is a liar. There's no other way to look at it. He says, "...if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven." Bullshit. How many millions of people have agreed wholeheartedly and begged God for things that he never did? How many Christian kids have begged God to let their mother survive cancer? How many Christian parents have begged God to let their child survive cancer?
    • Verse 22: Forgive your brother many, many times when he sins against you. Well, that's a nice thought, but didn't he just tell us to call the brother on the carpet, and then to treat him badly if he doesn't repent?
    • Verses 23 - 35: A hideous story about a servant who shows no mercy to his debtors after being shown mercy by his creditors. For starters, the story ends with the unmerciful servant being tortured. Didn't Jesus ever hear the saying, "Two wrongs don't make a right?" Also, he says that the servant is to be tortured "...until he should pay back all he owed." How can someone pay anything back while he's being tortured? The final insult is that God will torture us until we can pay back what we owe, unless we forgive our brother from the heart. So if we follow his instructions from verses 15 - 17, then we'll be tortured. And how will we ever pay back what we owe?

    Sunday, June 20, 2010

    Jesus the Letdown: Revisiting Matthew, Chapters 16 - 17

    Part 10 of my "Jesus the Letdown" series.

    Chapter 16
    • Verses 1 - 4: Another suspicious repetition, this time from Chapter 12, Verses 38 - 41: the Pharisees ask for a miraculous sign, and Jesus yet again calls them wicked and adulterous and says that the only sign they'll receive is the sign of Jonah. Uh-huh.
    • Verses 5 - 12: Jesus makes another cryptic comment to his disciples, then blasts them (of course) with the old "You of little faith" chestnut. Why doesn't he just speak plainly, especially after just a couple of chapters back he told them that they are privy to his twisted delusions?
    • Verse 19: Jesus gives Peter a kind of political power, which seems to be the root of Papal authority: "I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven." Too bad there's no fucking way to understand what he's talking about.
    • Verse 20: Again, Jesus seems to have something to hide; he tells his disciples not to tell anyone of his real identity. What was it that they were supposed to be preaching to all the towns and villages back in chapter 10, if not that Jesus is the Messiah? He told them to say, "The kingdom of heaven is near," but if anyone had thought about it for two seconds, they would have realized that this is a totally meaningless statement. They would have asked for clarification. Wouldn't the clarification be something like, "The Messiah is here in Israel, his name is Jesus, and you have to believe in him or go to hell"?
    • Verse 24: More reneging on his claims of being gentle and imposing only a light burden. Plus this is another suspicious repetition: "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me." Sounds pretty heavy to me.
    • Verse 25: Suspicious repetition and Islam alert: "...whoever loses his life for me will find it."
    • Verse 27: "For the Son of Man...will reward each person according to what he has done." This doesn't sound like Christianity to me. The so-called reward for the vast majority of people will be eternal torment, regardless of how they've behaved in life, simply because they chose to reject this bozo.
    • Verse 28: "...some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom." A lot of Christians want to apply some sort of symbolic, metaphorical meaning to this claim. Why? Especially considering that they take the creation story in Genesis to be the literal truth. Jesus obviously believed that he was going to return to the earth in "glory with his angels" before all of his followers died.
    Chapter 17
    • Verse 1: "After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James, and John..." Huh? After six days? What the hell is that qualifier doing there? What could it possibly mean? Why all of a sudden are we getting chronological information?
    • Verses 2 - 3: Jesus is "transfigured", whatever that means. While he's there shining, Moses and Elijah appear and have a pow-wow with Jesus. What the hell? Moses and Elijah? Why not Abraham and Ezekiel? Why not Akhenaten and Hammurabi? Why would Jesus be talking to the departed souls of any humans at all? What would they have to say to each other? Would Jesus ask them questions? Would they be providing him information? Doubtful, if he's omnipotent. Would he be giving them a message to take back to God? No, because Jesus is God, remember? And why would they have to be bodily (or at least illusorily) present in order to chat with Jesus? If he did want to have a conversation with them, he could have just put his own thoughts into their minds, and then read their responses right back out. They wouldn't even have to know that he was talking to them. This whole scene is quite silly if you think about it realistically.
    • Verses 14 - 17: A man begs Jesus to heal his son, who is prone to seizures. Captain Compassion's response? "O unbelieving and perverse generation, how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you?" Dude, lighten up! Try decaf or something! Why is he all of a sudden huffy about being asked to heal a kid who is suffering? The poor father just wants to see his son suffer no longer. What's perverse about that? And how is it unbelieving for the man to ask Jesus for help? Sounds very much like the man believed that Jesus could help. Some might say that Jesus was complaining about his disciples' inability due to their lack of faith, but no, he chastises the entire generation, not just his disciples, so apparently he's just tired of being asked to heal people.
    • Verses 24 - 27: Jesus orders Peter to go fishing, then look inside the mouth of the first fish he catches. Inside he'll find Elijah, gasping for air. Wait, no, he'll find a four-drachma coin, with which Peter is to pay the temple tax for himself and for Jesus. That's hardly fair. Why didn't he have Peter catch a really big fish full of enough money to pay the temple tax for everyone?

