Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Personal issues

I'm going through some personal stuff in my life at the moment and as a result I am going to be taking a short hiatus from blogging.  I just don't have the presence of mind to continue with it right now.  Hopefully I will get back to this soon.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Biblical stories that will freak you out. #1

After going through the ten commandments I began thinking about all of the really disturbing stories in the Bible and thought I might start an occasionally writing about passages in the bible which were disturbing or immoral.

Today's entry is a gem of a story from Judges 11.  Jephthah goes to make war against the children of Ammon, this in itself is not that remarkable, but the there is much more to the passage starting in verse 30.
And Jephthah vowed a vow unto the LORD, and said, If thou shalt without fail deliver the children of Ammon into mine hands, then it shall be, that whatsoever cometh forth of the doors of my house to meet me, when I return in peace from the children of Ammon, shall surely be the LORD's, and I will offer it up for a burnt offering. Judges 11, 30-31
So we see here at the start of the passage Jephthah makes a promise to God.  He tells god that if he is granted a victory over the Ammon he will kill and make a burnt offering of whatever comes out of his house first.  I find this a really odd promise to make, given that he was going to be coming home from a war did it not occur to him that it might not be an animal that came out, but a fellow human being?  Further, God, though silent in this passage, seems to find this arrangement acceptable.  He certainly speak up to tell Jephthah he might want to rethink his promise.

While we are on this subject I think it might be worth bringing up that this bargain looks very much like some sort of magic spell.  Offering up blood sacrifices in exchange for deities reorganizing reality in your favor seems very similar to the sort of things I often hear Christians condemn about other religions.
So Jephthah passed over unto the children of Ammon to fight against them; and the LORD delivered them into his hands.  And he smote them from Aroer, even till thou come to Minnith, even twenty cities, and unto the plain of the vineyards, with a very great slaughter. Thus the children of Ammon were subdued before the children of Israel. Judges 11:32-33
So, fairly straight forward here, Jephthah goes out to war and wins.  Indeed he apparently chases them across 20 cities.
And Jephthah came to Mizpeh unto his house, and, behold, his daughter came out to meet him with timbrels and with dances: and she was his only child; beside her he had neither son nor daughter.  Judges 11:34
So, unsurprisingly, Jephthah's daughter comes out to greet him.  His only daughter as it turns out.  You might think Jephthah would have deemed it a good idea to tell his daughter not to come great him when he got back, but clearly he did not think that far ahead.  His daughter came out to greet him because she was presumably happy that he hadn't been killed in the war, unaware that he had struck a blood bargain with his preferred deity for that safe return.
And it came to pass, when he saw her, that he rent his clothes, and said, Alas, my daughter! thou hast brought me very low, and thou art one of them that trouble me: for I have opened my mouth unto the LORD, and I cannot go back.  Judges 11:35
Well, at least he is upset about this turn of events.  However, he simply says that he can't go back on a promise he made to God so he is going to have to kill her and make a human sacrifice of her.   Again, God could have popped in at this point to tell him human sacrifice is wrong, and killing ones own daughter is even more wrong, but He continues to be silent.
And she said unto him, My father, if thou hast opened thy mouth unto the LORD, do to me according to that which hath proceeded out of thy mouth; forasmuch as the LORD hath taken vengeance for thee of thine enemies, even of the children of Ammon. And she said unto her father, Let this thing be done for me: let me alone two months, that I may go up and down upon the mountains, and bewail my virginity, I and my fellows.  And he said, Go. And he sent her away for two months: and she went with her companions, and bewailed her virginity upon the mountains.   Judges 11:36-38
To being told her dad is going to have to kill her now she responds rather calmly in this story.  I rather expect if this event were real she would not be so understanding.  She only asks that she be allowed two months to hang out with her friends to bewail that she will die a virgin.  Considering the age of marriage at the time this means that Jephthah's daughter (funny they never give her a name) would probably be no more than 13 or 14.  There is also some rather inherent sexism in this passage, the fact that she chooses to bewail her virginity rather than the fact that she was about to be made a burnt offering focuses on her role as a producer of babies to the exclusion of any other value she might have possessed.  "It's just a shame she has to die before she could pop out a few babies," is the way this reads to me.
And it came to pass at the end of two months, that she returned unto her father, who did with her according to his vow which he had vowed: and she knew no man. And it was a custom in Israel, That the daughters of Israel went yearly to lament the daughter of Jephthah the Gileadite four days in a year. Judges 11:39-40
Well, as promised she calmly comes back to her father so that he can preform the sacrifice.  If she had any sense she would have run away from that abusive nut job that calls himself her father, but she comes back and he goes through with it.  Again it should be noted that God could have intervened here but did not.  He did so for Abraham, not that God showing up at the last second up and yelling, "Psyche" makes the story all that great, but at least there was no actual human sacrifice in that one.