    Friday, June 18, 2010

    Jesus the Letdown: Revisiting Matthew, Chapters 14 - 15

    Part 9 of my "Jesus the Letdown" series.

    Chapter 14
    • Verse 14: Jesus "had compassion on them and healed their sick." So he was in a good mood this time? No deliberately confusing parables? Also, if he's God, then doesn't he know about the millions of other sick people in the world, even when they're not right there in his face? Why didn't he have compassion on them and heal their sick too?
    • Verses 27 - 29: The disciples are out on the lake. Jesus has taken a stroll out to the boat, walking on the surface of the water. This scares the shit out of his disciples, who think that he's a ghost. He calms them, rather kindly, to his credit. Peter says, "Lord, if it's you, tell me to come to you on the water." Why didn't Jesus condemn him for "testing" God? Why didn't Jesus tell Peter to shut up until Jesus can get onto the boat so they all can put their hands on him and see that he's not a ghost? It's not necessary for Peter to walk on the water in order to know that it's Jesus, so I have to assume that Peter thought it was a really cool trick, and just wanted to see what it was like to stand on water. Why is Jesus so indulgent with this sinful attitude?
    • Verse 31: Oh, I get it now. Peter gets out there on the water and then gets scared. Jesus was starting to get pissed off at Peter, but was keeping his temper under control, until Peter had a moment of weakness and Jesus couldn't hold his cool any longer. He really hates it when people don't trust him. Sounds like a strange insecurity for a god. Jesus goes back to his usual berating: "You of little faith, why did you doubt?"
    Chapter 15
    • Verse 2: The Pharisees criticize Jesus for allowing his disciples to eat without first washing their hands. Jesus tries to make a point about ritual purity, but you know, if he knew about pathogenic microbes then why didn't he tell his disciples (and everyone else, for that matter) that they should always wash their hands, not for the sake of righteousness, but for the sake of their health? He's going around healing people, but he's not telling them how to avoid getting sick. This seems like an egregious omission on the part of Jesus.
    • Verses 15 - 16: Peter asks Jesus to explain a parable to him. Gentle Jesus replies, "Are you still so dull?" What happened to the special deal he made with his disciples back in Chapter 13, Verse 11: "The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you." Seems like Jesus has a short memory to go along with his short temper.
    • Verse 19: "For out of the heart come evil thoughts: murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander, racism, slavery, rape, environmental irresponsibility, torture, war, female genital mutilation, oppression, cruelty, domestic violence..." Oh, wait, he stopped way back there at slander. Guess all these other things didn't show up on his evil detector. Somehow slander is more evil than torture and war. Somehow sexual immorality is worse than racism.
    • Verses 21 - 28: A non-Jewish woman comes to Jesus, begging him to help her demon-possessed daughter, who is suffering terribly. Mr. Compassion ignores her. The disciples follow his example and try to get away from her and finally ask Jesus to send her away. He responds, "I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel." Racism alert. Also, why would he respond that way to the disciples when they asked him to send her away? Why wouldn't his response be something like, "Woman, go away!" or "You guys get rid of her yourselves?" Not only is his response racist, it's also a total non-sequitur. He rubs her nose in his racist views some more, and she comes up with a line that impresses him enough to overlook his bigotry. This is disgusting. It reminds me of all those 20th-century dictators who held the power of life and death over their subjects, flippantly and capriciously doling out both.
    • Verse 32: Jesus is moved to compassion again, for who knows what reason. Now he's concerned that this crowd of over 4000 people are hungry. And why isn't he moved by all the other people in the world who haven't eaten in three days? He knows about them all, right? They don't have to be right in his face for him to know about them, do they?
    • Verses 35 - 38: Jesus feeds yet another gigantic crowd of people, using very little food. I want to point out that this is the beginning of a suspicious pattern of repetition, almost as though the book of Matthew somehow got partially duplicated, when all of those thousands and thousands of copies were being made by barely literate people back in the first and second centuries. This is just the first of several suspicious repetitions. I'll continue to point them out as I go along.

    "Critics say Utah execution method is barbaric"

    Convicted murderer Ronnie Lee Gardner was executed by firing squad early this morning in Utah. As usual, critics have voiced opposition to the death penalty in general, and to death by firing squad in particular. This headline, decrying this particular practice as barbaric, has caught my attention.

    A gigantic part of our problem as a global, modern society is encapsulated in this headline. It's quite true that the method is barbaric, but the method is not the problem. The problem is that as a society, we still have a punishment-based ethics. The idea of punishment itself is barbaric. It might even be that the idea of justice itself is barbaric, although I'd have to think about it for a while before going out on that limb.

    We must move past this idea that crimes need to be punished. Definitely, let's have some penalties in place to prevent or at least diminish crimes, but let's not think of the penalties in terms of punishment and justice. Let's think of them in terms of deterrence. One might propose that thinking about them differently has no practical effect, but consider: the punishment model waits for someone to commit a crime, then make a public spectacle of them to deter other potential offenders, via fear. The deterrence model opens us up to realize that penalties are only a tiny part of what we can do to reduce crime. We can look into a crime and determine its causes and contributing factors. Some are obvious: poverty, lack of education, lack of hope. How much gang warfare could be eliminated if potential gang members could get a good education, especially while they're young? I'm betting that a lot of it would. How many robberies could be avoided if potential robbers weren't dirt poor, and had some hope for the future? Many, I bet.

    We could do more to reduce white-collar crime as well, such as the Enron fiasco. There will always be greedy people, but we could create laws that make it far, far harder for greedy people to harm others. The first thing that comes to my mind is transparency. We could set up independent watchdog organizations to keep an eye on people who might be tempted to selfishly benefit themselves at others' expense. If we can keep the internet open and free, we might not even need official watchdogs: if we had laws requiring operational and financial transparency, average Joes would turn out by the millions to keep an eye out for unethical behavior. With a system like this in place, we wouldn't have so many gigantic crimes harming so many people, because the shenanigans would be caught before they could grow to devastating proportions. And these are just my naive ideas. What if we had expert psychologists and sociologists, criminologists and ethical philosophers thinking up crime deterrence ideas, rather than schmoes like me? We could be amazing.

    Thinking specifically about murder cases, and the "justice" of executing murderers. Obviously, murder is a horrible crime, second only to torture. But do the loved ones of murder victims truly benefit from the death of the murderer? Do torture victims truly benefit from the severe punishment of their attackers? I think not. I think that the vast majority of murderers and torturers are mentally ill, and should be treated as such. No, we should not let them run around loose in the streets, as they are a danger to us all. But they could be kept in high-security mental institutions where they could receive treatment and perhaps some of them could even become, in a limited way, productive members of society. Maybe some of them, after treatment, would begin to realize the horror of their crimes, and even experience genuine regret based on empathy for their victims, instead of the cheap kind of regret born of fear of punishment. How much better closure would victims attain if their attacker wrote a sincere apology? I think that this would be far more healing than seeing an attacker treated like an animal for the rest of his life, or shot, or electrocuted, or poisoned.

    The punishment mentality receives enormous support from religion, especially Christianity and Islam, whose god is a punisher. This is not a good god. These are not good religions. They are not good for society. We must find better ways if we are to survive.