I have actually had Christians try to absolve this story by treating it as a object lesson about the need to keep the promises one makes to God.  The passage actually even supports this conclusion when Jephthah says, "I have opened my mouth unto the LORD, and I cannot go back."  I personal think if there is any lesson to be found here it's that we shouldn't make bat shit crazy promises to invisible beings, but I am just weird like that  I guess.  Mostly I just point out to them that this kind of thinking can only lead to a rather openly relativistic moral position.  (you know, the sort of position that Fundamentalist Christians claim is a flaw with atheism)

How does one know that all of those parents who killed there kids weren't doing God's will?  Perhaps all those pedophile priests in the Catholic church were told by god to do what they did?  God wouldn't do that?  Why? Because it is wrong?  Just like human sacrifice is wrong even if its to keep a promise to god?  One cannot have it both ways, either we always keep our promises to god and this guy is a spiritual hero for his actions, or there are somethings that should never be done in any circumstance and this guy is the poster boy for what religion can make people do at its worst.

If it is the first, then Fundamentalist can not reasonably claim to have the moral high ground on anything, If it is the second then the it becomes increasingly difficult to treat the Bible as if it has anything useful to say about our morals.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Biblical Contradictions both exist and do not exist.

I found an very funny and informative video on biblical contradictions today and thought I would share it with everyone.  Enjoy.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

New age guru James A. Ray found guilty of negligent homicide.

Since this news is relatively local to where I live I thought I would comment on it.

If you haven't kept up with the news this guy promoted a lot of pseudo-science in and around Sedona.  

He promoted his sweat lodge as method of removing "toxins" from the body. 
If you don't know what a sweat lodge is you can read more about it here

He charged people 10,000 dollars a person to be a part of a program back in 2009 that ended in three deaths due to dehydration in his sweat lodge.

He was convicted of negligent homicide and is awaiting sentencing.  Perhaps this will be a lesson to people try to treat people with pseudo-science treatments when they are not qualified physicians.

Of course the people who paid this snake oil salesmen must take some responsibility.  The reason people like Mr. Ray are able to make the large amounts of money they make is because people do not think skeptically about the claims these "gurus" make.  People paid a man 10,000 dollars to have a sweat lodge remove toxins from their body even though there is no evidence that it does any such thing.  Even if the medical risk was nil it would still beg the question of why someone would spend that kind of money on something with no proven benefit?  If they truly had an illness they could have been treated by a real doctor, most likely for much less money, using treatments that have proven efficacy.

While I agree the guy was guilty and its good he is going to be punished for his negligence, I can't exactly jump for joy over it.  I am sure there are a dozen more shysters out there willing to take large sums of money from anyone they can prey on.  The only way to avoid being taken in by these peddlers of woo is to educate oneself and think skeptically about the claims others make.

Commandment #11 of 10....wait...what?

Roy Moore's 10 commandment display being removed.

OK, there are no more commandments, but I thought I would make a final post about the commandments to comment on one of the most troubling things about the ten commandments.  The biggest issue I have with the ten commandments is not with anything in them as much as it is with what they left out.  The commandments speak about a wide variety of subjects to be sure, but as I have pointed out much is included that is either unneeded or downright unethical, on the other hand many things are missing from the ten commandments which would have made this set of commands much more useful as an ethical guide, and considering the author is supposed to be omniscient it does beg the question of how they didn't make the list.

1. How about a "thou shalt not own other humans as you would property?"  Most Christians quite rightly distance themselves from slavery these days, but until less than two hundred years ago many Christians felt that slavery was not only acceptable, but an entirely ethical practice, and based their arguments on the bible.  I pointed out that in commandment #10 it actually mentions slaves under the list of things you shouldn't covet with not the slightest hint of condemnation for the owning of slaves. But this is hardly the only passage mentioning slavery.  Exodus 21, just one chapter after the 10 commandments is full of laws expressly telling people how to properly go about owning slaves.  Not once in this or any other passage in the bible does it so much as say, "but it would be better if you didn't treat other human beings as property."  It is a hard truth that few Christians will admit but the bible not only does not condemn slavery it encourages it.

There is an argument out there presented by some Christians that slavery as laid out in the bible was not as bad as the practice of slavery was in the American south.  In other words, they argue that our impression of slavery in America "poisons the well" of slavery in general, which is, apparently, carried out in such a humanitarian fashion in the bible that no one could rationally object to it.

Not quite it turns out, because I object.  First, no matter how well treated a slave is still property, and I find it inherently unethical and logically unjustifiable to own other human beings.  Second, the Bible makes it clear that the slavery therein was anything but kind and gentile.