    Thursday, June 17, 2010

    JTL Series: Revisiting Matthew, Chapter 13

    Part 8 of my "Jesus the Letdown" series.
    • Verses 1 - 15: Jesus begins to spew deliberately inexplicable parables. When his disciples ask him why he would waste his time and the crowds' time in this way, he invents capitalism in its ugliest manifestation: "Whoever has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him."
    • Verse 17: "...many prophets and righteous men longed to see what you see but did not see it..." Doesn't Christianity teach that no one is righteous? Isn't that why Jesus had to come to us in the first place? Also, how does this fit in with "Ask and it will be given to you"? Sounds like what these prophets and righteous men asked for was not given to them.
    • Verses 18 - 23: Jesus shows his exclusionary tendencies by explaining his parable to his disciples, in secret, deliberately hiding the meaning from the crowds of desperate people following him. Whatever happened to the compassion he was having for the crowds just a few verses back, when he saw that they were like sheep without a shepherd? What kind of shepherd is this who deliberately obfuscates his guidance?
    • Verses 24 - 30: A parable about weeds growing in a field of wheat. Jesus obviously didn't know much about farming. He talks about the weeds having been introduced by "an enemy". Since when do weeds need any help from humans? Since when does anyone expect to grow crops without weeds coming up? Not to mention that it was Jesus' dad himself who introduced weeds into the world in the first place, according to Genesis 3:17-19. So in a sense, it was indeed an enemy who caused the weeds to appear.
    • Verses 31 - 32: Jesus makes an utter fool of himself trying to make a pronouncement about mustard seeds. If he was a carpenter, why didn't he ever use any carpentry-related parables? He would have been a lot more credible. He talks about the mustard seed being "the smallest of all your seeds". He's apparently talking about brassica nigra, commonly known as black mustard. The seeds are indeed small, about a millimeter across. But Jesus really puts his foot in it by continuing the parable. He says, "...it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and perch in its branches." Bollocks. B. nigra does not become a tree. It is weedy and spindly, a lot like a thistle, and grows to a maximum of eight or nine feet. There is a tree called the mustard tree, salvadora persica. He couldn't have been talking about that species, as its seeds are clearly larger than those of B. nigra. Christians will want to say that the technical aspects of the parable are irrelevant, that we're supposed to focus on the intent of the parable. I say that the Supreme Being would have been able to present a parable that didn't have such glaring factual errors in it.
    • Verses 41 - 42: All who do evil will be thrown into the fiery furnace. What counts as evil? Trashing the environment? Advising people in AIDS-infested Africa that condoms make the problem worse? Regularly supplying the propagators of such nonsense with piles of money? Murdering abortion clinic doctors? Owning slaves? Seems like an awful lot of Christians will be in hell with us heretics.
    • Verse 57: Jesus gets a little touchy about his cool reception back home and whines, "Only in his hometown and in his own house is a prophet without honor." Poor baby. Would we respect anyone who gets all sullen like this just because people were offended by him? Seems like the Supreme Being could have formulated his message in such a way as to make it more palatable, especially if he loved everyone as much as he claims. Seems like he wasn't working very hard to save anyone. He might as well offer rotting food to a starving person and then complain when the offer is rejected.

    Tuesday, June 15, 2010

    JTL Series: Revisiting Matthew, Chapters 9 - 12

    Part 7 of my "Jesus the Letdown" series.

    Chapter 9:
    • Verses 1 - 8: Jesus tells a paralytic that his sins are forgiven. I don't understand how this dispensation fits into Christian doctrine. Is it fair that Jesus forgave this man's sins but will still put millions of people, whose lives have been far worse than that of the paralytic, into eternal agony?
    • Verses 9 - 13: The Pharisees criticize Jesus for hanging out with tax collectors and sinners. Jesus' response is, "I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners." Christian doctrine says that everyone is a sinner. Rather than advocating a more compassionate society in which everyone is treated well, he endorses social division and elitism. The word "snob" originally referred to poor people, who smugly believed that they were God's favorites and the rich would go to hell. Jesus caused this with his anti-social attitude.
    • Verses 14 - 17: Jesus makes a hypocritical speech about putting new wine into new wineskins rather than into old wineskins. Seems to me that putting new wine into an old wineskin is exactly what he was doing, claiming to have brought salvation but framing it in terms of that backward culture.
    • Verses 18 - 26: While Jesus is on his way to resurrect a dead girl, a woman comes up behind him to touch his cloak in order to be healed of some long-term malady. Jesus commends her for her "faith". Christians don't realize how weird this is, because they've been indoctrinated to believe that Jesus is good, and having faith in Jesus is commendable. But take a step back and imagine that you're there witnessing these events: you see a man, maybe a very charismatic man but obviously not a progressive thinker, going around capturing everyone's hearts. People are so impressed with him that they think that touching his clothes will cure their ills. Today, there are millions of people who believe something similar about modern televangelists; do you say that those people have great faith, or do you say that they're superstitious and gullible? Why give Jesus more credit than Benny Hinn?
    • Verses 27 - 31: Jesus restores sight to two blind men, but again, he's got some issue about secrecy; he warns them sternly not to tell anyone. Wait a second. You're blind in first-century Palestine, which means that you are utterly dependent on the rest of society for your well being. How would these men be able to prevent anyone from knowing that their sight had been restored, except by pretending that they were still blind? What kind of crazy healing is that?
    • Verses 32 - 34: Jesus casts out another demon. I've already harped on the demon thing long enough, but note the response of the Pharisees: "It is by the prince of demons that he drives out demons." Once again, if your mind has been poisoned by Christian culture, you will assume that the Pharisees were wrong to say this. But think about it: you believe that you live your life surrounded by demons, and no one knows what to do about them. You believe in the existence of witchcraft and sorcery, and you're terrified of them. Then a guy comes along stirring up trouble and interacting with demons. Of course the first thing you'll think is that they guy is a sorcerer of some kind. Of course the Pharisees thought that Jesus was colluding with Satan.
    • Verses 35 - 38: More preaching and healing. But get verse 36: "When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd." If he were really God, I would have expected something like, "...because they were living their lives in squalor, fear, and ignorance, so he taught them about democracy and microbial pathogens and mental health." Who gives a shit if they're like sheep without a shepherd, when their lives are full of real suffering? I have real problems with Jesus' priorities.
    In Chapter 10 Jesus sends his twelve disciples out to preach the gospel everywhere.
    • Verse 5: Jesus tells his disciples not to go among the Gentiles or into any town of the Samaritans. He is a racist.
    • Verse 14: He tells them to curse any home, or entire town, where they are not welcomed and heeded. But the disciples will perform the same sort of "miracles" that Jesus has been doing. If you were sick, and some itinerant magician touched you and said, "In the name of Mohammad, be healed!" and then you were suddenly well, would you convert to Islam? Why would you assume that someone with the ability to make you instantly well is the Supreme Being of the entire universe? The only people who would think such a thing are people living in an ancient, backward society.
    • Verse 22: "All men will hate you because of me..." Why? Why can't God come up with a plan that doesn't result in hatred and persecution? Is he really that weak?
    • Verse 28: "...be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell." Isn't this the same creature that claims to be full of infinite love and mercy? Why would it want us to be afraid of it?
    • Verse 29: Not a single sparrow falls to the ground apart from the will of God. Christians are always banging on about how God doesn't want people to go to hell. I can't seem to reconcile these two claims. This is a god of suffering and misery, obviously, if all the suffering and misery that happens can't happen apart from its will.
    • Verses 32 - 42: Jesus really starts to become unhinged here, going on about eternal damnation for anyone who disowns him, tearing families apart for his cause, and reward, reward, reward. And verse 39 in particular: "...whoever loses his life for my sake will find it." Are we sure that Jesus wasn't a Muslim? People criticize Islam over its philosophy of martyrdom leading to an eternal reward, but Jesus is making the same deal with his followers. The only difference between him and Mohammad is that Jesus mentions only a non-specific reward rather than 72 virgins.
    Chapter 11 is hardly worth commenting on, except for verses 29 - 30: Jesus says that he is gentle, and his burden is light. Huh? How can anyone read the first 11 chapters of Matthew and conclude that Jesus is gentle? I conclude that he's a cruel bastard. His burden is light? Uhh, didn't he just finish saying that you're not allowed even to love your own children more than you love him? That's a terrible burden.

    Chapter 12:
    • Verse 7: "I desire mercy, not sacrifice." Umm, how does that fit with 10:38, "...anyone who does not take up his cross and follow me is not worthy of me"?
    • Verses 14 - 15: The Pharisees start looking for a way to kill Jesus, and Jesus withdraws from the place. Here is a guy running around performing miracles, but he doesn't have the power to prevent them from killing him, so he has to run away? Sounds like his miracles were a bit limited. Why couldn't he have softened the Pharisees' hearts? His dad hardened Pharaoh's heart back in Egypt. Is he unable to soften hearts?
    • Verse 18: "...he will proclaim justice to the nations." You mean like when he said that women have the same rights as men? When he said that slavery is reprehensible? When he said that torturing and killing people in his name is to be shunned? When he said that cutting off a little girls' clitoris is an abomination?
    • Verse 32: "Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man (by which he meant himself, apparently) will be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven." Similarly, Verse 37: "...by your words you will be condemned." Didn't he just say a few chapters back that God will forgive us in the same way that we forgive others? Haven't we had it hammered into our heads, via the doctrine of the Trinity, that Jesus is the Holy Spirit? How can you speak against Jesus but not speak against the Holy Spirit?
    • Verse 35: Jesus goes on about "the good man" and "the evil man". I have trouble expressing my full contempt for this appalling concept. It is childish. Only little kids see things in such black-and-white terms. Anyone with any kind of intellectual capacity can see that no person is all good or all bad.
    • Verses 38 - 39: The Pharisees ask Jesus for a miraculous sign, and Jesus gets a little testy. He says that they are wicked and adulterous for asking, and goes on to say that he won't give them any sign at all, except for the sign of Jonah, the Old Testament prophet who allegedly lived inside the stomach of a fish for three days. Hasn't Jesus been performing miracles all this time? Why is he suddenly acting like a jerk? And really, do you really believe that Jonah lived for three days inside a fish? Jesus did.
    • Verse 48: "Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?" Sounds like there was some bad blood between Jesus and his family. Rather than being divine, he was more likely one of these people with a lot of charisma and ambition, who would run rough-shod over anyone who got in his way.