Take this passage for example:
And if a man smite his servant, or his maid, with a rod, and he die under his hand; he shall be surely punished.  Notwithstanding, if he continue a day or two, he shall not be punished: for he is his money.  Exodus 21:20-21
In case you are unsure of the meaning here, this passage says it is not a crime to beat your slave to death as long as they survive a day or two.  No, slavery in ancient Israel was not humanitarian.

2. Here is another one that would have been nice, "thou shalt treat women as equals."  Imagine how many problems throughout western history could have been avoided if this had been in the bible.  As bad as the treatment of slaves was in the bible, the treatment of women was often worse.  If you were unlucky enough to be both slave and woman then you might as well forget having any sort of freedom.

Take this cheerful piece of literature:
Now therefore kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman that hath known man by lying with him.  But all the women children, that have not known a man by lying with him, keep alive for yourselves. Numbers 31:17
This is after the extermination of the Midianites.  Moses is essentially telling the Israeli soldiers, at the behest of god presumably, that they, after destroying a city including the girls parents apparently, they may force said girl to marry one of the very people who just murdered her parents.  Even worse it specifies virgins meaning these women were mostly likely younger that 15 years old.

Or should we talk about some of the statements about women's rights in the Pauline and pseudo-Pauline letters.  How he tells them to remain silent in church in 1st Cor. 14 or in 1st Tim 2.  If there is a treatise on women's equality to be found in the bible I have not found it.

3. How about a command against racism, or religious intolerance?  Not found anywhere in the 10 commandments I am afraid.  However, we can find plenty of passages in the bible where God orders genocide against whatever race, culture or religious group he happened to dislike, or happened to be on a patch of land he promised someone else.

All in all the Ten Commandments leave out a lot of things which would have helped make peoples lives much better.  Instead we get commands demanding worship and leveling threats at those who  refuse, and thought crimes.  If these were merely written by bronze age men who did the best they could, it would be understandable, in fact it would make perfect sense.  However if they were written by a all knowing God, it seems he could have done quite a bit better.  I find it impossible to believe that these were written by any sort of god.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Queen's Guitarist Publishes Astrophysics Thesis

I heard about this on The Skeptics Guide To the Universe podcast.  This is one of the most awesome things I have read in sometime.  I had no idea any of the members of Queen had any scientific leanings, but I now have another reason to be a Queen fan besides the awesome music.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Commandment #10 of 10

Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbor's.
Exodus 20:17

Well, since I actually praised the last commandment it is appropriate that we end with one of the worst commandments in the lot.  There are so many things wrong with this command I am not even sure where to begin.

For starters god is criminalizing thoughts. This is both entirely opposed to common sense and very much in opposition to American law.  How does one criminalize a thought to begin with?  Exactly how is god expecting the Jewish legal authorities to detect a breach of this law?  Of course the American legal system is pretty clear on this.  Thoughts cannot be considered crimes in and of themselves.  

Of course another problem stems from what thought he decides to criminalize.  He could have criminalized thinking about something bad, like "don't think about being a serial killer," or "don't think about furry porn," but no, he criminalizes coveting, which last time I checked was the basic thought process that makes capitalism possible.  Coveting is practically an American institution, and considering the number of Christians out there who seem to think that American free market capitalism is exactly the economic system their god wants in this country I submit that many of them do not know the bible as well as they think they do.

Lastly, I would point out the type of things god says we are not to covet is probably the most disturbing thing in this command.  That is, that among the "property" of your neighbor you are not supposed to covet he includes both his wife and his slaves.  For those who don't think god approves of slavery in the Bible, feel free to point them towards this command.  Of course women are property right?  I mean what else would they be, certainly not individuals with their own desires and thoughts separate from your own.  That's just crazy talk.

So there you have it, in one fell swoop god condemns free thought, capitalism, and civil rights.  Well that's just great god, I mean really really great, way to end on a high note.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Commandment #9 of 10

Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.  Exodus 20:16

Okay, we now come to the only commandment that I actually think is good.  I actually have nothing bad to say about it.  Though interestingly the reason I have nothing bad to say about it is because the command doesn't actually seem to be saying what most Christians assert that it says.  

Almost without fail, Christians will tell you that this is a command to never lie.  I would argue the wording is much more specific.  In the context, the rule seems to be much more specific.  To "bear false witness" seems indicate a legal meaning, meaning that the command is telling people to not accuse others of illegal activities they are not guilty of.  In essence this command is one against perjury.  

As such I find this command like the others, reasonable, clear, concise, and fairly closely matches laws in our own legal system.  Of course it doesn't provide for what the punishment will be, but otherwise I have nothing really bad to say about this commandment.  I just wish Christians would read it more closely and realize that this commandment does not deal with lying in general.  Don't get me wrong I prefer honesty, but I don't think it makes sense to make lying a crime.