    Thursday, June 10, 2010

    Could Wikileaks be the beginning of world peace?

    Everyone is up in arms about Bradley Manning, the guy who leaked footage of the 2007 U.S. helicopter attack in Baghdad. Apparently much worse than the attack footage, he has allegedly delivered thousands of classified State Department cables to Wikileaks. The Pentagon worries that the publication of these cables could negatively impact national security.

    Perhaps that's so, but perhaps it doesn't have to be so. What if not only U.S. cables were published, but radicals in every country published their cables? Then everyone would know everything, and it seems to me that there would be no security issue. So what if the world knows that the U.S. is engaged in some secret and probably illegal operation? The world would also know that every country is doing the same thing. This excerpt from the article grabs my attention:

    Manning took credit for having leaked a classified diplomatic cable that has already appeared on the site—a memo prepared by the United States embassy in Reykjavik, Iceland, that described a meeting there between American and Icelandic officials over that country’s banking meltdown.

    See, I'm not so sure that anyone should be having secret meetings that concern the lives of millions of people. (Yes, there are only a few hundred thousand living there, but their economy has effects beyond their borders.) It seems to me that transparent government is exactly what we need in the world today. No more secrets. Let everyone see what everyone else is doing. Make it really hard for shady deals to take place. I think that Wikileaks is a huge step in the right direction for humanity.

    Tuesday, June 8, 2010

    Seeing the pattern in fundamentalist punditry

    It has become increasingly clear to me that religious fundamentalists have no place in the public discourse. I sense that this fact is becoming increasingly clear to the fundamentalists themselves, as they rely more and more upon weak non-arguments and appeals to emotion, rather than accepting the results of legitimate research.

    Case in point: an article in the July 2010 issue of the journal Pediatrics, published by Dr Nanette Gartrell, MD, and Dr Henny Bos, PhD, concludes that "Adolescents who have been reared in lesbian-mother families since birth demonstrate healthy psychological adjustment." Wendy Wright, "President of Concerned Women for America (CWA), the nation's largest public policy women's organization" (according to her bio on the CWA website), has her doubts as to the veracity of the study. I've read her comments on several websites, but here's CNN's version, which is about the same as every other news outlet's version:

    "[The fact that the study was funded by lesbian-friendly organizations] proves the prejudice and bias of the study...This study was clearly designed to come out with one outcome -- to attempt to sway people that children are not detrimentally affected in a homosexual household....You have to be a little suspicious of any study that says children being raised by same-sex couples do better or have superior outcomes to children raised with a mother and father."

    Notice that Ms Wright makes no factual claims about the study itself, and the worst aspersions she can cast on the study are that it was funded by lesbian-friendly organizations such as the Gill Foundation and the Gay Lesbian Medical Association, therefore biased toward a lesbian-friendly result. She has no data whatsoever about the study (or she would have provided some). She doesn't know anything about the methods used in the study (or she would have said something about it). She simply has an opinion about possible bias.

    Ms Wright doesn't seem to understand how science works in the modern world. If the study were not legitimate, if the methods were unsound, if the data were falsified or manipulated, if the conclusions were insupportable, then guess what? At least a few, and probably many, of the 60,000 members of the American Academy of Pediatrics, highly qualified, trained, and educated individuals, some of them perhaps even rivals of Dr Gartrell who would love to see her proved wrong occasionally, will find and loudly announce the failings of the study.

    Ms Wright also seems to miss other, well known facts that should have encouraged her not to pretend any authority on the issue. Here are some facts about the author of the study, Nanette Gartrell:
    • She's an out lesbian (meaning she's not ashamed, like, say, Ted Haggard, prominent religious fundamentalist and hypocritical gay-basher)
    • She served on the faculty of Harvard Medical School from 1976 - 1987
    • She has been at University of California San Francisco since 1988
    • Currently (as of June 2010) she is an associate clinical professor of psychiatry at the Center of  Excellence in Women’s Health at UCSF
    • She has taught ethics and feminist theory
    • She is the author of more than 50 original research reports on topics related to lesbian mental health and medical ethics
    • She has served on the editorial boards of Women and Therapy and The Journal of Lesbian Studies
    • She has been a reviewer for the following publications:
      • American Journal of Psychiatry
      • Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease
      • The American Journal of Orthopsychiatry
      • Journal of Hospital and Community Psychiatry
      • Feminism & Psychology
    Here are some facts about the study itself:
    • It's called the National Longitudinal Lesbian Family Study, and it is the largest, longest-running study of lesbian families in the United States
    • It has been going on for 21 years
    • The current research team working with Dr Gartrell consists of:
      • Henny Bos, Phd, Assistant Professor of Childhood Education and Family Support at the Department of Education of the Faculty of Social and Behavioral Sciences, University of Amsterdam
      • Heidi Peyser, MA, Executive Director, who holds a degree in LGBTQQ psychology, and has been a reviewer for the Journal of Lesbian Studies
      • Amalia Deck, RN, MSN, Labor and Delivery Nurse, SF General Hospital
      • Carla Rodas, M.P.H., Youth Intervention Specialist at COMPASS Inc, the Gay and Lesbian Center of the Palm Beaches
      • Sue Thiemann, M.S., statistical analyst and consultant, formerly of the Stanford Medical School faculty
      • Amy Banks, M.D., collaborating investigator, clinical instructor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School
    • Since 1996 it has resulted in 12 publications in various well known, peer-reviewed journals:
      • American Journal of Psychiatry
      • American Journal of Orthopsychiatry
      • Feminism & Psychology
      • Journal of Lesbian Studies
      • Journal of GLBT Family Studies
      • Pediatrics
      • Lesbian and gay adoption: A new American reality      
    Here are some facts about Wendy Wright, again according to her CWA bio page:
    • She's president of CWA, as mentioned previously
    • She's a "policy expert and activist"
    • She's a "United Nations lobbyist"
    • She's an "author", although no books are mentioned, only "editorials, articles, and letters"
    • She's a "radio host"
    • She's a "spokesperson" who "speaks on behalf of women and conservatives on a variety of topics"
    Nothing on her bio page, which one would hope would present her best credentials, about her education, training, research published, or any sign whatsoever that she would be qualified to make a single pronouncement concerning anything Dr Gartrell has ever done. Dr Gartrell and Company are trained professionals engaged with a vibrant scientific community. It should take a lot more than a couple of barely informed comments by Wendy Wright to dismiss this study. If Ms Wright has some facts about the study, then she needs to speak up.

    At last, I'll come to my point: people who use facts, who work with other qualified professionals in the relevant community, who actively research and publish--these are the people to listen to. People who use opinion and emotion and aspersion should just shut up and let those who actually know something get on with making life better for everyone.

    Finally, one last point for Ms Wright: she comments on the study that, "It just defies common sense and reality." Wendy, are you sure you know what reality is? Richard Dawkins (admittedly not your favorite person) likes to say, "Science does violence to common sense." We've known this for centuries. That's why we have peer review. If you have some facts, then let's hear them. Otherwise, I request, as a "spokesperson" on behalf of everyone who thinks that the end of the world is a bad thing, that you do the moral thing (because you're really fussed about morality, right?) and graciously bow out of the conversation.

    Dr Gartrell and Company, I salute you.

    Saturday, June 5, 2010

    We need more interracial and intercultural marriages

    From BBC News online: Cairo court rules on Egyptians married to Israeli women: 

    A court in Cairo has upheld a ruling urging the government to consider stripping of their citizenship Egyptian men who are married to Israeli women.

    No, no, no, you guys, this is absolutely the wrong thing to do. We need to encourage interracial and intercultural marriage as much as possible. We have to stop worrying about racial purity and national security, which are exactly the things that Egyptian lawyer Nabih el-Wahsh is trying to preserve: 

    The lawyer who brought the case, Nabih el-Wahsh, said it was aimed at protecting Egyptian youth and Egypt's national security.

    He says that offspring of marriages between Egyptian men and Israeli women should not be allowed to perform military service.

    There should not be a new generation "disloyal to Egypt and the Arab world", he said.
    What he doesn't seem to realize is that when nuclear war happens, Arabs and Israelis and Norwegians and Australians and Americans will all have the same fate. Same for global starvation, climate mayhem, pandemics. We're all going to feel the pain equally. We have to stop us-and-them-ing right away.

    I think I'll try to send an email to this guy and ask him to drop his case and start working in the other direction.

    Encouraging developments in Afghanistan

    The jirga in Afghanistan fills me with cautious and admittedly naive hope. I know nothing about President Karzai; maybe he's a terrible man, maybe even a terrorist. But he pulled together the jirga, which included 300 women, which is the most amazing thing I've ever heard about any public event in any Muslim country. My heart soared when I read this, at the very end of the New York Times article:

    More than 300 women took part in the jirga, and according to many delegates, they spoke out strongly in support of peace, while insisting that women’s rights achieved over the last eight years be respected. Under Afghan tribal tradition, when women appeal for peace, men are honor-bound to listen.

    Now that's news to me, and music to my ears. Especially that last sentence.

    I have long agreed with Christopher Hitchens on the importance of empowering women and getting them involved in the public discourse. This idea always makes me think about the bonobo chimpanzees, whose societies are "dominated", if that can be the word to use, by the females. It's an incredibly peaceful society. Compare the bonobos to the common chimps, whose societies are dominated by the males, and are frequently marred by violence.

    I am sick of hearing claims about how human nature is irredeemably violent, selfish, bellicose. I don't believe that for a second. I am convinced that the harmony in bonobo society is a result of more than just their genes. I am convinced that the bonobos could become violent, or the common chimps could become peaceful, just by a change in the status of females. I am convinced that we can be like the bonobos if we just continue to get more women involved. Within a few generations a lot of hatred could be eliminated.

    And the fact that this jirga took place in Afghanistan of all places. I tend to think of Afghanistan as stuck in the Iron Age or worse. When a peace talk involving 300 women can happen in that country, and not be shut down by two missiles and two apparent suicide bombers, I'm cautiously hopeful.

    Thursday, June 3, 2010

    I think we're in big trouble

    Things that humans do that have dubious benefit and a huge cost:
    • Armed conflict
    • Conservatives and liberals arguing
    • Nations
    • Capitalism
    • Car-based society
    The first three seem like the same thing to me, in principle: "us and them" thinking. We're right and you're wrong. I come from this country and you don't. I don't want my tax dollars helping those people. In earlier posts, I've complained that Jesus encouraged "us and them" thinking. This is how I'm convinced that he was the son of no worthy god. If that's the best the Supreme Being can come up with, then I say we get ourselves a new Supreme Being.

    Capitalism works in the very short term for a very small percentage of the population. Even in the U.S., there are children living in squalor. Capitalism doesn't work for them. It doesn't work for the vast majority of the world. There are way too many starving people out there to allow ourselves to say that capitalism works. I don't know whether a communist society would work any better; I have no knowledge of any communist country where the people are well off. That doesn't mean there aren't any. Capitalism is also obviously really bad for the environment. And now the economy is going to hell. We need something that works a lot better for everyone, something sustainable.

    I saw an ad in a magazine recently, talking about how food production will have to double in order to feed the projected human population of nine billion in the year 2050. See, this is the wrong way to look at it. We need to make sure that the population doesn't reach nine billion. We need to start educating people and empowering women. Once women can choose for themselves whether to have children and how many children to have, surely they will start having fewer children. I'm probably naive and wrong. But it seems plausible, and it can't hurt, unless it gets religious fanatics so worked up that they declare all-out war to impose their theocracy.

    I assume at this point that we are in trouble, that we rich are about to join the rest of the world, that food supplies are going to hit a big bump of some kind, that all of these governments going bankrupt will cause some worldwide economic crisis that dwarfs anything we've ever seen. I'm afraid that a lot of people will die, no matter what we do. There is still hope for us, I think, but I also think that we've crossed a line that will inevitably result in unprecedented human die-offs. I'm afraid that it will be in the billions.

    Surely there are a few super-geniuses in the world who are working on a real plan to save the world. Not just turning the lights off and carpooling. That kind of stuff only delays the inevitable. We need a gigantic change, a new way of looking at things. I'm trying to think of it, but I bet there are people far smarter than I who could come up with something good.